Title: A Christmas Story
She found him in a bar, which wasn't entirely unusual. It *was* unusual that he wasn't alone. Fox Mulder didn't usually go in for office celebrations, but this evening he and two dozen other agents were celebrating the retirement of his latest partner, and Mulder thought it only polite to put in an appearance. Even if he was the one who'd driven Agent Salter into an early retirement.
"Well, it's only three months early, and it's not like I did anything to him personally," Mulder thought. It was just that the X Files -- and maybe Mulder -- were more than Salter wanted to cope with at this stage of his career.
Salter hadn't been so bad to work with, Mulder reflected. He was certainly an improvement over the previous partner Skinner had assigned him, a ladder-climbing rookie who resented being assigned to the Bureau's "spooky" backwater. Even with Skinner's support, the X files were clearly not the place for an ambitious newbie to launch a career, and Mulder had not been sorry to see the rookie transfer. He wished he could convince Skinner to just let him work alone, but the book said agents work in pairs, and Skinner was strictly by-the-book.
Mulder sighed. He'd worked, on a temporary basis, with several competent agents, but he doubted any of them wanted the assignment on a permanently. Working the X files required a special person, someone flexible but not gullible, open -- at least a little -- to extreme possibilities, and able to cope with having the rational world turned on its head from time to time. Plus, Mulder had his own standards for intelligence, professionalism,
He couldn't see anything but the top of her head behind the burly shoulders of the crowd of agents, but the color was right, and the height. He even thought there was something familiar about the pace of her movement through the crowd. He had just got to his feet for a better look, when the crowd parted, leaving them momentarily looking straight at each other.
"Close but no cigar," he thought, as he took in the sharp little features, the lithe figure, the fringed dress and granny boots Scully would never have worn. When he saw that she recognized him and headed straight for his table, he didn't know whether to be pleased or apprehensive.
"Hello, Melissa," he greeted Scully's sister.
She looked pointedly at the empty chairs the other agents had left when they moved to surround the pool table at the other end of the room. "Drinking alone?"
"No, the celebration just moved on without me." She kept looking at the chairs until he invited her to sit in one. There was something slightly combative about the way she was looking at him, he thought, something disapproving.
If Dana looked at him that way, he'd be expecting a lecture for sure.
"What can I get you," he asked, signaling the waiter.
He smiled. "Won't it mess up your aura?" She was wearing a crystal around her neck, so he figured she was still into all that New Age junk.
For the first time, she smiled at him. "Same old Fox. I think my aura can handle it."
While they waited for the drinks, he cast about for something to say. He couldn't imagine that they had anything in common. "What are you doing these days?"
"Still running my bookstore." Mulder pictured one of those New Age places, with plenty of incense and books on improving your karma. "You should come in sometime," she added, "We have a great science fiction section." OK, maybe he'd jumped to conclusions, no incense after all.
"How's the family?" he asked casually.
"How's the family," she mimicked. "Oh, Fox, you are too much!"
Now, he was puzzled. "I don't understand. How's Dana?"
"Fox," and by now he was sure she was using the name deliberately to annoy him, "Dana is hurt. You don't call; you don't return her calls --"
"That's not true!" But it wasn't entirely false either, he thought uncomfortably. "Did she say that?"
"She didn't have to; she was just evasive when I asked how you were. And I could tell she was hurt."
"Because you're psychic." He was sarcastic.
"Because I'm perceptive -- which may be the same thing a lot of the time."
For a moment, they glared at each other. "Melissa, I've just been --"
"Busy, yes I'm sure."
"Look, Dana has a new life in California, a husband, a career that's finally going somewhere -- believe me, the last thing she needs is to hear from me."
"Fine, stay angry." Abruptly, the fire seemed to go out of her, and she rose. "But I wasn't thinking of her career; I just thought she could use a friend."
She was three steps away from the table when he caught up to her and turned her around.
She sighed and sat back down. "If you kept in touch you'd know. Daniel's been sick. They spent all summer going to doctors. It's MS."
"Oh." He couldn't think of a thing to say. He thought of Daniel Seton, the brilliant researcher and writer Dana had married and moved to California for. He could guess how little that man would like becoming disabled or depending on others. "What can I do?"
"You can call her." Melissa stood up again. "Better yet, come for Christmas dinner; she'll be there." She headed back into the crowd before he could answer. Over her shoulder, she added, "If you get hungry before then, you can always take me to dinner."
At five a.m., Mulder was sprawled in his desk chair, staring at his computer screen. When he slept especially badly, it was easier to come in early than to sit in his apartment. His hands hovered just over the keyboard for the last few minutes.
"You are not going to do this," he told himself. "It's pathetic."
But his fingers had a will of their own. They typed out the commands to access the Bureau's database geographically, then entered the code for the Los Angeles office. The California offices were even more computerized than the Washington headquarters. A staggering amount of information was available to an agent with his clearance: statistics, case summaries, agents' field reports. You could even look up the reports of a particular agent.
He pulled up Scully's latest report, impeccably written and turned in on time as always, and began to read. He wasn't much interested in the case, he just liked the intimate sensation of reading over her shoulder. He remembered her reports from their first cases together.
"There is no evidence to support or disprove Agent Mulder's conclusions ... This agent can neither substantiate nor refute Agent Mulder's observations...Evidence does not support his theory ..." He skimmed the current report for phrases that reminded him of her voice, the voice he hadn't heard since the last message on his answering machine, months ago. He hadn't returned her call.
He glanced at the clock. He certainly couldn't call her now; it was the middle of the night in California. Scully was undoubtedly sleeping peacefully beside her husband.
Was he jealous of Daniel? For the hundredth time, he raised the charge and acquitted himself. He wasn't jealous, at least not as most people understood the word. He'd never considered Scully romantically; well, maybe a fantasy here and there -- who wouldn't? -- but it was nothing serious, nothing he would die from. He didn't begrudge her any happiness.
He even admired Daniel, a brilliant chemist with a wide-ranging intellect, who successfully wrote books both within and outside his field. Daniel Seton had a sardonic wit, a keen imagination, and a strong devotion to his work. He was, as Melissa had once observed, quite a bit like Fox Mulder -- except that Daniel was not too obsessed with his work to marry Dana and raise a daughter from his first marriage.
No, the only thing he held against Daniel was that he'd taken Scully away from him. It still hurt that she could abandon their partnership and the work they'd done together.
Maybe Scully could be just as happy chasing bank robbers, or serial skateboarders, or whatever they had out in L.A., but the X files were Mulder's life. He'd thought -- hoped -- they'd become just as important to her. In some childish part of his mind, he still cherished the dream that, with Scully's help, he'd find his sister, or at least find out what happened to her. His search had become the most important part of him. He'd shared it with Scully, and she'd just dropped it when it became inconvenient.
He knew that wasn't fair. In more honest moments, he knew that she worried about him, worried that no one could watch his back the way she did. (She was probably right.) He remembered her face the day she told him she was leaving.
He could tell she hadn't slept and that she dreaded what she had to say. "Daniel's been building up this lab for twelve years," she'd told him. "Assembling the staff, gathering the grants. It's his vision. I can't ask him to give that up when there's a good opening for me in the Los Angelus office.
"I never expected this, Mulder. I never thought anyone could get between me and my work, but that's the way it is."
She'd asked him to be happy for her, but he hadn't been able to do it. He'd tried to say all the appropriate things, but she knew him too well to be fooled. He wasn't sincere; he was simmering with resentment, and that's how he'd sent her away, pretending he didn't give a damn where she went.
Well, he had a chance to see her again, if that could make any difference. If he went. He wished it were a different time of year. For no good reason, he thought suddenly of a night in the Oregon wilderness, when they'd sat shoulder to shoulder waiting for morning, hoping green glowing bugs didn't kill them before it came. Was it really easier for him to face death with someone than Christmas dinner?
If only Christmas didn't come with all those memories. ("Look at my red dress, Fox! Aren't I beautiful?") ("Look at what Santa brought me, Fox! Will you play with me?") ("Look what I got you -- I made it myself!") Christmas brought back the past, and in the past Samantha was always waiting.
"Grow up, Mulder," he told himself. "Think of someone else's problems for a change."
Impatiently, he cleared the field report from his screen. He grabbed his jacket and decided to go out for breakfast.
*"I just thought she could use a friend."* That remark cut into him like a knife. *"If you get hungry before then, you can always take me to dinner."* What was that about? He wondered if he'd find Melissa Scully so annoying if she wasn't always playing his conscience. If she wasn't always right.
Christmas day had filled the Scully house with the smells of cooking and the sound of children's laughter. The newest grandchild was screaming for a bottle, Christmas carols were playing on the stereo, and Margaret and her older daughter were at work in the kitchen when they heard a car in the drive. Melissa looked out the window and smiled with satisfaction. "Mom, we need to set another place for dinner."
Missy met him at the door. "If it isn't the Grinch"
"If it isn't the Little Drummer Girl," he answered, handing her a shopping bag of presents.
"You shopped." She peered into the bag. "Football videos for everyone, right?"
"Only for those who were good this year."
Two small boys careened past them as they entered the living room.
"My nephews," she explained.
"We got 'Alien Combat'," one of them said, brandishing a video game cassette. "Will you play with us?"
"Absolutely. It sounds like my line of work." Mulder said, then he caught his breath.
Out of the kitchen stepped a little girl with long dark hair and a velvet dress.
"This is Dana's stepdaughter, Sarah," said Melissa.
"Where's Dana, honey?" she asked the child.
Mulder kept looking at the child, dismayed. There wasn't any resemblance really, just the dark hair, and a red velvet dress like the one generations of girls must have worn at Christmas. It just brought back memories he didn't want right now. He turned away from her and looked down a hallway -- and saw Dana.
She was half-turned away from him, talking to someone - Daniel, probably -- in the bedroom behind her. Mulder found himself studying her. Was he expecting her to look the same, or different? He wasn't sure. Her hair was about the same, but the dress was like nothing he'd seen her wear at work, all soft folds of green velvet, a grown-up version of Sarah's. All the same, he noticed the crisply starched collar and cuffs, the tightly cinched belt; it was as though the neat, precise Sully-persona he knew was working its way through all that uncharacteristic velvet and lace.
"Go ahead and rest; I'll call you for dinner," he heard her say. Then she closed the door, and for a moment, her shoulders slumped and he saw the strain in her face. He also saw the moment that she straightened up and put it aside. Then she turned and saw him.
For a moment, she looked so shocked he wondered if this had been a good idea.
"Mulder? What --"
"Melissa invited me."
"Oh." She smiled slightly. "This must be my Christmas surprise."
"Told you it wasn't a scarf this year," Melissa called from over his shoulder somewhere.
He could hear her herding the children out of the living room to some other part of the house. Dana came down the hall to join him. There was an awkward moment when they met, as if neither of them were sure what greeting was appropriate. He thought for a moment she was going to hug him. They settled for grabbing each others' hands.
"How have you been?"
"Fine. How are you?"
"Fine," she said insincerely. "California is fine."
"How is Daniel?"
She read his gaze and dropped his hands. "Melissa must have told you."
"Yes. I'm sorry."
"Well" She looked away. "We're coping."
He felt he should say something more, but he didn't know what it was. He felt the urge to touch her, caress her shoulder or her face, but after all this time he no longer felt comfortable doing that. Miserably, he stood with his hands in his pockets. He didn't want to continue this stilted little conversation they were having; it made them seem like strangers. An uncomfortable silence stretched between them.
"It was nice of you to come," she said at last, as if he were some stranger who'd shown up at a funeral. "I know how you hate these family things. It's all right if you don't want to stay."
The polite dismissal in her voice cut into him. How had he let this happen, he wondered desperately. More importantly, how could he fix it? He suddenly realized how badly he wanted to fix it.
"Scully, I ...need...to apologize. Not just because I didn't stay in touch, but...because...I tried to make it hard for you to leave." At last, he'd found the words he needed. "It wasn't fair." He held his breath.
"No, it wasn't." Then she met his eyes. "but it's all right."
"It is now." This time she smiled, not the teasing grin he was used to, but the rare and radiant full smile.
He started breathing normally again and smiled back. "I missed you." The words were out before he knew he was going to say them. She smiled again, wrapped her arm around his, and lead him toward the sofa.
"Now I want to hear how your new partner is working out."
"Salter? Oh, I wore him out. You know, they just aren't making partners like they used to."
It *was* all right, he decided as the day wore on, even the family dinner, family jokes, and the nephews who demanded he play with them. His presents went over well; most of them were just generic: tins of cookies for the adults, action figures and paint sets for the kids, a book for Daniel. He'd bought scarves for Scully and her sister, one short, soft, forest green wool, and one long silk paisley with fringe.
"Well done," Melissa told him. She'd been shooting him looks of approval all day, and he wasn't sure how he felt about it. She made him nervous, he realized. It was one thing to have Dana know him so well after all they had been through. Melissa seemed to know him better than she should on short acquaintance. It made him feel uncomfortably
"Tell me something," he said under the hum of family conversation. "Did we meet by chance the other night, or were you looking for me?"
"Sheer serendipity, Mulder. You can call it chance if you want to."
"But you call it -- what? -- Fate?" he asked, amused.
"I believe things happen for a purpose. Energies converge. I think you believe that, too, when you're not in denial." She handed him a small package. "This is for you. I didn't tell anyone you were coming, but I had hope."
He opened the box and sniffed at the contents. "Should I arrest myself for possessing this?"
"It's tea, Mulder. The kind you drink. I had my herbalist make it up especially for you. It's good for insomnia."
"It looks like lawn clippings."
"Closed minded, isn't he?" Melissa said to her sister.
"It's a selective thing. He believes in aliens, but not herb tea."
They were laughing at him, and he was actually enjoying it, until Sarah started to sing. A little girl's piping voice, singing "Silent Night." It threw him back over 20 years. ("Fox, listen to me; everyone listen. I know all the words!" And Sam's little girl voice, high and sweet and full of Christmas excitement... )
"Mulder, are you all right?" There was a hand on his arm. The words and the gesture were so familiar, he expected Dana, and was surprised to find it was Melissa.
She studied his face. "It's all right to feel what you're feeling."
"Ok, no homily this time," she held up a hand to stop his protests. "I just meant that it's natural to miss someone at Christmas. I just wanted to know if you were all right."
"I'm fine." And, surprisingly, he was. Not long afterward, he decided to leave, and went looking for his coat. Opening what he thought was a closet off the hallway, he startled Daniel, who was seated at a large desk in a room Mulder figured must have been Admiral Scully's study.
"Oh! Sorry," he said, as Daniel dropped the small tape recorder he'd been dictating into. "It's OK. You just caught me in the act. Working on Christmas; Dana would give me hell."
"Well, I promise not to tell her."
He was about to back out, but Daniel gestured him in. "Have you got a moment?"
Carefully, Daniel retrieved the recorder from the desktop and turned it off. From the way he held it, Mulder could see he had trouble using his fingers. A heavy-looking cane rested between his knees.
"What are you working on?" he asked, so he wouldn't seem to be scrutinizing the man's disabilities.
"I had an idea for a book that I needed to get down." Daniel made a face at the recorder. "I hope I can get used to this dictating business; I'm used to thinking and revising as I type. I like to see my words." He waved away Mulder's murmurs of sympathy. "That's not what I wanted to talk about. Did Dana tell you we're planning on moving back East?"
"No," Mulder said with some surprise.
"Well...it's still in the works, but I'm sure it's what we want to do. We want to be near our families; I want Sarah near her grandparents. It's funny how your perspective can change; that lab I was sure I couldn't live without will just have to get along without me now. But my point is about Dana. She has this idea she'll take a leave of absence, maybe quit working entirely, to help me. I don't want that."
"No! I didn't marry her to make her my nursemaid, and I can hire an assistant if I need one. Besides, I have work to do. I'm not going to get any writing done with her hovering and scolding. So I want your help."
"I want you to help get her back to work. Tire her up and drag her in if you have to. "
"I doubt I can get Scully to do anything she doesn't want to do."
"I'm not so sure about that. Anyway, I don't think she knows what she wants in this case. Or she knows, but she's doing what she thinks I need. But she's wrong. Tell her you need her help. Tell her aliens are rearranging your furniture, I don't know! Just help me convince her to do what we both know she's happiest doing."
"Good." Daniel grinned. "I have faith in you. . By the way, how long have you been seeing Melissa?"
"Seeing ...? I'm not."
He must have looked shocked; Daniel laughed. "My mistake -- I think! Go get started on Dana, so I can finish this damned dictating before she catches me."
Out in the hall, Mulder located the closet, and retrieved his coat. Before he could put it on, Melissa appeared and relieved him of it. "You won't need that just yet. I want to go for a walk later."
"A walk?" Why did this woman always catch him off balance?
"To look at the stars. It's the way I like to end Christmas. I just have to help get the kids to bed first."
She was gone with the coat before he could protest. "I am in the hands of Scullys," he thought. "There is no escape."
He sat alone in the living room for a while, watching the lights on the tree, listening to the sounds of children being put to bed, and adults retreating to their rooms.
Margaret Scully looked in on him once. "Oh, Fox, you're still here. There's a bed made up for you in the guest room; Dana can show you. She's in the kitchen. Good night
Mulder headed for the kitchen, and found Dana loading the dishwasher. She looked worn out.
"Scully! I finally get to see you do something domestic!"
She smiled. "I was thinking of the year my dad gave mom this machine as a Christmas present."
"Oooh, how romantic."
"It was, actually. It was his way of pledging that they were finally settling down, after all those years of moving from one Navy base to another."
"I take it back; it's a very romantic dishwasher." He moved to help her load. "Are you all right?" he asked softly.
"Isn't that usually my line? I'm fine." She didn't look up, but he could hear the unshed tears in her voice "It's just that it's so hard to see someone you love ...struggle."
"I know." Now, it was easy to put a hand on her shoulder, to brush a stray hair out of her eyes. "He's a great guy, Scully."
"It means a lot that you think so."
For a moment, they stared at each other, smiling.
Enough had been said. He went back to loading dishes. "So, can you come into the office tomorrow, Scully? I have something I want you to see."
"Tomorrow? The day after Christmas?"
"Does crime take a holiday? I need your professional opinion on something."
"Tomorrow I promised to take Sarah skating."
"You ice skate?"
"I had a few lessons as a kid."
"Ah, a budding Dorothy Hamil."
"I preferred to play hockey with my brothers."
"A budding Wayne Gretzky. I should have known." He cocked his head, looking at her from a different angle. "I keep forgetting; you're someone's mother now."
She laughed out loud this time. "It's true. Things really have changed."
"Not all things."
"No, not all things," she agreed. The clear affection in her blue-green eyes warmed him. "I could come Tuesday."
"I'll dust. There's a lot of room in that basement these days, Scully."
Before she could answer, an impatient tapping at the window made them both jump. Melissa stood outside, holding his coat.
"I forgot; she wants to go for a walk."
Dana nodded. "Does it every Christmas; it's become a tradition. When we were girls, she used to say she was saying good night to the stars."
Mulder gave an exaggerated sigh. "We're probably going to read their auras. You coming?"
"I wasn't invited this year." Dana looked amused.
"You know, " she said, looking out at her sister, "this is one thing that may take some getting used to . .."
"For you and me both." he said wryly.
He left her laughing as he went to join the waiting woman.