Title: It Wasn't His Child
find the rest of my Christmas fics here
Spoilers: "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," "William"
Keywords: Pre-XF, Christmas
Summary: Bill Mulder gets a letter on Christmas Eve of 1965 that leaves him shaken.
"It's starting to look a lot like Christmas," Bill Mulder muttered to himself as he looked out the window. He had shoveled the driveway three hours earlier, but there was already another five inches of snow piled up on both the driveway and on the top of his new car.
Pulling on his boots again, he figured that at least one member of the household would be excited by the snow. His four-year-old son Fox had added the line "and can we please have a white Christmas?" to his nightly prayers a few days earlier. He and Teena had themselves to blame for having shown him White Christmas when it had come to a second run theater in town.
Right now, the boy was in the kitchen with his mother, helping her decorate sugar cookies into the shape of angels, stars, snowmen, and Santa Clauses. Bill also knew without looking that his almost one-year-old daughter, Samantha, would be watching them from the safety of her high chair. Teena might even give the little girl a ball of dough to mash.
This Christmas would be better than the last, Bill was sure of it. Last Christmas had been stressful, which had been understandable considering that Teena had been eight months pregnant at the time. Like all three-year-olds, Fox had been a bundle of energy, and it had been up to Bill to rein him in. He'd done an okay job of it, but even now he thought it would've been more fun had Teena been able to participate more in all of the Christmas goings on. Now that Samantha was here, Bill and Teena plan to spoil both of their children.
Just before he headed out the door, Bill's eyes drifted towards the Christmas tree. They didn't linger on the sparkling ornaments, or the cheerfully lit Christmas bulbs, but instead landed upon a brightly colored package. Fox had seen a stuffed Marvin the Martian in a toy store, and begged for it. At the time, Bill had told him that they couldn't afford it, though that wasn't true. He hadn't enjoyed lying to the little boy, but he wanted to see him open it on Christmas morning. For some reason, Fox had a deep affinity for the strange alien in the Looney Tunes cartoons.
"He's like me, Daddy," Fox explained in the midst of his request at the toy store, not that this statement was very illuminating. Bill had been tempted to ask him in what way was the alien like him, but he really didn't want to know if his son had the goal of destroying puny insignificant humans.
It wasn't this package, but something else that made Bill bend down and pluck an object from the tree. On one of the lowest branches one of Samantha's pacifiers hung. Smiling, Bill walked into the kitchen with the object dangling from his fingers. "Who put this on the tree?"
Fox looked at him with such wide-eyed innocence, that it was difficult not to laugh. "Not me," Fox swore.
Going along with this, he turned to his infant daughter. "Samantha, please don't put your pacifiers on the Christmas tree." The baby laughed, and held out chubby hands for her belonging. Bill gave it a quick rinse at the sink before handing it to her. "Here you go, Baby Girl."
She continued to grin at him around the mouth guard after she popped it into her mouth.
"You gonna shovel snow?" Fox asked, apparently having noticed that Bill had on his boots and winter coat.
Bill reached down and ruffled the boy's hair. "Sure am."
"You need help?"
He pretended to consider the offer. "I think your mom needs help with the cookies more."
"I am helping her," Fox insisted.
"You should continue to do that. I think your mom appreciates it," Bill said, shooting a look at his wife.
"Oh yes. Fox is a lot of help in the kitchen today."
The little boy beamed.
"Is anyone going to put blue icing on a star?" Bill asked. "I sure would like a blue star cookie to eat after I finish shoveling."
"I can do that!"
"Would you? I'd like that an awful lot."
Armed with a red metal shovel, Bill soon set about ridding his driveway of snow again. When he got to his car, he threw the shovel aside. It wouldn't do to scratch the paint job with the sharp metal edge of the shovel, so he used a broom that had seen better days instead. He was still clearing off the car when a vehicle pulled up at the foot of the driveway.
Looking around, Bill soon saw that it was the mailman. He looked the man up and down, and noted that in this weather, at least, he was not required to wear shorts. The man carrier must consider that a blessing.
"Cold enough for you?" the mailman asked as he approached. Within seconds there was a dusting of snow on the man's hat.
Bill held out his hand for the mail. "Cold enough to suit me, that's for sure. My little boy is getting the white Christmas he's been asking for, so I guess it's not all bad."
"Guess not, then. Little kids and their Christmas wishes, nice that you didn't have to do anything for this one."
The mailman tipped his hat. "Tell the Mrs. and the little ones I said to have a good Christmas, now."
"Will do. I hope that you and yours do as well."
"I got goose waiting on me and home for dinner," the mailman remarked. "Can't beat that."
Bill watched him walk away, and wondered if he'd been telling the truth. He'd never heard of anyone actually having goose outside of the classic Dickens tale. If he recalled correctly, the mailman's wife was originally from England, so perhaps she brought the tradition over with her.
It was only after the mailman drove off, the Bill looked down at the mail in his hand. There were a couple of Christmas cards, one from Teena's cousins, and another from someone Bill had known while serving in the military. The last thing was a letter and though it had no return address it was addressed to Bill too.
Stuffing the shovel under his arm, Bill walked into the house. It wouldn't do to open the mail out in the snow, and that had no intention of letting up from the looks of it.
Teena and the children were still chattering in the kitchen, which felt nice and cozy coming in from the cold. After he stripped off his coat and boots, Bill sat in his easy chair and opened the letter.
To his surprise, the first thing that he noticed was not the letter itself, but two fifty dollar savings bonds that fell out of the envelope and onto his lap. Puzzled, he picked them up. One said Fox, and the other Samantha. His first thought is that some well-meaning relative, but one who had no idea what to buy young children, had sent the savings bonds as an extravagant Christmas gift.
Reading the letter soon disabused him of that notion.
He let the letter drop to his lap. In the back of his mind, there had always been a worry that something like this might be true. Bill had been fifteen the summer that the mumps had torn a wide swath through the summer camp where he was a junior councilor. The illness itself hadn't been so bad besides the swelling below the belt, but when his mother arrived, she'd cried over how this disease was probably robbing her of her chance to be a grandmother. It was something she'd never let him forget about, and he'd been happy to triumphantly show her his newborn son, the proof that all her worries had been fruitless.
And now he was left wondering if his mother had been right to worry all along.
From the way that Spender had always looked at Teena, he could tell that the man had something bad on his mind. It hadn't occurred to him that it had been as bad as adultery, but it wasn't a stretch to believe that. But would Teena? Would she have betrayed him?
"Bill?" Teena called from the kitchen. "Fox made that cookie you asked for."
For a moment he sat there frozen. Should he eat it, a cookie that was probably made by Spender's son?
His indecision broke when a small voice cried, "It's blue like you wanted."
Bill slowly got to his feet. Even if the boy wasn't his, he didn't know that. All he knew was that his daddy asked him for a special cookie, and he'd made it. "Be right there!" He forced his voice to be as jolly as possible.
Teena kissed him on the cheek as he came into the room, and it was all he could do not to stiffen and pull away. Instead he endured it, and looked instead at the children. Didn't everyone say that Fox had his smile?
The little boy held out a cookie on a napkin. "Do you like it?"
"It's great!" Bill said before he looked at it. Then he did actually look at it. It wasn't a masterpiece you might find in a cooking magazine, or even in a subpar bakery, but you could tell that a lot of love had gone into making the sloppily iced cookie. He took a bite so he could say something else positive about it. "Wow, yummy."
"Really?" Fox's eyes sparkled.
"I can't think of a time when I had a better cookie."
"I can make you more!"
Bill reached down and ruffled the boy's hair. "That would be really nice, Fox."
A sense of loss overcame Bill that night as he supervised Fox as a little boy wrapped Christmas gifts for Teena and Samantha. Normally he would be amused by the child's antics, but a specter of doubt hung about the room. Still, he made every effort to hide his feelings.
Fox picked up a box, and set it back down. "Could you carry this downstairs, Daddy? I think it's too heavy for me and I might drop it."
"Certainly. Your mother has our Christmas stockings laid out on the bed, would you go and get those please?" Bill asked, knowing that all of the gifts that had been taking up space in their bedroom for the past two months had been wrapped, so there was no danger of Fox seeing something he shouldn't.
Bill was only halfway down the stairs when the little boy reappeared with the colorful stockings clenched in his fists. "Gonna nail them to the fireplace?"
He laughed, surprising himself. "No, Son. There are hooks that we have to screw in. Maybe you don't remember from last year." He certainly wouldn't have remembered from the year before, Bill thought to himself.
"Oh. Momma said we can each open a present tonight, can we? Can we really?"
"Not until after dinner!" Teena's voice floated into the room, making it clear that she was listening to them from the kitchen.
"You heard your mother. After dinner you and your sister can open a present each." Actually, after dinner they would open two presents. He hadn't thought that the Christmas pajamas Teena was intending to dress them in that night made for much of a fun present, so he had insisted that they each be allowed to open a small toy too.
"Yay! But Samantha's gonna rip her paper all up," Fox warned him seriously.
"We know. That's what babies do their first Christmas."
"Then next year she's gonna learn better?"
"Probably. It would be good for her if she saw you be a good role model tonight."
"I can do that. I can open my present real neat."
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to hold you to it."
In spite of his gloomy mood, he found it hard to not find some joy in Fox's enthusiasm. Even if it's true, it's not the boy's fault, he reminded himself. This carried over to giving Samantha her bath, even if he did find himself studying her face and looking for traces of himself there.
Bill found it hard to sleep that night, and unlike the little boy down the hall, it wasn't because he expected Santa to visit.
He hadn't known himself to be a consummate actor, but Teena didn't stare at him with worry or ask if there was anything wrong, so he decided that he should be awarded an honorary Oscar. In fact, she was there at the sleeping peacefully beside him.
CGB had been his adversary at work since before Bill and Teena married. If she had betrayed him, which wasn't something he was sure that he wanted to take the other man's word for, when had it started? And more importantly, why?
Not for love, that he was certain of. Not the way she looked at Spender with a mix of fear and contempt. Maybe it was pity, Bill decided as he tossed and turned. They talked about having children just months after they began dating, but quite a long while after they married had passed without any sign of imminent arrivals. That had depressed them both. Then a miracle, and they were expecting Fox. Had his mother told Teena about her doubts about his ability to father children? It seemed very likely. Perhaps his wife had turned to another man in order to get the children they both wanted so much. It was hard to condemn her for that, when adopting instead would have robbed her of having biological children too through no fault of her own.
Why had Spender sent the letter? He couldn't see it as a harbinger of a desire to claim the children as his own. First, despite the barb about a promised heir, the man seemed to loathe children. Second, as passive as Cass usually was, even she was likely to balk at the prospect of raising her husband's two illegitimate children. Not that Bill was going to let that bastard get his hands on either of the children. No, Spender probably had no designs on the children at all.
Instead Bill decided that the letter was merely meant to needle him. And the galling thing about that was that Spender obviously believed that there could be no negative consequences to himself stemming from the revelation. Realizing this left Bill nearly as angry about that as the deception itself. Things were too precarious at work to openly show animosity, and that would undoubtedly have Spender laughing up his sleeves.
Bill was still awake, working through how he could take some sort revenge when Samantha began to cry. Teena shifted, but he leaned over and said, "I'll get her."
Though the baby was wet and cranky, she smiled broadly and began to coo when she saw Bill. It was hard not to smile back. "Your daddy's girl, aren't you?" he whispered back. Samantha responded with a wet gurgle that might have been a laugh.
Soon dry and content, Samantha watched him until her eyelids became too heavy, and she fell asleep. The look she gave him was one of complete trust, and Bill didn't want to let anything erase that. He adjusted her blankets, and leaned down to kiss her on the forehand. "Good night, Sweetheart."
"No, baby, give me that." Teena extracted wet wrapping paper from her daughter's mouth. As Fox predicted, the baby was making quite a mess. But she also seemed to be enjoying herself too, which the adults thought was important thing.
"Open this one, Fox," Bill said as he tossed a present the boy's way.
"Wow, this is neat!" Fox said excitedly as he tore the paper off of the plush alien.
"Your dad went to four stores to find that," Teena told the little boy. "I hope you appreciate it."
Fox launched himself at Bill, and gave him a hug. He didn't realize that he returned stiffly until he saw the look on the child's face.
"Is everything okay, Daddy?" Fox asked, looking a little scared. His hazel eyes fixed on Bill's, requesting reassurance.
Bill gave him a wan smile that brightened when he saw the death grip Fox had on the cartoon Martian. "Everything's fine, Buddy."
It wasn't, but there was no sense in the boy knowing that.
No, Bill thought as he pulled another gift out from under the tree and put it into Fox's waiting hands, if he had anything to do with it, the boy would never know. Denying Spender this boy's love was the best revenge he could take on his enemy.
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