Title: Snow and Mistletoe
Keywords: Christmas, Challengefic, Kidfic, post-IWTB
Disclaimers: 1. As you know, Doggett, William, Mulder, Scully and Skinner were created by Chris Carter and 1013. Santa said I could borrow them. 2. "The Christmas Song" was written by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells
Summary: Seven years later, another child needs John Doggett's help at Christmas. All is Calm, All is Bright sequel.
Falls Church, VA
It was snowing lightly outside, which was a relief after the hefty storm just days earlier. I still considered us fortunate not to have lost power for days at a time like they had in the Northeast. Even though it was just six-thirty, it was already black outside when I glanced out the window while on the phone. Mostly, I listened.
"Okay, love you," I told my wife before hanging up. Then I sat down, feeling blue. This wasn't the Christmas Eve I had anticipated.
The plan had been to have the four of us drive up to my wife's mother's house in the morning, but my almost six-year-old daughter had thrown a fit, insisting that Santa wouldn't know where we were. And then my wife's mother confessed that she wasn't up to having an energetic three-year-old boy as an overnight guest, but she didn't want to be alone either. So my wife drove up there, and I would bring Nora and Teddy with me in the morning. It was far from ideal, but what else could I do?
Hot chocolate next, I reminded myself. Neither of the kids had cried yet over their mother's absence, but I knew it was just a matter of time before they really noticed that she wasn't there. So I decided we'd do the normal things on Christmas Eve and right before bed I'd let them call their mother to wish her good night, probably just before we left a plate of my favorite cookies for Santa.
I'd just set a pot of water on the stove when Nora tugged on the leg of my pants. "Daddy, are we going to make cookies for Santa soon?"
"I don't know," I told her teasingly. "How are you and Teddy doing with wrapping your presents?"
"I'm almost done. But Teddy is making a mess!" she said indignantly, reminding me of her mother a little bit.
"He's three. Didn't you promise your mom that you'd help him wrap the gifts he was giving us?"
"Oh yeah!" Her brown curls bounced when she dramatically smacked her forehead. "I forgot."
"But you're going to do it now, right?"
"Let him know that I'll help him wrap your present from him."
"I will, Daddy!" She immediately scampered off to help Teddy, and it made me feel proud. I'd been my parents' helper when my sister Emma and I were kids, and Nora and my nephew Peter did the best they could to help their younger siblings too.
Given that we'd provided the kids with decorative bags to put their gifts in, it should have only taken them a couple of minutes to "wrap" the gifts they'd chosen for us and each other. All they needed to do was put things into bags, fold them over and tape them shut. But I knew from experience that simple things had a way of becoming complicated when it came to young kids, no matter how much you tried to simplify do-it-myself projects for them.
Before the kids came down stairs again, someone knocked on the door. I was tempted to ignore it, but I suspected that it was my elderly neighbor Mrs. Peterson, and it wouldn't be neighborly to leave her standing out on the stoop in the cold. Even if she would smile brightly and hand me a disgusting baked good that I would have to accept with grace.
When I opened the door, I didn't find a neighbor bearing a gift-wrapped fruitcake. Instead there was a uniformed police officer staring at me expectantly. A little boy stood beside him.
"Can I help you?" I offered them a puzzled smile.
"This boy says he knows you," the officer said flatly.
I stared down at the child who was shivering by the man's side. There was something familiar about the shape of his blue eyes, and the unruliness of his brown hair, but I couldn't place him. After a moment I decided that he must go to Nora's school, though I was sure that he wasn't in her class. "Maybe. What's your name, Son?" I asked, trying not to scare the boy more.
"William," he said shyly, his eyes downcast.
"W-William?" My voice cracked in a way it hadn't since I'd reached the age of fifteen.
"Do you know him or not?" the cop asked impatiently. "If you don't, I need to find someone else who can help me locate his parents."
"Yeah, I know him," I said quickly, and pulled the boy into the house. I was half afraid that if I left him standing there, the cop was going to drag him away and I'd never see him again.
"Great," the cop said unenthusiastically. "Do you mind if we continue this conversation inside?"
I stepped back to let him in too. "I'll be back in a minute. Why don't you take a seat?" He sat in an armchair and pulled off his gloves.
Putting my hand on William's shoulder, I steered the boy towards the kitchen. "Do you like hot chocolate?" There had been enough time for the water to boil, I was sure.
"Good, I'll pour you a mug and you can sit here and drink it, okay?" He nodded, and I poured him his cocoa before rejoining the officer in my living room.
"So, what exactly is going on here?" I asked the cop as I took a seat across from him in the living room.
"Do you know his parents?" he asked instead of bothering to acknowledge my question.
"Yeah, I know them. But I haven't seen William since his mother gave him up for adoption when he was ten months old."
The officer looked up sharply. "About that adoption, did she give him up voluntarily, or did the state take him?"
"She gave him up on her own," I said firmly, knowing that he was worried that abuse or neglect was behind the adoption. He was a cop and couldn't help it; I'd seen a lot while on the force that had left me doubting humanity, too. "Being a single mother was too difficult for her to cope with, so she chose to give him to a family who could give him more. Later on she and the boy's father got back together. Now, are you going to tell me what's going on?"
He sighed. "The kid spent the night before last at a friend's house. The friend's mother drove him home yesterday morning, and the house was empty. It looked like his parents took off in a real hurry." The cop paused, and looked out the window. "We found a note, saying they were real sorry, but they weren't able to look after the boy any more."
"They didn't come back?"
"No." He shook his head. "We spent half of yesterday trying to locate them. It looks like they wanted to get gone real bad, and haven't even used a credit card since the day before they took off. We spent the rest of that day and part of today trying to locate some sign of the boy's biological parents. All we had to go on was the fact that they used to work for the FBI. Someone there remembered an adoption around the right time and said that you might know where that particular agent might be now. No one had any idea of anyone who might know their location other than some AD who left for a cruise days ago."
Skinner took a cruise? I shook my head briefly, and apparently gave the cop the wrong idea because he said, "So you don't know where they might be?"
"No, I do. I was shaking my head over the cruise. My former boss isn't the cruise sort. I know where they are."
"I know it's a lot to ask on Christmas eve, but do you think you could get the boy to them? It might go off better, if they get the news from a friend." He asked eagerly before sighing. "Maybe I'm over-stepping my bounds, but it's going to take me hours to drive home."
I ignored his second statement because I was far more interested in the first. "Are you saying they can have him back, just like that? I thought this sort of case got decided in front of a judge."
"It probably will involve some legalities. But not tonight. It's a holiday in the morning, you know? They can seek legal council on the 26th, but this kid needs a place to go until then." He looked around. "Unless you wanted to keep him until Friday?"
"My wife would kill me." Thinking about keeping him until the 26th reminded me of what I'd done the Christmas eve William had been an infant: walking home I'd discovered a baby who'd been abandoned at an accident site. He'd been returned to his injured mother on the 26th as well, and I'd kept him for all the time between. Nathan was between William and Nora in age. "I can bring him to them tonight."
For the first time, the cop sitting across from me smiled. "You don't know how happy I am to hear that." He gave me the contact information to give to Mulder and Scully, and the left after poking his head into the kitchen and saying goodbye to William.
I watched the cop back out of my driveway before I turned back to the problem at hand. William was still sitting at my kitchen table, clutching his mug tightly. He looked nervous, so I painted on a friendly smile when I approached him. "How's the hot chocolate?"
"It's good," he said, smiling a little, but he was too nervous to have the smile reach his eyes.
"Would you like some more?"
"No thank you," he said politely before placing the mug on the table.
"So..." I tried to think of what to say to him.
"I knew I was adopted," he said suddenly, and then looked away. "In case you were wondering."
"Oh. I'm glad that you know." And in a way, I was. At least that hadn't come as a shock since he landed in the care of the police, though I'm sure everything that followed had. "Um, where did you live, with your adopted parents?"
"North Carolina," William answered promptly. "But only for the last two years. Before that we lived in Wyoming."
"How come you moved?"
His small shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. "Dad's work. He didn't want to be a farmer any more."
"Ah." After a pause, I decided to ask him a question neither of us was going to like. "Do you have any idea where they...went?"
That surprised me. "Really?"
William nodded. "They've been talking to me for a while. Strange stuff."
"Well, it doesn't really make a lot of sense." His small face looked confused. "They said. They said that they couldn't go through with 'it' and that they liked me too much to let that happen."
"Let what happen?"
"I don't know. They never said what 'it' was. I kind of got the idea that they were supposed to bring me somewhere, though."
"Oh." My mind raced, what could the people who had taken him in been planning?
"The other stuff they said didn't make a lot of sense either," William continued. "They said they thought they could do it when I was a baby, but they got to know me, and that made it too hard. And for the last few days they said that they thought maybe I would be better off without them."
"That sucks," I blurted out before I could stop myself. My wife had a hang up about that phrase, and chided me every time I used it around Nora and Teddy.
"Yeah," William agreed with a sigh.
"Did they tell you that you'd be better off with your real parents?" I asked, curious about how much of a plan the vanished couple had beforehand.
"No, not in words, but I could sort of tell that they were thinking that. They said they didn't know where they were once."
"What do you think about that, being with your biological parents again?" I asked carefully. It was possible that he wanted nothing to do with Mulder or Scully, so it was in our best interest to know if that was the case before we showed up at their house.
"I don't know. What if they don't want me back?" His lower lip trembled as he spoke.
"Oh, they do!" I hastily assured him. "Your mom really regrets giving you up for adoption, William. She told me herself." It had been a fairly lengthy conversation, as I recalled it.
One day back in March she'd called me out of the blue and asked if I'd like to go to lunch. When I agreed, we'd spent the meal talking about the case she and Mulder had just solved for the FBI, and the medical case she'd been working on at the time. "There's this sick little boy, Christian, who has what's supposed to be an incurable brain disease, and I've found myself wanting to give him and his family a miracle. I just want to make him well so badly... I keep thinking, maybe if Christian gets well, I'll finally be able to forgive myself for giving up on Mulder and giving William away less than two months before Mulder fulfilled his promise to come back to us."
"Why didn't you ever try to get him back?" I'd wondered aloud over a club sandwich.
She'd looked at her hands. "It wouldn't be fair. Not to the family who adopted him, not to him. I can't rip him away from his family, his whole life, just to make myself feel better, John."
"I guess not," I'd replied, but I'd wondered if she was a stronger person that I was. I'd of given anything to get Luke back, even if meant devastating tens of families. And there was no way I could think of giving up Nora or Teddy, even for their safety.
"William's happiness is more important than mine or Mulder's," she'd said but there'd been a trembling quality to her voice as she'd said it. "I can't take a stable childhood away from him."
After that, we drifted towards what it had been like to be under the FBI's thumb again, and if she thought Mulder would so readily come around if help was needed some day in the future.
"When?" William demanded to know, making me get my head out of the clouds. So much for a stable childhood, I thought ruefully. "When did she tell you that? I bet it was a long time ago. Maybe she changed her mind."
"March, William. I'm sure she hasn't changed her mind since then."
"So you're like friends then?"
"We used to work together, but now we're just friends." I didn't tell him that she'd left the FBI to become a doctor, and that I was employed by a private investigation agency. I'd started out as a PI, but had progressed to managing other investigators and helping them strategize. Or that it had taken until they'd moved to Virginia three years ago before we spoke to each other more than twice a year.
"I hope you're right." His restless hands betrayed the nervousness that his voice tried to hide.
I put my hand over his, and he stopped fidgeting. "I know she hasn't changed her mind, Kiddo. You'll see."
"Tonight, and pretty soon. My kids are going to want to get home in time to put out cookies for Santa."
"Oh." He looked sad.
"What's the matter?"
"I forgot about Santa. Won't he be looking for me at my old house?"
I almost told him that Santa always knew where kids were on Christmas Eve, but I stopped myself at the last second when I remembered with a start that Mulder and Scully probably hadn't bought any gifts for a child they had no idea they were about to be reunited with. I could, of course, tell Mulder that the local toy store was open until 2am, but there was no guarantee that he'd get there if the snow picked up. "Well, Will, if you're going to live with your biological parents now, I think someone is going to have to go to your old house and pack up your stuff. If Santa makes a mistake, they'll be able to send his gifts to you too."
It was easy to see that this answer didn't exactly thrill him, but he said, "Yeah, okay. That'll be okay."
"Wait here while I go and get my kids, huh?"
"Yeah. How old are they?" He wanted to know, just like every other kid meeting strangers for the first time.
"Nora's almost six and Teddy's three."
This answer seemed to satisfy him, so I went up to get them.
As soon as Teddy saw me, he broke into his patented I've-been-naughty smile. His gifts were haphazardly wrapped, but there was several yards of clear tape stuck to my boy. "How'd this get all over you?"
"Dunno," he told me earnestly.
"Nora?" I called, and she appeared immediately. Taking one look at her tape-covered sibling, she became contrite. "I thought we could get the tape off before you came up."
"Who was at the door? You talked to him for a long time. I knew you'd want us to stay out of the way, so we did. Even though Teddy tried to go down stairs like a million times."
"Didn't," Teddy protested and held up four fingers. "Only dis many."
"This," I correct before speaking to Nora. "You remember me telling you that I used to be an FBI agent?"
"Of course. I'm not dumb, Daddy."
"I know you're not... anyway, their little boy, William needs a ride home, so we're going take him to his parents."
Nora tilted her head. "I know which of your friends you used to work with. How come we never met your friends' son before?"
She had to ask that. "Well, he lived with another family for a long time."
"Oh. Is he nice?"
"Very," I said. My impression was that William had been raised to be a polite, respectful, little boy, and that seemed fairly nice to me.
"That's good," She said. "Is it going to be a long drive?"
"About an hour."
"Can we watch Christmas cartoons on the way?"
"Sure. Why don't you and Teddy each pick a DVD to bring with us?"
We hadn't had anything remotely close to an in-car DVD player when Emma and I were kids, but I now considered it a life-saver. Nora and Teddy didn't fight during long car trips like we had as kids.
It didn't take me very long to get all three kids settled in the back seat of the minivan that my wife had insisted that we needed. I would have preferred to take my car, but the DVD player was a permanent part of the minivan. And there was room to sit three comfortably in the back, too, which was another advantage over my car. William had enough room to be comfortable between Teddy's car seat and Nora's booster seat.
"Where we going?" Teddy asked, but his eyes were on the fat lazy snowflakes drifting to the ground rather than on me.
"We're going to visit a couple old friends of Daddy's."
"Then we make cookies?"
"As soon as we get home," I promised.
"Can my mom cook?" William asked softly.
"I'm sure she can, Will. She didn't live off of fast food like your dad did for years," I said easily. With a little luck, she had the makings for a few simple sugar cookies at least in her kitchen. Seven-year-olds genuinely believe in Santa still, didn't they? I thought Nora still had a few more years of believing to go before we let her in on the first grown up secret many kids learn - we are Santa, and it's our job to make others happy on the holidays.
"Does she live with my dad?"
"She does now." How strange it must be for him not to know simple facts like that about his parents. Thinking about that, I was torn. On one hand I wanted to tell him all about his parents, but on the other I thought it would be better to let him get to know them himself. What I finally decided on was letting him ask questions, but not offering information he didn't request from me.
As I drove, I caught the occasional sounds of cartoon antics, even though the kids wore headphones as they watched whatever cutsey Christmas specials that Nora and Teddy brought with them. I alone listened to the Christmas songs that played commercial-free on the oldies station. When a favorite cued up, I raised the volume slightly and sang along.
Well, well, well I'm dreaming tonight
I'll be home for Christmas.
Oh oh ah I'll be home for Christmas.
If only yeah
It seemed fitting somehow, that that particular song came on as I drove William home to his parents. I guess some people might worry that an adopted child wouldn't be welcomed home with open arms, but then, those people probably didn't know how badly the child's mother wanted him back. As for Mulder, I knew that he just wanted Scully to be happy, so I'm sure he'd be thrilled too.
The snow kept a lot of people home, and that was fine with me. Some people had no business driving in poor weather, so it was safer for the rest of us if they curled up in front of a fire and drank eggnog. Given the lack of much traffic, I made better time than I ever had the few other times I'd driven to their house. Before I knew it, we were pulling into the driveway.
To my vast relief, they'd decided to stay in that night. There were lights on in both the living room and kitchen, and tasteful red and green lights were burning on the house. I almost thought it was Scully's influence, but the green was a suspiciously alien shade, so perhaps it had been Mulder's idea.
Through a window, I saw them in the living room. There must have been music on, because they seemed to be dancing. Mulder enthusiastically, and Scully with a resigned air about her. Mulder steered her towards the doorway, and I could just barely make out a sprig of mistletoe nailed above the doorway.
I waited until they pulled away from their kiss before I got out of the van and went around to release the kids from the back seat. Nora and Teddy hopped right out, but William hung back.
Putting a hand on his shoulder, I asked, "Are you ready for this?"
"No." He shook his head. "But let's do this anyway."
"That a boy."
Teddy demanded to be allowed to ring the door bell, so I picked him up, raising him high enough to reach. They answered immediately, so I still was dangling my son in the air when the door opened.
"John!" Scully said, and quickly hugged me out around Teddy. "What a nice surprise."
I could tell that she hadn't noticed William yet, and realized that he had moved to stand behind me. "You have no idea," I replied, and shuffled two steps to my left.
"Who-" she started to say, confused. Then her eyes widened when it dawned on her who had been standing behind me. "W-W-William?"
"Momma?" William whispered.
Scully enfolded the boy in a hug and turned to scream over her shoulder, "Mulder, come here!"
I was shocked. Even during emergencies, I'd never heard her yell like that before. I didn't even know she could.
Mulder must have been startled too, because I heard him running. He stopped dead when he saw her arms wrapped around the boy. "Is that, is that…"
"Merry Christmas," Teddy said brightly, still dangling, completely forgotten, from my hands. I sheepishly set him on his feet.
"Come inside," Mulder commanded, ushering Nora in first. We'd been standing at the door long enough for snow to dust her hat.
I let them fuss over their son for a few minutes, not minding that I'd been as forgotten as my son for a short while. Eventually Scully regained her composure, and took the kids into the kitchen with the promise of fudge. They were still occupied with their treat when she reluctantly returned to where Mulder and I were staring at each other.
"How did this happen?" Mulder demanded to know.
I wasn't able to hide my smile. That was Mulder for you, still demanding the truth no matter what. "I was about to make Christmas cookies with the kids when a cop knocked on my door and asked if I knew the abandoned child he was trying to find a place for. Turns out that it was William."
"Abandoned?" Scully looked confused. "Why was he abandoned?"
Motioning them closer, I lowered my voice. "From talking to William, I got the idea that the people you gave him to weren't what we thought they were."
"What were they, then?" Mulder wanted to know.
"Honestly, I think they might have been those damn super-soldiers we ran into years ago." When the cop said there was no sign of them, I'd begun to wonder if anyone has found any clothing abandoned near a magnetite field. There was any proof that they were dead, but the note made it seem like they were pretty sure they were never going to be found.
"No!" Scully looked horrified. "What would make you think such a thing?"
As concisely as possible, I told them what William had related me about their strange conversations before they'd disappeared. "...so it sounds to me like they were supposed to turn him over to someone, but decided they couldn't go through with it," I concluded.
"How could I have given-" Scully started to say, but Mulder and I didn't let her finish voicing the thought.
"They don't know where you are," I said, so she wouldn't finish blaming herself for something she'd had no control over. "William said that they didn't know where you were. I think that means no one does."
"That doesn't make sense," Mulder objected. "If they didn't know where we went after we left the FBI, surely they know now. The father Joe case made all the papers, and no one thought to keep our names out of it."
"And when the treatment we tried on Christian worked, it was written up in the New England Journal of Medicine." Scully added, looking worried.
"They have to know where to look for William now," Mulder concluded.
"It looks to me like you have two choices." I told them, and two pairs of eyes fastened on my face. "The first choice is that you can take William and run like hell. Change your names, the whole nine yards."
"And the other?" Mulder asked evenly, making me think that he'd already been thinking about that option.
"The other is that you don't let them drive you away again. Make a stand if they come after the boy. No one else has ever been able to do anything to strike back against the conspiracy, so they might be wary of you now. Especially knowing that you've got friends here, unlike you would if you went on the run."
All of a sudden, they looked less scared and tense. I'd known that they would have mixed emotions as soon as I showed up, because as much as they wanted their little boy back, they wanted to keep him safe even more.
"Actually, there's a third possibility," Scully said quietly. "We could find him another safe home."
"Safe like the last one? Look," I said, looking Scully. "You made a mistake when you gave him up to keep him safe. I don't blame you for making the best choice you could with what information you had at hand, but you were wrong. You can protect him. No one else is as capable of looking out for your son as you are. He's meant to be with you. Don't let this chance slip through your fingers."
As I said it, I felt a pang of grief. They could keep William safe where I hadn't Luke. Every time I thought about his murder, I wished I'd been the one home that day, and I would have walked behind while he rode his bike. I tried not to let Barb know that I partly blamed her for his abduction, but I was sure that she knew. How could she not?
"Of course we'll keep him," Mulder said firmly. "He's our son, and you're right, we can keep him safe."
"And if you need to, you can ask for help," I reminded him.
Scully hugged me again, and for a second I was sure Mulder would too. Instead he settled for pounding me on the back in that manly substitute for affection that had been so popular among the boys I'd grown up with.
"John, thank you. For everything," Scully said huskily.
"You're welcome." I pulled out the contact information the cop had given me. "You're supposed to call here on the 26th."
"Right," Mulder agreed readily. "We will."
"You've given us so much tonight, is there anything we can do for you to make the rest of your night easier?" Her eyes shimmered, reflecting the lights from their tree.
"Do you know how to make cookies?" I asked hopefully.
To my utter surprise, Mulder turned out to be the one to help the kids make their cookies for Santa. Scully said that hers were virtually inedible, but Mulder enjoyed baking. "I'm the one who is home more often," he explained as he tied an apron around Teddy's waist. "I got a craving for something homemade a few years ago, and decided to teach myself how to cook."
"We've gotten heartburn a lot less often since he did," Scully said fondly.
"I even took a few cooking classes," He added.
Within a matter of minutes, the kitchen was filled with flour, sugar, and excited childish chatter. Scully and I tried to head off messes, but we let Mulder be master of ceremonies.
I watched William, noticing how he soon became more comfortable, and started to talk a lot less shyly with both my kids and his parents. He was going to be okay, I decided then. It wouldn't be easy, and he might well need therapy to completely adjust, but it would be okay.
When I left a little later on, Nora carried golden brown cookies, and I carried a sleepy Teddy. "Daddy, do you think Santa will like the cookies?" she asked after climbing onto her booster seat.
"He sure will," I promised as I buckled her brother in.
"Today was kind of neat."
"Yeah. William got to go home to his real parents. That doesn't happen every day."
"Daddy, is it a Christmas miracle, that he got to go home today?" Nora asked excitedly.
"It just may be, Nora. It just may be."
I was whistling the Christmas Song to myself as I walked around the minivan. In an hour I'd be home with my kids, and we'd give my wife a call. Santa would get his cookies and milk, and we'd hang out the kids' stockings. And here, at Mulder and Scully's house, a new slew of family traditions were about to kick off. A Christmas miracle if I ever heard of one.
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