Category: AU, X
Subcategory: MSR, UST
Summary: Ghosts and Christmas go together like Mulder and Scully.
Author’s Note: I’m sure it’s been done before — the episodic, ghostly nature of The X-Files practically begs for the A Christmas Carol treatment — but I couldn’t resist.
This doesn’t fit neatly in canon, so call it an AU. Merry merry, ho ho ho, etc.
“Hey Scully, got you a present,” Mulder says, jogging into the basement office waving two pieces of paper. His cheeks are flushed from the unusually cold December air. Rumors are flying about record snowfall and a white Christmas, but Mulder’s attention is on the tickets in his hand, and his partner’s apprehensive look.
“How do you feel about Wisconsin?”
“Wisconsin,” she says, rolling the word on her tongue like a sour piece of candy.
“I got us on the six o’clock to Milwaukee. There’s been a flurry of activity, if you’ll pardon the pun,” he grins. “Local farms have reported strange lights, and a previously unseen form of cattle mutilations.”
There’s a pause. “You can’t be serious.”
“This could be the real thing, Scully.”
“Mulder…what makes this any different from your run-of-the-mill hoax? Even you’ve said before that cattle mutilations are hardly definitive proof of extraterrestrial involvement.”
“I’m glad you asked,” he says, rolling the projector cart over. He opens his laptop and the screen glows with an enlarged picture of a cow.
“What am I looking at?”
“A holstein, I think,” Mulder quips.
She glares at him. “I meant, what is it about this particular cow that has you flying to Wisconsin on Christmas Eve?”
“This is from a 1986 event in Minnesota. Note the pattern of the puncture marks around the neck and upper shoulder areas. Now compare it to the pattern on these cows from two days ago,” he says, changing the slide. “Notice anything different?”
Scully sighs impatiently. “Mulder—”
“This one,” he says, flipping back to the first slide, “has a clockwise pattern, starting from the upper left. Very clean, very precise, and very fake. But this one,” he flips to the second slide, “follows a seemingly random pattern. The cuts vary in size and depth. And several of the animals in question were left alive. What kind of animal attacks and leaves marks like this without killing their prey?”
Scully folds her arms across her chest. “The kind that wants to mess with some poor farmers out of boredom or spite?”
“Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think it’s that simple, Scully. Four separate farms have reported the same mutilations; all within a five-mile radius, all after having seen the lights. We’ll go straight to the farms, I’ll check out the lights, and you can examine the bodies. I’ll have you home in time for Christmas dinner.”
She blinks, dumbfounded, before shaking her head. “No, Mulder.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t go.”
“Big holiday plans?” he frowns.
“As a matter of fact, yes. I’m spending the weekend with Mom, Bill and his family are visiting, and…for God’s sake, Mulder, it’s Christmas! I’m not going to East Nowhere, Wisconsin to autopsy a bunch of dead cows.”
“Who said anything about an autops—”
She holds up her hand to interrupt him. “No, I am not getting into this with you. I’m leaving early. I still have wrapping to do and traffic is going to be hell.”
“C’mon, Scully, where’s your investigative spirit?”
“Wishing she were drinking a strong egg nog,” she mutters, wrapping a scarf around her neck and gathering her things.
“You’re really not going…”
“No, and I can’t believe you are,” she says. “I mean…is nothing sacred with you? It’s Christmas! Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
The words hit hard. It must show on his face, because Scully’s cheeks turn a faint shade of pink and she ducks her head.
“I’m sorry, Mulder. That was thoughtless.”
“Bah, humbug,” he waves her off. “I’ve never been much for the holidays, anyway.”
“Look, why don’t you come with me? There’s always more than enough to share, and Mom would love to see you.”
“And spend the weekend with your brother? Thanks, but I’d rather hang out with the cows,” he smirks. “It’s fine. Go, be with your family. I’ll call you if I find anything.”
“Be careful,” she sighs after a pause. “Merry Christmas, Mulder.” And with that, she’s gone.
For one fretful second, he considers abandoning his plans and going after her, then looks down at the tickets in his hand. With a final sigh, he turns off the projector, locks the office, and heads to the airport.
Mulder grits his teeth through the taxi ride; Christmas music blares from the radio, interspersed with too-cheery, jingling commercials for last-minute holiday sales. The car smells like cheap pine potpourri, the cardboard tree on the rearview mirror swinging wildly with every turn. As they pull onto the highway, the snow has already begun to fall hard.
“Goin’ to see family?” the driver asks as they take a turn a little too fast; the wheels skid, sending Mulder lurching across the back seat.
“Something like that,” Mulder mutters, wincing as the car slips again on the fresh snowfall.
“Hope they don’t cancel your flight. This stuff’s a mess.”
“Uh huh. Maybe you should focus on driving,” Mulder says.
“Have it your way,” the driver sniffs, turning up the volume.
They slide into the departures drop-off zone to the tune of Jinglebell Rock, narrowly missing the curb and a group of flustered pedestrians. The snow has begun to accumulate, and Mulder watches in horror as another car goes skidding through a nearby intersection, grazing a lamppost on the way.
“Nasty stuff,” the driver says cheerily. “What a mess. Hey, Merry Christmas!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Mulder says, grimacing at the slush on the sidewalks as he hands the driver some cash. The radio has moved on to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, but the flight board inside brings no tidings of comfort or joy.
Every single flight, marked in bright, angry red, is grounded. Mulder groans, considers the ticket counter, but decides against it. Instead, he fumbles his way through security and heads to the news shop for gum.
He’s waiting in the checkout line behind several other customers, standing next to a fake tree strung with lights and souvenirs for sale, when one of the ornaments catches his eye. Leaning down to inspect it, he finds an old-fashioned biplane with two pilot figures inside, scarves streaming behind them. It’s kitschy, but tugs it off the tree.
“That’ll be sixteen ninety-three,” the saleslady says when he places his items on the counter.
Mulder whistles. “What, is the gum imported?”
The woman blinks. “I dunno. You wanna box for that?” she asks, gesturing to the ornament.
“Yeah, sure,” he mutters, reaching for his wallet.
“Happy holidays,” she says flatly.
“Right,” he says, pocketing his purchases and leaving the store.
He grabs a stool at the terminal bar and flags down the bartender. “Scotch on the rocks.”
The bartender slides over a glass of ice and wordlessly pours his drink. Mulder looks around, noting the number of other passengers huddled over plates of food, stuck in airport limbo. He lets the hum of conversation envelop him while he nurses his drink.
The television in the corner blares a weather report; he catches the words “low-pressure system” and “winter storm warning”, the forecasters clearly excited to have something to talk about. He orders a burger and fries, pulling out the file on the Wisconsin case.
Several drinks and a meal later, he’s read through the file multiple times. The words are starting to blur together when the announcement comes over the airport intercom.
“All flights are canceled. Please contact your airline’s customer service representative to replace your tickets or request a refund.”
“Shit,” Mulder mutters, tossing a handful of bills onto the bar. He stands up, and the world seems to list slightly before righting itself. Shaking it off, he drags himself outside and manages to hail a taxi. This one smells blissfully normal, like cigarettes and stale chips. No obnoxious music, either, Mulder thinks as he gives the driver his home address.
“Flight got canceled, huh?” the driver says conversationally. “Well, that’s some luck. Visiting family?”
“On Christmas? The FBI must be a hard taskmaster.”
Mulder narrows his eyes. “How’d you know I’m FBI?”
“Your badge,” the driver says, gesturing to the tag on his jacket.
“Oh,” Mulder says, sheepish. “Right.”
They pull away from the airport; snow flies at them as the cab picks up speed. Colored lights stream by the windows, blending into a rainbow haze through the fogged glass.
“Beautiful night, don’t you think?” the driver says, glancing in the rearview mirror.
“Uh, sure,” Mulder mutters, pinching the bridge of his nose to ward off the headache that’s coming at him like a freight train. “S’just great.”
“And to think, if those planes hadn’t been grounded, you might have missed it,” the driver continues. “Seems like you’re exactly where you need to be tonight.”
Mulder smirks. “So, are you a life coach moonlighting as a taxi driver, or a taxi driver moonlighting as a life coach?”
The other man laughs. “Neither, I’m afraid. Just a messenger of good will on a cold night.”
Mulder rolls his eyes and pretends to be absorbed in the scenery, wondering why he always gets the chatty drivers. It must be the alcohol dulling his senses, but the cab seems to float along in the night, gently swaying with each turn. When they coast to a stop, he’s surprised to find they’ve already arrived at Hegal Place.
“That was…fast,” he says. “Usually takes an hour from the airport. How did you—”
“Just a little holiday magic,” the driver says, chuckling. “And a little advice.”
“I don’t follow…”
The driver’s eyes meet his in the rearview. “The spirits will show you the way, if you’re willing to listen. Pay attention.”
“Uhh…right,” Mulder says, gathering his things, suddenly anxious to get out of the cab and put this strange night behind him. “I’d keep your day job.”
Intent on escaping, he almost forgets to pay. He rounds the cab to the driver’s side and taps on the window.
“Hey, what do I owe you?”
“It’s on the house. Merry Christmas, Fox,” the driver says, giving him a wink. He drives off before Mulder can protest.
Mulder frowns, trying to recall if he gave the man his name—he’s certain he didn’t—but the Scotch has made his head foggy, and the thought of a warm bed beckons.
By the time he stumbles into the elevator, he has completely forgotten the cab driver’s ominous advice. Exhausted, he manages to unlock his apartment and take off his shoes before falling into the couch with a graceless dive.
Time for a long winter’s nap, he thinks, before sinking into blissful oblivion.
His first mistake is turning over. The movement stirs a raging ache in his head and he winces, hand to his temple. It slowly comes back to him; the airport, the case in Wisconsin, the delayed flight…the bar.
His next mistake is sitting up. The couch seems to lurch beneath him, and his stomach protests—loudly. Scotch and bile burn the back of his throat, making him shudder.
“Oh…that’s not good,” he groans, pressing the back of his hand to his mouth, fighting the urge to vomit.
“No, it isn’t.”
Mulder’s head snaps up and he instinctively reaches for his gun. The voice seems to come from everywhere. He fumbles at his side, realizing he left his sidearm in his bag. “Who’s there?”
“I wouldn’t bother with that. You can’t shoot me,” the voice says mildly.
“Show yourself,” Mulder demands, reaching for his carryon.
A form materializes from the darkness; first the hands, a slender torso in a dark suit, then a face that seems to shimmer in the air, before solidifying into a familiar form that freezes Mulder in his tracks.
He looks like…
“Deep Throat?” Mulder says. “You’re…dead.”
“I am,” the spirit agrees, chuckling. “Sly like a fox, aren’t you, Mr. Mulder?”
Mulder shakes his head, pressing his palms to his eyes. When he opens them, the man still stands in his living room, looking the same as he did when they first met six years ago.
“Christ. How much did I have to drink?”
“I thought you, of all people, would believe a ghost when you saw one,” Deep Throat says, then frowns disapprovingly. “Your father was a Scotch man, too.”
Mulder looks at him, squints, then shakes his head again. “You’re a hallucination. A very vivid hallucination. Scully would…would…she’d check me for head trauma.”
“Ahh, your enigmatic partner,” Deep Throat smiles. “The skeptic. She must be rubbing off on you.”
Mulder slowly sinks to the couch. “OK, so you’re a ghost. What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to show you your past, of course.”
“My past? What is this, a budget production of Scrooge?”
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Mulder. But come, we have work to do. It’s Christmas Eve, you know.”
And with that, the room is bathed in darkness.
The air hits him like a slap in the face; damp, cold, and tainted with seawater. There’s snow on the ground, a dusting, and the sound of waves rushing against a frozen shoreline. All of it familiar, yet years long gone.
“What the…hell,” Mulder whispers. They’re no longer in his apartment, that much is obvious, but how they got here and where exactly “here” is evades him, like a word caught on the tip of his tongue. He whirls around, trying to steady himself.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? Like a painting. The perfect New England Christmas,” Deep Throat says, materializing at Mulder’s side.
“What…where are we?”
“Let’s take a walk. It will warm your bones.”
“Yeah…sure…warm my bones,” Mulder says, barely hearing his own words as he follows the man. Soon they’re approaching a shopping center. Customers hurry to and fro, carrying packages; Mulder can hear their chatter, the sound of carols being played over the speakers.
It hits him then, where they are. When they are.
“The Vineyard,” he says slowly. “This is Chilmark. Sometime in the 1970’s, judging by the terrible hair. How…?”
“The magic of the season knows no bounds, Mr. Mulder.”
Walking as if in a trance, he makes his way through the busy parking lot, but no one seems to notice them. Mulder gets the impression he could reach out and grab someone, and they wouldn’t feel a thing. He tries it, waving his hand in front of a young man’s face, mere inches away.
Mulder looks at Deep Throat, who watches with a mixture of amusement and conceit. “They can’t see you; this is a mirage built of memories. Your memories, as a matter of fact.”
“Right,” Mulder says distractedly, reaching out to poke a passerby in the arm to no effect.
“Come. There’s something I want you to see.”
As they approach the storefront, Mulder is hit with a powerful wave of nostalgia. “It’s here, isn’t it?”
Deep Throat nods, watching Mulder carefully. They’ve stopped in front of a department store, the display window dressed with a bounty of shiny new toys. There’s a blue bike, a Schwinn, that catches Mulder’s eye.
He watches in wonder as a familiar boy walks in front of him; a young version of himself, also looking through the glass.
“I saved for that bike for months,” Mulder says, remembering. “Mowed lawns, raked leaves…I was going to buy it as soon as I had the money.”
“But you didn’t,” Deep Throat says after a pause.
Mulder watches as the boy’s gaze shifts from the bike to the train set before walking into the store and out of his line of sight. His fingers go to the window, grazing the cool glass.
“Sam talked about that train all year. She didn’t want a dollhouse or a doll; she wanted the Lionel Deluxe with the working smokestack. So I bought it with the money I saved…” he trails off.
“You thought if you bought her the train, she’d have to return,” the other man finishes for him.
“In my defense, it sounded more believable when I was twelve,” Mulder says drily.
“The only Christmas wish that couldn’t be fulfilled.”
Mulder grimaces, watching the boy walk out of the shop, gift bag in hand, trudging through the snowy parking lot and down the street.
Suddenly the scenery changes as the storefront disappears, fading into night. The snow has deepened. Fat, wet flakes fall from an onyx sky. They’re standing on a street, each house decorated with lights and candles in the windows.
One house stands apart from the rest, with only a single window illuminated, casting shadows on the crisp white lawn. Mulder recognizes it immediately.
“This was our house in Chilmark. My childhood home.”
“I’m afraid no one has called this house a home in several weeks,” Deep Throat says sadly. The man gestures to the single lit window.
Mulder walks up to it, peering over the low sill. Inside is a familiar sight; an aluminum tree, surrounded by boxes of ornaments, and his younger self attempting to hang them. The lights are strung haphazardly on the upper branches, the ornaments barely clearing the six-foot mark.
In the background, he can hear the sounds of arguing, raised voices. The boy continues working at the tree as if he doesn’t hear, but Mulder knows he can hear everything.
He watches as his young self studiously hangs every last bauble on the tree with grim determination. There’s no joy, no wonder in the act. As he’s picking out the last of the ornaments, his mother walks in.
“What is this mess?” Teena Mulder says thickly, looking at the room.
“It’s Christmas,” the boy says, the stubborn set of his jaw already evident.
She sighs. “Fox, go to bed.”
“Bed,” she orders, her voice icy. “Now.”
The boy hesitates, but does as he’s told. Mulder watches as his mother collapses in a chair and reaches for a cigarette with a trembling hand.
“The Christmas after Sam was taken,” Mulder says flatly. “Dad spent the day in his study, drinking. Mom didn’t get out of bed. Ho-ho-ho.”
“You hoped for a miracle that night,” Deep Throat says. “A miracle that never came.”
Mulder frowns but doesn’t respond, watching as his mother takes a long drag on her cigarette.
“Hope isn’t only for the young, Mr. Mulder. You haven’t stopped wishing for your sister, even if you’ve learned her fate. Why else would you continue pursuing the ephemeral truth?”
Mulder narrows his eyes. “What are you getting at?”
“Maybe it’s not what you’re running toward, but what you’re running from,” Deep Throat says.
Mulder scoffs. “Spare me the platitudes. Why did you bring me here?”
“You need to remember, now more than ever.”
“Yeah, well…it’s been a nice trip down memory lane, but that’s as much Christmas cheer as I can stomach.”
The other man sighs. “Very well. But know this: the other spirits may not be as forgiving. I urge you to listen to them. Farewell, Mr. Mulder.”
Mulder jerks awake back in his apartment, the smell of sea air replaced with worn leather and wool.
“Jesus,” he whispers, looking around. No ghosts, no snow, no sad, Dickensian Christmas moral to be found.
“A dream. It was a dream,” he says, laughing out loud at his own foolishness. It had seemed real, but of course it had. He flops back onto the couch in relief.
You’re drunk. Sleep it off.
Pulling the blanket up, he rolls to his side, yawning. He’s drifting, his consciousness playing at the edge of sleep, when he catches movement out of the corner of his eye; a light moving along the wall, like headlights, but…
Glowing, he thinks. It’s glowing.
And it is, growing brighter by the second. Mulder turns his head, only to be blinded by a white flare that subsides into a warm, angelic haze.
“Why hello, Fox,” a voice says, and Mulder’s heart lurches. He knows that voice too well.
“No,” he says, still facing away. “No, no, no. It’s a dream, don’t look. I am not going to—“
“Wake up, Fox.”
“Go away,” he snaps. “I am not a…wake…right…ohhhh,” he falters as he feels his body being lifted off the couch by an unseen hand. He hovers for a moment, flailing. “Damnit, Phoebe, put me down!”
“As you wish,” the voice says and he immediately drops back into his makeshift bed with a painful thud.
“Jesus Christ,” he groans, rubbing at his shoulder, where a bruise is already forming. “You. How did you…I don’t…I…Phoebe?”
His old flame perches on the corner of his desk, seeming to float above it. “Can’t put anything past you, can I?” she teases, her thick English accent punctuating each syllable.
“I can’t believe this,” Mulder mutters, rubbing at his face with his hands. He looks up to find her smirking. “This is funny to you?”
“Kind of sad, actually,” she says. “Come now, Fox. You used to have such an open mind!”
“I…but…you’re not even dead,” he says.
“Actually I am,” she frowns. “House fire. Two years ago. Terribly ironic, isn’t it?”
Mulder snorts. “Wow, OK. Look, I need to sleep, can we skip straight to whatever moral grand finale you have planned and call it a night?”
“Fine,” she says, and with a snap of her fingers, they’re transported to a suburban street. Mulder doesn’t recognize it, but he’s somewhat relieved to find the surroundings are from the current decade.
“Wanna teach me that trick?” he mutters, trying to orient himself.
“Afraid not,” Phoebe says, then gestures to the house in front of them. “Here you go, Mr. Impatient. Your moral awaits.”
They make their way up the porch to a glowing window. From inside comes the sound of a child’s laughter and the hum of happy adult voices enjoying the holiday. Mulder peers inside to see his partner sitting in a chair with a young boy on her lap.
“Hey, Scully!” Mulder taps on the glass.
“She can’t hear you,” Phoebe says, frowning at her nails.
Mulder ignores her, instead watching as the boy grasps Scully’s face in both hands and shrieks with laughter as his partner tickles his sides. Her nephew, Mulder realizes. This must be Maggie Scully’s house.
“She’s pretty now,” Phoebe sniffs. “Was quite homely when I met her.”
Mulder glares at his late ex but says nothing, turning back to watch his partner. In truth, he can’t take his eyes off her, the joy on her face as she plays with Matthew. Bill appears in the doorway, offering his sister a glass of wine.
“You’d be here with her tonight if you hadn’t gone off on your own,” Phoebe says.
Through the glass, Scully turns the boy around and points to something on the tree, then whispers in his ear. He scoots off her lap and runs into the kitchen, out of Mulder’s line of sight. Scully watches him go with a smile, but it slowly disappears as her gaze travels to her phone on the side table. She frowns, then stands up and leaves the room.
“She worries about you,” Phoebe says over his shoulder. “She’s tried to call several times.”
“My phone didn’t ring.”
“Your battery is dead.”
Mulder’s jaw tightens. “Damnit.”
Seconds later, the front door opens. Scully stands next to them on the porch, her cheeks flushed, fine strands of hair fluttering in the wind.
“Scully,” he says, moving toward her.
“She can’t hear you,” Phoebe sighs, exasperated, but Mulder doesn’t care. He moves closer, reaching out to touch Scully’s forearm. This time, she seems to look directly at him, holding his gaze.
“I think she can, though,” Mulder whispers. He keeps his hand on her arm, even though it’s like touching air. Finally she pulls away, turning her back and wrapping her arms around herself, the faint connection between them broken.
“Dana?” Her brother appears at the door. “What are you doing out here? It’s freezing.”
“Nothing,” she says, forcing a smile. “Just needed some fresh air.”
“Well c’mon, Mom’s making popcorn.”
They retreat inside. Someone has put on music, and the sound of laughter carries through the air.
“What are you scared of, Fox?” Phoebe asks, a seductive whisper in his ear.
Mulder swallows hard, but can’t think of an answer.
“It’s pathetic, if you ask me,” she continues. “You clearly have feelings for this woman, and yet, you show it by inviting her to Wisconsin to look at a bunch of dead animals. And on Christmas…tsk tsk.”
“She’s not you,” Mulder says through gritted teeth. “She’s different.”
“Obviously,” the woman retorts. “If she were me, she’d have come to her senses and begged off this assignment years ago. But she stays…why? What’s the attraction? I mean, obviously you have a certain look about you, but beyond that—”
“And there’s the Phoebe I remember,” he mutters.
“You wish,” she smiles, a saccharine expression. “Surely it’s not your dazzling wit that’s holding her here.”
He sucks in a breath. “Is there a point coming?”
“The point is, you can’t hold a woman at arm’s length forever and expect her to stay, Fox. You obviously love her. Everyone can see it. Everyone but you,” she finishes.
He closes his eyes, willing himself to ignore her. Through the window, he watches as the Scully clan gathers around the tree, his partner standing out from the rest. Matthew comes up to wrap himself around her knee, grinning up at her, and she returns his smile. Something about watching her with a small child makes Mulder’s heart ache, stoking a sudden fury at this strange intrusion of privacy.
“Look, my…inclinations toward Scully are none of your business,” he says, still facing the window. “Not that you have any business as a ghost, so why don’t you cut the head-shrinking act and work some of your teleportation hocus pocus to get us out of here.”
There’s no answer from Phoebe. Mulder turns to look for her, but his spectral ex-girlfriend has disappeared.
“Phoebe?” He backs away from the window. “Phoebe! Hey!”
He reluctantly leaves the light of Maggie Scully’s home and walks to the street. The snow has stopped, but the air remains frigid.
“Damnit,” he mutters. He considers finding the nearest bus stop, but before he can decide what to do, the street begins to darken. One by one, windows and streetlights are extinguished. The wind picks up, sending a violent chill up Mulder’s spine. He reaches for his gun, only to remember he isn’t carrying.
A sound echoes off to the left, and he peers in that direction, but there’s only the light of the moon reflecting off drifts of snow.
There’s another sound, the crunch of ice underfoot.
The wind doesn’t answer. In his growing apprehension, he hasn’t noticed that the houses and the street around him have disappeared entirely.
Slowly, out of the darkness, a figure approaches, appearing to float above the snowy ground. Mulder’s mouth goes dry. If the other spirits have been forces of quasi-good, this one feels decidedly different.
“Who’s there?” he asks again, and this time the cloaked figure replies.
“I think you know, Fox.”
Mulder’s fear gives way to anger.
“You,” he hisses, as Spender’s face appears from beneath the shroud, the dull glow of a cigarette between his lips trailing smoke into the cold air.
Spender smirks. “Did you expect someone else? The devil? Another perished informant, perhaps?”
“Either would have been preferable,” Mulder says. “Does this mean you’re actually dead? Should I be celebrating?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” the smoking man grins, an ominous expression on his sallow face. “The difference between life and death is a matter of perception, wouldn’t you say?”
“Spare me the existential crisis, you sonofabitch. What do you want? What are you doing here?”
The man feigns innocence. “I thought you knew, Fox. Isn’t it obvious? I’m here to show you your future.”
Mulder backs away. “What makes you think I’d believe anything you had to show me?”
Spender chuckles. “This from the man who spends his holiday chasing lights in the sky.”
“I don’t trust a word that comes out of your cancer-riddled mouth,” Mulder spits.
“Turn around, Fox. I think you’ll find what you see enlightening,” the man says coldly, taking another long draw on his cigarette.
Mulder turns slowly. The scene unfolds before him, fading in as if from a thick fog; dark trees against the sky, and a slight figure standing in the cold. Her hair whips around her face, a scarf obscuring her features, but Mulder would recognize Scully’s Navy-brat posture anywhere. Headstones loom in the background like soldiers, an army of the dead.
“You left her behind, following one of your ridiculous whims. By the time she found you, it was too late.”
Mulder swallows, approaching the scene, knowing what he’ll see but unable to stop himself. Spender’s terrible voice carries on the air.
“She identified your remains and had them shipped to Arlington. She arranged your funeral, because you had no remaining family. She’s so devoted to you, Fox. She deserved so much better.”
His grave stands out from the rest, dark earth cast over the top in contrast to the white snow at their feet. His surname gleams from the freshly polished granite in block letters.
His heart clenches as he comes closer, watching Scully, head bowed with the weight of her grief. He reaches out to console her, but his fingers brush her coat and she collapses into ashes, specks of dust that blow away in the wind.
He kneels down, but all that’s left slips through his fingers.
“What did you do to her?” Mulder whirls on Spender.
“You should ask yourself that question.”
“I never would have—“ he stops himself. His face flushes, and he lunges at the man, attempting to grab him, but he grasps only air and falls to his knees. Spender laughs.
“You can’t hurt me, you fool.”
“What did you do?” Mulder repeats, breathing hard. “What happened? Tell me!”
“Are you sure you really want to know, Fox?”
“Tell me, damnit!”
“Very well,” Spender says, his words clipped. He lets out a breath of pure smoke before continuing. “Agent Scully became careless. Reckless. The Bureau tried to assign her a new partner, but she isolated herself. Stubborn and single-minded, she bucked the system in retaliation for your death. Does this story sound familiar?”
Mulder grimaces. “She would never…” he tries, but the words stick in his throat.
“She ran into a hostage situation without backup.”
“You’re lying!” Mulder says, climbing to his feet. “She wouldn’t. She…she…”
“She learned from the best.”
“You bastard!” he hisses.
“You should consider yourself fortunate; you get to see her one last time,” Spender says, gesturing behind him, where a church has appeared, the door hanging open like a the gaping maw of a monster while the slow dirge of a funeral procession plays.
“No…this isn’t real,” Mulder whispers, but he walks toward the church nonetheless. Spender’s laughter follows him, echoing in his ears, mingling with the music as he climbs the steps.
Faceless figures line the aisles, hands folded in their laps. The coffin at the end is lit from within, glowing with a sickening light. Mulder’s fists clench and release at his sides as he walks, entranced, unable to pull his gaze away. He has to see for himself, has to know if this is a dream or a premonition.
Her face is pale, pure and unblemished, like fresh snow against a silken ivory backdrop. He knows if he were to touch her skin, he would find it ice cold; he reaches out, but can’t bring himself to do it. Around him, the candlelight dances, casting long, ghostly shadows on the walls. The music has stopped, and all that’s left is a low moan as a harsh cry wrenches itself from Mulder’s throat. “Scully. Oh, Scully…”
The faceless figures begin to sing and the laughter echoes, rising and reverberating through the small chapel until he can’t think, can’t breathe. Scully’s face begins to rot in front of him, flesh melting into her skull. Her hair grows limp and dark, her eyes bulge and sink, her teeth bared in a ghoulish grin.
“No, no,” Mulder says, backing away, nearly tripping over his own feet. “It’s a dream,” he mutters, running for the door. “Just a dream.”
He stumbles over the threshold before he realizes there is nothing outside but an endless black drop.
“Ahh!” he screams, pinwheeling his arms to regain his balance, but momentum beckons him forward. His fingers claw helplessly at the air, reaching for something to hold onto, but it’s no use. He falls headlong into the abyss to the sound of Spender’s laughter.
Mulder wakes on the floor of his apartment with a great, gasping breath. He struggles against an invisible enemy, wedged between the couch and the coffee table, before extricating himself from his blanket. It takes a moment to register his surroundings, to shake off the feeling of endless free fall, the dread at his partner’s death and the sight of her rotting corpse still fresh in his mind.
The day is bright this Christmas morning. Sun streams through the living room windows and he scrambles to his feet, immediately reaching for the phone. Ignoring the time, he picks up the receiver and dials her cell with shaking fingers. She doesn’t answer.
“Shit,” he mutters, before glancing at the clock on his answering machine. It reads 6:22. He thinks for a moment, then rifles through his desk drawer, producing a worn address book. He flips through it, stopping at the address scrawled next to his partner’s, then grabs his bag and leaves his apartment without bothering to change his clothes.
Mulder parks on Maggie Scully’s street, nerves protesting the lack of sleep and an extra large coffee. He steps out of the car, catching a glimpse of his reflection in the window as he closes the door; tousled hair and rumpled clothes, dark circles under his eyes.
Add some chains and I’d look like Jacob Marley, he thinks, as he attempts to straighten his collar and tame his hair. Someone has stuck a small red bow on a nearby lamppost, and he grabs it, sticking it on the box in his hand.
He jogs down the street until he’s standing in front of Maggie Scully’s, unsurprised to find it just as it appeared in his dream. He’s still standing at the end of the walkway, wondering where to begin, when Scully steps onto the porch.
She stops and stares at him the way she did in his dream, and for a second he’s afraid she won’t be able to see him, that he’s trapped, doomed to walk the Earth as an unseen spirit. But he lifts his hand in a tentative wave, and she responds in kind before making her way down the steps.
“Mulder? What are you doing here?”
“It’s a long story,” he smiles, unable to hide his relief.
“I thought you were—“ she begins, before being interrupted.
“Dana? Who are you talking—oh!“
Scully’s family comes up behind her; Bill and Tara, struggling with Matthew, and Maggie in the lead. Her face brightens.
“Fox! What a nice surprise!”
Bill scowls at Mulder, forgoing a greeting in favor of wrangling his son. “C’mon, buddy, let’s get you buckled in.”
“We were just heading to mass,” Scully explains.
“Oh…I won’t keep you—”
“It’s fine. We’re getting an early start. ‘You’re only on time if you’re early,’” she parrots, casting a mildly annoyed glance at her older brother.
“Fox, why don’t you join us for dinner tonight?” Maggie interrupts.
“I—“ he hesitates, catching Scully’s eye, silently asking permission. She gives the faintest nod of her head. “I’d like that. Thank you.”
“We eat at five,” Maggie says. “Don’t be late. OK, sailors! Let’s ship out,” she says, making her way to the car.
“I’ll be right there,” Scully says, lingering. “Mulder and I need to talk shop for a minute.” She smiles up at him with a curious expression.
“What?” he asks when Maggie and the rest are out of earshot.
“I seem to recall you saying something about having a date with a cow in Wisconsin.”
“My flight was canceled,” he admits. “And then there was this, uh…dream.”
“Yeah, long story. I’ll tell you sometime, when you’re not on the clock.”
“I’d like that,” she says. “Well, I suppose I’d better—“
“Oh! Uh, before you go…I wanted to give you this.” He hands her the box with the red bow on top.
“Mulder, we said we weren’t going to do gifts.”
“I know,” he shrugs. “But it was a last-minute thing, and I…it made me think of you.”
She looks at it, turning the box in her hands before lifting the lid.
“Oh,” she says, reaching in a finger to hook around the loop of string, pulling the biplane ornament from the box. Scully looks at Mulder, bemused.
“It’s sweet, Mulder,” she says, holding it up to watch it shimmer in the sunlight. “Thank you. But…why?”
“Two pilots,” Mulder says, ducking his head. “Partners.”
“Ahh. Well, I have to say…” she trails off, growing serious, and his stomach sinks.
“What? What is it?”
“It sure beats a ticket to Wisconsin,” she says, a sly smile forming on her lips.
Mulder grins, and the grin turns into a laugh. It’s Christmas, and for a few moments, the ghosts of his past are nowhere to be found. All he can see is his future, standing in front of him, holding a tiny airplane in her hand.