the series is as follows so far:
First … Second … Third … Fourth … Fifth … Fifth Christmas, Part 2 … Sixth … Seventh … Eighth … Ninth … Tenth … Eleventh … Twelfth … Thirteenth … Fourteenth … Fifteenth … Sixteenth … Seventeenth … Eighteenth … Nineteenth … Twentieth … Twenty-first … Twenty-second … Twenty-third
She hadn’t decorated that year. She’d flown out to California with her mother several days before Christmas and wasn’t supposed to return until just before New Year’s so she made the executive decision to leave her decorations in the closet.
Mulder had also refrained from decking her place out in her absence.
It was fairly difficult for him.
But then he got the phone call, had to fly out to her and all manner of holiday cheer was forgotten, shoved to the wayside in the wake of news he never expected to turn out anything but bad.
Now, they were just leaving the airport, January 3rd and the world depressed around them. They rang in the New Year piecing together a funeral, Scully holding him at arms’ length while she pushed her mother away completely, choosing to sit idly in his hotel room rather than face champagne, fireworks and Dick Clark. He’d cracked open the mini-bar in the room and paid an exorbitant amount to help Scully drink her sorrows down, drowning them for a few precious minutes in cheap whiskey and off-brand gin.
They’d left for their plane right from the church, Scully having once again told her mother that she was fine traveling home without her. Maggie had been not-so-subtly hinting about staying a few extra days with her new grandson and given Scully couldn’t picture being trapped on a plane beside her mother for six hours minimum, she paid extra, informed her mother she was leaving with Mulder and walked away, trying not to think about the funeral they would have to attend first.
The flight was quiet but not awkward, surprising given the last two weeks of their lives. Mulder, to his astonishment, felt a small, cold hand slide over his arm, her fingers fitting between his like they were meant to be there, as they took off. He didn’t react, thought, except to twist his hand upside-down, palm to palm, weaving knuckles, warming bone.
Disembarking the plane, they entered the insanity of National Airport and Mulder all but curled himself around her, blocking her from running passengers, shopping bags, backpacks, rogue rolling luggage, that mumbling guy that seems to be in every airport they’ve ever been in, just wearing a different hat. Guiding her to baggage claim, he grabbed their bags, clearing a path she trailed close behind in as they aimed towards his car.
Finally, eventually, they were on the road, Scully small in her seat, Mulder quiet in his, until, “is it strange that it feels like it was never Christmas?”
Worrying his cheek between his teeth, he shook his head, “not really. I mean, you got out there and the world went weird, then surprising then completely terrible and now you’re back home in January and you never had time to stop and realize it was Christmas.”
Head back against the seat, she let her face fall towards the window, away from her partner, “I don’t want to go home, Mulder.”
“Then we won’t.” Instead, he took them to his apartment, opening her door for her, taking her hand as she stepped up the curb. Soon, they were in his place, door safely locked behind them, Mulder gently guiding her towards the bedroom, “go take a nap. I’ll go back out and get some food for this place and when I get back, we’ll have dinner and watched Christmas movies until March.”
She had a protest crawling up her throat but it never saw the light of day as she nodded, defeated by the world and uncomfortable in her own skin. Walking first out of her shoes, then pulling off her sweater to reveal Mulder’s Care Bear t-shirt she had stolen, loaned back and commandeered once again, she made it under the covers before she began to cry. Watching her from the doorframe, he gave her a minute while he pulled his own shoes off, relinquished his overhead, closed the blinds to the falling twilight as well as the soon-to-be-glowing streetlights. Finding the box of Kleenex in the living room, he set it beside her on the nightstand, then leaned into her, hand on the mattress, “do you want some company or would you like me to go find some food?”
Her non-committal, soggy, shoulder shrug gave him his answer and without another syllable, he climbed up and crawled right over her, jostling her, accidently-on-purpose rolling her onto her back, t-shirt chest smushing her nose, blankets all bunched by the time he went horizontal beside her. She was still crying but her lips were curled up instead of down and that was progress in his book.
Once he’d gotten under the covers, straightened them, made sure they were tucked around her opposite shoulder tightly, he manhandled her lightly, rolling her the rest of the way towards him, tucking her head against his shoulder, “hit me if you want me to go away.”
Then he cried with her.
It seemed hours until she finally fell asleep, the last bottled up 11 days pouring forth in an ugly catharsis of Kleenex, sobbing hiccups and soaking wet cotton until she finally passed out, mouth open, nose congested, eyes so puffy he’d be surprised if she could see anything the next morning.
He wouldn’t trade her for a damn thing.
Inching out of the bed, he got his shoes back on and disappeared out the door, food and other things on his to-do list.
It was well after midnight before he fell asleep on the couch and after 3am before he felt the softest of kisses on his cheek, then the heavier of kisses on his mouth. The quiet ‘thank you’ made him open his eyes, deciding he would be a terrible person if he followed her mouth for another kiss but the debate was there, the contemplation, then, her lips on his again, just the corner of his mouth but it held warmth and promise and tasted a little like Almond Chicken sauce.
“You found dinner.”
“I did find dinner.” Sitting on the coffee table, she leaned forward, elbows on knees, “and I found Christmas.”
Smiling so wide his eyes disappeared in crinkles, “I couldn’t let you not have Christmas.”
Scully pointed over her shoulder, “you broke into my house again. That is not the reason you have a key.”
Behind her, her tree was twinkling beside Mulder’s desk, lights, ornaments, stockings, candy canes all stolen from her hall closet and apparently transferred, while she was dead asleep, from her place to his and set up, spewing forth Christmas joy where there hadn’t been any when she went to sleep.
“I do that.”
“I see you added garland. Where in the world did you get garland after Christmas?”
“Magical elves and post-holiday blow-out sales. I could have also bought 1.2 miles of Christmas lights for $.60.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Where the hell would I hang 1.2 miles of Christmas lights?”
“We could have made it work.”
Sitting up, he patted the couch beside him, “come here.” She scooted to him before he continued, “how’s your head?”
“Throbbing. How do my eyes look?”
Her barriers were still down, as they tended to be more and more around him and without pretense, she shifted her legs over his lap and leaned into his upper arm, “I found the new ornament.”
It was a glittery snow globe of Santa on a beach, feet up, reindeer lolling on his back in the sand.
“Bought it a few weeks back and was just gonna slip it in your box when I was over next and then, well, this seemed better.”
Hugging his arm next, “I love it. Thank you very much.”
Once his arm started moving, he wasn’t about to stop it and soon, it was around her shoulders, his feet on the coffee table, his other hand on her knee. Giving it a small squeeze, “I think we should pretend that we are couch potatoes whose world extends no further than this apartment.”
“Can it extend into tomorrow maybe?” Looking at her watch, “we only have 3 hours until we are supposed to leave for work.”
“Are you suggesting Christmas hooky?” Simply nodding her ‘yes’, he ‘hmm’d’ his agreement in his throat, then rested his head against the top of hers, “any of that Chinese food left?”
Muscles tightening to stand, he held her in place instead, “that wasn’t a hint to go get me food. I’ll get something later. Right now, I like you here and me here and … I like us … right here.”
He was almost back asleep, head heavy on hers, when he heard her say something. Not opening his eyes, “what?”
“How can I miss her? I knew her for less than two weeks.”
“But she was your daughter. Doesn’t matter how long you knew her.”
“How do I know if I miss her as a person or as an idea?” He could hear the waver in her voice, “what am I supposed to do now?”
“Right now,” turning her in a twisty, contorted, shifting, sliding kind of way, he managed to get them both lying on the couch without either falling on the floor, “I think you should stop thinking and close your eyes,” gripping her and turning her a few degrees until her hip wasn’t digging in his parts, “and listen to my voice while I tell you,” now running his finger lightly over her eyebrows and forehead, “a story,” moving his finger over her cheek and chin, “about how Santa is really an alien.”
“I really wanted to keep her.”
Squeezing her tightly to him, he mumbled into her hair, “I know you did.”