TITLE: A Christmas Peril
CONTENT: MSR, A
SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully’s plans for a Christmas
getaway suffer a setback, and Mulder’s life hangs in
COMMENTS: For Courtney, and my Crystal Ship sisters
who made a difficult year easier. Mega thanks to
Laura, Michelle, FabulousMonster, Judie, and Catbird
for great friendship and super beta work. Also,
thanks to Charles Dickens for voicing no objection to
my borrowing his idea.
SPECIAL THANKS: to Humbuggie for loaning me her
character, Jack, and to Kimpa for her magnificent
FEEDBACK: If positive or helpful, I love it!
DISTRIBUTION: Archive, if desired, after 9-21-01.
DISCLAIMER: X-Files characters are 1013’s and Chris
Carter’s. All others are mine.
SPOILERS: VS 9 canon. Brief mentions of Jack Campbell
from Humbuggie’s fine “Matrix,” and Clarissa McKinnie
from my VS 8 story, “Shady Rest.”
WEBSITE: A new one! Please visit:
A Christmas Peril
11:55 P.M., December 24, 2001
Outside Springville, NY
“Mulder? Where are you?”
He smiled, his lips grazing the cell phone. “Hey,
Scully, good to hear your voice. Merry Christmas, a
few minutes early.” Mulder’s elbow rested on the car
door as he pictured her on the motel bed, her face
near her own phone. “I’m on the way. It’s snowing.
Did you notice?”
“*Notice*? It’s done nothing but snow, Mulder.”
“We’re in ski country. You have to expect this.”
“I assume that means you’re somewhere in western New
York, then. Finally.”
“Yeah. Almost to you…I think.” He squinted into the
blinding blanket of snow slamming into the
“Why do I not believe that? Could you perhaps have
called me before this? It’s been hours, Mulder. I
would have called you, but I was afraid I’d find you
were still in New York City. Anyway, the last time I
heard from you, you were still in DC.”
“I was busy all day, Scully. After the flight to New
York City this morning, I was either at the precinct
or at Jack’s apartment. I wanted to get finished as
quickly as possible. I told you I’d call when I was
on my way. I needed to close out things for Jack.”
Jack Campbell, his old buddy from VCS who had left
the FBI and become a New York City cop, had been shot
to death not two weeks previous–a fact which made
Mulder grip the steering wheel tighter as grief
threatened his composure. “You aren’t angry with me,
“Maybe just a little. Here I am, only five minutes
from Christmas, sitting alone in a motel in the
middle of nowhere. I’ve driven in snow, and I’ve
looked out at nothing but snow. I’ve been here
waiting for you–over ten hours now–to show up for a
*ski* vacation–though neither of us skis. Why would
I be angry? Just because you and I could have been
warm and cozy at my mother’s house, waiting to
celebrate the holiday with my family? Next year, if
your email friend, Clarissa, suggests a vacation
spot, get my okay before you make plans.”
“Bah, humbug, Scully.” Mulder winced from her rant.
“Bah, humbuggie, Mulder.”
“I haven’t exactly had a great day,” he told her.
“Getting a flight out of New York wasn’t easy, and
once I did, we spent over three hours on the ground
in Rochester. Buffalo couldn’t clear the runways fast
enough in this blizzard. The flight attendants showed
‘A Christmas Carol’ twice–only movie they had
onboard. We finally took a bus to Buffalo, and by
that time, the only rental car left was a 1980 Ford
Fiesta at ‘Rent a Lemon’; I might as well be in a
shoebox, as tiny as this thing is. My head hits the
roof if I yawn.”
“Too bad *you* don’t have little legs,” she replied.
“You know, Mulder, the inn you sent me to was fully
booked. I spent the day finding a motel with a
“But we had reservations–”
“My plane from DC to Buffalo was late, and it took me
hours to get a rental car, then find Glenwood after I
left the airport. Driving in this storm took hours.
By the time I got to the inn, our reservations had
“And, Mulder, you’ve dumped me during cases in the
past; I’ve forgiven you for taking off with little or
no explanation. But this morning when you dumped
yourself from our flight and let me go on ahead, I
was really shocked. I guess I wonder at your
priorities. You know, you being able to get on
flights whenever you want has to be one of the
biggest Christmas miracles yet.”
“Scully, I’m sorry for the last-minute notice, but I
needed to go to New York and finish taking care of
Jack’s things.” He swallowed hard as he remembered
the emptiness of his dead friend’s apartment.
“I realize that, but it could have waited, couldn’t
it? I mean, this was supposed to be a getaway for the
two of us, Mulder.”
“I *am* sorry, Scully.” Mulder slowed the car’s
speed. He could no longer tell the difference between
road and snowbank. “The NYPD *did* call me last
night, asking if I’d help finalize Jack’s case
paperwork; some of them are going on vacation
starting tomorrow, and they wanted to get it done.
And I wanted to pack up Jack’s apartment and get that
off my mind before our time together. I figured doing
both Jack-related things the same day would be
preferable.” He smiled. “I promise that when I get
there, I’ll make it all up to you.” He hoped that the
passionate scenes he imagined might fill her mind,
too. “Where are you?”
She heaved a sigh. “I ended up in a town which is
somewhat southwest of Glenwood and your Kissing
Bridge–what a romantic title, by the way, for
nothing but a ski slope. Springville is the town, and
I’m in Room 8 of a motel called ‘The Palace’ which is
about as grungy as cheap motels come.”
“Springville? The Palace?” Mulder scowled. “I was
there ten minutes ago! I took 219 ’cause 400 was
closed. I’m on the other side of Springville–”
“Better turn around then. If you’d called before you
left Buffalo, you could be in this room right now,”
she murmured. “By the way, Mulder, you do realize
that it’s illegal in this state to talk on your cell
phone while driving, don’t you?”
“I’ll hide it if I see any cops.” His smile dwindled
to a frown. “Can’t believe I just passed you. I got
lost, and a guy at a gas station gave me directions.
That gas station was across from your motel.” He got
no response. “I’m looking for a place to turn around.
I should be there in fifteen minutes. There’s a good
two feet of snow out here; it’s not easy finding a
driveway that’s been shoveled. The plows must have
been out all day, trying to keep up.”
“Tell me about it. Those directions you gave me were
worthless–at least in this storm. Too many roads
“Scully?” With the difficult drive and long hours of
travel, he felt too fatigued to discuss much more in
the car. “I’m sorry. I thought it would be better if
you went ahead. And I should have called you sooner.
I know I’ve screwed up.”
“And it was all so avoidable. We could have waited
until after Christmas to come here.”
Mulder scowled. “You could have stayed at your
mother’s if you’d really preferred that.”
“*You* were invited, too.”
“It wouldn’t have been the same as this. Besides,
your brother’s animosity doesn’t fill me with the
“Yeah, as if you know Christmas spirit.” Scully’s
tone was matter-of-fact. “You know, Mulder, if we’re
going to go ahead in this relationship, you’re going
to have to face my family one of these days.”
“I’d be glad to if your brother was ready to face
me.” He quickly swerved to miss a car whose
headlights he’d hardly seen in the blinding deluge.
“I would have gone–”
“Right. And looked edgy and unhappy the entire day.
Mulder, you’d rather have been with the Gunmen,
talking conspiracy theories, than with my family.
You’d rather have been sitting alone at home watching
a movie for the thousandth time.”
“I would have gone if you’d insisted.”
“Why should I have to insist? You were asked. It’s
only polite to accept. I would have liked to have–to
have had you there…with me.” She paused, then
continued. “Too late anyway. Here we are, stranded in
snow country. Yee-ha. Merry Christmas to you, too.”
Mulder pulled the car back onto what he assumed was
the road and slowed its speed to a mere crawl. “Look,
we’ll talk when I get there.” When she said nothing,
he added, “I’m looking for a turn-around. I’ll see
you in a few minutes.” He ended the conversation and
muttered in the car’s stillness, “Unless you’d rather
I just keep going.” He then tossed his cell phone
into the passenger’s seat.
He now gripped the steering wheel as tightly as he
could–partly because it was *that* hard to drive in
the present conditions, and partly because he was
frustrated with Scully. His fatigue and the day’s
earlier emotional upheaval didn’t help matters
either. The getaway had been Mulder’s idea to curb
his grief over his friend’s death by sharing “secret”
time with the person he most loved. But the past few
hours may have spoiled that holiday getaway already–
for both of them.
“Damn it, Scully,” he muttered, “this could have been
Suddenly, headlights sprang from the darkness and
headed straight toward him. They belonged to a
tractor-trailer moving much faster than prudent on
such a night. And they were too close.
Mulder gasped as he pulled the steering wheel to the
right and his foot slammed onto the accelerator. But
he felt no relief as the car skidded and narrowly
missed impact with the truck. Instead, he was
conscious of a scream escaping his lips as his car
plunged into a snowbank and cartwheeled. He passed
into silence as the vehicle became airborne, flipping
once before hitting the deep snow and sliding like a
toboggan down a steep bank. Rightside up, it came to
rest in a snowbank near the underside of a bridge.
But Mulder was oblivious. His head had collided with
the badly dented roof of the tiny car. A blinding
pain raced through it, and he lapsed into
unconsciousness. A blanket of white snow soon covered
the car, obscuring it from the roadway above.
12:20 A.M., December 25, 2001
Scully, her hands on her hips and jaw set in a fierce
scowl, continued to pace the narrow path between the
motel room’s bed and door. “Damn it!” she muttered
between clenched teeth. “Damn him!” She no longer
needed the blanket she’d tossed around her shoulders;
her emotions warmed her enough.
The day had gotten the best of her. She was tired,
worried, frustrated, annoyed, and relieved all at
once, and she’d allowed those feelings to inject
themselves into her conversation with Mulder. That
wasn’t like her at all. Where was her calm, steady
exterior? Hearing his voice had been so welcome to
her, and yet, she’d basically told him just the
opposite. But then, why not? He certainly hadn’t
minded leaving her alone for the day, putting NYPD
cops’ happy Christmas before hers. Maybe he *should*
know she didn’t like being low on his list of
She’d tried to call him back, but he’d shut his phone
off completely. And that was typical of him: dumping
her one way or another.
She almost wished she *was* at her mother’s right
now, basking in the warmth from the fireplace,
singing carols, drinking eggnog, and watching her
nephew gaze at the lights on the gaily decorated
tree. Mulder could have been home, alone, doing
whatever he did on Christmas. Why make her prisoner
to his lonely excuse for a celebration?
And why *had* she agreed to this getaway? What had
intrigued her about spending a few days with Mulder
at a wilderness resort? Just because they would be
anonymous and could wander together amongst
strangers, holding hands or wrapping their arms
around each other, enjoying the public intimacy that
other couples experienced? Scully shivered. Just the
thought of being able to enjoy such public intimacy
made her tingle.
Why did his work always come first?
With frustrated movements, her hands tugged at the
tie of her white terry-cloth robe and then tore the
garment from her shoulders. With even less caution,
she removed the red, lacy negligee she’d bought
specially for this night. She wadded it into a lumpy
ball, and flung it into her suitcase. “Sexy” was not
how she felt at the moment, and she refused to let
Mulder see that negligee until she did. After re-
dressing in the business suit she’d worn for travel,
she sat on the bed. She’d wait for him to arrive.
She’d let him apologize again. She’d let him explain
why a case took preference to her. Then she’d try to
sleep. And in the morning, if his reasons weren’t
good enough, she’d leave him to enjoy his
Mulder decided that opening his eyes was a bad idea.
The pain surging through his head was like a boulder
impacting cardboard. He could feel the seatbelt still
strapping him to the seat, and his head rested on the
icy window. His knees ached, and he knew without
looking that the dashboard was lodged against them.
He felt lethargic, and moving his head from the
window to the headrest seemed a gargantuan effort.
He wanted nothing but to sleep. In the thermal
underwear, boots, and parka he’d donned before
leaving New York City, he was insulated against the
cold. He was upright, and suffering most from the sad
realization that it might be some time before Scully
cooled down enough to miss him. Getting out of the
car wouldn’t be prudent since he had no idea where he
was, and night was far from over. He also doubted
whether he possessed adequate alertness, balance, and
energy to walk. Sleep sounded good.
In his muddled mind, he slowly became aware of the
steady clinking of metal hitting metal. It wasn’t due
to anything within the car; the motor had died when
the vehicle hit the snowbank. He realized the sound
was coming from beside him.
Mulder forced his eyes open, and he waited a moment
for the resulting nausea to subside. As his vision
focused, he found the car strangely illuminated, and
he could see a spider’s web of cracked windshield
before him. But the clinking metal continued to
attract his attention, and he let his head slowly
pivot to the right.
And then he gasped and stared in disbelief. “Jack?”
Beside him, basked in a faint, white light, sat his
“Nice driving back there, Mulder. Were you trying to
jump the creek?”
“Jack?” The pain in Mulder’s head throbbed, and he
squinted against it. Still hearing the clinking, he
noticed that Jack held a pair of handcuffs and
repeatedly closed and then opened them. Mulder
swallowed. “Jack, you’re dead.”
The apparition chuckled. “Yeah, I was the first to
find out.” He smiled. “Heck of a way to go. Bang! And
Mulder stared closely at his old friend, seeing his
blond hair and blue eyes shining in the light. “You
were killed. I saw your body, Jack.”
“Relax, buddy.” He lightly punched Mulder’s arm.
“How many times a day do you get to see a ghost?” He
laughed at Mulder’s anguish. “I heard what you told
your partner back there at the cemetery, by the way,
and you were right. Where I am *is* a very happy
place. You’ll like it when you arrive.”
“I can’t believe it, Jack. This can’t be happening.
You’re here, but you’re dead.”
“Believe it. And hey, you *could* be, you know.
“Now?” Mulder winced.
Jack shrugged and pulled the metal cuffs apart once
more. “Maybe. Or maybe not. It depends.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been in an accident, Mulder. And not a
‘slight’ one. Your car left the road, flipped, and
slid down an embankment. Yeah, you landed rightside
up, but you could still be badly injured. Or not. You
could have massive head trauma or a mild concussion.
You could freeze to death or maybe not. That’s the
beauty of an accident like this–so many things can
change one way or another before you’re found.”
“I don’t get it. Do you mean my injuries haven’t been
decided yet? That someone is going to choose whether
I live or die based on some criteria?”
“Yep. That’s what I mean.”
“Who? And based on what?”
Jack snapped the handcuffs back together. “I don’t
want to get into that.”
“Why don’t you just take me now?”
“Aw c’mon. Give it a little fight. Surely you’d like
to stay a while longer. Scully is waiting, after
Mulder grunted. “I’m not sure she wants to see me.”
“That’s crap, and you know it.”
“Not necessarily. Every good person I’ve ever had in
my life has left or been taken from me. Or I’ve
screwed up relationships until they’re beyond repair.
My sister. My parents. You. Others.” Images of loved
ones’ faces floated before his eyes. He smiled sadly
as he saw Samantha. “Maybe I *am* willing to go with
“Not so fast, buddy. I think you’re forgetting a few
things. And not appreciating a few others.”
“I think you’re wrong.”
“Look.” Jack sighed and held up the handcuffs. “See
these? They’re what I wore during my life, but I
never realized it until I didn’t have life anymore. I
was a guy who knew what he wanted. A cop who loved
the job and devoted himself to it. And you know what?
I missed out on a whole bunch of ‘could have beens’.
Just like you, Mulder. Now I admit, this idea of
yours–this vacation with Scully–was good. You might
have found some happiness. But what happened? You
were willing to delay it for a dead friend? You’re
willing to give it up now after a few opposing words?
You never give up on a case when faced with
obstacles. In fact, they intrigue you.”
“Yeah, well, this was different.”
“Bullshit,” Jack countered. “You wimped out.”
“Did not.” Mulder rubbed his aching forehead.
“Scully made some good points in that argument, and
you’re ready to walk away from your vacation. That’s
“No, it isn’t.”
“Then what is it? What do *you* call it?”
“I call it ‘letting Scully do what she wants’.”
Mulder closed his eyes and grimaced. “Maybe she was
right. I should have let her go to her mother’s. Her
plans were set, and she changed them for me. She
doesn’t need me interfering. She doesn’t even need
Jack laughed. “You don’t have time for self-pity. Or
for throwing away your personal life. You and Scully
have both been doing that for years.” His ghostly
hand rested on Mulder’s sleeve. As his old friend
opened his eyes, Jack calmly warned, “You have to
take the handcuffs off, buddy. You have to stop
having ‘could have beens’; stop sacrificing and
ignoring what *you* want. You *can* do that; it’s not
too late for you.”
“Life’s not all about me, Jack. I find cases; Scully
goes with me. I say ‘Ready?’, and Scully lines up.
She always sacrifices for me, and this vacation is
just another example. I’m selfish already; I don’t
think I ‘sacrifice’ much at all.”
“Yeah, you do. You’re constantly sacrificing personal
happiness. So is Scully. And maybe you’re both hungry
for change. Do you think she only came here for
*your* sake? Maybe she’s looking for some personal
“Am I?” Jack scoffed. “I’ll show you I’m not. And
I’ve got some helpers who’ll be along soon to offer
you proof.” He tossed the handcuffs onto the Fiesta’s
cracked dashboard. He followed those with several
pieces of Mulder’s cell phone and smiled at his
friend’s scowl. “I gotta go. Take care of yourself,
man. And pay attention to what you’ll see; you may
find that you want to stay on this planet a while
As Mulder watched, Jack seemed to fade through the
passenger’s door. The faint white light followed him.
In its illumination, Mulder glimpsed images of his
parents and Samantha holding pairs of handcuffs out
to him, and then they, too, faded away.
Mulder let his head sag against the headrest. As his
eyes adapted to the darkness, he found he could see
little; snow covered the windows and windshield. His
body cramped and his mind foggy, he allowed the pain
behind his eyes to take over, enveloping him in
comforting depths of sleep.
Scully had begun pacing again, adding to her route
between the door and bed an occasional stop at the
window to ascertain headlights in the parking lot.
Mulder wouldn’t have taken an hour to find a place to
turn around. She wondered if he’d been so angry
with her that he’d decided not to arrive at all?
She’d repeatedly tried to reach him on the cell
phone, but he had obviously turned it off. And
perhaps he was reluctant to call her.
She wanted to kick herself, to take back her words.
So what if she’d had a bad day? His couldn’t have
been any better. She’d made it safely and had
actually looked forward to being here with Mulder, to
being alone with him for a few days.
The whole getaway was a complete secret. Almost.
Until she’d driven to her mother’s to make apologies
for their absence during the holidays.
“A case, Dana? At Christmas?” Maggie had sat on the
couch, her eyes showing concern.
“No, Mom,” Scully had replied, blushing.
“But you’re going to New York? Why?”
“Mulder and I…Mom…we just want to…”
Slowly Maggie had smiled, then nodded. “Going away
together? Well, it’s about time.”
“What?” Certainly her mother could not know what she
and Mulder felt for each other. Scully had kept it
very well hidden–or so she’d thought.
“You and Fox owe it to yourselves to have some fun.
Put down the badges; get to know each other.”
“But Mom–” Scully quit trying to argue. Her mother
merely repeated the thoughts she herself had had in
the car. “You’re not angry about me–us–not coming
here for Christmas?”
Maggie had risen from the couch and straightened an
ornament on the Christmas tree. “I’d love to have
you–both–with us. But honey, you have to do what’s
best for you. You’re always here for me. You can see
Bill and Tara when you get back. In fact, we’ll have
another celebration then. How’s that?”
Scully, smiling, had embraced Maggie warmly.
Scully checked her watch again. She checked the
window. She went to the door, unlocked and opened it,
and again felt the rush of frigid air and blowing
snow in her face. The streetlights were faint in the
white deluge, and judging from the snow piled atop
the roofs of the cars in the parking lot, none of
them were new arrivals.
“Mulder, where the hell are you?” she whispered.
Was it too early to call the police? And if Mulder
was on his way back to the airport, how would she
explain that to them or to emergency crews?
No, she’d wait. Or look for him herself. Sure, she
could spot a little Ford Fiesta in a big snowstorm.
He hadn’t even told her what color it was. With her
luck, it was probably white.
She sat on the bed, shivering from chills of fear.
Something wasn’t right for Mulder. She felt it in her
Mulder felt the presence before he turned his head.
Again, a ghostly illumination filled the car, but he
wasn’t prepared what he saw.
“Byers?” He blinked to be sure of his vision.
“In a manner of speaking.”
“You aren’t a ghost–yet–are you?”
“I prefer the term ‘apparition’,” Byers told him.
“‘Ghost’ implies the spirit of someone who’s
deceased. And you’re right: deceased, I’m not. But
I’ve been called on to give you a glimpse of your
past–for a purpose.”
Mulder heard himself chuckle. “Oh my God, you’re the
Ghost of Christmas Past?”
“I prefer ‘The Apparition of the Grassy Knoll’ if you
Mulder shook his head in disbelief. “Whatever.”
“Now, if you’ll just give me a few seconds…”
Mulder’s gaze traced the cord Byers plugged into the
car’s cigarette lighter to a small movie projector
that was lodged between the front seats. An old movie
reel’s film was threaded into the projector and
connected to an empty reel below.
“I haven’t seen one of these in ages,” Mulder
muttered. “Did you steal it from your high school’s
“Shhh. We’re about to journey into your past. You
don’t want to miss a minute.”
“I’m sure I don’t,” Mulder replied, doubtfully. He
turned his eyes straight ahead as Byers indicated.
The windshield had become a white screen.
The film began, and was yellowed and streaked by its
age. He was about to tell Byers that so far his movie
stunk, when suddenly, the living room of his
childhood came into view.
Mulder swallowed quickly, instantly engrossed. He
looked in nostalgia at the long-remembered chairs and
couch. How often had he sat on that couch and stared
walls, matching the patterns on the wallpaper or
trying to discern seams of the individual strips? How
often had he ridden his tricycle or, later, his big
kid’s bike through that room when his father wasn’t
looking? How often had he and Samantha sat on the
floor, playing board games or watching television?
His heart suddenly seemed to be lodged in his throat,
and he bit his lower lip against the pain of
Byers’s hand on his arm returned him to the film.
In the corner of the room stood the Christmas tree,
its bright red, green, amber, and blue lights
alternately blinking, its pine scent filling the air.
A silver garland twisted lazily around the spruce,
highlighting ornaments of Santas, stars, and candy
canes. Below the tree, many brightly wrapped gifts
invited anyone to open them. Without his feet moving,
Mulder felt himself moving toward the tree.
It was early morning. The sun’s winter rays filtered
into the room through the blinds and curtains, and
fell softly on the stockings hung by himself and
Samantha the night before. Each was filled to the top
with gum, candy, and tiny, wrapped gifts, and he felt
the slight tug of anticipation as he had when young.
The room was nicely decorated with silver and red
garlands, paper bells, and mistletoe in the open
He wanted to sit on the couch again, to simply take
in the moment and let the good memories from this
room permeate his mind. But suddenly, voices came
from upstairs. Hushed voices, whispering and barely
containing their excitement. He watched as two pairs
of slippered feet–one pair much larger than the
other–appeared on the stairs, tiptoeing as quietly
as they could. Mulder felt his eyes brim with tears
as he saw seven-year-old Samantha descend, her dark
eyes growing huge at the sight of the tree and
packages. She was a beautiful girl whose innocence
and sweetness beamed from her face, and Mulder wanted
simply to hold and to protect his sister from the
brutal future that would claim her.
He noticed that Samantha was followed by her older
brother who looked like a gangly geek. He watched as
the younger version of himself alternately scowled at
his sister then looked back upstairs.
“Samantha!!” the young Fox whispered. “We shouldn’t
be down here yet. Remember what Mom and Dad told us?
No looking at the presents until they get up.”
The little girl reached the bottom of the stairs
before he did. “We won’t tell them, will we, Fox?
Let’s just look,” she pleaded. “I just wanna look.”
Her brother frowned; then his face softened. He put
his hand on her shoulder. “Okay. But they’ll be
getting up soon.”
Samantha gave him a big smile and jumped for joy,
soundless because of her small frame and light
weight. She scampered forward, her eyes twinkling as
she got a closer glimpse of the tree and gifts.
“Oh, Fox,” she marveled. “They’re beautiful.” She
sank to her knees before the tree. Her tiny fingers
reached out gingerly to touch the ribbons and then to
feel the packages. “This one’s mine!” she exclaimed,
reading the tag on a large, shoebox-sized package. “I
wonder what it is?”
Young Fox joined her, his lanky frame hovering above.
“So’s that one–and that one,” he observed, pointing
out various packages.
“That one’s for you!” Samantha exclaimed.
The older Mulder glanced where the young girl
indicated, and he grinned in spite of the wetness in
his eyes. He remembered that the box held his Spock
Star Trek uniform, complete with pointy ears.
“What is this?” Bill Mulder’s voice suddenly bellowed
from base of the stairs. Mulder and both of the
children whirled at its sound. “You’re not supposed
to be down here. Fox, we said that you both were to
stay upstairs this morning.”
Young Mulder’s face dropped. “Yes, Dad. I’m sorry.”
“It’s m-my fault, Daddy,” Samantha stammered, her
eyes still shining with excitement. “I asked him–”
“No, it’s mine. I shouldn’t have let her come down,”
Fox replied. He stood in front of his sister,
shielding her from their father’s reaction.
“No, you shouldn’t have. I left the responsibility in
your hands, and you didn’t carry through.” Bill
Mulder suddenly turned to his wife who was now at his
side and gripping his arm.
“Bill, never mind. It’s Christmas.”
Their father scowled briefly and then sighed. “Fine.
But do as you’re told next time, boy.”
Fox nodded and moved to sit on the couch.
“Mommy, can I open this one? Can I please?” Samantha
held the large shoebox.
Glances from the parents ensued, and then Teena
Mulder smiled. “Of course, sweetheart. But only this
one before breakfast.” She turned toward her son.
“You, too, honey. Choose one and open it.”
Young Fox went to the tree. He chose a small package
that he instantly and disappointedly realized was
“clothes.” He undid the wrappings and thanked his
parents for three new pairs of underwear.
The older Fox shook his head, nearly laughing at the
despair on the young boy’s face. Underwear was not
the greatest Christmas gift, but there would be worse
problems in this boy’s life.
He then turned his attention to Samantha who was
slowly tearing paper away from the box she held. She
had already neatly removed the ribbon and bow and
placed them beside her in a separate pile, and now
she was ready to lift the top from the shoebox.
Her eyes again widened as she peeled back tissue
paper and let her tiny fingers fall on the silky
white garment folded inside the box. She lifted it
out carefully, as if handling would cause it harm,
and revealed a child-sized wedding dress. Her lips
formed a constant “Oh!” as her gaze wandered over the
beaded patterns on the lace bodice, and over the long
train that descended the back of the gown. “Mommy,
“There’s more in there,” her mother urged.
Samantha gingerly clasped the dress in one hand and
lifted a veil from the box with the other. She
squealed in delight. “Mommy!! Can I put them on?
Right now? Can I wear them forever?”
“Certainly, darling. Here, let me help.”
Together, mother and daughter walked toward the
bathroom, Samantha still ogling the gown held softly
in her hands.
Bill Mulder sat in an overstuffed chair and turned to
his son. “Are you going to model your gift?”
Young Mulder snorted. “No!”
“I’m glad,” the man laughed. “A bride and a boy
modeling underwear are just too much in one day.”
Young Fox smiled but then grew serious. “I’m sorry,
Dad. I knew we were supposed to stay upstairs.”
Bill Mulder waved his hand. “Worse things happen in
this world, son. Don’t worry about it.”
“I should have done what you asked.”
“It’s all right, Fox. Everything turned out fine.”
Bill smiled at his son but turned his attention
toward the bathroom when the door opened.
Samantha stood in the hallway, cautiously running one
hand over the smooth fabric. Teena had arranged the
girl’s long, dark hair and then fixed the veil on the
crown of her daughter’s head.
“Here she is!” Teena said proudly. “A lovely bride!”
Samantha gleamed up at her mother who hugged her. She
then joined her hands in front of her and around a
big wad of toilet paper bunched up and looped as in a
bouquet. She took one step, then paused before taking
another, humming the Wedding March as she made her
way into the living room.
Older Mulder suddenly felt as if he’d been punched in
the stomach. Samantha had played “wedding” since
their parents had taken her, at age four, to a
cousin’s nuptials. The radiant bride’s image had been
engraved into his sister’s mind, and it hurt now to
be reminded that Samantha had never lived to see her
own wedding. He nearly doubled over with the torment,
but instead, he turned from the sight of the little
girl’s dreams and happiness.
“Seen enough of that one?” The apparition softly
touched Mulder’s shoulder. “A happy Christmas.”
“Our last one,” Mulder whispered.
Suddenly the film stopped. Mulder felt his headache
return, and when he reached up to hold his head
between his hands, he noticed tears on his cheeks. He
wiped at them quickly.
Byers was loading another reel onto the projector.
“There’s more?” Mulder closed his eyes in despair.
“Oh yes. We wouldn’t want to stop there.”
“You’ve more to see. More to learn. Now, shhhh.”
Against his better wishes, Mulder saw the second film
start. He instantly knew what it would show.
He found himself in the same room, but it had
changed. Early morning sun again filtered through the
blinds and curtains, but the rays did not fall on any
tree or ornaments. There were no stockings or gifts.
No garlands. No lights.
The room looked disheveled. Newspapers, magazines,
letters, and envelopes had fallen onto the floor from
the stands or racks onto which they’d originally been
tossed. A film of dust coated the furniture, and a
small footstool was overturned.
Young Mulder, a year older, sat alone on the couch.
His older counterpart noticed that the boy had traded
gawky gangliness for budding coordination and muscle
tone. The boy’s eyes, now sad and haunted, stared at
the floor where the tree had stood the previous year.
Where his sister had once been overwhelmed with a
play wedding dress.
“Christmas, 1973,” Byers observed.
“I thought you might.”
Slowly, slippered feet descended the stairway, a blue
robe gently sweeping their tops. Teena Mulder stopped
when she saw her son in the morning light.
“Fox? Why are you up so early?”
The boy started at his mother’s voice. He stared at
her vacantly, trying to remember what she’d just
asked. “Couldn’t sleep,” he finally replied quietly.
She afforded him a small, melancholy smile. “Nor
could I.” She moved into the room and sat in a chair
Mulder noticed that she carried a large shoebox in
her hands. It wasn’t wrapped, and he could easily see
it was Samantha’s box from the previous year. Young
Fox had noticed, too. Yet the child had other things
on his mind.
“Is Dad coming home?”
“No.” She lowered her head. “He’s in Washington.”
“But it’s Christmas.”
“Not to him,” Teena muttered. “Not to any of us.”
Fox’s face darkened, and he nodded. “Maybe he’ll find
Samantha today. Or this week.”
Teena shook her head. “We’ll never find her. Never.”
“Mom? Dad’s looking. And the police. And the people
Dad works with. They’ll find her.”
Teena didn’t respond. In the silence, her fingers
unconsciously smoothed over the box on her lap.
“What is that, Mom?” The young boy’s face showed a
spark of curiosity through its despair. He seemed to
choose to put his mother’s pessimism from his mind.
“It’s nothing,” Teena croaked.
“Was it for Samantha?”
His mother absently nodded. “I-I don’t want to put
it–away. I wanted her to have it. I wanted her…”
“Did you make it?”
Teena’s hands went to her eyes. “Yes.” She sniffed
and wiped at her tears. “I finished it in early
November. Just before…” She trailed off, but both
knew what she had planned to say.
“Can I see it?” The boy’s voice was quiet, patient.
As he saw his mother nudge the box toward him, he
stood and drew a wadded Kleenex from his pocket.
Unfolding it, he slowly approached his mother. He
handed her the tissue, and she gratefully clutched
it, turning her head and wiping at her tears.
Young Fox quietly lifted the lid from the box. His
eyes went from what was inside to his mother and then
back. “It’s great, Mom. She would love it.”
“Byers,” the older Mulder suddenly exclaimed, his
voice cracking, “I don’t want to see this.” He tried
to shift position and stop watching. “I know what it
“What?” the apparition asked. His hand on Mulder’s
shoulders prevented the sullen man from turning away.
“What is it?”
Teena’s voice continued in the background, “I made it
for her–after she saw that show on TV…”
“The beauty pageant gown,” Mulder replied softly.
“She even made a sash. My mom. She crocheted the
words ‘Miss Massachusetts’ on it. And there was a
crown made of aluminum foil.” Mulder again tried to
look away from the movie’s images.
“Why don’t you want to see this?” Byers wondered.
“Mom, it really is great,” young Fox was saying.
“When she comes back–”
“She won’t come back!” Teena suddenly screeched. She
stood and hustled toward the stairs. “She will never
be back, Fox! Your sister is gone forever!” Her sobs
echoed loudly behind her as she slammed the door of
her upstairs bedroom.
Young Fox’s expression clouded with unreachable
desolation. He slowly put the lid on the shoebox and
then lifted the package. He plodded to the bathroom,
opened the towel closet, and put the box in the back
corner of the lower shelf. Closing the cupboard, he
stood with his back to it. His face wrenched in a
battle to hold his emotions in check, but finally he
succumbed, and he clutched his head. Tears fell. His
mouth opened in a desperate silent scream. Slowly, he
slid down the wooden doorway until he sat on the
cold, tile floor. Alone in his grief. Alone in his
fear. Alone on Christmas.
The older Mulder’s shoulders sagged as he watched the
scene. His hands clasped each other behind his neck,
his forearms embracing his head. His eyes were
squeezed closed in anguish; his jaw set as if to
fight back any outward emotion. He sighed heavily.
“C’mon, you still haven’t answered my question,”
Byers called. “Why not see the rest of this film?”
Mulder turned toward him, anger and despair evident.
“Because she never got to wear that dress either.
Don’t you understand? That was the end of Christmas
for us. For me. I never celebrated it after Samantha-
-was gone. After my mother said those things, there
was nothing in that holiday for me anymore. There was
nothing *between* any of us. My mother. My father.
Me. Nothing. It was the end of–” He closed his eyes
again; his head pounding.
Mulder shivered. He hoped Byers would leave. He
wanted to relax and get on with dying.
“Ready for the next one?”
Mulder groaned at the Gunman’s voice. “No more. I
don’t know what you’re trying to teach me; it’s not
working. Just let me sleep, will you?”
“After 1973, what was your best Christmas?”
“I haven’t celebrated Christmas since then.”
“Yes, you have. At least once. Think.”
Despite his lethargy, Mulder’s mind focused on Byers’
words. A faint smile graced his lips. “1999.”
“Right. There you go.”
“In a stupid, haunted house.” The smile vanished. “I
nearly got us killed.”
“But you didn’t.” The projector started again.
“It was nightmarish, Byers.”
“Not all of it. Who visited your place afterward?”
Mulder’s eyes opened. “You have *that*? On film?”
“Yes, you and Scully. You had a good Christmas.”
“The best–in a long time.” Mulder stared at the
windshield, imploring images to come and cheer him.
“Why was it the best?”
“That’s sort of a no-brainer, isn’t it? We had a good
“Yes, ‘together’.” Byers sat back in the seat,
satisfied. “You and Scully. Did you ask her to visit
you that night–at your apartment?”
“No,” Mulder laughed. “That visit shocked me. I
thought she’d never want to see me again.”
“Sort of like tonight?”
Mulder scowled. “You gonna show the film, or not?”
“You said–a while back–that Scully wouldn’t want to
see you again after today’s fiasco.”
“That’s different. I took her from her family–”
“Just like you did in 1999?”
“Yes…no… At least we were nearer to DC then.”
“But she came when you asked her to. Both times.”
“Start the film, would you?”
“Maybe she likes being with you–as you like being
“Byers! The film?”
“Fine, Mulder. But I ran this one forward a bit.”
Mulder had hoped the film would start when he’d first
opened his door to Scully that night. But he saw the
two of them already on his couch, instead, their
gifts to each other opened and lying on the coffee
table. The television flickered another viewing of
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’,” and he decided that this
was a good enough place to start.
He gazed at the older version of himself first,
noticing how much he’d changed over the years. Of
course, he’d viewed childhood to adulthood in just
minutes, but the change was remarkable. He was much
taller. Still slender. Much more experienced; he
could see it in the face, eyes, and demeanor.
And Scully. Just seeing her on the screen before him
made his body tingle and want. Made him sorry for the
words they’d exchanged earlier. Made him sorry he’d
“dumped” her the previous morning instead of flying
to Buffalo and driving to the countryside with her.
Made him regret not being in the motel room with her
right now, continuing to make up for eight years of
denial. Gazing at her in this film, he could almost
taste her lips; smell her skin’s lovely, fresh scent;
see her body arching passionately under him as he
made love to her. Suddenly the cold he’d felt in the
car vanished, and he was almost ready to shed his
“Scully, are you sure you shouldn’t be at your
mom’s?” Movie Mulder was asking.
“I’ll be there tomorrow. Tonight I–I don’t know. I
just wanted to be–with you, Mulder.” She was seated
very closely to him on the couch. Her arm rested
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“I’m glad I am, too.”
“More?” Movie Mulder passed the microwave popcorn.
Scully reached in and grabbed a handful of the salty
white morsels. “Is this still our third bag?”
“Yeah. You want another?”
“No. I’d better quit with this one.” She munched a
few pieces. “I have to be able to eat tomorrow. Mom
always fixes such huge meals. Turkey, mashed
potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potato pie, dinner
rolls, and at least five different desserts.”
Movie Mulder nodded. “Sounds nice.”
“It is. Well, it used to be.” She crunched another
piece of popcorn. “With my dad and Melissa gone, it’s
just not–not the same.”
Movie Mulder looked at his partner, watching her eyes
moisten as they stared at the TV screen. “Yeah, I
know how that goes.”
Both his and Scully’s feet were propped on the coffee
table, and his hands rested on his drawn up thighs.
From the corner of his eye, he noticed her putting
the popcorn bag beside her. She placed her right hand
atop his left. He turned his palm and took hold of
“We both know loss, Mulder. Christmas isn’t Christmas
unless you’re with the ones you love most.”
“Yeah.” Movie Mulder squeezed her hand and noticed a
crumb of popcorn stuck just beneath her lower lip. He
reached over and gently brushed it away. His thumb
gently brushed her lip as well, and her mouth opened
slightly in response. He wanted badly to kiss her
then, but he settled for his hand slowly, softly
gliding over her cheek, resting there, and then
returning to his thigh.
Scully turned toward him, her eyes searching his. She
lay her head on his chest as he lifted his arm and
rested it across her shoulders. She nestled snugly
against him; his lips touched her hair.
Suddenly, Byers turned off the projector. Noting
Mulder’s disappointment, he tore the newest reel from
the machine and put it in a camera bag. “Sorry. My
time’s up. Can’t show you the rest of this one. Your
own memories will have to suffice.”
“Wait!” Mulder winced as his head shot him a warning
jolt of pain. “Byers! I want to see it!”
Byers hovered above the seat. “Gotta go, Mulder. But
another apparition will be along in a minute.” He
began to drift through the car’s passenger door and
meld with the snow, his mustache and beard standing
out against the white substance.
“But I want to see the rest of that movie–” Mulder
stopped. Byers had disappeared completely, as had the
illumination that had filled the car.
Mulder’s head sank to his chest. His mind allowed him
to see Scully held tightly to him, to hear her
laughter as they watched movies until nearly dawn, to
feel her closeness to him on the couch.
Suddenly, images of young Fox crying alone on the
floor of the bathroom and of Samantha wearing a
wedding dress replaced thoughts of Scully.
Overwhelmed by conflicting emotions, Mulder clutched
the steering wheel and sobbed in the cold darkness.
1:30 A.M., December 25, 2001
“With whom am I speaking, please?” Scully asked.
“Deputy Kyla Heffen of the Springville town police,
ma’am,” came the woman’s voice through the cell
phone’s receiver. “How can I help you?”
Scully paced. “I’m–.” Since she and Mulder were on a
secret getaway, identifying herself as an FBI agent
wasn’t smart. “This is Dana Scully at The Palace
motel. I’ve been waiting for the last ninety minutes
for my–friend–to arrive. I talked to him at
midnight, and he planned to be at this motel within a
few minutes. He hasn’t arrived yet.”
“It’s not a great night out there. Hard travelin’.”
“Yes,” Scully sighed. “I noticed. That’s my point. He
had gone past the motel, and he was going to turn
around and come back.”
“This isn’t much of a town. How’d he miss it?”
“That’s a long story.” Scully said. “We had
reservations at an inn in Glenwood, but between my
flight being late and the roads being bad, the
reservations were forfeited. But my–friend–took a
later flight and didn’t know that.”
“I see. Well, has he called you since?”
“No, and I can’t reach him on his cell phone. I think
he may have…turned it off.”
“Why? Does he keep it turned off normally?”
Scully rolled her eyes. “No, but…”
“You two were fighting, eh?” The woman chuckled.
“Wouldn’t be the first time a man didn’t show up
after he and the little woman had a spat.”
“No,” Scully argued. “He’s not like that. He might
turn it off, but he’d still come here.”
Deputy Heffen still laughed. “When did you expect him
“Just after midnight.”
“Ma’am, what do you expect me to do? He hasn’t even
been missing for two hours yet! I can’t file a
missing person report on him.”
“I know that. I–I guess I’m asking if any accidents
have been reported. If any names…?”
“Any accidents? On a night like this? Yes, we’ve had
*a few* reported,” Heffen sneered.
“‘*And*?’ And those injured have been taken to
Bertrand Chaffee Hospital here in town. All the roads
around us are closed; our ambulances aren’t about to
take those people elsewhere.”
“Can you tell me who was injured?”
“No, I can’t. And I won’t. Not all families have been
notified yet. You can call the hospital if you want
to know that information.”
“Fine.” Scully resented keeping her FBI status
secret. “Can you at least tell me if any Ford Fiestas
Deputy Heffen rustled paper for several seconds.
Finally, she drew a deep breath. “No Ford Fiestas.”
Scully’s head dropped–partly in relief and partly in
worsening fear. If Mulder *had* been in an accident,
then he’d not yet been found. “Thank you. Will you
call me if any reports *do* involve such a car?
Please? My friend’s name is Fox Mulder.”
“*Fox*?” Heffen giggled.
“I’m in Room 8. I’d appreciate a call, Deputy.”
“All right, ma’am. Have you called the bars around
town? Maybe he stopped to wash away his troubles.”
Scully accepted the tip. Reluctantly, Scully had to
bow to the logic of the suggestion. “I’ll do that.”
“Okay. And don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll come home to
the nest when he gets–you know–the urge.”
“Thank you,” Scully said between clenched teeth.
After hanging up, she searched the nightstand for the
phone book. Grabbing it from a drawer, she let her
fingers race through the yellow pages. She looked up
“taverns” and “bars,” and was disgusted to find that
those pages had been torn out.
She next opened the door and looked toward the motel
office, hoping she could find an undamaged phonebook
there, but the office was dark. She ducked back into
the room when a strong gust of icy wind whacked her
face and nearly gagged her. As she panted, she
realized there had been no snow in the wind. Peering
through the window, she found that the storm had
finally stopped. Now, the wind lifted powdery snow
and formed it into drifts like sand dunes. As a
snowplow went by on the main road, she decided that
phone calls wouldn’t do.
Moving to the desk, she found stationery and a pen,
and wrote a hurried note to Mulder should he arrive
while she was out. She left the note on the bed, but
the shivers she suffered told her that he wouldn’t be
back on his own.
Scully buttoned her coat and pulled the collar up.
Grabbing her gloves and keys, she hastily bolted from
the motel room, leaping through the deep snow to get
to her car.
“Hey, Mulder? Is your face melting, or what?”
The voice came from the passenger seat, and Mulder
quickly wiped away tears. He straightened himself,
ignoring the shooting pains in his head. Again, the
car was illuminated, and again, an apparition sat
beside him. He was not surprised to find Langly, the
long-haired Lone Gunman.
“Ghost of Christmas Present?” Mulder muttered.
Langly shook his head. “Apparition of Cyberspace.”
“I should have known. And what will you show me?”
“Christmas present. Well, not *a* Christmas ‘present’
but the present Christmas.”
“I had that figured out.”
“Yeah, well, you win a prize.” Langly started to open
the flap of a leather carrying case. “I’m here to
show you how much you mean to people.”
“Yeah, right. Good luck.” Mulder watched his friend’s
movements. “What, no projector this time?”
“In the days of cyberspace?” Langly chided. “You must
be joking.” He produced a laptop computer and let the
leather case fall to the car’s floor. “Yo, Mulder;
man, check this out! One point zero gigahertz
processor, 256 MBs of RAM, twenty gigabytes of hard
drive, DVD capability, twenty-one inch screen,
ultralight notebook…” Langly smoothed his hands
reverently over the computer. “I’m tellin’ ya, this
baby isn’t just state of the art. This is so far
“Why not just use a portable DVD player?”
“Why eat one chocolate chip when you can have the
whole cookie?” the apparition countered. “This laptop
is so much more–”
“If I could interrupt your worship,” Mulder murmured,
“could you tell me why you’re here?”
“You know why I’m here. I’m supposed to show you the
Christmas that could have taken place today.”
“Then can we get on with it? I’m a little cold here.
And a little bit ready to either die or get the hell
out of this car.”
“Voila!!” Langly exclaimed. “Your wish is my
command!” He twirled a DVD in his fingertips and held
it before his eyes as if appreciating the technology
for the first time. He then placed the disc inside
the laptop, hit a key, and watched as the screen lit
A snapshot of Langly’s face appeared in the lower
case “g” of a homemade logo proclaiming “Langly
Multimedia Productions.” Mulder smirked. “You’re
gonna be right up there with Paramount, huh?”
“Laugh now, but that will be reality someday.”
“Yeah, and Santa Claus is real.”
Langly’s jaw clenched as he bit back resentment.
“Shh. Just watch the disc.” He balanced the laptop on
the steering wheel’s top and dashboard so Mulder
could see better. As a menu popped up on the screen,
he clicked on one of the items. “Christmas 2001
Mulder watched as the Langly logo dissolved into the
living room of Maggie Scully’s house. Instantly, he
felt the room’s warmth, not just from the furnace,
fireplace, and the yellows and browns of the room’s
furnishings, but from Maggie’s cheery smile and
Near the bow window stood a tall, decorated tree.
Plenty of red bows, candy canes, and gold or silver
ornaments hung from its limbs. Tinsel and white
icicle lights sparkled throughout the tree, and many
gifts lay piled two and three deep on the floor
beneath it. Bill Scully, Jr.’s four year old son
stood before those packages. Little Matthew’s round,
blue eyes gazed in awe at the sight.
Mulder glanced at the clock, finding the time to be
1:02 P.M. He could smell the cooking turkey,
potatoes, sweet potato pie, and a variety of spices.
His aching head swooned, and his dry mouth watered.
Nothing matched Maggie Scully’s cooking.
Suddenly, Langly reached over again and clicked on
the laptop’s mouse. Mulder found himself propelled
from the living room into the kitchen. And though the
smells were now more potent, his mouth wrenched in a
sneer. Maggie stood at the kitchen’s island, her
apron showing a Christmas Currier and Ives drawing.
But Bill Scully, Jr., leaned against the sink.
“So she’s not coming?” Bill was asking. “Why not?”
Maggie placed sprigs of parsley on a meat platter.
“She’s vacationing somewhere near Buffalo.”
“Vacation?” Bill’s disdain echoed in his voice. “When
she knows the family is together?”
“She deserves it, dear. She felt she had to get away,
and I agreed. And you know Dana; if something’s on
her mind she has to act on it.”
“Like her shift from medicine to superagent?”
Maggie ignored his comment. “How many times have we
had this conversation? It’s Christmas, darling. I’ve
not seen you, Tara, and my grandson for quite a
while. I’d just like to enjoy the day.”
“Mom, you and I both know what turmoil that decision
added to Dana’s life. We’ve both seen the tragedy it
brought to this family. It killed my sister, and it’s
nearly killed Dana many times.”
“Shhhh!” Maggie warned, noting the rise in her son’s
volume. “Matthew and Tara will hear you.”
“Tara knows how I feel. It’s not new to her.”
“That’s not the point–”
“No. The point is,” he said angrily, “that Dana keeps
running from everything that could make her happy.
She could have had a safe career in medicine. She
could have had a husband and children by now. She
wouldn’t be rushing off or hanging on every word of
her worthless excuse for a partner.”
“Stop it, Bill. Just stop it.” Maggie’s hands were
now clutched against her chest, her face stern in
anguish. “Yes, Dana could have picked a safer
profession, but she’s happy with her decision. All
I’ve ever wanted was for my children to do with their
lives what they felt best. Dana *is* doing that. Just
as you are.”
“Is she? Mom, you know how Dana idolized Dad. She
would have followed him anywhere or done anything he
asked. Are you so sure that she hasn’t simply
projected that loyalty to this Mulder?”
“Yes, dear.” A hint of laughter touched her voice.
“I’m quite sure she hasn’t.”
“Well, I’m not so certain.”
“You don’t see Dana often, and you don’t know Fox.”
“And I don’t want to know him.” Bill tore a chunk
from a dinner roll and placed it in his mouth. “I
wish Dana would let him rot in his basement office
and get on with her life.”
“That basement office *is* her life. Let her be.”
“Oh, Bill, not this again.” Tara came into the
kitchen. “Mind your own business.” She wrapped her
arms around her husband and kissed his cheek.
“Whoa! Good woman!” Langly suddenly shouted. He
pressed a key on the laptop and paused the action.
“Score one for her, eh?”
“Langly,” Mulder shook his head, “mind *your* own
business.” He put a hand to his throbbing head. “Is
there a point to all this? I’m not Bill Scully’s
favorite person. That’s not news.”
“Did you know Mrs. Scully liked you so much?”
“‘So much’? I guess I knew she didn’t hate me.”
“Did you know she stood up for you in family
arguments? Did you know she invites you to these
celebrations because she wants you to be there?”
“I don’t believe that.”
“Well then, my friend, watch on!” Langly hit the key
again, and action resumed.
“Bill, why don’t you go play with Matthew?” Tara was
saying. “He’s so excited about the gifts.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Maggie added.
Bill popped the rest of the roll into his mouth.
“Okay, but when Dana gets home from this vacation,
I’m going to have a word with her.”
“You are not,” Tara replied. “Unless it’s to ask if
she had fun or why she doesn’t vacation more.”
“Not likely,” Bill stated as he left the kitchen.
The younger woman sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, Maggie.
He comes 3,000 miles and says the same things.
Sometimes he exasperates me.”
Maggie smiled. “I know. He’s too protective of Dana
since her dad died. He needs to let go.”
“Agreed.” Tara dumped boiled potatoes into a bowl.
“So Dana has actually gone to have fun somewhere?”
“Yes. She and–she and a friend are in upstate New
York on a skiing vacation.”
“She skis? I didn’t know that.”
Maggie chuckled. “No, she doesn’t. I’m not sure how
much skiing she’ll be doing.”
Tara’s eyes twinkled. “I see! Well, good for her!”
“I’m happy, too–with some reservations. I’ll never
like your generation’s morals–or lack thereof.”
“Well, Dana’s not exactly promiscuous.” Tara poured
some milk onto the potatoes. “Is she with Fox?”
Maggie noted the mischievous smile. “Yes.”
“Good. I like him. I don’t know what Bill’s problem
with him is–unless it’s jealousy. Someone else has
the attention of his little sister.”
“You do like Fox? I’m glad to hear that. Until Dana
announced this trip, I wanted them both to come to
dinner today. I would like Bill to get to know Fox as
I know him. I don’t think Bill would doubt then. But
Fox and Bill have had words in the past, and they
just seem like bulldogs together now.”
“Woof! Woof!” Langly laughed, pausing the film again.
“See what I mean, man?”
Mulder’s eyes were closed. “No. I *am* dreaming,
aren’t I?” He shook his head slightly. “I don’t
really believe this one, Langly.”
“No? It’s true; I swear.” The Gunman suddenly ejected
the disc. “But I have another version of Christmas
2001 that you’ll *have* to believe.”
“I can hardly wait,” Mulder yawned.
Scully had given up trying to get her car out of the
motel’s parking lot. The main road had been plowed,
but not the motel’s driveway. Her winter hiking boots
were no match for the deep snow that covered what
must have been sidewalks. Her short legs weren’t much
help either. With chunks of packed snow slithering
inside her boots and melting into her socks, she
walked in the cleared roadway beneath streetlights.
No traffic passed at nearly two in the morning, and
so far, no taverns or other establishments appeared
Almost ready to call Deputy Heffen again, Scully
noticed an old, flashing neon sign on a distant
building. She stepped up her pace, beginning to jog
as the wind hurtled at her. Her gaze roamed over the
snow-covered cars parked around the run-down bar, but
none of them resembled Ford Fiestas. Two tractor-
trailers and a panel truck were also parked nearby.
And to her amazement, several snowmobiles rested at
the side of the building. Apparently, some people
used any means to get to their favorite watering
At last, she entered the Smiling Oaks. She was eager
to get out of the freezing night, but not thrilled to
see the smoky haze and dimness of the tavern. She
coughed as she breathed the dank air and moved
further into the room.
Her trained eyes took in at least fifteen people.
Most were at the bar, but some sat at a back table or
threw darts at a board on the side wall. A recently
released country tune, “Slammin’ My Love Away,”
warbled over the stereo system. She allowed a brief
smile; she remembered hearing that song while in the
car with Mulder once. She’d laughed at the bawdy
lyrics he had sung in place of the real words. But
his unexplained absence brought a frown back to her
face, and she returned to the present.
She suddenly noticed that all eyes had turned in her
direction, and all activity had stopped. Before her
were big, burly men. Some had long, stringy hair that
needed to be washed, and others had buzz cuts or
receding hairlines. Most were either overweight or
just overly muscular. Scully was a David meeting
“Merry Christmas! Can I help you, miss?”
The question came from behind the bar, and Scully
quickly relaxed when she saw its owner: a small
woman, fifty-ish, with a conditioned body. Scully
flashed a smile. “I hope so.” She glanced warily at
the surrounding men as she moved to the bar.
“Name’s Laura Dow,” said the bartender. “What can I
do for you?”
Scully looked into the open, cheerful face of the
woman and felt instantly confident. If anyone could
help her, it would be Laura.
“I-I’m looking for someone–”
“Aren’t we all, honey?” Dow laughed.
Scully shook her head. “No, not like that. My friend
was supposed to be at The Palace hours ago. I talked
to him by phone, and he’d just passed the motel. He
was going to turn around and come back. But he’s
never made it.”
“And you’re out on this night looking for him?”
“Well, Deputy Heffen suggested I try a few bars–”
“Oh, not her.” Laura looked toward some of the men.
“Hey, guys? Deputy ‘Heifer’ is giving advice again.”
Many groans and shaking heads greeted her comment.
“Look,” Laura told Scully, “Deputy Heffen doesn’t
have the best reputation. She has an awful lot to do-
-but so little of it is police business. She’s a
great gossip. She got that job because she wanted to
hear any news first.” She gazed at Scully’s face.
“Where are you from?”
“Washington, DC. We were going to Kissing Bridge, but
with this storm and delayed flights–”
Dow held up a hand. “Don’t even bother. I know the
stories. Been running this dump for years now.” She
poured a cup of coffee and put it before Scully. “You
got a picture of your guy?”
Scully quickly removed her gloves and sunk her hands
into the pockets of her long wool coat. On a whim,
she’d grabbed a photo of Mulder from her bag before
leaving the motel. She now handed it to Laura. “It’s
not the best one I have, but that’s him.”
Dow’s eyes widened as she whistled. “And you let him
out of your sight?” She regarded Scully with
interest. “Does he have an older brother?”
Scully frowned; no recognition had registered on
Laura’s face. “You haven’t seen him, have you?”
“Sorry. I sure wish I had.” She turned to her
patrons. “Hey, fellas? C’mere a second.” She waited
until they came to the bar. “Any of you seen this guy
tonight? His lady is waiting for him.”
Each of the men gazed at the photo, but none of them
nodded. A long-haired, young man grinned at Scully.
“If he don’t come back, I’m available.”
Scully laughed slightly. The man intended no harm.
She noticed that he had playful but sincere eyes.
“Where was he?” an oversized, furless bear asked.
“Coming in from the airport. He was on Route 39 when
I last talked to him,” Scully replied.
The man leaned closer. “On 39? Heading which way?”
Scully searched her memory of the earlier
conversation with Mulder. “I don’t think he said.
He’d gotten off–what was it? 219? 319?”
“219?” the man asked. “Then he’d been going east.”
Scully could only shrug. “I really don’t know.”
“Hey, Al?” the man called to another. “Maybe this
explains that car.”
Al was bald and wore a red mustache and goatee on his
terribly large face. “Ma’am, what kind of car was
your friend driving? How big?”
Scully’s curiosity was peaked. “A Ford Fiesta.”
Al nodded while giving his friend a wink. “Yep, I’ll
bet that explains it.”
“Explains what?” Scully didn’t dare hope.
“About that time,” Al began, “I was heading west.
Came around a curve; couldn’t see anything out there
in that damned storm. All of a sudden, there was this
dinky car right in front of me. He swerved and
skidded, and I missed him. But when I looked into the
rearview, I couldn’t see any sign of him. Just seemed
to have disappeared. I ‘spect I should have stopped,
but that ain’t easy with my rig when it’s rolling.”
Scully’s eyebrows raised. “Where did this happen?”
Al shrugged. “I travel this route a lot, but in this
weather, it’s hard to tell where you are.”
“Please!” Scully pleaded.
“How far out were you, Al?” Laura asked.
“I don’t know. Somewhere’s between five and ten
minutes, I guess.” His hand scrubbed at his beard.
“That’d put me near the creek, wouldn’t it? ‘Bout
where they found that girl a few years back.”
“Girl?” Scully asked, confused.
Laura nodded. “In the winter a few years ago, a local
girl came up missing on her way home from work.
Family, police, friends, and townspeople searched for
weeks. Didn’t find her until spring. Her car went off
the road and under a bridge on 39. She was dead, but
all those months passed until the family found that
out. Terrible thing.”
Scully looked frantically from Laura to Al to their
friends and back. “My car–it’s buried in the parking
lot at the motel. Could you–some of you–please help
me dig it out? I need to look for Mulder’s car.”
Again her hands went to her coat pockets. “I can pay
you for your trouble–”
“A car isn’t going to get you there tonight,” Laura
said. “The town’s streets are plowed, but the state
and county roads haven’t been touched yet. We’re
under a State of Emergency.”
Before Scully could protest, the long-haired man
intervened, “Hey, we’ll take my machine. I can get
you out there in no time.”
“John,” the barkeeper asked, “look at how she’s
dressed. She’ll freeze on that snowmobile.”
“She can wear my helmet and suit,” another man said.
“They ain’t gonna fit, but they’ll work.”
John grabbed the offered one-piece snowmobile suit
that was far taller than Scully. “It’ll be warmer
than your coat. The temperature is fifteen degrees
tonight. Wind chill’s at five below zero. When you’re
riding on my machine, that’ll feel like at least
Scully felt confused and a bit dazed as she hurriedly
put on her gloves. “Are you sure we need to do it
this way? I really could take my car–”
“C’mon.” John held the suit open for her.
Al peeled her long coat from her shoulders so she
could don the proper gear. “A few of us will go with
you in case you need some help.”
Scully nodded. To find Mulder was the objective after
all. She let John guide her arms into the sleeves,
and then she stepped into the suit and zipped it
around her. She was reminded of another time when
she’d been dressed in a taller man’s clothes to
survive extreme weather. She hoped this time would
have as favorable an outcome.
“I’m grateful to you all,” she said as a helmet was
placed on her head and a clear visor fell over her
face. She felt John fixing and adjusting the chin
strap as several other men nodded and pulled on their
suits or heavy coats.
“Here.” Laura Dow handed her the cup of coffee. “Have
a sip right now and warm yourself up.”
Scully raised the visor and did as told, the hot,
bitter liquid filling her mouth. The shivers she’d
felt earlier were gone; she sensed she was closer to
“Gloves!” John suddenly shouted. “She’ll need heavier
gloves. Don’t want her pretty hands to freeze.”
A thick pair of mittens was produced and put onto her
hands by two different men. “I don’t think I’ve been
dressed like this since my mother did it back in my
childhood,” Scully breathed.
John laughed. “Well, the pleasure’s all ours, ma’am.
I hope your boyfriend’s okay.”
“Me, too,” Scully murmured. She followed the suited
men out the door. “Me, too.”
“And this disc will show me what, precisely?”
“You’ll have to see, won’t you?” Langly handily slid
the DVD into the laptop.
“Just tell me.”
“Christmas 2001. But this time, it’s as if you hadn’t
asked Scully to join you here. You’ll see how she
would have spent Christmas otherwise.”
Mulder settled back against the headrest. “But I’m
still not going to believe it. Not if it hasn’t
“That’s where you’re wrong.” The blond apparition was
suddenly serious. “This Christmas *has* been
happening to Scully for years.”
Mulder took a long, stunned glance at the Gunman.
Then he turned to the laptop, curious and wary.
Again, Maggie Scully’s festively decorated house
greeted Mulder’s sight, and the wonderful smells
filled his head. And again, as he saw people gathered
for the holiday, Mulder felt a bit of nostalgia and
Maggie and her family were seated at her big dining
room table. Plates were full; voices were busy in
Mulder’s gaze settled on Scully. She sat to her
mother’s left, across the table from brother Bill.
She wore a low-necked, tight, black sweater that
beautifully accentuated her curves and proved
provocative enough to make him squirm slightly in the
seat. But he noticed that while her lips moved in
pleasant conversation, her eyes were pensive, her
face showing anyone who knew her well that she was
not happy here. Not content.
“What’s wrong with Scully, Langly? Why is she sad?”
“Duh. Listen and find out.”
“So, Dana,” Bill was saying as he stuffed a piece of
roll into his mouth, “where’s your partner today? Mom
invited him, didn’t she?”
On her plate, Scully’s fork chased a pea, finally
spearing it fiercely. Mulder winced.
“Mulder celebrates Christmas his own way, Bill.”
“Kind of rude, don’t you think?”
“Bill…” Maggie warned. “Let’s not do this.”
“No, I don’t think it’s rude,” his sister replied,
not meeting her brother’s gaze. “I think it’s just
the way he handles it.”
Bill scoffed. “What kind of crap is that? What–is
this his ‘I lost my sister years ago and never got
over it’ routine again? Well, it’s old, Dana. We lost
our sister, too–thanks to him and his worthless
quest. And we manage to celebrate still.”
Scully sipped from her water glass. “We also have
family that’s living. Family we can still enjoy.” She
set the glass down. “Mulder doesn’t.”
“We *are* missing a few, though, in case you haven’t
noticed,” Bill sniped. “Missy *and* Dad. Charlie’s
absent again, but still we celebrate.”
“And isn’t it a wonderful thing that we’re this
fortunate?” Maggie asked. “We’ve had our losses, but
still we gather.”
“Yes, it is, Mom,” Scully replied. “I’m sure that if
Mulder joined us, he’d feel differently, but I don’t
blame him for feeling as he does.”
“Well, I do.” Bill’s fork sank into mashed potato.
“Don’t get me wrong; I have no desire to see him. But
if he’s invited, he should make the effort. We don’t
all give up when hardship enters our lives.”
“Mulder doesn’t give up, Bill.”
“No, I’m sure,” was his sarcastic response. “But I’ll
bet he expects you to come to his place later today,
right? To make it all better for him?”
“He doesn’t expect it, no. In fact, he was adamant,
as he usually is, that I be with my family.” Scully’s
eyes coldly stared into her brother’s. She tossed her
fork onto her plate and hit the table with her fist.
“But, yes, I am going to his apartment and surprise
him this afternoon, if you want to know. For his
sake. And for mine.”
Maggie covered Scully’s hand with her own. “I think
that’s a wonderful idea, Dana. You’ve got the best of
both worlds today. Christmas isn’t Christmas unless
you’re with the ones you love most.”
“*That* line again,” Mulder mused. He watched mother
and daughter exchange understanding looks. Then he
turned to the apparition. “You’re showing me this
because Scully *did* want to be with me?”
“Boy, you’re quick, Mulder,” Langly smirked.
“And because I’m apparently stuck in the past too
much to enjoy things in the present?”
“Gee, can’t get anything by you!” Langly’s smirk
became a goofy grin.
Mulder didn’t notice. He stared blankly at the
windshield. In his mind, he heard, “People don’t give
up after hardships…the ‘I lost my sister years ago
and never got over it’ routine…” Suddenly Mulder
focused. “The handcuffs. That’s why Jack had them,
why I saw my family after he left. I’ve been attached
to them even though they’re no longer here. Is that
right, Langly? Is that what this is all about? I need
to let go of them?”
He turned to the passenger’s side of the car, but
Langly was gone. The laptop had disappeared. Mulder’s
jaw dropped. “Hey! Wait a minute! Tell me if I’m
right? Apparition of Cyberspace? Hey!”
When nothing but quiet greeted him, Mulder sagged in
his seat. He allowed himself to recall Scully’s face-
-how it had appeared so melancholy in the last disc,
and then had brightened when she’d mentioned going to
his apartment. *That* had surprised him, and it
warmed him now. He closed his eyes to savor the
feeling. But the sound of clinking metal returned to
his ears, and visions of multiple pairs of handcuffs
floated in his mind.
1:50 A.M., December 25, 2001
“Hey, Mulder. You’re missing the porn flick.”
Mulder’s eyes snapped open at another familiar voice.
Once again he found the car illuminated by a soft
glow coming from his right, and though he needed no
identification of his latest visitor, he turned his
head to find Melvin Frohike. “Which one are you? Doc?
“Ha, ha, very funny,” the elfin man replied without
smiling. He adjusted the headset he wore, positioning
the earphone more comfortably. “If you’re trying to
get beauty sleep, you should give it up.”
Mulder smirked. “So, you must be the ghost–the
*apparition*–of Christmas Yet to Come?”
“Close. Apparition of Futurama, actually.”
“How could I have missed that? Look, Frohike, I know
what you’re going to show me. I’ve seen the movies,
read the book. Why don’t you just forego this little
charade and help me out of this car? It’s not exactly
an oven in here, and I should at least let Scully
know where I am.”
The small man was shaking his head. “No, you don’t
know what I’m going to show you. And I’m not so sure
that letting you out of his car alive has been
decided yet. So shut up, will you?”
“That’s no way for an apparition to talk.”
“Mulder, I know what you’re trying to do. You’ve
dealt with some pretty heavy emotion so far–your
childhood and the end of Christmas as you knew it.
You’ve seen the rebirth of happy Christmases for you,
though you’ve been too bull-headed to enjoy more
since 1999. And you’ve even seen that you mean a
great deal to Scully and to most of her family. But
you don’t handle close looks at your emotions well,
so you’re trying to avoid the next images. I’m
afraid, my friend, that you can’t do that.”
“Are you going to tell me the secrets of the
universe, too? Why we’re here–”
“Quiet, wise guy. You wouldn’t understand them
anyway. You still don’t understand your own personal
life. You don’t understand what these visions are all
“I beg to differ,” Mulder replied. “I was shown my
childhood to remind me why Christmas used to be great
and why that ended. I was shown Scully at my
apartment to realize I *can* feel holiday spirit.
Maybe it even showed me that having her come here
wasn’t a bad idea. I did see Scully’s family and know
they’re not all against me, and then I saw Scully
with her family to know that she understands me and
didn’t want me to be alone on Christmas.”
“That’s the only reason she was going to your
apartment?” Frohike asked, but immediately he held up
a gloved hand. “Never mind. I know you’ll say it
was.” He pushed his glasses higher onto his nose. “So
what have you learned from all you’ve seen?”
Mulder looked toward the windshield. “That Scully has
a loser as a friend.”
“Hmmmm…” Frohike said. “That wasn’t the point.”
“I know.” Mulder turned back to the apparition. “I’ve
learned that I’ve been stuck in the past, and I fail
to appreciate all that I have around me.”
Frohike nodded, smiling. “Not bad. Anything else?”
The younger man paused in thought. “No.”
“Here. Put these on.”
Mulder stared at the sunglasses his friend held
toward him. “It’s night and dark already, Dopey.”
“In the future, you won’t need film projectors and
DVDs. These are virtual reality glasses. Put them on
and see where they take you.”
“Do they show me what’s in my mind? I can see Bambi
Bigboobs if I imagine her?”
“Down boy,” Frohike replied. “No, you’ll see what
you’re *supposed* to see. Besides, who needs Bambi
Bigboobs when he could have the fine Agent Scully?”
Mulder donned the glasses and blinked in the new
darkness. Instantly, he saw the basement of the
Hoover Building. And though his feet weren’t moving,
he moved down the hallway, nearing the X-Files
office. “Not bad, Frohike,” he murmured.
“Glad you like them. By the way, you’re about to see
Mulder nodded. In virtual reality, he turned to the
closed door of his office and jolted to a halt. “What
the…” he muttered in shock.
His doorplate had been replaced. He didn’t bother to
read the new one as he sifted through the door. The
occupants of the office were oblivious to his
His gaze quickly found his partner. Her red hair had
been cut in a close-cropped, skull-hugging style that
looked fine but wasn’t *his* Scully. She stood behind
a metal desk; his old one had been removed. New file
cabinets were in place. And he noticed Scully’s
nameplate occupying the desktop.
Seated before her was a dark haired man whose face
Mulder couldn’t see. The person was tall and had
short hair, too, and wore a dark suit.
“But Dana,” the man was saying, “I really don’t want
a new partner. You were terrific–the best. I can’t
do this without you.”
She smiled at him. “I know you mean well, but this is
something I have to do. The decision wasn’t easy;
I’ve enjoyed working with you, too, but the time has
come. I could spend the rest of my life here, but
what would I have in the end? Nothing but memories
and a ton of paperwork that bears my signature.
That’s not enough, Robert.” Her eyes seemed to stare
into the past as she slowly muttered, “I learned that
the hard way.”
“But leaving the FBI–”
“For what might be a more stable, promising career
and life?” Scully grabbed her nameplate and stuffed
it into a box on the desk. “I think that’s all.” She
held out her hand and let Robert shake it. “It’s been
a pleasure, Agent. Good luck here in the Bureau’s
Office of Case Re-Assignment.”
As the other agent stood to usher Scully from the
room, Mulder tore off the glasses and turned to
Frohike. “What is this? Scully quits the FBI? The X-
Files are gone? Where am *I* in 2005?”
The elfin man met his gaze. “Got a joke for you:
Mulder stared in frustration, then impatiently
answered, “Who’s there?”
“That’s what they all say at the Hoover by 2005.”
Frohike gave him a moment to digest that. “Yes,
Scully leaves. The X-Files are closed down. New
people and assignments have taken the office.”
“Where am I during all this?” Mulder asked in
“That’s what I’m about to show you.”
Had she ridden this snowmobile under different
circumstances, Scully thought she might have enjoyed
it. She and John were second in the line of three
snowmobiles that sped along the snow-covered road in
the deep darkness. The wind whipped against her as
did the snowmobiles’ slipstreams, and riding on the
back of the sled, she tightly gripped the handholds
at her sides.
But her thoughts were fixed on Mulder. If they found
him, in what condition would he be? Could he have
frozen to death by now? How injured was he? How
damaged? It had been a horrible day; she prayed it
would not be a horrible night.
“Almost there!” John yelled back at her.
“Okay!” she called back. She just hoped there would
be truth to what she said.
At Frohike’s urging, Mulder returned the glasses to
his eyes. The despair he’d felt before had turned
into budding anger and fear. He wanted now to get out
of the car and find Scully. She couldn’t quit the
FBI, and she couldn’t let the X-Files be closed.
Heck, she couldn’t cut her hair either.
“Christmas 2010,” Frohike stated. “Straight ahead.”
“Wait a minute–I don’t get this.” The images coming
to Mulder were of a large family car driving through
the streets of DC. “These glasses still need work,
“Just be patient, will you?”
The car slowed and turned into an area hemmed by a
wrought iron fence. Before Mulder could see the
auto’s destination, though, he found himself in the
car, seated with his back against the dashboard. He
faced the family inside.
He noticed her first. Scully, nine years older. She
was still beautiful and desirable to him, but a few
wrinkles had sprouted around her mouth and eyes. Her
hair, still close-cropped, held a few streaks of gray
she’d not yet colored. She wore a black turtleneck
sweater beneath her camel coat. Driving the car, was
a man of medium build and receding hairline. His
glasses magnified his mid-forties’ eyes, and he, too,
wore a black sweater and camel coat. Mulder suddenly
noticed two boys and a girl, between ages six and
twelve, in the back seat. Each wore glasses and bored
“Dana, please make this fast,” the man said. “We
don’t want to be late. Your mother will worry.”
“Tom,” she replied, “we have plenty of time. Bill and
Tara and their kids will keep Mom entertained until
we get there.”
“I don’t see why we do this anyway. It’s been nine
years. It’s silly to hold onto the past. You’re a
mother now as well as a researcher, a professor, and
a doctor in charge of medical mysteries at
Georgetown. Yet we do this every year.”
She looked at the driver. With her left hand, she
smoothed a piece of lint from his lapel. On her
finger, Scully wore a big diamond and a gold wedding
band. “It’s important to me.”
Tom smiled. “Like we are–I hope.”
“Of course. You’re all important to me.”
The car stopped. Tom leaned forward, looking out at
something. “This is the right spot, yes?”
Scully gazed out solemnly and nodded. “I won’t be
long.” She opened the car door.
“Dana? Don’t forget this!” The little girl in the
back seat handed Scully a miniature sunflower.
Mulder, gazing in shock, asked, “They call her by
name? Why don’t they call her ‘Mom’?”
“They’re his kids. With his first wife.”
In dismay, Mulder watched Scully move through what he
now found to be a cemetery. The day was chilly, and
its cloudy gray light mixed with the scent of
December earth and decaying flowers to create a
dismal atmosphere. A brisk breeze lifted dead leaves
in a macabre dance about the cold stone of grave
markers. In their midst, Scully walked, her steps
slow but determined. Her mouth formed a tight line,
but her eyes glistened with tears.
At last she stopped. She gazed at a headstone for
several seconds before kneeling. At this grave, she
placed the sunflower in a small urn already filled
with a fairly fresh bouquet. Mulder’s eyes left her
briefly and read what he’d expected to find on the
marker: “Fox William Mulder. 1961-2001. Partner, best
friend, touchstone. Rest in peace.”
Again, Mulder tore the glasses off. “Frohike! I *do*
die in this accident? I die tonight?”
“Mulder, be patient,” the other man chided.
“I don’t want to die tonight! Not like this!”
Frohike gave him a stern glance. “If you don’t shut
up I’m gonna kill you anyway.”
Mulder’s expression mirrored his frustration, but he
gradually, reluctantly returned the glasses to his
face. “Everyone’s nightmare: to be killed by an elf
Scully still knelt and slowly ran her fingers over
the engraving of Mulder’s name. Finally, she sat back
on her heels. “Oh Mulder,” she sighed. “I know I was
just here the other day, but today is different.
Tom’s great; he really is, and the kids are sweet.
They’re a lot of work, believe me.” She wiped some
tears from her eyes before they could spill. “I can’t
believe it’s been nine years. So much has changed. My
work is rewarding, and my family is a joy. But
there’s something missing. Something I’ll never know
again. Something I want so much it hurts, and that
hurt will never go away.”
“Dana! We’ll be late, sweetie,” Tom called.
“In a minute!” she yelled, never taking her eyes from
the tombstone. In a quiet voice, she muttered,
“Mulder, why couldn’t you be here? Why did you have
to die? We wasted so much time. With our running all
over the country, investigating this and that. We
failed for too long to investigate what was most
important–us–our feelings for each other. And once
we finally did that, you were gone.” She wiped more
tears and then inhaled heavily. She visibly willed
her composure to return. Reaching out, she lay her
hand atop the grave-marker, caressing it lovingly.
“I’ve got to go now. But I wanted to do this. To be
here. With you. Mulder, Christmas isn’t Christmas
unless you’re with the one you love most.” She slowly
rose to her feet, her hand keeping its place even as
she turned. Slowly it left the cold stone. He felt
her pass as she walked toward the waiting car. After
a last longing glance, she got inside, and Tom drove
Mulder remained at the grave, wanting to follow. But
he suddenly found that no movement was possible. He
had become embedded in the earth beneath his feet and
was slowly sinking.
“Frohike!” He tried to take off the glasses, but they
wouldn’t budge. And the sinking didn’t stop. He felt
himself mired up to his shins. “Do something! I’m
stuck! I’m getting buried! Get me out of this!” The
ground quickly claimed his knees and worked toward
“Have you learned anything yet?”
“Yeah! I don’t want to die! Help me!”
“Why don’t you want to die?”
Mulder stared frantically at the ground now
swallowing his hips. “Because there’s so much I
haven’t done! So much yet to be lived! That should be
me in that car with Scully. She’s with that guy–that
Tom–and those kids. I don’t want that!”
“You what? *You* don’t want that?”
“No! And neither does she! You heard her! My job, my
past–I’ve been hooked to those for too long. I’ve
ignored what I could have had–what I could have had
with Scully! Let me go back. Please!”
“Isn’t that being selfish?” Frohike asked.
“No. Maybe. I don’t care,” Mulder protested, the
ground at chest level. “It’s what I want. And it’s
what she wants.”
“So what you want–and need–in your personal life
*is* important after all?”
Up to his shoulders in the earth now, Mulder
screamed, “Yes! What Scully and I have together is
the most important thing in my life!”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Frohike gleamed. He
paused a moment, listening to the headset. A smile
formed and widened at whatever he heard. “It’s been
decided. Seems you’re gonna live after all.”
Instantly, the glasses fell from Mulder. The sinking
feeling, the consuming earth, the gravestone
vanished. As he tried to raise his hands to his face
to rub the images from his eyes, he found his wrists
handcuffed to the steering wheel.
“A last reminder,” Frohike laughed, and the handcuffs
Mulder tried to calm his breathing. “If that was just
a dream, it was major league.”
“Who said it was a dream? Illusion or reality, my
friend. Who can tell the difference?”
“I don’t know at this point. And I don’t care.”
Mulder swallowed hard as his heart pounded in relief
and joy. He looked over at his friend. “I’ve got to
see Scully. Now. Are you–can you–get me out of
“Nah. I’m just an apparition, remember? Gotta go.
Besides, help’s on the way.” As Frohike began to
evaporate into the night, he waved once. “Welcome
back to the living, Mulder. Not just the existing,
but the living. There’s a big difference.”
As the apparition disappeared, Mulder lay his head
back, swallowed, panted, and swallowed again. The
images of Scully at the grave, with another man, and
out of the FBI, as well as the words he’d just
spoken, haunted his mind. He ached to be with her, to
touch her and know she was real.
He closed his eyes, then immediately opened them,
checking the dark car for the source of humming
engines getting louder.
Before the snowmobile came to a full stop, Scully
bounded from its seat. She’d come to appreciate
snowmobiles when she realized they could leave the
road to explore rugged terrain. And that’s what their
party had done. At a wicked curve on the two-lane
road, John and his friends had veered into the side
ditch and slowed to descend a hill. Their headlights
had illumined a bridge’s abutment, and just to its
right, they had fallen on a large mound. The wind had
swished away some snow from the mound, revealing
badly dented red fiberglass.
Scully bounded clumsily through the deep snow,
imagining that she resembled an astronaut moonwalking
in zero gravity. She chanted Mulder’s name with each
plunge and paid no attention to those with whom she’d
traveled or the cold surrounding her. Her eyes
focused on the driver’s door, and her mind cringed at
what she might find.
The mittens loaned to her now swiped at the snow
covering the driver’s window. Underneath that, a thin
coat of ice prevented her from seeing inside. She
debated not opening the door in case that might cause
Mulder injury, but her need to know overcame reason.
She grabbed the door handle and pulled. When nothing
happened, she jerked the handle roughly. Snow fell
away, and with a loud creak, the door opened.
From somewhere behind her, a flashlight shone. Its
beam came to rest on Mulder’s face. Scully stared,
noting blood issuing from a forehead cut. She held
her breath as she pulled the mittens from her hands
so she could check for a pulse. She muttered,
“Mulder? It’s me.”
Then her breath burst forth as her mouth widened into
a smile of delight. Mulder’s head pivoted groggily on
He looked straight into her eyes and gave her a
crooked smile. “Merry Christmas, Scully.”
Early morning sunlight silhouetted icicles on and
gently seeped through the dusty, cream blinds. The
heater knocked occasionally and spat warm air, making
the atmosphere cozy and relaxed.
Mulder lay on the hard mattress of the motel room,
his head pillowed by Scully’s left shoulder. He
barely felt any pain from the accident, and the cut
he’d suffered, now mended with a butterfly bandage,
caused him a mild twinge only if he moved. He drifted
in and out of contented sleep, happy to open his eyes
that were very close to Scully’s red-lace-covered
breasts; happy to feel his head gently rise and fall
with the pattern of her breathing. Happy to be with
“Mulder?” Scully whispered. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” In fact, he was drunk with pleasure–the
scent of her skin and warmth of her body captivating
She sighed heavily. “I think you should have stayed
in the hospital. Just for observation.”
“Not on Christmas,” he muttered. “Besides, the ER doc
confirmed your diagnosis: mild concussion and
bruises. All I’d get at the hospital is rest. I can
rest much better here.”
“Well, that’s not all you’d have gotten at the
hospital, but…” She lightly stroked the left side
of his head, her fingers softly grazing his ear. “Are
“No, I’m fine. Very comfortable. Are you?”
“Yes,” she sighed lazily. “I don’t know how you
survived that crash, Mulder. And with only a
concussion and bruised knees. Talk about Christmas
“Couldn’t leave you alone in the middle of nowhere,”
he smirked. His hand moved to rest on her lace-
covered thigh beneath the covers. “You still want to
go home to your mother’s?”
“No. I never did. I was just tired and worried–”
“And angry. I don’t blame you, Scully. I should have
“Oh well, that’s in the past, Mulder. Let’s forget
about it.” She pulled the bedcovers up closer to his
chin. “You should sleep. And I hate to tell you this,
but even just a mild concussion will prevent you from
learning to ski. I’m not sure I’ll let you out of
this room until it’s time to go home.”
“Sounds a bit naughty–keeping me captive.”
“You love the idea as much as I do,” she chuckled.
“Now tell me about your dream again.”
He started to shake his head but winced as the cut on
his forehead protested. “I’m not sure it was a dream.
And I don’t want to relive it. But the images, the
things I learned from it are fresh in my mind. I
think–I hope–they always will be.” He closed his
eyes as her lips touched his head.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” she murmured. “I’m glad
“I’m glad *we’re* here, Scully,” he replied softly.
“Christmas isn’t Christmas unless you’re with the one
you love most.”