A/N: Happy December 1st, readers!
Here I have the beginnings of a Christmas-themed multi-chapter story. It is based around the Season 6 episode, "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas," and begins with the final scene of the episode!
Partial inspiration for the story goes to ThexInvisiblexGirl and her wonderful oneshot Her Little Brother. If you're in the mood for some holiday spirit, I'd wholly recommend reading it!
I hope you all have a great holiday season, and please enjoy!
Mulder and Scully scuttled over to the couch presents in hand. Immediately upon sitting down, Mulder began to shake his gift curiously, a grin plastered on his face.
"Wonder what it could be," he murmured. Scully glanced over, and seeing his childish delight, chuckled before turning back to her own gift. Mulder began hastily tearing off the ribbon and digging into the wrapping paper. It came off in long, jagged strips. He turned to his partner to see she had managed to remove her little ribbon, as well, and was fighting with the crinkled wrapping paper encapsulating the end of her cylindrical tube-shaped present.
"You're getting along faster than I am," she remarked as she noticed his present was halfway unwrapped.
"You just got to tear into it, Scully," he replied with a smile. "No mercy!" He set his present down in his lap to watch her proceed. As much as he was curious to see what Scully had gotten him—a book by the feel of the binding and slew of pages—he really wanted to see Scully's reaction to his gift.
Ultimately, Mulder was just pleased his partner had decided to forego their "no gifts" agreement this year, too. After the night they had had in a haunted mansion with a pair of lovesick ghosts intent on making them engage in a lover's pact, they needed a bit of holiday spirit.
Maurice's assertions that he was a narcissistic egomaniac who only stuck around with Scully out of fear of being alone rang through his head. They had unsettled them, and Scully had seemed a bit unsettled herself when she first arrived at his door minutes' earlier. Mulder wondered if the ghosts had pulled a similar stunt on her, using pop psychology to coax her into questioning the nature of their relationship. Taunting her with alternative reasons for why she might continue working alongside him. Insinuating that she was, in fact, all alone and could escape that loneliness through one momentous act.
Even while the ghosts' final plot had been foiled, all the talk by Maurice and Lyda seemed to set them on a course for Christmas Eve companionship. Scully had come knocking on his door, after all, citing she was unable to sleep. Mulder knew that like him, she just didn't want to be alone. So in a weird, twisted way, perhaps the old lovers' plan had worked.
Mulder grinned as Scully finally succeeded in unwrapping her gift from him. The wrapping paper was pooled in a pile at her feet, ribbons included. Her brows knit together and her mouth slipped open as she examined the plastic cylindrical tube in her hands.
He studied her face, realizing immediately that Maurice had been wrong in his allegation of why he kept Scully around. He wasn't looking for Scully's reactions to reflect back on him, as a means to give him an ego boost. She didn't exist to be an asset to him, like why people wore designer clothes—to accentuate one's supposed finer qualities. The point was to hear Scully out as both a professional partner and as a friend who he confided in to the utmost. He wanted to hear her counter-theories and opinions—otherwise he'd only be stuck in his own head, and what kind of man would that make him? Namely the narcissistic egomaniac Maurice claimed he was.
Ultimately, Scully helped Mulder in holding him back and preventing him from becoming that sort of monster. She saved him, and Mulder couldn't think of any way to properly repay her for all she had given him. All he could offer were small kindnesses and an obscure Christmas present. Maybe he could offer something more one day.
Scully held the gift up in the lamplight next to her. There was a thin cardboard insert slipped into the interior of the tubing proudly announcing the name of the product along with enticing catchphrases and all sorts of legal jargon. She was trying to make out what the flashy lettering said.
"I know it's not much—" Mulder began to apologize, realizing the gift was absurdly cheap and was otherwise just plain absurd to give to a grown woman.
"'Eye Spy Spyglass,'" Scully read aloud, cutting him short. She slowly turned back to him with a smirk on her face. "A telescope, Mulder?" she asked, holding out the package with a questioning glance. Mulder smiled lightly.
"Well, I was worried your reading glasses weren't a strong enough prescription." A small scoff escaped her mouth, but she was smiling.
"Thanks," she returned exaggeratedly, picking at the tape on the lid and flipping it open. She turned the cylinder over and a little, plastic, red telescope fell into her open palm along with a little instruction booklet. She set the manual on the coffee table, and turned the toy over in her hands. It measured about 6 inches long and could be extended to a foot long when opened up. Both lens caps on either end were made of black plastic. She peered through the eyepiece at Mulder's TV, shutting her other eye to gain better focus.
"You look ready to take on the high seas," Mulder teased, noting her concentration. One side of her face was scrunched up as she looked about the living room with her predominant eye. She suddenly lowered the spyglass, slid it shut, and dropped it to her lap, looking at Mulder thoughtfully.
"Funny. I was just thinking that I hadn't handled a telescope since Ahab used to take me out sailing when I was a kid," she commented. "When he was on shore leave from Miramar, he'd rent a boat and take me, my brothers, and Melissa on the water. Sometimes Bill and Charlie would be at sports practice—they liked to play baseball and football—and Melissa wasn't always in the mood to go, so he'd take me alone. Mom was always so nervous," Scully laughed lightly, "but dad was stubborn. He never could be far from the water." She spun the little telescope in her hands, staring down at it.
Scully was rarely so open and unguarded, but she was always especially so when it concerned her father. She had a soft spot for the Navy captain and still dearly missed him despite the fact that he had already died five years earlier. Mulder tried to remember last time he had seen Scully in such a reflective state, and he recalled their nighttime conversation in Washington state after they were marooned on a large rock just a few feet from shore while on the lookout for the notorious Big Blue. Scully had spoken of her father then and explained the origins of their respective nicknames: "Starbuck" and "Ahab." Logically, it had to do with Moby Dick, but the Herman Melville novel was more than just a story about an elusive white whale to her. It was a bonding point between her and her father, something to keep her father's memory close to her even in death.
Mulder liked to ignore the point in their talk where Scully insisted that he was very much like Ahab, dangerously obsessed with his pursuit and willing to twist everything and anything he came in contact with to aid him in his quest. It fit in too well with Maurice's profile of him, and he never wanted to be the man Maurice made him out to be.
"Sounds like a good man," he said aloud, forcing his thoughts to filter back to the present.
"If he spotted dolphins or anything out on the waves, he'd call me over and hand me his telescope," she continued at his prompting. "When I was looking, he would talk to be about the species: their habitat, what they ate, how they lived. He thought we ought to learn to respect the sea. While we can marvel in its beauty, we can't ever forget the danger it poses."
"Smart man, too," Mulder added, now watching his partner intently. Scully looked at him.
"Too bad for him I joined the FBI." Scully chuckled. "Just about the most dangerous profession I could have chosen."
"So long as you took your father's lesson to heart," Mulder returned lightly. He didn't want to delve into the stark reality of her statement—that being an FBI field agent was immensely dangerous. It never did any good. "And learned to respect the dangers that we face, exercising caution and refraining from taking big risks."
"You mean instead of behaving like you?" She quirked an eyebrow with a sly smile. Mulder released a self-deprecating chuckle.
"I heartily recommend against doing what I do, but I'm fine so long as you always have my back." And he meant that. Scully was always there to pull him back from the edge, and he owed her his life many times over for that.
"I try to," she returned with a small smile. Slowly it faded as she carefully regarded him, her eyes narrowing some. Mulder wondered to himself why she was suddenly scrutinizing him, and he unwaveringly met her gaze. "I hate to say it, Mulder," she said after a moment, "but Ahab probably would have hated you." It was Mulder's turn to appear insulted. He knew she didn't mean the remark to be as caustic as it sounded; she was laughing a bit, after all. But it sure sounded like an affront to his character.
"Not enough of a salty sailor for the likes of him?" he asked with a smirk.
"Too impulsive," Scully answered. "And he never did like any guy that took an interest in me."
"Good thing my teenaged self never came across you then. Otherwise I'd be six feet under." But Mulder took her words to heart; Captain Scully had been intensely protective of his daughter. Even a platonic friendship such as there's would have likely be suspect under the critical eye of the Navy man. At least he knew where Bill got it from now.
"You were a big flirt when you were young, Mulder?" Her eyes were alight with mischief as her lips curled into a smile. Mulder considered his teenage years for a moment.
"Could we just say I was and end it at that?" Even in high school he was much too torn up by Samantha's abduction and the degrading relationship between his parents to give much thought to girls. He liked them; he appreciated their figures as they strode down the high school hallways, but it wasn't until Oxford that he really came into his own in that regard.
"No," Scully said brusquely. "That would be too easy for you." She fiddled with the telescope in her hands. Mulder sighed, looking down at the wrapping paper-lined carpet for a moment, before returning his gaze to his partner.
"The suave and sophisticated man you see before you is really only a byproduct of his college days," he answered truthfully. "Getting away from the good old U. S. of A. let me grow as a person—to figure out who I was outside everything that had happened. And I met Phoebe," he added with a chuckle, remembering the antics they had gotten up to in their early years together before she had decided to play mind games at his expense. "Hard to be shy around her."
"I remember," Scully agreed with arched eyebrows and a smirk. Mulder eyed her, wondering which specific incident she was remembering from Phoebe Greene's short visit to the United States five years ago. All the explicit sexual innuendos? All the attempts to show her dominion over him? Fifteen years later, he could recall positive memories with her fondly, but he'd not forgotten how she used to toy with him and his heartstrings on a whim. And Scully had played witness to that on a few occasions.
"Phoebe helped me grow into myself, and I appreciate that," Mulder said, feeling he needed to set down the facts for Scully's benefit. "But I am more than happy to be free of her cloying, sticky spider's web."
"Trying to convince yourself of that?" Scully teased, no doubt recalling how foolish he'd been when Phoebe was around. When she was there, he was just wrapped up in her whether he wanted to be or not.
"I am plenty convinced," Mulder assured her. "In fact, I don't need any convincing when it comes to Phoebe. I know." Scully chuckled.
"Somehow, Mulder, I think she still has you wrapped around her little finger."
"You see, that's Phoebe's power," Mulder agreed. "She has a hypnotic pull, like a siren's call, and I'm one of the sorry seamen getting dashed up against the rocks."
"Sounds like you and I need to make a Ulysses' contract as opposed to a lover's pact, Mulder," Scully remarked. "As a safeguard should you come under Phoebe's influences again."
Mulder appreciated her clever continuation of his literary reference to The Odyssey. Where he had noted the infamous sirens and their alluring voices, Scully had remarked on the specific occasion when Odysseus had a run in with the otherworldly women. Traditionally, a Ulysses' contract referred to the agreement made between Odysseus and his shipmen when they passed by the mesmerizing sirens; the men were to clog their ears with wax and Odysseus was to be bound to the ship's mast so he could hear their ethereal voices without fear of inducing harm. In the event he were to escape and jeopardize their mission, his men were to kill him. In modern terminology, a Ulysses' pact referred to a decision made in the present that would only come into effect in the future. Mulder knew this, but he found the opportunity for mischief too good to pass up.
"You want to tie me to the mast, Scully?" Mulder said suggestively, a lazy grin spreading across his features. "A bit daring for you, don't you think?" Scully coolly regarded him from behind her blue eyes. She'd heard too many of his flirtations over the years to be even remotely shocked by them.
"Not if I intend to just leave you there," she returned, surprising him with an actual verbal response rather than her customary eye-roll. He grinned outright before forcing himself to sober some.
"That's not quite as fun as I imagined," he admitted. Scully rolled her eyes, lightly tapping the telescope against her lap.
Mulder couldn't help but feel a small sense of victory at her reaction; his flirtations and her blatant attempts to ignore them were just part of the game between them, and he always found it an enjoyable game to play. It wasn't necessarily because he sought her to respond in any other way than the norm; he wasn't looking for her to flirt back in kind. Frankly, he wasn't entirely sure what he would do if she did one day. He just found comfort in the age-old routine between them: his purposefully egging her on and her unabashedly shutting him down.
"Well, fun or not," she said, continuing to not disappoint him as she forced the conversation to a close. "I suppose I owe you thanks for this." She held up the telescope with a smile. "I'd almost forgotten about sailing around with Ahab, and you made me remember those good times with him." She set the telescope on her lap and reached across Mulder's lap for his hand.
"You're welcome, Scully," he replied, finding her thanks completely unnecessary. But he obligingly held her hand for a moment before she released her grip and drew her arm back. Mulder looked down at the half-unwrapped present in his lap.
"Guess it's my turn," he remarked, picking it up and pulling away the last of the wrapping paper. As he expected, it was a book. But it wasn't any book he'd expect from Scully, a woman of science. He looked down at a well-worn copy of The Dodgers Move West by Neil J. Sullivan, a baseball memoir of sorts by the looks of the cover and inside flap of the book jacket. "Wow, Scully," he said, skimming the synopsis. As an avid baseball fan, he knew of the Brooklyn Dodgers controversial move to LA in 1958. He was aware that there had been a lot of political maneuvering going on behind the scenes that led to the uprooting of one of the most popular baseball teams of the east coast before planting it into the rival west coast, but he'd never gotten a chance to look into the event's history in depth.
"I thought you might like it," Scully said at his side, leaning in to read the book's synopsis alongside him. "I'd heard no end about the Dodgers growing up with Bill, Charlie, and Ahab in California. And there were always jokes about us being related to the great Vin Scully." Mulder glanced over at her.
"If you were related to Vin Scully, you'd have major bragging rights."
"Sadly it's all just wishful thinking and rumor," Scully returned with an amused smile. "Though Bill and Charlie stood by the claim until they were well into their teens. They liked the attention."
"And here I was preparing to propose to you," Mulder teased. Scully rolled her eyes and characteristically ignored him.
"It's not new," she noted, indicating that he should flip to the publication page. "It's from '87 and is obviously used, but I was perusing through a bookshop in Georgetown and saw it. Thought it might be a good addition on your bookshelf." Mulder paged through the book, feeling the worn edges against his thumb, before lightly thumping it closed.
"It'll be the next thing I read," he said, turning to his partner. Her caught her up in an awkward one-armed hug as he tried to balance the book against his lap. Scully had set the telescope to one side and easily wrapped her arms around him. "Thanks, Scully," he whispered against her hair.
"Merry Christmas, Mulder," she returned. He pulled away, picked up the book once more, and smiled at her.
"Well, the good thing is it'll be hard for me to forget who gave me this with your name plastered on all the pages." He gently set the book on the coffee table.
"My family name, Mulder," she corrected.
"You'll always be 'Scully' to me." He leaned back against the couch and nudged her playfully with his shoulder. She laughed lightly, slipping her telescope back into its packaging. As her eyes rounded upward again, her expression registered surprise. She glanced at her watch.
"Oh God, is it 2:30 already?" She silently groaned to herself, leaning back against the couch cushions. "I have to be up early tomorrow—or today rather—to be at my mother's for opening presents and Christmas day dinner." Mulder smirked at her disheartened display; she wasn't likely to get much sleep.
"Nothing better than traipsing around a murder house on a cold winter's night, huh, Scully?" Mulder commented cheekily, reaching for the nearby waste bin and picking up the long strips of wrapping paper and ribbon from the floor to throw away. Scully helped.
"Especially on Christmas Eve," she countered with a strained smile.
"You heard the story," Mulder said. "It had to be on Christmas Eve; the anniversary of Maurice and Lyda's deaths."
"And yet you had to take drastic action and steal my car keys to get me to stay?" Scully winged an eyebrow at him. Mulder smiled sheepishly as he stuffed the last of the wrapping paper into the bin.
"You can't tell me you didn't have some fun, Scully," he pressed innocently.
"You mean when I wasn't looking at a pair of staged corpses under the floorboards or led to believe that I was bleeding out from a gunshot wound?" Mulder reconsidered his previous statement; she had a point.
While he had been charmed by some of the ghosts' antics, like Lyda's trick with the bookshelf as she sought a picture of a much younger, much more alive Maurice and Lyda, other actions had unsettled him. Like the appearance of his and Scully's "corpses," the labyrinthian floor plan with the magically appearing and disappearing brick walls, when he was suddenly and unexpectedly shot.
He rocked his head from side to side, trying to find something positive to glean from the night's adventures.
"Well, you have to admit it had all the elements of a great horror classic," he admitted with a shrug. "A spooky ambience, creaking staircase, and ghostly apparitions. It felt like we'd stepped into House on Haunted Hill or The Haunting." That still wasn't enough to transform the experience into a fond memory, though. Even he could hear the lack of conviction in his voice.
When he had requested that Scully meet him at the Maryland house earlier that evening, he had expected an exciting jaunt through a haunted house, a chance to come face to face with evidence of the paranormal. He had never expected to put his and his partner's life in such jeopardy.
Scully was leaning back against the couch watching him carefully.
"I guess it wasn't that much fun, after all," he admitted, turning to look at her with a half-hearted smile. "Sorry to have pulled you out there on Christmas."
Mulder found himself regretting his decision to call Scully out from her warm, cozy apartment. Certainly, he had wanted a night's fun and adventure outside the parameters of their work environment, and he had wanted to spend the evening with Scully. But that was no excuse to get the two of them nearly killed.
He leaned back against the couch beside her with a sigh. Scully looked at him for a moment before sliding an arm through his and wrapping her fingers around his hand. She leaned her head against his shoulder. Mulder couldn't help but rest his head against hers in turn. He felt he could so easily drift off to sleep like that.
Mulder lost track of time as he sat there. In her own way, Scully was refuting his apology, telling him she was happy to be there with him. That he shouldn't apologize for the crazy events in Maryland. While she hadn't wanted to be dragged out of her home on Christmas Eve, she ultimately didn't mind it in the least.
She shifted beside him, and Mulder opened his eyes. She released her hold on him and pulled her arm away.
"I think I ought to get going," she said sleepily, stretching out her tired limbs and once more glancing at her watch. Mulder wondered if she had drifted off to sleep. He looked over at the clock sitting on his desk. 2:47. It wasn't that much later.
"You have family to get to and presents to unwrap," Mulder commented neutrally, watching as his partner stood and picked up her gift from the coffee table. She looked down at him for a moment.
"I didn't get to thank you for inviting me out tonight," she said quietly. "While it wasn't quite my idea of fun—"
"Mine neither," Mulder interrupted with a smile. She chuckled.
"—after the night we just had, I learned you're not to be alone at Christmas. Come to my mother's with me tomorrow." Mulder wondered if he had heard right; he knew that both he and Scully were fairly tired after their evening out. Maybe she had misspoke or maybe she wasn't quite in her right mind.
"I-I couldn't do that," he stammered with a shake of his head.
"I'd like you to come, Mulder," Scully insisted. Well, that confirmed that he had heard her correctly. But he was still baffled as to why she was inviting him. She had said herself that Christmas Day was her mother's get together; it was time for the Scully clan to reconnect over the holidays and celebrate with one another. He wasn't a Scully, and he had no purpose at Mrs. Scully's table. Mulder shook his head again.
"It's not my place, Scully," he clarified. "You go have a good time with your mom and brothers. I'll see you on Monday back at the office."
"Mulder," Scully repeated his name again. "I won't have you sit here alone all day tomorrow eating cheese sandwiches and drinking beer while watching A Christmas Story on a loop." She looked about the living room around her despondently. Mulder smiled grimly.
"I'd be eating sunflower seeds and a leftover sub from the other day," he corrected.
"The point still stands, Mulder," she argued, her voice taking on her frustrated tone. "You'll be alone. I don't want that. I'd rather you come with me. It'll just be for the day and then you'll be back home."
The offer was tempting. Mulder wasn't looking forward to another Christmas alone. The Gunmen were already off and busy elsewhere for the holiday weekend, and Mulder rarely saw his mother these days. Scully's was the only offer open to him. He sighed.
"Will Bill be there?" he asked, thinking on Scully's elder brother who knowingly loathed him with every fiber of his being.
"Yes," she replied, drawing out the affirmation, "but ignore him. I know my mother would be happy to have you over." Mulder had always liked Mrs. Scully; despite his massive screw up years earlier in letting Duane Barry kidnap Scully, she had never blamed him. Instead she found a source of strength in him. And she was one of the few who had some grasp of the intensity of the relationship between himself and Scully, and she never sought to break them up. She never saw Mulder as a danger to her daughter. It was a refreshing change of pace.
"Are you sure, Scully?" he asked. "I would be perfectly happy here." He didn't want to unwittingly intrude on the Scully family in any way.
"Come," she said again. "My mom and I would be happy to have you. You'd get to meet Charlie. It won't be as bad as you might think." Mulder had forgotten how sharp Scully was; she saw through his hesitations. He smiled embarrassedly. "Make it a follow-up Christmas gift," she prompted.
"Would that be for you or me?" She shrugged.
"Whichever you prefer."
"Well then," he said, feeling a mixed sense of defeat and relief, "Merry Christmas, Scully."