Title: Three Times Fox Mulder Bought a Christmas Tree, and One Time He Didn't
Characters/Pairing: M&S, with a touch of William
Category/Spoilers: MSR-ish, implied mentions of BTS, Cancer Arc/Emily, pre/post-IWTB
Word Count: 2411
Feedback: Yes, please. firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary: I think the title says it all...
Author's Note: Thanks to my sister who semi-patiently betas my stories when I sign up for XF Santa.
Mulder stole another glance at the short piece of tinsel garland taped to the top of the file cabinet where the coffee maker perched. There were a few paper snowflakes taped here and there on the drawers. Scully had been bored one afternoon and had decided to try to cheer up their dingy basement office.
Winter was in full force outside and their lone skylight was coated with dirty slush, effectively eliminating their one source of real sunlight, so Scully had taken to cutting up folded pieces of copy paper like they used to do in grade school.
They didn’t have much to do in the days leading up to Christmas. Mulder tried to avoid taking on new cases because he knew that Scully would want to be free to spend the holidays with her family, and his own mother would be expecting him to come by as well. So Scully was now cutting up strips of red and green paper and making a chain.
Mulder knew that Scully loved Christmas—putting up a tree, hanging lights and decorations, singing carols and shopping. Mulder had mixed feeling about it himself. He didn't mind buying a few gifts—his list was fairly short—and some of the old Christmas carols and popular songs brought on waves of not entirely bad nostalgia. But he rarely felt the need to deal with the decorative trappings.
He never bothered with a tree. His mom had taken to putting up a small artificial tree and he would admire its twinkling lights when he went to see her at Christmas, but he was happy to leave all the fussing over it to her. He would help get it out of the attic and Thanksgiving and put it back up after the New Year, when he could, but he wasn't interested in decorating it, or worse, taking all the decorations off.
But Scully's earnest, persistent efforts were telling him something. Over the years she had occasionally brought in some little Christmas trinket to set on her desk, but this year she was being a little more overt. She hadn't mentioned wanting to decorate their office and hadn't asked him if he minded. She had just quietly started taping things up. He remembered that her father had died at Christmas time.
"Scully," he said, sitting up and logging off of his computer, "I've got an errand to run over lunch, so I won't be joining you today. Sorry—I forgot that I've got something I've got to do."
A look of mild disappointment crossed her brow, but was quickly replaced by a casual smile.
"Okay. I'll see you later, then."
He grabbed his coat and hurried out.
When Scully returned from lunch the office lights were dimmed. Sitting atop a newly cleared space on the file cabinet was a two-foot tall Christmas tree, decorated with a string of miniature lights and small multicolored ornaments. A little star glowed at the top and the blinking lights threw their varied colors around the room.
Mulder was at his desk, smiling at her happy surprise.
"Merry Christmas, Scully."
Mulder knocked on Scully's door and waited for her to let him in. Glancing up and down the hall at the neighbors' doors, he realized that Scully's was the only one without a Christmas wreath.
She always put up a wreath—and a tree, and other little decorations.
They had put up their little tree at the office, and she had seemed eager to decorate it, but he wondered now why she hadn't at least put up a wreath.
When she opened the door, she greeted him with a warm smile, but he noticed the weariness around her eyes.
"Come in, Mulder," she said, stepping back to let him enter.
"I brought pizza," he said, waving the box under her nose.
"Well, it's the least you can do for making me work on a Friday night," she replied lightly.
As he placed the pizza box on the coffee table she moved a Christmas candle off to one side.
He recognized it as the gift Skinner's assistant Kim had given her a couple of days ago. It seemed to be the only Christmas decoration in the place.
"No tree this year, Scully?" he asked gently, wondering if something was wrong.
She quirked a little smile and shrugged.
"We've been so busy. . . and I guess I'm a little tired."
He suddenly felt foolish and could feel his cheeks redden. She had just recently gone into remission and then there was Emily. She had been through a lot.
"I really wanted a tree, though," Scully continued. "I had thought about going last Saturday, but it rained and I just didn't feel like going out in it. Now it hardly seems worth it, with Christmas just a week away."
Mulder nodded sympathetically as they moved to the couch and started opening up the files they needed to work on.
They'd been at it for a while, eating, talking, laughing, when Scully suddenly yawned and stretched.
"Oh, my, look at the time," she said as her eyes caught the clock on the mantel. "It's eleven o'clock."
"Oh, Scully," Mulder said apologetically, beginning to gather his things. "I'm sorry for keeping you up so long."
"It's snowing," Scully said abruptly as her gaze fell toward the window. "A lot."
She moved to the window and raised the blinds.
"Mulder. . ."
He got up to look and let out a low whistle.
"Look at the streets, Mulder. I don't think you should get out in that."
"Agent Scully, are you coming on to me?" Mulder said in his perfect deadpan, quirking an eyebrow at her.
She laughed and mimicked his raised eyebrow. "Don’t you wish! But seriously, Mulder, maybe you should just go ahead and sleep here. In the morning the plows should have the streets cleared up and it will be safer to drive."
"I think I'll take you up on that," he replied. "I'm actually pretty tired and would rather not deal with the snow."
"Come on," she said, lowering the blinds and turning away from the window. "I'll get you set up in the guest room."
In the morning they shared a cozy breakfast in the warmth of her kitchen and then Mulder went outside to look at the streets.
"The streets are still a mess, Scully" he said as he came back in. "I think I'll have to wait a bit before I drive, but I have a proposal for what to do in the meantime."
"What?" Scully asked warily. "I hope you're not planning a snowball fight, because I will take you down—I had two brothers, remember."
"Maybe later," Mulder replied with a smile. "But right now I want you to bundle up—we're going for a walk."
They had gone a couple of blocks down the street when Mulder directed her to turn the corner. On the edge of a shopping center parking lot there was a hastily thrown up Christmas tree lot that still had a small selection of trees.
"Look, Scully," Mulder began, feigning spontaneity. "Let's get a tree!" He looked down at her, smiling broadly.
"Oh, Mulder," she replied, "you don't really have to."
"What else are we going to do on a snowy Saturday?" he countered. He stopped walking and spoke quietly to her. "I want to buy you a Christmas tree, Scully."
She smiled sweetly at him and gave him a hug.
"Thank you, Mulder."
Later that morning the streets had been plowed and Scully’s tree was glittering and glowing warmly in the window as Mulder got in his car.
He cast one last look back before driving away.
Mulder and Scully made their way through the shopping throngs in the huge Walmart in Charlottesville, Virginia. Scully wanted to shop and Mulder wanted to get out of the house, so they figured they could blend in better and fell less paranoid if they went somewhere outside of their new hometown of Richmond.
They hadn't lived in the old farmhouse very long and they were always finding more things they needed to buy to be fully equipped. Scully had brought most of their things out of storage in DC, but now the holidays were approaching and she seemed to be in a festive mood.
Thanksgiving was just a few days behind them and they had waited to avoid the bloodthirsty Black Friday crowds. The store was bursting with Christmas decorations and Christmas specials and people were pushing overloaded shopping carts through the crowded aisles.
Scully was buying ordinary things as Mulder pushed the cart, leaning on the handle whenever she would stop to stare at the shelves, apparently weighing the pros and cons of buying this brand instead of that brand.
She consulted him on a few items—did he have a preference for any particular flavor of soup or cereal? Did he remember how much toilet paper they had in the hall closet?
He enjoyed the homey domestic feel of these shopping trips with Scully, though he would never have enjoyed it on his own.
After a while she made her way toward the "Holiday Shoppe" where the shelves were filled with boxes of ornaments, Christmas lights, artificial wreaths, cards and wrapping paper and everything else one might need to decorate one's house.
In the center stood a display of artificial trees, large, small, green, pink, white. Scully stopped to study them, walking slowly around the display, pausing by a little two-foot tree.
"Look, Mulder," she said with an oddly sentimental smile. "Just like our first tree at the office."
Mulder returned her smile, but with a little snort of laughter.
"I think that tree is still stashed somewhere in the basement of the Hoover Building."
She nodded. "Maybe Skinner found it," she said, and they both chuckled.
She made another circuit around the trees, looking long and hard at a six-foot, pre-lit tree, feeling its artificial branches and checking the displayed price.
"Do you want that tree, Scully?" Mulder asked sincerely, stepping up beside her. He studied the tree, but didn't really have an opinion about it. Except for the price tag.
"I don't know," she said, continuing in a gush, as if relieved to know that he wasn't going to mock her over it. "An artificial tree would be easier to deal with—no dry needles, no watering. It is kind of expensive, but we only have to pay for it once and it will last for years."
"They have some real trees outside in the garden center," Mulder offered, jerking a thumb toward the outer doors a few feet away. "I saw some as we were driving in."
"Yeah," she conceded, looking in that direction. "But they might not be that fresh . . ."
"But I thought you loved real trees, Scully."
"I do, Mulder, I do," she said. "I'm not sure what I want. We don't have to get a tree today."
She waved a hand dismissively at the trees and began to walk away, but she turned down an aisle filled with ornaments.
"Here, Scully," Mulder said, pushing the cart toward her. He turned back toward the tree display and out of Scully's sight.
She continued down the aisle, smiling to herself as she chose a box of beautifully decorated large blue ornaments, placing them carefully in the cart.
Mulder returned a few minutes later with an awkwardly long cardboard box crammed into a second shopping cart.
"This is the one you wanted, right?" he said, pointing at the label. "Six-foot Noble Fir?"
Scully smiled and stood on tiptoe to kiss him.
"Thanks, Mulder," she said, stroking his cheek.
"Hey," he returned, "it's my tree, too, Scully." He smiled broadly at her.
She nodded as they went to look at more ornaments.
"Mulder, are you really not going to shave anymore?"
Scully stood back and looked at the tree as Mulder and William came down from the attic with boxes of ornaments.
"Mulder, this tree has had it," she said, shaking her head. She stepped forward and tried to adjust a sagging limb.
"This section of lights seems to have shorted out and it's got a lot of branches like this." She lifted the drooping branch and let it flop down again.
Mulder set his box down and looked at William. "What do you think, son?"
Mulder studied William as William studied the tree. This was their first Christmas together as a family and he and Scully knew little of what their son expected or hoped for when it came to Christmas traditions.
They had only just averted the alien invasion a few weeks ago and had finally begun to relax and think about the holidays.
William unknowingly mimicked his father's stance and eyed the tree skeptically.
"I've always liked real trees," he said quietly. "We never had a fake tree in Wyoming."
"Do you want a real tree, son?" Mulder asked, running a hand along William's shoulder.
"Well . . ." William looked from Scully to Mulder. "If it's not too much trouble . . ."
"We’ll get a real tree," Mulder stated firmly, nodding at Scully and clapping William on the shoulder. "Let’s take that sad thing down."
Mulder stood on the back porch, drinking a cup of coffee as the sun began to sink. It was chilly, but not yet sharply cold and he enjoyed the fresh air while waiting for Scully to call him for dinner. Out beyond the back yard there was a stand of mature pine trees that was still within their property line and it was giving him ideas.
"Dad?" William poked his head out the door. "Mom says to come in for dinner. She made meatloaf!"
The next morning Mulder and William were clearing away the breakfast dishes after Scully had left for work.
"You need to go up and get dressed, Will," Mulder said, eyeing the boy's pajama bottoms.
"We've got to go get a tree this morning."
"Are we going into town? Mom and I saw a pretty good tree stand last week when we were coming back from her office."
"Nope," Mulder replied. "I have a different idea. You need to dress warm and put on your boots."
William gave him a puzzled look, but scurried up the stairs.
A few minutes later Mulder and William were hiking toward the woods, carrying a hatchet and a saw.