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The most precious gifts of Christmas are those
that won't be found under a tree.

SPOILERS: vague allusions; this story doesn't follow canon but would fit somewhere around seasons 5-7
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc.

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Consciousness slowly emerged, and with it reality: it was Christmas morning. She sighed and pushed her face into the pillow, willing away the light tugging at her eyelids. Despite her best efforts, visions of 6 a.m. roll calls danced in her head. The Ghost of Christmas Past. Somewhere right now, she thought, the Scully clan was gathered around a twinkling tree, warm smiles and giddy hearts anticipating the opening of gifts. But beyond the joy and laughter, the air would be tinged with melancholy. For yet another Christmas, their number had diminished by one.

She took a deep breath to force the images away, but the pungent aroma of fake pine only reminded her of the Christmas that awaited. No real tree for them this year, merely the small plastic one that she'd unearthed at the Salvation Army. For a couple extra dollars, her very own Charlie Brown had splurged and bought a handful of pine-scented car air fresheners, dangling them from the branches like ornaments and quipping that all the tree needed was Linus's blanket to make it complete. The smell was almost as hideous as the cardboard cut-outs themselves, and she would've removed them, had they not reminded her of an unauthorized stake-out and conversations of iced tea.

But that was another life, one that no longer belonged to her. She was torn between holding on to the memories like snapshots or rejecting them as hopeless longing for something that could never be.

The warm weight shifted behind her, the arm around her waist tightening and humid puffs of air tickling her neck. At least this part was real. She knew she should be grateful for that. She may have lost herself, but she still had Mulder.

Not Mulder, she chastised. There was no point in holding on to that name. He was Jim now, and she was Della. Names so foreign, she still had trouble answering when people addressed her. Identities stolen from victims she knew nothing of, in those few desperate hours they'd had to gather what they could and run for their lives. No looking back.

With their scant resources dwindling, barely replenished by the combined salaries of two minimum wage jobs, they had agreed not to spend money on Christmas. The tree had been a concession, along with the string of lights purchased at the dollar store. They didn't bother with stockings that would only remain empty. There was no mantle anyway, and no chimney, which was only fitting since Santa would be passing them by. A day off of work was all the holiday offered, but more significantly, a day without pay. With no feasting or fanfare to look forward to, she'd rather be earning the money.

His weight shifted again, this time followed by a sleepy rumble, somewhere between a grunt and a moan. She knew he was drifting awake and wondered what thoughts this morning brought him.

"Merry Christmas, Baby," he mumbled above her ear.

Baby. In another life, she would've hated him calling her that. At least, Scully would have. But she wasn't Scully anymore, and pet names were easier to grow accustomed to than the names of strangers and, when necessity dictated, would last longer.

"Merry Christmas," she whispered into the chilled air, wondering if it was cold enough to see her breath.

Another moan, a hum really, and the weight shifted away completely, leaving nothing but cool air at her back. She groaned her complaint and rolled over to occupy the warm space he had just vacated, pulling the blankets tight around her. Briefly opening one eye, she watched him rise from their floor-level mattress and skitter off toward the bathroom. At least he had the courtesy to turn on the heat along the way.

A soft clinking forced her eyes back open, and she followed the noise to the window, recalling then the weather forecast. For them, Christmas would be not white but crystal. An ice storm was expected, evidenced by the tiny ice pellets ricocheting off the window, like glass on glass. She was now grateful that they had nowhere to be today. The very sound and sight of those frigid flecks made her feel even colder, from the inside out, and she hunkered further under the covers.

The first blessed wave of heat drifted toward her with the gurgle of the coffee maker and the swish of pajama bottoms crossing the floor. Her partner paused by the tree to turn on the meager but colorful lights. They looked somewhat dull in the daylight but still offered a bit of cheer against the gray outside. Even more cheerful, though, was the Cheshire grin on his face. This one morning a year had the magic to wash away the sediment of time and revert any adult into a child.

He returned to the bed, lifting the covers to sit cross-legged beneath them. She sat up and huddled next to him, fortified by the warmth of his presence and the heat that was beginning to permeate the small room. His hand delved into his pocket and then resurfaced with a little square box held out in offering.

"I know we said we weren't going to spend money on gifts, but I got you something. I don't want you to worry about the cost. I didn't dip into our cash. And I didn't steal it, either," he reassured her, with a twinkle in his eye. "I traded something in."

With reluctance, she reached for the gift. The white cardboard lid lifted to reveal another box inside, this one made of black velvet. Within this lay a simple gold band, but the delicate patterns etched in the metal made it anything but plain.

"I'm sorry this is all I can offer you right now," he continued. "I don't know if we'll ever be able to make it official, certainly not under our real names, but for now, at least..." He left the thought unfinished, but she understood. To all those who currently knew them, they were already husband and wife. Lacking an official stamp seemed trifling when you didn't legally exist.

She gently removed the ring from its plush cushion and slipped it onto her finger. It fit perfectly, whether by design or a rare stroke of good fortune. Her eyes remained fixed on the ring, not yet venturing up to meet his gaze. She knew he was awaiting her response, but there was something she needed to bestow on him more than words.

Rising from the bed, she headed for where her jacket hung from a nail and reached into the pocket. On her return trip, she was met with his confused anticipation. She knew he had not been expecting her to reciprocate, but his eyes still shone with childish delight. Once seated, she extended her hand and held out her gift, wrapped in a simple piece of tissue paper she had salvaged from the recycling bin at work. He inquired with his eyes, but she answered merely by turning her focus to her offering.

Ripping through the paper, he soon reached the proffered object. After turning it over in his hands and scrutinizing the inscription on the back, he confirmed with surprise, "It's my watch." His eyes shot up to meet hers. "How did you know?"

"I was out walking on my lunch break, and I saw you go into the pawn shop. I didn't realize what you'd done until later, when I noticed your watch missing."

"But, how--?"

"I traded something in, too."

He looked at her with concern, then understanding lit upon his face, and he brushed the hair back from her ear and stroked the bare lobe.

He exhaled on a regretful sigh, "Ah, Sc--"

She stopped his mouth with a finger, then briefly replaced the censuring digit with her lips before pulling back to answer him. "That watch was a gift from your father. Even though you never talked about it, I know how much it meant to you. I couldn't let you give that up for me."

Ruefully, he shook his head. "It was just a watch." He stroked the bare lobe once more, then moved the tender caress to her cheek. "But those earrings belonged to your mother."

"They were just earrings," she echoed.

He watched her for a moment, his eyes full of emotion. "I promise, I'll make it up to you."

She smiled at him through watery eyes. "You already have."

His lips curved up in mirror, then leaned in to return the contact. The watch and packaging were soon set aside, freeing up hands to add friction to the heat of their own making. Her nimble fingers traced down his spine, and his moan was answered by a growl--from the vicinity of her abdomen. They broke apart with a chuckle.

He sat up again from where they had collapsed back into the pillows and tugged her hand to follow him. "C'mon. Why don't we see what Santa brought us for breakfast?"

Her hand remained joined with his as he led her toward the cramped kitchenette, released only when he reached for a cupboard. Leaning back against the counter, she was content to watch while he pulled out bowls and boxes. His familiar motions reminded her of another time, in another kitchen, and the memories both soothed and unsettled her.

At her lingering attention, he shot her a boyish smile--a ray of sun that melted the last remnants of internal chill. The snapshots in her mind were shut away in their albums and replaced on the shelves to gather dust.

For the first time, she noticed her thumb absently stroking the unfamiliar band of gold. Ceasing the motion, she pushed away from the counter and moved to join her partner's side.

This Christmas, they would make new memories.

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Merry Christmas to all!

Notes: This story is a combination of three inspirations, all of which I must acknowledge my indebtedness to. I was listening to "Christmas Is All in the Heart" by Steven Curtis Chapman (complete lyrics below), and the first verse reminded me of Imajiru's wonderful After the Rain, so I started thinking about what Mulder and Scully's Christmas would look like in that setting. This evoked hints of O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" (I borrowed the first names in a nod to that story) and thus a fic was born. While my story contains nuances of all three, I tried not to imitate any of them exactly.

For a bit lighter story, try my fic from last Christmas: Spooky Claus.

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Christmas Is All in the Heart
By Steven Curtis Chapman

In a one bedroom apartment on the humble side of town
There stands a little Christmas tree, looks a lot like Charlie Brown's
And underneath there's one little gift for him and one little gift for her

After six months on the new job, they're still barely getting by
So in the way of decorations, there's nothing there to catch your eye
But both of them would be the first to say
We're together, we're gonna have the merriest Christmas anyway

'Cause Christmas is all in the heart, that's where the feeling starts
And like a fire inside, it touches every part
'Cause Christmas is all in the heart
And even if no white snow falls, that's all right because
The joy can still be found, wherever you are
'Cause Christmas is all, all in the heart

Two little blonde haired boys with big dreams, tried to sleep but sleep wouldn't come
We'd be tearing into presents, long before the break of dawn
With Mom and Dad and cameras making sure we'd never forget that day

Now I'm the one who's taking pictures, in the middle of the night
Of my own blonde headed dreamers that just can't wait until daylight
And in my sleepy eyes the spark still glows
Well I guess there's just some things a kid never outgrows


No, it's not in the snow that may or may not fall
And it's not in the gifts around the tree
It's in the love heaven gave, the night our Savior came
And that same love can still be found wherever you are
'Cause Christmas is all in the heart
And the joy can still be found, wherever you are
'Cause Christmas is all, all in the heart
It's all in the heart

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Send feedback to: bellefleur1013@yahoo.com

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