Donna here - We couldn't help ourselves! Honest, this wasn't planned but oh so much fun! Very Happy Holidays to everyone!!
Vickie here -- Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Merry Christmas! We had a great time and wrote this rather quickly so please forgive any glaring errors. We wanted to give you all a little present. See you all in 2010!
Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital
December 22, 2008
Scully checked her watch again, for probably the fourth time in five minutes. Mulder would be picking William up at school now and then heading over here to get her. She'd probably forgotten something important for the trip, but she knew with full certainty that she had all of William's things safely packed. If they had to go buy Mulder some underwear, so be it.
She shouldn't be this nervous. They were going to Mom's house for goodness sake, but it was William's first time with the whole family and that was nerve racking to her as well as him. Mulder wasn't exactly blase about it either considering he'd be stuck in a house with Bill for a couple of days. Bill had never met William, well, no one had except Mom and only once for her. William was becoming more social, interacting at school as he became more comfortable, but this was going to be a challenge. Mom, in her most diplomatic way, had inferred that Matthew was a spoiled brat and Charlie's boys were teens now. She sighed; there was nothing she could do about any of that.
Charlie. She was worried about him. She hadn't actually seen him since the funeral and he wasn't exactly forthcoming in email. If only she could reach him more often by phone. Scully couldn't be positive that the boys had passed on messages when she got them, but for whatever reason, their communication was almost down to nothing.
She understood that, losing Rachel had devastated the man. Her death had shaken Scully in ways she had never anticipated. Rachel was younger than her; she had a family, children, and a man who adored her. It had never occurred to Scully that her sister-in-law would die so young. A brain aneurysm, it still didn't seem possible. Rachel had been a healthy young woman, active, vibrant, involved in her sons' lives.
Charlie hadn't been there. The Navy that had ruled all of their lives for so many years had been in control for this too. He'd been on maneuvers and unreachable for over a day after she had taken ill. Kenny, Charlie's oldest son, had called Mom, who had dropped everything and rushed to their sides. She hadn't gotten there in time either and it was she who had called Scully. Mulder had still been 'in hiding' but she was already working at Our Lady of Sorrows and had rushed to her brother's home to be of what help she could. There had been nothing she could do, except be there, accept the condolences of friends until Charlie could arrive. Mom was much better at those kinds of things than she was, but she was there as backup and Scully thought the boys appreciated it.
They had moved around like the walking dead at first. Rachel had been their anchor; the parent that was home, that made it a home. The teens were a horrible age to live through under the best circumstances; this was a blow Scully could only hope they could weather. She was in touch with them, email, phone calls, she hadn't given in to Facebook yet and knowing Mulder, she never would, but she tried to be available, however they were teenagers . . .
She checked her watch again and shut down her computer. It had gone into sleep mode again anyway. She was rising from her desk when Dr. Watson tapped her on door. "I know you're on your way out, but could you give this a quick glance?" He held up a printout and she hid her sigh.
St. Mary's Grade School
December 23, 2008
Mulder popped another sunflower seed into his mouth and tapped his fingers in time to the tune of Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire -- Cha Cha playing on his XM radio. When the doors to the school opened and the first wave of children ran out, he got out of the silver Taurus and stood by the driver's door. After just a few minutes, William appeared being led by one of the teachers.
Mulder stiffened, but the teacher, Ms. Reiman, smiled and shook her head. "All good news, Mr. Mulder," she assured him as she approached. "William had a great day. He even participated in music," she said with obvious pride.
"Hey, big guy, that's fantastic!" Mulder crowed, ruffling William's hair. "What did you do?"
William shrugged and reached for the door latch. Ms. Reiman smiled and spoke for him. "He played the triangle and he did a fantastic job. But I understand you won't be here for the pageant on Christmas Eve?"
"No, we're visiting family in Baltimore. As a matter of fact, we're packed and just heading over to pick up William's mom so we can hit the road."
"Well, you have a great time over Christmas break and we'll see you in January, William. Thank you again for the picture you drew me." Ms. Reiman waved goodbye and walked back toward the school building.
"You know I played the triangle in grade school," Mulder told William as he watched him in the rearview mirror buckling his seatbelt over the booster seat.
William stared out the window, chewing on his lip. "Can you put on Disney radio?" he asked.
"Sure. But I warn you, your mom's going to want classical," Mulder replied as he punched the select button on the radio. Miley Cyrus's latest pop song filled the air.
"So, you ready for Santa?" Mulder asked casually. He didn't expect the worried look to appear on William's face in the rearview mirror. "Want to talk about it?" he asked instinctively.
"I was making sound effects. In music class," William admitted glumly. 'Sound effects' was how Mulder referred to the noises William made when he was bored or uncomfortable, rocket noises and noises of battle. The articles Mulder had read on Asperger's indicated that was normal for the child, but it was still annoying to everyone else.
"Oh. Well, we talked about that. You have to be quiet in music class, just like the rest of the classes. Still, you did play the triangle when you were supposed to. That's a good thing." William's ability to cut off the rest of the world around him and enter into his own little 'zone' had caused more than a few problems at the beginning of the school year. Gradually both he and the school staff and children were making the adjustments.
"But Santa knows I was making them," William reminded him.
Mulder nodded. "You know, Santa watches for the good stuff, too. You've been working so hard at school and that's the important part."
There was silence for a while and then William started making 'battle noises' and Mulder just smiled.
Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital
Mulder pulled the car into a visitor's parking space and got out to open the back door. William unbuckled himself and jumped down to the pavement with a little flourish.
"Nice," Mulder complimented him. William beamed and took Mulder's hand as they walked toward the hospital entrance.
Running ahead, William was the first at the elevator. He punched the 'up' call button and stared up at the floor indicator light. Mulder waited with him and when the doors finally opened, held William back so that the other occupants could move off. They entered the car together and William punched the button for the third floor.
"You're a pro at this," Mulder told him.
"Number 3. Left and then right," William recited.
"You got it. We get off the elevator; go left down the hall and right at the end. Which door?"
"Pead--peda--PEEdiATrics," William pronounced with only a modicum of difficulty.
"Right, pediatrics. Mom is a -- what?"
"Doctor," William answered in no uncertain terms.
Mulder chuckled. "Right again. Mom is a doctor. And I'm a . . . "
"Boy toy?" William answered, a twinkle in his eye.
Mulder frowned. "Your mom told you to tell me that, didn't she?"
"What's a 'boy toy', Daddy?"
"It's like a Star Wars figure or a Transformer," Mulder bluffed. "And what do I really do, no teasing now."
William thought hard. "You're a . . . Sultan."
"Consultant," Mulder corrected.
"For the FBI," William added with an emphatic nod of his head.
"That's right. For the FBI."
By the time the elevator doors opened on the third floor, William was deep in a long-running description of the battle on the ice planet Hoth and wasn't letting Mulder get a word in edgewise.
Mulder herded the child into the suite of offices and smiled at the nurse at the first desk. "Hi, Marcy."
"Hi, Mr. Mulder, William," the young woman smiled up at them. "Dr. Scully got called into a quick consult. She said she'd be no more than five minutes."
"How long ago was that?" Mulder asked, trying not to show his annoyance and failing.
"About ten minutes ago, so you shouldn't have to wait much longer. Oh, William, did you hear about the 'elf' problem we've been having here?"
William stopped mumbling to himself and frowned.
"Somehow, elves have been sneaking around here all day leaving things behind. Why, I was just in your mother's office for a minute, and I found this on my desk when I came back out." She reached into a drawer and pulled out a bulging Christmas stocking. "Strangest thing -- it says 'William' on it. But I don't know that many people named William."
Mulder could see his son biting his lip. "Hey, that's your name, isn't it?" he poked him in the arm.
"Is it for me?" William asked timidly.
"Well, since you're the only William I know, I guess. I'm not very wise in the ways of elves," Marcy said, handing over the stocking.
William quickly dug his hand in the stocking and pulled out the first item. "Reeses!" he cried eagerly. Looking again, he pulled out more candy. "Here Daddy. You can have this one," he said, handing Mulder a candy cane.
"We're learning all about sharing at school," Mulder explained accepting the candy.
"I take it he's not a big fan of peppermint," Marcy whispered with a wink.
"Bingo," Mulder replied. "But the peanut butter cups are a hit."
"What's this one?" William asked, holding up a foil covered tiny bell shaped candy.
"What does the writing say?" Mulder asked him back.
"C - R - U - N - C . . . I can't see the other letter."
"Bet it's an H," Mulder said. "C-R-U-N-C-H. What does that spell?"
William thought hard. "Crunch?" he guessed.
"Very good," Scully exclaimed as she walked into the office.
"Here, Mom. You can have these," William said, giving her the chocolate bells.
"Oh my, what sharing," Scully said dryly. "So what did you get, Dad?"
"I got the candy cane," Mulder answered with glee. "If you're nice, I might let you lick my candy cane later," he whispered devilishly in her ear.
"Not in front of the c-h-i-l-d," Scully warned.
"C-h-i-l-d -- child," William recited, beaming up at her.
"Guess that extra spelling work after dinner is paying off," Mulder smiled at her.
Scully sighed and rolled her eyes. "Marcy, I guess we're taking off. The service -- "
"Has your cell phone number, but they know to try one of the doctors on call first. You just have a good time, relax and enjoy your family. Hey, this is your first Christmas, isn't it?"
Scully looked over at Mulder and smiled wistfully. "Yeah, I guess it is. First one together, all of us."
Mulder encircled her waist and hugged her to his side. "C'mon. The car is packed and I gassed up before I got the c-h-i-l-d."
"That spells 'child'," William supplied helpfully.
"Then let's get this show on the road," Scully said, hoping she sounded more excited than fearful.
Maggie Scully's residence
Mulder pulled the car up to the curb and killed the engine. He looked over at Scully who was looking out the passenger side window, a pensive expression on her face.
She sighed and turned to look behind her at William sound asleep in the back seat.
"No one has seen us. We could just turn around and head right back home," Mulder told her, giving voice to a desire so secret she would never admit it to anyone, even herself.
"No. It wouldn't be fair," she said, shaking her head.
"To your mom? She'll understand."
"No. It wouldn't be fair to William. This is his first Christmas with his family - his real family. Families get together at Christmas. I want him to have this. I've . . . Mulder, I've dreamed of this day for so very long."
"Hey, reality always pales in comparison to fantasy. Well, present company excepted, of course," he replied to with a trademark leer.
She chuffed a laugh, but grew serious again. "It's his family. We brought him into it. He has a right to be here. He has a right to meet these people, get to know them -- warts and all."
"Now you're making me want to run for the hills," Mulder winced.
"Buck up, former G-man," she dared, poking him in the arm. "You get the wild child, I'll get the luggage."
"A woman with a plan - I'm very turned on," Mulder teased, still trying to lighten the moment.
"Sorry, sport, but that just means you're going to be taking cold showers for the duration. William is sleeping in the same room with us," she shot back.
"Is it too late to get a couple of rooms at the Super 8 we just passed?" At her frown he shrugged in defeat. "I'll get the wet blanket, you get the clothes."
"That's no way to talk about your son," she chided.
"Yeah, well you told him I was a 'boy toy'," Mulder shot back. He got out of the car, opened the back door and reached in to unbuckle William. Halfway out of his booster seat, William woke up.
"Are we there?" he asked, yawning.
"We're here," Mulder told him brightly. "C'mon, we can help Mom with the bags."
Scully handed William his own brightly colored duffle bag and the pillow off his bed at home, since she knew pillows would be a scarce commodity with so many people in one house. Mulder grabbed their other suitcases and Scully took the shopping bags filled with presents. The three trooped up the walk to the porch and William rang the doorbell.
In just a moment, Maggie opened the front door and the glass storm door. "Dana, Fox, Merry Christmas. And look at you, William! Come in, let's get you out of the cold."
"Hi, Mom," Scully said, accepting the hug and kiss from her mother.
"Mrs. Scully," Mulder said, accepting a hug and attempting to keep hold of the luggage.
"And you, young man," Maggie crooned to William as she hugged him tightly. Letting him go, she stood and took everyone's coats to the hall closet. "Your Aunt Tara and Uncle Bill are so excited to meet you. And your Uncle Charlie and your cousins got in late last night."
"When do we open the presents?" William asked flatly.
"Hey, where are our manners?" Mulder scolded.
"When do we open the presents, please?" William tried again.
"Not till day after tomorrow, I'm afraid," Maggie told him. "But don't you worry. We'll have fun in the meantime. I rented some movies for you and Matthew to watch in the family room and later we can all play a game or two. Right now, I bet you're hungry after that long drive. Come into the kitchen and I'll get you all something to eat."
"My old room, Mom?" Scully asked, nodding toward the luggage.
"Yes. I had Bill put a cot in there for William," Maggie told her as she herded William down the hall.
"We'll put these away and be right there," Scully called as she indicated to Mulder to follow her up the stairs.
"I'm telling you, Scully, I'm having a hard time not getting my hopes up here. Your old room from your teen years. Finding all those Scott Baio posters on the back of your closet door . . ."
"I can still hurt you like that beast woman, Mulder," Scully deadpanned at him.
She came to the first door at the top of the stairs and opened it, then stepped aside to let Mulder enter first. He stopped pretty quickly. "Um, Houston, we have a problem."
"What's the . . . matter," Scully trailed off as she, too, stepped into the room to discover the cot, her old twin bed -- and a sleeping bag laid out on the floor. "William Scully, Junior," she growled.
"Scully, it's OK. I'll take the floor. No big deal. We're only here for a couple of nights."
"No, it is not all right." She spun on her heel when she stopped and stormed over to the closet, opening up both sliding doors. "Just as I thought," she said angrily. She stepped aside and showed Mulder the contents of the closet -- a rollaway bed. "We used it for sleepovers when I was a kid. It's the same height as the twin -- we just have to move the nightstand out of the way and we'll have a defacto king sized bed."
"Bill probably just forgot it was there," Mulder tried.
"Yeah. I'm sure," Scully huffed. "C'mon, let's get it set up. I know where Mom keeps the sheets and extra blankets."
She had the room in a much better order quickly, though she was muttering to herself.
Reassuring her wasn't helping, and he wanted to check on William. This was high stress for both of them and he wanted to keep an eye on things. They headed back downstairs and Scully moved on to the kitchen. William passed her in the dining room and headed for Mulder.
Mulder spotted the younger man as he came into the room. He walked stiffly, not at
attention, but as though remembering how walking was done. The man's eyes landed on William and he came toward them. The smile he attempted looked tired.
Mulder felt William back up away from the man until he bumped into Mulder's legs and then he took a fistful of slacks for further comfort.
"Charlie?" Mulder asked. It couldn't be anyone else. The resemblance with Bill was there, though the man was thinner, much thinner. With the insight of a profiler or maybe his own Spookiness, he realized that on some level that he probably wasn't even aware of, Charlie blamed Bill for a great deal of his pain. He actually blamed the Navy for the time he had lost with Rachel, but Bill personified that.
Will's hand tightened on Mulder's slacks as Charlie stopped in front of them. "You must be Mulder and William."
Mulder took the proffered hand and they shook. Charlie looked down at William, but didn't offer his hand. It was obvious that William wouldn't have taken it and his grip on Mulder's slacks tightened.
"It's good to meet you." The words were correct, but the sentiment seemed dead.
"Scully, uh, Dana's in the kitchen with your mother."
Charlie nodded, seeming to smile slightly at the name and headed in that direction. Mulder looked down at William, who's fist was relaxing slightly. "You okay?"
"Why is he so sad?"
Mulder led him over to the corner near the Christmas tree. "He lost his wife and - "
"He didn't get to tell her goodbye, did he?"
Mulder shook his head.
"Is that why he's so mad?"
Mulder blinked at that, but nodded. William sighed and his hand found its way into Mulder's. The boy was clearly uncomfortable in this setting and with all these strangers.
Mulder felt little better, but it was for Scully and they were able to attend now, so that excuse was gone - not that he would have used it. She was so obviously happy to be able to see her family again.
In a few minutes he looked up to see Scully walking back from the kitchen with her arm around Charlie's waist. She was talking to him, but Charlie's mind seemed to be elsewhere. They stopped in front of Mulder and William.
"Have you met Kenny and Bryan yet?" she asked William.
He shook his head, looking down at his shoes.
"I believe they're in the den, either watching TV or asleep," Charlie said. "They were up late last night. I'll go get them." He pulled away from Scully and turned toward the back of the house.
Scully looked up at Mulder, her eyes showing her concern. "I thought he'd be better by now." Mulder kept quiet, would he be this functional if Scully . . . Don't go there.
"Where're Bill and family?"
"Mom said Tara took them to do some last minute things. They should be back any minute."
Charlie joined them. "The boys will be here in a minute, they didn't want to miss some part of the movie they're watching." He seemed slightly ill at ease at their rudeness, but didn't seem to know a solution. "We got in pretty late last night, so they haven't been up long."
The doorbell rang then and Scully looked up. "That must be Bill." She noted that both Mulder and Charlie tensed up at her words, but hurried on to the door.
"Ho Ho Ho!" Bill hadn't been able to open the door with his arms full, but he blustered in followed by Matthew and Tara. Mulder looked them over from his relative hiding place near the tree. Bill looked the same as always, big, red-faced, in charge. Tara looked mainly tired. Matthew had grown, even from the pictures Scully had shared a few months back. And he obviously hadn't missed many meals. He'd get that growth spurt eventually, to bring him up to Bill's height, but in the meantime, the kind word would be chunky. Mulder immediately filled in the word bully as well, but that was a first impression and based on Mulder's opinion of his father so he'd keep quiet.
Mulder felt William's hand slip into his again.
Bill glanced at Mulder, then down at the boy and his steps faltered, but he regained control and turned toward his brother. "Merry Christmas, Charlie. Where are the boys? You did bring them, didn't you?"
Mulder watched. Was Bill really that oblivious to the look on Charlie's face? William has certainly caught it if his grip meant anything.
"They're in the back. Hope we didn't wake you when we got in last night."
"Nope, slept like a baby."
When no one else spoke, Scully moved forward trying to ease the awkwardness. "Bill, it's good to see you."
"You too, sis."
Damn, this could have been a bad drawing room comedy with mediocre actors, Mulder thought. Scully gave Bill a hug, which he turned into a bear hug, lifting her off her feet. Mulder kept quiet. Tara moved forward and gave Scully a quick hug, then looked back at Matthew, silently urging him to do the same.
With ill grace Matthew stepped forward and allowed Scully to give him a hug. "Matthew, I'd like you to meet Mulder and William." She turned toward Mulder, who manfully stepped forward with William in tow.
"Matthew, nice to see you again. It's been a long time." Matthew looked him up and down and his eyes flickered to William. William's grip became painful for an instant. "William, this is your cousin, Matthew. He lives in California."
William managed to nod, but said nothing.
"And these are your Aunt Tara and Uncle Bill."
"Hullo," William barely whispered.
Maggie came bustling out of the kitchen at that point, saving them all from further conversation. "Did you get the cream? Let's get whatever needs refrigeration put away, then we can visit."
Mentally Mulder rolled his eyes. Visit? With these people? Fun times. How many more hours until Santa came and they could get out of here? He caught Charlie looking at him. To his surprise, Charlie gave him a short nod.
Kenny and Bryan joined them, looking their part as teenagers, with low slung jeans and t-shirts, their hair longer than Charlie's by several haircuts and looking like bad bed hair. They did seem genuinely happy to see Scully and were inclusive of William, unlike Matthew.
Mulder was sure Maggie had picked up on the tension as much as anyone else, but she continued to be the consummate hostess, as everyone gathered in the living room, and the kids piled the packages they had all brought under the tree for Christmas morning opening.
Mulder silently wished for a smaller, quieter Christmas, just the three of them in their house in Virginia, but kept his mouth shut. He sat on the floor while William placed their packages under the tree, then the boy sat beside him, close and Mulder's arm around him.
"I can't believe how much all my grandsons have grown," Maggie mused. "We do need a girl though." She spoke without looking at either Tara or Dana, but it still fell flat in the room and all conversation, what little there was of it, stopped.
"Maybe if Dana gets married some day, she'll take care of that for you," Bill tossed out and Mulder felt Scully tighten. Was she going to retort?
"Where's the bathroom?" William whispered to Mulder and, grateful to get out of the line of fire, they rose and Mulder followed William upstairs.
Scully found them sometime later in their bedroom. Mulder had William tucked in and was sitting on the floor next to the cot, reading to him.
"Hey, there. Ready for bed?" Scully smiled as she knelt down next to her two men.
"It was a busy day," Mulder explained. "And it is nine o'clock."
"That's true," Scully nodded. "Did you say your prayers?" she asked William, brushing strawberry blond locks from his forehead.
"Daddy helped me," William responded sleepily.
Scully looked over at Mulder with a raised eyebrow.
"I've been listening," he shrugged. "And I found this on the bookcase over there," he said, showing the book he was reading.
"'Moby Dick'," Scully grinned.
"Here, settle back. We were just getting to the good part," Mulder said, patting his chest. Scully shook her head at his antics, but turned and leaned back against him. Mulder moved the book to the side so he could continue to read. After a few minutes, Scully looked over and saw that William was fast asleep.
"He's out," she whispered. "I wondered where you two had gone."
"I figured with all the excitement it would be best to keep him on his usual schedule," Mulder whispered in return.
She nodded, getting to her feet and rummaging through the suitcase for her pajamas. "I'm sure getting away from Bill was just an added benefit," she said and gave him a pointed look.
Mulder took her in his arms. "In all the time I've known him, your brother has had it out for me. But that's his problem. This is our Christmas, our first real Christmas and I'm not going to let a few snide comments ruin it - for you, for William, or for me."
"Well, fortunately, Bill is getting together with some of his buddies from Annapolis tomorrow morning."
"I should send them a thank you note," Mulder quipped as he watched her change.
"He'll be back for lunch, though."
"Oh, well, then maybe just a postcard."
She laughed softly. "C'mon, I'm kind of tired too. And those shoulders look awfully inviting," she said, pulling him over to the bed.
"So, can we keep to our usual schedule, too?" he asked, shedding slacks and shirt and climbing in under the covers.
"As soon as we're back home," she assured him, but gave him a kiss full of promise.
Maggie sighed as she chopped the almond bark into small pieces and scooped them up into the glass bowl. She popped it into the microwave, chose the time and power level and then stood back, watching through the window as the bits of white chocolate slowly melted into smooth, creamy icing.
She wished it were so easy. She wished she could take individuals, pop them somewhere and just watch as all the hurt and anger melted and they formed a cohesive family unit, free of stress.
She shook her head. Where did that come from? Maggie prided herself on her level head. It was one of the things her William had always remarked on, one of the things she admired most in her youngest daughter. So where had she come up with these wistful thoughts?
She had to be honest, she'd been too overcome with joy to see the hardships of this family gathering.
It had all seemed so incredible. When Dana had called saying she had news, wonderful news, Maggie knew instinctively that it meant they had found William. But not only did they find him, from Dana's much truncated account, they had saved him - and he, them. They were a family. It was the dead of summer, but Maggie's immediate thought was of Christmas.
"You'll come, won't you? The three of you? I was already expecting Fox, but to have all three of you - "
"Sure, Mom," Dana had told her. "Of course we'll be there."
And so it was just a matter of a few phone calls and it was all arranged. She knew to expect Kenny and Bryan, it was 'her turn' to have the boys for their Christmas vacation--a task she shared with Rachel's parents while Charlie was out to sea. But as luck would have it, Charlie had requested a desk job stateside and given his recent tragic loss, the higher ups felt they owed it to the man. Then, as if by miracle, Tara had called telling her that Bill would be home for six weeks starting Dec. 1 and they would be joining her for Christmas, too. She'd gone to bed that night and cried herself to sleep, but they were tears of joy.
It wasn't that she thought everything would be perfect. She was a mother of four and had raised her children with a husband out to sea more years than she cared to remember. There had been lop-sided bicycles, broken crystal and china from small 'helpful' hands in the clean up department. There had been tears and rants and time-outs during some particularly willful years. And even when William had been home, there had been problems. Sometimes it seemed there were more problems when he was around.
Maggie bit her tongue at that uncharitable thought. But in truth, sometimes William's arrival, breezing in from the four corners of the world, only served to disrupt the fragile balance she achieved by constant hard work and vigilance. Still, it was so good to have him home, she didn't really mind.
No, she knew better than to expect perfect. What she wanted was 'familiar'. She wanted 'comfortable'. She wanted her children to like each other and respect each other. She'd seen the look on Dana's face at Bill's inappropriate remark about her marital status. As far as Maggie was concerned, Fox and Dana were married in each other's eyes and that was all that really mattered. But Bill had always had a sore spot when it came to Fox and after all the years, Maggie didn't think anything could change that. Still, was it too much to expect her son to be on his best behavior in her house, to her guests?
Charlie was another matter completely. Her poor baby Charles. He walked around like a wrath, a shell of the man who used to come into the kitchen and proceed to engage in sword play with stalks of celery. Without Rachel, beautiful, kind, loving Rachel, he was only half a man. She understood the pain, the loss. But what she couldn't comprehend, what was too difficult for her to even contemplate was the anger and guilt he carried. He hadn't caused the aneurysm in Rachel's brain. But he blamed himself for being at sea, for being away when she needed him most. Where Maggie had held her William's hand when he passed, as awful and sad as that was, Charlie had been robbed of even that simple gesture. He returned to find his wife gone from him. It had been close to a year, and he had two fantastic boys that needed him desperately, but he just didn't have the strength to give them the love they deserved.
The microwave chimed and she shook off her thoughts. Carefully, she took the bowl out of the oven and stirred the chocolate with a fork. She opened a cabinet and picked the green food coloring, tilting the container to allow only a few sparse drops in the icing.
"Smells like Santa's workshop in here. Need a hand?"
Maggie fought the startle response and turned to smile at her one remaining daughter-in-law. "Sure, honey. Could you get out the wax paper and cover that chopping board on the island. We can put the dipped cookies there while they cool."
Working as a team, Maggie and Tara proceeded to dip the already cooled sugar cookies into the melted chocolate and place them in a row on the wax paper. Tara found the candy pieces, pull-n-peel licorice and colored sprinkles and each woman created masterpieces with the cookies.
"Where is everyone else?" Maggie asked when curiosity got the better of her.
"Well, Dana got tired of being Bill's punching bag so she went to bed - I'm pretty sure that's where Fox and William had gone. Charlie took his car keys and left for a drive about an hour ago. The big boys went into the den and were watching something on On Demand and Bill and Matty are - " she sighed. "Playing some computer game, I think."
Maggie caught the comment about Dana and looked over at Tara. "What's the matter, sweetheart? You're . . . not your usual chipper self."
Tara tried to smile, but it was closer to a grimace. "I'm just tired, Maggie. It was a long trip."
"I know that, but you've had other long trips. What's going on? If you don't want to tell me, I understand - " she added hastily.
Tara bit her lip. "Maggie, was Bill always a bully?" she asked so bluntly that it caught Maggie completely by surprise.
"What do you mean, honey? He hasn't . . . he wouldn't . . . "
"No, he has never touched me in anger, Maggie. It's not that. It's not even how he is with me or Matt. It's something I notice when he's around his brother and sister. He's . . . I don't know, he's a different person. At first, I thought it was because of his dad's death, he felt he was now the man of the family. But that was a long time ago and it's only gotten worse as he gets older."
"Bill . . . was always opinionated," Maggie admitted. "Strong willed. But then, you could say that of all of them. Melissa . . . " Maggie stopped, smiling off in the distance. "Missy was Joan of Arc on her own terms," she said, swallowing back the tears that always came with thoughts of her oldest daughter. "And Dana, well, you know how Dana is."
"But it goes deeper than that," Tara objected. "And . . . I see it in Matt. And I don't like it. Not one bit."
"He's eleven, honey. That's a rough age for boys. I used to joke that they start military school way too late for most mothers. By the time they're in high school at least they can mow the lawn and help around the house. We need a hand when they're in middle school."
Tara snorted. "I try to place limits and then the minute Bill gets home -- "
"All the rules go out the window," Maggie said knowingly. "I remember those days. Sometimes I wanted to wring Bill's neck -- Bill Senior as well as Bill Junior."
"He wants to be the good guy all the time. But if he's always the good guy that makes me . . . "
"The bad guy," Maggie commiserated. "I understand where they're coming from. They only have a short time to be with their family and they want so much from that time. Discipline, when meted out, was often too harsh for the circumstances or not applied at all. It caused a lot of confusion and hurt feelings."
"So, how did you handle it?" Tara asked.
"I don't know that I ever did - or maybe we wouldn't be having this conversation," Maggie said with a sad smile.
"Oh, Maggie, I don't blame you, I just . . . I was hoping for some sage advice," Tara said with an equal smile.
"As soon as I find some, I'll share it," Maggie assured her. She glanced over at the microwave. "Oh, dear, it's almost midnight."
"But the cookies look great," Tara said with a wink. "Well, goodnight, Maggie. Thanks for the talk."
"Anytime, honey. And if you find an answer to that problem we've discussed. . . "
"I'll share it with you, I promise."
"Goodnight, Tara. Sleep tight."
Maggie looked at the cookies and with a quick glance at the door to ensure she wasn't seen, picked up one and took a bite. It was familiar. It was comforting. It tasted just like Christmas. She finished off that cookie, resisted the urge to take one upstairs with her and turned off the light. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and sure to be a busy day.
December 24, 2008
The next morning came with three inches of fresh snow. William was thrilled as he woke his parents with the news.
"Just what Santa needs, huh, sport?" Mulder asked as he watched over William's general grooming and teeth brushing while Scully dressed for the day.
"Uh huh," William replied around a mouthful of foam. "An ba slay," he added before spitting.
"Yup, and the sleigh," Mulder correctly interpreted. "C'mon, let's go down and see what Grandma has around here for breakfast."
"Peanut butter puffs?" William suggested.
"Maybe better than that. I smell bacon. Maybe a little maple syrup - "
"Pancakes!" William exclaimed joyfully.
"I'd put good money on it. And from past experience, your mom learned all her pancake making skills from your Grandmother. We are in for a treat."
Breakfast was a little more enjoyable since Bill had left early. Matthew tended to sleep late, according to Tara, and Charlie and his boys hadn't surfaced yet. It was just Maggie, Tara, Mulder, Dana and William for pancakes. William dug in with relish and finished off three pancakes before asking to be excuse.
"Just a minute, William. I have something you might be interested in," Maggie said. She disappeared onto the back porch but soon reappeared carrying a cardboard box. "I found these when I was cleaning out the garage. I thought we'd given them away years ago." She handed the box to the child and he peeked in at the contents.
"Legos!" he declared happily.
"They belonged to your Uncle Charlie. I asked him and he said he wouldn't mind if you had them. We can keep them here so you have something to play with when you come visit me."
"Can I go play with them now?" he asked eagerly.
"I don't see why not," Maggie said, ruffling his hair. "Why don't you go in the den?"
"Keep the pieces you aren't building with in the box, William, so you don't lose any of them," Dana directed. "Thanks, Mom," she said after the boy was out of the room.
"Well, you said he loves to play make believe. Charlie was like that, you know. Always in his own little world."
"Maggie, if you don't mind, I still have two more gifts I have to find - "
"Not at all, Tara. I'll keep an ear out for Matt. Did you still want to meet up for lunch?"
"Oh absolutely. You're coming too, aren't you, Dana? A 'girls day out' before the madness tonight?"
Scully looked over at Mulder, concern coloring her expression. "Oh, Tara, that's awfully sweet, but I don't know . . . "
Mulder took her hand and squeezed it lightly. "I don't know. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me. We'll be fine here. William will keep me out of trouble," he added with a wink.
"We'll just be gone the afternoon. We need to get back early to put the ham in the oven for tonight," Maggie offered. "What do you say, sweetheart? It's been so long since I got to go out with my girls. We can make sandwiches for the boys and then we'll go have something fun."
"I'm up for the Cheesecake Factory myself," Tara said grinning.
"I'm trying very hard not to be jealous," Mulder said, folding his arms. "C'mon, Scully. You love the Cheesecake Factory."
"OK, OK, you win!" she laughed. "I suppose you expect me to bring something back for dessert."
Mulder leaned over and kissed her, whispering in her ear, "just you."
"Hey, kid. Wanna watch South Park with me?"
William frowned, glancing up quickly at the figure towering over him and his most recent Lego creation. He lifted one shoulder in meek agreement. He'd really hoped Matthew would continue to play with his Game Boy in the living room, but apparently that wasn't going to be the case.
"Lemme see," Matthew said, picking up the remote for the television and randomly pressing buttons. "Ah, fuck! All the channels are messed up! This sucks!"
"Here," William said, holding his hand out for the remote. Matthew glared at him, but handed the device over. William pointed it at the television and quickly found the programming guide, then proceeded to click to the proper channel for Comedy Central. He handed the remote back to his cousin.
"Awright," Matthew sighed. He flopped down in the reclining chair and pushed it back, raising the footrest. "Hey, your head's in the way. Move, why don't ya," he ordered.
William scooted over a few feet and continued to work on his structure. He was trying to recreate the outpost on Endor, but he had already run out of white pieces and had to resort to gray and yellow ones.
"So, what grade you in?" Matthew asked, staring at the screen where Cartman was once again declaring Kenny dead.
William ignored the question, so Matthew repeated it -- louder. "I said, what the hell grade are you in?"
"First," William answered, not looking up.
"First?" Matthew sneered. "How old are you?"
"Seven . . . and a half," William answered.
"What are you, some kinda retard? You should be in second grade," Matthew huffed. "My old man said there was something wrong with you. They gave you away and somehow you found your way back."
William frowned and tried to block out the sound of Matthew's voice. He worked hard to concentrate and searched through the pile of blocks for the right pieces to make the overhang where Princess Leia hid from the Imperial Stormtroopers before she was found by Han Solo.
"Yeah, you're crazy or something. Like your dad. If he is your dad. My old man thinks my Aunt Dana was screwing her boss. You're probably her boss's kid."
Tears were forming in William's eyes and his nose was starting to run. He swiped at his nose and cheeks angrily with his shirtsleeve and found two blocks stuck together. Putting them in his mouth, he tried to pry them apart with his teeth.
"Oh gross! What the fuck are you doing? Don't put those in your mouth, you retard!" Matthew howled. "I might want to play with those some day!"
Mulder had finally found a quiet room, the sunroom on the far side of the house. It wasn't heated, which meant it was about 40 degrees, but there was no one else there but him and the Washington Post. So far he'd worked his way through the front sections and was currently pricing real estate in his and Scully's old neighborhoods. When the hum hit, he thought it might just be the early stages of hypothermia. But after a moment, it increased in strength and magnitude to the point that he dropped the paper and grabbed his head from the pain. The next second he was on his feet, struggling to get in the house and find William. Something was dreadfully wrong.
He made it through the kitchen just in time to hear William let out a blood-curdling scream followed immediately by the sound of something hitting the wall. The ruckus was coming from the family room. He made a beeline in that direction only to run head long into Bill, coming from the dining room. Both men stormed into the family room at once.
The Lego set was scattered on the floor near the recliner. A picture of all six of the Scullys, taken sometime during the late seventies by the looks of the dress and hairstyles, was lying on the floor with the glass broken. Matthew was sitting forward on the recliner, holding his hand to his nose. Blood dripped through his fingers.
"That little fucker just hit me!" he shrieked to his father.
Bill was beside his son in an instant. "Let me see," he ordered, grabbing Matthew's hand and pulling it away from his face. "It's not your nose - it's a cut. What did he hit you with - his fist?"
"No, with the Legos!" Matthew yelled angrily. "I was jest sittin' here, watching TV and the little fucker hit me with the Legos. And he broke that picture, too!"
When Mulder had the presence of mind to look at his son, he found it was just the three of them in the room. "Where did he go?" he asked of no one in particular.
"You better find the little bastard before he hurts someone else," Bill growled. "C'mon, Matt. Let's get you cleaned up. Where the hell does Mom keep the first aid kit" he muttered loudly.
Mulder left the room, hoping the hum would return and guide him to his son. When that proved futile, he started searching the downstairs rooms. William was not to be found. Finally he took the steps two at a time to the second floor. He searched the room they'd slept in and the bathroom. He was just about to look in Maggie's room when Charlie's door opened and he stuck his head out into the hall. "I've got him in here, Mulder. He's pretty upset."
"Thanks," Mulder answered gratefully. Charlie stepped aside and let Mulder into the room. At first he couldn't see his son, but then he spotted the child crouched between a dresser and the closet door. "Hey, buddy," he said, lowering himself to the floor and pulling William on his lap. The boy grabbed onto Mulder tightly and rocked back and forth. Mulder followed suit, rocking them there on the floor. "It's OK, buddy. Just calm down. Just calm down." He rubbed the child's back, tucking him into his shoulder. "OK, it's OK. Just breathe with me, OK? In. Out. In. Out."
It took several minutes of repeating the process before William's tearful hiccups finally settled into deep breathing. "That's it. That's my guy," Mulder murmured to the boy. After a few more minutes he took the boy's chin in his hand and turned his face up. "Want to tell me what happened?"
William's eyes filled with tears again and he emphatically shook his head 'no'.
"Something happened, buddy. Something upset you. What happened?" Mulder tried again.
"I wanna-na-na go ho-ome," William cried brokenly.
"William, did you hit your cousin?" Mulder asked quietly, keeping his voice steady and calm even though it took a lot of effort.
Tearfully, William nodded his head in the affirmative.
"Why?" Mulder asked, confused. In the last six months they'd had William back with them, he had never hurt anyone. This behavior was totally unlike anything Mulder could remember, even in William's worst meltdowns.
"I don't like him," William said bluntly. "He's mean."
"Did he hurt you first?" Mulder asked, still trying to find some semblance of reason in the recent events. "Did he say something that upset you?"
William started to cry harder and buried his face in Mulder's shoulder. "I wann-na-na go home NOW!"
Not knowing what else to do, Mulder went back to rocking them gently back and forth. After nearly half an hour, William's hiccups turned to sighs and the child dropped into an exhausted sleep. Mulder kept rocking him for a moment, then moved to stand. He was surprised when a strong arm helped him to his feet and smiled when he realized it was Charlie.
"Thanks. I'm just going to lay him down in our room," he said. Charlie nodded and went before them, opening doors. When William was tucked in on the cot, Mulder smoothed the hair from his forehead and leaned over, giving him a kiss.
"I think I can shed a little light on the problem," Charlie whispered when he caught Mulder's attention for a moment. Mulder followed him into the hallway and partially closed the door to the room before turning to hear what Charlie had to say.
"Will was provoked," Charlie said quietly.
"He's never thrown a toy at anyone. He's never hurt anyone, not that we've seen," Mulder objected.
Charlie scratched at his forehead and shrugged. "Matt was calling him a 'retard'. I also overheard something about Dana screwing her boss, that you aren't Will's real dad."
"What?" Mulder asked, incredulous.
Charlie snorted bitterly. "Matt's probably overheard Bill on one of his rants. But from what I could gather, Will wasn't saying anything. Matt just kept needling him 'til he got a reaction."
Mulder stood there, speechless.
"I was headed for the kitchen when I overheard it. I was going to go in and stop them, but I didn't have time. I heard Will scream, heard the crash and then Will tore around the corner like the hounds of hell were on him. I found him in my room. I think it was the only open door in the hallway. I didn't know if he was comfortable enough around me for me to try and comfort him. He was so scared. That's when I heard you upstairs and well, you know the rest."
Mulder leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. "Shit." After giving himself a moment, he stood up again and glanced at his watch. "Dana should be home already. I should call her."
Charlie put his hand on Mulder's arm, arresting his move to get out his cell phone.
"You know if you call her now she's just going to be upset all the way home. They're on their way, Mom wanted to get dinner started so we could eat by 6 and it's 4:30 already."
Mulder nodded, rubbing a hand over his face and resting it on his chin. "What should I do? Apologize?" he asked, half-joking.
"I wouldn't. And I certainly wouldn't force Will to, either," Charlie said tersely.
"He threw a toy at his cousin. I can't let that slide, Charlie. You wouldn't let that slide if it had been one of your boys, and you know it."
"Mulder, all I know is that Bill's spawn is just exactly like him - a trouble-maker. He's only 11 and already he has all the personality traits that make his father such a top notch asshole. He goes through life making people miserable and then plays the victim when he gets the response he was hoping for all along. Don't do that to Will. Don't let Matt - or Bill for that matter - turn him into a victim."
Mulder started to ask Charlie to explain himself when they heard the front door open and Maggie call out that she, Tara and Dana were home.
Mulder moved to the top of the stairs and Scully looked up and smiled at him. It quickly faded and she hurried up the stairs. "What's wrong?"
Mulder looked over at Charlie. "You can talk in my room, let William sleep," he offered and headed back downstairs.
"What happened?" she insisted Mulder led her into the room Charlie and his boys were using.
Mulder sighed and took a seat at the foot of Charlie's bed. He gave her a quick rundown of the events of the last half hour. He hated the stricken look on her face, but he didn't keep things from her. The last fifteen years had taught him some things.
"Oh Mulder," she closed her eyes and joined him on the bed. "I need to see William." She made no move to rise.
"He's asleep, worn out I guess. There was definite fear that Santa had watched the whole thing, but he didn't mention that."
"How could Matthew say something like that?"
"Bill," Mulder said before he could stop himself, but he fell silent then.
"Do you think we should leave?"
Yes, yes, yes! But he took a deep breath. "No. They're your family; we're going to be spending time with them for the rest of our lives. We need to reach detente at least."
"I'm so sorry."
"None of this is your fault, Scully. None of it. And as much as I'd like to wring Matthew's neck, I'm not sure how much to blame he is either."
"Bill," she said dully and he nodded. She rose then. "I want to look in on William." He let her go and after a moment took a deep breath and followed.
She laid an afghan over the boy and there was a slight smudge of red where her lips had brushed his brow. She was just standing there, watching him. "You okay?"
"I'm fi-" she caught herself and smiled at him.
It looked so wistful he wanted to break Bill in two; instead he took her into his arms. "I know he's mine and that you are too. That's all that matters." She leaned against him for a moment, then straightened and they walked downstairs together. No one else seemed to be in evidence, which was a relief and he followed Scully into the kitchen.
"Is William okay?" Maggie asked as they entered.
Mulder nodded. "He's asleep."
"I didn't realize how upsetting all these strangers would be to him."
Mulder opened his mouth to give a better explanation, but stopped. If Scully wanted to do that, she could. He was the outsider here and he didn't want to sound defensive.
"That's part of it, Mom, but I don't want Matthew referring to William as a 'retard', I won't tolerate that."
Maggie's mouth dropped open. "He said that to William? Oh Dana, Fox, I'm so sorry."
"It's not your fault," Mulder reassured her. "I think I'll go finish the paper." He escaped back out to the sun room to find Charlie there, sitting staring out into the bleak back yard. "Sorry - "
"No, I took your spot. It's just not that big a house," Charlie said rising. "Kenny and Bryan will be watching out for William. They won't let Matthew get away with something like that again."
"You don't have to - "
"Yeah, I do. William is their cousin and he's just a kid. Matthew can't take on the bigger boys; they won't let him pick on anyone else."
"Thank you," Mulder said quietly and Charlie nodded, leaving him the cold room to himself again.
When he checked on William again, the boy was awake, but unwilling to leave the room. "Come on downstairs, Big Guy. Your grandma just took some cookies out of the oven."
"It's okay. I'll be with you." He seemed to contemplate that for a moment, but finally sat up, and allowed Mulder to lead him from the room.
Scully hurried toward them when she saw them come down the stairs. "William, come on in the kitchen with me. We'll take up the cookies and share them with everyone."
True fear showed in his eyes and her heart hurt at the look. She put her arm around him and gave him a squeeze, then the three of them moved toward the kitchen.
Maggie smiled when they entered. "Just in time," she said, extending her hand to William. After a glance at Mulder, he took it and held the plate as Maggie transferred the warm cookies onto it. "Why don't you take these to the family room?"
Scully bit her lip for an instant. "That's a good idea. William, let's go see what's on TV."
William looked up at Mulder, who winked at him, and the boy resignedly allowed his mother to escort them that way. Kenny and Bryan were sprawled on the couch, with Matthew sullen and scowling in the recliner. There was an obvious Band-Aid on his cheek and William refused to look in his direction.
"Will, come on over here," Kenny said as he and Bryan made room between them on the couch. "It's Elf with Will Farrow. You ever seen it?"
William shook his head, but with Scully's slight push, he headed that way and handed the plate of cookies to Bryan. Mulder took a seat behind the couch and William looked back to ensure himself his dad was right there, then turned back to the TV.
Scully ruffled William's hair and laid a hand on Kenny's shoulder for a moment. He nodded to her and took a cookie from the plate. Mulder squeezed her hand as she turned to return to the kitchen.
She was in the kitchen when Bill found her. He approached her as though his size would intimidate her. Fat chance. She turned and met his eyes squarely.
"Listen, Dana, that kid of yours is a danger and I - "
"William is not a danger to anyone. He is also not a retard. Mulder and my son has lived through unbelievable trauma." She watched Bill's face redden but could feel his temper rising. "I will not allow Matthew to taunt him or insult him. If you cannot control him - "
"Control him? He didn't cut your son's face."
"No, and I'm sorry that happened. I'm sorry that Matthew provoked such a response from William."
"Provoked." Charlie stepped into the kitchen. The look of disgust on his face was plain and Bill flinched slightly from his expression. "I heard it all, Bill. I was on my way into the room to stop it when William defended himself in the only way he knew and then he ran. Kenny and Bryan will be helping keep an eye on things for the rest of your visit."
"What the hell are you talking about? That little bastard doesn't need - " The hand across his face stopped him. He'd forgotten, or dismissed, Dana's hand to hand training and he staggered back.
"Mom, I'm sorry, but I think we need to leave."
"No. This is family time. Those boys deserve to know their family, especially William. And I want all of you to behave, especially you, Bill. I don't want to take sides in this, but you better believe I will not have any of my children, my in-laws, or my grandchildren insulted or demeaned. Do you understand?"
Bill blinked at that. They all turned as the door to the kitchen opened and Tara joined them. She took in the tension in the room and scanned Bill's face. She noted the red mark of Dana's hand. "What's going on?"
"Nothing," Maggie said taking a deep breath.
Scully looked over at her mother. Nothing? That was her response to Tara? "Mom, really - "
"It's Christmas. We're all stressed from everything we've been doing, planning. Let's try to have a nice, calm dinner and see how things go then. No more running around. Let's everyone try to relax."
Scully had major doubts that would work, obviously so did Charlie, but both kept quiet. No one wanted a major family split, years of recriminations and not communicating. But did she owe Bill any more chances? It was different now, Mulder could, sort of, defend himself. William was her son and the beast woman in her was present. She forced herself to take a deep breath and nodded to Maggie, then left the kitchen. She, they, would stay for dinner, but no promises after that. Maybe she could take Charlie and his boys, and Mom back to their house. In any case, no one would insult her son again.
William found a set of stairs leading down. It was a basement, but not like the basement in their house in Virginia. He would often sit on the steps and watch either his mother or his father go down the stairs and bring up something from the basement. That's where they kept the extra cans and boxes of food and the washer and the dryer were down there. But it was dark and not a place William wanted to visit, so he would wait for them at the top of the stairs.
This basement, however, was different. It was lighter, for one thing. He could see the late afternoon sunlight dancing on the floor. And the floor looked different, too. The floor in his house was a somewhat dirty gray, even though he'd watched his mother sweep it several times. Battleship gray, she'd called it and said one day she'd have to mop it but that hadn't happened in the months he'd lived with them.
This floor had what looked like a map on the floor -- roads and railroad tracks. It looked like a playroom. Checking that he was still unnoticed, William crept down the steps. They didn't creak like the ones in his house. As he made his way down the steps, he saw that the light was coming from three windows set in the foundation of the house just at ground level. The light was the sunlight coming in from those windows. He felt a little braver and jumped off the last step.
It was a playroom, but one that hadn't been used in a long time. There were some boxes on a long table and a few mismatched chairs along the wall. On the far wall was a cabinet with the doors standing open and he could see colored bins. Going forward, he slid one of the bins out and peered in. There were toy cars and truck, just the right size for the 'roadmap' on the floor.
He looked up the stairs and heard more raised voices. They were still yelling at each other. He bit his lip and looked back at the bin of cars. They weren't space ships but they were sort of cool. He took out one of the cars, a dusty red convertible and spun the wheels against his palm. It worked! He smiled and picked four other cars and a truck, having to hold them all in his arms to get them over to the spot on the floor. Soon, he was racing the cars around the streets like he'd seen in one of his father's favorite video games. Some of the cars flipped over and had to be removed from the track. He used the truck to take them over to a place on the map marked 'garage'. It even had a sign like the one at home where he and his dad had changed the oil in their car just last weekend. Soon he was feeling much better and was able to forget all about the yelling going on upstairs. He didn't notice when someone older closed the door at the top of the stairs.
She located Mulder in the study, watching TV with the boys. "Where's William?" she asked in a low voice, not disturbing the movie, as soon as she entered the room.
"I think he went to the bathroom."
"Scully, he's doing okay. He knows most of the people here are . . . safe?"
"Safe." She shook her head and perched on the arm of his chair. "What a comforting description of my family."
"I'm sorry - "
"You have nothing to apologize for, Mulder. I'm the one that put you and William in this position. I didn't dream - "
"Of course you didn't and Scully, even with all the stuff going on, he knows he's with us and it's permanent and we love him. I think he understands that we're trying to expand his family and he and Bryan and getting along great."
She smiled at that, though it looked weak. "Yes, Charlie's boys are being awfully nice to him." She looked over at the door. "Are you sure he went to the bathroom?"
"No, but that's what I thought. Why don't I go check. Better me than you at his age."
She huffed but didn't argue, watching him leave the room. He was so good for her. He put up with so much from her, her family, and was always there to support her. Maybe marriage wouldn't be such a bad idea, especially now that William was with them. William could act as best man or something, really be a part of everything. It was worth thinking about anyway.
That train of thought disappeared when Mulder reappeared at the door, shaking his head. She was on her feet immediately. "You didn't see him?"
"No. I wanted to check back in here before I went upstairs. I was pretty sure he hadn't gotten past me, but . . . "
"Let's look upstairs." She was already headed in that direction; he was on her heels. It look little time to check all of the bedrooms. William was nowhere to be found.
"Scully, don't panic. I'm sure he's here. Look, his coat is right over there."
"That only means he doesn't have it on, not that he's not outside somewhere! We knew he was upset and scared."
"I don't think he's upset, Scully."
"No buzz," he whispered. "But I should have kept a better eye on him. We'll find him. Let's find out if there's a tree house in the neighborhood. He might have wanted that kind of security."
"There's not. There are almost no children in the neighborhood anymore."
"We just checked all the closets and under the beds upstairs, Aunt Dana," Bryan said, joining them in the hallway.
Scully closed her eyes, fighting her tears. It was her worst nightmare come to life. "Mulder, we have to find him," she whispered.
"He's here. He's . . . he probably just found some place he felt comfortable," Mulder tried to assure her, or himself. "We just have to think a minute."
"It's getting dark," Scully said, looking out the windows by the front door. "He doesn't have a coat and it's dark - "
"Matty, would you go down to the basement and get Grandma a jar of olives? They're in the pantry under the steps. The ones in the black can, ripe olives," Maggie called as she came out of the kitchen. "What's going on?"
"We can't find William," Scully swallowed hard and wiped at her cheeks.
"Oh, he's just playing hide and seek, I bet," Maggie said. "You kids - "
"He's not like us, Mom! Bill and Charlie never heard their guardians murdered in the room next door," Scully bit out angrily. "Missy and I were never given up for adoption!"
"Scully," Mulder soothed. "Don't. She didn't mean - "
"Here're the olives, Grandma," Matt interrupted, holding a can in his hands.
"Matthew, have you seen your cousin?" Maggie asked as she accepted the olives.
"Bryan and Kenny are in the den," he answered.
"No, your little cousin, William," Maggie repeated. "Have you seen him in the last few minutes?"
Matthew thought for a moment. "Nope. Haven't." He hurried out of the hall toward the den.
Something about Matthew's behavior caught Mulder's eye. "Where's the basement door?" he asked suddenly.
"Just off the kitchen," Scully replied. "But William hates the basement, Mulder."
"That's our basement, Scully. Even I hate it," he shot back. "Let me check, just to be sure."
William was still playing with the cars when he noticed it was getting too dark to see the street markings on the floor. Looking up at the window, he realized his mistake - it was dark outside. Quickly he got up and sought out the stairs in the rapidly fading light. He looked up at the top but it was too dark to see very far.
He closed his eyes tightly and opened them, hoping he would be able to see better. But the top of the stairs remained in total darkness - a black void. William backed away from the dark and searched around the room. A streetlight cast a little puddle of light in one of the corners and he scrambled over to it. Suddenly very frightened, he sat down on the floor, drew up his knees to his chest and started to cry.
Mulder opened the basement door and searched around the wall for the light switch. As he stepped on the first step he heard crying, William crying, softly.
"Buddy, you down here?" he called out.
"Daddy?" came a strangled voice. "Daddy, come get me!"
"On the way, sport. I'm right here," he said. He found William easily in the far corner. "How did you get down here?" he asked, taking the boy in his arms. William hung on for dear life, but after a few minutes, he pulled away.
"I found a city," he told his father. "On the floor." He hopped out of Mulder's embrace, but grabbed his hand. "Over here, come see." He pulled Mulder over to the play area.
"Oh, wow, I used to have one of these," Mulder exclaimed with admiration. "Pretty cool, huh?"
William nodded, absently wiping tears and snotty nose on his sleeve. "But it got dark."
"Did you close the door behind you when you came down?" Mulder asked.
William shook his head.
"I didn't think so," Mulder said calmly, but was feeling anything but calm. "Here, pick up the cars and let's put them back. Maybe we can come play with them again tomorrow. Dad wants to check something out."
William stooped down and gathered the cars and truck, taking them over to the bins in the cabinet. Meanwhile, Mulder looked at the steps and then at the pantry shelves under the steps. There was no way someone could come down the stairs and miss William playing with the cars. But William was often so zoned in on his play that he could easily miss someone entering and then leaving the room.
Matthew had struck again. This time he'd even lied about it. Mulder was going to have to keep a very close eye on his son for the rest of their visit.
The rest of the evening was relatively uneventful. It had been decided that they would attend the 7 pm service at St. Thomas the Apostle Church just up the road. Mulder usually stayed at home when Scully took William to church, but he had gone once or twice during the fall for various services connected to the school. He also remembered the scant times his father's side of the family would attend Christmas Eve services on the Vineyard. This year, however, he didn't feel pressured to go. If anything, finding William again and still having Scully at his side had put him on much better terms with any and all universal deities.
They made quite a sight finding seats in the crowded sanctuary and easily took up a whole row. William tended to find church pretty boring and Scully always kept a small notebook and crayons in her purse to keep him occupied. After all the events of the day, though, Mulder found his son's head drooping and then sliding over to his lap. With a smile, he picked the boy up and let him rest on his shoulder. Together they sat through the service as the other Scullys rose and knelt as the liturgy required. At one point, he glanced up to see Maggie smiling and him, tears glistening in her eyes. He winked at her and her grin only grew. Then she turned back to the service.
Halfway through the Mass, Mulder noticed that Charlie was no longer sitting at the end of their row. He looked back and saw the younger Scully quietly slipping out the exit of the church. Mulder closed his eyes, just feeling his young son slumbering in his arms. Charlie held such pain, such guilt that it almost felt like a cloud followed him wherever he walked. It was too much for Mulder to try and empathize - he never, ever wanted to be in that position. He was a trained psychologist but he hadn't put his skills to work for years and when he had it had been searching out the deviant mind - not the injured one. He ached for the words to ease Charlie's pain.
At that moment, a strange thought occurred to Mulder. Charlie was really a stranger to him, but oddly enough, there was a connection. This woman sitting beside him, as she had through the last decade and a half and this child sleeping in his lap connected him not just to Charlie, but to Maggie and Bill and everyone seated in the pew with them. It was a heady feeling.
"Mulder, you OK? Want me to take him for a while?" Scully asked, noting, no doubt, the strange expression on his face.
He smiled at her and shook his head. "No. I've got him. He's fine." She nodded, reassured and went back to paying attention to the service. Mulder cast one more look back to where Charlie had left the church. Somehow, in the next two days, he hoped there was some way he could help this man who was part of his family.
Mulder was on the floor with William at Scully's feet. The paper from opening the presents was pretty much all over the place. William was totally absorbed with his new Star Wars figures and the Leggos set of the Echo Base and Darth Vader's TIE fighter were within easy reach, though not opened. Scully wasn't sure if that was in order not to lose any of the small pieces, or to protect it from Matthew. Whichever he was definitely keeping away from Matthew but seemed to feel better about Kenny and Bryan.
Bryan was on the floor as well, talking to him about the race that Anakin had won when Qui-Gon had discovered him.
Mulder watched Bill pour another Scotch. Hell, they hadn't even had lunch and that had to be his third. He'd started when Mulder had opened a gift from Scully - a robe and matching pajamas pants. Mulder liked them, plaid, flannel, easy to remove. He grinned to himself. It was a husband kind of present and from Scully. Maybe someday soon she would break down and accept his proposal.
He motioned to William, who leaned toward him. "There's one more under the tree for your mother. Can you reach it?"
William nodded and crawled under the tree, returning with a small box. He handed it to Mulder. "Give it to Mom." He winked at the boy, who handed the box to Scully.
"What? Mulder, you already gave me - "
"It's from both of us," he assured her. "Go ahead."
She met his eye and saw the uncertainty there and felt a moment of unease. Well, it wasn't a ring box, and Mulder wouldn't put her on the spot in front of Bill if nothing else. Shaking her head she tore the paper from the box and balled it up, tossing it to William, who grinned. She opened the box and saw the delicate sterling silver chain and pendant. "Mulder!"
"It's a locket, open it."
She took it from the box and opened the filigreed oval. On the left was William, his school picture and he was smiling. On the right, her breath caught, Emily also smiling up at her. Tears filled Scully's eyes immediately. "Oh, Mulder."
"Is it okay?"
She couldn't speak, gazing at the pictures, her eyes swimming.
"Whadda ya do now, you fuckin' ass?" Bill's words were slurred and everyone looked at him aghast.
Scully was on her feet before Mulder could even think to help her up. "What is wrong with you? The man in my life, my son's father, just gave me an incredible gift - "
"He made you cry!"
"Tears of happiness, Bill. Don't you understand anything? God, you're drunk aren't you? It's Christmas morning!"
"Fuck Christmas, if I have to spend it with a man who caused so much heartache for this family! He's responsible for everything that's gone wrong. Missy, your cancer, your estrangement from Dad, him!" He pointed to William. "Why don't you see that!"
William was cowering next to Mulder, but Bryan was on William's other side, either protecting, or also drawing security from Mulder's presence.
Mulder looked over at Maggie's white face, then Charlie caught his attention. The younger man rose to full height. Bill turned toward him, expecting support. The last thing he expected was Charlie's fist to his face, causing him to crash into the tree and both toppled to the ground. Then Charlie was standing over him, legs spread, ready to defend himself if and when Bill made it back to his feet.
Mulder had scrambled to his feet as well and he had hold of Scully, to keep her from joining the fray.
"Mulder's responsible? Mulder!" Charlie yelled down at his older brother. "What about you, you fucking asshole!" Bill looked up at his brother, blood pouring from his nose. "Yes, you! You think you're so righteous and perfect. You talk me into joining the goddamn Navy because it's my responsibility to uphold the family honor like you supposedly are. Maybe you don't mind being away from home for months on end, maybe it keeps you away from your piss ant of a son, but it cost me! It cost me everything! They couldn't even reach me when Rachel got sick. She was dead before they could get a message through! I didn't want to go into the Navy, I wanted to be home with my family, but no, you were incensed! I had to join, it was a fucking family tradition! I wouldn't be a good son! Well I'll be damned if either of my sons is caught up in that shit!"
Mulder was scanning the room, if Bill launched himself at Charlie, he would take him down. He outweighed his younger brother by at least thirty pounds. If Bill attacked Charlie, there was no doubt in Mulder's mind that Kenny and Bryan would join the fight. How was Mulder going to keep Maggie and Tara from being hurt?
"You blame me for that?" Bill was coming up slowly, as though he had realized how volatile the situation was.
"You're the one that wanted me in the Navy, you're the one that put my name in for that fucking assignment, you're - "
"Hold it! I don't control you. I'm not responsible for the decisions you've made. Why the hell are you blaming me for - "
"Like you blame Fox?" Maggie's voice carried over Bill's and for a moment total silence filled the room. Everyone, even William, turned to look at Maggie.
Bill looked like a fish out of water, his mouth moving but no sound emerging. Mulder stood completely still, afraid movement would draw attention to him. Scully just gaped at her mother.
"Well, isn't that what you do? If you can blame Fox for Dana's cancer, then why shouldn't Charlie blame you for Rachel's death? It makes sense to me."
"Mom? Are you . . . " The expression on Maggie's face seemed to take his breath. The man actually seemed to shrink slightly and his eyes darted around the room, taking in Scully and his nephews before finding Tara's face and seeing her agreement with Maggie plain on her face.
He sank into the nearest chair and didn't speak. Scully moved toward the tree and Mulder followed her, helping her to right it and pick up the ornaments that had fallen to the floor. Only two were broken. Mulder picked up the large pieces carefully and when he looked up, saw that Kenny had brought him the broom and dustpan. He nodded and continued to silently clean up the broken glass and scattered pine needles. No one was talking, William hadn't even turned back to his things, instead surreptitiously watching everyone.
Maggie continued to sit there as though waiting for Bill to answer her. Maybe she had finally gotten completely fed up with everything. Mulder looked over at Scully for instructions, but she seems as in the dark as he was. Well hell, he didn't have to subject his son to this.
"William, let's go back down to the playroom. Show me what you found."
William scrambled to his feet, eager to take advantage of the excuse to get out of there.
"Fox, why don't Kenny, Bryan and Mathew take him?" Maggie spoke. It didn't really feel like a question.
Matthew? Mulder caught Kenny's eye and the boy nodded reassurance. "Uh, sure. That okay with you, William?"
From his expression, which Mulder was pretty sure mirrored his own, it wasn't but there was something about Maggie that you didn't cross and this was definitely one of those times.
"Come on, William," Kenny took his hand and Bryan moved to his other side. Bill took in their protective stance around the younger boy, and seemed to shrink a little more. After Mulder heard the door to the basement shut, he silently took a seat beside Scully.
Maggie sighed, then looked at each of them in turn. "This is my fault. I'm the one that asked each of you to come here, to be a family at Christmas. I knew Charlie was in such pain and I wanted him to be able to take solace from family, to know we were here for him to help him through at least his first Christmas without Rachel. I miss her too, she was my daughter for many years and I loved her dearly. I hoped that having us all together would make things easier."
She held up her hand as Bill seemed about to speak. "And I wanted my grandsons to meet and hopefully bond, for William to get to know his family. That poor boy has been through unspeakable horror and he's finally back with his real family and learning to fit in. I hope someday he will feel completely assured of his place. To have him hurt in any way in my home fills me with a sadness I can't even express. He's my grandson and my heart aches for him, for what he still has to face. I knew about the animosity Bill felt for Fox, but I didn't dream . . . and I had no idea, Charlie, that you felt that way. I shouldn't have forced you all to spend this time together, and to be honest, right now, I feel like asking all of you to leave."
"Mom - " Scully took a seat beside her. "I'm sorry."
Maggie shook her head. "I think I'll go upstairs for a little while."
"Mom," Charlie stood before his mother. "Please, stay down here with me. I, I need you and I'm, I'm sorry I hit Bill."
"You should apologize to him," Maggie said, not facing her youngest son.
Mulder watched Charlie close his eyes and shake his head for a moment, then he turned to Bill. "I shouldn't have hit you." He turned to Mulder and glanced over at Tara. "I shouldn't have caused a scene." He gave his mother one last look and headed out the door.
Scully started after him, but Mulder touched her shoulder. "Let me try," he whispered in her ear. She chewed her lip and shrugged her shoulder, then slowly nodded.
Mulder had the presence of mind to grab his coat and one he thought might be Charlie's before he let himself out into the freezing cold. He spotted Charlie leaning against an old oak tree, puffing on a cigarette and staring out into the light snowfall.
"You aren't going to try and tell me these things will kill me, are you?" Charlie joked, but the tone of his voice made it come out more bitter than humorous.
Mulder shuffled his feet and looked out toward where Charlie's gaze seemed to rest. "Nah. Been there myself," he admitted.
Charlie started to reach into his pocket, but Mulder shook his head. "Not for a few years," he said with a weak smile.
The younger man regarded the half burnt butt in his hand. "Rachel hated it that I smoked. I don't do it often. Never in the house or around the boys. Just . . . "
"Charlie, what you said in there . . . want to talk about it?" Mulder asked quietly.
"What's to talk about? Mulder, from what I hear, you're the oldest. I'm not sure you can possibly understand."
Mulder nodded. "Yeah, but that doesn't stop me from listening," he replied.
"OK. So you know what I really wanted to be when I was a kid?" At Mulder's open look he continued. "A cartoonist. Like Garry Trudeau or Charles Schultz. I dreamed that someday I would open any newspaper in the country and see my strip staring back up at me."
Mulder drew in a deep breath. "That would be cool."
"Yeah. I wasn't too bad, either. Won a couple of local contests, got a partial scholarship to an art summer program put on by U of Maryland. But you know what happened? Bill. Bill happened. He talked to Dad and told him that I was 'playing around with those pansy-assed artists'. Well, that was the end of that discussion. Since it was only a partial scholarship, Dad would have had to put the rest of the money. It's wasn't a huge sum, I think it was about $250. But Dad said he didn't have the cash and that was that."
Mulder could see where this was going but knew his job was to listen, not interrupt. He stomped his feet a little to get some warmth in them. Charlie finished the cigarette and just leaned against the tree.
"So it comes time for me to take the ACT and I do pretty damned good, but then Scully kids are always overachievers. I got a 29 on the first try. But Bill was already out on a ship and of course, he talked to Dad again. Suddenly, I was applying to the Naval Academy. I didn't want to go to the Academy. It's the last place I wanted to go. But you know how having a Naval officer gives you a leg up at the Academy and since I also had an older brother already through -- gee, like I had any choice in the matter."
"I thought I'd pull one over on them, though. I decided to go nuke. Bill was on surface ships, Dad had been on surface ships, I went under the water. And it was a good gig, for a while. Then I met Rachel in New London and I fell head over heels. I was really underwater then," he smirked. "But I thought I'd finally won. I got to choose who I married. The fact that I couldn't believe this gorgeous angel had agreed to marry me was just too good to be true."
At that point, Charlie's shoulders hitched and he choked on a sob. "I loved her. God in heaven, I still love her with every breath I take." He wiped at his cheeks with the sleeve of his coat and shuddered.
"Charlie, I'm sorry," Mulder said, putting his hand on the younger man's shoulder. He was surprised when Charlie reached up and grasped his hand in a vice like grip.
"I haven't finished," he said through gritted teeth. "About a year and a half ago, I had my 20 in, I was ready to retire. I had even started putting out feelers for a job in the civilian world. Rachel was over the moon. The boys were already making plans for how many sporting events we were going to make in the coming year. I wasn't going to tell anyone, certainly not Bill. I knew what he'd say. He's try and talk me out of it, want me to stay in for 30 like he was, like Dad did."
"So what happened?"
"Rachel was so excited, she let it slip to Mom. And of course, Mom mentioned it to Bill. Now here's where it gets really good," Charlie sneered. "Bill, on his own, goes to the Sub commander and arranges for me to get an assignment as XO on the Sea Wolf class boat just about to be launched. Second to being a cartoonist, it's what I had wanted. Then he calls me, reminds me that I don't have to stay for the full ten - that the bump in pay would allow me to pay off the house in five years, put some cash aside so we could travel. Hell, thinking back I can't even remember all the bullshit he fed me. And God damn me, I took the bait. So we're in the middle of the Indian Ocean, running deep, and Rachel . . . Ra-chel . . ."
At that point, Charlie just collapsed in on himself. Mulder was able to reach him and support him before he hit the snow-packed ground. He held him and just let the man sob brokenly.
"He . . . he caused it. He . . . he as m-m-much as put a g-g-g-un to her head," he wailed.
Mulder was having hard time keeping his own emotions in check, but he had to get through to this man. "Charlie, Charlie. Listen to me. Please, listen to me."
A few shuddering sobs and Charlie was able to gather enough control to look at Mulder.
Now that Mulder had his attention, he wasn't so sure he knew what he was going to say. He closed his eyes for a moment and swallowed. "Bill didn't kill Rachel, Charlie. You know that."
At the younger man's attempted objection, Mulder put his hands on Charlie's shoulders. "Bill didn't kill Rachel any more than I killed Melissa." Charlie winced at the comparison but remained silent. "No more than I gave Dana cancer, or killed Emily or intended to leave Dana alone to fight the men who wanted our son. But I feel that guilt, that pain - every day of my life. Even when Bill isn't around to remind me." It was getting harder and harder to keep his voice calm. "You know, sometimes I wish he'd just take a swing at me and get it over with."
Charlie snorted and shook his head. "He might have glass jaw, but he's got an iron fist," he warned.
Mulder smiled bitterly. "But it would get it out of his system. He might still hate me, but at least he wouldn't feel so impotent about it."
Charlie rubbed his own right fist lightly. "You might be right on that."
"And maybe . . . maybe he could forgive me . . . for some of it," Mulder added. Charlie started to shake his head again and Mulder gripped his shoulders tightly. "I can understand the need to blame someone for what's happened. But having been on the receiving end of blame that wasn't truly mine, I can tell you that it's a horrible injustice and pretty damned hard to live with."
"You hardly ever see him," Charlie murmured.
"I wasn't talking about Bill," Mulder replied. "I was talking about my father."
"I can't. I can't forgive him. I just . . . hurt . . . so much," Charlie choked out, tears falling fresh.
"I know, I know. But if it was hurting someone else, someone completely innocent, could you at least try?" Mulder pleaded. At Charlie's perplexed look he continued. "Your mom, Charlie. This is killing her. All she wanted was her family together at Christmas. So far it's been World War Three. You'd give anything for another Christmas with Rachel, right? What would you give for another Christmas with your mom? One where she was happy to see all of us rather than dreading the moment we entered the house and counting the moments till we all leave her in peace?"
Charlie thought about that for several minutes. Mulder finally dropped his hands and they both just stood there, Charlie lost in thought, Mulder scrambling to find something else he could say to convince Charlie to forgive the one man on earth who had yet to forgive him of sins he'd never committed. Finally, Charlie drew in a deep breath. "I don't have much choice, do I?"
"Well, he is your brother. And Tara seems like a nice person so he can't be all that bad," Mulder joked. It worked, Charlie smiled.
"I could make a dumb blonde joke here, but I like Tara," he said with a shrug.
"I do, too," Mulder replied. "So . . . need more time? Or do we go back inside?"
Charlie looked toward the house and sighed. "I don't need any more time. My ass is freezin' off out here."
"Good because mine froze solid a few minutes ago," Mulder agreed. He turned to go but not before Charlie grabbed him and hugged him hard.
"Let me talk to Bill. I don't think he really knows what he's been doing all these years. He just doesn't understand."
Mulder found it hard to swallow as he throat tightened up. "Thanks," was all he could manage.
The warmth of the house was almost overpowering after the cold of the yard. Mulder hung up his coat and took Charlie's coat to hang. When he got to the living room, Charlie and Bill were talking. No fists were involved and Mulder took that as a good thing.
"Let me get you some tea," Tara said, and Maggie nodded. She and Dana arose and followed Tara into the kitchen. It took a moment for Mulder to realize that he was alone with the brothers.
Before he could decide how to escape, Bill spoke. "Charlie, I didn't realize. I thought you wanted . . . You wouldn't have gotten that assignment, even with my recommendation if you hadn't been the best qualified."
Charlie looked down at his hands. "I feel like most of me is missing."
Neither Bill nor Mulder knew what to say to that. Instead of trying, Bill turned to Mulder. "Why don't you marry her?"
Caught off guard, Mulder faced Bill. "I, I should." He looked away to see Charlie watching him.
"She keeps refusing you," Charlie said quietly.
"She says no because she doesn't think she deserves that happiness."
"What?" Mulder and Bill spoke together as though rehearsed.
"She gave away your son. She couldn't keep him safe and she let him go. Now she knows what hell the boy went through. There's not enough penance in the world for what she did. This is her punishment."
"How long have you been profiling?" Mulder asked.
Charlie sort of grinned. "I'm the baby; I spent a lot of time observing them."
"I don't want her punished."
"How persuasive can you be?"
"It took me seven years to get her in my bed." He winced when he realized he'd spoken aloud. Bill was staring at him, mouth open. Charlie shook her head, chuckling slightly.
"And I thought Bill was the stubborn one," he sighed. "Don't give up on her."
Bill looked at him then, almost afraid. "What was in the locket?"
"A picture of William . . . and Emily."
Now it was Bill that winced. "Emily. Does she talk about her much?'
"Never. I think she doesn't want to hurt me or something."
"She wasn't yours?"
Mulder shook his head. "I don't know, but since Scully's never said, I assume not. But it weighs on her, both of her shots at motherhood have been tainted. Hell, you could probably count the amount of time she knew Emily in hours, but she was her daughter and she lost her. Then William . . . Charlie, she knows better than anyone what you're . . . Talk to her."
"Yeah, I need to do that. I know she was such a help with the boys when . . . When Rachel died." He managed to get the words out and seemed more surprised than either of the other two that he had.
Bill decided to change the subject, and turned to Mulder. "You asked her to marry you?"
Mulder nodded. "More than once. I tend to bring it up so often that it's now a running gag," he said morosely.
Bill mused on that a moment. "Maybe . . . maybe you should talk to her, Charlie. I mean, I know a lot of people do it that way, never get married - but they have a kid - "
"William," Mulder interjected.
Bill actually blushed. "Yeah. William. Uh, what's with him, anyway? I mean, I know he went through hell and all but he's a kid. Kids roll with the punches. Why is he . . . so different? It's like he's in his own little world all the time."
Mulder started to bristle at that comment, but then realized by the tone of Bill's voice he wasn't trying to be offensive. He was curious. He wanted to know. He wanted to find some way to connect.
"Have you ever heard of Asperger's Syndrome?" Mulder asked. At Bill's blank look and a shake of his head, Mulder tried again. "There was a movie a while back - 'Martian Child'." Again a shake. "It's a mild form of autism."
Bill frowned. "He doesn't . . . I mean, he can talk, he reacts to people - he's not like Rainman," he objected.
"No, it's a mild form. He has trouble with social situations. He's very bright, and I'm not just saying that because he's my kid," Mulder added with a slight smile. "But he has trouble filtering out what other people just don't notice. He hears everything - the hum of the fan on the heater in the car, the hum of the lights in school. He feels stuff, too, like the tag on the neck of his sweater and it's just as obtrusive as if someone were yelling in his ear. He has to wade through everything to get to what matters."
Bill bit his lip. "I'm going to talk to Matthew about what he said. Tara chewed him out already for . . . well, that retard comment. But Matt has trouble in school, too. We've been told he's learning disabled, borderline dyslexia. He sees a reading tutor twice a week. I think if I explain what William is going through, he might understand it better."
"I'd appreciate it. I know Scully, Dana, would too. She wants to think that's her fault too, but it's not. Maybe if, if she had kept him with her it could have been caught early and he could have gotten some help, but there's always the possibility that the people that killed his foster parents . . ." He couldn't say it, Scully could have been killed to get him. He was sorry anyone had died around his son, but that . . . He looked up and met Charlie's eyes. The younger man nodded, knowing exactly what he was thinking.
Mulder looked back over at Bill. The man seemed to be trying. "So, can we make nice for your mother's sake?"
Bill flushed and looked at Charlie, who was watching him. "Bill, I don't want to hurt Mom. This year is hard, the boys and I are lost. William is feeling his way in a situation he doesn't know, Dana hasn't been able to be with us for years. We need to talk, sometime, not now and not here, but for now, for Mom - "
"Yeah, for Mom and the kids and everything. I never . . . yeah, we need to talk soon."
Charlie entered the kitchen and found Scully sitting alone, staring into a cup. "Dana?"
"Want some tea?"
"You don't drink tea."
"Tara made it for Mom, so I . . . " she shrugged.
"Where are they?"
"They both escaped upstairs. I think Mom's probably lying down. Tara's just staying out of the way. We really blew it didn't we?"
"We? I don't see where you messed up especially."
She cut her eyes at him, but didn't bother to reply. Then she sat up straighter. "Where's Mulder? You didn't leave him out there with Bill?"
"No. He went down to the basement to check on Will and Bill's talking to Matthew."
Scully closed her eyes and shook her head.
"You got a minute?" Charlie asked.
"Sure." She sounded tired, but looked over at him with concern. "I was hoping we'd get some time to talk, but - "
"Yeah, we need to do that, but right now I need to talk to you."
"Of course." She indicated the chair next to her and he took it. She shouldn't have let other concerns keep her from Charlie. He needed her and she'd been too involved in -
"You need to marry Mulder."
She blinked, stunned at the topic. "Excuse me?"
"You need to marry Mulder," he repeated.
"I don't think that's - "
"It is. You need to stop punishing yourself for something you think you did wrong."
"What are you - "
"Don't interrupt. Dana, you can't tell me you don't love Mulder."
"I never said - "
"I said don't interrupt. You're the one that won't give in, and it's because you think you don't deserve that kind of happiness." He held up a finger as she opened her mouth. "You think that you need to do penance for 'giving up' your son. Hey, I've been Catholic long enough to know what guilt looks like. You'd think Mulder was Catholic. But you win in the punishment category. Look at me, you did not give your son up and you did not ruin his life. You sent him away to keep him safe and I believe you accomplished that."
"What - "
"You did. Those people that were after him were more than willing to kill to get him. If he had stayed with you, they would have killed you eventually. You're good, but they were determined. And if you had been killed, that would have killed both Mulder and Will. You do know that don't you? Mulder can't survive without you, he might exist, for the Will's sake, but he wouldn't live. I know, Dana, I know what it would do to him. I'm existing now, and the boys are anchoring me. You kept your family alive by making the hardest decision any mother can make. What you need to do now, is celebrate. Marry the man, be happy, raise your son and for God's sake forgive yourself for doing the right thing! Okay, now you can speak."
Again she only blinked at him. "I'm not - "
He gave her a slight smile and his eyebrow rose.
"Admitting your problem is the first step," his tone was pompous now and she smacked his shoulder with her fist.
"When did you start profiling?"
"Mulder asked the same thing. It's not a bad idea. I'm going to need a job. Think you could get me an interview?"
She ignored that, rising to her feet. She hesitated then. "Charlie?"
"Do you doubt he loves you?"
"Do you love him?"
"Put the poor guy out of his misery and marry him."
She glared at Charlie then and turned toward the door. At the last minute she looked back at him and stuck her tongue out, causing him to grin and vanished out the door. His smile dimmed but didn't disappear.
Scully found Mulder at the snack table, gathering up some things to take down to the basement. She stepped into his path.
"I know what I want for Christmas."
"You're a little late. The big guy is probably passed out from too much of Mrs. Claus's rum punch after a long night."
"You can handle this one."
"I won't get in trouble with the elf union or anything?" he asked with mock concern. She glared at him and he assumed a bland face. "Okay, what did you finally decide you wanted for Christmas?"
"Will you marry me?"
It took him a couple of heartbeats to catch up. He didn't bother to speak, pulling her against him and kissing her. Her mind went blank. She'd been kissing this man for years and enjoying the hell out of it, but now she was understanding the concept of swooning for the first time. He couldn't have been holding back, not all of this time, but ye gods!
When she could finally speak again, leaning against him since her legs were still unsteady, she looked up. "Was that a yes?"
He laughed out loud, as happy as she could ever remember hearing him. "What happened?"
"Uh, well Charlie - "
"Think he'd be my maid of honor?"
"Not best man?"
The sight of him blurred as her eyes filled but she nodded. "When?"
"Are priests all busy today?"
She chuckled then. "No, but we don't have a license. I was thinking June."
"And I was thinking before January. You honestly think I'm going to give you time to change your mind?"
"I'm not going to change my mind, Mulder. I haven't in the last seventeen years, and I've got no reason to now."
"Still, the man has a point. How about New Year's Day?" The voice coming from behind them scared them both, especially when they turned and saw the source - Bill.
He smiled at their joint astonishment. "Think about it, short stuff. We're all here through New Year's weekend. I'm sure you can get the paperwork handled in that time. Make for a nice way to ring in the new year, wouldn't it?"
Scully was the first to recover. She walked the few steps over to her brother and dragged his shoulders down so she could run her hand across the back of his neck. "Who are you - and what have you done with my asshole brother?" she growled.
He batted her hand away. "Hey, I know I'm thick as a brick, but even I can see the guy's not going anywhere. Why not make an honest man out of him?"
She frowned slightly. "Now I know I'm hallucinating," she said, crossing her arms. "What happened to 'he's only going to ruin your life, Dana'?"
Mulder finally recovered enough to step in, astonishing even himself when it was in Bill's defense. "It's pretty revealing when you stand accused of something you weren't even aware of doing, isn't it?" he said in Bill's direction, but with a sympathetic look.
Bill dropped his gaze to the floor. "Yeah. Very revealing. I had no idea - " He drew in a deep breath and looked Mulder in the eye, extending his hand. "I have been an asshole to you for as long as I've known you. I'm not usually like that. I really was raised better than that. Please accept my apology."
Mulder grasped the outstretched hand and shook it firmly. "Accepted. Gratefully."
"So, about this wedding thing . . . " Bill said, changing the subject as only true manly men can do. "Seriously, tomorrow is Friday, the county courthouse is open. Go down there, get the license - "
"Do I get any say in this?" Dana interrupted.
All conversation ground to a halt as she eyed both of the men standing sheepishly before her. After letting them both squirm for a few heartbeats she shrugged. "Oh, all right. It just means I get to hit the after Christmas dress sales a little harder this year."
Mulder reached out his arm and pulled her to his side. "You're sure."
"I really don't care when and I'm not that interested in where. I just want you to be there. And William. And if the rest of the family can see it, who am I to stand in the way?"
"Stand in the way of what?" The three turned and saw Maggie coming down the stairs, a tissue still clutched in her hand. "What's going on now?" she sighed tiredly.
"I think I'll go see what we can do to salvage that dinner we screwed up. I'll be in the kitchen," Bill said and as he passed Mulder he distinctly heard the other man mumble 'chickenshit' close to his ear. Bill just beamed.
"Dana, what is going on?" Maggie asked again, crossing her arms and glowering.
"May I?" Mulder asked his partner. "It's traditional." Scully rolled her eyes but smiled and nodded her approval.
"Maggie, your daughter just proposed to me and I'd really like to have your permission to marry her," he said, taking the older woman's hand in his.
Her eyes grew wide and she seemed to not breathe for a moment. Mulder began to panic but then with tears flowing freely, Maggie grabbed him by the shoulders and hugged him for dear life.
"Yes. Yes, of course! Of course you have my permission," she choked out.
The roast was a little dry, but the gravy covered a multitude of sins. Bill proved that even officers in the Navy could make mashed potatoes and with Tara's help the meal was recovered and dinner was served just an hour and a half behind schedule. Maggie had demanded a full explanation of what had occurred in her absence, but no one seemed willing to go through it all again. Finally, she let the matter drop and settled in to enjoy a very different atmosphere.
Bill was loading the dishwasher when Charlie came in with a load of plates. Bill looked over at his brother. "I loved her, too, Charlie. She was . . . she was the best sister-in-law I could have had."
Charlie bit his lip and nodded but before he could turn away Bill had him in a bear hug. "Let it go, Charlie," he said with a hitch in his voice. "Just let it go."
That's how Mulder found them a few minutes later. Charlie broke away, wiping at his eyes. "So, I guess we have a lot of work ahead of us. A wedding, huh?"
"Yeah, a wedding. In a week," Mulder said. "I was wondering - um, Dana's asked Tara and her mom to be her attendants. Would you two mind - "
Charlie chuckled and looked over at Bill. "Another bachelor party?" he asked.
"Do you think the prosecutor ever decided to drop the charges after the last one?" Bill replied cryptically.
"We're not in jail," Charlie pointed out.
"True, but we've both been at sea," Bill responded.
"Maybe I'll just go stag," Mulder interjected.
"No, no. It's a family affair," Bill objected. "I'm sure we can find a place that will let us in. We might have to go one county over." He clasped his hand on Mulder's shoulder. "We'd be honored to stand up with you."
"Or lean near you, as the case may be," Charlie added.
To be continued . . . after the New Year.