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17.

In the cocoon of his apartment, they sit on his couch and smile down at their hands. Outside, the city noises are muffled beneath a blanket of snow.

“Hold on a minute,” he says. “Stop right there.” He taps her thigh with the back of his hand and rises from the couch. Furrowing her brow, she sinks back into the leather and stares at the half-opened package in her hands. She picks at a piece of tape and looks to her left, where he seems to have disappeared into a room she thought was a closet.

“Mulder?” she calls after a minute.

“Yeah, just— Everything’s all rearranged and I’m not sure where— Ah ha,” he says, maybe a little too pleased with himself. Now she’s really worried.

He re-emerges and shuts the door behind him. “It’s time for a Christmas tradition,” he says. He lost his jacket while he was hunting, apparently, and she feels out of place and shrugs out of her own, folding it over the arm of the couch.

“We don’t have any Christmas traditions,” she says. “Unless our inexplicable inability to avoid spending time together despite my concerted efforts to maintain separate lives counts as a tradition.”

“I don’t know why you bother, Scully. It’s clear you can’t stay away.”

You called me,” she says.

“This time.”

“Well, that was different. Last year—” she stops. “Anyway, we don’t have any traditions, and I’m not sure I want to start whatever you’re proposing,” she says, eyeing the camera in his hand.

“It’s perfectly innocent,” he says. “Everyone takes photos on Christmas morning, opening presents with their families.”

“The middle of the night is hardly Christmas morning,” she says.

“We can slide by on a technicality.”

“Well, we’re not technically family. You can’t have it both ways.”

“You’re no fun sometimes, Scully, you know that?” He smirks and gives himself away.

“I’m just trying to preserve the integrity of your argument. You love it.”

“You’re trying to prove me wrong. You love that.”

“Well, it’s the only thing in life that brings me joy, apparently, so I suppose I do.” She levels her gaze at him.

“I’m sure I could find other ways to bring you joy,” he says evenly. She’s caught off guard, and she opens her mouth and clamps it shut again. She looks down to escape and remembers the point of this exercise.

“So, tradition?” she says, looking up but not quite at him, her gaze unsure and stuck in the middle of his chest. What are they doing? She feels off-kilter; they’re stumbling along together in the dark through uncharted territory. Her eyes flick up and then away. She sighs.

“Well, I’ve seen the Scully photo album,” he says, steadying her effortlessly, like he always does. “Year after year of gap-toothed grins and snowflake pajamas parading their bounty for the camera. I figured you’d want to keep it going.”

“I’m a little overdressed, in that case,” she says, “but all right.” She doesn’t want to push the issue, to veer them clumsily into unpleasant areas—the Mulder family album, the future albums that undoubtedly lie blank between them, last year’s grim-faced photos and the pressed bouquet of flowers she keeps at the top of her closet—and she’s determined not to ruin this the way they always do. They’ve already been shot this evening; surely that’s their fair share of Christmas tragedy for this year at least.

The flash begins to whine. “Go ahead, Scully,” he says. She pulls back the rest of the paper. “You could at least do me the decency of pretending to be excited,” he says, and she grins at him, her earlier enthusiasm fizzing up again, and gives the paper a satisfying tear. The flash blinds her momentarily and she blinks down at her present until her vision clears.

“Oh, Mulder,” she says.

“My turn,” he replies. He hands her the camera and holds his half-unwrapped present beside his face with a cheesy grin. “Come on, Scully,” he says, teeth clenched. She shakes her head and takes the photo, watching him push back the last scraps of paper. He looks up.

“Thank you,” he says.

“Thank you, too,” she replies. They sit facing each other on the couch, stumbling towards a precipice, the silence stretching out between them.

“You’re supposed to be at roll call in an hour and a half,” he says, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.

“I know,” she yawns, slouching further into the couch, curling her legs underneath her body. Her head tips along the back of the couch in the direction of his shoulder and stops just short of it. “I’m starting a new tradition. Merry Christmas, Mulder.”

Comments

mack_the_spoon
Sep. 25th, 2008 05:23 am (UTC)
Awwwww, so sweet! And I think the choice to not tell us what's in the presents is a good one. Maintain the surprise, or something. :-)
meatfight
Sep. 25th, 2008 07:39 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you think it was a good choice. I like the sense of possibility at the end of the episode--those presents could be anything! Except maybe, like, a toaster--and I wanted to keep that open. Plus it's sort of like a special little secret that they share that we can't know about (I think I'm getting into weirder territory here, since they're of course fictional. I should go to sleep).
mack_the_spoon
Sep. 25th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC)
No, I know exactly what you mean! Hee.

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