Title: Christmas Present, 2003
Email address: email@example.com
Summary: With Mulder and Skinner settled in domestic bliss, Teena Mulder can still be a pain in the butt.
Disclaimers: The characters were originally thought up and fleshed out by CC, a bunch of screenwriters, and the actors.
Notes: A thank you to Xanthe for two quickie beta readings and a light-hearted threat.
Christmas Present, 2003
It had taken Walter an hour of searching, but he finally found a cache of empty boxes in a storage closet. He and Mulder had been very good about purchasing the gifts for friends and his relatives, but getting them ready for the post office was another matter completely. What were foremost in his mind at the moment was where the hell Mulder had hidden the wrapping paper and where the hell had he taken off to at this hour of the morning?
Hearing the blast of a car horn Walter crossed to one of the front bedrooms and peered out the window to see a very large evergreen sticking out of the lavender Mercedes' trunk. He always had the impression Mulder had come from money, just from the way he wore his suits, and this big house and oddly custom-colored car made him wonder exactly how much money. Hurrying down the stairs, he paused to grab his jacket from the hall closet and slip on a pair of heavy gloves.
It was definitely cold out, and his breath hung in the air as he approached the car where Mulder was fiddling with the cord that held the top of the trunk down. The knot was untied and the lid flew up as he arrived car-side. He reached in between the branches and got a good hold on the tree but was stopped from yanking it out by a hand on his shoulder.
"Be gentle," Mulder warned him. "It's alive."
"You bought a live tree?" His ex-subordinate obviously had no idea what a pain in the butt this was going to turn out to be. He had done it once before and had been left with a bare stick by the time it could be planted.
"I have the instructions, we're just not supposed to shock it."
If being dug up, piled on a truck and carted to a lot, set out in the cold mud, driven around the neighborhood, and then stuck in a heated house wouldn't be shock enough to kill it, he didn't think a little manhandling would hurt. "Do you have anything big enough to put it in?"
"Oh, ye of little faith," Mulder laughed at him and got a large plastic bucket out of the back seat.
"Oh, ye of the big green tree, ye'd better make a path of newspapers or ye'll be cleaning the floor." He hoisted the fir and left it leaning against the side of the house while he went in to supervise. After all, he had been a big, bad AD. Supervising was what he was good at.
After convincing Mulder that, although it would be very pretty, setting up next to the fireplace would not be a good idea, they put the bucket near the window and coerced the tree to remain upright in it. The fragrance of pine lent the room the special feeling he always associated with the season, and he snaked an arm around Mulder's waist and gave him a squeeze.
"I like a tree this time of year, how come you never put one up?"
"I'm Jewish" his arm-full shrugged.
"I don't suppose you have anything to decorate it with?"
"I bought some cranberries and popcorn, we can string them and the put them out for the birds when we take the tree down," Mulder smiled, hopefully.
"That's a good idea, we should be ready by next Christmas."
"It won't take that long," the Mulder laughed, and headed for the kitchen.
"Have you ever tried to string popcorn?" He had a premonition that they'd be eating it for lunch.
Mulder propped his feet up on the coffee table and thread another needle. The white sheet, artfully wrapped around the base of the tree to cover the bucket, almost gave the impression of snow if he squinted hard enough. Walter had actually volunteered to make a late run to the store for more bags of cranberries after he had explained he didn't want to embarrass the fir by putting anything inorganic on it. He found himself smiling, broadsided again by the reality of being happy.
Another piece of popcorn broke as he tried to pierce it, and he tossed it into the bowl of rejects. They had started off by eating all the ones that crumbled, but after a while the stuff wasn't very tempting any more. There was a chill settling in the room, but he didn't light the fire. Walter had completely taken over the tasks of making sure the tinderbox was filled and the grate was ready, and seemed to regard anything to do with the fireplace as his contribution to seeing they were comfortable. After the mild heart attack that led Skinner from medical leave to early retirement and eventually to him, Walter did everything in his power to prove that the aftereffects were no more than a doctor's orders to take a children's strength aspirin every morning.
Mulder glanced at his watch, and got up to take the last batch of cookies out of the oven. He was very content that his house had finally turned into a home once Skinner had tracked him down and moved in, and had even gotten used to a certain amount of his clutter being put away on a regular basis. He set the cookies out to cool, and noted the large platter on the table was already significantly depleted. He wondered when he had become so domestic and decided that the next time he was near a doctor he'd have his testosterone levels checked.
The doorbell sounded, and he hurried to the front hall, wondering who it could be at this time of the evening, and opened the door to find his mother standing on the threshold. He felt his mouth drop open, and shut it quickly, resigned to the inevitable.
"Mom, you're supposed to be dead. I wish you'd stop popping in, you'll freak Walter out if he sees you." He sighed, put on his polite face, and conducted her into the living room. "Excuse the mess, but we're trimming the tree. Can I get you anything? I've just baked some cookies...."
"A scotch would go down well," Teena told him, seating herself in the overstuffed wingback. "It helps ward off the cold."
"I wouldn't have thought cold would be something you'd have to worry about," he mumbled as he poured the drink. He heard the front door open. He was glad of that, now he wouldn't have to usurp Walter's authority over the fireplace. Footsteps retreated into the kitchen before his lover made his appearance.
"I'm back," Walter announced. "The shopkeeper must have thought I was an axe murderer, she kept staring at my hands." Cranberry-red stained fingertips were wiggled at him before the man went over to light the fire.
Mulder stared at Walter, then his mother, then Walter, then his mother, then Walter....
"He can't see me," his mother informed him in a tone that reminded him she had never thought he was very quick.
Mulder pointed at her, then the stairs, and showed her how ill mannered he really could be by preceding her to the spare bedroom. He wondered what it was she wanted to talk to him about but knew he'd find out as soon as they were alone. Clean sheets were already on the beds, ready for company, but he didn't think she'd use them.
She sat on one of the beds while he leaned against the wall. "I wanted to talk to you about Walter."
"What about Walter?"
"How is his heath?"
"It's fine, mom, maybe a little hyper-tension." He abandoned the wall and sat beside her. "What's this all about? Walter's as healthy as a horse."
"I hate to say this dear, but it doesn't seem like you know how to take very good care of him. Now your father, god rest his soul, didn't have a sick day in his life until...."
He couldn't believe this. "Mom, he was an alcoholic. The booze probably killed any germ that came near him."
"He never went into the hospital, you must admit that. He was the picture of health for a man of his age. You really should pay more attention, that's all I'm telling you."
He simmered for a minute but refused to let his temper get the better of him. "All right, mother, I'll try." He knew that in order to pay any more attention to his lover he'd have to arrange to be grafted to him, but he was willing to say anything at this point to avoid an argument. "Being dead sure doesn't improve your memory much, does it?" he muttered under his breath.
She smiled at him, and he cringed when her hand went through his leg during an attempted pat as she began losing substance. "Well, you just have a nice holiday. I've put a tree up once or twice myself. It keeps the neighbors from speculating."
"I'm living with a man, Mom. The neighbors can't stop themselves from speculating."
"Don't talk back to your mother," she warned, before fading away completely.
"What's with you?" Walter asked, closing the bedroom door behind him. "You've been in a sulk all evening."
"No, I haven't," he defended himself. "I thought I was being quite amiable, considering my mother accused me of not taking the correct care of you."
"She did, did she?" There was laughter in the deep voice, and he didn't think it was at all humorous. "And did you set her straight?"
"It's not funny, Walter. My mother appeared and gave me hell because you have high blood pressure."
"Your mother, huh?" He got the hug he needed, and stood in the strong arms.
"Yeah. She...appears sometimes." He waited for the disbelief.
"Don't let it get to you, she probably just thinks she's the ghost of Christmas Present."
"Uh...Walter...my dead mother shows up on occasion," he reiterated.
"Stop that, you're just being silly," Walter told him, dismissing the subject by giving him a gentle shake. "Now, let me in on a secret and tell me where you've hidden the wrapping paper."
"What wrapping paper?" Mulder asked, feeling a little less at sea now he was sure Walter didn't really believe in ghosts, apparitions, or Teena Mulder.
"Christmas paper, the stuff that goes on boxes for presents."
"Oh, shit," he mumbled, "I didn't get any."
"Don't you have any from last year?" There was a pleading look in the brown eyes.
"Last year was not a gift sort of year for me. There may be some in the attic," he theorized. There had been stuff up there when he had bought the place. Maybe there was wrapping paper.
"Then lead on, McDuff."
They reached the top of the narrow staircase and Mulder fumbled for the chain of the overhead bulb.
"You know, it is kind of creepy up here with that one little light and the wind howling around outside." Walter confided.
"Don't start," he warned, searching for any bag with long tubes of paper sticking out.
"Is that big old sea chest over in the corner yours, or was it here when you moved in?"
"It was here, I haven't opened it because there isn't a key, and if you go near it I will hit you over the head with something."
"You haven't opened it in all this time? Aren't you curious?"
"No, and I'm definitely not curious right now, and if you don't get away from it...." He was seriously startled when he found what they were looking for, but picked up the bag. "Let's go, we can sort through this downstairs."
"I don't know if I'll be able to sleep tonight, who knows what's inside this thing?" Walter taunted, knocking on the chest. It was getting on Mulder's nerves.
"Well, you can't open it now because you'll have to break into it. There's probably nothing more interesting than a dead body, and I wish I hadn't said that, so let's get out of here."
Walter experimentally thumped on the wood again and grinned at him.
"You can stay up here, or come down and wrap the damned presents, but I'm going downstairs, and I'm gonna turn off this light." The speed with which that big body could move never failed to amaze him.
"You're not leaving me alone in the dark with that thing." Walter ordained.
"What has gotten into you? You've been up here before and never gave that thing a second thought. You've even sat on it."
"Kinda gives you chills, doesn't it?"
"Will you stop?" he demanded and hurried down the steps as quickly as he could. He felt a lot happier when he was back in the bedroom.
There wasn't a lot of seasonal paper, but he found some that didn't have 'happy birthday' printed on it and counted it as a victory. Walter brought the presents that weren't for each other in from the spare room where they were keeping them all. They wrapped, tied ribbons, and made out little cards until the grandfather clock chimed one-thirty. With any luck they'd make it to the post office before the 24th.
"Boy, I'm tired," Mulder yawned, and the hand that was investigating the back seam of his jeans paused, and then retreated.
He heard answering yawn from behind him. "Bed," Walter agreed, and beat him into the bathroom.
Mulder was having a horrible dream, and it revolved around the locked chest upstairs. He couldn't get it open, but knew that it was very important that he do so. There was a pounding coming from inside, but it was getting fainter. A crowbar appeared in his hands and he smashed the lock, but when he got the lid open it was too late, and he stood in horror looking at Walter's blue tinged face while the sightless eyes stared accusingly. 'I told you you didn't know how to take care of him,' his mother chided. He woke choking, and bolted from the bed, barely making it into the bathroom to throw up in the sink. His hands were shaking so badly he could barely turn on the water to rinse his mouth.
"Mulder? Are you all...I guess you're not." Walter supported him and ran the tap. "You're not coming down with something, are you?" Large hands tidied him up and felt his forehead. "I don't think you have a fever."
He shook his head weakly, "Nightmare," he explained.
"Must have been a doozy. Here, drink some water." The glass was held for him and he sipped out of it. "Want to tell me about it?"
"It was that damned chest, and you were in it and I couldn't get you out in time, and mom just stood there and told me...,"
"It's okay," Walter soothed, rocking him in his arms. "I'm right here. And my chest is just fine."
"But you were dead." He felt foolish wiping tears from his eyes, but they kept coming whether he wanted them to or not.
"Well, I'm not dead now. No deity would be dumb enough to let something like that happen, not knowing it would have to answer to you."
A wet chuckle escaped him, and he buried his face in the warm neck.
"Come back to bed, let me just hold you for a while."
It was an offer he couldn't refuse, and gratefully climbed back under the covers that still retained a bit of their body heat. As stealthily as he could he slid his hand into the draw of his night table and found the reassuring shape of the bottle that contained nitroglycerine tablets. He had little stashes of them all over the house for easy access. Just in case. He nestled against the solid body and lay with his ear over the reassuringly strong and steady heartbeat.
"I shouldn't have freaked you out upstairs, I'm sorry. No more ghost stories before bedtime for you, lover. Your years of chasing ghosts are over."
Mulder snorted at that, but the gentle hand stoking his hair was lulling and the deep voice resonated softly as it crooned apologetically to him. He snuggled contentedly. After all these years he had Walter and that was all that mattered. He also had a portable defibrillator and updated CPR training. Just in case. Yes, he had Walter and he was determined to keep him. His mother had always had a tendency to underestimate him. He smiled and drifted off to a much more pleasant dream.
Archived: December 30, 2001