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'Twas the Night Before Christmas

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The apartment was quiet as Mulder entered and locked the door. He set down his suitcase in the hallway and reset the security system, fighting to control the surge of disappointment. It had been a long day. Hell, it had been a long week. They had been on loan to VCU for a series of ritualistic murders in Utah, which they had solved the previous day. Scully had gone on to join her family in California for her niece's first Christmas, while he had struggled to get back to DC through weather delays and overcrowded flights. Hours spent waiting in the airport on one of the busiest travel days of the year had done little to change his loathing for this holiday. Trapped with the mindless droning of the same synthesized Christmas music that he seemed to have heard in an endless loop since Halloween, his mind had fastened on one thought to keep him sane - home and Walter. And now he was home. And it was really too much to expect that Walter would still be awake at this hour - it must be close to midnight by now - and the man had spent an equally long day at the office, and he was glad that Walter was sleeping soundly upstairs in their bed but still… He sighed and headed towards the stairs, not bothering to turn on any lights, suitcase in hand.

It was the reflection of shifting colors on the wall that caught his attention and made him glance toward the living room.

What on earth -

He set down the suitcase and, curiosity peaked, walked toward the living room, pausing in the doorway in surprise. When he had left home a week ago, the living room had looked like it usually did. Now the room was transformed, decorated with garlands and ribbons and candles. A large tree stood in one corner, its base surrounded by brightly colored packages, its colorful lights blinking and casting a multicolored shadow onto the face of the man sitting nearby.

Mulder's face softened and he moved closer. Walter Skinner was leaning back in his favorite chair, his head cushioned against the back, a colorful plaid afghan spread over his lap. His glasses were gone and his face looked younger and untroubled as he slept. Something was clutched in one hand and Mulder knelt by the chair to gently remove it. It was a Christmas stocking - unlabeled, but the picture on it showed a large brown fox curled up under a Christmas tree. Mulder felt a lump in his throat and a tear splashed onto the hand that stirred, groping for its lost treasure.

"Shhh," Mulder said softly, taking the hand in his and moving up to perch on the arm of the chair. "It's okay."

"Fox?" Sleepy brown eyes blinked open. "When did you get home?" He struggled to sit up.

"A few minutes ago." He leaned over to kiss his lover's lips gently. "Sorry to wake you - you were sleeping so peacefully."

"'Sokay." Skinner stretched, shaking his head to wake up more fully. "Need to go up to bed anyway. You must be exhausted from traveling. Besides," Skinner said with a twinkling smile, "if you don't go to bed, Santa won't leave you any presents."

"He already has," Mulder said softly. "Just look what I found waiting under the tree."

And, as his lover's face lit up with something more than just the reflected glow off the lights, and as his lover pulled him down into his arms for a genuine welcome-home kiss, Mulder had the fleeting thought that this Home for the Holidays stuff might not be so bad after all.

Behind them, the mantle clock chimed midnight and outside the snow began to fall.

"Merry Christmas, Walter."

"Merry Christmas, Fox. Welcome home."

Home. He thought he could get used to that idea.

The End