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Merry Christmas, Walter Skinner

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Walter Skinner sat in his favorite chair, a glass of Scotch in his hand, and contemplated the green thing across from him. Calling it a tree was a kindness, unless Charlie Brown was a role model for you. It was, without a doubt, the ugliest tree he had ever seen. And Mulder would have loved it.

The thought made his hand tighten on the glass. When he had opened the door and saw Scully standing outside with this pathetic excuse for a Christmas tree, he had felt such a sharp jab of pain that only good manners had kept him from slamming the door in her face. That, and the determined look on Scully's face that said she was prepared to shoot the lock off his door if he did.

So he'd done the only sensible thing; he'd stood aside and let Scully and Doggett bring in the tree, had let them set it up in front of the glass doors where the tree had always stood. Where Mulder would have put it. But he was damned if he was going to decorate the thing.

He drained the glass and rose to get another drink. As he stood at the sideboard, pouring the whisky into the glass, he glanced up and caught the reflection of the tree in the glass cabinet doors. And for a moment, it was as if Mulder was standing behind him, murmuring in his ear.

*It's not such a bad tree. And it needs us more than the others.*

"I am *not* decorating the damn tree, Mulder," he growled, slamming the stopper back into the bottle. "It's an ugly tree, and I'm not
doing it."

It took him an hour to find the damn box of ornaments, stashed away in the spare room behind the boxes filled with Mulder's books and magazines. Cursing under his breath, he lugged it downstairs and set it on the floor beside the tree. It took another two hours to get the lights and garlands and ornaments hung on the tree, especially since he had to be careful when placing them so that the pathetic thing didn't tip over. He steadfastly refused to think that he was losing his mind as he set the star on top of the tree and plugged it in.

He stepped back and looked it over critically. Well, Martha Stewart wouldn't feature it in her books, but it wasn't such a bad tree after all. He turned off all the lights except for the tree, then lay down on the couch and stared at it until he fell asleep.

Someone else was in the apartment.

Skinner jerked awake, instantly aware of the presence of another person. He sat up and cautiously looked around, trying to gauge the extent of the threat and discover where the intruder was.

Which turned out to be easy to determine. He was sitting under the tree, with that familiar half-smile on his face.

"Mulder?" he whispered. This had to be a dream, or too much alcohol, he thought. It couldn't be real.

Mulder dipped his head slightly to one side and the smile widened. "Merry Christmas, Walter."

He reached out with one hand and found that, whatever he was, the man wasn't a ghost. "How…?"

Mulder nodded his head in the direction of the tree. "I followed the star home."

Behind him, the lights twinkled brightly and the star glowed. And as Skinner slid off the couch to take Mulder in his arms, he glanced at the tree and decided that it was the most beautiful Christmas tree ever.