The Quality of Light

By Seema

Disclaimer: Characters belong to Chris Carter and 1013 -- not me.

Author's note: Thanks to jemima for inadvertently triggering the idea and Lori for putting it all in motion. Set sometime in season 7. Written for seramercury for the holiday ficathon.


Mulder stepped out of the tool shed, carefully avoiding the sagging cement steps. Ahead, he could see Scully, her back turned to him as she stared out across the road at the house decorated festively in Christmas lights, including what he considered an enormously tacky blow-up chimney with a Santa Claus popping out of it every minute or so. Two children were outside, watching their father putting up a wreath on the front door. Scully's shoulders slumped slightly and instinctively, Mulder knew what she was thinking. He took a deep breath and quickened his pace.

"I'm done here," he said, and then, already knowing the answer, he continued, "What about you?"

"There is no X-File here, Mulder," Scully said. She didn't look at him. "Thomas Kinkirk was most certainly not abducted by aliens."

"There is evidence. Kinkirk is very clear on what happened to him."

Scully pointed towards their rental car -- a Ford Taurus, of course -- and started walking in that direction. "Mulder, Kinkirk says he went to bed one night, woke up to find a succubus sitting on his chest. He was unable to speak or move. Fill in the blanks yourself."

"The succubus did unspeakably naughty things to Kinkirk?" Mulder flashed her what he considered his most disarming smile. Scully stared at him impassively as she rounded the car to the driver's side.

"No, Mulder." The edge in her voice was unmistakable. "What we've got here is a fading artist with an overactive imagination. Kinkirk is losing sales and so he's trying to boost his standing in the Carmel art community by painting pictures of little green--"


She ignored him. "-- men, and claming he's only translating his alien abduction experiences into artistic expression."

"You have to admit, Scully, Kinkirk does amazing things with light."

"Be that as it may, he was not abducted by aliens and I resent him using his influence to get us down here." Scully yanked open the car door and put the key in the ignition even before Mulder slid into the seat next to hers. "It's hard to live an anonymous life on the run when you make yourself available to every single crackpot on the Internet."

"Carmel is lovely this time of year," Mulder said, ignoring her comment. "You've been saying you were tired of one stop sign towns. And I thought you liked Kinkirk's art, would appreciate the chance to meet him in person." He wiggled his eyebrows at her.

She scowled at him. "And when did you begin to appreciate art that had nothing to do with nudity?"

"You wound me, Scully." Mulder settled back as Scully carefully maneuvered the car into traffic. "Kinkirk has done more advancing luminism than anyone else this century. And just to prove I do have an appreciation for the fine arts, I can tell you Kinkirk uses many layers of paint, carving and shaping the pigments. Then through the use of carefully modulated color, frequent glazing, and the blending of those interrelated layers, his paintings take on the appearance of light." He smirked. "Even you have to agree his techniques are out of this world, Scully."

Scully sighed. "Okay," she said quietly, putting her hand to her forehead. "You win." She closed her eyes, took a deep breath. "Is it going to be like this until the end of the world, Mulder? You, me, running after aliens?"

Mulder shrugged and turned out the window to watch the landscape pass. House after house decorated for the holidays, lights ablaze in all the windows, and occasionally, he'd see someone enter a house, loaded down with packages. He and Scully hadn't exchanged gifts on Christmas since before he'd been abducted. When he'd returned, Christmas had come and gone, in fact, just a couple of months after Scully had buried him. For good, or so she'd thought. The following Christmas, William's first, he had been hiding out in a trailer in Arizona with Gibson Praise, not daring to send anything to Scully or William for fear of being found out.

"We should get a Christmas tree," Mulder said.

Scully stared at him and in her distraction, nearly side-swiped a car, earning her an irritated honk from the other driver.

"Woman, keep your eyes on the road."

"A tree? And where in our hotel room do you propose to put a tree?"

"That corner next to the armchair. With some creative rearranging of the wall and the dresser, I might be able to get a small tree to fit."

Scully shook her head and slowed the car as the signal turned yellow. "I'm not really in the Christmas mood, Mulder."

"You can't pretend the holiday doesn't exist."

"No, it's very hard to do that, all with the lights, and the endless carols, and the shopping centers mobbed." Scully's voice cracked slightly. "But I don't suppose that's any different than you deciding at the last minute that we had to come to Carmel, to meet this artist who claims to have been abducted--"

"*Was*. His experiences were very much in line--"

"With every other abductee story we've heard over the last twelve years. Mulder, it's a day, like any other day."

"I don't see you going out of your way to avoid Labor Day."

"It's not the same thing and you know it." Scully arched her eyebrow, and she pressed her lips together in a straight line. Mulder knew that look very well, but he couldn't resist. There were days when she was so closed off to him, when he felt as if he was watching a mere shadow of the woman who'd been his partner in more ways than he could have every imagined, and then there were other days when she was Scully, bright-eyed and argumentative. Sometimes, he thought, he could take the silent treatment better if she would just come out and say what she'd been holding back.

"It's our twelfth Christmas together," he said quietly.

"Eleventh," she said just as he knew she would. "You missed one."

"I'm sorry about that." He inhaled sharply. He never talked about Arizona, and she had long stopped asking questions. Maybe it was because they knew the truth now, that nothing could stop what was coming, and what happened in the past no longer mattered. Still, he hated speculation, and he hated that he had to assume these things about the woman who shared his bed, his life. "Wherever William is, he's fine, Scully." Her grip tightened on the steering wheel, and he thought he could see the blood drain from her knuckles.

"It doesn't make it any easier."

"I know."

Scully turned into the hotel parking lot and looked down at her hands. Mulder stared straight ahead. The street lights bathed the parking lot in garish yellow, giving the off-white facade of the hotel an eerie glow. The parking lot was nearly empty. He thought briefly about the possibility of saying hell with it, of pulling out the credit card Doggett had arranged for him, and purchasing two one-way tickets to D.C. They could go back, and while they could never get back what they'd lost, maybe it was time to try to live something close to a normal life. It'd be dangerous for him, but for Scully he'd do it.

"I miss him too," Mulder said. The words surprised him and Scully looked startled and he couldn't blame her; he rarely brought up William, and over the last year or so, they'd stop talking about him entirely. It was so much they *denied* William's existence, more they didn't acknowledge him anymore. Looking at Scully now, Mulder could see it wasn't fair to Scully. "I do think about him, Scully."

"He's your son," she said quietly.

"But not in the way he's *your* son. As a father, I was pretty lousy. Didn't even stick around for the first week." He stared pensively out the window at the convenience store on the corner. He'd been there half a dozen times already in the less than twenty-four they'd been in Carmel, buying all sorts of things with dubious nutritional value. Scully ate none of it.

"Mulder." Scully's tone was careful, deliberate. She turned towards him. "I don't blame you."

He bit his lip, swallowed hard. "No?"

"No." She reached across and covered his hands with hers. Her touch was warm, soft, comforting, and even after all these years, still electric. "I was angry at first, missed you desperately, and wanted you to be there for all of the firsts, to see and experience what I was with William. I wanted you to be with me so we could raise our son together. And knowing what it meant for you, I knew I was being selfish, putting my own needs ahead of yours. It's why I asked you to come that time, even though I knew how dangerous it would be for you. I needed you, to see you, to see you hold William."


She held up a hand, and he fell silent.

"But in a more rational light, I realized," she said matter-of-factly, "if you hadn't left us, it's possible I would have lost you both and that would have been unbearable."

"It doesn't change the fact I wasn't there for you, that I considered my own safety paramount to that of our child. I don't know how to make that up to you, Scully." He shrugged helplessly. "So when Kinkirk posted his story on the web, I took the chance meeting him would give you something to look forward to, something to think about. At the very least, give you something to argue with me about."

To Mulder's surprise, Scully's lips turned upwards into a faint semblance of a smile, but then her expression turned pensive. "I found Emily at Christmas, and after she died, I never imagined I'd get a second chance to feel what it meant to be a mother, and then William, I never--" she closed her eyes. "We've both gotten so little in the way of gifts or miracles, so maybe William was always an impossible dream, that he was never meant to be."

"I don't believe that."

"I have to." The firmness in Scully's tone belied the expression on her face. Mulder reached over and gently rubbed the damp skin just below her eyes with his thumb. "I don't feel like celebrating this year, Mulder, but maybe next year."

"Okay," he said. He carefully unbuckled his seatbelt and then reached across to unfasten hers. He brushed his fingers lightly against the curve of her jaw. She offered him a sad smile, and he took the opportunity to kiss her. "Thank you," he said.


"For coming out to talk to Kinkirk with me, for saying what you did, but most of all, being my conscience, my truth."

"And you're mine," Scully answered, echoing words she'd told him years previously. For the moment, Mulder was transported back to a time when it seemed as there was nothing more complicated to deal with than scary monsters and dead men walking.
He got out of the car and slammed the door. In the distance, he could see the twinkling lights adorning a rooftop and the bright red-and-white Santa Claus figure standing next to a chimney. He walked around the car to where Scully was standing, her hands jammed deep into the pockets of her black wool overcoat.

"It's not too late to catch a red-eye to D.C.," he said quietly. "If that's what you want. I promise. No aliens, no abductees, no double agents, nothing. Just you, me, going home. If that's what you want, Scully, I'll make it happen."

"What about Kinkirk? I think he's expecting you back tomorrow."

Mulder draped his arm loosely around Scully's shoulders. "It's Christmas Eve, Scully." He gestured towards the parking lot. "The end of the world as we know may be on its way, and future generations may never get to discuss Kinkirk's light refractory techniques, but even though we know what's coming, that doesn't mean we can't be like everyone else in the world and spend time with the ones we love instead of a painter with abduction fantasies. I can't give you back what you've lost, Scully, or the life you've given up. But I'm telling you now that if you say no more X-Files, no more Internet chat rooms, and you want to go back, then we'll do that. We'll do it right now. I mean it." He gazed at her intently. "I want to make it right for you, Scully."

She stared at him, opened her mouth, and then closed it again. He reached out, wrapped his arms around her, and she pressed her face against his chest. He never would stop marveling at just how well they fit together. He could feel her breathing against him, gentle and even, and he felt oddly comforted by it. He thought about what it would feel like to get on an airplane, to fly into Dulles, and take the chance of seeing Skinner, Doggett, and Reyes again.

"Scully?" His voice cracked ever so slightly.

"No. I'm not going to take the chance of letting *them* find you." And then with a smile, added, "Besides, I'm not leaving without the signed original Kinkirk painting you promised me." She knit her fingers in with his and pulled slightly away. "We stay here." She tipped her head towards the hotel and smiled at him. "Merry Christmas after all, Mulder."

He pulled her back towards him, tightened his grip around her shoulders. The lights blinked in and out in a blurry cacophony of color, and then he let Scully pull him towards the door leading into their room.

~ the end

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