Title: Tokens of the Wise
Category: Christmas Vignette, Mulder/Scully, mild angst. Timeline: Post The Truth
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were.
Beta thanks to Sallie-above and beyond the call of duty.
Author's Notes at the end.
Teena Mulder would choose a watch that no generic band would fit, Scully thought with despair. The row of gleaming metal bands inside the jeweler's case seemed to mock her. Mulder's wristwatch was a Smith-Martin; something affordable in years past, but now was one of the most expensive timepieces on the market. The paltry sum in her pocket was nowhere near the amount it would take to purchase even the cheapest of them.
The plastic salesman inside the upscale jewelry store was polite with her inquiries, but one look at her modest clothing told him she was in no position to purchase anything from him. The moment a client with a designer suit and an expensive dye-job strolled in, he vanished.
As she left the mall, Scully silently cursed Mulder's mother, their appalling circumstances, and her inability to do anything about it. Trying to replace the broken watchband as a Christmas present was turning out to be a pipedream.
Mulder told her that he'd had the watch for close to twenty years, a personal gift from his mother when he graduated from the academy. It had survived corrosion by alien slime, blood sucking vampires, and narrowly escaped being abducted with him.
Like her cross, it had been left behind to be discovered by those who loved him. Skinner had stumbled onto it as it lay among the rocks and dead pine needles that covered the cold ground in Bellefleur. It was also the only thing Skinner had been able to bring back with him from Oregon, and he'd turned it over to her.
"It was all I could find," he'd whispered in her hospital room.
"I'll keep it until he gets back," she'd answered with cool conviction.
Skinner had bowed his head in shame. "Yes, just until he gets back."
She'd held onto that watch, never letting it leave her sight. She'd had to remove several links to accommodate her small wrist; the interlocking clasp circling all the way around the band to reach the other side of the watch face. Even then, it dangled loosely about her wrist. The extra links were wrapped in a handkerchief and placed inside a box to wait in dark silence for him to return.
When he came back, she placed it on his wrist and buried it with his lifeless body. It was still working when he was exhumed three months later.
"Hey, Scully," he'd joked. "I'm just like my watch. 'Takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'."
She hadn't seen the humor.
In the end she realized the watch had come to mean more to her than to Mulder. She wanted to save it. Somehow saving it meant they'd be all right; that they'd stay alive a little longer. They could stay free.
As she made her way back to their cheap hotel, an idea struck her. With new purpose, she passed their building and stopped in front of one two blocks down.
The pawn shop's yellow lights winked merrily in the gloom. It would only be for a little while, she told herself. They could buy it back later.
Absently, Mulder fingered the small box inside his pocket as he walked briskly across the street. It wasn't safe to be out in public for very long, even among the holiday crowds of a large city.
It was Christmas Eve, and he'd finally managed to secure Scully a gift. Because they were always together, he knew it would be impossible to purchase one without her knowing about it. When she'd suggested they split up briefly so that one could shop for the other, he'd jumped at the chance.
"Just for a little while," she'd said. "I'd like to surprise you."
It had been a good idea at the time, but the longer he looked for something special, the less likely he thought he'd find it
The real problem was that he couldn't afford to buy her much of a Christmas gift. They were just scraping by as it was and simply couldn't spare the extra cash. If the Gunmen had been alive, they could have smuggled some of Mulder's inheritance out of the bank without raising suspicion.
They weren't alive, of course, and he lacked their extraordinary expertise at subterfuge. His modest fortune was left to rot away in a New Hampshire vault, quietly earning interest for a man who could never spend it.
Irony, thy name is Mulder.
Occasionally, Skinner was able to get away without being followed, and he gave them what money he could. Like everyone else they knew, he was watched too closely by 'them' for it to be very often. Every time he met with them on some back road or inside a dingy motel room in a godforsaken small town, he said the same thing.
"I know it's not much..."
"It's plenty, sir. Thank you."
"Do you need anything else? Food, medical supplies?" More often than not, he was looking at Scully when he asked. Mulder also suspected Skinner slipped Scully extra cash when he wasn't looking.
"No, sir. We have enough."
Neither believed the thin lie, but they let it go to spare the other embarrassment. After a few minutes of inane small talk, Skinner would leave as quickly as he'd come.
His brief visits were some of the few bright moments Mulder and Scully had shared. Even though they looked forward to seeing him, ultimately they were left with a feeling of emptiness. Skinner was a reminder of their past lives and the people they'd left behind.
Scully would retreat from him emotionally for hours after a visit, and he'd find her fingering her gold cross with absent concentration.
Her cross was her talisman, having journeyed with her through years of harrowing X-Files encounters. No matter how many times it was nearly lost, somehow it managed to find its way back around her neck.
He'd kept it for her during her abduction and returned it when she'd come back. She'd given it to Emily, her only daughter, but it reappeared when Emily's coffin was found to contain nothing but the necklace and sand. He'd also retrieved it when she was abducted again and taken to Antarctica.
Over the years, the cross had become the physical embodiment of his partner, and he'd let it become as important to him as it clearly was to her. Now, she never took it off, not even in bed, an issue he liked to bring up to tease her about.
"I'll take it off when you take that watch off," she'd sniff.
"Now wait just a minute-"
She usually shut him up by kissing him and more, making him forget all about it in lieu of the matter at hand.
He finally stopped the teasing one night when she answered him with something other than her usual retort.
"We have so little. I don't think I can stand to lose anything else."
The quiet pain he'd heard in her voice had cut into his soul. She seldom allowed her true feelings about their situation to show through, and he knew this was a rare glimpse into her heart.
They had lost more than any two people should. They'd lost too many humans they loved to the causes of nameless, faceless men inside governmental conspiracies.
And William. He couldn't stand to think about William.
Loss was the reason he'd purchased her this particular gift. He noticed the clasp on the chain that held her cross was broken. She'd pieced it together using some ugly type of black wiring and kept it at the back of her neck so it wouldn't be seen.
Something about the simple act of her repairing it without a comment touched him deeply. In all the time they'd be on the run, Scully had never asked for anything for herself. She'd endured a seemingly endless series of dumpy motels, bad food, and fly-by-night jobs, all without a single complaint. She deserved something special.
The idea to replace the broken gold chain was one that wouldn't leave him alone. He didn't want to buy something cheap and turn her neck green; she might as well wear the old one if that occurred.
He toyed with the idea of stealing one, but the consequences if he were caught would be too great.
As he was returning from the stores in defeat, a street vendor with the proverbial store-in-a-suitcase accosted him.
"Hey mister, you need a Christmas gift for the little lady in your life?"
"No, no thanks." Mulder tried to dodge him, but the man was persistent.
"Ah come on. I'll bet I have something you'd want."
The hustler opened his case and a row of gold chains twinkled out from a cheap black velvet interior. The sight made Mulder pause and he reached forward to finger a pretty box-chain that he thought would be perfect for Scully's cross.
"See, I knew I'd have something you want. Real pretty, huh?"
Mulder knew the necklaces were probably hot and that the huckster was trying to unload them quickly, but he doubted he'd have enough cash to bargain with him.
"Yeah, but I don't think I have enough to buy one."
"Wait a minute, maybe we can work something out."
"Yeah. If you ain't got cash, you got somethin' to trade?"
A slow smile spread across Mulder's face. "You got a box to put it in?"
Scully was already in their room when he got back. He knocked with three short raps; their agreed upon signal. She answered with two long knocks, letting him know all was well within.
When he opened the door, he found their dank little room had been transformed into a warm, almost festive place. Several small candles were lit and scattered around. Aluminum foil had been shaped into stars, crumpled into balls and hung around to reflect the candlelight. Snowflakes cut out of white paper were taped to the grimy windows.
Their linoleum dining table was covered with a sheet and a meager, but great-smelling Christmas dinner was placed on top. She'd done a terrific job in spite of their limited funds.
"Hey," he said and kissed her sweetly.
He reached behind him and dragged a small, rather thin Christmas tree through the door before closing and locking it securely.
"Where did you get this?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.
"A nice man in a tree lot gave it to me. Actually, he was trying to get rid of the rest of his trees and this was the best he had left."
"How nice of him," she said dryly, but there was humor underneath the sarcasm.
"AND," he said whipping a package of microwave popcorn out of his pocket," we can put this on it for decoration. Just like when we were kids."
"Mulder, just how were you planning on doing that? We don't have any needles or thread to string it."
"Oh." Clearly he'd forgotten the most important part. Didn't she have a small sewing kit somewhere?
"Put that tree over in the corner and sit down. Dinner is ready."
He propped the tree against the wall and used an armchair to keep it from falling over.
They ate dinner slowly, discussing their individual adventures in the crowded malls. Both had decided that Christmas shopping was far overrated and not missed by either of them.
Scully was getting up to clear the dishes when the urge to grab her became too great. Pulling her down into his lap, he kissed her surprised mouth.
"Have I told you lately how much I love you Scully?"
She laughed at his impulsive move. "Yes."
"And?" she asked in feigned confusion.
"You supposed to say and I...," he trailed.
"I love you too."
He smiled and kissed her again, trailing his lips around her face and down her neck. With one hand, he unbuttoned her shirt so he could gain better access. He loved to nuzzle the juncture where her neck met her shoulder. Right where...
"Scully, where's your cross?" he asked, pulling back in alarm.
A look of guilt flickered across her face before she replaced it with one of false cheer.
"Let's talk about that later."
"No," he said with rising dread, "I want to talk about this right now."
Turning her face away from him, she said "Promise you won't get angry."
"Angry? Why would I get angry?"
"I pawned it."
"You pawned your cross, Scully? Why?"
"To buy you something decent for Christmas."
"Scully, not your cross. Anything but your cross," he said anxiously.
"It was worth it," she said with conviction. Without leaving his lap, she reached into her back pocket and took out a flat, rectangular box.
"Merry Christmas, Mulder."
Staring down at the small container, he wasn't sure if he could take the top off. She'd pawned her cross for this?
"Open it, Mulder. Please."
With a slight tremor in his hands, he took off the beribboned lid and reached inside.
A perfect, new watchband lay in a nest of cotton. She'd bought him a watchband.
After a moment of staring at it, he started to laugh with loud guffaws, leaning back and nearly sending Scully to the floor.
"Why are you laughing?" she asked in bewilderment.
"I traded my watch for a chain--a chain for your cross."
He watched as understanding washed over her face, as she realized as he had, that they'd sacrificed their dearest possession for the other.
The irony was bitter indeed.
"Oh, oh no." She buried her face in his neck. Her shoulders began to shake, and he thought she was laughing. When he felt moisture fall onto his exposed skin, he knew she was crying.
"Don't cry, Scully. Please don't cry."
"I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
He kissed her tears away, his heart nearly splitting in two in the face of her selfless gesture. She did laugh finally and they cried together until they were spent. All the pain, heartache and loneliness they'd been experiencing while on the run, came pouring out in a cathartic rush.
"Take me to bed, Mulder," she whispered seductively into his ear, immediately changing the mood. She didn't have to ask twice.
They made love slowly, sweetly as if it were the first time all over again. Afterward he held her close, reveling in his renewed feelings of hope. In the warm darkness, he loved her more than ever.
They had nothing, nothing at all, but he considered himself to be richest man on earth.
"Merry Christmas, Mulder."
"Merry Christmas, Scully."
Author's note: In case you haven't guessed by now, this story is based on The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. I realize Mulder never had a 'special' watch, but it was important that he own a sentimental object that could go with him into exile and would be equivalent to Scully's cross.
'And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.'
--O. Henry, Gift of the Magi.
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