Title: Goodwill Towards Men
Author: Neoxphile
Website: www.geocities.com/mulderscreek/otherfics.html
Keywords: Post-Series, Christmas, stand-alone, challenge fic
Disclaimer: Chris Carter created the characters, except those he didn't.
Summary: Christmas day, one year post-invasion

December 25th, 2007
Early Morning

It was still snowing just before dawn on Christmas morning, and the kids would soon be up. The home on an island off the coast of Maine was already covered in snow...as it had been since the December before. There had been summers there the first two years Mulder and Scully called it home, but no longer.

Sighing and shivering, Scully got up and threw on her robe. She padded silently to the window, and peered out. The glow of a full moon did give the luster of midday to objects below, but some of them glowed with a fierce light all their own.

The ghosts gave off a gassy green-white light that always put Scully in mind of gangrene when she caught sight of them. And she saw them often enough, they enacted their show nearly every night; those who hadn't survived the invasion had shuffled off the mortal coil but a great number of them hadn't yet gone into the fabled light. Instead they were trapped on Earth, much like the living.

Every night the spirits wandered the streets single file, eyes vacant, hands folded. Just looking for something they never seemed to find despite their nightly processions past the house. Scully worried that someone might recognize a ghost amongst the throng, but it hadn't happened yet.

"They're still not home?" A voice behind her asked, making her jump. The ghosts didn't notice her disquiet.

When she turned around Monica Reyes gave her a sheepish smile. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"It's okay. I heard something outside. I thought maybe it was Mulder and John getting in." Her lips folded into a frown. "They wanted to be home before the kids woke up."

Reyes nodded.

The sturdy old farm house they stood in was filled with sleeping children, but only one of them was Scully's by blood. The rest that she called hers had been hard won in entirely different ways.

If the other woman hadn't been standing there, she might have laughed out loud when she thought once more of the delicious irony the last year had provided to her life. When she and Mulder had finally won custody of William three years earlier, they desperately wanted to have another child, to give their son a sibling, but the miracle that had created him hadn't happened a second time. Now their six-year-old son had plenty of children to grow up with.

Though the year had been off by six, the invasion had begun on December 22nd, just as Mulder had once been told it would. Scully and Mulder barely had time to contact their friends before the ships were overhead. Doggett and Reyes had roared into the driveway just before the screams outside had begun. No one else they'd tried to offer shelter to had made it.

In fact, most of the town they'd called home for three years had not made it. More children had survived the brief assault than adults, leaving them orphaned. Those adults who had survived had taken it upon themselves to check homes in town for signs of life, and find them they had.

Scully insisted on keeping the children they found, believing that they'd been spared for a reason. Mulder hadn't been able to look at the children and turn them away, so they'd kept them all. With so few adults in town, there probably weren't many other options, anyway.

When they'd bought the big old house it had seemed far too large for a family of three, but now the bedrooms were all but filled. Looking back, Scully occasionally wondered if Mulder had had a premonition of things to come when they'd stood in the driveway with the real estate agent. If he had glimpsed the children who'd fill it, he'd never admitted it.

"The kids are still sleeping." Reyes offered. "They might be home first yet."

"Maybe." Scully kept her doubts to herself, but they were all early risers.

Adam and Tyler were eight-year-old twins that Mulder had found in a cold and empty house. They'd been holding hands and had to be carried out screaming after being told their parents were not coming back. Though the farm had more than enough rooms to give them each a bedroom of their own, the two boys insisted on sharing. The last time Scully had looked in on them, their unruly brown curls were spilled over their faces, and they slept peacefully.

Olivia, who was four, still had nightmares every night - they'd found her in her parents' bedroom, holding the cooling hand of her mother. Scully had spent half an hour rubbing her back after one of the nightmares earlier in the night. When they were awake she followed William like a shadow, and he bore that patiently.

Jesse was two, and his own name was the only word he could say when Scully took him into her arms. They'd heard him crying through a closed window, and had broken into the home to find him. He was soiled and hungry, but otherwise unharmed. It had given them pause, though. It was only by chance that they'd heard him as he howled from his crib prison, and they worried from then on that they'd miss a child like him who was still too young to walk, and too young to come to a voice calling. Fortunately, in the months since they'd never discovered a child too late.

The youngest of all and last found was Jeremiah, and Scully credited their worry after Jesse with finding the baby on time. There had once been a birthing center a mile from the farm. They'd found him three hours after rescuing Jesse, and he was so new he still was dappled with the blood of his missing mother.

All that long horrible night they'd gone to house after house, and by the end Reyes and Doggett had claimed now seven-year-old Seth, nine-year-old Hailey and three-year-old Lacey. If there had been more children who needed homes, Scully was sure they'd have taken them too, but she was secretly glad there hadn't been, considering John and Monica just had their first baby, Grace, two months ago.

The rest of the surviving children were being raised by other large impromptu families that had sprung up in there old neighborhoods. Mulder liked to joke that Jesus might have been a fisher of men, but they were gatherers of children.

"They'll be here soon." Reyes promised, pulling Scully from her musing. Somewhere in the house a baby cried. "Grace."

Scully watched as she hurried off to tend to her new daughter. When she was a girl, Maggie had explained her sudden marriage to William Scully as being prompted by the war to sense that life is too short to put off love. Not, Maggie added, that she ever regretted the impulse to marry and feel like making a life together thumbed a nose at the gloom and suffering that war left hanging in the air. A lot of other people felt the same way, many marrying before the young GIs shipped out, as if having someone waiting for you to come home was a talisman against mortality.

Invasion was like war, Scully thought. The signs that the invasion was both coming and coming soon had been there, had people chosen to read them. Most people put their heads in the sand, but more people believed than she would have predicted, and many of them felt the same sense of urgency as couples of her parents' generation had. When sightings of small crafts had become a regular occurrence in the three months prior to the full scale invasion, hurried weddings became a regular occurrence too. The ink on Monica and John's wedding license had barely dried before the news reports announced that huge shapes had been spotted in the sky. It wasn't the sort of invasion they were expecting - they had all been wrong about what the aliens wanted. It had been supposed that they would enslave the human race, but that hadn't been their goal. Instead in a matter of hours they'd killed as many people as they could with a suffocating poison and left. Seventeen percent of people proved to be immune to the poison, which left less than a hundred and fifty other people on the island; Mulder supposed it was like that world-wide, but there was no longer any media to speak of to confirm or deny that. The invaders had left after that night, and no signs of their impending return had yet been found. Apparently they considered the few survivors to be of so little consequence they weren't worth taking the time to exterminate.

But they'd left an endless winter behind when they'd gone. The folk on the island had made do with food in the abandoned homes and stores the first several months, but it wasn't going to be possible to sustain themselves like that forever, so some of the men, Mulder and Doggett among them, had recently taken to boating out to islands where there were no survivors at all. They should have been home from their latest expedition hours ago.

"They still believe in Santa." Mulder had told her when she protested his latest adventure at sea. "After the year we've all had, they deserve some holiday cheer."

When she thought back to the Christmas before, her objections died in her throat. They'd snuck back into the houses they'd taken the kids from and gathered up what presents they could find, but the kids had been so shell-shocked they barely seemed to notice what they were opening.

Lately, though, some of the kids had been asking if Santa was going to come. Mulder didn't want to disappoint them, and she didn't have the heart to insist he do so.

But now she was getting worried.

Somewhere in the house a door shut, so Scully wasn't surprised to see Adam and Tyler peeking into her room a minute later. "Hey guys," She said with a tired smile. Both boys ran to her.

"Merry Christmas." Tyler told her, exposing a missing front tooth. "Is Dad home yet?"

As soon as they'd been convinced that their new parents planned to keep them, the older kids had started calling the adults Mom and Dad. Mulder theorized it helped them get past their grief for their lost biological parents.

"Yeah, is he?" Adam asked. Both boys had been anxious when Mulder and Doggett had announced that they were leaving on the twenty-third.

"No, not yet." She told them. "Is anyone else awake?"

"Seth is, and I saw Olivia trying to get dressed." Tyler informed her.

"Okay. Adam, do you think you could keep them busy while Tyler and I start a fire in the woodstove? I'm hoping your dad and John are home before the rest of the kids get up, so I want to start breakfast soon."

"Sure, Mom." Adam didn't look disappointed. He accepted that his twin was more talented at building fires than he was.

Scully was about to head into the kitchen to stoke the stove when she heard a noise at the front door. She was there before she realized that she'd run the length of the hallway, and throwing open the door before it occurred to her that it could be anyone but Mulder and Doggett. Neighbors visited occasionally, so it could have been them.

Her view was completely blocked by wrapped packages. "Move please." A muffled voice requested, so she stepped back into the room.

When the packages were put down with groans, she saw that it was in fact Mulder and Doggett.

Though she was relieved to see them, the sight of the gifts pushed her buttons. "You're late because you wrapped things?"

"No." Doggett said out of breath. "We're late because Santa insisted we wrap everything."

Mulder turned back towards the door. "Where are you going?!" Scully demanded to know.

"This is just the first load of stuff. You can help us bring the rest back if you want." Mulder told her impatiently.

"Jesus. Hold on." Scully grumbled before running upstairs.

She pulled on a sweater and jeans and wrestled her feet into boots as quickly as she could, but the men were both gone by the time she got back downstairs. They'd left a trail, however, so it wasn't hard to find them. She just followed their footprints that were in the path they'd carved down to the dock. It had only been two days since it had last been shoveled, but a few inches of snow lined the bottom of the trail.

"Hey." Mulder called to her when she was still fifteen yards away. "We wanted to get this in sooner than later. Sorry for not waiting."

He stood over the boat, the interior of which was filled with Christmas presents. Even with the first armloads of presents out of it, it was still so full she couldn't imagine how there had been room for the two men.

"Hold out your arms." Doggett instructed, and he loaded her up with colorful packages. Not, she noticed, that her load was even half as much as the ones they were carrying.

Two more trips later, they were done. At least, they were done bringing in gifts. She could see that the hold was full of food and clothing that they'd need in the weeks to come.

"Did you have to get so much stuff?" Scully asked pointing at the boxes that littered the living room.

Tyler had been there too to light a fire in the fireplace. There was a generator, but they used it sparingly because it was so difficult to get gasoline for it. They mostly used it to run the dryer - it was difficult to keep that many people in dry clothes during a perpetual winter without it.

Mulder looked up briefly from his self-appointed task of methodically separating the gifts into piles. "Lots of kids need lots of stuff. Especially if we can't get back out on the ocean any time soon. The weather's so iffy..."

Further conversation was cut off when small children rushed down the stairs and made for their respective fathers. Reyes followed them at a safe distance, carrying both Grace and Jeremiah. "I'm glad you made it back safely." She said before passing the little boy to Mulder and her daughter to Doggett.

"Did you see Santa?" William demanded to know, eyes wide with excitement.

To Scully's surprise, it was Doggett who answered. "We sure did. His reindeer were getting tired, so we told him we'd bring your stuff home so he didn't have to."

"That was nice, Daddy." Seth told him. "They have a lot of kids to visit."

Not nearly as many as he used to, Scully thought with a pang.

"Did you get to pet the reindeer?" Olivia asked, surprising them because she usually didn't talk unless she was asked to.

"We sure did." Mulder picked her up with his free arm. "I feed them some carrots."

"I miss carrots." Adam said wistfully.

"We have carrots." Tyler was quick to point out.

"Yeah. Canned carrots." Hailey retorted, wrinkling her nose.

The unending snow meant that there was very little in the way of fresh food. Doggett was trying his hand at growing tomatoes inside, but the plants were yet to bear fruit.

"I think it's about time that we open these presents." Doggett announced to the eager kids. "I'll help Jesse and Lacey open theirs." He added, shooting Mulder a pointed look.

When the kids were distracted by their gifts and the living room became a flurry of paper, Mulder pulled Scully and Reyes into the kitchen. "I have a gift for you from Santa too."

"What?" Reyes gave him a suspicious look.

"When we said that Santa insisted that we wrap the presents, we weren't being metaphoric. Not exactly. We ran across a fellow on one of the little islands and talked to him while we wrapped the gifts." Mulder pulled something small and rectangular out of his pocket and held it out to them. "This was taken before Santa got blown off course. We couldn't print it, but he had a box of these."

Scully pulled his wrist down so she could see. It was a digital camera who view screen was lit up - a small flower bloomed in a field of green grass.

"When was this taken? And where?" Scully asked urgently.

"Santa came from Australia, and took this a month ago." Mulder explained. "He wanted people to know, so he took a trip you have to agree was longer and more fool-hardy than ours."

"It's summer in Australia now." Reyes remarked.

Mulder nodded. "He said it was winter for months and months there too, but when it was supposed to be summer this year, it came. He's headed up to Canada to share the good news next."

Summer, Scully thought in wonder. If it could be summer somewhere else, it could get warm again there in Maine too.

As if reading her mind, Mulder wrapped an arm around her. "In a few months we'll have summer here too."

An end of winter. Scully couldn't think of anything better than that. "Maybe... maybe God hasn't forsaken us after all." She said, but she was thinking of all the things they could do if the land was transformed into something other than a frozen wasteland.

The aliens had done them the favor removing most of the bodies when they left - and she hesitated to think of what motivated that - but there were so many abandoned cars everywhere still that travel was nearly impossible if not by foot or boat, and most of the power lines had been destroyed by snow since then. If it was warm enough to work outside, they might be able to do something about getting electricity again, and maybe they could finally find out who survived elsewhere. She had strong hopes that her siblings and mother might be alive still. Perhaps Skinner and Gibson Praise as well.

Reyes looked up from the camera's screen. "God's grace or not, I think a return to the natural order of things is proof that mankind might have a fighting chance after all."

There was nothing any of them could think to say after that, so they returned to the kids and watched them exclaim over the toys that the guys had brought back. To watch the children open gifts with glee, just as if it were Christmas any other year, filled Scully with something she hadn't felt in a long while: hope. She welcomed its return.

The End

Author's notes: 1. This fic is in response to challenge A

2. Though this fic is not a crossover, it was inspired in part by Dean Koontz's The Taking. In that book the protagonist rescues children after a widespread disaster (of a different sort) and keeps them. I decided Mulder and Scully should have the chance to do the same, too.

3 You can find my past years' Christmas fics here here

4. Curious about what happened in the year between the invasion and this fic? Keep an eye out for the Winterlong series, set during and after that timeframe. Goodwill Towards Men will eventually be part of the series, but somewhat different from the version (which will stay here for those of you who prefer it) you've just read.

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