Summary: While speaking to his children, an adult William reflects upon his favorite Christmas memories
December 25, 2034
"Theo, please be careful with that one," Will warned his oldest son while they rehung several Christmas ornaments that had fallen off the tree when one of the kids had forced some gifts for their grandparents under the tree with a little too much enthusiasm.
The seven-year-old looked up from the ornament in his hand and scowled at his father. "Dad, I'm careful. I'm not a baby like Denny," he complained.
Denny, age three, glanced over at them, but continued to play with the unbreakable ornaments that Will's wife Gabby had given him to rehang on the lowest branches. This task wasn't just because Denny was small, it also gave Bram, an orange tabby cat, something to bat at without being yelled at.
"I know," Will told him. But that ornament is my favorite."
"Really?" Theo asked, looking like he thought that his father was trying to pull a fast one. Will had seen his mother give his father a similar skeptical look so many times over the past two decades that he had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing.
Just then, Faith came around to the front of the tree to see. Will seriously suspected that she had been busily rearranging ornaments on the side of the tree that faced the living room window rather than just putting the ones that had come off back on, but he was in a good mood and didn't see the harm in it, so he said nothing about it.
"That one's your favorite, Daddy?" Faith asked as she glanced at the ornament in Theo's hand, looking a lot less doubtful than her oldest brother. "How come?"
Will put down the red and green glass balls that he was holding, and scooped Denny up, making him laugh. "Let's take a break for a few minutes, and I'll tell you all a story."
The older kids climbed onto the couch, and he and Denny sat in his recliner. "Daddy," Faith asked, "Is the story about the ornament?"
"Yes," Will told her.
But of course, it was about more.
"When I was little, even littler than Denny, grandma and grandpa thought that I was in a lot of danger, so I got sent to live with another family. Eventually that danger went away, so I got to have Grandpa and Grandma back in my life," he explained, deciding that seven and a half and six were still far too young to know about what had happened to his adoptive family. He did think that enough had been said in their hearing already though so the idea of his adoption probably wasn't a complete shock.
"And that Christmas, back when I was twelve... well, it was awkward. It turned out okay in the end, but there were some rough spots," he said, thinking about how he'd once told his parents that he couldn't replace their lost child, shortly before he learned that the child in question was him.
"You got it then," Theo guessed, looking at the ornament he was still holding.
"No," Will said, and the boy's face fell a bit. "I got it the next year."
"Like I said, that first Christmas was kind of uncomfortable, but the next one..."
December 24, 2014
Will had been sitting on the couch reading a book when he noticed his mother make not one, but two trips through the house, apparently heading to the dining room. He closed his book and went to see what she was up to.
"Whatcha doing?" he asked, watching her place bottles of paint and some glue on the table. There were still things in the box she held, and he really wanted to know what was in it.
Scully looked over at him with a smile. "I was hoping curiosity would get the best of you." He shrugged and she laughed. "You and your dad, you must both be part cat."
"You're not going to have me chase a laser light are you?" Will asked, his own lips twitching with suppressed amusement now.
"Probably not. I had something else in mind."
"What's that?" Will asked. He stood on his toes, hoping to get a glimpse of the inside of the box, but she noticed and angled it away from him.
"Growing up one of my mother's traditions was to make ornaments with us when I was a kid. We used to do it on Christmas Eve every year."
You didn't mention that last year, Will thought. Last year he had been there with them on Christmas Eve and they hadn't told him that he was their son yet, so they hadn't sprung any family traditions on him. And in fact they had been rather slow to over the past year too. He figured that they wanted to take things slow because just living with them at all was another major adjustment that had come on the heels of losing the people who had raised him since he was several months old, being forced to live in a tent city for a while, and then a group home with several other war orphans. They had never said that they were hoping to help him make a smooth adjustment to his new new life, at least not explicitly, but he was still grateful for the consideration anyway.
"You and your sister?" he asked, thinking of the photos he'd seen of the taller red haired woman that he'd never gotten a chance to meet. When he first heard that he had a dead aunt, he assumed that she'd died during the invasion like his adopted parents had, but at some point his father explained that she'd died years before that, just like his other aunt.
Scully shook her head. "Not just us. The boys would make them too."
"Even Uncle Bill?" he asked, thinking about how he'd met the stern military man a few months before. The idea of him being a boy sitting at a table and making things just like his younger siblings seemed too hard to believe.
"Even him. Sometimes I thought he enjoyed it most of all. Maybe even more than Mom did."
"Really." Will didn't bother to hide his doubt.
"Really! Why else would he have made sure he was around while he was in college, when he could've spent more time with his friends while he was home on winter break?"
"Hmm, I don't know," Will said. But privately he wondered if his uncle felt obligated to make his own mother happy. He kind of hoped not.
"So…" she gave him a hopeful look as she spoke, "Are you game?"
"Oh, sure," he told her. "What are we making?"
"I thought we could try this," she said, digging through the box until she produced a magazine. The cover was bent back to a page she'd apparently picked out.
Will took it from her and looked down at it. His first thought was 'this is us' though at first he wasn't sure why. Upon closer examination, the ornament was obviously Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, all made out of small wooden peg people and scraps of cloth.
It kind of does look like that picture of us, though, he thought, thinking about the photo on their dresser that had once had him convinced that they'd had a son who'd died before he met them. In that photo his parents held him and looked down at him with adoration. The peg people didn't even have facial features but there was something about the way they held the wooden baby that somehow suggested that the infant was also very loved.
"What do you think?" Scully asked him.
"Sure, it'll be fun," Will agreed.
"Then take a seat," she invited, and dropped the box on the table between them. When he could finally see inside the box, he was a little disappointed that it only contained paint brushes and the rest of the materials that they'd need to make the ornaments.
Will picked up one of the peg people, and turned it over in his hand, wondering if he should make it Mary or Joseph. It bothered him a bit that all the pegs were the same height, but he supposed that given the figures weren't even going to have any facial features they weren't going for ultra-realism anyway.
"What are you thinking about?" Scully asked him, and Will blushed.
"I just thought Joseph should be taller than Mary," he mumbled.
To his relief, she nodded instead of laughing at him. Picking up two of the pegs, she held them together, one a bit higher than the other. "If we do it like the picture, the baby's body will block the bottom of both Mary and Joseph. So glue them together like this, and he'll look taller."
"Okay," he agreed, liking the solution. "What did this fabric used to be?" he asked, reaching for a scrap of off-white cloth.
"I'm pretty sure it was one of your grandmother's pillowcases once upon a time."
"Huh." For a moment he rubbed the scrap between his thumb and forefinger. "You miss her, huh?"
"Every day, Kiddo, and especially this time of the year."
Unlike his aunt Missy, his grandmother had died during the invasion. Scully didn't talk about it much, but Will had learned a lot about it from his father. To everyone's surprise, Maggie Scully had been a leader when the aliens had come to earth with destruction in mind. Apparently the soft-spoken woman had won the admiration of a lot of people, and she'd done her best to lead a bunch of them where she'd lived…right up until she'd been killed. Looking at photos of her, he never would've guessed that she'd die helping to defend several of her neighbors' children and a handful of elderly acquaintances who couldn't fight for themselves - but on the other hand his mother didn't look like a badass leader either, and he knew she was one.
"I-" he almost said that he wished that he had met Maggie Scully but he stopped himself because he had technically known her as a baby. "-wish that I could remember her."
"Me too," she said quietly. For a moment she drifted off into a silence but quickly snapped out of it. "What colors were you thinking of?" she asked.
For a moment he hesitated because he hadn't been thinking of colors at all. "Dark blue for Mary and dark green for Joseph," he decided.
"Good choices." She herself picked up the bottles of sky blue and brown paint. "We'll definitely be able to tell them apart when we're done.
Will tilted his head, wondering if they had spontaneously chosen different colors or if she had changed hers to make them distinct. He supposed that it didn't really matter but he hoped that he hadn't accidentally put her out.
"Have a brush," she said, indicating the pile between them. He selected a medium sized one, thinking that it would make quick work of painting the adult figures.
"It's been so long since I have done this," his mother said with a sigh.
"Paint?" he asked.
She shook her head, confusing him a little. "Not just that. Anything artistic, really."
"Well," you've been busy." The thought of her taking time out from fighting aliens to make a few Christmas ornaments had him swallowing a giggle.
"Since around the time I finished med school," she said and offered him a wry smile. "I can't even blame your dad for this one." She had already finished painting her Mary and reached for the next peg.
"I guess not," he replied, using the bristles of his brush to force paint into a shallow crack in the wooden peg he held. Hopefully the scarf he would glue to the head would hide the minor imperfection.
They had just finished painting the adult figures and were cutting up the fabric to make swaddling cloths for the baby Jesuses when they heard the front door open.
Mulder walked around the house a bit before calling, "Scully? Will?"
"In the dining room," Scully called back.
"What are you building?" Mulder asked, peering down at the table with a curious expression.
"We're commemorating the year," Scully told him.
"Looks like a nativity scene," he commented. "Your mother would have approved."
"Would yours have?" William asked his dad.
Mulder shrugged. "Not particularly. She wasn't much for celebrating Christmas. Especially after my sister was lost to us. To be honest she once told me that her belief in God more or less died with Samantha. I dutifully visited her every year until she died but I don't think she really cared to spend the time with me. The thing I remember best is uncomfortable silences stretching out between us as we at over cooked food."
When William gave him an aghast look he offered the boy a wan smile. "Generally speaking she was a decent cook but I think she spent December distractible and just wasn't really motivated to bother with doing it right."
"Oh, Mulder," Scully sighed. "No wonder you were never eager to share your holiday plans when the topic inevitably came up."
"Yeah, even my cast iron stomach was grateful for a change of pace." Will wondered if he really didn't understand what she was getting at or if he was just trying to avoid a difficult topic.
"Do you have any more of the wooden people?" he eventually asked.
Scully pushed the box towards him. "Help yourself."
Will watched him select some people and then pick up the bottle of silver paint that neither of them had touched. Somehow he knew what his father had in mind before he even sat down to paint.
After they finished their creations, Mulder turned to him and gave him a stern look. "An hour until bedtime, so make the most of it."
"Wait, what?" Will protested. "I don't have school tomorrow."
"No, but you've got an uncle who expects us to be at his house at nine am sharp, so we need to leave for the airport early. We've all got to hit the hay at a decent time tonight."
"He's right," Scully said. "We all make sacrifices for family, and this my boy, is one of yours."
"Alright," he'd sighed, but he was secretly pleased. They hadn't made him visit his uncles for Christmas last year, and he thought that it was because they weren't really family yet then. Now they were. "But can we have eggnog before I go to bed?"
"Yes, of course," Scully told him. And then she and Mulder exchanged a pleased smile that made him feel good.
"… and once they were all done drying the next morning we hung them on the tree," Will concluded. "Even though grandma wasn't too thrilled that your grandpa decided to paint Joseph and the baby Jesus as aliens." He remembered his mother's indigent squeal when his father had dug through the nut dish for two particularly small almonds to trace as eyes onto the faces of two of his wooden people.
"Hey, I've seen that one on Grandpa and Grandma's tree!" Theo crowed in obvious amusement.
"Do aliens have babies, Daddy?" Faith asked.
"I've never seen one but they must. Otherwise they would die out," Will said, vehemently wishing that they would.
"Like how the wooly mammoth did once?" Theo suggested.
"Oh. But I'm glad we've got them back again," Theo said. "I liked seeing them at the Bronx zoo."
"Me too, buddy," Will told him, thinking back to the media buzz that had surrounded the birth of the first baby mammoth back in 2024. The very first animal being recreated through ancient preserved DNA had seemed like one of those old Jurassic Park movies come to life, without anyone being eaten. These days there were four zoos in the US that had mammoths and several more zoos did internationally too.
"They're not going to bring the aliens back, though, right Daddy?" Faith asked anxiously.
"No, they sure won't-"
"Will, your parents are here," Gabby said, coming into the living room with her arms full of packages that bore unfamiliar wrapping paper. Will bounced to his feet, not wanting her to spend more time helping his parents bring in the rest of their gifts.
"Mama," Denny complained, holding his arms out to Gabby as soon as she put the gifts under the tree. He had been good while Will had told them his story but it was past time for him to take a nap.
Will shot his wife a smile and then quickly shrugged on his coat and went out to his parents' SUV. They were a little more wrinkled than ever but they were both smiling at him through the doors' windows.
"Thanks for coming," Will told them as soon as they got out of the truck.
"No problem. Anything to avoid spending the day with your uncle Bill," his father said with a smirk.
"Mulder," Scully predictably said in a long suffering tone.
Her husband held up a placating hand. "I kid."
Turning to Will, Mulder smiled. "We know that it's easier for us to come to you than for you to pack up three little kids to come to us."
For now, Will found himself thinking a little depressed. So far both of his parents seemed to be holding up well but sooner or later the ravages of time were bound to catch up with them.
It didn't take long to get everything thing into the house and Scully insisted that they put Faith's birthday presents in the kitchen instead of in the living room with all of the Christmas gifts for everyone. Out of everyone Scully and Gabby were the most concerned that Faith not get shorted by having her Birthday be on Christmas day.
Has it really been six years since Faith was born already? Will found himself thinking for not the first time that day. The kids were growing up so fast you could practically see it happening before your eyes. It reminded him of growing an amaryllis in his first year of school post-invasion. The teacher had them measure it daily, and there had been days when it had grown more than half an inch since the day before.
They made their way to the living room and Will was glad that the kids just cried "Grandma! Grandpa!" instead of jumping on them like ill-trained puppies. He'd seen far too many kids do that to even frailer elderly relatives, and it made him wince every single time.
"How are my babies?" Scully asked her grandchildren as she took off her coat.
"Grandma we're not babies!" Faith declared. "I'm six now."
"I know, Sweetheart. Happy birthday."
Will waited for Faith to ask if his mother had a present for her, but she didn't. For a moment he was thrilled that she was acting so maturely… but then he realized that his daughter had complete faith that her grandparents hadn't come empty-handed.
"Who wants to see a magic trick?" Mulder asked, and Faith and Theo looked eagerly in his direction. "This isn't as good as the ones your grandma showed me once, but I think it's pretty good," he began, holding out a deck of cards to them.
Dinner had been Faith's favorite meal – deep fried chicken fingers – and they were going to have birthday cake for desert. But when Gabby went to get the cake from the extra fridge in the basement, Will realized that his father was the only one entertaining the kids.
Eventually he found his mother standing in the living room, his favorite ornament in her hand. She looked up at him, expression startled. "Will, I can't believe you still have this."
"Of course I do," he replied, voice tinged with indignation. "It's my favorite ornament, Mom."
"It is? Why?"
Taking it from her, he hung it back on the tree and gave her a hug. "Because I made it with you."
"We made a lot of ornaments, Will," Scully reminded him.
And she was right – that first ornament making session had gone on to become a tradition that hadn't yet entirely petered out. It had only been a year or two since they'd made ornaments with Gabby, Theo and Mulder, once the two younger kids were in bed. Unfortunately, his parents hadn't been up to visiting on Christmas Eve too every year, but he didn't think Scully minded too much that it had become a semi-annual event.
"I know," Will told her, "but this was the very first one."
"Well, that's true." She smiled. "I'm glad that it was a good memory for you. It is for me too." After a moment she laughed. "You know, we put up the ones that we made that day too. And your dad still insists on prominently displaying his completely inappropriate alien nativity."
"Why 'inappropriate'?" Will asked. He'd always considered it silly but not scandalous.
"Well, you know, because of the rumors."
"Oh, Will," she laughed unexpectedly. "Did we never tell you?" When he gave her a blank look she went on. "When your Dad was abducted most people thought that he found out about you and decided to run off and leave me in the lurch. And honestly that was actually better than some of the people who believed that he had been taken…"
"How was that better?" he asked, sorry that she'd had to put up with all of that.
"Someone started a rumor that I had been abducted too and that you were a product of that abduction." She frowned, obviously annoyed by the memory. "I swear to God, Will, some of them were disappointed when you didn't come out green."
"Jeez, Mom. No wonder Dad's ornament ticked you off."
"It did at first, but in time it kind of grew on me. But don't tell your dad that."
"I won't, I promise."
"Thanks. We wouldn't want him to get a swelled head."
"Right." But Will figured that it was too late for that.
Looking at the ornament again, Will found himself thinking the Christmas that we made these ornaments was the first time that we stopped being me and them and finally became us.
"Will?" Gabby said, obviously having come to look for him. "You ready to cut Faith's birthday cake?"
"Sure am." He followed his wife and his mother back to the kitchen, leaving the Christmas tree's lights gently twinkling behind them.
Written for the Nursery Files' William's Favorite Ornament Challenge. Choose your ornament and submit your late entry today!
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