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This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Iolokus with MustangSally Series

CONTENT WARNING: Over-indulgence in sweets may cause dyspepsia.
SUMMARY: Christmas story.
SPOILER WARNING: Fruitcake don't spoil.
DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: Let it flow freely as eggnog.

Murder in the Holy Land.

Growling, the giant mutant cat crushed the stable underfoot, knocking aside Joseph and the three Wise Men, before crushing baby Jesus between its enormous white fangs and making off with the savior at a dead run. The scattered wreckage of the creche spread out across the plain of Bethlehem in an untidy mess of sheep bodies, a couple of camels, and a de-winged angel. I crawled across the floor and reached for one sheep, its leg hanging loosely from the body. Another casualty.

Damn.

"Mulder!" came the voice of my beloved, something between a basketball ref and a longshoreman, "the cat's stolen Jesus again!"

There was something decidedly perverse in Catzilla's make-up. No sooner had he burnt all the fur off of his tail on the Chanukah candles than he had to start looting the Christmas decorations. It hadn't been so bad when he had been stealing elves and Santa Clauses, but even I found the sight of the fat black cat with a bare naked opossum tail and an overbite toting the baby Jesus in his mouth disturbing. Blended families, pagan cat. Feh.

Well, the house was about as polytheistic as the United Nations, since no one was willing to invoke the wrath of any God/Goddess these days; we were catering to any religion that walked, slithered, or luminesced through the door. Since I hadn't put the menorah away, we could serve a worshiper of Yahweh, the Holy Trinity, the Virgin Mary, Apple (that was the framed picture of Steve Jobs), Vishnu, and a really mean loa from my last voodoo case.

We should be jam-packed with good karma for the upcoming year. God (whoever) knows we needed it. Provided that I could rescue Jesus from the cat. I tracked the kleptomaniac feline down to the bedroom where he was playing paw hockey with the small savior underneath the bed where my own personal fertility goddess was holding court. Scully was propped up against the headboard of what had been our bed with her glasses resting on her nose and her laptop resting next to the geological formation which had once been her stomach. She wasn't allowed to lie on her back anymore, something about a large vein she couldn't compress, and she blamed me for that too.

She gave me a dirty look and gestured at the floor.

"Your damn cat won't leave it alone."

When Catzilla was good, he was her cat, when he was bad, he was mine. Typical. He'd been mine since Chanukah and wasn't likely to become anyone else's until after Memorial Day.

"Maybe the Blessed diapers are packed with catnip or something," I reached under the bed and grabbed the baby Jesus, which made Catzilla lay into me with claws and teeth. It didn't break the skin but hurt nonetheless.

"Burnt-butt, naked rat-tailed psychopath!"

Catzilla hissed and swatted at me.

"Maybe we should just forget the creche this year," Scully said looking over her glasses. "Next year might be better."

"Yah, much better, three kids under the age of three and you want to put a crËche on the floor. Better take our chances with the cat," I stuffed the baby Jesus into the pocket of my shirt and hitched my ass up onto the side of the bed that we'd shared before Scully needed more mattress real estate.

I put my hand on her stomach and one of the twins kicked back at me with World Cup gusto.

"The natives are restless," she said with a grimace.

"They're doing a countdown," I said and rubbed at her stomach for a moment, getting kicked again for my pains.

"Three more weeks," she warned the unquiet sea of her body, "three more weeks and we'll spring you."

"Think you can hold out until then?" I asked.

Putting the computer aside, she rolled towards me with a seraphic smile on her face.

"Only the thought of watching you have your vasectomy keeps me going."

How a mouth that vicious could be that sweet never failed to amaze me. But I kissed her back over the ridge of her belly. Yes, Virginia, there is sex during pregnancy, all it takes is some creativity and a willingness to admit that a woman who resembled the Venus of Willendorf was a sexual object. Even though she was now built like a killer whale, Scully was still hot as a pistol fired into the ballistics tank. Her lips slithered against mine, but her forehead was warm when she leaned into me.

"Where's Miranda?" she asked and her eyes flamed with mischief.

I stood up and looked around the room.

"You lost the baby?" I asked in the most terror-stricken voice that I could muster.

"I don't know. It was your turn to watch her," she accused and her eyes flicked over to the dark drapes flowing almost to the floor. Drapes that had a tiny pair of feet in purple sneakers protruding from underneath.

"We lost the Mooselet?" I asked. "Did she run away? Is she hiding? Did she turn into a cat and hide under the bed?" I looked underneath the bed and saw dust-bunnies, Catzilla, and a tie that I hadn't known that I had lost.

The feet underneath the drapes jittered impatiently.

I stalked back to the rear of the bedroom and peered into the bathroom. "Is she in the bathroom?"

Nothing in the bathroom, nothing under the bed, nothing in the closet, and I was walking around the room, working my way over to the window. This was the Mooselet's favorite game — avoiding bedtime. I just hoped that it was simple childlike mischief rather than the beginning stages of insomnia. I looked over my shoulder and saw that the sneakers were now bouncing up and down with anticipation and the drape was giving off a high-pitched toddler giggle.

"Miranable Cannibal where are you?" I called.

It was too much for her and she bolted from behind the drapes making a mad dash for the bed. She flung herself onto the bed and climbed up next to Scully and buried her head in Scully's shoulder, laughing as though she had been mainlining nitrous. Scully's hand moved over the Mooselet's back, her rings flashing in the light from the bedside table, the Mooselet's shoulders continuing to shake as she was giggling. Over the top of the Mooselet's head, Scully smiled at me, her face smoothing into the strangely beatific smile she'd been sporting lately. She looked sweet, saintly, and glowed as though there was a halogen bulb behind her face. She shone like she was radioactive. Maybe the babies were giving off more rads than they should have been. Blue eyes reached up to my face, followed by a pair of green eyes. It was disgusting; I was helplessly in love with a little woman and a slightly larger one. Drowning in a sea of domesticity. Stick a fork in me, I was done.

I got up on the bed, on the other side of Scully and put my arm around her shoulders where I could reach Miranda and rub her hot little head.

"We don't want to go to bed," Scully remarked, and Miranda giggled again, popping her head up to look at me with new corn green eyes.

"No bed," she agreed and began playing with Scully's hair.

"You have to go to bed or Santa won't come."

Childlike greed brightened her eyes.

"Santa?" she asked.

Santa was a convenient fiction to explain the fact that Scully and I now had an attic that looked like FAO Schwartz had exploded. There was a Furby, some American Girl Dolls, a Tickle Me Elmo, the entire Teletubby video collection, a half-dozen Beanie Babies, as well as some less conspicuous consumer goods. Between Chanukah and Christmas, Miranda was making out like a bandit. The assorted mothers-in-law had been banned from buying toys and were only allowed to give clothes this year; even then they were limited to the amount of clothes that they were allowed to buy. Scully's mother was thrilled to have a granddaughter to buy frilly dresses for and my mother was just so glad to have a grandchild, period, that she'd been very indulgent at Chanukah and saw no reason to stop the flow of child-bribery just because of a difference in theology.

It was actually embarrassing; not quite as embarrassing as Miranda's birthday when she'd been knee-deep in gifts and decided that the thing that she liked the most was the box that her new rocking horse had come in. She spent her entire birthday party in the box, refusing to come out to play with her cousins Samuel and Matthew. Matthew had actually gotten bitten for trying to get into the box with her, and Bill was still blaming me, although stubbornness was an established Scully family trait, running true to breed in the women.

I was surprised that Scully had encouraged the Santa myth at all, due to the fact that it was a myth and Scully isn't noted for her flights of fantasy (but give her a can of squeeze cheese and a camcorder and that's another story). I think her primary interest in the Santa myth was as a blackmail device when the Mooselet got older. The squeeze cheese and the camcorder is my blackmail insurance that she won't sling me out on my ass when she becomes Director of the FBI. Long-term plotting runs in the family no less than stubbornness.

"Little girls who stay up too late end up on Santa's naughty list," Scully cautioned.

Frowning, the Mooselet processed this, and I could just about see the little hourglass turning over and over in her eyes. A true child of the nineties, she was web-enabled, multi-tasked, and quick processing, and was increasing her vocabulary geometrically.

"Bed. Now," she agreed.

"Kiss your mom good-night," I instructed.

The Mooselet did so, giving Scully a smacking sucker-mouth of a kiss on the cheek. I knew from personal experience this was not unlike being licked by a puppy with better breath. For good measure, the Mooselet patted Scully's stomach.

"Bed Scul-lee. Bed bay-bees," she sang and then turned to give me an impatient look.

I let her lead me to the bathroom for her evening ablutions. Scully snickered in the background. Giving a year and a half old Mooselet a bath was not unlike diving into the tank with dolphins. Actually I might have stayed dryer in Sea World.

****

Beached mammal, I flopped off the bed and listened to the giggling coming from the bathroom down the hall. Chortling and splashing, and my bladder twitched in sympathetic response at the sound of water. Not again, I swore that I'd peed not ten minutes earlier. One of the instructions which had been drilled into me at twin birth class was that water was your babies' friend. Dehydration was the enemy. More water made more amniotic fluid, which helped my kidneys process the toxins formed by three humans instead of one, and worked like high-grade motor oil in all the internal systems. I was drinking over a gallon of water a day, as prescribed, and the water consumption combined with the fact that the twins seemed to enjoy playing soccer with my bladder was making my life a living hell. I felt like a water balloon three molecules of rubber away from popping. I was so big that if I had decided to wear silver lame, there would have been a rash of UFO sightings in our neighborhood in Arlington.

I made my way downstairs, just in time to catch a glimpse of a stark-naked Miranda running at top speed into her bedroom, shedding towel, pajamas, slippers, and bathrobe behind her while Mulder squawked in frustration in the bathroom. I was loath to break my momentum and it was Mulder's problem anyway so I didn't pause my waddle. Miranda's shrieks of amusement followed me down the steps to the living room.

Christmas this year was very different. Mulder averred that my hormone-driven nesting instincts had taken over, but that was wishful thinking. The truth is that when you spend your days confined to your bedroom, you have plenty of time to become the Martha Stewart of Christmas. I had curled the multicolored ribbons for everyone's presents with the edge of a scissors; I had tied keepsake Christmas ornaments as extra decorations on the presents for my family members. They were going to feel well-loved and inferior, damnit. Many of Miranda's presents were still upstairs, waiting for us — me — to assemble them, but we had the presents for Bill's family and my mother under the tree. Of course we were just going to pack them in the SUV and take them over to Mom's tomorrow morning, but I had an image to create. Especially since we didn't have any drapes, thanks to the Hanukah fire. If the neighbors were going to see into our house, I wanted it to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, aside from the scorch marks.

That's me — compulsive-obsessive hyper-achiever. For example, I was not just pregnant, I was hugely overstuffed multiple-birth pregnant, I was on maternity leave and still dialing into the FBI server for my mail every few hours and bribing Zippy to fax me case files so I had something to do other than make Christmas ornaments. I had written and sent out a Christmas letter to end all Christmas letters, and had even been able to tell some of the truth of what had happened over the past year. Okay, I'd gotten married, gotten pregnant with twins, and had a fifteen-month-old daughter who was genetically mine but I hadn't given birth to, and that was pretty much in reverse order of the actual event flow. What I couldn't write about was that I was afraid that the twins were trying to tunnel out of me through my spine, that the twins would be born dead, mutated, hideously malformed, and full of alien DNA no matter what all the prenatal testing and ultrasound pictures said. That was what I couldn't put into the letter and why I had strung popcorn and cranberries, made clothespin angels, rolled glass balls in metallic confetti, and glued sequins on fabric-covered balls. If I didn't give birth soon I was going to start knitting.

Three weeks to go.

While I was adjusting the ornaments to get a more even effect, the Christmas tree shuddered for a moment, and then it howled. I looked into the evil green eyes of the cat from hell.

"Down," I ordered.

Catzilla leapt from the tree, making it shake like a house on the San Andreas Fault, and sped off into the kitchen, naked tail flying behind him. Suddenly tired, I eased myself down onto the sofa and reached for the television remote. It wasn't the only bad habit I had picked up from Mulder in all these months, but it was the only one I was willing to admit to. PBS was showing some kind of a Christmas Music program from the National Cathedral, with all the candles, singing, gilt, and guilt I remembered from Midnight Masses of my childhood. Oddly enough, I seemed to remember that this spcial had been filmed back in the fall so, like so many things, it was artificial. Come to think of it, this was going to be the first year that I hadn't gone to Midnight Mass with my mother. Even last year, cradling the hot, senseless weight that Miranda had been at that age and being terrified that I would somehow hurt her, I had gone. I had gone that terrible Christmas that Emily had been born into my consciousness and then died before I had adjusted to the idea of her.

Come to think of it, Dad had died just after Christmas, so I'd been having shitty holidays for awhile.

"That is a seriously long puss you're wearing there," Mulder said and slid onto the sofa next to me.

"As opposed to a burnt, bare-assed puss with sociopathic tendencies?"

"That's my cat you're talking about," he teased and leaned up against me.

"Did she go to sleep?" I asked.

"Not yet." His eyes lost focus as he stared into the blinking lights of the tree. "You know, this six in the morning thing at your mother's really sucks. We don't do it next year, with three kids. She can come over here, but I am not hauling all our shit over to her house and make any kids wait to open presents. It's cruel."

"All right. But you have to tell her."

"Endanger my life."

"You better go upstairs and get Miranda's presents. I don't want to be up all night with this."

"I can think of better ways to be up all night," he said with a cheesy leer and gave me a seductive kiss.

"Mmmmmm, me too, but–"

"I'm there. I am with the presents."

The wrapping went better than expected. Mulder managed to carry everything down from the attic without tumbling down the stairs himself or dropping anything. We set up an assembly line of tools, paper, and bows. I put together the tricycle, Mulder slung paper around it, then I tidied the edges and put the ribbon on. Meanwhile, he was putting batteries in all the battery-operated toys. Children need more batteries than sex therapists do; Mulder had planned ahead with a big plastic bag full of all shapes and sizes. There was a muffled squawk as the Furby tried to make friends and then fell silent. I didn't want to know what he'd threatened it with.

My back felt like the bridge on the river Kwai by the time we were finished, but the presents were indubitably done. Mulder sensed my agony despite my well-maintained poker face and had me lie on the couch — tossing the pillows to the floor so that I could fit — where he gave me a backrub.

"I'm going to be so glad when this is over," I sighed as his hands worked me over like a farmer tilling over-fertile soil.

"Tell me that again after a few weeks of midnight feedings." I could hear the smirk in his voice.

"And I'll have to go on a diet …"

"But I think Roly-Poly Scully has a certain charm to it." His hands were sweeping further from the small of my back on each pass, moving up to my shoulder blades and around my hips and even teasing the sides of my breasts, "More to love, GopherGirl."

"Before I forget," I mumbled, sleepy with contentment, "you've got to get your present from under the tree."

"Can't I open it tomorrow?"

"Not in front of my mother."

That got him excited enough to abandon me and go rooting around like a truffle-hunting pig until he found it, buried among the less personal presents. "What *is* this?" he asked in a delighted little-boy voice.

It wasn't a present for a boy.

Sneaky me, I had strong-armed Zippy into buying Mulder's Christmas present for me — the proprietors of adult video stores tend to get a tad nervous when heavily pregnant women enter and look around. I'd used silk scarves instead of jolly round Santa paper to wrap the videos, with a bundle of tiny tubes of flavored lube instead of a bow. Zippy had picked out "Buffy the Vampire Layer" and "There's Something About Mary's Tits," which would mortify Mulder even if he never found out that Zippy was involved in the purchase. The anticipation of Mulder's embarrassment was a present to myself; the tapes were for the weeks or months after birth when I wouldn't want to fulfill my conjugal duties. On the other hand it could be years — maybe I should have gotten him a membership card for the nearest adult video store. Maybe I should have gotten a hooker and put her on retainer.

I turned over like a sunbathing walrus so that I could watch his reaction.

"Ooo, Scully," he said as he determined that the bow was not, in fact, a bow. He fumbled with the silk scarves for a minute, then turned Santa-suit red when he saw the tapes.

"I figured with 'Alien Probe' gone from your life you needed to start a new collection."

He knelt by the sofa, present in hand, and began nibbling on my neck. "I'd rather try out the scarves."

"Mulder, I'd look like a balloon in the Macy's parade." I couldn't help but gasp as he munched his way from my collarbone to the top of my ear.

"Stop arguing and come to bed." I should have resented it, but he delivered the line in such perfect phone-sex fashion I don't think I could be faulted for sighing and letting him pull me to my swollen feet.

He undressed me with what I was beginning to hope was reverence, smoothing his stubbled cheeks across the globe of my belly, mapping me like Amerigo Vespucci with his hands and his mouth. His cold fingertips against my breasts made me groan.

"Shh," he warned as his mouth moved to warm what he'd chilled. I let him ease me down to the bed, where he rolled me onto my side. His hands slid over me like skiers over rough terrain, pausing to view the sights. I was tired enough to let him do all the work, only kissing whatever body part came close enough as he moved around me.

Before I expanded, I'd thought that we had explored every sexual position that didn't involve elaborate props, yoga, or antigravity. I was wrong. The bigger I got, the more creative we had to be, but Mulder's mind works on incredible tangents and he'd come up with some inventive solutions. This time he had me lying on my side, my back to him and my knees drawn up as if I were sitting. When he entered me, he was able to put his hands around my breasts and bite into the back of my neck like I was Christmas dinner.

I tried to make low appreciative sounds that wouldn't drown out any noise from the baby monitor. My breasts were so sensitive these days, with hormones working their magic better than any plastic surgeon ever could. "You're so beautiful," he crooned and I melted faster than Frosty the Snowman in hot summer sun. If he'd known that the frothiest of sweet nothings would work on me he'd have been bedding me the night the lights went out in Oregon. I guess they wouldn't have worked back then. Somehow it was different now that we were together and had a family, or maybe I'd mellowed with age.

"You're thinking again," he chided in my ear and then licked it like a candy cane. I growled and reached back and grabbed at the hard plane of his hip, feeling the tiger-smoothness of his skin where it covered the bone. His hands squeezed me more vigorously; it would have been painful if I hadn't been so turned on. My thighs squeezed him, desperate for more direct stimulation. Mulder pulled his upper body away from mine and I don't know how he did it and I don't care, but he worked his hand around my belly and stroked my clit. I groaned like a torpedoed ship and came, feeling the babies swing dance with excitement from the rush in my own blood.

He pulled me close again, his wet hand sliding over my nipples as he increased the pace of his thrusts. I twined my legs over the outsides of his and drew him even more tightly to me. With a shudder, he came into me, his semen arriving on-scene far too late to make a difference. "I love you," I whispered into my pillow and behind me he froze like a suspect cornered by the LAPD. His hand stilled on my breast and I was suddenly chilly, so I moved away, disconnecting us, and tugged at the covers he'd pushed back so that we could make love.

Lying in the darkness, I could hear his breath and the counterpoint heavy breathing through the baby monitor, like the sound of waves in a very rough sea. And I the ship, overladen with cargo, on yet another adventure, so far from my maiden voyage but so at home in the sea.

"Likewise, I'm sure." Mulder's voice was thick as molasses for gingerbread. I wanted someday to be sure enough of myself to tell him in the grocery store, in parking lots, wherever the thought hit me. For now it was enough to say it in darkness, looking at the dim improbable shapes of our bedroom furniture.

I turned over to kiss him goodnight. He was already half-asleep, his middle-aged self worn out by the wrapping and the subsequent unwrapping. I smiled into his cheek and let myself drift into uncharted ocean.

****

'Twas the morning of Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a –

I was awakened by screaming — screaming tends to wake even me, bloated and full of babies, jolt upright on an adrenaline rush. I grabbed for my gun, remembering too late that it was locked in a strongbox on the top shelf of the closet. My heart was hammering like Billy Joel on the ivories, which was sending the kids into their own too-much-fertility dance, and I tried to at least see who was going to kill or be killed in our bedroom.

But the screaming was not coming from a human throat. Catzilla was standing proudly at the foot of the bed with something in his mouth, his eyes gleaming with the thrill of the hunt and his naked, stubbly tail lashing from side to side in triumph. With a wet "ptoooh" he spat something onto my legs. Something with wings. My first thought was that he had somehow gotten outside (strictly forbidden) and caught one of the birds that Mulder had been enticing into the front yard with elaborate allegedly squirrel-proof feeders. But no, it wasn't a bird that the cat from Hell had caught.

I nudged Mulder in the back with my elbow.

"Mulder, wake up."

"Grrsth?" he mumbled.

"Your damn cat has caught an angel."

"X-File. Your department," he said slightly more distinctly and pulled the covers over his head.

I had to go to the bathroom anyway, so I pinned the cat with a level-two glare and he turned and ran out of the room, slipping on the hardwood floor and then bouncing off the hallway wall because he couldn't slow himself down enough to turn. It was nice that *someone* in the house retained some respect for me.

Sighing, I took the saliva-coated angel and went to go return it to the tree. Then I started getting ready for Christmas at Mother's.

Bathing and grooming myself took twice as long these days, given that I had approximately twice as much surface area to cover. When I was willing to have sex, I'd usually enlist Mulder in the endeavor, because he could reach all the parts currently beyond my grasp. There was no time for that this morning, so I managed. Festively dressed and coifed, I trundled out to the bed and slapped Mulder on his comely buttocks, which had de-sheeted themselves during the night.

"Get up, Mulder. We have to be at my mother's in an hour."

He groaned. "The operative word here is *your* mother."

"You can torment Bill," I promised.

Mulder pushed himself off of the bed and headed towards the bathroom, scratching himself grumpily.

I went to get Miranda ready. She was perversely perky, sensing that major goodies were in the offing. It was a genuine struggle to get her into her overalls embroidered with little snowmen and getting her hair into a ponytail nearly reduced both of us to tears. Finally, Mulder appeared in a Yuppieish sweater and khakis and managed to charm her into the rest of her clothes the way he usually charmed me out of mine.

When we got to my mother's house, Mom enlisted the help of all the clan to unload the car and bring the loot inside. I introduced Miranda to my brother Charlie and Juanna, his wife.

"She's got the eyes of a sharpshooter," Charlie told me.

"She'll need good aim in this family," I responded and kissed my brother over the landmass of my stomach.

Juanna picked up Miranda and began taking her around to meet the various members of her brood, who should have been wearing name tags since no one could ever tell them apart. The boys were impressed with the size of my stomach and the biggest of the bunch, who I thought was named David, wanted to know where my gun was. It was still a little strange to be called "Aunt Dana" by short people capable of forming complete sentences. Raul, Miranda, and Matthew were close enough in age to be plunked down together and play. I watched Miranda look at her boy cousins like a queen surrounded by peasants. She was clutching her new Teletubby as though the boys were seeking its removal.

While I was sitting on the couch in the living room with a glass of water balanced on my stomach, Mom came over and sat next to me.

"I wasn't sure that you would come," she said in her soft voice. "I wouldn't blame you if you didn't, after what happened . . . "

I know what Mom wanted was for me to throw my arms around her, stomach and all, and tell her that all was forgiven, that I was going to be her darling baby daughter again and dive right back into the soupy mass of the family. I couldn't do that, I wasn't that person anymore. At the same time, all my energy had been given over to trying to grow the babies inside me, keep Miranda growing up healthy and strong, and Mulder — who had vanished like a suspect with a warrant for his arrest — on something like an even keel. I had my own family to try to manage now.

"We all make mistakes," I said.

BoyTwin, on the bottom, kicked me in the intestines for emphasis. Even in the darkness of the womb, the little ones knew that something good was going on in the outside world, and were protesting that they were missing out. Mom watched my stomach jiggle like Jell-O in an off road vehicle and her eyes widened.

"They're an active pair, aren't they?"

"It's like having the Rockettes doing a kick-line on my bladder," I said and winced as the familiar urge hit me yet again.

"Melissa was like that," Mom said and for once she didn't have tears in her eyes, "she started trying to tunnel out at six months. You know what Missy was like, always impatient to go after new experiences."

"I just want to experience not having to make a bathroom trip every ten minutes," I complained and hoisted myself out of the couch.

****

Something with the consistency of a bowling ball slammed into my left leg. I looked down at the chubby, sullen face of Matthew Scully.

"Hey Sport, Merry Christmas," I said in the heartiest voice I could manage.

"You're a Jew, you don't have Christmas," he accused.

Nice kid. I wondered how far I could drop-kick him.

"Well I guess I can take back your present then."

"Matt!" Bill bellowed from somewhere inside the house, "don't be a pest."

"You killed Jesus," Matthew added a moment later.

"Er," I said which was the nicest thing I could say at the time, but I was saved by a red-faced Tara arriving. Since she had clearly heard the entire conversation, she grabbed Matthew by the arm and hauled him off my leg.

"Matthew, that is no way to talk to your Uncle Fox on Christmas. We'll discuss this later — with your father. Now go play with your cousin Miranda."

At a dead run, Matthew stumped off on his fat little legs. Tara dithered for a moment before presenting me with a sweet-smelling cheek to kiss.

"Merry Christmas, Fox."

"Merry Christmas, Tara."

I found Bill holding court in the TV room, with the sports news on with no sound and a beer in his hand, a little too early for my taste. He looked up when I entered and we nodded our greetings with the utmost civility. I piled the presents we had brought under the tree, wondering if dealing with a soused Bill was any better than having a theological conversation with an almost two-year-old. The kid in question was running a Tonka dump truck around on the carpet and managing to slam it into all the furniture en route while screaming "rum-rum" noises at the top of his shrill voice. Frank Sinatra was wishing every one a Merry little Christmas on the stereo. From the kitchen, I could hear women laughing and the murmur of female conversation.

"Nice of you to dress up," Bill observed.

Well, my sweater probably cost more than his suit, but it wasn't a good time to point that out.

"Scully gave it to me, Miranda's still in the messy stage. The pattern hides the stains."

"Good thing Dad's gone, it would have killed him. You never did meet the Captain did you?"

"No."

"He was a good man."

Maudlin drunk, great, that was only moderately better than belligerent. With any luck dickless would pass out in the turkey. I loitered near the tree, looking at the decorations, my eye catching on the ones marked "Mom", "Dad", "Melissa," "Charlie", "Bill", and "Dana." Why the hell were they still hanging Melissa's ornament? The glittery script on the red silk ball was like a festive tombstone. I was surprised that there wasn't a birth and death date on there as well. And people think I'm ghoulish.

Scully rescued me then, a waddling angel with a coffee cup in one hand. Giving me the coffee, she put her free arm around my waist and leaned heavily against me, the weight of her body burdened down by the twins grounding me in the sea of hostility flowing from her brother.

"Goddamn, Dana, you look like you're going to explode."

"The doctor told us that the twins are almost seven pounds each now, " she told her brother, "and if I don't have them by January 12th, I have a c-section scheduled."

"Seven pounds? Mattie was nearly ten."

Yeah, well, it's not a reflection on the size of your dick, Bill. Scully frowned and her grip on me tightened as if she'd read my mind.

"Twins are generally smaller," she said in her knowing-scientist voice. Bill smirked up at her uneasily and I could see that she'd grown up practicing it on him. Smart-aleck little sisters are a pain; pity Bill wasn't sharp enough to keep up with her. I sipped coffee, wishing that it had been spiked.

"Besides, they're fraternal twins. Two separate oocytes, two separate spermatozoa, separate placenta, separate umbilical cords, in effect, two pregnancies at the same time," she smiled a smug little smile, "And all without fertility treatment."

It was a well-known but unspoken fact that Matthew's conception had been slowed up by Bill's own "lazy sperm". The loud-mouthed butterball was almost as unnatural a creation as the Mooselet, but at least Matthew hadn't been part of a plan for the New World order other than the one that existed in Bill's mind.

"Can we open the presents now?" the biggest of Charlie's tribe asked.

I helped Scully settle into a chair and perched on the arm to watch the festival of naked avarice begin. The kids all made for the tree in a mad rush and Maggie crouched down to dole out presents according to the names on the tags for the ones who couldn't read yet. Warm against me, Scully watched in amusement as the squealing kids tore into the wrapping paper with greedy delight. She actually looked relaxed and happy which was a better present than anything available at retail prices. With that uncanny way she has of reading my thoughts, she looked up at me with her eyes as blue as any glimmering glass decoration on the tree.

"Thank you," she said with her lips only.

Embarrassed, I looked away to see the Moose whap Matthew over the head with her Teletubby.

****

Watching children open presents is fun, even for a confirmed funless person like me. A child has so little experience that each new present is an enormous part of her consciousness as she's opening it, even if she's going to forget it in a few seconds. There are no expectations, only surprises.

Miranda liked the boxes that held the sweater sets from Mom, and she loved the big plastic dump truck that Charlie gave her. She even appeared to enjoy the large stuffed giraffe from Bill and Tara.

Adults have less fun because we always have to evaluate whether we spent the right amount of money. Overspending a little is okay, preferable really, but overspending a lot is an insult to both sides. We'd gotten Matthew a stack of classic children's books, and he immediately began to paw through Beatrix Potter. Maybe he'd come out all right in the end. There was always hope. Charlie's kids liked the FBI sweatshirts we'd gotten them and promptly broke out in a finger-pointing gunfight in the hallway, and since they were all wearing FBI shirts, it looked like inter-departments politics had taken an ugly turn. Mom, Juanna, and Tara liked the gift baskets from Bath and Body Works we had given them, and Mulder had to feign enthusiasm over a series of ties and CD gift certificates.

Mulder, bless his twisty little head, gave me a gift certificate for the best gunsmith in the metro area where I would have a custom-grip Smith and Wesson 1076 made when I went back to work. It really was the sweetest gift, even though it appalled Mom. She did, however, approve of the chunky amber and gold necklace and earring set which came complete with bugs in the amber. The general consensus was the digital camera I gave him was a good thing, but they were operating under the assumption that it was only going to be used for baby pictures and other innocent pursuits. I knew better. The camera would sit on the bedside table primed and ready to go under the pretense that should the Mothership decided to land in Arlington, Mulder would have the first pictures. Right. The check is in the mail, the computer is down, and I did not have sex with that woman. My only concern was making sure that the only pictures with nudity uploaded to the Internet from our house were going to be of Catzilla's hairless tail.

Dinner was served at five and we all trooped into the dining room, kids to the folding card table in the corner, with the high chair crew assigned to their mothers. I was exempt from serving and cleaning up because of my enceinte condition and Mulder wasn't allowed in the kitchen because he drops things. So we traded chairs so he got Miranda feeding duty and proceeded to feed her chunks of bread and butter to keep her happy until the turkey arrived. And arrive it did, the size of a small dog, golden brown and crisp as parchment. I don't know what Mom does to keep her turkey crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, but it may be grounds for an X-File. Charlie opened the wine bottles and went around the table like a hippie waiter, filling glasses here and there. I got a mouthful of Chardonnay in my glass and another whole glass of sparkling grape juice like the rest of the children. Mom assumed the head of the table and held out her glass for a toast.

"In years past I would look around this table and see the faces which were missing, people who were gone. Now I realize that I look around this table and see all the new faces, new spouses, new children, and I see the future rather than the past. "

The future began making like Riverdance inside me.

"Bill?"

My brother muttered his way through grace like a second-grader saying the Pledge of Allegiance and Mom shot him a dirty look. With a long-suffering air, he passed the carving knife and fork down the table to me and I waddled over to where the turkey sat in front of Mom, who was wearing her "my daughter, the doctor" face when I cut into the turkey. Mulder grinned. I knew he was thinking that I was the most experienced at cutting up something dead regardless of whether or not it had been properly basted.

"Do you remember the first Christmas Dana was home from medical school?" Charlie asked, "Dad went to carve the turkey and she narrated every body part he was removing."

"Know-it-all brat," Bill said in an indulgent voice.

"That's when Missy became a vegetarian," Mom added.

A little ripple of laughter washed around the table, and it was probably the first time that we had been able to talk about Dad and Missy without the weight of their absence crushing us underneath. Miranda laughed along with everyone else and banged her fists on the tray of the high chair for emphasis; Mulder bribed her into silence with some mashed potatoes.

"The deceased is a turkey hen, weighing approximately twenty-five pounds after cooking. Cause of death appears to be a massive amount of walnut and sage stuffing forced into the body cavity. The deceased has been decapitated and denuded of all feathers."

A groan went around the table and I had to stop, but Mulder smirked at me with appreciation. It was nice to have at least one person at the table appreciate my sense of humor which I will admit, is an acquired taste.

Plates were filled and conversation dimmed underneath the sounds of eating. A fight broke out over a drumstick at the kid's table and Charlie had to restore order. Lulled by the food and the mouthful of wine, the twins gradually settled down and either went to sleep or continued plotting world domination. Tara made inroads into the bottle of Chardonnay and her normally pale face went red with increased blood flow to her epidermal capillaries from the alcohol. In addition to this she didn't seem to be eating as much as pushing her food around on her plate with her fork. While all this was going on she and Bill were having a conversation in strained hisses down at their end of the table. Matthew, reacting to his parents' stress, began to rub candied yams in his hair, which at least went with the color, and drop food on the floor. Fortunately, Miranda neatly picked up at her food with her delicate pink fingers and conveyed it elegantly to her mouth. Mulder looked bemused and began stealing my stuffing.

"Do you see what insanity I've been sparing you from for all these years?" I asked him.

"This is wholesome and American. Remember I grew up with Tina and Bill doing 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' every major holiday."

The hissing from Bill and Tara reached a crescendo. Tara stood up and slammed her fist down on the table.

"I want you to stop seeing her or I'm leaving you!"

"Don't do me any favors," Bill growled into the wall of silence that formed around the table.

With a little screech, Tara bolted from the table, Bill took off after her and Matthew broke into abject howling. Miranda, catching the spirit of the moment decided to start practicing her new vocabulary in a guttural voice that made her sound like the little girl in The Exorcist.

"Shit shit shit shit shit," she chanted.

At the head of the table, Mom went pale green.

"I really appreciate all the trouble you've gone through to make me feel like one of the family," Mulder said in an innocent voice and refused to look repentant when I kicked him under the table.

"Can you pass the cranberry sauce?" Charlie asked.

Through the chaos, Mel Torme, the velvet fog crooned:

So I'm offering this simple phrase to kids from one to ninety-two
Although it's been said many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you.

End

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