In the Bleak Midwinter



Skinner tramped wearily through the huge banks of snow, briefcase in one hand, the other hand outstretched to stop himself falling on the treacherously icy sidewalk. Large snowflakes danced around his head dizzyingly, spinning and twirling as if in time to some great unseen, cosmic orchestra. Skinner brushed several large mounds of slush from the back of his collar where they were making his neck wet, and half-walked, half-slid towards his apartment building, brooding on the fact that the concept of a white Christmas was a great deal more festive when you were seated safely inside by a roaring fire and not when you had to struggle through the snow to get home from work late on Christmas Eve. He had deliberately worked late tonight because he hated seeing all the people scurrying to and fro clutching parcels and packing their cars to go and visit relatives.


Skinner skidded the last few steps towards the safety of his apartment building and stepped inside with a thankful sigh – only to find the building in darkness.


“Gerry, what’s going on?” He asked the doorman.


“Sorry, Mr. Skinner. Snow’s caused a huge power outage all over town. Lights are out all the way to Georgetown,” the other man replied. “Hopefully power will be back soon…but who knows?” He shrugged fatalistically.


“Merry Christmas. Peace on earth and goodwill to all men,” Skinner muttered bitterly under his breath, shaking snow from his overcoat as he tramped grumpily towards the elevator.


“Uh, Mr. Skinner. Power’s off remember,” Gerry called after him. “You’ll have to use the stairs.”


Skinner swore to himself colourfully under his breath and then headed towards the stairwell. He was tired and the thought of traipsing up 17 flights of stairs to reach a cold, empty apartment at 11 pm on Christmas Eve was not an inviting one.


His apartment was in darkness as he let himself in, panting slightly from the effort of walking up 17 flights of stairs without stopping. Force of habit made him stretch out a hand to turn on the light switch, only for realisation to kick in when no light was forthcoming.


“Shit,” he growled, throwing his briefcase down and walking to the kitchen to see if he could locate some candles. The kitchen drawer yielded nothing and he racked his brains trying to remember if he still had any candles left from when Sharon was alive. She had loved candles and for a few months after her death he’d lit the candles she’d left behind every evening until they had all burned away to nothing. He’d never had the heart to buy any more for himself once they were gone.


Skinner paused, the memory of Sharon settling in his stomach and sending a wave of sick loneliness through him, as it always did. Sharon had loved Christmas. She used to buy ornaments to decorate the tree, and make a huge Christmas lunch. Now there didn’t seem any point doing any of those things. Skinner shrugged off his overcoat, threw it into the hall closet, and decided there was also no point doing anything tonight except going to bed – usually he liked to unwind after work by listening to music or reading, but he couldn’t do either of those things. Hopefully the power would be back on in the morning. He had one foot on the stairs when there was a knock at the door. Skinner frowned, wondering who the hell wanted him at this time of night on Christmas Eve. Still frowning, he made towards the door. It was too dark to look through the spyhole to see who was there, so he just opened the door, his movements jerky and terse – to find Fox Mulder standing on his doorstep.


“Mulder. What are you doing here?” He asked none too politely, his mind covering any number of scenarios, all of which involved him having to leave his apartment and go out into the snow again. Cold and empty as his apartment was, he’d rather spend the night here than out on some wild goose chase of Mulder’s.


“Just passing would sound like an obvious lie wouldn’t it?” Mulder said. He had a bag over his shoulder, and a hangdog expression in his hazel eyes. “Can I come in?” he asked. “I brought candles.” He held up the bag. Skinner spent a few seconds considering the innate surrealness of the situation and then sighed and stood aside to let the other man in.


“Mulder I’d offer you coffee but…” he shrugged.


“I know. Power’s out.” Mulder followed him into the living room.


“I can offer you whisky,” Skinner said.


Mulder made a face. “I hate whisky. Have you got anything else?”


“Whisky’s all I drink,” Skinner growled, making no effort to be welcoming. He was tired and cold and he hadn’t even set eyes on his ex-agent for weeks so he had no idea what Mulder was doing here at this time of night on Christmas Eve.


“No tree?” Mulder sat down and began fishing some candles out of his bag.


“No. I don’t bother…there’s no point. You know…” Skinner shrugged, and waved a hand around awkwardly, encompassing the spot where the tree would sit if he’d bought one.


“Yeah.” Mulder gave a faded smile.


“Mulder, I don’t mean to be rude, but what the hell are you doing here?” Skinner asked.


Mulder chewed on his bottom lip and gave another faded smile.


“I guess ‘just dropping in on an old friend on Christmas Eve’ wouldn’t cut it either, would it?” he said.


“At this time of night? When it’s looking like Alaska outside and feels twice as cold in here? Frankly, no,” Skinner growled. “Where’s Scully? Is she okay? Is William okay?” he asked anxiously.


“They’re fine. She called me earlier. She’s taken William to stay with Bill and his family. Her mom’s there. It’s quite the Scully family gathering.”


Skinner didn’t miss the slight grimace on Mulder’s face.


“Shouldn’t you be there too?” Skinner asked quietly. Mulder bit on his lip again.


“Bill hates me – it wouldn’t be very festive if he and I came to blows over the turkey so…” Mulder shrugged.


“You stayed behind on your own?” Skinner frowned again – this sounded very wrong. Whatever their differences, he’d have thought Mulder and Bill Scully could agree to put them aside for the sake of the kids and Scully’s mom if nothing else.


“Something like that, yeah.” Mulder gave another of those ghostly smiles. “You don’t have any candles?” he asked, glancing around the dark living room.


“No,” Skinner replied shortly. “You have a bag full of them though?” He couldn’t keep the incredulous tone out of his voice.


“Yeah. Well…I got home this evening and found the place in darkness. Scully left on Saturday. So…I thought I’d go and buy some candles…and then while I was out, I wondered what you were doing for Christmas, so I figured I’d stop by and find out if you were home and now…” Mulder trailed off.


“Well, as you’re so interested in knowing, this Christmas I’m doing exactly what I did last Christmas and the one before that,” Skinner told him.


“What’s that?” Mulder peered up at him in the darkness.


“Staying here. On my own,” Skinner snapped.


“Oh.” Mulder nodded slowly. There was a long silence and then Mulder stuffed his hand back into the bag, and pulled out a box of matches. He lit the candles and light flickered in the dark room. Mulder glanced around and his eyes alighted on one forlorn present lying all alone on the coffee table.


“Is that all?” He asked.


Skinner shrugged. “Yeah. I’m too old for Christmas presents.”


“Who is this one from then?” Mulder asked.


“Kim.” Skinner shrugged. “She insists, every year. She probably thinks I’m some crusty old bachelor who needs help before he turns into Ebenezer Scrooge right before her eyes.”


“You haven’t opened it,” Mulder observed. “Waiting for tomorrow?”


“No point opening it,” Skinner grunted. “I know what it is. She gets me the same every year. Bottle of whisky.” He grunted again, feeling an ache deep inside, haunted by the ghost of Christmas past, when he and Sharon had made a little ritual of opening their presents on Christmas morning. He had loved watching her open her presents from him – a bottle of perfume, a dress, a necklace; had loved the way her eyes would light up and how she would protest that he shouldn’t have spent so much on her.
Mulder smiled wistfully, as if privy to Skinner’s thoughts. Both men stared at the candles for a long time.


“Haven’t seen you for awhile,” Skinner grunted, forcing the memory back down. He sat in the armchair opposite Mulder, and stared, fascinated, at the other man, lit by the glowing, dancing candlelight. Mulder looked different by candlelight. His face seemed mysterious, his eyes dark and full of secrets.


“Yeah. I bet you miss me turning up in your office and yelling at you,” Mulder said with a self-deprecating smile. Skinner considered that for a moment.


“It’s certainly been less interesting without you,” he said finally, softly. “I have missed you,” he muttered, realising with a pang that that was the truth. Mulder might have caused plenty of fireworks but at least he’d never been boring.


“Me too,” Mulder said softly. They were silent for a while, and then Mulder cleared his throat. “S’cold in here,” he murmured.


“Yeah.” Skinner sat back in his armchair and enjoyed the sight of Mulder’s pale face and elusive hazel eyes, illuminated by the flickering light. “Cold outside as well,” he commented after a long time.


“Yeah,” Mulder agreed. “Christmas. Kids’ll be excited by all the snow.”


“Yeah.” Skinner nodded, a little smile tugging at his lips as he remembered the all-consuming excitement of being a kid at Christmastime.


“Walter…” Mulder hesitated. Skinner thought how much he liked the sound of his own first name being spoken by this man he’d known for so many years and yet whom he felt he barely knew at all.


“What I said earlier, about Scully.” Mulder dropped his gaze and then looked up again. Skinner felt a knot twist deep inside his belly, the same knot he felt whenever he remembered Sharon. “She and I…it didn’t work out,” Mulder whispered.


“Uh huh.” Skinner nodded, somehow not surprised.


“I love her and she loves me…we’re just not in love,” Mulder said softly.


“No.” Skinner shook his head. “I understand. It was the same with me and Sharon at the end.” There was something about the candlelight that seemed to encourage shared intimacies, as if nothing that was said on this Christmas Eve, at this hour of the night, would embarrass either of them in the morning. As if the candles were some kind of fairy dust, casting magic over them.


“We tried to be. We wanted to be…but it just wasn’t there for us. We still love each other…but, well, when she comes back in the New Year I’ll have moved out. I’m going to rent an apartment nearby so I can still see William.”


“Mulder, I’m sorry,” Skinner said gently. “I remember when I separated from Sharon – it isn’t easy.”


“You’d been together for 17 years,” Mulder murmured. “Scully and I…we never should have been together at all. Especially not as I’m…in love with someone else. Have been for years.”


Skinner glanced at Mulder, both surprised and curious. He waited for Mulder to continue, but Mulder’s courage seemed to falter.


“I never had the guts to do anything about it,” Mulder whispered.


“No.” Skinner smiled sadly. “I understand that as well,” he said, gazing into the candlelight. “Something…similar ended my marriage. Sharon knew though, she knew before I did.”


“Yes. Scully knew too. She was the one who told me I had to do something about it. Said I couldn’t just…said I had to take a risk, even if it didn’t work out. Said I’d never be happy unless I did.” His eyes bored holes into Skinner’s soul.


“She’s right. I waited too long, until it was too late.” Skinner bowed his head, lost in his own thoughts.


“Maybe not too late?” Mulder said tentatively. Skinner looked up, surprised, unsure, to be met by Mulder’s steady hazel gaze, full of longing. The candles seemed to be dancing all around him, little licks of flame leaping and wavering in the cold, dark air. Skinner leaned forward to warm himself on their meagre heat, and his outstretched hands met Mulder’s in midair.


“You’re cold,” Mulder whispered.


“I know. You too,” Skinner replied, wondering why he didn’t want to draw his hands away. Mulder’s long, slim fingers caressed his skin, warming him up from the outside in.


“I know a better way to get warm,” Mulder whispered, his hazel eyes full of yearning.


“Me too,” Skinner said, never taking his eyes off the other man’s full lips. Slow, dawning realisation wrapped him up like a blanket against the cold world outside and he felt the loneliness of the past few years slipping away to be replaced by something warm, glowing, and full of hope. He could scarcely believe what was happening to him but he didn’t want to break the magic spell, didn’t want to try and stop and figure all this out, to ask why, and when, and how. He was struggling just to breathe – and believe. Now Mulder was getting up, his hands still wrapped around Skinner’s, and Skinner found himself being pulled to his feet, pulled closer to the candles, closer to Mulder, to the tantalising warmth of human contact like a moth to the flame. Mulder’s hands drew him in, pulled him close, until their bodies were touching.


“I’ve been in love with you for seven years, Walter,” Mulder whispered, his hands coming to rest on Skinner’s hips. Skinner leaned forward, drawn towards those tantalising lips, needing to touch and taste them. Their mouths met, curious, and exploratory. Skinner felt Mulder sigh and the coldness inside him evaporated, to be replaced by a vigorous, vital warmth. He seized the other man passionately, kissing him hard, unable to get enough of him, needing him, their tongues devouring each other as the coldness and pain of 7 long years dropped away. When they finally came up for air, Skinner found that his arms were wrapped tightly around his ex-agent and Mulder had come to rest in them as if he had belonged there all his life.


“Walter…look at the clock,” Mulder whispered. Skinner turned his head and glanced at the clock on the wall. 12 a.m. precisely. “Merry Christmas, Walter,” Mulder said softly, nuzzling his lips against Skinner’s neck.


“Merry Christmas, Fox,” Skinner whispered hoarsely, wondering when the magic was going to come to an end, and hoping it never would.


“Come here,” Mulder said softly. He pulled Skinner over to the couch, then beckoned him down on top of him. Their bodies warmed each other as they pressed close together, their hands and lips and tongues unceasing in their joyful exploration, their flesh lit by the gently flickering candles.


Outside, the snow danced a dance of celebration in the dark, cold city, while inside, two men made love by candlelight. Sometime before dawn, Skinner woke, stiff, cold, and full of happiness, to find himself alone on the couch. He looked up, and saw Mulder, standing naked at the balcony window looking out on the dark, snowy city far below. His long, pale limbs and lean body looked as if they had been carved out of ice.


“Hey.” Skinner got up, trailing the comforter from the couch with him. He stood behind Mulder and wrapped them both in it, warming his lover. “You’ll get cold standing here.”


Mulder glanced up, over his shoulder at him. “It looks so pretty. I was remembering the words to that carol…In The Bleak Midwinter. Scully was singing it to William a few days ago. In fact she sang a whole bunch of ’em to the poor kid who’s far too young to understand a word.” He grinned and Skinner squeezed him tight.


“It doesn’t look so bleak out there tonight,” Skinner said, kissing the side of Mulder’s neck.


“No.” Mulder smiled again. “No it doesn’t,” he whispered, turning inside the warm circle of the comforter and Skinner’s arms. “It’s been such a terrible year – I didn’t expect it to end with this kind of miracle,” he said softly. “I still can’t believe it’s really happening.”


“I know.” Skinner remembered losing Mulder to those bright lights in the sky, and then finding him again, dead. He remembered the grief of burying him, and then the living nightmare of his own existence as Alex Krycek’s puppet. It seemed extraordinary that anything good could come out of such a year, and yet here was a naked Mulder snuggling in his arms.


“I didn’t get you a present,” Mulder murmured, glancing over Skinner’s shoulder at Kim’s bottle of whisky in its bright red wrapping paper.


“Sure you did,” Skinner said huskily, looking down into Mulder’s happy hazel eyes. Mulder smiled and kissed him gently on the lips.


“Yet what I can I give him,” he quoted softly, and Skinner recognised the last few words of the carol. “Give my heart,” Mulder finished, placing his hand on Skinner’s naked chest, right over his heart.


With that one touch, Skinner felt the loneliness of many bleak mid-winters pass into memory. He bent his head and kissed his lover again, a kiss full of a love he had felt for so many years, but had never been able to express before; a Christmas kiss. Then, still wrapped in the comforter, he led Mulder back to the couch, and they lay down together, nestled in each other’s arms, naked skin on naked skin, to await the new dawn together.




The Beginning


In the bleak midwinter,
frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow,
snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter,
long ago.


Our God, heaven cannot hold him
nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away
when he comes to reign:
in the bleak midwinter
a stable place sufficed
the Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.


Angels and archangels
may have gathered there
cherubim and seraphim
thronged the air;
but his mother only,
in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved
with a kiss.


What can I give him,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him
give my heart.


Words: Christina Rossetti, 1872




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