Disclaimer :: The characters herein are the property of their creators. I make no profit from their use.


:: Gimel ::

written by Starlet2367 { e-mail // livejournal }

The winter storm howled through Virginia, a mad tempest that shattered the ice-coated trees and tore at windowpanes and siding. Mulder huddled miserably on his
couch under a ratty afghan, and watched his television picture flicker and die as the power finally, truly, inarguably failed.

"Everyone who saw that coming, raise your hand," he grumbled, struggling to reach his feet and keep the old blanket firmly about his shoulders. He moved with surprising fluidity through the cluttered darkness; he had long ago memorized the layout of his living room. It was, if nothing else, a tactical advantage for when unwanted visitors intruded.

The kitchen, however, proved to be a greater challenge. Cruel corners stuck out of the shadows and caught his shins and hips with merciless precision. He muttered a string of truly nasty words, and began rummaging blindly through the drawers. The profanity became a crow of delight when his hand latched upon a long, cool cylinder in the second-to-last drawer. With relief he flicked at the switch, only to begin cursing again when a wavering light flickered forth briefly before sliding back into darkness.

He banged the elderly Maglite against the opposite palm, trying to beat the life back into it. He tried reversing the batteries. He considered laying on hands, but still the flashlight remained flatly, damningly dead.

If Scully were here, she would be regarding him with that cool, faintly superior look she got whenever he did something particularly asinine. Upon reflection, it was a look he knew entirely too well. He had to admit that she had a point. It wasn't like the weather channel hadn't been predicting this storm for three days. It wasn't as if the wiring in his building (barring that installed by covert operators and prurient thrill-seekers) was newer than the Johnson administration. It wasn't as if he hadn't known this would happen, eventually.

Yet here he was, chilled and bruised on his kitchen floor, clutching a dead Maglite and cursing the darkness. There was metaphor in the middle of that, he was sure of it, but he didn't feel the urge to explore it too deeply. It might cause him to trade the flashlight in for his gun, and Scully had already been forced to identify his body once within the lasteighteen months. He doubted she'd forgive him a second time.

With a sigh that was wasted on the empty room, he turned back to the junk drawer and proceeded to rummage. If he couldn't find something to use in the kitchen, he would have to wade into the storage room, and that just smacked a little too much of a B-grade horror movie. He moved cautiously, all too aware of the fact that there were loose nails and tacks in the drawer, the old salsa bottle he kept them in having lost its lid the last time he'd tried any home repairs. The whole scenario reminded him of a grade school Hallowe'en party, when the hostess made you dip your hands into unidentified goo, and intoned in your ear that it was, in fact, monkey brains.

No monkey brains for Mulder, he thought ruefully. Lots of sharp pointy things, though. And apparently, this was the place where twist ties went to die. He sighed again and wondered how the hell he'd managed to accumulate so much crap in his life.

There was a metaphor in that, too, but he let it slide on by. At last his hands closed on a bundle of smooth, slippery tapers, and with a pleased grunt he tugged them free of the twining mess that was his junk drawer. Something came free with them, arced briefly in the air and landed with a metallic clatter. He hoped it wasn't nails. The last thing he needed was to step on nails. Scully already had way too much to feel superior about. He rummaged a little more, found a rather tattered feeling matchbook, and pushed the drawer shut again.

He stood carefully, and set the candles out. With surprising dexterity despite the darkness, he untied the bundle and pulled a single candle free, then proceeded to light it. A faint, gold glow pushed back the darkness of his kitchen. He went over to the far cabinets, fished out a set of cheap brass candle holders he'd bought the last time he'd had a woman over, and jammed the lit candle into one. A moment later a second candle flared to life, and the gloom receded even further. He nodded thoughtfully. It wasn't much, but he could probably read by it. It would be enough.

Remembering the metallic clang, he took one of the candles and surveyed his kitchen floor. He noted with pleasure that the room looked almost clean in candlelight. He'd have to remember that for the next time Scully came over. He spotted it at last, a dull brass gleam against the fridge. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out what it was. Even when he held it in his palm, it eluded him, teased him with memories that he couldn't quite place. He stared at intently, willing his memory to order, trying to coax a remembrance.

It looked like a miniature candelabrum, with room for nine tiny candles. He stared fixedly at it, holding the flickering emergency candle close enough to make out the marks excised on the surface. He blinked. A Star of David swam into focus on the center candleholder, and he recognized the rest of the marks as Hebrew. A menorah, then … or no, a chanukiah, he remembered, counting the nine small branches. A chanukiah, then. He had a chanukiah in his junk drawer.

Shit. He really did accumulate a lot of crap in his life. He weighted the chanukiah in his palm, surprisingly heavy for it's size. The memories came now, twisted up and merged with the memories of a young dark-haired woman who mourned her dead fiancé, a woman who mourned him so deeply that she brought him back to life. Next Mulder remembered with a wry twist of his lips the redneck, Crump, curled around himself in pain, in the backseat of the stolen car.  Despite his pain, he had no problem making Jewish Conspiracy cracks, and then, later, earnest attempts to redress the presumed insult. He couldn't have known that his jibes fell short of the mark, that Fox Mulder, aside from a small matter of genetics, wasn't Jewish.

Being Jewish required faith of a kind that Mulder hadn't really had for a long, long time.

He pulled the blanket closer about his shoulders, and for the first time really felt the chill of the night, and the darkness.


His father was drunk. Again. He could barely remember a time in the last year when he hadn't come home to find his father there before him, sitting in the living room with an amber-filled glass and brooding glower. Sometimes, Bill let Fox pass by, escape to his room. Other times the man would call out, force the boy to come into the room and listen to whatever rambled through his head. Most of the times it was bullshit: embarrassing, but nothing important. Other times…

Other times it destroyed him. Bill Mulder, drunk and lost in the middle of some dark place, could flay the skin off of a grown man. He cut to the bone when he turned his bitter invective on his fourteen-year old son. His words, despite the scotch, were measured, even and clipped, and they made Fox wish his father would just haul off and hit him, beat him senseless, do anything other than slowly tear him apart with over-precise enunciation. He knew that he'd lost Sam. He knew that he had failed somehow, that he had done something beyond redemption. He knew it in the silences that permeated their house, in the quiet stillness of his mother's once bright face, in the smell of scotch that never, quite, went away. But to hear it, have it pronounced like a judgment over him in his father's voice, was more than he could bear. He found himself pretending that Bill Mulder was some sort of alien, or shapechanger, like off of Star Trek, or a changeling monster, like in a fairy tale. Anything to make his father's words less real, less piercing, less damning.

Tonight it had been a dark night; it had gotten so bad that Teena Mulder had actually emerged from her own solitude to intercede, to call her son to his dinner, set out for him on the counter and ready for him to carry to his room. Fox had beaten a hasty retreat gratefully, only to realize that his mother had made herself a Judas goat. The food turned to dust in his mouth as he heard his father's voice rise, grow huge and menacing. He couldn't hear much of what his mother said, but eventually, pressed against the door and straining, her heard her weeping.

The fight went on for hours, long into the night, though it never got so loud as to disturb the neighbors, for all that it rattled the foundations of the house. He gave up any pretense of studying, and instead turned his history notes into makeshift basketballs, lobbing them into the wastebasket with distracted grace. More than a century of American dates had been reduced to rubbish when he heard the unmistakable sound of flesh striking flesh: a hard, sharp retort that echoed through the house. It was followed by a muffled thumping, and a crash that might have been an overturned coffee table.

Fox was flying down the stairs, even before he heard his mother's choked sob, his father's low growl. He found them in the living room still, but now Teena was sprawled on the floor, her hand covering her nose and blood trickling over her fingers, with Bill looming over her. The fragments of the coffee table were kicked to the side, leaving nothing between his parents but silence and rage.

He launched himself at his father, knocking the older man to the ground. He was young, and smaller, but puberty had lengthened his bones surprisingly in the last few months, left strength and sinew in the place of baby fat. With an animal cry he straddled the older man, and began to pummel his face and chest with furious, frenetic blows. He screamed and swore, using all the words his father had taught him in the last two years.

"Go on, you fucking bastard, go on. If you hate us so fucking much, if you hate us so goddamned fucking much, just leave!" The words got mixed up with tears; they scalded along his cheeks, as thick and slick as blood, and mixed with mucous to smear his face completely. His gangling arms had good reach, and he bludgeoned his father with a rage that howled out of him like a wild thing. "I'm sorry I fucked up, I'm sorry I lost her, and I'm fucking sorry you hate me, but I can't change it, I can't do anything about it. Just leave us, already, just fucking go. I hate you!"

He felt his mother come up behind him, felt her arms twine around his and tug him off his father. He realized, with a start, that she was smaller than he was. He stopped flailing, afraid of hurting her more, and let her pull him away. His lungs burned as his drew in gasping, gulping breaths, and the sobs wouldn't stop; he felt like he was going to throw up.

"Get the fuck out. I hate you. I hate you!" he sobbed, anger, fear and loss cracking his still-deepening voice. His mother stroked his hair, let her hands slide down his arms; they were sticky with blood and left stains on his shirt. "I hate you," he said, more quietly, but with conviction.

Bill Mulder stood, unsteady on his feet, his face blotched by rage and violence and too much liquor. For a moment, something almost gentle flashed in his dark, hooded gaze. He reached out towards his son, but Fox reared back, taking it as a threat. For a moment the hand hovered there between them, before drifting back down. Without a word, Bill Mulder turned on his heel and left the house, closing the door with surprising softness behind him.

Fox turned to his mother, and his body trembled, weak in the aftermath of his rage. He started towards her, but her walls were back in place, and she lifted her hand to stop him. Her face had gone quiet again, and still, despite the purple swelling around her left eye and the slow trickle of blood from her left nostril. "Just hush, Fox. I know you meant to help, but it would have been better if you had just stayed in your room. It's best if you get cleaned up and go to bed."

He stared at his mother for the longest time, unable to speak or move. At long last she sighed, leaned up and forward to press a small, dry kiss to his forehead. Her lips were appallingly cool against his flushed skin. "Go to bed, son," she said gently, pushing him towards the hall. "We'll talk in the morning."

He could feel her eyes on him as he left the room, and he wondered just what she was seeing.


The promised talk never came; instead, his mother gave him a hearty breakfast and gently informed him that he would be going to New York, to visit his Uncle Samuel. A week out of school and the first week of holidays, spent with a man he hadn't seen since he was eight. Fox ducked his head, but didn't protest. He had, after all, earned far worse than banishment. He just met his mother's remote gaze, nodded, and went upstairs to pack for the trip. He managed to get his bag packed before he threw-up his bacon and eggs.

Teena Mulder drove him to the airport, bought him the ticket for the commuter flight, and waited to see him safely on board. She talked to him more than she had in the previous year, but did not once mention his father, or the reason why she wore oversized sunglasses despite the gloomy December weather. When it came time for them to part, she squeezed his hands and touched his face and lapsed back into silence. Her eyes were kind, at least, if only in an abstract sort of way.

He tried to read through the short trip; he had two new James Blish Star Trek anthologies, but the words just swam in front of his eyes. Giving up at last, he just rested in the seat and very carefully did not remember the night before. Instead, he tried to recall as much as he could about his Uncle Samuel. Great-uncle, really. His grandfather's brother.

Big and bluff, with gunmetal hair and warm blue eyes, and a laugh that had made the quiet Mulder house echo. Perhaps, then, this might not be so bad. He closed his eyes, and without meaning to, slipped into an exhausted sleep.

The stewardess shook him awake, and gently helped him gather his belongings and deplane. He moved hesitantly through the airport arrivals, looking for the face in his memory, scanning the crowd and seeing only a sea of strangers.

Something uncoiled in his gut, sent chill tendrils through his intestine, up into his gullet. He was alone, again, and adrift. Fox felt his eyes tear up, and blinked furiously to clear them.

A big, warm hand clapped down on his narrow shoulder, and he found himself staring up in to a broad face, all blue eyes and wide smile. The gunmetal hair was almost totally white, now, but otherwise the older man was much as Fox remembered. "Uncle Samuel?"

The older man nodded. "In the flesh. At the risk of sounding cliché, you've grown, boy."  Samuel reached out, took the suitcase from Fox. "What have you got in here, kid? Your entire record collection?" he teased as he hefted it up with startling ease.

Fox shook his head, began to follow as his uncle wove through the crowd. "Books, mostly. Star Trek, some Heinlein."

Samuel glanced back, nodding his approval. "Good stuff. I'll have to loan you some of my Brackett's, and maybe some H. Beam Piper. Golden age classics, they are. Good reading still. And I know a great bookstore, second hand, with shelves twice my height."  Samuel continued to chat as they found their way out of the airport and to a taxi, and Fox felt himself loosening a little, unwinding.

Perhaps, then, this trip would be okay. Perhaps he could pretend a little better here. The older man caught his gaze as he slipped his seatbelt on, and there was real warmth there, and real sympathy; between them, they thawed something inside he hadn't even been aware was frozen.

To his horror, Fox felt tears well up and slide down his cheeks, and the sobs he thought he'd swallowed down last night shook loose. Samuel's big hand reached out, cupped Fox's too-thin cheek and forced the teenager to look at him when he tried to turn away. "There's no shame in crying, boy. God made us to do it for a reason. Some things weren't meant for young shoulders to bear." The hand slipped down, and a heavy arm draped around his shoulder. Fox found his face pressed against his uncle's side, and the smell of wool and pipe tobacco curled up and warmed him, finished the thaw. He wept the whole cab ride across the city, and not once did Samuel tell him to hush.


The cab pulled up outside of Samuel's brownstone, one he'd lived in for nearly 50 years.  Fox remembered it from his last visit, remembered the long, narrow flat with its high bookshelves and books tumbling into loose piles on the floor.  Remembered the dust motes dancing, the faded pictures of Samuel and his wife, Anna, who had died so long ago that her memory in Fox's mind had faded like the pictures.

As Samuel handed the cabby the fare, Fox shoved the heavy car door open and slid out into the street, his eyes following the line of shabby but neat buildings. They landed briefly on the cat that napped on a windowsill in the weak winter sun, then skimmed over to the knot of boys half-a-block down playing a well- organized and brutal game of touch football, before moving on yet again. Nothing seemed to hold his attention.

The city was cold this year, colder than usual, and the wind slapped at Fox's neck where his muffler slid away.  He shivered, and followed his uncle to the trunk, where the cabby pulled out Fox's suitcase and set it on the pavement.  Fox noticed that Samuel handed the guy what looked like a ten-dollar bill.  The cabby's face lit up.

"Happy holidays," Samuel said gruffly.

"That was a lot of money," Fox offered, eyes a little wide, as the cab sped away, leaving them on the cracked sidewalk with his suitcase standing beside them. Samuel laughed.

"I tipped him big because Chanukah's tomorrow night. Everyone needs a little extra light at this time of year," he said.  He picked up Fox's suitcase with one hand, and with the other guided the gangling boy up the stairs and into the hallway.  Fox felt the warm air from the building's radiators against the exposed skin of his face and hands. After the chill of the wind, it nearly scalded him, but he was glad for it, glad to be out of the cold.

He noticed that the building still smelled funny, a combination of sauerkraut and wet dogs and the mustiness of great age.  For some reason it made him feel safe. The flowered carpet looked a little more frayed around the edges, but the rail on the stairs still stood strong and sturdy, and the row of mailboxes still gleamed silver in the low light of the hall.

Samuel closed the big front door against the cold, and dropped Fox's suitcase at the bottom of the stairs. "Gotta get the mail," he said, and he turned to the mailbox with his name on it. As his uncle rattled the key in the mailbox, Fox wondered if old Mrs. Franklin would stick her head out her door and offer them cookies.  He remembered how she had always come to the door when she heard keys rattling in the mailboxes, just to see who it was.

One time when they were getting the mail, she'd asked what his favorite cookies were.  He'd been four at the time, and had understood the importance of honesty when it came to cookies; he had responded with perfect gravity that he preferred peanut butter chocolate chip, thank-you. All his visits after had been marked by a trip into Mrs. Franklin's apartment, and a plateful of cookies.

Sure enough, he heard her door creak open, and saw her stick her head around the edge of it.

"Well, hello, Fox," she said, her voice as scratchy and warm as he remembered.  He smiled at her, feeling the last of the tears he'd shed in the cab finally drying up. Samuel glanced up from his mailbox and gave Mrs. Franklin a little wave.

"Dorothy," he said, nodding.

"Samuel," she replied.  Then she looked back at Fox.

"You look like you're freezing, young man," she said. "And my, how you've grown." Fox smiled at her as she came out the door and put her hand on his head.  She had on a dark gray dress with a striped apron tied over it.  Her stockinged feet were tucked into slippers and she smelled like vanilla. It mixed with the smell of the building, and added up to something that almost felt like home.

"Bet you could use some cookies," she said.  "A little bird told me you might be coming, so I made your favorite."  Fox looked up at his uncle, who nodded affirmatively.  A surge of something, perhaps raw joy, jolted through him, and it was all Fox could do not to rush headlong into her flat. He was four years old all over again, and heaven was a plate of cookies and a mug of too-sweet tea. Somehow, the teenager overrode the child, and he remembered his manners and his dignity.

"That'd be nice," he answered calmly, pleasantly, in a talking to grown-ups voice he'd learned.

"Then come with me," she said, smiling at him, holding out her hand. He took it, realizing only then that she was tiny beside him, that he had outgrown her in the intervening years. For all that, though, his hand felt warm and safe in hers; he followed her into the apartment, his uncle only a few steps behind.


"So, Fox," his uncle said to him over dinner that night, "tell me about school."  Fox glanced up at Samuel and smiled the first full smile he'd been able to produce since he'd left his house that morning.  Samuel smiled back at him and passed him the basket of bread.

"My favorite class is history," Fox said.  Samuel nodded and heaped a spoonful of baked beans on Fox's plate. They were eating men's food, Samuel had said as they prepared their meal.  Spicy sausages, baked beans, and white bread.  He could think of nothing better. Samuel had even given him a glass of watered-down beer to go with his sausages.

"Why history?" Samuel asked, his hands gesturing in a way that showed he was genuinely interested.  Fox considered for a minute.

"Because I like knowing about people," he said at last, his voice surprisingly deep. Perhaps men's food did that for you.  "I like hearing stories, but especially true stories about real people."  He shrugged a little. "Ordinary people, doing great things. It's cool."

Samuel nodded. "But you like other stories, too, don't you?" he said. "That bag you had with you felt like you'd packed enough science fiction in it to start your own library!" He grinned at his great-nephew. "That would indicate that you look to the future instead of just the past."

Fox shoveled a forkful of beans into his mouth. "Yeah," he said around his mouthful, nodding vigorously. "Science fiction's especially cool."

"I like it, myself. I expect I'll be borrowing some of your Star Trek books. Never should have taken the show off the air," Samuel said, cutting his sausage and taking a bite, then taking a long draught of his beer. He wiped his mouth with his napkin. He glanced at his nephew, and his eyes were very deep. "I like reading about what could happen sometimes, not just what did happen," he said.

"Yeah," Fox said, nodding again, "me too."  His voice was wistful as he looked out the window.


"No, nooo! Sam!  Sam, come back!"  Fox's cries rent the quiet night, shattering the chill darkness of the room.

"Fox.  FOX. Mulder, wake up.  It's just a dream, son. Wake up." Fox heard the soothing sounds of his uncle's voice penetrating the horror of his dream, felt a large, gentle hand shaking his shoulder gently. He came out of the nightmare wailing, and grabbed his uncle's hand.

"Uncle…Samuel…" he sobbed, his voice a knife-edged keen, "they too' S'm'ntha." He clutched at the older man, still half-asleep and dull-witted with terror.

"There, there, boy, it'll be all right," Samuel said, pulling Fox close to him, enfolding him in his arms.

"No, Uncle Samuel, s'my fault," Fox said, the grief in his voice a self-indictment.  "I didn't protec' her.  I let them take her.  It was my fault," he hiccuped into the older man's nightshirt, his awkward body wracked with shudders

"Oh, Fox," Samuel said, and his voice was rich with sorrow. "Who told you such a thing?" Beneath the sorrow was a hint of anger, and Fox pulled back. "It's not nonsense.  It's the truth.  Dad left me in charge; I was the one responsible when they took Samantha; that makes it my fault. A man takes responsibility for what happens on his watch," Fox replied earnestly, if blearily.

He felt his uncle's hands tighten on his shoulders at the half-remembered quote from his father. He dropped his head, afraid of what he'd see in the old man's eyes. "I could have stopped them.  I could have. I should have done … something."

Samuel brushed his hand over Fox's short brown hair. "Oh, my boy, that's not true.  No one believes that. Not me, not your mother, not your father. We can't believe that because it's not true.  It's not your fault, Fox. Trust me on this." Samuel's hands were incredibly gentle on him, like how his mother would stroke him to sleep when he was small.

A part of him wanted to continue leaning into the comfort, a part of him wanted to believe what his uncle said, but Fox shook his head, pushed away from his uncle, and lay back down in the bed.  He took a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm okay now," he said.  "I get these all the time.  I can go back to sleep on my own," he finished, his voice adult, his eyes looking at the wall behind Samuel.  Samuel sighed, laid his hand on Fox's shoulder lightly.

"Okay, Fox.  Okay.  But you call me if you need anything."

"Yes sir," Fox whispered, only wanting his uncle to leave so he could cover his face with his pillow and pretend away the nightmares.


Breakfast had been another round of men's food; bacon, eggs and flapjacks sat comfortably in Fox's stomach as he topped it off with a mug of very milky coffee. The small diner was a little tacky, a little grimy, but the food was hot and good, and the waitress was a very pretty eighteen-year-old who smiled at him a lot.

He couldn't bring himself to smile back at her, but he enjoyed watching her as she worked her tables and did her job. She had a beautiful auburn ponytail that bobbled slightly as she moved. It was vaguely entrancing.

Samuel caught his gaze and waggled his eyebrows knowingly. "Very nice, I agree. But too old for you to do much more than look, my boy." He kept his voice quiet, making sure his teasing didn't cross the line into humiliation.

Fox felt himself color-up, but waggled his eyebrows in return. "I like to look. It's a beginning."

Samuel laughed. "A very good beginning," he agreed as their waitress sashayed by, her ponytail bobbing to her own internal rhythm. He picked up the check she left, threw money on the table, and stood-up. "So, are you up to that bookstore I told you about? I'd like to get you some Harlan Ellison, maybe some Larry Niven. And maybe, just maybe, a little something from the more classical section? Just so your mother won't accuse me of corrupting you."

His uncle offered him a conspiratorial smile, and Fox felt himself returning the grin. "Yeah, that sounds good." He stood up, and wrapped himself in his thick muffler. It sounded pretty good, indeed.


Six hours in the bookstore, and they had only been part way through the warren of corridors and connected rooms. There had even been a coffee shop in the middle of it, where they had stopped and drunk a mug each while reading some of the rag-tag books they'd collected. It was as close to heaven as Fox thought he was likely to get.

When they'd gone to the cashier, his uncle had swept the books out of his hands and added them his own purchase. He tried to protest, but Samuel had merely shushed him with a pat on the cheek and an admonition to close his mouth, he'd catch flies. The clerk had watched in amusement.

"Christmas presents?" she'd asked, packing the large order into heavy, paper sacs. Fox started as he realized she had some sort of tattoo over her left eyebrow. It served as a reminder just how different New York was from Boston.

Samuel had just shook his head. "Chanukah. One for each night," he replied, smiling at the girl and Fox and the whole room. When he paid, he slipped a chocolate coin into her hand, and winked. "And that's for you!"

Fox had watched as the girl tucked it into her pocket. "Thanks, man. Very cool. Ethnic and everything." She had waved to them as they carried their load out, then turned her attention to the next customer in line.

Now, in the cab, Fox wondered just what his uncle was going on about. He knew about Chanukah, a little at least, but only in a vague sort of way. It was something that got mentioned now and again, but never really talked about. He knew that his mother had been raised Jewish, but that was just another fact, something like her eye color or height; it wasn't something they ever discussed. It was like so many other things in the Mulder household.

"Uncle Sam, what's with Chanukah?" he asked at last, riffling through the bag of paperbacks that sat on his lap.

Samuel regarded his nephew in surprise, and Fox felt his face grow warm under the older man's scrutiny. "You don't know what Chanukah is? What has Teena been teaching you?"

Fox shrugged helplessly. "I know what it is, sort of. I mean, I remember lighting candles and stuff, and you sticking a beanie on my head when I was, like, I don't know, five or something, but I don't know what it's about, if you get what I mean." He paused, drew in a lungful of air and let it out again in a sigh. "Man, that sounded totally lame."

His uncle shook his head and patted the younger man's hand. "No, no, not lame. It just surprises me that she's let it go. It was always her favourite, as a girl. Good family time."

Fox shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "We don't do much for Christmas, either, really. Not for a few years, even before…." He trailed off, realizing where the words were leading and unwilling to follow them. He peered into the bag with fixed interest, as though it contained the secrets of the universe. He felt his uncle shift beside him, let out a breath like a small sigh. He felt a warm hand hover over his head, the merest ghost of a caress.

"Even before," Samuel echoed. "Well, then, we'll have to remedy that. Tonight, I'll teach you about Chanukah. It's the first night, and that makes it the perfect opportunity. And Fox," his uncle continued, his big hand coming down this time and covering the crown of his head, "it's a yarmulke. Only fools wear beanies."


He sat in the kitchen as his uncle mixed the batter for potato pancakes. Latkes, the older man called them. An orange and green box sat on the counter, while Samuel beat an egg into cold water to achieve the perfect volume of liquid. "Your Aunt Anna used to make these from scratch, bless her, but I haven't her touch or her patience, and Manischewitz tastes good enough to me." He poured the contents of the box into a battered ceramic mixing bowl, and began to blend in the liquid with a wire whisk. That done, he checked the chicken and vegetables roasting in the oven, and the soup on the stove. "Same with the Matzo ball soup. I use packages, because I like to eat before the second night." He smiled over at Fox, his face seamed with good humor.

"Come on, then young Mulder! We've got to get things set up, so we can light the chanukiah at sunset." He wiped his hands on a dishtowel, and motioned the teenager into the sitting room.

It was a cluttered, untidy room, with more than its fair share of dust, and it was, perhaps, the nicest room Fox had ever seen. The armchairs were worn just right, there
was something to read scattered over every surface, and the walls were lined with books and pictures and curios of all kinds. This was a room meant to be lived in, a room that had been loved over many years; Fox felt it sink into him, just a little, each time he came into it. It felt good.

He watched as Samuel rummaged through the drawers of the desk, exclaiming softly as he fished out a small brass candleholder and then an orange box of some sort.

"Open the curtains, boy," Samuel instructed. He carried his handful over, and once Fox had done as he asked he set down the brass candleholder and the box of what turned out to be candles. With gentle hands he fitted a candle into the holder farthest right, and then another into the central one, raised a little higher than the rest. He nodded, at this, then returned to the desk. A moment later he was beside his nephew, laying a silky skullcap over his crown, then setting a white and blue woven one over his own. "Remember, Fox, it's a yarmulke, not a beanie!" he teased, before turning to face out the window.

Together, they watched as day began its slide into night. After a few moments, Samuel began to speak. "Chanukah proclaims a miracle, Fox. A long time ago, the Jews lived under an oppressive, cruel conquerer. He took all that they were, all that they believed, and made it shameful. Made it dirty. A man rose up, a priest, who cried out against their wicked deeds, who spoke out against their defiling. When he was slain, his sons took his place. They did not give up. They did not back down. They led their people, mostly farmers and winemakers and men of learning, and they fought a king's army, and they reclaimed the Temple, and cleansed it, and gave it back to God. Against great odds, they fought and won and gave it up to the glory of God."

Samuel turned, looked at Fox. "Some people say that we celebrate eight nights because they celebrated the rededication of the temple for eight days. Most of the time, the rabbi's teach us that the temple menorah, reconsecrated, burned for eight days on a single jar of olive oil. But what I know, in my heart, is that the miracle is one of faith. It is the miracle of believing in who we are, and fighting for what is right and good, no matter the odds."

Samuel reached out and tipped his nephew's head up. Fox found himself getting lost in the depths of the older man's blue gaze. "The miracle lies in here," Samuel said softly, tapping the teenager's still-shallow chest. "It lies in believing in the truth within you, the truth that God put there, and nobody else."

He turned them so that they both looked out the window again, just in time to see that last of the sunlight slip away. Samuel fumbled in his pockets and withdrew the lighter he used for the pipe he sometimes smoked. He pulled the candle out of the center holder and lit it, then passed it on to Fox. "That's the shamash, the servant. You use it to light the other candles. Just hold it a moment."

Fox gripped the small, white candle with slightly sweaty hands, afraid of dropping it, afraid of somehow ruining this moment. Samuel's words whirled through his mind,
and opened up doors to possibilities he'd thought had left with Sam. A small, tenacious part of him longed to believe.

He glanced over to see his uncle's head bowed in prayer. A moment later, Samuel began to speak. "Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has
granted us life, and sustained us, and brought us to this season. Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Thy commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light. Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who did perform miracles for our fathers in those days at this season."

Lost in the words, Fox started when his uncle's big, square hand clasped over his long-fingered one, and moved him to light the candle for this first night. As the small, fragile flame was shared and sparked into new life, the shamash was returned to its place and Samuel began to sing in what Fox assumed was Hebrew. As the final "amen" faded to nothing, they watched in silence as the candles burned down and finally guttered into darkness.

Fox realized, though, that this darkness was somehow different. It had been touched by a miracle of light, and that changed it somehow, worked some sort of alchemy that rendered the shadows harmless. He opened his mouth to say this to his uncle, to share this strange, wondrous news, but he could not find the words, could not find any words at all.

In the end, none were needed. Samuel plucked the brown silk yarmulke from his head, and pushed him towards the kitchen. "We've fed the soul, now let's feed the body. Do you want sour cream or apple sauce with your latkes?"

Fox stared at his uncle, his mouth a little open. After a moment, he felt himself truly relax, perhaps for the first time in months. He yawned hugely, and smiled apologetically for it. "Hmmm. Apple sauce sounds good," he answered his uncle, who hovered in the doorway. It did sound good, really good. "If you makes lots, we can
have both, though."

Samuel laughed, and led the way into the warm, yellow glow of the kitchen.


The days passed quickly; Samuel knew the city inside-out, and made sure that Fox did as well. Bookstores and libraries and coffee shops were frequented. They hit three different museums, at least, and his Uncle took him ice-skating, surprising the teenager with his grace.

By the last night of Chanukah, Fox could sing the blessing himself in passable, if awkward Hebrew. The shamash burned brightly in his hands, and he felt a small thrill of wonder as the light spread, caught and held. He looked out the window, saw snowflakes glowing in the streetlights, and it seemed to him as if the whole world were ablaze with brightness, as though someone had finally pulled back a curtain to let him really, truly see. Not even the guttering of the candles could dim the revelation; the darkness had been transformed for him, and something small and fragile inside him uncurled, straining for the light.

Three days later he was back at the airport, his bag checked. He hovered just outside the departure gate, rocking awkwardly in his shoes, not wanting to say goodbye and knowing he had to. "Uncle Sam…" he began, then trailed off, a little helplessly. At fourteen, it was hard to know what the right words were.

Samuel patted his head, briefly caressing the crown. "I know, young Mulder, I know," he said softly. "I was glad to have you. You're a good boy, a good man." He reached out, prodded him in the chest. "The truth is in there, Mulder. Remember that." 

Samuel paused, fished through the voluminous pocket of his overcoat. A moment later he pulled out something wrapped in newspaper, then set it gently in Fox's hands.

Fox carefully unwrapped it, and felt his mouth 'o' slightly at the sight of the chanukiah. He started to demur, to protest, but one look at his uncle convinced him otherwise. For once, despite being fourteen, he knew what to say. "Thanks, Uncle Sam."

"You're welcome, boy," his uncle replied, leaning in to press a soft kiss to his cheek. "You're always welcome."

Fox swallowed hard against the lump in his throat, felt tears prick against his eyes and blinked them away. "I guess I'd better go, then," he said softly, tucking the re-wrapped chanukiah into a pocket of his carry-on bag. Samuel nodded but didn't say anything. Fox turned and began the long walk towards his flight. Once, near the end of the corridor he turned, and there, in the distance he could make out the shape of his uncle, who lifted his arm and waved. Fox waved back, and then continued on his way.


His mother met him at the airport, without the sunglasses or the bruise they'd hid the last time. Nevertheless, some small part of Fox felt like he could see them still, like a ghostly afterimage on the television when the reception was bad. He started to hug her, but she somehow eluded him. Instead, she was quiet in her greetings, and moved him quickly out to the waiting car and the drive home.

He talked almost incessantly on the way back, telling her what he'd seen and done, just as he had done when he was in grade one and home from a busy day at school. She nodded occasionally, and actually talked a little bit about the Chanukahs of her childhood, but for the most part Fox carried the conversation. Sometimes, he thought there was an emptiness inside the car that made his words echo, made them hollow, but he ignored it and pressed on, trying to fill the silence with all that he had done.

It was only when they reached home that the wrongness could no longer be denied. The house was empty, cold, and not a single decoration was out, despite the fact that Christmas was two days away. Teena Mulder, if only for the sake of appearances, had always decorated the home. Fox dropped his bags in the front hall, and rounded on his mother.

"Mom, what's going on here? Where is everything?" he asked, his voice tight and pitched too high.

His mother's face was almost bland, with only a hint of gentle sympathy in her eyes. "Fox, you know that things have been difficult between your father and I since … well, for awhile now. While you were gone, your father and I sat down and had a long talk …." Her voice faded into nothingness as a tide of white noise washed out all other sound.

He had done it again. He had taken what was left of his family and torn them apart even more. Vague, familiar words filtered through the haze that fogged his brain. He heard "separation" and "divorce" and "for the best" and underneath it all, deep inside "your fault".

"It would have been better if you had just stayed in your room." His mother's words echoed through, resonating in the suddenly bottomless pit of his gut. A soft hiss sounded in his ears, like a candle doused; the darkness rose up around him, and he felt himself drowning in the shadows.


The sound of the television blaring back to life roused him from his reverie. He realized with a start that the power was back on, and he'd only missed half an hour of his movie at most. He returned his attention to the chanukiah in his hand, feeling the weight of it. He'd forgotten he'd ever had it. It had gotten tucked away in the months that followed, and after the divorce his mother had broken off contact with most of their family on either side, preferring to withdraw from the world.

Mulder flicked the television off and stood up, crossing over to the nearest window and turning off every light as he went. He pulled up the blinds up, and looked out into the snowy night. The individual flakes whirled and flared in the streetlights, and despite the hour, the sky was impossibly bright. He set the chanukiah down on the windowsill and reached for his phone.

It rang twice before a bleary voice answered. "Yeah, Scully, it's me." He paused, smiled when she inquired pointedly as to whether or not he owned a watch. "Yeah, I know it's late. I just wanted to ask two things. Are you free tomorrow night? And do you like apple sauce or sour cream with your latkes?"


Notes: "Gimel" is one of the letters on the dreidel, a common game played around Chanukah. It means to "take all" or to "win the pot." Both apply here, we think. Happy Chanukah.