After the monster that was Rob Roberts, they ended up with a layover in Chicago. Mulder looked out the window at the waiting area, decided he wanted to see Chicago and turned to Scully, suggesting they should stay there, check out the wonders of the Christmas season in the Windy City.
She’d only said they’d better do it on their dime and not the FBI’s. He’d agreed wholeheartedly, given he really didn’t want to have to explain to accounting why he had a room with a Jacuzzi tub and had raided the mini-bar within an inch of its life.
It was a medium-sized nightmare to get their luggage off the plane but between two badges, authoritative voices and a wee bit of lying, they were soon in a hastily rented compact car, Mulder with his knees up around his ears as he tried to drive. She’d offered to drive but he turned her down, saying this was his idea, he’d deal with the unfamiliar city and heinous traffic.
While they waited for their luggage, Mulder had cruised the shops of the concourse, then asked two separate security guards and an on-break ticket agent about hotels and returned soon enough with a destination, directions and the keys to their car.
Scully nearly protested when he told her he’d found a place but when he flashed her his gold credit card and said it was his treat, she stopped worrying. Mulder may have a penchant for flea-infested nightmares when it came to the government’s dime but when he shopped for himself, he usually went classier than Tom and Bob’s Trave-Lodge.
Traffic wasn’t the total nightmare she’d been expecting. It was far worse but given all she had to do was look out the window and enjoy the views, she began relaxing while Mulder quietly wished death upon all those that drove in his way.
Her first grinding halt occured when she saw where they were staying had the hotel name on the front glass doors … and an honest-to-God man, in uniform no less, opening that door for them, greeting them with a hat tilt and a smile. He had to gently nudge her to get her moving through the door.
Her second grinding halt, which caused him to run directly into her, happened when a young man of no more than 20 scurried over and took her bag, including her satchel, as Mulder liked to refer to it and she argued every time that it was a handbag.
Her third and final grinding halt came when the bill slid across the smoother the glass mahogany check-in desk, the fleeting number of $548 meeting her wide-eyed gaze before disappearing discreetly under Mulder’s hand as he easily scrawled his name across the bottom. Whispering in her ear, “I like that I can still surprise you,” he put his hand to her elbow and turned her from the desk to the elevator.
She didn’t even seem to notice the woman standing inside, pushing the button for the 15 floor for them and he leaned over, grinning, “not gonna comment on the elevator lady?”
“Still processing it has more than two floors and needs an elevator.”
His smile continued as he got them in the room, Scully taking a minute to register that he didn’t let her in her own room. About to ask, he beat her to it, “so I got the jacuzzi suite which has a full size pull out sofa as well as a king-size bed. Figured I could take one and you could take the other and we could share the tub.”
There was a hot flash of muscle-twinging anticipation that shot through her before she got things under control, turning to him with a cool exterior that he saw right through, “you should have told me to pack a bathing suit.”
“We’re about two blocks of the main strip. I think we can find you one if need be.” The ‘need be’ hung there between Mulder’s grin and her raised eyebrow. Finally, he started towards her, smile widening, “want to go shopping now or should we jump right in?”
Finally, her face began heating, her cheeks first, then the slow creep of it over her scalp, across her ears and down her neck, “I’m leaning towards the shopping part.”
Coming in closer, “does that mean you could be properly persuaded to lean the other way?”
“Shopping, Mulder. Let’s go shopping.”
She’d been to Chicago before but only driven through, always on her way to somewhere else. Looking around, she ignored the frigid wind blowing through her inadequate coat, given they’d just flown in from L.A., and savored the lights, the people, the sheer envelopment of a city in a holiday that made the human race seem just a little nicer, a little calmer, a little better.
While Mulder grumbled because he got whacked in the back with a stranger’s gift of golf clubs.
Winding her arm through his, she lay her head on his jacket-encased bicep briefly as she smiled, “glad you stayed in Chicago still?”
“I’ll be better once we find you a bathing suit and that guy gets his clubs home in one piece without trying to kill anyone else.” She then felt him pull her a little closer, “cold?”
“Freezing but I don’t mind … not yet anyway.” With a glance upwards at the store they were walking past, he pulled her inside, bought her a hat, scarf, mittens and a thick, cable-knit sweater big enough to go over her light coat, her thin pullover, two small children and a tiny, independent nation. As he stood out of the way by the door, he gestured for her to take off her coat, which she did so, an incredulous look of ‘really?’ plastered on her face as he took it, draping it over his arm. Then, in a smooth, ‘I’m 5 and going to dress you’ motion, he dropped the sweater over her head, tugging down until her face emerged, hair askew, fuzz in her eyes and smile as wide as her cheeks would allow. His grin equaled her as she wrestled her arms into the sleeves, finally speaking again once she was dressed, “kinda big, isn’t it?”
“I bought it for me and am generously letting you borrow it. You can thank me later.” As he did the same with the mittens, hat and scarf, he declared her ready for the cold, “all set?”
Looking from the thick, Irish-knit, cabled, fisherman sweater to her flimsy, folded coat, “pretty sure I can’t get that back on, no matter how hard I try.”
He immediately began scanning the store, skimming over the employees and customers who had been watching with amusement the entire time, “do you see any winter coats?”
Scully, with embarrassment beginning to creep up her cheeks, simply held open the bag from the store, “just put my coat in here. I’ll be fine, I promise. I’ve got enough European sheep wool on me to live through nuclear winter.”
His goofy grin returned and taking her mittened hand in his, he escorted her out of the store, “I’ll expect that back the minute we get home.”
“Sure. Fine. Of course.”
Both knew that wasn’t going to happen but they had a routine so why mess with it.
Soon, they found a shop that, to Scully’s complete surprise, sold bathing suits in December … and fairly cheaply, too. Well, it wouldn’t break her bank account completely but it would bend it well enough. Denying Mulder his request to see the suits modeled, she didn’t even show him which she’d picked and purchased, shooing him to the front of the store to wait. Instead, he headed outside after letting her know, looking in surrounding store windows and ducking in the one next door before returning to his position by the door of the bathing suit place.
The sweater kept her fairly warm, all but when the wind blew its coldest, off the water, making her teeth chatter slightly but not enough to tip Mulder off she wasn’t all toasty. She did, however, stop dead in her tracks when they ambled past a bakery, complete with hot chocolate, cinnamon rolls and cute little table by the window that she bet would make Mulder seem like a giant if she got him to sit down at one. Tugging his sleeve, she pointed inside, the steam collecting at the corners of the front windows and calling to her with the promise of warmth and chocolate and sugar.
Soon, much to her amusement, Mulder was indeed settled at a tiny table with his gigantic cup of cocoa and equally large blueberry Danish, looking, as she had thought previous, like a giant … but a friendly one. He laughed, he joked, he captured both her legs between his on the pretense of warming those skinny, little sticks up with his calves and magical thoughts.
The contact was enough. Magical thoughts would have set her on fire.
They had to leave eventually, however, mostly because the waitress/counter woman kept pointedly looking at them, shooing them with her eyes so she could have their table for the torrent of customers that kept passing through. Bundling back up, they mutually decided to head back towards the hotel, the sun having set and the wind blowing even colder. Scully didn’t balk at the fanciness of the hotel this time, instead talking to the elevator operator and the doorman, laying on easy smiles, friendly banter and perfect Scully charm.
He really should have kissed her in the elevator but he had plans for that for New Years.
If he made it that long.
Mulder, honest to God, always did bring his swimsuit. Not the Speedo but his normal, to the knees blue-green-yellow suit with the drawstring that never stayed tied. Changing first, he came out of the bathroom with his eyes shut, the Jacuzzi faucet filling the room with a rushing noise that he had to talk loudly over to be heard, “you decent?”
“Depends of how much liquor I’ve had and the company I’m keeping.”
Mulder stumbled, opening his eyes a fraction too late and tripping over what had to be the stupidest placed chair in the history of hotels, “I … um, I meant if you were in your suit yet so I could open my eyes but while on the subject, what kind of company am I?”
Safely in her modest, one-piece suit, she gave him a look that would pass mere mortals by but set Mulder’s heart thudding heavily, his eyes unfocusing for a fraction of a second.
And she knew it, too.
She left him standing in the middle of the room while she retrieved towels, then stepping into the hot water, her cold skin hurting for a moment at the drastic temperature change but settling in, she sighed and shut her eyes, the steam curling her hair instantly.
Mulder thought about baseball while he climbed in across from her, turning the water off when it reached a good depth. The sudden silence pushed on his ears, that stuffy cotton feeling he hated forcing him to speak, “so, that was a really good Danish.”
Scully let out a burst of laughter, nearly sliding under the water in the process but saving herself by stretching her feet to the low seat Mulder was on, then, needing better purchase, she settled her feet against his knees. Finally stable, she looked at him, amusement obvious, “yes, that Danish was very good but I prefer the cinnamon rolls myself.”
Giving her a grin, “I just hate that first few seconds when it goes from loud to quiet. Had to fill in the space.”
She squeezed his knees with her toes, “I know. Just having some fun. Although,” reaching over for the control buttons, “you could have just turned on the bubbles.”
The smile grew wider, “I forgot about those. Sitting in a glorified bathtub with you in our room in Chicago pretty much pushed my brain capacity to its limit.”
As the bubbles began to churn, she reclined back once again, head against the side, “I pretty much stopped thinking when you said we were sharing a room but I never forget bubbles.”
Yes, yes, he was never going to sleep tonight.
Even after she told him to get his ass in the king size bed because the sofa was bound to be lumpy and she had at least five feet of room he could probably squeeze himself into.
He jumped in beside her.
And nearly bounced her right out the other side. Giggling an uncharacteristically beautiful giggle, “if you want me out of bed, just ask.”
Wiggling to settle in, he looked up at her from his pillow, “I will never, ever ask you to get out of my bed, trust me.”
“Trust no on, Mulder.”
“You don’t trust me?”
Reaching out to poke him in the cheek, “you didn’t let me finish. There’s a tiny asterisk that you didn’t know about. It says, “Trust No One asterisk except Mulder ‘cause he’s the only one I trust … that and my mother … and possibly the Gunmen depending on the day of the week and how many times Frohike looked at me like I’m Sunday dinner dowsed in gravy.”
“That is a very long asterisk.”
“Very tiny writing.”
Her turn to get comfortable, they lay there in silence for a few minutes before Mulder jumped back up, jiggling the bed once again. Eyeing him in the dark as he dug in first one pocket, then the next of his coat, he pulled out a bag, then got back under the covers, handing it to her, “I bought this for you while you were getting your bathing suit.” Sitting up, she automatically reaching for the nightstand light, he stopped her, “it’ll look better in the dark.”
Intrigued, she opened the bag, then the paper wrapped item inside, finding a small, faceted glass heart that Mulder reached over to turn on at the bottom. Suddenly, the softest red-gold light filled the hollow area, sparkling against her face as she stared, a small smile spreading slowly, never reaching full capacity but stopping at just above amazed. He loved that smile and watching her eyes take in the sparkles and glints, he reached over, running his fingers over her cheek, her chin, fingering one particularly stubborn curl at her temple, playing with the ends of her hair until he let his hand fall back to land on her thigh.
His palm on her leg brought her out of her imagination, which pictured him hanging it on her tree for the next 70 years, their kids, grandkids, great-grand kids opening gifts under while it twinkled above in the branches. Seeing it so clearly made her head spin and turning to him, she leaned in, catching him with a kiss so quick yet so firm against his mouth that when she was gone, he never doubted she’d been there.
He didn’t go back for another but sat staring at her while she stared back, her smile going wider than it had been a moment earlier, “I love it. Thank you so much.”
“You’re very welcome.”
After gazing for another few seconds, Scully turned the ornament off, setting in on the table beside her, “g’night, Mulder.”
Mulder knew, instinctively and because he wasn’t a complete idiot, that when she snuggled down and left her right hand extended across the mattress that yes, he was supposed to hold it.
So he did.
And watched her until she fell asleep.
While she watched him.