Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
Holiday foolishness by Foxsong
Story, humor, MSR UST. Rated G.
Spoilers: None in particular.
Archive at will, but please keep this link back to my site at www.foxsongfiles.net
Thanks for live instant-messenger beta by MaybeAmanda, for screaming encouragement to Char Chaffin, and thanks for first feedback to the JeSouhaite list. Y'all rock. ;-)
Disclaimer: "The X-Files" TM and copyright Fox and its related entities. All rights reserved. Neither this work of fiction nor its writer is authorized by Fox.
Summary: Yes, 'shippers, there is a Santa Claus.
- - - - -
At exactly 5:07 PM -- he'd just glanced at his watch, so he knew it was exactly 5:07 PM -- on the first Friday in December, Mulder stepped into the elevator behind Scully in the basement of the Hoover Building and pressed the 'Lobby' button on the panel. He stepped back and, keeping his chin up, let his gaze travel slowly down the back of Scully's coat toward the hem.
She'd worn those seamed stockings again today, and this time she'd teamed them up with a skirt that was just a little bit shorter than the ones she usually wore. He'd spent most of the day trying to find ways to steal yet another surreptitious look at her legs every time she came out from behind her desk. He was amazed he'd gotten through the entire day without her noticing and slapping him down with a scathing look or a sarcastic remark. It was almost enough to make him suspect she was onto him and that she didn't mind, but that was more of a stretch than even Mulder's very active imagination could quite manage.
"So what are you doing for Christmas, Mulder?" she asked, turning toward him. He looked up at her face just in time. "Any special plans?"
"Um. Me?" Well, duh, Mulder, he thought; there's nobody else on the elevator but you. "I guess not. There's always the standing offer of cheesesteaks and a few games of Doom with the guys, but I don't know."
"Ah," she said, still looking up at him as if she were expecting more. He doubted that further elaborations on the charms of Yuletide with the Lone Gunmen would raise his standing in Scully's eyes, so he tried a different tack.
"What about you, Scully? You'll be in San Diego with your family, won't you?"
"Not actually over the Christmas weekend. Bill's shipping out on the twenty-first, so we're going to do Christmas this year on the weekend before." She tilted her head a little. "That was the paperwork I had to drop off at Skinner's office today -- my leave request. Don't you remember?"
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, you did mention that." She'd mentioned it, all right. She'd paused in the doorway, rested her weight on her left foot, dropped her right hip, letting that nice little skirt hitch up ever so slightly, and looked over her shoulder at him and asked him if there was anything he needed while she was heading that way. The view was breathtaking. It was a wonder he'd been able to answer coherently. "I guess I wasn't thinking."
"I guess you weren't." One auburn brow arched a bit higher above amused blue eyes. "Mulder, you have to pay attention. One day you might miss something important, like a woman coming on to you." The elevator door whisked open. "Have a good weekend," Scully said, and walked briskly away across the lobby.
Mulder stood open-mouthed in the elevator until the doors began to close again, and he had to reach out quickly to hold them open so he could get out.
- - - - -
"That's three of them now," Mulder said, watching Skinner roll the tiny electronic device around with one finger on the desk blotter. "Two this month alone -- a new one each week. Three, with the one I found at the end of November."
"Mm-hmm," Skinner frowned. "You're sure you're not poking around in something that made somebody think you're worth keeping an eye on all of a sudden?" He glanced speculatively up at Mulder. "Off the record, of course."
"Of course not!" Mulder snorted, and then said, more quietly, "I mean, not at the moment. No."
Skinner held his gaze in silence.
"Really," Mulder added. "Sir."
Skinner, at last apparently satisfied, nodded. He picked up the monitoring device between his thumb and forefinger and peered closely at it. "How'd you happen to notice it?"
Mulder remembered standing on tiptoe on the corner of his desk, leaning precariously out into space, waving a yardstick at the last few pencils that had stubbornly resisted the law of gravity and remained speared, graphite-first, into the ceiling tiles. Before he could dislodge them, the glint of light reflecting from the tiny lens had caught his eye.
"I inspect my office very thoroughly for just such things on a regular basis," he said.
"Hm," Skinner said again. He reached for the little plastic ziplock bag and dropped the tiny device back into it. "Well, since our people couldn't come up with anything from it, I don't suppose there's any harm in your letting your, ah, associates look it over." Mulder took the bag from Skinner's outstretched hand.
"Let me know if they come up with anything," Skinner said behind him as Mulder left the office.
"I will. Thank you."
In the elevator Mulder kept one hand in his jacket pocket with the little plastic bag as if he thought it might get away from him without his constant supervision. By the time the elevator reached the basement all the other passengers had disembarked and left him alone, and he relaxed a little.
The office door was ajar. He pushed it open wider and entered to see Scully leaning back in her chair, legs crossed at the knees, reading some kind of newspaper that was spread open across her lap. She had a steaming mug of hot chocolate in one hand and was stirring it lazily with a candy cane held in the other.
"Hey," he said. He shrugged his jacket from his shoulders and fished the little bag out of the pocket, tucking it into his pants pocket this time.
"Hey," she answered. Her reading glasses had slipped down to the end of her nose, and she peered up over the lenses at him. "You just missed the Three Wise Men."
He groaned. "For once, they were not only on time, but actually a little early?" As he tossed his jacket over his desk in the general direction of his chair, he looked at the desktop, and then looked again. "Did you see them messing around with anything on my desk?"
"Not that I noticed." She turned the page of her newspaper and took a little slurp at the chocolate that somehow managed to be both audible and delicate at the same time. "Hot," she said at his questioning look, and set down the mug.
Not just the chocolate, honey, he thought, rifling through the papers on his desk. Darn that Langly -- he could never keep his hands off the Sharper Image catalog. Mulder hadn't even had time to turn down the page with the Deep-Kneading Massage Cushion For Chairs And Car Seats on it yet. In a perfect world, he'd have been able to get Scully to prance around on his back and give him those shiatsu massages, but he was a practical man, and he knew the odds against anything like that happening to him.
"Oh, they're coming back," Scully said as she folded the newspaper closed. "They had some brilliant idea about getting into the cafeteria and leaving samples of the latest issue." She uncrossed her legs and rolled her chair forward. "Have you read this one yet, Mulder? I think Frohike might have put a little too much rum in his eggnog this month. Here, look at the headline."
Mulder caught the paper as she tossed it to him. He shook it open. " 'He Sees You When You're Sleeping, He Knows When You're Awake'," he read aloud. " 'Multinational Espionage Network Headed by Mystery Man from Arctic HQ'." He lowered the paper and smiled a little in spite of himself.
"But you never know, do you, Mulder?" Scully's answering smile was mischievous. She reached out and picked up her hot chocolate. "Maybe that's your spy -- Santa Claus. Like it says, he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake..."
Mulder was just about to say something snappy and sarcastic when Scully, her gaze still locked on his, swirled the candy cane through the chocolate and drew out a great gooey blob of melted marshmallow, and then licked it from the cane with one long, slow, deliberate sweep of her little pink tongue.
If he'd ever had a witty reply, it was gone after that display. He fumbled the copy of The Lone Gunman to somewhere south of his belt buckle and took refuge behind his desk as quickly as he thought he could without looking frantic. He began shuffling through the papers on the desk again. "So, Scully, you seen my Sharper Image catalog around here anywhere?"
"Your what? No, I haven't. Was there something particular you wanted in there?"
"I..." He didn't dare look up. "Nah. I was just looking through it."
- - - - -
Mulder sighed, and watched his breath puff into a little cloud of steam on the cold night air as it left his lips. He slammed the car door shut and walked away toward the front of his building. In the shopping bag he carried, the big book bumped against his leg as he walked. He pressed his lips together firmly, stifling another sigh.
He'd done it again. He'd wandered the mall for nearly two hours, he'd lingered for several solemn minutes outside Victoria's Secret, gazing longingly at all the lacy, silken confections in the window, and then he'd finally ended up getting Scully another book.
Not that there was anything wrong with getting her a book, he thought as he punched the fourth-floor button in the elevator. Scully loved to read, and he had a good idea what kinds of things she liked to read about, and getting her books had become a sort of tradition for him. And this was a fine book, one she'd enjoy -- an oversized volume about the history and restoration of the 'Christeen,' a historic oyster sloop over a century old.
He could imagine Scully poring happily over the pictures of the beautiful old ship. He'd rather imagine himself poring over the beautiful picture she would make in any one of the garments he'd seen in that shop window, but buying Scully lingerie from Victoria's Secret was far too bold a first move for him to make.
Mulder let himself be carried out of the elevator and down the hallway by this train of thought. All the way to his door, he looked down at his feet and felt vaguely sorry for himself. Standing outside his apartment, sorting one-handed through the keys on his keyring and still studying his shoes, he noticed the light coming from beneath the edge of his door. The key was in his hand, poised at the edge of the lock, but Mulder froze, suddenly wary. He was sure he hadn't left any lights on that morning when he'd left for work.
He nearly dropped the shopping bag and reached for his gun, but he hesitated. Scully had just been telling him this afternoon that he'd seemed distracted lately, and he'd had to admit it was true; on top of the usual holiday runaround, those three bugs in the office had gotten to him more than they might have at another time of the year. It was entirely possible, he reassured himself, that he'd left a light on without realizing it.
He was just lifting the key to the lock again when he heard a noise from inside the apartment.
It was a metallic clunking sound, and it was followed by a sort of ratchety noise, and then by silence again. Mulder held his breath and leaned closer to the door to listen. He heard another thunk, and then something that sounded like someone shuffling through a collection of sinister-sounding clinking objects. Amazingly, the last bit was accompanied by a wheezy, tuneless whistling.
At the sound of that whistling, Mulder's initial wariness was pushed aside by rage. Bugging his office hadn't been enough; now they were in his apartment, and whistling while they worked! He pocketed his keys as he backed away from the door. He set the shopping bag down and tugged his weapon out of its holster. The ratchety noise resumed on the other side of the door as he let the safety off the pistol. Mulder crept up to the door again, tried the knob with his thumb and forefinger, and found it unlocked. He swung the door open quickly and silently, and slipped into the apartment.
The overhead light was on in the kitchen; that was where the noises were coming from. Mulder slunk along the wall toward the doorway. The whistling, which had fallen quiet, started up again with a new round of clinking noises. Mulder took a deep breath and swung out into the kitchen doorway, gun first.
"Federal agent! I'm armed!" he shouted. "Turn around! Hands out where I can see them!"
"Aaaaaaaah!" yelled the diminutive man in the crawlspace under the sink. A wrench flew out and skidded across the floor. "Aaaaah!" the man yelled again as he scrambled out. He waved his hands in the air. "Don't shoot me!"
"What are you bastards doing now, poisoning my water again?" Mulder yelled right back at him. "Tell me why I shouldn't shoot you!"
"I don't know what you're talking about!" the little man cried. "You're the one who wanted your damned drain fixed!"
"What?" Mulder glanced around the kitchen. He saw a toolbox full of what looked like plumbing equipment open on the floor near the cabinets under the sink.
"Your drain. Your leaky drainpipe," the man repeated, hands still trembling in midair. "Look, there's the work order, right there." He nodded toward a clipboard on the floor next to the toolbox.
Mulder kept his eyes and his weapon trained on the little man as he bent to pick up the clipboard. When he glanced down at the paperwork clipped to it, he recognized the repair request form he'd filled out and dropped into the building super's box a day or two ago.
He frowned, looking up -- or looking over, more accurately -- at the intruder in his kitchen. It struck Mulder suddenly that the man wasn't just short; he was very short indeed. Mulder guessed that he was perhaps only about four feet tall. He was a little overweight, with salt-and-pepper hair and round, wire-rimmed glasses. He bore a disturbing resemblance to a tiny Frohike dressed in overalls.
"You're not the super," Mulder accused him.
"I'm filling in for him this week," the man explained.
Mulder just stared incredulously at him.
"What, he can't have a Christmas vacation? Look, I've got my wallet in my pocket. My driver's license is in it, if you want to see it." The little man looked exasperated. "And can I put my arms down now?"
"Um... yeah, okay." Mulder set down the clipboard and lowered his gun a little. "But I'd like to see that ID."
"Here." The small man plucked the wallet from the pocket of his overalls, flipped it open, and held it out to Mulder.
"Ambrose Butterworth," Mulder read aloud. The photo matched the face in front of him, albeit with a less pissed-off expression.
"That's me." Butterworth snapped. He folded his short arms as well as he could across his chest. "Three-foot-eleven, grey hair, green eyes, corrective lenses. Satisfied?"
Mulder sighed deeply. He handed the wallet back and replaced his weapon in its holster. "I'm sorry, Mr. Butterworth. I wasn't expecting you right now." He was beginning to feel incredibly embarrassed. "You, um... you want a beer, or something?"
"No thanks. That's okay. I don't drink," the little man answered, picking up the wrench he'd dropped when Mulder barged into the kitchen. He turned back to the drainpipe under the sink, and then paused to look balefully over his shoulder at Mulder. "But don't let me stop you, buddy. No offense, but you sure look like you could use one."
- - - - -
Mulder moved papers around on his desk, tinkered with his computer, and generally pretended to be doing any number of interesting and important things. What he was really doing, of course, was exactly what he had been doing since about noon: sneaking long looks across the office at Scully, trying to think of some clever way of enticing her to go to dinner with him after work.
The five days spent without her while she'd done her Christmas thing with her family in San Diego last weekend had seemed interminable. Not, of course, that she was in the habit of devoting her weekends to him; still, he'd been reminded how comforting it was to know she was only a phone call and a short drive away if he could come up with a plausible excuse to see her. It felt very different when she was the breadth of an entire continent away from him.
Now, a little after four in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, he found himself reaching some new kind of determination. You can do it, he repeated to himself, hoping it would actually sink in this time. You can invite her out and take her on a real live romantic date. You can dazzle her with your charm and wit and you can take her home and you, yes, YOU, Mulder, can actually, really, truly get to at least first base with her...
Mulder frowned to himself. Here he was, forty years old, and still thinking in the same ridiculous baseball terminology he'd been using at sixteen. No wonder he'd sat pining for Scully across the office for seven years like a lovesick fool instead of actually doing anything about it.
A movement outside the open office door caught his eye. An overalled janitor -- a tiny little overalled janitor -- was pushing a wheeled cart almost as tall as himself past the doorway and down the hall. Mulder found himself rising from his seat and walking toward the door. He peered around the doorframe.
"Mulder?" Scully said from her desk. "Mulder, what is it?"
Mulder didn't answer. He watched the little man heft a garbage can up and dump its contents into the receptacle on the cart. It was an ordinary maintenance cart, with its garbage bags and brooms and so on, but it was the janitor who fascinated Mulder.
From the corner of his eye he saw Scully coming up beside him. "Mulder, what on earth are you looking at?"
"Him." Mulder nodded toward the small man, who had taken down a push broom and was tidying up the floor around the garbage can. "He's..." He gestured uncertainly. "He's... small."
"He's a dwarf, Mulder," she said. "An achondroplastic dwarf, judging by his bodily proportions."
"But I've never seen him before." Mulder turned toward Scully. "I would have remembered him."
Scully seemed perplexed. "So he's new here. Or he's working a different shift over the Christmas weekend."
Mulder looked out into the hallway again. The little man pushed the cart around the corner and disappeared. "But what's he doing here?"
"Mulder, what difference does it make?" Scully asked. The tone of her voice was worried. Mulder glanced back at her and saw that her expression was the same. "You know the federal government has a non-discriminatory hiring policy. Why shouldn't a dwarf be hired as a maintenance man?"
"In this building? Right by my office?" he persisted.
"Mulder, I don't think..." she began, but he cut her off. He took her by the arm and ushered her firmly back into the office. He closed the door behind them.
"Scully, you don't understand." He leaned close to her and lowered his voice, suddenly afraid there might be a new listening device in the room. "That's the second one I've seen in two days. The substitute building super who fixed my sink last night was a dwarf, and..." His voice trailed off as he suddenly remembered that he'd seen a dwarf clerk working in the bookstore where he'd bought Scully's Christmas present, too. He turned his head and stared at the back of the closed door as if he thought the little maintenance man might be outside, listening.
"Mulder." He felt the pressure of Scully's fingers squeezing his forearm. "Mulder, look at me." He turned toward her again.
"Listen to me, Mulder," she said gently. "Remember what we were talking about the other day? How the holidays can be a very stressful time?" The look in her eyes seemed closer to pity than to sympathy.
"Mulder, I think you've just had too much stress in the past few weeks, what with the pressures from that last case, and then the bugs in the office, and Christmas and everything." She began to stroke his arm slowly, as if to soothe him. "Why don't you just go on home right now, and relax tonight, and then we can have lunch together tomorrow, when you're feeling a little more rested?"
Mulder opened his mouth to argue, but realized as he did so that there was nothing he could say that wouldn't sound completely ridiculous. He closed his mouth again and stood looking sadly down at Scully.
She seemed to take his silence as complicity. "That's better, Mulder." She smiled the way a mother might smile at a recalcitrant child who'd just seen the error of his ways. She patted his arm again, and walked over to the coat rack, and brought his coat to him.
"Here you go," she said. Mulder found himself being helped into his coat. "You'll feel better after a good night's sleep." He nodded mutely as Scully tucked his woolen scarf around his neck.
Scully opened the door and took his arm and led him into the hallway toward the elevator. "Now, if you need anything, you just call me. Okay?"
"Um... yeah." The doors opened and Scully aimed him into the elevator. "Okay."
"Good. I'll see you tomorrow, Mulder." He watched the doors close on that vaguely pitying look, and on every hope he'd had of his romantic evening. The floor shifted beneath his feet as the elevator began its ascent.
Great. Wonderful. No wonder he couldn't even get started with Scully, he mourned as the elevator rose toward the lobby. Why would a gorgeous, brilliant woman like that ever want to go out with a guy like him? It wasn't bad enough that he was a paranoid weirdo who chased aliens and mutants and who just generally made a spectacle of himself. No, now it was even worse than that. He was a doofus.
Sighing, he got out of the elevator and walked across the lobby of the Hoover Building. He nodded to the guard at the desk and pushed the door open and stepped out into a gust of biting cold wind. On the wind Mulder heard a silvery, tinkling sound, and glanced over to see what it might be. Far off to his right, just under the overhang of the building, a portly man in a Santa costume stood next to a charity collection box, jingling a leather strap of sleigh bells.
Mulder paused. He might be a doofus who was going home alone on Christmas Eve, he reflected, but at least he was going home, and not standing out here ringing bells and freezing his ass off. On an impulse he walked toward the Santa, reaching into his coat pocket for the dollar and change he'd tucked into it at lunchtime.
As he drew closer, he saw that the man's long white beard was not cotton, but his own, and that he was older than Mulder had thought from a distance. Mulder felt sorry that he was standing out here in the cold, especially now that the evening was coming on. "Heck of a night to be out here," he said conversationally as he dropped the money into the box.
"It sure is, Mr. Mulder," came the reply.
Mulder's head whipped around. He stared at the old man. "Excuse me?" he said.
"I said," the man repeated with a beneficent smile, " 'It sure is. It's getting colder'." And then he winked one twinkling blue eye.
Mulder nodded uneasily, backing away. "Merry Christmas," he said. He turned and hurried toward the parking lot, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder.
By the time he pulled the car up in front of his building, Mulder had decided that Scully was probably right. The holidays were stressful. He'd been under a lot of pressure. Maybe he had been letting it get to him. Noticing a sudden proliferation of dwarves and thinking that street-corner Santas were calling you by name just couldn't be signs of good mental health.
He leaned wearily against the wall of the elevator on the way up to his floor. He would go right in and take a nice hot shower, he decided. Then he'd stick that leftover Kung Pao chicken in the microwave. Maybe he'd even open up that bottle of ridiculously expensive wine he'd been planning to serve to Scully in his little romantic dreamworld, since it was so disgustingly obvious he'd never get to use it the way he'd meant to.
When the elevator door opened and he stepped out, the first thing he saw was the brown cardboard box sitting right outside his apartment door.
- - - - -
Four hours later, the explosives specialists gave the all-clear and started letting the residents back into the building. Shivering in the cold on the curb across the street, Mulder jammed his fists deeper into his pockets and listened to Skinner's ongoing diatribe, which seemed to be finally coming to its conclusion.
"... and Agent Mulder, the next time you want to call out a goddamned bomb squad on Christmas Eve, you'd better call AD Kersh instead of me, because I am never coming out here again as long as I live to watch them take apart your package from the Sharper Image. Is that clear?"
"Very clear," Mulder mumbled.
"I didn't hear you!" Skinner barked.
"Yes, sir," Mulder spoke up. "I won't do it again."
"Listen to me, Mulder," Skinner growled. "Agent Scully told me you'd been a little paranoid lately, even for you. You're taking the week off. I don't want to see you anywhere near the Hoover Building until after New Year's. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir." Mulder glanced over at the people filing across the street between the police lines to go back inside, and hurriedly looked away from the withering glare of the elderly lady who lived two doors down from him. He sighed.
"Mulder, if you have a problem next year, don't wait till it reaches this point." Skinner's tone changed, softening a little. "Just call the EAP and go talk to somebody. The holidays can be tough."
"Thank you, sir. I'll remember that."
Skinner stared at him for a long moment. Mulder couldn't help thinking that he seemed to be deciding whether it was safe to leave him alone, or whether he'd get himself into some other kind of annoying, Bureau-embarrassing mess. At last he said, "I'll see you next week, Agent Mulder. Have a merry Christmas."
"Yeah. You too," Mulder answered without enthusiasm. Skinner nodded and walked away.
Mulder waited until the rest of the people had gone inside. When the cops began to break down the barriers and load them into their trucks, he crossed the street and went into the building.
A Sharper Image package, of all things. He'd never even found his missing catalog. Who the heck would send him a Deluxe Personal Care Kit With Worldwide Adapter Plugs, anyway? And why would they sign the gift tag 'Santa Claus?' Even the Gunmen weren't that weird, he thought. Mulder kicked disconsolately at the empty box in the hallway outside his apartment door before he went inside.
He'd no sooner closed the door and shrugged off his coat when the telephone rang. For a moment he was tempted to let the machine pick it up, but then he sighed and walked over to his desk. "Hello?"
"Mulder-r-r-r." That sounded like Scully's voice, all right, but why had she drawn his name out in a purr? He frowned, taken aback. The day just got weirder and weirder.
"Scully? What's up?"
"I've been trying to call you, Mulder, but I kept getting your machine," she said in that same sticky-sweet tone. "Where have you been?"
"It's a long story. I was --" he began, but she didn't seem to want to hear it.
"Mulder, I got your gift," she cooed. Confused, he glanced over at the table, and sure enough her book was still there, wrapped in festive paper, tied with one of his trademarked clumsy bows.
"Victoria's Secret. It's just beautiful," Scully was saying in a breathless, sultry voice. "Mulder, I didn't realize you'd taken the hint. You were so clever, keeping me in the dark so you could surprise me."
"Well, I, um..." he stalled, utterly at sea.
"And weren't you cute, signing the tag 'Santa Claus',' she went on with a distinctly unScullylike giggle. "That was so-o-o-o sweet."
Santa Claus? Aha! Maybe Scully had taken his Sharper Image catalog, after all, Mulder thought wildly, turning to look at the leather case of grooming implements on the table. "So, Scully," he said, "about my gift..."
"That's what I was calling about, Mulder-r-r." Damn! There was that purr again. "I don't think I want to wait till lunch tomorrow to give you your gift. Why don't you come over now?"
"Now?" He stared again at the mysterious leather case, which had just become even more mysterious. "Now, like tonight?"
"Like right now," she answered, sounding bemused. "Mmm, I think I might even model your gift so you can see how well it fits me, Mulder-r-r."
"You think you'd..." Victoria's Secret, she'd said. Somewhere in his mind, a gear or two stalled.
"How soon can you be here?" Scully asked.
"I am reaching for my coat right this minute, Scully," he replied. "As soon as I hang up this phone I will be out the door."
"Oh, good," she sighed. "I'll be wa-a-i-iting." The last word was delivered in an astonishing singsong tone. When the line clicked off he stood for a moment staring at the phone, dumbfounded. Then he realized he was wasting time, and pulled his coat on and grabbed his car keys. Halfway to the door he stopped, and dashed back into the kitchen, and picked up that bottle of ridiculously expensive wine that he was going to use after all.
Just as Mulder stepped out the front door into the crisp cold night, he thought he heard faraway sleigh bells tinkling on the wind, and he smiled.
= End =
Author's Note: The 'Christeen' is a real ship, the oldest working oyster sloop in the US, and her home port is Oyster Bay, the same as mine. Nobody's written a book about her yet, but somebody should.