More Than You Think You Are Part nine b
Shopping with Skinner that first time turned out to be a goat rodeo of epic proportions. And by that I mean that I might as well have skipped the math lesson that morning.
He wouldn’t let me pay for anything. There I was, mere minutes out of the bank, shiny new debit card in hand, and it could have been an expired Star Trek fan club card for all Skinner cared.
As the proud owner of exactly not much of anything, clothing was my first priority.
I thought Skinner looked damned good in everything I’d seen him in, but all the same, as I was picking out a couple of dress shirts for myself, I found my eye drawn to a crisp white Hugo Boss shirt that fairly begged for Skinner’s shoulders to fill it. I didn’t question my motives, just tossed the shirt into the pile I was amassing on the counter. Skinner’s curious look told me I hadn’t completely hidden the blush I could feel heating my face, and I fled in the general direction of the casual slacks.
I found jeans that fit, and khakis with a dozen pockets in them, plaid flannel pants (two pairs, which earned me a leer from Skinner) and awful purple sweat pants that felt so warm and soft against my hand that I had to indulge my comfort-seeking inner child and have them.
I liked the boxer shorts Skinner had bought for me in New Mexico, and I found several similar pairs in the store to add to my expanding wardrobe. I found socks on sale, and then couldn’t get them to balance on the pile I was creating on the counter. And in the time it took me to pick them up off the floor, the salesman was ringing up my purchases, and Walter was handing him a credit card.
“Hey!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing?”
“Oh, I’ve got this one; you can get the next one.” He smiled as the salesman, who, not caring whose card paid his commission, added the socks to the total, announced an obscenely large total, and swiped Walter’s card with a flourish.
I tried to be mad, but Walter’s wide-eyed, slightly sheepish grin was my undoing. He was silently imploring me not only to let him do this, but to give him more than grudging acceptance for the act. Not that I had a choice by that point, but I caved. Juggling the sales bags, I couldn’t even muster up a convincing pouty stomp out the door.
Every store was the same. While we were in complete agreement as to how to shop (stereotypical men—duck and cover, get in, pay, get the hell out), it was the ‘pay’ part of the procedure that was becoming less a debate and more a fight as Skinner trumped my card every time. I was getting more and more frustrated, and finally, in another clothing store, this one specializing in all manner of dead cow, I abruptly decided I could live without the rich brown leather jacket I was currently ogling. At least for now, at any rate. I suddenly imagined myself slinking out of the house in the dead of night to make purchases on my own…
“Enough!” I veered away from the jackets, marched angrily out the door, and followed the shortest hall to the mall parking lot. My sales bags were threatening to slip out of my hands, and the parking lot suddenly loomed before me, looking impossibly large. I knew the truck was out here somewhere; I just had to remember where….
Skinner jogged up behind me, hands also full of bags.
“Mulder, what is it?” He sounded a little out of breath and a lot confused, possibly even a tiny bit worried—maybe he thought I had spotted some of my infamous little gray men in the mall—but he didn’t sound contrite, or ashamed of his actions, and that was exactly what I was looking for in that moment.
I turned to face him, letting the bags dump to the ground.
“What is it?” I demanded. “Are you kidding me?”
“Mulder, I don’t—“
He should have known better after the last time. When the Mulder steamroller of conversation got moving, it was just best to get out of the way. Verbal bludgeoning is just something you never forget how to do.
“Don’t what, Walter? Don’t care that you made me look like the world’s oldest rent-boy in there today? While you were busy flashing your money around, you should have picked out a t-shirt for me—something tasteful that says “Skinner’s Whore” on it in glitter, maybe.”
“No? Isn’t that what you want? To keep me? Keep me in food and clothes and houses? Keep me from being myself?” I looked away from his miserable face and pretended I wasn’t crying.
He didn’t bother pretending, and I couldn’t not notice the tears in his eyes when he dropped the packages he was carrying and grabbed my hands, pulling me close to him.
“Mulder, no,” he said again, whispering. “God, no, that’s not—I never—do you think I think of you that way?” He brought his hands up to cup my face. His thumbs brushed away my angry tears. “Mulder, when you and Scully left, I thought I was going to die.”
He couldn’t miss my skeptical eyebrow.
“Oh, nothing so melodramatic as pining away from a broken heart, if that’s what you’re thinking. I mean literally. I had every reason to think the powers that were trying to destroy you were going to take your absence out on me. I think that was the plan. And a part of me was happy about it. Maybe I wasn’t going to expire on some chaise lounge like Greta Garbo, but a part of me followed you, Fox. And I didn’t know if I could live without it.”
“Looks like you did,” I didn’t mean it as snarky as it sounded, but the thought of Skinner being killed on account of me gave me a nasty jolt that flavored my words; I think he understood that, though. I got a stroke of fingers over my lips for a fraction of a second, and then he was holding my hands again.
“When I wasn’t murdered for the cause, I found a way to keep going, not because it was expected of me, or even because I thought I’d beaten them, but because I was determined to find it. To find that part of me that made my life more than what it had been. That part that you had taken…that you…that *was* you…
“And now…. now, you’re here, and you’re doing it again. You don’t make my life worth living, Mulder; you make a life worth living even more than that. Just knowing you’re in this world with me makes me feel like anything is possible. And I just want to show you that. Show you what you mean to me.”
He glanced around then, as if just realizing now that we were standing out front of a pretty busy mall. But no one seemed to be paying much attention and his focus turned back to me.
“I didn’t mean to make you feel like a—like a--*whore*, Mulder.” I saw him wince over the word. “I only wanted you to know how much—“
I squeezed his hands and his expression turned hopeful.
“Look,” he said, “we can take it all back. Everything. I don’t care. And we can find you a place—some other place—whatever you want—I—“
This time it was my hand on his mouth, cutting off his words. Followed by a hug as I ran my hands around to his back and pulled him in tight, burying my face in his neck long enough to place a kiss there and briefly enjoy the scent of his cologne. Then I gave him a stern look, but I could feel my mouth wanting to smile.
“You don’t have to buy me, Walter.” When he looked ready to argue, or maybe concede the point, I kissed the words away. “And I don’t want you to. What I want is whatever it was that we had before. Whatever it was that I saw in you when you first walked into my hospital room. That’s all.” Another kiss, and then he was giving the bags scattered around our feet a helpless look.
“Let’s make a deal, Walter. I’m shopped out, and I think I’d rather face aliens than go back into that mall. We’ll keep it.”
I stepped back from him then, and took a moment to enjoy the happiness returning to his features. It was like watching the ocean tide pulling sand off a beach to reveal seashells. Even as I thought it, I shook my head, thinking too much shopping had made me sound just a little too nelly, even for me.
“But supper is absolutely on me. Got it?”
“Yes sir!” He sketched a mock salute, and then helped me gather up my new belongings. And when he pointed out the truck just a few stalls away, he matched the smile on my face with a brilliant one of his own.
I found myself wondering if he liked Chinese….