SUMMARY: When three lives intersect, a triangle is formed.
PAIRINGS: Scully/Skinner, Mulder/Scully
DISCLAIMER: Not mine.
DATE POSTED: August 1998
WORD COUNT: 12,000 for the entire part
Part I- A Flash of Red
And all the time, and all the time, my love,
You too are there, beneath the word, above
The syllable, to underscore and stress
The vital rhythm. One heard a woman's dress
Rustle in days of yore. I've often caught
The sound and sense of your approaching thought
And all in you is youth, and you make new,
By quoting them, old things I made for you.
On Saturday morning he wakes up and decides to go running. It is a warm October day, glorious blue skies overhead. A run will be just the thing to lift him out of his funk, bring himself out of his mind by focusing entirely on the body.
Down silent weekend Alexandria streets he pushes himself hard, glad to see that at his age he is still in fine shape, can still effortlessly kick and glide down the street, eating pavement. For the first time in months he feels content.
On a commercial street several miles later, he pauses, panting and sweating, and goes into a little market for a bottle of water. Coming out of the store, taking a long pull of the cool water, a flash of red stops him in his tracks.
There they are, the two of them, having breakfast at an outside table at Michael's Cafe. Run, Skinner, his internal voice orders him, get the hell out of here before they see you, but instead his disobedient body moves him behind the safety of a large tree.
This is so wrong, he thinks, I'm spying on them.
It doesn't matter; they'd never see him anyhow. Mulder and Scully are utterly, completely focused on each other. A nuclear bomb could go off down the street and they wouldn't as much as lift their heads.
She's wearing a blue oxford shirt that is huge on her, nearly hanging down to her knees; the sleeves rolled up above her elbows. Mulder's shirt, he realizes. Her hair is wet and slicked behind her ears and he notices that Mulder has a wet head as well. They veritably glow in the morning sunshine, her cheeks pink, his eyes shining as he lifts a forkful of pancakes to his mouth. They look like they just spend an entire night in bed together, and he realizes they did. He's known this fact to be true for months, but he's never seen the hard evidence before him, with his own eyes.
Skinner's muscles tense as he watches them put their heads together, foreheads nearly touching. Even over the noise of traffic and the thumping reggae coming from the t-shirt shop next door, he is able to hear her bell-like laughter. Scully's laughter, so rarely given, so gratefully received.
Get the fuck out of here, his internal voice repeats, louder this time, but he can't seem to find the strength he needs to move. The scene before him is bizarrely fascinating to him.
She's happy, he thinks, bitterness rising in his throat. I never could do that for her. Even as she smiled and laughed for him, as she came so hard under him the muscles of her thighs nearly left bruises on his body, there was still an imperceptible miasma of melancholy surrounding her.
Good for you, he silently says to the woman sitting across the street from him. If this is what it takes to make you happy, then all I can do is wish you the best. Again, her laughter floats across the street and Mulder pushes a lock of hair out of her eyes.
Skinner dumps the half-full bottle of water in a nearby trash can and begins running once more, a full sprint until he reaches his building.
After his shower, Skinner stands nude and dripping in front of the picture window in the living room, not even noticing that he's getting water all over the carpeting.
Three months, he thinks, it's been three months and what progress have I made? Two steps forward, one back, he tells himself. Today you took a step back, but it doesn't mean that tomorrow you won't take another step ahead. Away from her, away from Little Rock.
On the plane, Skinner grimaced as he tried to find a comfortable position for his long legs. Whatever happened to the halcyon days of old, he thought, when an assistant director of the FBI traveled first class? Curse those budget cuts. He hadn't even been able to get a direct flight on such short notice, but was made to change planes in Atlanta.
It was Saturday night. He was supposed to be at Bill Shepperton's, watching the basketball game on his big screen TV, but instead he was on a plane bound for Little Rock, Arkansas, of all places, to clean up one hell of a mess.
At least this time it wasn't the fault of his "pet agents," as the Director was wont to call Mulder and Scully. It was Mike McGreavy, the SAC of the Little Rock office. Evidence strongly suggested the chief suspect in a string of particularly gruesome child murders in Arkansas and Oklahoma was the SAC's brother-in-law. A cover-up on the part of the Little Rock office was suggested, an unholy mess that Skinner was being sent to clean up. He sipped at his ridiculously small glass of orange juice, thinking, when did I become the FBI housekeeper? Still, duty was duty, and Skinner was a man who understood duty.
The plane landed and Skinner caught a taxi to the Holiday Inn, where his agents also had rooms. A stingingly cold rain pelted him from the two seconds it took to bolt from the cab to the hotel's entrance.
After dropping his bag off in his room, he went up one floor to find Mulder and Scully. He tried Scully's room first, knowing the two tended to camp out in her room on the road, hers being the neater of the two. Not for the first time, he wondered if his two agents were lovers. It wouldn't be the first time in the history of the FBI for that to happen. Hell, the LA field office was known throughout the Bureau as "The Singles Bar." Something told him no, though. Something in the intensity of the looks between the two of them suggested that while there was a wealth of feeling between Mulder and Scully, those feelings were largely unspoken.
It took a long time for Scully to open her door, and for a brief instant he worried that he was terribly wrong about Mulder and Scully and had interrupted something. Finally, the door slowly creaked open and she stood before him, wearing only a thin robe of blue and white striped cotton.
Skinner was slightly disconcerted by the sight, never having seen his agent, save her hospital stays, less than fully dressed in one of her severe suits. He stumbled over his greeting. "Agent Scully, have I come at a bad time?"
She shook her head and it was then he noticed her eyes were swollen and red. Well, he thought, the stoic Scully does cry.
"May I come in?" he asked.
Her voice sounded unusually hoarse, and he wondered if she had a cold. "Of course you can." She opened the door wider and ushered him in to her room. To his surprise, Mulder was not there.
As if reading his mind, Scully said, "Mulder went to bed a few hours ago. He hasn't been getting a lot of sleep on this case."
The room was surgically neat, but still contained small touches of her presence- a blue silk scarf flung across the dresser in a diaphanous heap, three votive candles arranged on the small round table by the window, a paperback copy of Nabokov's Pale Fire on the bedside table, a pair of glasses resting next to it. Skinner perched on the edge of one of the chairs and Scully sat on the bed, neatly tucking her legs under her.
He was the first to speak, his voice sounding unaccountably tinny and hollow to his own ears. "How is the case progressing?"
Staring at her own hands, folded in her lap, Scully did not speak for a long moment. "It's difficult," she finally said. "Even after all this time, I find the murder of children hard to stomach." She looked up at him and for the first time Skinner noticed how blue her eyes truly
"At least David Mueller has been taken into custody."
She let out a puff of air, as if she had been holding her breath. "That's what makes this case so hateful. Mulder and I have evidence that the boys here suspected him almost five weeks ago, but McGreavy destroyed key evidence found at Mueller's home. That's three children in those five weeks. Two boys, both aged five, and a four-year old girl."
Skinner shook his head. "I never thought Mike McGreavy could be capable of this. I worked with him in Boston and he was a good agent. An honorable guy."
"That's the thing, sir. I'm beginning to think there are no men of honor in this world..." Her voice trailed off as her hand traced slow patterns on the flowered bedspread. "It's just endless circles of lies, of conspiracy, of covering up the truth."
What happened to the fresh-faced, idealistic young woman who was recruited for this project from Quantico? The woman sitting before him was brittle with fatigue, sitting slightly hunched over, as if in pain. He had an urge to take her in his arms and try to soothe her pain, but knew his urge was sheer lunacy. Dana Scully was a woman almost entirely built on her own image of her strength and competency. He would not sabotage the only thing she really had in the world.
Standing up, Scully said, "I'm sorry, but I don't want to discuss the case tonight. Tomorrow, after I've had my coffee and some breakfast, yes, but right now what I want is a drink." She cocked her head at him. "Will you join me?"
He nodded, suddenly aware he was alone in a hotel room with her, not in the safety of his office or hers. A room that only contained two chairs, a desk, a dresser and a small table. And, oh yes, a queen-sized bed. The proximity of the bed, the bed upon which she had just been sitting, made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
You can't deny you've wanted her from the beginning, he told himself. Of course he did, she was a beautiful woman, brilliant in her understated manner, but he had always desired her in the abstract, as if she were a model or a movie star, as untouchable as an Iranian woman wrapped in her black chador. Now Scully was three-dimensional reality, clad only in a thin bathrobe, rummaging through the minibar for something to drink. He could faintly smell the sweet aroma of almonds radiating from her body.
She lifted her head from the fridge, golden-red hair falling across her cheek. "Will vodka do?"
"Fine," he said, more of a grunt than the actual word.
Two little bottles of Stolichnaya were plunked down on the wood table, along with a bottle of orange juice. "Could you get us some ice?" Scully asked in a low voice.
Mutely obliging, Skinner grabbed the ice bucket from the top of the dresser and headed out the door. As soon as the door slammed behind him, he thought, get the hell out of here, go back to your room where you belong. Instead, he shrugged and continued down the hall to the ice machine. He was a man who prided himself on his self-control. This is safe, he thought. Nothing will happen, nothing at all.
Part II- In the Drawer and Across the Table
Now I shall spy on beauty as none has
Spied on it yet. Now I shall cry out as
None has cried out. Now I shall try what none
Has tried. Now I shall do what none has done.
Back in Alexandria, months later, Skinner grimaces at his own naivete. How little he knew her then, and how little he knew of himself. He was about to embark upon one hell of an education.
While dressing, he considers the interesting fact that a man rarely knows when his life is about to utterly change.
In the locked bottom drawer of his desk at home lies Skinner's deepest secret. Pushed behind his files of tax returns is a small velvet-covered box.
In a fit of unbridled optimism a few weeks after Little Rock, Skinner found himself at Tiffany's, blowing a sizeable chunk of his savings on a gift for her. Now he holds the tiny box in his large hand, afraid to open it. Summoning the courage after several breathless moments, he snaps the box open to reveal a pair of small earrings, each a sapphire surrounded by an aureole of diamonds, set in platinum.
He never could find just the right time to give them to her.
Snapping the lid shut again, he returns it to its resting place in the drawer. He can't bear to return the earrings, not just yet.
When he returned to the room, Scully was sitting at the table, rolling one of the mini vodka bottles on the table. She looked up, and for a moment seemed surprised to see him there, holding the ice bucket. "How do you like it?" she asked.
His mouth opened. What was she getting at? Oh yes, the vodka. "With the juice will be fine."
She grinned. "Nice to see a man who is secure enough in his masculinity to drink a screwdriver. A lot of the guys I know would drink it straight, just so they wouldn't look like a sissy."
Sitting down at the table across from her, he laughed. "And how does Mulder drink his vodka?"
Shrugging, she scooped ice into two hotel-issue glasses. "I don't know, I've never drank vodka with him, as far as I can remember."
For a brief moment, he felt special. "How would he drink it, if he were to drink it with you?" He wondered, where am I going with this?
"Mulder?" She smiled, the first smile with teeth he had seen from Scully in months. A shame, really. She had beautiful teeth, even and white in her lovely mouth. "He'd take the orange juice."
Skinner shifted in his seat and accepted the drink she offered him. It was so strong he wanted to screw up his face, but he forced himself to keep still. "May I ask you a personal question?" he asked, and immediately wanted to retract the words that had come out of his mouth.
She looked up and again, that smile. "You want to know if we're involved."
"I'm just curious, although it's none of my business." He desperately hoped he hadn't offended her.
This time it was a laugh that graced him, a curiously incongruous laugh coming from her still tear-streaked face. "Of course it's your business. You're my supervisor and we both know it's not exactly procedure to sleep with one's partner."
"Should I take that as a 'no comment'?"
One arched red eyebrow rose and she put down her glass with a thud on the rickety ersatz wood table. "You can take that any way you'd like."
For a minute he thought he detected a flirtatious tone in her voice, but he shrugged it off as his travel-weary senses playing tricks on him. He took another sip of his drink, feeling the warmth of the alcohol begin to spread across his chest to his limbs. Skinner wasn't much of a drinker and the strong drink made him rapidly light-headed. Stop, he thought, you have to stop drinking this before you can use the alcohol as an excuse. Then, to his horror, he realized he was getting hard, there at the table with Special Agent Dana Scully. His subordinate, his agent. No, no, no, go back to your room, screamed his conscience, but instead he reached across the table and poured them another drink.
Scully leaned back in her chair and ran her hand through her hair. I wonder how her hair feels, he thought through his growing alcoholic haze. "I needed this," she said, her voice not slurred, but slower and silkier than normal.
This is an incredibly bad situation, Skinner rapidly thought, but there was nowhere else he wanted to be at the moment. Tough choice, you can sit alone in your room watching CNN in your skivvies, or have a drink with a beautiful woman in her bathrobe. But she's not just any woman, he had to remind himself, so think of a neutral topic, something that will defuse the charge that is hanging in this room between the two of you. "This case seems to be especially tough on you."
The corners of her mouth turned down and the worry crease between her brows appeared. Her hand thrummed a steady rhythm on the surface of the table. "I thought I told you I didn't want to discuss the case tonight."
The heat rose up in his face, and he felt ashamed for bringing up what was so obviously difficult for her.
For a moment he was reminded of sitting across the dining room table from Sharon. In the first years of his marriage he couldn't wait to go home to her, to share his day and hear about hers. To simply exist in the comfort of her presence. Slowly, every so slowly it became a habit. He returned home to her for dinner because it was expected of him. He was a married man and that's what married men did at the end of a working day. In the last few years it became an uncomfortable exercise, having dinner with Sharon. He couldn't share much about his day, since so much of his job had become, well, surreal and secret. They moved the food around their plates and attempted to fill the stale air between them with bits and pieces of conversation. One day, Skinner looked up at the woman sitting across from him and knew the connection that had bound them together for seventeen years was irrevocably severed. There was nothing left to say.
Now he sat across from Scully and he suddenly, irrationally, wanted to tell her everything. To tell her of his childhood, his tour in Vietnam, of the deals he made for her life, and Mulder's.
Once he even sold his soul to the devil for her.
He stood before the devil, hat in hand, and offered himself for her health and safety, not for love or honor, but because it was the only way he could mitigate the hell which she had been thrust into. Because it was the right thing to do.
Scully gave him an appraising look, blue eyes cutting over him. "Do you ever get lonely on nights like this?"
Again, he shifted in his seat. This was too much; this wasn't an area for them to explore while alone in a hotel room. His jaw ached from clenching it. "Of course," he said.
She leaned back in her chair and the folds of her kimono slightly parted to reveal the beginnings of the soft curves of her breasts. "I don't want to sit here and unburden myself to you. I'm not good at that." Scully cut herself off by taking a sip of her drink.
"You can tell me whatever you'd like. I'm not here as your supervisor right now, but as your friend."
Cocking an auburn eyebrow, she gave a low laugh. "I don't have many friends any more. This life leaves little room for such luxuries."
Skinner reflected on the life she might have led had she not been assigned to the X-Files. A prestigious position heading the Pathology department at Quantico, a nice, professional husband and a couple of redheaded kids. A minivan and soccer practices.
He cleared his dry throat. "Nor do I," he said, "But that's how it is with a lot of men. I have friends for golf, for drinks and sports events, but we rarely really talk."
Resting her elbows on the table, Scully smiled and he realized he could see right down the front of her robe. He averted his eyes, not wanting that vision, not wanting proof that she was, indeed, a woman. A woman with breasts, curves and sweet-smelling skin. She parted her lips, still wet from her drink. "What would you do if I asked you to kiss me?"
Heat again flooded his face. My God, he frantically thought, I'm actually blushing. He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. What to say? What to say? Finally, "I'd think you were a little drunk and not considering the full implication of that statement." Skinner had to force his voice to remain even.
Her blurred image shook its head. "I know the implications and right now I don't care. One of the most important lessons I've learned in five years is when to break the rules."
Skinner thought of her disciplinary file, nearly an inch thick, and Mulder's, at least three or four inches.
He stood, meaning to leave, his back aching from being crammed into coach seats for half the day. "We can't do this," he said in a voice that came out gruffer than he had intended. His inner voice protested, you can, you can, you can...
Scully rose and her face held no shame, no embarrassment. She stood with impossible poise, an amused expression crossing her face. "Kiss me," she whispered.
And he did. He took five broad steps across the carpet to her, grasped her small head in her hands and he bent down to kiss her. In the end it was a simple thing to do. Armageddon did not rain down when his lips brushed hers, when their tongues met. The hotel room was still there; the city of Little Rock remained intact.
Trembling fingers found the sash of her robe and the cotton folds fell open, her feverish body firmly pressing against his still-clothed one. Scully broke off the kiss and lifted her face to his, her eyes glittering.
"I need to go," he mumbled, pained with the sheer force of his arousal.
She grabbed his hand and pressed it to her flushed cheek, a gesture he found ineffably tender. "You need to stay," she said in her dusky alto.
Unhurriedly, she flicked off all the lights, save the small lamp at bedside. With calm hands she flung back the bedspread to reveal a sea of white sheets and he laid her down upon them, feeling clumsy on top of her fragile-seeming body.
With that, their leisurely pace ended and time itself seemed to fold and speed up for Skinner as their clothes were carelessly tossed, piece by piece on the floor below, until they were touching skin-to-skin. He started laughing, low rumbles in his bare chest, at the supreme absurdity of being naked in bed with Scully. Her hand moved to his mouth and his laughter abruptly ceased.
He began to devour her, and she him, a swirl of mouths moving across warm flesh, fingers and tongues discovering unexplored territory, discovering surprising areas of pleasure: his elbow, her instep. Lord, the soft, female skin under his fingertips, her breathing in his ear, the fierce grip of her fingers on his ass. Abruptly, she sat up and rummaged in her purse, which sat at the side of the bed. She handed him a foil-wrapped packet and breathed, "Now."
Protesting, he said, "But I want to--"
Scully cut him off. "Now," she imperiously said and flopped back down onto the pillow.
It seemed ages to tear the condom package open and for a second he worried he might lose his erection, until he glanced at the lush cream and pink curves of the woman waiting for him. Only twice had he had the occasion to use a condom since those far-away R&R days in Bangkok, when he'd cruise the narrow, crowded streets of the Patpong district with a pocket full of Army-issue rubbers. He felt like a fumbling teenager, smoothing the chilly latex over his cock, but he also felt unbearably excited.
Fully attired, Skinner moved into the soft cradle of her thighs. "Are you sure?" he asked.
Scully's mouth quirked in a glimmer of a grin. "I'm sure."
One slow push and he was inside her, and he was lost. Lost to the sweet madness of the act, her heat, her depth. Her legs moved up to hook around his back and he was drawn deeper into her. He wondered if it was possible to lose one's mind from such abject pleasure.
She let out a soft sound that was neither a sigh nor a moan and his mouth found hers. Oh, her sweet vodka-scented mouth, her breasts rising and falling against his chest, he felt the pressure rising to unbearable levels as he drove in and out of her. No, he screamed to himself, it's much too soon, but his orgasm exploded across his body and he bucked against her one final time, muffling his moans in
the satiny curtain of her hair.
Lifting his head, he felt mortified with shame. "I'm so sorry," he said, head still swooning from his orgasm. "It's been a while."
Warm lips pressed against his shoulder. "Don't worry about it," she said in a surprisingly sweet voice. "The first time is never the best."
The impact of her words sank into his brain. There would be a next time.
Realizing he must be hurting her with the weight of his body atop hers, he withdrew, rolled off her and disposed of the condom. He pulled her warm and sticky body to his. "I wanted this to be wonderful."
She chuckled, "Why, I do believe you're a romantic."
He, too, laughed. "I can be."
Her features turned grave and she touched his face with her hand. "I can't promise you anything, Skinner."
Sighing, he said, "I know."
"I have to take this on a day-to-day basis," she said, her voice slurring with sleepiness.
Skinner repeated, "I know."
Scully had fallen asleep, her head resting on his shoulder. The almond scent of her soap surrounded him.
Before he was pulled down into his own slumber, he felt a shudder pass through his body. He visualized himself, helplessly falling down the abyss.
He had fallen in love.
He didn't know whether to rejoice or mourn.
And then sleep snatched him away.