Dasha (dashakay) wrote in secretprobation,
Dasha
dashakay
secretprobation

Red Valerian 8: Little Rock (2/2)

FANDOM: X-Files
SUMMARY: When three lives intersect, a triangle is formed.
RATING: NC-17
PAIRINGS: Scully/Skinner, Mulder/Scully
DISCLAIMER: Not mine.
DATE POSTED: August 1998
WORD COUNT: 12,000 for the entire part

Part III- At the Door

Although I conquer all the earth,
yet for me there is only one city.
In that city for me there is only one house;
And in that house, one room only;
And in that room, a bed.
And one woman sleeps there,
The shining joy and jewel of all my kingdom.

Sanskrit poem

The chiming of the doorbell breaks Skinner's train of thought. Who could be stopping by on a Saturday morning? He remembers several times when he flung the door open to reveal Scully, her face wreathed in a smile and an overnight bag flung over her shoulder. He knows it won't be Scully this time. It hasn't been her in months.

Instead he opens the door to find Sharon, holding a large carton in her arms. "Hello, Walter," she says in a soft voice.

"Sharon, this is a surprise." It has been a long time since he's seen his ex-wife, since their tenuous reconciliation ended in failure. She looks good, her nose sprinkled with freckles from the sun, her hair now highlighted with subtle strands of gold. There is a new quality to Sharon, something alive and sparkling with energy. This is what life without me does to a woman, he thinks dourly.

Sharon smiles in embarrassment. "I'm sorry to just show up like this, but I tried calling a little while ago and got your voice mail."

"I was running."

"I thought that might be it. The new people are moving into the house next week and I wanted to drop off this box of your things. I figured that if you weren't home I'd leave it by the door."

He opens the door wider. "Come in. I just made coffee, can I get you some?"

She steps inside and sets the box down with relief. "I'd love a cup of coffee."

While pouring the coffee, Skinner realizes he's glad to see Sharon. In the end, they parted as amicably as two people can after nearly eighteen years together. There were no ugly words of recrimination, just the understanding that their life together had quietly ended.

In the living room, Sharon is looking out the big picture windows. "This is a nice place, Walter. I'm glad to see you unpacked this time."

Oh yes, she saw that other place he'd had, during the most humiliating period in his life. He hands her a mug of coffee and shrugs. "It's okay, it suits my needs."

She settles on the gray and white couch, gathering the folds of her skirt around her. "I brought you some of your books and the wedding album."

"Our wedding album? Don't you want to keep that?" The pictures of the two of them, young and flushed with the anticipation of a new life together, drinking champagne, cutting the cake with silly grins on their faces.

Sharon's voice is gentle. "I had copies made and now we have two wedding albums."

"We were happy then, weren't we?"

She nods. "The happiest. We just grew apart, that's all. I'm trying to see it not as a failure, but as circumstance."

He, too, nods. "How are you, Sharon?"

"I'm fine, better by the day. Work keeps me busy and I have a lot of new clients."

"Glad to hear it."

She touches his cheek lightly with her cool hand. Odd, to have her touch him and not feel even a stirring of desire on his part, just the comfort of the gesture. "And how are you?"

"I'm here. Like you, working all the time."

Shaking her head, Sharon says, "You look sad, Walter. I can't put my finger on it, but you seem a little lost."

Sharon has always been so able to read him. For once, he decides to tell her the truth, to share what is weighing on his mind. Ironic, that he is only able to do this after their bond has been irrevocably severed. "I've had a lot of disappointments lately."

Her mouth turns up in a faint smile. "A woman?"

"Yes, someone I cared about left."

"I'm so sorry. Really, I am."

Skinner sets his coffee cup on the glass table with a clink. "I am too. I should have known from the beginning that it wouldn't work with her, but I was blind."

"No," Sharon says, taking his hand. "You couldn't have known."

He sighs, a gesture rather new to him. He's been sighing quite a lot these last months. "How about you?"

"Me?" Sharon points at her chest. "No broken hearts yet. I've been dating some, but no one special." She pauses. "It's strange to date again, isn't it? It's been so long since I've had to get that nervous."

His first date with Sharon was in Minneapolis, where he was a young agent in the field office. Funny as it may sound now so many years later, they went ice skating at Lake of the Isles. Her idea, of course. Later they went to the Black Forest Inn for dinner. He can still remember Sharon in the parking lot shaking the snowflakes from her dark hair before getting in his car.

"It is strange," he echoes. He and Scully never dated. They went from 0 to 60 in a matter of five steps across the floor and five minutes. They never went to the movies or had dinner alone in a restaurant, never walked down the street holding hands. Never were they even alone in a car together. "I have a date tonight," he says, feeling sheepish telling this to his ex-wife.

"I'm glad, Walter." She stands up. "I have to be going now, I'm meeting friends for lunch."

Skinner rises. "It was good to see you again." He kisses her on her still-smooth, still-lovely cheek.

She places her hand on his shoulder. "Take care of yourself."

And then she, too, is gone.

The apartment is once again empty.

Perhaps what he needs to do is move again. These five rooms carry too many memories of the woman he loved. Scully couldn't have been over more than a dozen or so times, but her ghost still lightly walks the carpets. The couch where she curled up with him to watch The Manchurian Candidate. The shower where her round bar of almond soap rested on the rack. The stove where she once cooked a late-night cheese and mushroom omelet. The white pillow where the last trace of her lay, a gently waving strand of copper.

He didn't want to love her, didn't plan on it. Skinner had no time or energy for something as consuming as love. Especially loving the one woman he couldn't, shouldn't have.

It was my folly, he thinks with another sigh. She was my great extravagance.

He doesn't claim to have any extraordinary abilities, but the night after she left, the same night he gave her to Mulder with a few guarded words, he got home and settled on the couch with a bottle of beer. Halfway into the second beer, he was suddenly swept with a chill that turned his skin into a multitude of goose bumps. He knew then, he knew that it was irrevocable, that Mulder and Scully were at that precise moment together as one. He knew it was over.

For the first time in years, he bent his head and cried.

Two steps forward and one back, he repeats to himself, his new mantra. It will get better.

Nearly every day he sees Scully, striding down the labyrinthine corridors of the Bureau in her high-heeled pumps, her face smooth and determined. In meetings she is gracious and calm while sitting beside Mulder, listening attentively. Nearly every day he sees her but they never discuss those seven months.

He can't hate her for leaving, he just can't. He can't stop loving her, either. Loving her prodigious intelligence and subtle humor, loving the worry line between her brows, the eloquence of her slender fingers.

In time, the love will fade away. Soon, he'll begin to forget her smell, the taste of her, the sound of her laughter in the middle of the night.

Dana Scully will just be gone.

------------------

The hallway leading to the interrogation room smelled of urine and disinfectant, and of the sour bodies of the unwashed. Skinner cringed as he headed down the linoleum path, realizing his years in the executive suite had made him forget of the daily realities of law enforcement.

The guard opened the door and he saw Mike McGreavy, dressed in orange county jail scrubs, sitting at the scuffed table as if he were lounging in a bar, waiting for his first beer to be delivered by the waitress. McGreavy nodded, and Skinner pictured him, a younger man with more hair and less weight around his middle on the occasional nights they'd go to a Red Sox game or take their wives out for seafood at some local dive. It was disconcerting to see the once eager young agent, fresh out of the Academy, now the prisoner. The accused.

"Walter Skinner," McGreavy said with a languid wave of his hand. "What brings you to our fair county jail?"

Skinner sat down heavily on the creaky metal chair. "Perhaps that's a question better asked of you."

McGreavy run his hand through his thinning blond hair. "Jail's not that bad. Talk shows, three meals a day, get a chance to catch up on my reading." His eyes told another story, though, and the beads of sweat on his brow in the chilly room.

Ah yes, the confident words of a man who had been in jail less that twenty-four hours. Cutting to the chase, Skinner cleared his throat and said, "Do you want to tell me what happened here? Why you chose to protect David Mueller?"

The seat squeaked as McGreavy shifted his weight. "I'm not telling you anything without my lawyer present. I know the rules as well as you do."

"You have a hearing Tuesday with OPR. What are you going to tell them?"

McGreavy shrugged, as if profoundly unconcerned. "I'll tell them that blood is thicker than water."

"Even when children are concerned?"

The prisoner looked down at the table, his body still.

"Look, Mike, I'm the only one who can help you right now. You're not just facing aiding and abetting charges, but accessory to capital murder. That's life in prison you're facing. Can you really see spending the rest of your life living like this?"

Again, profound silence from the accused, who stared at the table as if it were the most fascinating thing in the world.

Skinner tapped his pen on the table. "Okay, if you're not going to talk to me, be straight with me, then I'm leaving. I have to go deal with the press. Your actions have become the hot topic on the news and the Bureau has a nice little blot on its reputation."

He stood to go, hating sharing the room with McGreavy, hating the stench of the air and the dingy green paint, peeling shards upon the filthy floor. "One more thing," he said, as he made to leave. "Was it worth it? An entire career, a whole life for this?"

McGreavy grimaced. "What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Skinner walked out of the room. Scully's face flashed before him, McGreavy's words echoing through his head. It seemed like a good idea at the time...

Scully was right, there were no men of honor left in the world.

---------------
The remainder of the day was spent in numerous emergency strategy meetings with top brass, culminating in the full horror of a crowded press conference attended by the major news networks. He had been chosen as the Bureau spokesman, a duty he fervently hated, disliking the glare of the camera lights, the strident questions from the reporters, having to pretend that all was well and contained within the FBI, when all he wanted to do was return to the interrogation room and strangle the life out of Mike McGreavy.

After all he had seen in his years in the Bureau, what McGreavy had done shouldn't have appalled him so. Betrayal was an everyday occurrence in his corner of the Hoover Building. Still, it did. He had seen the autopsy photos earlier in the day, the bruised and bloody bodies of the nine children Mueller had allegedly murdered. Flipping through the photos, the innocent eyes gone glassy and blank, Skinner tried to imagine Scully, wielding her scalpel on the little bodies. Scully, reducing those unfinished lives to statistics and measurements on a report to be filed with the coroner's office. The gentle hands that had run trails of pleasure down his chest, slicing that unblemished skin open. After seeing the photos, he was able to better understand her despondency of the night before.

And to feel ashamed for taking advantage of a rare moment of weakness for her.

Around six o'clock in the evening, he returned to the Holiday Inn to change clothes, his heart firmly lodged somewhere in the vicinity of his throat. He hadn't seen Scully all day, hadn't seen her since he slipped out of her bed like a thief somewhere around five a.m. Mulder had been present at the press conference, but in the crush of people he had only exchanged the most perfunctory of greetings with him.

In the bustling lobby, he spotted her immediately, sitting at a table in the lounge area just off to the side. Wearing a black wool turtleneck and a pair of black trousers, her hair simply brushed back over her ears, she looked more like a bohemian graduate student than a FBI agent. She was wearing her glasses and frowning at the book in front of her.

Heart pounding, he slipped into the chair opposite her. "You look so studious," he said, for lack of a better opening line.

She lifted her hear and smiled to see him. "I feel studious. This whole novel is like a giant puzzle and I have to keep on my toes to follow it and pick up all the clues." It was the copy of Nabokov's Pale Fire that he had spotted in her room the night before.

"You like mysteries," he noted.

Scully shrugged. "I supposed I have to, otherwise I wouldn't have chosen this life." She leaned forward conspiratorially. "I blame it on reading too many Nancy Drew books as a child."

Skinner guffawed. "I was hooked on Hardy Boys, myself, even though all they ever did was catch smugglers. I hope they grew up and became DEA agents."

The waitress, a plump woman with an awe-inspiring tower of teased blonde hair came over. "What can I get for you, darlin'?" she drawled in a honey-sweet voice.

"Do you have Laphroig?" he asked.

"Sure do," the waitress cooed.

"I'll take that straight up."

The blonde sashayed away, switching her rump as she went. Scully snorted in amusement. "My, she's something else."

"What are you drinking?" he asked.

She pointed to her china cup. "I'm being good and having plain coffee. I had enough to drink last night."

Skinner was amused to feel both desire and shame stirring in him at once. It was too easy to remember the insanity of the night before, the feel of her soft arms surrounding him, the gentle cadence of her sleep breathing.

There was a faint smile on Scully's face as she said, "God, Nancy Drew books. I haven't thought of them in years." She sipped at her coffee, the color of caramel from the cream she had added. "I'd lie in bed on Saturday mornings as a girl, devouring the Nancy Drews I brought home from the library. There's just one thing that strikes me as odd about those books, now that I'm old enough to look at them with an analytical eye."

"What's that?" he asked.

Her expression was serious for someone discussing the works of Nancy Drew. "Nancy was always being abducted by the bad guys, usually knocked out with chloroform and bound and gagged. Don't you think that as a grown woman she'd have one hell of a case of PTSD?"

Skinner had to bark out a laugh at that, but at the same time he envisioned the video capture of Scully in the back seat of Duane Barry's car, mouth gagged and eyes wide in abject terror. He wanted to take her hand at that moment, but was too aware of the risks. The hotel was crawling with press and other agents, not to mention Mulder. Instead he asked, "Does it ever get to you?"

Turning her cup this way and that, she said, "Of course it does. It all gets to me, sooner or later."

"I'm sorry."

She said, shrugging, "It's the life I chose when I joined the Bureau. I never asked for an easy life."

"Am I interrupting something?" said a male voice and startled, Skinner and Scully looked up to see Mulder.

For a moment Skinner had to hate Mulder, hate him for the time he was able to spend with Scully, the ease in which he dealt with her.

Scully shook her head. "I was having coffee and Director Skinner was kind enough to join me for a moment."

"Sit down with us and have a drink," Skinner said. "We should discuss this case."

Mulder sat down and ordered a mineral water from the blowsy blonde waitress, seemingly entranced by her backside as she retreated from the table to the back of the lounge. Skinner gave him a sidelong glance, wondering if the younger agent suspected anything untoward. Scully was the picture of composure, calmly sipping her coffee, not a hair out of. He, on the other hand, was on the verge of breaking out into a nervous sweat, unable to forget the softness of Scully's skin and the brush of her silken hair against his bare chest.

Clearing his suddenly dry throat, Skinner said, "Mueller has his bail hearing on Monday morning. It's expected to be quite high."

"There goes the speedboat and Winnebago," Mulder said.

Skinner ignored that comment. "He goes before OPR on Tuesday. I spoke to him briefly this morning. He offered no explanation besides, 'Blood is thicker than water.'"

Scully rolled her blue eyes.

"You've done some fine work here, agents. I can't think of many who could have uncovered Mueller's culpability."

Mulder and Scully both smiled, looking faintly embarrassed as they always did on the rare occasions he praised them.

Skinner rose. "Call and book us a flight out in the morning. Our work is done here." Nodding at his agents, he strode off, only one thought paramount in his mind.

Would she come to him tonight?

------------

Skinner met some of the local honchos at a barbecue joint for dinner. Mulder and Scully may have been able to ignore local law enforcement, but it was his job to build connections and keep the lines of communication freely flowing.

After several hours in a room full of cigarette smoke and the odor of charred pork, his head was pounding by the time he returned to the hotel. He considered stopping by Scully's room but quickly thought the better of it. It was one thing to go there the night before; he had come on the behest of business. This was different, he had intent. Shaking his beleaguered head, he went to his own room and headed to the bathroom for aspirin and a hot shower.

Feeling foolish, he lay on his bed in bathrobe, waiting. Waiting to see if she'd come.

His mind replayed every nuance and moment of the brief conversation he'd had with Scully down in the lobby lounge, searching for a sign, a flicker of flirtation or recognition of the night before. To his dismay, he found nothing. Scully had been her usual self--straightforward, forthright and a tiny bit humorous. The grief and sorrow that had shadowed her delicate features the night before had been nowhere in evidence.

Scully was a master of disguise, he now knew. Now he understood the wealth of emotion running beneath her placid exterior.

It all boiled down to one question, really. Would she come to him?

He had no idea.

Skinner dozed of to the blare and blather of ESPN. Briefly, he dreamed that he reached out with his right hand to touch the marble-smooth expanse of Scully's bare back. The minute he made contact with her flesh, his hand was seared with an intense burst of heat that ran up his arm to the shoulder. With a gasp, he sat up, blinking in the unfamiliar surroundings of his hotel room.

For an instant, he thought the sound was his own rapidly beating heart.

No. It was a knocking at the door, a light tapping coming from the other side.

It was Scully.


Part IV- Coalesce

I don't think I'm being manipulated.
But to do something one can't do anything about
as if by one's own will
is comical, sad and yet peaceful.
While lying by you like this,
waiting for our breathing to calm down.
What were they-
those smooth, hot and endless things?
Just because those odd things touched each other,
even my heart relaxed and breathed deeply,
my eyes looked at the starless darkness,
my ears heard moans that could not form words,
and I was about to melt and cease to be,
when you became unfathomably gentle and rich,
and in the void where any relation between persons doesn't catch up,
the very thing of this world,
trying to be born, spurted out of me.
Out of this total silence now
what can I begin to say?
I simply rise to my feet in the darkness, for a glass of
water.

Tanikawa Shuntaro


Scully stood in the doorway, small in her bulky blue winter coat, holding a paper wrapped bottle in her hands. "Hello," she said, looking fearlessly into his eyes.

"Come inside," Skinner said, wondering if he'd truly awakened from his dream.

She hung her coat in the closet and fumbled with the bottle, drawing it out from its wrapper. "I went out and got some wine, a bottle of Cabernet. I can't guarantee how good it is. Little Rock isn't much of a wine town."

Taking the bottle from her, his hand briefly brushed against hers and electricity shot up his arm, making him nearly drop the bottle. "I don't have a bottle opener," he said.

"Good thing I was a Girl Scout," Scully said with a sheepish look, "I have a Swiss Army Knife. After being lost in those Florida woods last fall, I learned to never leave home without it."

With surgeon-quick fingers she opened the bottle and poured them each a glass in the thick Holiday Inn tumblers. Skinner sipped at the Cabernet. It was a bit sour but all in all, not a horrible wine. "I didn't know if you'd come tonight," he said.

She moved a bit closer and he caught a whiff of her lemony perfume. "I didn't know if I would, either."

He tried for some semblance of restraint, difficult when all the blood was busy rushing south from his brain. "This is a dangerous situation," he said quietly. "I could lose my job over this, Mulder could find out, our enemies..."

The softness of her young hand brushed over his scalp and reached back to toy with the hair on the back of his head. "We can be discreet," she whispered. "No one has to know."

That was the fundamental problem, he thought. He wanted to crow to the world that this frighteningly beautiful, tremendously brilliant and eminently fuckable woman wanted to be with him. How could he keep such a triumph, such a joy to himself? His lips found the baby-tender flesh of her neck and he breathed in her personal perfume of almond and lemon balm. "I don't even know what name to call you by now," he muttered.

She tipped her head back. "Just Scully is fine," she said, half-moaning as his tongue reached behind her earlobe. "Only my family calls me Dana any more."

Her hands were busy unknotting the cord of his bathrobe and he saw that that night was a mirror image of the night before when he had come to her, fully dressed and had unwrapped her bathrobe. Scully drew the flannel off his shoulders and it fell to the floor. She gasped.

"What?" he said, feeling self-conscious in his nudity.

She smiled roguishly. "My God, you're beautiful."

Beautiful. In all his life he had never been called that word. His cock twitched in appreciation as she trailed her fingers down the length of his chest. Kneeling and pressing her mouth to his stomach, she said, "And what do I call you now? Walter seems strange to me and Sir is just too kinky in this situation."

Skinner smiled, nerves dancing as her tongue found the dimple of his bellybutton. "Skinner it is," he said and twined his fingers in her bright hair.

Cool hands pushed his briefs down and she gasped, "Oh my." His knees buckled is he felt the heat of her mouth surround his cock. He had to reach out and grasp the desk chair for support as her wet tongue swirled around his head.

My God was the only thought that was able to penetrate his thickened brain as he involuntarily shut his eyes and allowed himself to bask in the sheer pleasure of her mouth and tongue nimbly working him. He heard himself gasping and panting and wanted to pull away from her and bury himself in her depths, but he could not summon the strength. Harder and harder he gripped the chair until he feared the bones in his hands would snap. The suction of her skilled mouth increased and for a flash he feared he might black out from the wonder of it. With a low groan through his clenched jaw he came, an explosion of color and sound that lurched him so far forward he nearly collapsed on the woman kneeling before him.

Reluctantly he opened his eyes to see her, still fully dressed, the smile of the cat that ate the proverbial canary on her face. Scully kissed each of his still trembling thighs. "Did you like that?" she asked.

Somehow he was able to find the strength to tug her up and push her onto the waiting bed. "Need you even ask?" he growled.

Scully raised her arms over head and stretched like a cat after a bowl of cream. "Just making sure I'm appreciated."

Skinner joined her on the bed and quickly stripped her of her turtleneck and pants, so that she lay before him clad only in a white lace bra and matching panties. "I'm the one who needs to say 'Oh my'", he whispered. "You're perfect." He unhooked her bra and drew it aside.

"Go on, tell me another fairy tale."

His mouth, seemingly of its own accord, found her already hardened nipples. He took his time lavishing each of the dark coral peaks with his mouth, rejoicing in each of the moans of pleasure his attentions emitted. Scully struggled off her own panties.

As his hand parted her thighs and found her springy curls wet already, she arched her back for him. She arched her back and sighed, a long drawn-out sigh of delight. Skinner ran his fingers along her slippery satin interior, thinking, I forgot how this feels. I forgot what a wonder a woman is. His index finger found her swollen clitoris and circled slowly and she elicited a gasp of, "Yes, that's it..."

He wanted more. He wanted to lose himself in her, bury his face in her warmth and stay there for the remainder of the night, just to hear her making those beautiful sounds. Crouching between her bent knees he took his first tentative taste of Scully with the tip of his tongue. Lord, she was delicious, more complex than the finest cognac, richer than a Cuban cigar, spicier than curry. More, he wanted more.

With tongue and fingers he worshipped her sweetness, lapping her juices like a man devouring his last meal. Scully's cries became higher and louder and her hands firmly gripped his shoulders as she guided his movements. Forever, he thought, I want to make her this happy forever. Suddenly her entire body went stiff and still and she came with fierce contractions that clutched at the fingers he had buried in her as she ground herself into his face.

Gradually, her movements slowed and stilled and with a little regret he lifted his head from her. She sat up and ran her hands through her mussed tangle of hair, her face rosy. "Come here, you," she whispered.

Skinner joined her at the head of the messy bed, realizing he and Scully hadn't even kissed yet that night. Trust them to do everything backwards. Mouths and tongues met, tasting of each other's pleasure, still hot, still hungry. I can't get enough of you, he frantically thought, what the hell do you do to me, Scully?

To his surprise and delight, he found himself growing hard again. Her hand found him and firmly squeezed and he lightly bit at her shoulder at the sensation. "I'm glad to see you're a man who keeps himself in shape," she said and they laughed together.

Scully scrambled for a condom and slipped it on him with practiced doctor's hands. "Lie down," she ordered and he mutely obeyed, enjoying the power reversal they had in bed. In the world he was her superior but in the privacy of the hotel room he was entirely at her service.

With one swift movement of her compact body he was inside her and they both gasped at the sensation. Scully crouched over him, gently rocking, her mouth open and a look of sheer wonder on her face. Slowly, agonizingly slowly she moved his cock in and out of her. It was torture, he thought as his mouth again found hers, but the best kind, the kind of torture he could happily endure for the rest of his natural life. And again she came, her small hands pressing the sides of his face as she cried out. Those sounds and the knowledge that he had pleased her were enough to take him, too, over the edge and beyond, biting his lip in the effort to keep himself under control.

Forever, he again thought, as they pulled apart. This cannot end.

For a long time they lay together, waiting for their breathing to slow.

Scully kissed him on the neck and sat up. "I have to go to the bathroom," she said. "Why don't you pour us some more wine?"

He got rid of the condom and went to the desk for the bottle of wine. In the half-light from the bedside lamp he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror over the dresser. For the first time in many, many years he looked happy. He looked like a man satisfied.

The bathroom door opened and Scully walked out, glorious in her lush nudity. She came up behind him and rested her head on his broad back. "Thank you," she whispered into his skin.

He turned around to face her. "I should be thanking you."

She picked up a glass of the wine and took a small sip, shaking her head. "No, you don't understand. You saved me."

"Saved you?" he asked, not fully understanding what she meant.

Scully moved to the bed and sat up against the pillows. She bit her lower lip, as if thinking hard. "Last night I was in a very dark place."

Skinner brushed his lips against the line where her forehead and hair met. "Tell me about it," he said.

At that moment he wanted to know everything about her, to know her woman's heart.

She slid to a lying position on her side and shook her head. He joined her so they were face to face in the dim room. "I'm not good at sharing myself," she said in a small voice. "I'm just no good at it."

"Why don't you try?" He squeezed her hand. "You can trust me, Scully." Yet he remembered that night in Mulder's apartment when she trained her gun on him and ordered him to sit on the couch, the fear and hatred alive in her eyes. That was a long time ago, he said to himself.

She issued a long, trailing sigh and drank more wine. "It was too soon," she said.

"What was?" Was she speaking of their coming together?

"This case, the children," she said in a nearly inaudible voice.

Emily, he thought. Her daughter, created without her knowledge or consent and now gone. Sometimes he wondered how she bore it all. Now he watched her walls crumble a bit and his heart ached for her trials.

She continued, fortified by another sip of the wine. "I've never enjoyed performing autopsies on children. Death doesn't bother me, I've never gotten upset at working with the dead, otherwise I never would have chosen pathology. It's just that working with children, it's so...unnatural." Scully's voice was ragged with remembered pain. "I had to perform an autopsy on a little boy last night, a beautiful child. He looked like an angel, peaceful and innocent in his repose, despite the bruises and the blood.

"But as I cut him open, I couldn't get her face out of my mind. Another lost child." She buried her face in her hands. "It was just too soon."

Skinner bent down and kissed her eyelids, her face. He was not surprised to see she wasn't crying.

"I'm so sorry," he said, wishing for better, more comforting words to soothe her.

She lifted her face and blinked rapidly, as trying to keep the tears at bay. "No, I'm sorry to burden you like this."

Skinner groaned in frustration. "Don't you see?" he said, rubbing her back with his hand. "I want you to feel able to tell me these things." Somewhere he heard the omnipresent winter rain beating against the windowpanes and he shivered.

"Sometimes I just want to quit, to walk away from all this," she said.

He rose on his elbow. "Why don't you?"

"I don't know," she said quietly, "Something's keeping me here. I guess I own the quest as much as he does. There are things I need to know before I leave." She didn't need to explain who she meant when she said the word he. Mulder. He had been forgetting him all night long, but he existed, just one floor up.

It wouldn't be possible to always ignore Mulder's presence.

"Let me," he whispered to her, "Let me help you forget for a night."

Forget the children, forget the terror, forget the things that had been done to her. He wanted her to forget it all, if only for a little while.

He had to wonder if she thought of Mulder when he was with her, if she ever thought of him in a sexual way. It was a question he didn't dare ask.

His hands reached for her and she sighed against his shoulder.

------------------

Somewhere in the middle of the night, he awoke to the sound of her tears. He was on his side with his back to her, but he could make out her soft, muffled sobs over the sound of rain on the glass. Desperately he wanted to go to her, to ease her raw pain, but he couldn't move a muscle. He just
couldn't invade her privacy like that, to diminish her strength. He knew she'd hate him for it.

After a few minutes the sobs faded into even sleep breathing and he, too, drifted down into sleep.

In the morning he woke and reflexively reached for her, but she was gone.

-------------------

And now, so many months later, it is too easy for him to see that he made his pivotal error that night in Little Rock as she cried in his bed and he failed to comfort her. Perhaps if he had reached for her and held her as she wept, the tenor of their relationship would have changed, become something more personal. Something beyond the realm of sex and friendship in her eyes.

One of the hardest things a man has to do is to admit that his love is not returned. He can hope that one day it will come, but for it to be so one-sided is torture.

For seven months he waited to see if she'd grow to love him as he loved her.

She liked him, she respected and trusted him, but the love never came.

Patiently he waited, until one day she admitted her love for the other. She sat on her couch, the tears he had never seen before running down her face, and nodded when he asked if she loved Mulder.

He never doubted for an instant that the day would come. He knew it from almost the beginning, when his dreams were dashed on the way home to D.C.


Part V- Stepping Forward

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm were darkness is awake upon the dark
and Persephone is herself but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding
darkness on the lost
bride and her groom.

D.H. Lawrence

On the plane, Skinner tilted his chair back as far as it would go, closed his eyes and allowed himself to dream.

He thought of an impossible time and space where somehow it was not a crime to love Scully. His dream unfolded before his weary eyes in soothing tones of pastel, as hazy and partially formed as a painting by Bonnard or Monet, and just as beautiful.

In his waking dream, Scully left the Bureau and found herself a job at a hospital, something that allowed her to sleep in peace at night. He asked her marry him and she did, she did, a quiet ceremony with her in a simple white silk dress, a white gardenia tucked behind her ear. A life together, a whole life shared, for richer or poorer, for good times and bad, through sickness and health, until death parted them. Making love, buying a house, perhaps a child or two. He wasn't too old to become a first-time father. He saw a little boy with dark hair and her light eyes, running up to him at the end of the day, smelling of cookies and apple juice. He wanted to spend every remaining year by her side until he died with the gentle touch of her hand gripped around his.

Skinner was a man who dealt firmly in the realm of reality. He was not a fanciful man, but for once in his life, he allowed himself to dream, and to hope.

Really, he didn't ask for too much.

He wondered if he should begin to pray again. He hadn't prayed in a long time, since Vietnam, when he lost his belief somewhere in the jungles near Da Nang. Trying to pray for a minute, he felt silly, praying there in the plane, like a man afraid the plane would crash. It wasn't the right and proper time to begin again.

Opening his eyes, he stared out of the window at the clouds running beneath the plane, amazed at the multitude of emotions running through him. Scully just made him feel everything, all at once. She had the singular ability of making him feel alive, when he had been so sure that part of him was dead and gone. He again felt like the young man who had stood in a parking lot and watched Sharon shake
snowflakes from her hair.

Later, he moved to the back of the plane to use the bathroom. Seven rows behind sat Mulder and Scully. Mulder had his glasses on, reading what looked to be a psychology journal. To his right was Scully at the window seat, wearing a pair of headphones and asleep with her head resting on Mulder's shoulder.

Skinner paused before the two agents. Mulder looked up from his reading and smiled in embarrassment. "She often does this on planes," he said, running his right hand through his thick brown hair. "Scully hates to fly so she takes two Benadryls, puts on some Mozart and conks out for
the whole thing."

"I see," Skinner said dumbly, noticing that on the armrest, Mulder's large hand was draped over Scully's. He pulled his eyes away with difficulty and made his way to the bathroom, which was blessedly unoccupied.

Shutting the door behind him, Skinner's knees buckled and for a moment he feared he might vomit. A light sheen of sweat broke out on his forehead.

What a fool he was, dreaming away about Scully.

He might be the one who had her attention and her body, but her soul truly belonged to Mulder. It was difficult to explain why he knew that from witnessing the little tableau Mulder and Scully made on the plane, but he did. Something about the trust and vulnerability Scully showed in sleeping on her partner's shoulder spoke volumes to him. And he didn't really need to explain it, anyhow. He just knew.

Washing his hands in the tiny sink, he sighed the sigh of defeat.

Back in his seat, he understood it was just a matter of time and he vowed to make the most of each moment he was allowed with her. Then he sat up and again looked out at the clouds fleeting along. No, he thought, I won't let it happen. It can't happen. I'll fight tooth and nail and in the end, she will love me.

If sheer force of will could make something happen, it would certainly become true. She would love him.

----------------

He paces in front of his living room windows, watching early autumn dusk fall on the sky in tones of gold and red, purple streaking through in some spots. He can't believe he spent the entire day brooding about her, but perhaps he needed to do that, instead of his usual modus operendi, which is to simply work too much.

At the window he whispers, "I loved you, Scully."

He's never used the past tense before. It pains him to use it, but he knows it's time to walk away.

Stepping away from the window he goes to dress for his date with Caroline Lohmann, a woman he met in the music department at Barnes and Noble. They both reached for the same copy of "Don Giovanni" and ended up in a spirited discussion about Maria Callas over coffee. When they parted an hour or so later, she asked him if he were single, if he were straight, and if he'd like to have dinner with her.

He answered yes on all three counts.

She's nothing like Scully, he thinks, while putting on a fresh shirt and picking out an appropriate tie. Caroline is tall and slender, dark curly hair down to her shoulders, forty-two and divorced, with a ten year-old daughter. She's an art history professor at Georgetown and laughed delightedly when she found out he was an FBI agent.

He only knows the most basic facts about Caroline, the bare skeleton of the woman who lives, but he wants to find out. He thinks he just might be ready for it.

Fully dressed and ready to go, he stops for one last look out the window. The moon is full and golden and casts shadows of the trees on the sidewalk below. It's a beautiful night for walking.

With a deep breath, he takes two steps forward and walks away.

END
Tags: pairing: mulder/scully, pairing: scully/skinner, series: red valerian, year: 1998
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