by Livia Balaban
Rated PG-13 = V, SA, MA, SkA, MSR, Drunkfic
Walter Skinner lifted his head slowly - very, very slowly - and the sight that met his foggy, heavy eyes eased only a small portion of his despair.
"Ajhen Scully," he said, nodding. He regretted it immediately, as the world dipped and swooped sickeningly around him. No question. He'd had more to drink in these three short hours than he would have consumed normally in three long months.
"Sir?" Scully repeated crisply. Too crisply.
* * * * *
It made sense. Mulder had left both his partner and his Assistant Director in a state that could only be resolved through further confrontation. Unfortunately, Mulder had left town. His claim, left absently on voice mail, was a follow-up on a lead, but his objective was clear to both: He had to get away.
It had been one hell of a scene, Scully mused sadly.
His disability having expired, Mulder had returned to work, seemingly happy to get back to the business of hunting down society's darker element. But something else had seemed at work in him, and by the end of the second day, Scully had begun to understand the appeal of cannibalism. She would have bitten off his head and chewed carefully if he had scowled once more, fiddled with that bandage on his head one more time, sighed too loudly for too long without giving a reason for it.
Every mention of their Assistant Director left him visibly jarred and anxious. Something was bothering him, gnawing at him increasingly, but he was too stubborn to discuss it. Every attempt Scully had made to determine the source of his unrest had met with staunch dismissal.
"What difference does it make?" he replied to her last request for an explanation. "He'll never do anything any differently, and neither will you."
That last barb stung. How could he have failed to see that she was doing *everything* differently in recent months? She had almost lost him, the oblivious, self-centered brat. She should have seen it coming when he pulled away from her at the first sign of genuine affection.
Scully should have seen it coming when Skinner called them into his office in the middle of the third day.
And she should have seen it coming when Mulder's scowls intensified the longer he stared at their Assistant Director.
She might have seen the explosive decompression coming, she told herself later, but there was no way she could have identified the source of Mulder's simmering anger, nor the manner he would choose to express it.
"...and I think it would be best to continue with this approach for the remainder of your three-week re-evaluation period, Agent Mulder," Skinner was saying, leaning back against his desk.
Mulder merely stared daggers at Skinner and responded with low, growling menace, carefully enunciating every syllable, "You traitor."
Scully turned swiftly toward her partner and what she saw caused her to recoil. He appeared ready to pounce, his legs tense and twitching, his legs bouncing slightly, poised on the balls of his feet.
And then he pounced. Mulder rose in a shot, tossed the chair aside, and approached the Assistant Director with unconcealed fury. "You did this. You made sure they knew everything. You handed us to them." Mulder's hands hovered over the lapels of Skinner's jacket, ready to grasp. "You jumped when they said so, you got down on your knees for them, you let them use you, you coward," Mulder spat. "How can you stand there and pretend the authority structure here offers you any protection from me?" He grabbed the A.D.'s lapels and shook Skinner in time with his words. "That if you betray us one more time I won't just take...you...out?"
Pushing away from Skinner, Mulder whipped around and faced a startled Scully, ending up precisely between the two. "He's using you, pretending to help, when all he wants is to make you beg. He could have helped you any time he wanted, but he liked it, every time you came in here aflame, demanding something from him. He got off on it, Scully. He got off on you. He pretended to be concerned, he faked his worry about being caught, but it was a ruse to force you to drop your guard. He all but orchestrated that smooch of gratitude between the two of you in the elevator," he accused sharply, turning back to face Skinner, "didn't you? Don't lie, Walter, I saw it all. You wear your guilt like a cheap fucking suit."
And with that, Mulder left the room, Skinner and Scully immobile in his stunned wake. That had been five hours ago.
* * * * *
Confrontation would have helped matters some, but Skinner understood the harsh truth that nothing could help with Mulder gone. Drinking had seemed like a good idea at the time, but the dizzying swirl of light from the bar and jukebox was convincing him otherwise.
He hadn't expected to see Dana Scully at the same bar. At any bar, really.
Scully stood near the edge of Skinner's table. It was a feat of exceptional skill and dexterity. Clearly the alcohol coursing through her bloodstream should have rendered her incapable of vertical maneuvering. And even more remarkably, she was doing it on those stilts she obviously considered shoes.
As it was, she remained very, very still. One hand reached out tentatively, just the very tips of her well-manicured fingers touching the sticky edge of the table, maintaining her precarious balance. She listed slightly to port.
Her composure, however, was perfect as always. Drunk or not, Scully knew how to hold herself together.
"Agent Scully," Skinner repeated, blinking slowly, "I din know you ferkwen..frequetned..." He cleared his throat and tried again. "Came here."
Scully's crisp demeanor suddenly smashed to bits as she lost her balance and fell backward against a large flannel-clad man. One broad arm caught her before she slipped to the floor, for which she rewarded him with a loopy smile, a self-deprecating chuckle and an off-kilter, "Thanks, handsome." She righted herself and smoothed her jacket.
Skinner blinked twice, attempting to reconcile the images and sounds playing out before him with the sum total of his understanding of this woman.
Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D. was a formidable woman. She was more disciplined and self-sufficient than most of the men he'd known. She was brilliant, exceptionally well-educated, and utterly professional.
Well, mostly professional. He had known for years about her "special relationship" with her partner. He hadn't been able to determine the breadth of it, but he was very clear on its depth.
So, aside from that one - well - vulnerability - she was a consummate pro.
Which made the swaying, *blushing* woman in front of him so much more of a mystery.
Skinner did his best to enunciate as clearly as possible. "Agent Scully, haf you been drinking?"
She nodded, then blinked uncomfortably. Oh yes, she'd been drinking.
"A good deal, I'd say, sir. Quite a hell of a lot, by my estimation." She paused for a moment, while she counted on her fingers, before her expression changed from intense concentration to utter frustration, and finally to amused resignation. "A lot." She nodded with her last statement, clearly regretting it, as she threw out a hand to steady herself against the table.
"Are you all right, Agent Scully?" He would have stood to help her keep her balance, but he was confident he'd consumed even more than she, proportionally.
"Equilibrium's off. I think I'll be going, Sir."
He ventured to stand, and moving slowly, realized he was able to do so with less dizziness than he'd expected. He was secretly thrilled. He had felt, over the past year or more, that he needed to do more to express his respect and appreciation for her. In the wake of Mulder's surprisingly accurate accusations, making sure a drunk Dana Scully got home safely would do just fine. "It's pretty late. I'll take you home."
"No disrespect, sir," she said, appearing to exert an enormous effort to remain in control of her speech, "but you're more hammered than I am. How exactly are you going to defend me if you're pitched over a dumpster somewhere, vomiting up your last three days' worth of meals?"
"I can stand, I can...<urp>...walk, and I can talk pretty damn well. Certainly well enough to call a cab. It's late, and this isn't a good part of town." He was exceptionally pleased with himself for enunciating so clearly. "And I'm twice your size." He leaned over toward her, and lowered his voice to a hoarse alcohol-laden whisper. "They'll take one look at me, and run for it. I'm one bad ass motherfu..." He stopped himself abruptly, chastising himself for such a clear lapse of taste, and rose. "Let's go."
Scully shrugged and followed the Assistant Director out of the bar.
"He did *what*?"
"I'm serious. The little weasel pretended he was Mulder and tried to seduce me." Scully laughed a little, as she took another sip from her glass. She seemed to react to the initial burn of the bourbon much less now, as she leaned back into the soft cushions of her sofa, relaxed and shoeless. "I mean, he knew all of *nothing* about how Mulder and I operated, but somehow he managed to break all those little rules. He really was very talented. I'm concerned about what will happen if they ever let him out. He could go to Mulder pretending to be me, and you *have* to know how *that* will end."
Skinner winced and shook his head. "Thanks for that mental picture. I may never be able to look at either of you again."
"Hey, if it gets us out of those 'what the hell have you done now, Mulder?' meetings..."
"Don't push your luck, Agent Scully." Skinner smiled very softly, and took another sip from his glass. The effect of the bourbon was wearing thin, and he considered himself far too close to sober to continue the conversation comfortably. His smile faded. He couldn't bear the idea of another conference with Mulder any time soon.
Mulder had dropped a bomb on them and left them to pick up the debris. He'd been right, of course. Many of his accusations were dead-on. Of course, he couldn't know everything, every reason, every experience. Skinner had only spent so much time at Mulder's bedside, and he doubted Mulder had managed to wring anything truly significant from his mind during that time.
Skinner was confident that Mulder's most recent outburst of anger stemmed from his inability to gain a clear enough grasp of the images and thoughts in Skinner's head. Mulder always bucked hardest against his reins when he was denied the chance to go at a full gallop. Oh, how he hated unanswered questions.
Skinner had kept the truth firmly tucked away, hidden from view, but when Mulder returned, they would have to construct some kind of truce, if they intended to continue to work together. Skinner knew, despite his position and authority, that Mulder's will would win out. Goddamn moral high ground.
So he'd have to come clean, he realized. Perhaps a trial run with a still-slightly inebriated Scully would help him acclimate.
He looked over at her, appearing so at ease and trusting. He was so much bigger than she, in her home, close to her on the sofa, and she was unarmed, yet she had no fear of him. The thought both thrilled him and made him immeasurably sad.
"There's so much I want you to know, Agent Scully, and so little I can actually say. I wish I could do more for both of you..." He shook his head slowly, his face crumpling under the strain of his burden. Years worth of secrets and lies, betrayals stacked one atop another, weighed on him with an unrelievable sorrow.
"All I ever wanted to do was keep you safe, but I can't even get that right."
"Sir?" Scully's apparent confusion only increased Skinner's feelings of remorse and regret.
"I've failed you so many times..."
Scully cut him off before he could continue. "Sir, we've already had this little chat. I can't say I understand why you've done the things you have, but I'm sure there is a reason. I don't believe you to be an adversary, despite our years of combative ...well ...*combat*." Scully sipped at her glass again. Skinner wondered if the action was intended to stop the conversational freefall, or to steel herself for something more dangerous. She looked to be preparing herself for something.
She took one small sip from the old Kentucky, paused for a moment, asked a question that instantly made his stomach knot.
"Was Mulder right, Sir? Have you betrayed us?"
Skinner stiffened, tightened his jaw, and put his glass down on the coffee table. He had known that someday this question would arise, but he'd hoped that he would have overcome his own obstacles by the time it was asked of him. That he would have been able to save the day, relieved of the guilt of his former betrayals. The bourbon had cushioned his system, so he was braver than he'd expected, and he answered truthfully, much to his surprise.
Scully's expression remained calm. "How?" she asked plainly.
"I don't think I can get into all of them. Every betrayal. But I have done it often...and well." Skinner willed steadiness into his voice. "I'm sorry."
"I want to know, Sir. Tell me. I want to understand."
He made the mistake of looking into her eyes. When he saw the depth of confusion and sadness clouding their depths, he was lost, dearly in need of some way to comfort her.
It was too late for that. All he could offer her was the truth. "I removed evidence from a crime scene. Remember the death at that express routing center a few years back?" Scully nodded in confirmation. "It was bees. Goddamned bees."
"The same bees..." Scully didn't need to finish the thought. Skinner shook his head.
"Those were the smallpox bees, not the mutated let's-make-an-alien virus-bees." Skinner laughed bitterly. What a fucking life.
"I compromised your investigation because I was ordered to clean the site. I hated every minute of it."
Scully nodded gently. "There were other betrayals?"
"Yes." Skinner removed his glasses, and smoothed firmly over half of his face with the other. "Mulder was right, I did hand you over to them, when you both came to see me about that rubbing. I don't regret it though. I don't know what the hell they did to his brain, but they saved his life. I regret working behind you, but not making them aware of Mulder's condition. He'd be dead now if they hadn't known."
Scully nodded contemplatively. "There's more, I assume."
"Yes, although I don't know if it was a true betrayal. Mulder thought so. But I think I saved his ass again, I really do."
"You had just been admitted to the hospital in Allentown to begin..." he paused as his voice broke. He took a deep breath and continued, "...to begin your cancer treatment."
Scully inhaled sharply, but didn't make any other sound, encouraging Skinner to continue.
"Mulder came to my office looking for a meeting with Spender. Of course, back then, he was only 'the Smoking Man', and Mulder couldn't even begin to figure out how to find him."
"Why did he want to find Spender?"
Skinner sighed. "To cut a deal."
* * * * *
Scully's jaw began to tremble, and her brows crept downward. She was genuinely horrified. "A deal?"
"That's what I said. I told him 'no way'. I know his intentions were noble, but I wasn't going to let him sell his soul to a lying sack of shit like Spender, even if it meant your life. I still believe I made the right decision."
Scully was shocked. It already seemed like so many years ago, so many years that she'd been healthy. And she had thought her relationship with Mulder had become as deep and intense as it was only recently, but this blatant expression of his need to protect her even then forced her to re-evaluate her impression of that assumption.
He had been willing to sell himself to Spender to preserve her life. She dropped her face into her hands and shuddered silently, trying to stave off the sobs that threatened to rip out of her.
He loved her. The proof was everywhere.
His unauthorized trip to her bedside in New York. To Antarctica. Case after case, rescue after rescue. His anger over her involvement with Jerse. Over the tattoo. Over her near-disaster with that weasel van Blundht. His willingness to take her brother Bill's guilt-trip.
The haunted house last Christmas.
'Could be love.' 'Picking out china.' 'The Mulders pass genetic muster.'
'I love you.'
He loved her.
* * * * *
Skinner had watched Scully carefully over the prior few moments, mesmerized by the slow transformation of her expression from horror to subtle satisfaction. She lifted her head from her hands and a slow smile crept across her lips. Her eyes brightened with what he thought to be wonder, and she settled back against the sofa again, relaxed and comfortable.
Skinner stared, uncomprehending. What the hell had happened inside her head?
"So, he wanted the meeting and you said no." Her voice was calm again, and steady.
"Yes," Skinner answered simply.
"And then...?" Scully arched an eyebrow at him. "There must have been more. You said Mulder thought you'd betrayed him."
"Well, you actually. He thought I'd betrayed you." He was relieved that her mood had lightened, but terrified that she'd echo Mulder's actions from earlier in the day and decide to take some action against him for his sins. And she didn't know about all of them. No siree.
"Mulder said if anything happened to you, if you got sicker or died because of my lack of action, he'd kill me." Skinner sighed resignedly before he finished the thought. "He said he'd return with a fully-loaded weapon and empty it into me. I don't doubt he would have. The man was psycho."
"He's never been psycho," Scully defended, smiling softly to herself. "Mulder is...he's just...*differently sane*." Her smile broadened, and she laughed gently. "What else, Skinner?"
"You can't know about the rest, Scully, just believe me."
"I deserve to know. Tell me."
"I can't. They'll kill both of us, if I say a word."
That eyebrow again. "And they'll do worse than they've already done? I'm trying to think, I'm wracking my brain, trying to imagine something worse than the horrors they've visited upon all of us.
"Really it doesn't matter anymore. It's all personal now. You're not a betrayer. You're just...*differently loyal*."
Skinner laughed, amazed by her forced levity. He liked it. At the sound of Skinner's laughter, Scully began to laugh as well.
As quickly as it had begun, however, her laughter faded. She settled down just enough to return to the topic. "Now, enough of this. Tell me."
"I can't, Scully. Trust me."
Eyebrow. He should have expected it.
"Out with it. If they really wanted us dead, they'd just kill us. They'd send out a lone gunman, you should pardon the expression, and just take us out. One single sniper shot. Simple, clean, anonymous. But we're still here, and that means something. Now out with it."
"The nanocytes." He closed his eyes and waited for lightning to strike, or the roof to fall in, or the earth to open up and swallow him. Nothing of the sort happened. When he opened his eyes, he was still sitting comfortably on Scully's couch.
"They infected you in order to control you."
"That's why you closed the investigation."
"We're still breathing, Sir."
He smiled sadly. "Tomorrow's another day."
"Well, technically, it already IS tomorrow. And I think it's time to get some rest. I'll call you a cab."
* * * * *
When Scully returned from the kitchen, she handed the A.D. his coat, and smirked. "Now that didn't hurt, did it?"
"Nah. But we're both gonna have hellacious headaches in the morning."
"Aspirin and water now. Aspirin and water when you get up." She smiled at Skinner's skeptical expression. "Trust me."
Skinner turned toward the door, and placing one hand on the knob, replied, facing firmly away from her, "Without question, Agent Scully. Without hesitation."
And he left.
Scully put their glasses into the kitchen sink and prepared for bed. Two Aspirin now, two on the night stand.
<Mulder loves me.>
A full glass of water now, another on the night stand, next to the Aspirin.
<Skinner trusts me.>
A change into pajamas. Face washed, teeth brushed.
She slipped into bed and laid her head gently on the pillow.
<Skinner trusts me enough to tell me the truth.>
<Mulder loves me enough to trade himself for me.>
Mulder would return when he was ready, and they would talk it out.
At that moment, Scully was at peace.
Many thanks to: Punk (Look Ma, No Commas) Maneuverability, Dasha and happy!wen for their excellent beta. A big warm squishy thank you to M. Sebasky for looking it over and not hitting me upside the head for failing to kill anyone in this story. I'll kill somebody eventually, m'dear. Just be patient. YesVirginia, I appreciate your comments too.