text file (14k)

On the eve of Mulder and Scully's wedding,
Skinner jumps to the bride's defense
when he thinks the groom is engaging in
some inappropriate activity.

DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc.

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Skinner lay in bed mindlessly flipping channels on the TV. It was almost midnight, and there was nothing on. He kept the volume muted out of courtesy for the other guests because of the late hour. He knew he should be getting to sleep, but for some reason he was feeling restless. He just couldn't stop thinking about the events that had led him to this moment.

Just a few weeks ago, his two most notorious agents had announced to him that they were finally going to tie the knot. The news itself didn't surprise him. Actually, he had been expecting it for some time and often wondered if they had already done the deed and were keeping it a secret. However, what did surprise him was the request they then made: they asked him to give away the bride at the ceremony.

He had been quite taken aback by this, and he knew it must have been written all over his face. Over the years, he had become more of an ally to these two, but he knew how wary they were about trusting anyone but each other and figured that they considered his loyalty to be unreliable. Even if they respected him as an ally, he didn't expect they would also consider him a friend. Although they knew him better than did any of his colleagues or agents, he had always maintained a distance from them, even when they had risked themselves for him beyond the call of duty.

Thus, he was rendered speechless when he learned that the two agents considered him not merely a friend, but someone close enough to be given the honor of a family member. All he could finally think to say was that he'd think about it, and then he hastily ushered them out the door.

The fact was, he felt unworthy of such an honor and was a little embarrassed by that. But it was true that he probably had a better understanding of their relationship than anyone else, even their own families, and in that sense he had a unique appreciation for this union. Usually, he wouldn't approve of partners marrying one another, but Mulder and Scully were an exception to almost every rule. Other partners hadn't experienced as many threats or losses as these two, nor did they have the same loyalty or devotion. Although he knew Scully deserved better than Mulder, considering some of the things he had put her through, no better companion could be found for this man who was once such a lone wolf. Despite the kind of work they did and what most people thought of it, they made an incredible team and deserved all the happiness they could give each other.

And so, Skinner had accepted their invitation, which is why he was now lying on a hotel bed in Virginia riddled with these thoughts.

The couple had opted for a simple and private ceremony at a historical hotel in the countryside. Rooms had been reserved here for the small wedding party, which basically consisted of himself, the bride and groom, and a few of Scully's relatives.

He had felt like an outsider that evening at the rehearsal, as though he had no right to be a part of something so personal to Scully's family. But Maggie Scully, bless the woman, had stayed by his side and put him at ease, telling him how much this meant to her daughter to have him here since her own father couldn't walk her down the aisle.

Later, when the women had escorted the bride away with them for the remainder of the evening, he and Mulder had spent some abbreviated bonding time together as a poor substitute for a bachelor party. Skinner had been amused to hear that Maggie insisted on the bride and groom having separate rooms for the night, so he gave Mulder a fatherly pat on the back in consolation when the younger man decided to turn in early in preparation for the big day. He himself then returned to his own room and had been sitting here channel surfing ever since.

On this eve of the wedding, it was difficult not to think back to the night before his own ceremony over two decades ago. As a young man, he had bought into the dogma of every husband-to-be and enjoyed his last chance at freedom with a boisterous bachelor party, arranged by his best man. The evening had started with a couple of strippers and a lot of booze, and ended with him drunk and in bed with one of the women.

He never told Sharon about what happened that night, but so many times he came to wonder if part of the problem in their marriage was that he had violated her trust before they even took their vows. At the strangest moments, the guilt would overcome him, the memory mocking him with the image of that anonymous woman's smile as she hovered above him. Even now, he could hear her laughter echoing through his head, as though he were reliving that fateful night.

Then the laughter became louder, and he realized that it was actually coming through the wall next door. Only, this time it tapered off into a groan. Eliciting an internal groan from the unwitting eavesdropper.

This was not what he needed tonight. It was hard enough on him not being able to sleep because of his overactive thoughts. He didn't need the neighbors keeping him awake with a sound show that only reminded him of how long it had been since a woman had made noises like that for him.

Unbidden, images of this woman on the other side of the wall materialized in his head. Just a few hours before, as he was approaching his room from the stairwell, Skinner had seen her leave the room adjacent to his and walk the opposite direction down the hallway. She was a brunette of medium height, well-dressed, with her hair pulled up into curls on top of her head, and she was attractive enough to make him turn and watch her walk away. She had been on her way out somewhere, probably on a date--which apparently wasn't over yet.

Another laugh. No, a giggle, really. Followed by another moan, then a very loud and impassioned cry: "Fox!"

Skinner froze. He couldn't possibly have heard what he thought he heard. He was willing to give the man in question the benefit of the doubt, but how many men named Fox could there be in the hotel that night?

And then he heard the owner of that name call out loudly, "Oh yeah, baby, just like that!"

There was no longer any doubt in Skinner's mind. He knew that voice, and he was livid. Fox Mulder was about to marry the woman of his dreams--hell, the woman of any man's dreams--and here he was with someone else. Skinner knew that if Mulder went through with this, it would be the biggest mistake of his life. But more than that, he refused to let him hurt Scully in this way.

Pausing only long enough to pull his pants on and grab the room key, Skinner bolted out of his room to the door next to his and banged loudly.

At first, there was no response.

He banged again. "Mulder, I know you're in there. It's Skinner. Open up."

After another pause, Mulder opened the door just wide enough to stand in the doorway, blocking the rest of the room from view. He was wearing a hotel robe and was in the process of tying it closed.

"I'm kind of busy here. Can't this wait until morning?"

"No, it can't. What the hell do you think you're doing, Mulder? You're getting married tomorrow, to a beautiful and amazing woman. If you respect her as much as I hope you do, then you can't do this to her."

Mulder looked a bit puzzled. "I think you're being a little old-fashioned about this, and frankly, sir, I don't think this is any of your business. Just because we asked you to walk the bride down the aisle doesn't mean you have the right to play the indignant father-in-law. Now, if you don't mind...." He tried to shut the door, but Skinner threw up his hand to block the way.

The A.D. was now even angrier because of Mulder's callous attitude. "I do mind. I'm not going to let you mess this up, not by doing something this asinine just as some final assertion of bachelorhood."

"What's going on?" Mulder looked behind him, beyond Skinner's line of sight, to acknowledge the owner of the female voice. Their unwelcome guest braced himself to confront the woman's wrath at the invasion of her privacy. But, his argument was with Mulder, and he would willingly leave the woman in peace if Mulder would abandon his tryst and follow him elsewhere to continue their disagreement.

Then the door opened further and the woman came into view.

There, next to her fiance, stood Dana Scully, also wearing a hotel robe that she was tying tightly around her waist.

And at that moment Walter Skinner realized his mistake and turned beet red.

As both agents stood there awaiting an explanation, he stuttered out his embarrassed response. "I'm sorry. I had no idea this was your room. I'm next door, and I--I thought this room belonged to another woman, and I thought I heard her in here, then I heard Mulder, and I--I came to stop him from making a horrible mistake."

Mulder was both hurt and incredulous. "You think I would do that to Scully?" His arm instinctively went around her shoulders to pull her defensively to his side.

Skinner knew there was no easy way to get out of this. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply.... It wouldn't be the first time that a man had done something foolish on the night before his wedding." Mulder was about to reply, but Skinner continued before he could get a word out. "I apologize for bothering you both. I think I could use a drink. I'm going to head down to the bar for a while."

With a glance at Mulder to punctuate his intention to stay out of earshot and allow them their privacy, he turned and fled down the hallway, leaving his two puzzled agents standing there in his wake.

* * *

An hour later, Mulder wandered into the hotel bar and found his boss sitting alone nursing a beer. Signaling to the bartender to bring him a pint as well, he settled on the stool next to Skinner and waited for his drink to be served. The two men then sat there in silence, tending to their libations.

Mulder finally spoke first. "Did you really think I'd do something like that to Scully?"

Skinner sighed heavily. "I can't apologize enough for my assumption. I know how much you love her, and you're the last man that I'd assume would do that, but--all I was thinking at the time was that I couldn't let anyone hurt her like that."

There was another pause as they let these words and their implications settle between them.

"I guess it wasn't too far off base. The old Fox Mulder would've done something stupid like that. But not now--not to her."

"Mulder...." Skinner paused, as though searching for the right words. "You said that walking her down the aisle doesn't give me the right to play the father-in-law, but I don't think you would've asked me if you didn't already trust me to have her best interests in mind. If you were any other man, I'd give you a speech about what I'll do to you if you ever cause her sorrow, but I know that if that ever happened, you'd be the first one to do damage to yourself. So, instead, I'll ask you to promise that if you ever hurt her, you won't try to kill yourself. Stand up and take whatever punishment she gives you, but don't hurt yourself. You know that will only cause her more pain, and God knows she's suffered enough personal losses. If you do kill yourself, so help me God, I'll track you down in whatever afterlife you're hiding in and kick your ass."

Mulder smiled at this last part. "I guess you know me better than Bill. He just gave me the routine, 'Hurt-her-and-I'll-kill-you-myself-you-sorry-son-of-a-bitch' speech."

Skinner chuckled at this, and they both returned to their beers, consumed by their own thoughts.

Mulder finally articulated the question that he had been mulling over. "Why did you assume that wasn't Scully?"

"I saw another woman coming out of that room earlier, so I thought she was staying there. Besides, I had heard that Scully was sharing a room with her mother somewhere on the first floor, and I thought you were staying with her nephew or something."

"You're right. But Scully's cousin helped us out by giving us her room, and she swapped places with Scully after her mother fell asleep." Mulder turned toward his boss with a confused look. "But if you recognized my voice, I don't understand why didn't you recognize hers."

Skinner was uncomfortable about answering this, and he wasn't even sure if it was a question expecting a response, but he gave one. "I heard giggling, and she called you, 'Fox.' I guess it just didn't sound like the reserved special agent that I'm used to."

Mulder smiled. "She only calls me that when she's tipsy. I think the ladies had a bit too much to drink at the bachelorette party."

Skinner was a little embarrassed by this revelation and stared down into his empty mug to hide the reddish tinge overtaking his face. And then he realized something, which he spoke aloud. "I'd never heard her laugh before." He turned and looked at his agent. "You make her happy, Mulder. You make her laugh. Spend every day of the rest of your life doing just that."

"That's exactly what I plan to do."

With a nod of acknowledgment, Skinner stretched and slid down from his barstool. "C'mon, Mulder. You've got a big day tomorrow and we could both use our sleep."

Mulder finished off his beer with one swig, and after settling the bill, the two men headed out of the bar. Tomorrow might be a life-changing day for the soon-to-be-husband, but it was tonight that had changed Skinner. He found that he had a new respect for Mulder, as a man much better than himself--a man who did not fear the loss of his freedom but embraced it, and who already lived out the commitment he was yet to make legal, but which obviously he had made with his heart and soul long ago. And he realized that maybe this was the man that Dana Scully deserved after all.


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