Scully is struggling with the loss of her son
and must make a choice about her future.
SPOILERS: Season 9
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to FOX, CC, etc.
Notes: Special thanks to Mims for the beta, and to Obfusc8er and pghfoxfan for the expert advice. Any remaining mistakes or flights of fantasy are my own. And thanks to Crystal for letting me know that someone was still paying attention.
* * * * *
* * * * *
The late afternoon sun pouring through the broad windows reminded Skinner of the summer heat that was awaiting him outside. He checked his watch as he walked down the hall, dreading the chaos of rush hour. He realized he should have scheduled this visit to Quantico earlier in the day, but there were too many things at the Hoover building that had required his attention first. At least he'd be heading back into the city and against the normal flow of traffic on the way home.
Coming to a stop outside the glass double doors, Skinner glanced inside the forensic medical bay. The large, sterile room held only two occupants--well, two living occupants, anyway. He hadn't quite formulated his excuse for coming by yet, so he decided to wait before making his presence known.
Her back was to him, but even in the ubiquitous white lab coat, she was unmistakable. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail, trailing a bright red path over her collar and down the stark white plane. He wondered when her hair had gotten so long. Her hands were busy with the body spread open before her; they would rise from time to time, and he could make out crimson stains on the gloves.
Scully's head lifted then, tilting toward the microphone poised just above her, and his breath caught as he saw the first glimpse of her profile. Her skin was so pallid, colored only by the gray that circled her eyes. The cheekbones were well-defined, more so than he remembered even a week ago. Her head lowered again, focused back on the cadaver, and for the moment he was grateful. As though, in no longer seeing the evidence, he could forget.
Honestly, he wasn't sure he looked much better than she did. The man he saw in the mirror each morning seemed older every day, stooped under a burden that only grew heavier with time. At least he was eating properly--perhaps a little too well. But she was so gaunt, so frail. He hadn't seen her like this since... He could still see the bright red drops falling from her nose, feel her limp body collapse into his arms. He shuddered at the memory. Not that; it couldn't be. Surely fate wouldn't be so cruel.
He shoved those thoughts aside, refusing to assume the worst. Returning his attention to the room, he found the assistant staring at him--it was a knowing look.
The young woman fought back a smile and leaned across the body to say something to Scully. The ponytail was momentarily airborne as her head whipped around in his direction. That was his cue to enter.
"Sir. I wasn't expecting to see you around here today."
"I, uh, had a meeting." He couldn't avoid a glance toward the diener, who was losing her battle against the smile. He didn't remember her reaction being quite so obvious the last time he was here.
"Dr. Scully, I'll just run these cultures down to the lab."
Scully gave the young woman a distracted nod and returned her attention to the tissue still in her hands.
Skinner suddenly felt very awkward being there. "Look, you're busy. I didn't mean to bother you. I just thought I'd--"
"It's no bother." She shot him a quick smile, but it was half-hearted at best. "I was just finishing up here. Sarah can clean up for me when she gets back."
He opened his mouth but had no rebuttal. As she looked up in question, he realized that he was standing in her way and stepped back with a sheepish "Sorry."
Scully crossed to the sink along the wall, discarding her gloves on the way. When she turned toward him again, the bright lights of the autopsy bay washed over her, making her seem paler still. The scrubs and lab coat hung loosely from her frame, engulfing her like a small child.
"How are you, Dana?" he asked softly, the words spilling out unbidden.
She seemed taken aback by his heartfelt question, and her guard dropped just for a moment. But she soon recovered herself. "I'm fine." She shot him a tight smile as she brushed past him but didn't meet his eyes.
"Can I take you to dinner?" He knew there was a chance that she would misinterpret his request, but he couldn't just leave well enough alone. He had to do something.
She was facing away, busy with some papers, and didn't bother to turn around. "Not tonight. I just want to go straight home, maybe go to bed early. But thanks for the offer."
"It won't take long. We can go somewhere close by."
She turned and regarded him wearily. He pressed on, seeing that it wouldn't take much more for her to acquiesce. "It'll be my treat. I insist."
Looking toward the clock above the door, she appeared to consider her options, then turned back to him and sighed. "Okay. Give me ten minutes?" He smiled gratefully and nodded. "You can wait in my office." She tilted her head toward the door along the side of the room.
On his way past her, he rested his hand on her shoulder. He meant to offer a simple thanks for indulging him, but the swish of the door interrupted him. Sarah had returned, and she hadn't missed their current position. He quickly withdrew his hand and escaped through the office door. He wasn't sure if Scully had noticed the young woman's smug expression, but he didn't look back to find out.
* * *
"How's your mother doing?"
Scully paused from pushing the salad around her plate and looked up briefly at his latest attempt at conversation. "She's fine. I should probably call her. We haven't talked much lately." She inhaled deeply and shifted to a lighter tone. "How's Kim? I think last I heard, her sister was ready to have a baby any day."
At the mention of a baby, Skinner felt his appetite drain away. He set down his fork and reached for his water, suddenly wishing he had ordered something stronger. "Um, I think she had the baby a couple of weeks ago. I don't really keep up with these things very well."
Silence descended again. Skinner forced himself to return to his steak, hoping that she would follow his example. He didn't remember her taking more than four or five bites of her salad, although she had shoved enough of it aside to create a hole on her plate.
Skinner was at a loss what else to do. He had promised Mulder that he would look after Scully, and yet here she was, literally wasting away in front of him. He feared she was suffering from depression, but the only words of comfort he knew to offer were the very things he could never tell her. There had to be something he could say, something that could offer her enough hope to start living again. Something that could lift the burden of guilt, from both of them.
"Dana..." She looked up, surprised and perhaps a bit wary at the use of her first name. He hesitated, then plowed ahead. "I have a hunting cabin a few hours away from here. It's nothing fancy, but it's pretty remote. Private. Maybe this weekend we could take a drive out there--"
"Sir..." He watched her face grow pink and was perversely pleased that something finally brought some color to her face. "I don't think...I mean, I hope I haven't given you the wrong impression, but--"
He shook his head and held up a hand to stop her protest. He had been so preoccupied with his plans that he didn't realize how it would sound. Her eyebrows lifted in question at his gesture, then knit together in confusion when he reached into his pocket for a pen and began to scribble on the strip of paper that had held together his napkin and silverware.
He wrote: "We need to talk--somewhere private." He turned the paper so Scully could read it, but she just looked at him uncertainly. He pulled the paper back and added: "It's about M."
Skinner had just barely turned the paper back toward her when she said, "I'm free this weekend. When do you want to leave?"
The sound of ice splashing into water startled him, and they both looked up to see the waitress refilling the glasses. Scully quickly crumpled the piece of paper in her hand and withdrew it from the table.
But the waitress seemed oblivious. "How is everything?" she asked.
Skinner smiled politely, hoping she would leave, but Scully pushed her plate aside. "You can take this."
"Would you like a box?"
Scully was shaking her head no, but Skinner spoke up. "Yes, please." He didn't back down from Scully's annoyed glare.
She pasted on a courteous smile for the uncertain waitress. "A box will be fine, thank you."
"I'll be right back." The girl departed with the salad plate.
Skinner readied himself for Scully's reprimand, but she was more interested in continuing with the previous topic. It was refreshing to see the fire return to her eyes. "So, how soon can we go there?"
* * *
"Are you sure this data is right?" Mulder tilted the page toward Frohike.
"That's the latest from MUFON. You got anything else, Langly?"
"Working on it," was the only response, his fingers still flying over the keyboard.
Mulder scanned the printout again. "This doesn't make sense. It's like, after the last whistle stop tour in Montana, everything just went quiet. Too quiet." He tossed the page onto the table and sat back in his chair. "It makes me uncomfortable. I don't know what they're up to."
"I'm sure more of the abductees have turned up," Frohike offered. "If they're like Billy Miles, maybe they have no interest in returning to their former lives. Their families might not even know they've been returned."
"Anything, Langly?" Mulder asked hopefully.
Langly's fingers finally stilled, and he leaned back from the computer. "Nada. No satellite data, no abduction reports--nothing."
Frohike rested an elbow on the table and pivoted toward Langly. "Maybe we should contact Joe. See if he's heard anything through the grapevine that people aren't eager to go public with."
Mulder stood up abruptly, sending his chair teetering behind him until it settled back down on four legs. "I should be the one out there digging for information. I can't stand being so isolated. I felt less constrained when I was six feet under."
He had just started to fill a glass from a jug in the fridge when a small cry sounded from the other end of the trailer and quickly grew louder. Mulder took a few large gulps of the water and then headed off toward the bedroom. "It looks like ol' Chesty finally got his wish."
"What?" Frohike called after him.
Walking backwards, Mulder kept moving as he explained, "An auditor once told me I could do my work from a computer. This is a hell of a way for me to try to prove him wrong." The cries momentarily grew louder as he opened the bedroom door and disappeared through it.
Langly drew Frohike's attention back to the screen. "Hey, there's a message here from Skinman."
Frohike scooted his chair closer. "That can't be good. He said he'd only contact us in an emergency."
"It doesn't sound urgent. He just wants to make sure that everyone's all right here." Langly continued to read between the lines and interpret the coded message. "Sounds like Scully isn't doing too hot, though. He wants to know how much he can tell her."
"About William? I thought he's the one who said we shouldn't let her know."
"I think he means about Mulder, telling her that he's safe."
Frohike leaned back in his chair and sighed. He cast a quick glance over his shoulder and then said quietly, "Whatever message we send back, I think we should keep this to ourselves."
Langly threw up his hands in surrender. "Dude, I don't want to get into the middle of this. You know how those two are about each other. If we don't tell Mulder about this, and then he finds out--"
"Tell me what?"
The two looked up guiltily as Mulder walked past them to set William down on the counter.
"Uh, nothing, really. Ow!" Frohike squawked out a protest at the elbow that had jabbed into his side. Langly added a few head thrusts in Mulder's direction for good measure, and the two briefly held a silent argument of head shakes and nudges.
Mulder was busy watching William while he pulled the soiled diaper off the baby and raced to put on a new one before the boy took the opportunity for target practice. "What did you guys find?"
Frohike finally capitulated. "We got a message from Skinner." Mulder shot a curious glance in his direction. "Scully isn't doing so well. He wants to tell her the truth--at least part of it, anyway."
Mulder remained quiet for a moment, pulling the adhesive strips snug on the fresh diaper. William cooed at him, and Mulder leaned forward with a smile to rub noses, receiving a giggle in reply. As Mulder pulled back, his smile faded. "I never wanted this life for her." He hefted William onto his shoulder and tossed the used diaper and wipes into the garbage.
Mulder turned back toward his friends, but his eyes remained on his son. The boy was reaching for his nose, and he playfully evaded him. Finally, he said to William, "Maybe it's time for your mom to come join us."
* * *
"Sir, Agent Scully is here to see you."
Pressing the intercom button, Skinner answered, "Thank you, Kim. Tell her I'll be with her in just a minute."
It had been over a week since their little jaunt to the cabin, when Skinner had informed her of Mulder's offer. Skinner knew she needed some time to consider her options and everything she would be sacrificing one way or the other, so he had allowed her as much time as she needed. Today's visit was unscheduled and the first he had heard from her since that weekend. Whatever decision she made, it would be a major one, and for more than just herself. He steeled himself against the possibilities and rose to open the door.
In the outer office, he found Scully standing next to Kim's desk, the two women chatting over photographs. Pictures of the new baby, he realized. He was relieved that Scully looked genuinely happy to see the photos, not sad or disappointed. Perhaps knowing where her own son was made that much of a difference--or maybe there was another reason. She looked up at him then and smiled.
"Walter. Sorry to barge in on you like this, but I was hoping you were free for lunch."
Skinner was so shocked by her unusually personal address that he didn't know what to say. She had handed the photos back to Kim and was heading for him, so he stepped aside and gestured for her to enter his office. On the way in, she startled him even more by leaning up and brushing a kiss on his cheek. He quickly shut the door behind her, hoping that his assistant hadn't seen how red his face was turning.
She tossed a mischievous grin over her shoulder and seated herself on the other side of his desk. He figured he should be grateful for her change in mood, even if it was at his expense.
"This might be even more fun than I thought," she said with a smirk. "Besides, it's only fair, after all the rumors you started at Quantico by checking up on me every week."
He grimaced as he took a seat behind the desk. "Was I that obvious?"
"Yes, although now I have a good idea why you were doing it."
"You know that if the roles were reversed, you would've asked me to do the same thing."
"I know. And I appreciate it. But I do have an ulterior motive."
Skinner raised his eyebrows in question.
"I was serious about the lunch thing, by the way. Do you think we could step out for a while? I'd prefer to continue this conversation some place without walls." Her eyes scanned the room to emphasize her point.
He nodded and stood to retrieve his suit jacket. "I can manage that."
She met him at the door, and he opened it to usher her out. "Kim, can you reschedule my 12:30? I should be back no later than 1:00."
"Yes, sir." She smiled in answer to Scully's short wave. As they approached the outer door, Skinner reached around to open it for Scully and deliberately placed a hand on her back to escort her through. The gesture felt foreign to him, and not entirely appropriate, but he figured he'd play along with her game.
The pair remained silent during the elevator ride and the short trip through the lobby. Skinner was waiting for her to restart the conversation, especially since he wasn't sure where it was headed next.
Once they reached the sidewalk, he looked to Scully to take the lead. "Would you mind just walking for a while?" she asked. "I really stopped by just to talk."
Skinner nodded and stepped off toward the south. He wasn't sure that she wanted to walk all the way to the Mall, but it seemed the natural place to head.
Scully waited until they had crossed the street and were no longer traveling in a crowd before she continued. "I apologize for the little performance back there, but I think it might work to our advantage if people think we're...involved."
"You mean, conversations like this will seem less suspicious?"
"Well, there's that...and..." She abruptly came to a stop, halting him with a hand on his arm. He watched as one last note of uncertainty crossed her features before resolution set in. "I've come to a decision, sir, and I need your help."
* * *
The sun had set but twilight lingered as Skinner pulled up the long, dirt drive to the cabin. He saw her car first, then her, sitting on the front porch in the waning light. As he stepped from his car, he shivered. Even though, just a mere two hours ago, oppressive heat had enveloped him in Washington, up here in the mountains of West Virginia, there was a chill in the late evening air.
Scully didn't turn to look at him as he mounted the steps and came to stand next to her on the porch. She was wearing a light sweater, but he wondered if more than that was keeping her warm: in her hand was a tumbler, half full of a clear liquid. He wasn't entirely sure it was water, nor was he sure that he wanted to know.
She spoke first. "It's so peaceful up here. I know we're not far from the highway, but I haven't heard anything besides nature since I arrived. It's like being in another world."
"Now you know why I bought this place. Sometimes you just have to get away, leave it all behind."
His words were unintentional but fitting, he realized. Scully didn't say anything, just nodded thoughtfully and sipped from her glass.
He stood there with his hands in his pockets, uncertain what to do with himself. There were no other chairs on the porch, and his short sleeves weren't adequate for staying outside long. But he didn't want to rush her.
At her protracted silence, he felt compelled to speak. "Dana, if you're having second thoughts, I'm sure there's another way--"
"No." She finally met his gaze, with as much determination as he'd ever seen in those eyes. "This is the only way. I have to do this."
He nodded and watched as she finished her beverage in one swig and rose to lead the way into the cabin. Inside, he found a fire burning low in the fireplace. A book was lying open on the table, a blanket left haphazardly on the couch--small signs that someone had been staying here for the weekend. All part of the charade.
Scully crossed straight through the main room--the open space serving as living room, dining room, and kitchen--into the small bedroom at the back. A moment later, she reemerged with a small black bag resembling a shaving kit. He didn't see the capped syringe in her other hand until she offered it to him.
"This is naloxone. After I take the capsules, you'll have about two hours to administer this. If everything goes as planned, that should be enough time."
With concern, he looked up from the syringe in his hand. "What if things don't go according to plan? What happens after two hours?"
"Finding an emergency room might be a good idea. After three hours...well, at least I'll already be at the morgue."
"Scully!" He was alarmed at her levity. "I thought you were sure this was safe."
"I'm depressing my respiratory and cardiovascular functions to an undetectable level. I wouldn't exactly call that safe. But the dosage has been measured out precisely, and the naloxone is a proven method of counter-acting opiates. Medically speaking, it should work. Now, you should be aware that even with the injection, additional efforts may be required."
Her clinical detachment only added to his skepticism. "What exactly do you mean by 'additional efforts'?"
"Breathing assistance, maybe some chest compressions..."
"You'll need CPR? Dana!"
"...and I may need periodic injections to maintain my breathing. I've included additional supplies in this bag, as well as instructions about dosage and frequency. You just need to be patient and let the medication run its course until my vital signs stabilize to a normal rate."
He didn't take the bag she held out to him, instead pacing away from her to regain his composure before speaking again. He had made it all the way to the front door before he turned back to face her.
"I can't let you go through with this."
"Sir, you said you would help me. I thought you, of all people, would understand why I have to do this."
"I understand your reasons, but your methods... Are you sure this is the best way?"
"I've weighed the risks. The only way I can guarantee that no one will follow me is if they believe I'm dead. And the only way I know to get a valid death certificate with witnesses is to produce a body. So, unless you can conjure up a look-alike corpse, this is the best option I have." She closed the distance and laid a hand on his arm. "I have to do this. Please, help me."
Skinner couldn't deny her anything with those watery baby blues looking up at him, wide open straight through to her soul. He quickly looked away. Rather than answer directly, he tried one last ploy to dissuade her.
"You're sure that this will be convincing?"
Scully backed off a little. "Well, I admit that it's a bit...unconventional, but it's a proven method--in some circles."
"What exactly are you taking?"
She opened her mouth to respond but hesitated. Finally, she answered, "It's probably better that you don't know. Let's just say that it's not exactly FDA approved."
He frowned at that. "But what if I need to take to you a hospital? I'll have to tell them something."
"Just tell them...to treat me for an opiate overdose. That should be sufficient."
"Look, I'm going to do this, with or without your help. But it would be a whole lot easier to wake up again if someone were there to inject me with this." She thrust forward the small black bag that he had refused to take from her earlier.
Her determined eyes never left him while he deliberated. In the end, there was no way he would refuse her. He reached out and took the bag.
"Thank you." Her reply was soft and laden with emotion. She pivoted away from him for a moment, and he heard a slight sniffle. But then her spine straightened and she turned to him again. "Do you need me to go over the plan?"
"No, I think I've got it."
"Are you ready?"
He looked down at the syringe in one hand, the bag of supplies in the other. His conscience was screaming at him, but he coerced it into submission.
"As ready as I'll ever be."
* * *
Nervously glancing toward the bedroom now and then, Skinner stood there feigning more patience than he felt while Sheriff Wilson read over the suicide note. In those interminable minutes of unnatural silence while he was waiting for the authorities to arrive, Skinner had read through the letter too many times himself. It said all the necessary things: how she felt no reason to go on any longer, that she regretted any hurt it would cause her family, how she felt this was the only option left to her. The words echoed far too much truth; he only hoped that they would not turn out to be prophetic.
"Walter, I'm truly sorry about this." Skinner felt a consoling hand settle briefly on his shoulder and looked up to meet Jim Wilson in the eye. The two had become casual friends over the years that Skinner owned the cabin, even hunted together on occasion. Skinner hated lying to him, but he hoped his discomfort would only add to the illusion of shock and grief.
"I appreciate you coming out here yourself, Jim. It makes it a little easier, being able to talk to someone I know."
The sheriff nodded thoughtfully, then returned to business. "Can you walk me through exactly what happened today?"
Skinner cleared his throat, using the delay to gather his thoughts. He had rehearsed the story a number of times, but the challenge was making sure that it didn't *sound* rehearsed. He thrust his sweaty hands into his pockets and forged ahead.
"We were supposed to come out to the cabin this weekend--together. Dana...she's been through a lot lately, personal things. I'd been trying to comfort her, offer her a shoulder to cry on, but it turned into more than that. It didn't feel right, though. Technically, I'm not--I mean, I wasn't--her direct supervisor anymore, but still, it wasn't quite...appropriate. That's why I had called off the weekend. I told her we should step back for a while. I never imagined it would come to this."
"Had she been to the cabin before?" Jim prodded.
"Yeah, a few weeks ago, we came out for a weekend. That's why she knew how to get here."
The sheriff glanced over at his deputy, who was wandering around the cabin photographing the scene. "It looks like she had been here for a little while. Do you have any idea when she arrived?"
"I'm pretty sure she came sometime this morning. She had called me, left a message on my machine. She said she was coming out here anyway and wanted me to join her. I guess she wasn't ready to break it off. Honestly, I didn't realize she would take it this way."
Jim offered a sympathetic half-smile and softened his tone. "Did you speak to her at all today?"
"No. I was worried about her after I got the message. She sounded like she'd been crying. I tried calling her back, several times, but never got ahold of her. By this evening, I was feeling rather uneasy about it and decided to drive out to check on her. When I found her, I--I thought she was just sleeping. But she was so still...." Skinner grasped tightly onto the syringe hidden in his pocket.
"Is everything here just as you found it?"
"I think so, pretty much. Except for the note. She'd left that by the bed."
The medical examiner finally emerged from the bedroom, tucking a stethoscope back into his bag. He looked every bit the good old country doctor, just like Scully had described. She'd said that she'd never actually met Doc Koehler in person but knew of him by reputation. According to her, he was competent and well-liked, but should've retired a few years ago. Skinner had learned that Koehler also didn't care much for being kept out past his bedtime on a Saturday night.
The sheriff turned to address the doctor. "Al, any idea on time of death?"
"It was pretty warm today. That kept the body from cooling too much. Best I can tell you is within the last 12 to 24 hours."
"Probably no more than a few hours ago, judging by that fire in the grate." Sheriff Wilson took another perusal of the room. "You got another place to stay tonight, Walter?"
"Actually, I wasn't planning to stay. I want to get Dana back to Washington as soon as possible, for the sake of her family."
Dr. Koehler spoke up. "Well, now, I won't be able to release the body to you until at least Monday. I still need to do the autopsy and file the death certificate."
Skinner had expected as much, but that didn't prevent a sudden pang of panic. He resolved to ignore it and launched into his counter-argument. "I can have my people back in Washington take care of that."
The doctor visibly bristled. "I'm sorry, but that's not the way we do things around here. She died in my jurisdiction--that means she's my responsibility. I have a legal obligation to file a death certificate."
Sheriff Wilson stepped slightly between the two men and spoke gently to Koehler. "Al, I realize we have an obligation here, but do you think there's anything we can do to help expedite this? I don't think there's any question about how she died."
Dr. Koehler's posture relaxed. "Well, it wouldn't require a full autopsy, just an external exam. But I still need to draw fluids. It'll take some time to get those sent back from the lab."
Skinner jumped in. "I can have the FBI take care of the fluids and rush the results. We'll fax you a copy so you can complete the paperwork."
The doctor looked from Skinner back to the sheriff, who was also watching him expectantly. "I guess that'll be satisfactory. I suppose you want the exam done right away."
Skinner suppressed a sigh of relief. "I would greatly appreciate that. So would her family."
Dr. Koehler hesitated a moment longer before yielding. "I'll call in my assistant. These young folks can handle the late hours much better than I can. Between the two of us, we'll have her ready to go for you sometime tonight. Will that be amenable?"
Skinner smiled tightly, hoping that "sometime tonight" would be a lot sooner than it sounded. "Yes, thank you."
The sheriff stepped back, and Skinner followed his example as he saw the paramedic rolling the gurney out of the bedroom and toward the front door. The contours of the body bag outlined a human form zipped up within. Skinner couldn't pull his eyes away from the black bag as it glided past him. When it disappeared out the door, a chill ran up his spine; he told himself it was only from the blast of cold air.
* * *
Skinner slammed shut the back doors of the black SUV and hastened to the driver's seat, sparing only a brief glance over his shoulder to ensure that the medical examiner's assistant wasn't watching. The young man had been easy enough to distract with a flash of Skinner's badge and a narrative about FBI procedure. Much to Skinner's relief, Dr. Koehler had been efficient in the exam and eager to hand things over to his assistant and "hurry home to the Missus" once he was finished. That had made it much easier, after his departure, to announce suddenly that the transport had arrived and to sign out the body right away.
But despite their efficiency, the clock was ticking. The two hour deadline had passed almost ten minutes ago. The original plan had been to drive several miles out of town to a secluded location before stopping to administer the drug, but Skinner couldn't afford to wait that long. He intended to find the first isolated spot and pull over.
Although Elk Grove was the county seat, it was still a small town with no more than a handful of stoplights. This time of night, they were all flashing red, and Skinner was grateful not to have the delay of waiting at a timed light for phantom traffic. But as he approached the third intersection, he realized there was an even worse obstacle that he hadn't anticipated: he could hear the whistle of a train.
Directly ahead, he spotted the tracks. No sooner had he seen them than the safety bar began to descend. For one brief moment, he considered gunning it and maneuvering his way through the gates ahead of the train. But there wasn't enough time. He slammed on the brakes and came to a halt just inches from the red-and-white barrier.
Skinner glanced at his watch. It was just shy of midnight. He looked down the tracks, hoping the train would be a short one, but it was too dark to see very far. The SUV's headlights illuminated car after car flashing by him, none of them a caboose.
In the shadows, he looked back at the immobile black bag strapped into the rear of the vehicle. He couldn't reach her from where he sat, or he would've unzipped the bag far enough to see Scully's face. As anxious as he was to free her, part of him dreaded what he might find.
Skinner cranked up the heat another notch and directed the vents to point behind him. He'd managed to avoid having her stored in refrigeration, but he knew her body temperature was already dangerously low, even before they'd removed her clothing to do the external exam. He hadn't thought to bring any blankets and couldn't spare the time to stop and dress her, and so her clothes remained sealed up in the evidence bag, tossed alongside her in the back.
The train rambled on, and on. Skinner wiped away the sweat forming on his brow; he knew it wasn't from the heater. He checked his watch again. Surely he'd been sitting here longer than the three minutes that it claimed. But the second hand ticked on, taunting him. He couldn't wait any longer. They weren't going anywhere, so now was as good a time as any.
Reaching for his seatbelt, Skinner checked the side mirror, more out of habit than intention, to ensure that no one was behind him. A pair of headlights was slowly approaching. He hesitated and took another glance at the train, considering his options. If his vehicle didn't move once the train had passed, maybe the other driver would just think he had fallen asleep and go around him. He watched through the rear-view mirror as the car pulled to a stop. At just the last moment, the lights of the low-riding vehicle disappeared beneath the higher profile of the SUV, and Skinner was able to make out the face of the driver. It was the medical examiner's assistant.
Skinner relatched his seatbelt and swallowed, hard. "Hold on for me just a little longer, Scully. I promise I'll get you out of there as soon as I can." He wasn't even sure that she could hear him, but the words were as much for his own encouragement as for hers.
With both hands, he gripped the wheel securely. His foot was itching to release the brake. Ten box cars later, the last compartment finally passed. The safety bars crept up at an agonizing tempo. It took every ounce of control Skinner had to gently let up on the brake and press down the accelerator at a reasonable pace.
At the next intersection, Skinner turned right, hoping that the car behind him would proceed straight ahead. But as he took the corner, he saw the car's right blinker turn on. At the next stop, a sign pointed left toward the highway that led to the interstate. He knew he would more likely find a secluded spot if he kept going straight here, but he couldn't risk raising any suspicions. He put on his turn signal and made the left.
Skinner emitted a loud sigh of relief when he saw the other car continue straight through the intersection and out of sight. Once he passed the lone vehicle in the opposing lane, he gunned it. There was no specific destination he was aiming for, but it made him feel slightly better to add some urgency to his motions.
As he drove farther away from town, the trees began to thicken, and Skinner slowed to look for an isolated clearing. A gravel road came up suddenly on his right. He nearly fishtailed the vehicle as he slammed on the brakes and cranked the wheel for the tight curve. Once the main road was no longer within view behind him, he pulled off into the trees and cut the headlights. He left the engine running to maintain the heat and turned on the dome light. There was no more time to waste.
"Hold on, Scully. I'm coming."
The seatbelt resisted his fumbling fingers, and Skinner let loose a few expletives until it finally released. The syringe and black case had been safely stowed in the glove box, so he quickly retrieved them and scrambled into the back of the SUV.
With a bolstering breath, he swiftly unzipped the body bag. The dome light offered poor illumination, but he could swear Scully looked an eerie shade of bluish-gray. Everything about her was completely still. She had performed admirably as a corpse, but it was time for the performance to end.
The cap of the syringe was tossed into the shadows; he rapidly plunged the needle into her shoulder and emptied the contents.
Scully had told him to be patient, but she'd failed to mention how long before he could start panicking. Skinner swept his fingers over the chilled skin on her forehead, brushing back a strand of hair. "C'mon, Dana, it's time to wake up." He tried to keep his voice steady, to project confidence for her sake, but it was no use. "I need you to wake up for me. That's an order, Agent Scully."
Nothing. But he wasn't giving up without a fight. It was time for those "additional efforts" she had mentioned.
Skinner willed his head to clear enough to remember his CPR training. He tilted her head back, pinched her nose, and started administering breaths. In the dim light, he could barely make out the motion of her chest rising and falling with his efforts.
"C'mon, breathe for me." After a few more puffs, he paused to feel for a pulse, realizing only as he did so that he probably wouldn't find one anyway. Otherwise, she wouldn't have been able to convince the medical examiner.
As fear gave way to determination, Skinner became more sure in his actions. Instinct took over, and he pulled the zipper down out of his way to begin chest compressions. A voice inside reminded him to avoid cracking any ribs in the midst of his adrenaline, so he tried his best to be gentle yet effective. A few compressions, then he returned to the breathing, setting up an alternating rhythm between the two.
Skinner was so focused that it took a moment to register when his fists, landing on her breastbone to begin another round, felt the flesh beneath them rising on its own.
No response, but she was breathing.
"Scully, can you hear me?"
Her eyelids twitched but didn't open. He pressed his fingers against her carotid and almost shouted in joy as he felt a weak but steady pulse.
"Wake up. C'mon, I know you can do it."
Another twitch, and her lids finally fluttered open. She blinked up at him, struggling for awareness.
Skinner knew his smile wasn't the best response to her discomfort, but he couldn't help it, so grateful was he just to hear her voice again. "I'll take care of that." He brushed a thumb over her pale cheek and reassured them both, "Everything's going to be okay now."
* * *
The large oak overhanging the street provided welcome shade, and for more than just a reprieve from the sun. The shadows allowed a semblance of privacy as Skinner sat in his car reflecting on what he was about to do.
He looked across the street at the cozy house in this quiet neighborhood. There was no sign that the woman inside was anticipating his arrival. He hated the necessity of lying to yet another person--especially her--but in a sense, his message was true: from this point forward, Maggie Scully's daughter would be dead to her. There was no guarantee that the two could ever have contact again. Especially since Dana had gone to such great lengths to ensure that she would never be found.
Skinner looked down at the small vial he was holding in his fingers. One last thing she had asked of him before they parted:
"Sir, before you give the urn to my mother, I need you to put this inside."
She had held up the small vial, containing a microchip. As mysterious as the X-Files often remained to him, even he knew the significance of this chip.
"Scully, you shouldn't have removed this. What if--"
"I know the risks. But we know this chip can transmit and receive information. I can't take the chance that it might be used to track me. If I lead them right to Mulder and William..." Her breath caught, preventing her from finishing the sentence.
He nodded, letting her know that he understood. His own feelings on the matter he chose to shove aside, for the time being.
"There's one more thing," she whispered.
"Promise me, that you will *never* tell Mulder about this."
"Promise me. Please."
And so he had promised.
The vial now rested in his palm. He needed only to open it and let the tiny disc drop into the pile of ashes. But the thoughts and emotions he had forced away during their final farewell were now racing through him. He understood her reasons and had to respect her choice, but he couldn't avoid the dreaded question: What if the cancer came back? Forget the fact that Mulder would never forgive him--he would never forgive himself.
A motion in his peripheral vision drew his eye; he looked over to see Maggie exiting the house with a potted flower in one hand and a trowel in the other. She stopped to gaze at the blue sky and the birds chirping in the tree above her head, then descended the stairs and skirted the flower bed in front of the porch. Dropping to her knees, she set down the plant and began to dig.
Skinner sighed and reached for the box on the seat next to him. Within it lay an urn full of her daughter's "ashes." Nothing about this plan had been simple, but this was perhaps the most difficult part of all.
Once again, he rehearsed in his mind the news he was to deliver. The chemical fire at the lab. The necessity to cremate what was left of the remains. The top-secret nature of the work which had prevented them from informing her next of kin sooner. Skinner knew Maggie would be angry, but he was sure she would accept the story in the end. Dana had felt it was the best way to spare her Catholic mother the anguish of a suicide.
Skinner lifted the lid from the box and set it aside. The vial had a small cap that unscrewed--he gripped it between his finger and thumb, and paused.
The seconds ticked by, but his hands remained still. He contemplated that the ashes would probably be spread at sea, like her father's. And with them, anything else in the urn.
Skinner's entire career had been about walking a line, playing both sides, putting prudence before his word. Making decisions for the good of others, regardless of their own wishes. He had learned, above all else, to trust his own judgment.
He slipped the vial back into his pocket, unopened, and replaced the lid snugly on the box. After checking the street for any oncoming cars, he quickly opened his door. He put on his best Marine face, his Assistant Director demeanor. But then Skinner reminded himself of the loss he felt--he was also delivering the news as a friend.
Unconsciously, he returned his hand to his pocket as he crossed the street, once more fingering the sealed vial. But he withdrew the hand, refusing to give the chip another thought. He had a job to do.
* * *
"I thought they would never leave." Mulder shut his eyes and pulled Scully closer, snuggling them into the worn mattress.
"They were just happy to see me. I can't blame them. You know, those guys became pretty good friends of mine over the last year. It was a bit of a shock when Skinner told me they were still alive."
Mulder opened his eyes and followed the motions of his fingers stroking through her dyed hair. She knew it would take them both a while to grow accustomed to her as a brunette. "Yeah, well, they were starting to wear out their welcome. At least Gibson could take a hint."
"What did you say to him?"
"It wasn't so much what I was saying as what I was thinking." Mulder stopped playing with her hair and met her inquiring look. He just grinned and waggled his eyebrows at her.
"Mulder! You didn't!"
"Oh, I most certainly did. Want me to show you what I had in mind?"
She hummed as his fingers caressed her scalp, pulling her closer so he could start kissing her neck; but she was not to be deterred. "I hope you don't have thoughts like that in his presence very often."
"Sorry, I just can't help myself." She pulled back and frowned at him. He was quick to respond. "Well, we were roommates here for a few months. I couldn't have pure thoughts about you all the time. Besides, the kid already knew I had a dirty mind."
"No wonder he couldn't look me straight in the eye."
Mulder put on his mock jealous face, the one he usually reserved for suspicious pizza guys. "And just where *was* he looking?"
She chuckled. "I didn't mean that."
He couldn't hold the face much longer, and she broke into quiet laughter with him. Mulder's mirth dissolved into a sigh. "You have no idea how much I missed you."
"If it's half as much as I missed you, then I have a very good idea."
He stroked her face softly, then leaned in for a kiss. She was content with his gentle kisses for the moment as they savored each other's lips, tongues teasing and retreating. Then hands joined in, exploring, getting reacquainted. Not intimate at first, just needing to feel warm flesh, proof that they were both here, alive. Mulder's hand shifted to her thigh, snaking higher, up her side in a caress. The heel of his palm brushed against the curve of her breast, then a thumb snuck out and swept over her nipple.
And a screeching cry started up down the hall.
Mulder sighed and rolled over on his back, throwing an arm over his eyes. "The kid must have radar."
Scully smiled sympathetically, feeling the disappointment as well, but the tears welling in her eyes betrayed another emotion. "I think it's the sweetest sound I've ever heard."
Mulder dropped his arm and looked over at her. A warm smile crept over his face and danced in his eyes. She knew he felt her joy, her need. "You should go get him."
She smiled back at him through her tears and got up from the bed. Behind her, she heard him rise and knew he was following at a distance. He was allowing her this moment.
William was lying in his playpen, where he had been napping since she arrived, and was cranking up to full throttle. She ruefully remembered the times when she had grown impatient with this cry, waking her in the middle of the night or interrupting work she was trying to finish. Now, she realized how much she had missed this. He was just saying that he needed her--the feeling was mutual.
Scully stopped in front of the playpen and looked down at William, at his red, scrunched up face and the angry fists waving in the air. His eyes were closed as he drew in another breath, preparing for the next wail. But before the sound emerged, his eyes opened, and he looked at her as if in surprise. The cry came out as no more than a small whine. They just regarded each other for a moment. Scully wanted to touch him so badly, but she just needed to know--
"Oh, William, can you ever forgive me?"
As if the sound of her voice had broken the spell between them, his whole demeanor suddenly changed. His face broke into a gummy grin, the cries yielded to contented gurgles, and his fists waved at her in excitement. Scully released a half-laugh, half-sob, and immediately reached for him. Holding him tight to her chest, she stroked his head and whispered between kisses, "My sweet baby, I missed you so much. I'm sorry. So sorry. I love you. I love you so much."
Scully felt a strong arm wrap around her waist, and Mulder's head settled against hers. He kissed her temple, then kissed the top of their son's head. "He doesn't blame you, Scully. No one does. You did what you had to do to keep him safe. The only person you need forgiveness from is yourself."
She looked up at him with hope and uncertainty. They were such simple words, but she knew it wouldn't be easy. She quickly looked away then, lest he read in her eyes what she could never tell him: there were other truths for which she would need his forgiveness.
Scully snuggled William closer, breathing deep his baby smells--which, unfortunately, were currently mingled with the reminder of why he had been so unhappy a moment ago. But even that, she was glad to experience again. Out of habit, she took a quick look down the back of his diaper to inspect the damage.
"My God, Mulder, what have you been feeding him?"
Mulder swiftly pulled away, looking like a little boy caught sneaking chocolates before dinner. She wondered if maybe he had been. "Sorry, kid. Mom's here now. No more junk food."
Scully rolled her eyes and returned her attention to the baby. She kissed him on the head once more, then turned and held him up to his father, trying to suppress her smile. "I think it's only fair that you should get this one."
She couldn't wait to see what innovative ways Mulder had come up with to change a diaper. She only hoped it didn't involve duct tape.
* * * * *
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