As a rule, Skinner did not dream.
Oh, he had his nightmares, bloody jungles long since exchanged for glutinous fetuses swimming in green slime and pale eyes clouded over with inky strains of black. Though they were deathly horrors that set in with aches and sweats, few and far between they were, and the rest of his nights were quiet. No placid or confusing or off-putting dreamscapes to sleepily wake from or muddle over during the day.
Thanks to Scully, he knew that – logically – he dreamt, along with the rest of mankind. But he was glad that he did not remember.
His wife had called him lucky.
So, when – one cold October night – he awoke and realized he was still asleep, Skinner was considerably surprised.
His glass of water stood upon its coaster on the bedside table. Condensation had gathered, but the ice was gone and a small pool of water overflowed the coaster, soaking into the dark wood. His watch sat beside his alarm clock, the glowing red digits blaring the time at him. 11:21. It felt much later.
The corner of his eye caught movement, and he spun his head toward the window. Sad and ominous, the familiar shadows moved in a way that shadows ordinarily do not.
He sat up in bed, sheets pooling at his waist. He narrowed his eyes, finding the dresser, the desk, things just slightly out of proportion and out of sorts.
Then a form detached itself from the other shadows.
“You killed me,” the ghost in the corner accused.
Skinner looked up. “You killed me first.” His voice was gruff with sleep and anger.
“Fair enough.” Krycek’s searching eyes scrutinized the room’s murky shade.
“What are you looking for?”
As in life, Krycek’s grin spread catlike and mocking across his narrow face. “Just looking.” The uninvited guest haunted the room’s perimeter. When his lean figure passed before the window, Skinner gasped at the sight of the mobile left arm, whole and undamaged. “Rather Spartan,” Krycek observed. “Much as I remember it, truth to tell.”
Skinner had nothing to say to this. Although his anger boiled hot and heavy, he felt removed from it, like watching TV.
Krycek prowled about, zigzagging lazily nearer to the bed. “I used to dream of you,” the specter said. “Even before we met. Even after I died. I don’t suppose you’d understand.”
As though he could sink away into the bed or into consciousness, Skinner curled inward, shifted back, unable to make himself smaller or to escape anywhere at all. He wondered why he was naked under the sheets.
The apparition went on, touching the odd thing here and there. The drawer pull on the dresser. The theatrically fluttering curtains. The droplets on the glass, leaving a swipe of clear, dry glass where his finger trailed. “I’d never known dreams could haunt a man, not like that. Do you know what I dreamed?” Green cat eyes cut bright and cold. “There were your hands, always so near… so strong you are, Skinner. A strong man. It gets the imagination going—”
“What are you getting at, Krycek?” Skinner interrupted, glaring and hostile.
Krycek had the audacity to laugh. “So gruff and serious; it only feeds the fantasy, Walter.” He leaned in close, voice smoky hot, “I caught you looking.”
Skinner leaned away; his bare back relished the cool, hard contact of the headboard. It grounded him in an ambiguous world. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t you?” Krycek asked. When he sat upon the bed, the mattress dipped with the weight of him, as though he were real. “Don’t you realize,” the ghost whispered in all seriousness, “if we’d lived in a normal world, we could have been happy together.”
“You’re not real.”
“I’m real as you… and sometimes even more. I don’t lie to myself after all.”
“Just to everyone else.”
Krycek laughed low in his throat, a growl. “Not anymore.” He stood from his place. “I can see I’m getting nowhere. Nowhere at all. Good night, Skinner.”
Skinner stared into the darkness long after any trace of the spirit was gone. And when he finally laid his heavy head down to the pillow again, deep and perfect sleep came for Skinner in his air-conditioned condo.
= = = = =
He slapped off the alarm and blinked into the early morning light. Skinner sat up and fumbled for his glasses.
Then he looked to his tumbler of water, and saw the smeared fingerprint there.
= = = = =