That night, wading through the undergrowth in the boreal chill, Walter Skinner believed.
He saw it all and he believed; saw the ship slip from its shimmering veil, massive and magnificent in the endless, glittering night; saw the bodies rise; saw light, saw heat, saw his agent rapt and limp in the ecstasy of surrender.
He saw it all, and he felt anew the awe and terror of Vietnam, the helicopters and the fire and MK-NAOMI, the sputter of an M60, khaki dark with blood. He saw it all, and he felt the quiet peace of inevitability, and then the sick sweetness of wonder, or perhaps the end of wondering.
He stared into the sky as the tears gathered without falling, stared as the invaders blinked away into an abrupt and infinite void. He stared until there was nothing left but the slow creep of dawn’s mist, the sound of his own ragged breath. Stared until there was nothing left to do but stumble back through the pines to the car, to Mulder’s keys still dangling from the rental keyring in the ignition, to his jacket crumpled in the back seat.
Walter sees it all, again and again.
He closes his eyes, and he sees it all, sees nothing but his promise, made in earnest and then helplessly, flagrantly broken.
When the sunrise begins to stain the wood paneling of his office, burning away the homey shadows in a flame of honey and bronze, he swills back the last of his whiskey and makes the trek, coatless, to the steaming coffee cart across the street. He is not drunk. He is never drunk, even after his best efforts, but the cool morning air slaps him sober anyway.
He stands in line, pays the burly, ageless Serbian woman manning the cart her due, and wrestles a lid onto the paper cup. Black, no sugar, no cream. He stalks back through the wind with his coffee to the Hoover, picturing Scully at home in the great concrete belly of the building, tilting endlessly at her strange and unclassifiable work, reluctant to leave its orbit.
He glances at his watch as he shoulders past security. He’s still got twenty ‘til their meeting.
Jesus Christ, she shouldn’t even be here. It’s bad for the baby. She should be resting, goddamn it, should have her feet propped up on a pillow or three, should be eating fucking bonbons with her stubborn head wrapped up in a fluffy towel. She should at least be on desk duty, not running around Idaho brandishing scalpel and SIG-Sauer like some sort of modern day dual-wielding hedge knight.
As usual, he abstains from the elevator, and takes the stairs back up. The mild exercise helps him squash his chivalrous irritation, helps him put it back into context. Maybe he’s just more of a sexist than he thought he was. Or maybe he just knows his agent. Maybe, that night in the hospital, he looked down into her wet blue eyes and saw rage and fear and unbridled joy as she wept, saw a woman, a lover, a mother. It was a revelation; he hadn’t even seen her cry when her sister was killed.
She’s a warhorse, that one. She’s Joan of Arc. At the very least, she’s one hell of an agent.
He guards himself against sentiment; he does not yearn. But in his weaker moments, he allows himself to wonder. He knows that he is no Fox Mulder, no crusader or revolutionary. War’s vicious hand had already beaten the thirst for adventure and glory out of him by the time Dana Scully was ten years old. He’s no longer the kind of man that could inspire the love and loyalty of a woman like her, and maybe he never was.
But hell, he still believes in doing the right thing; believes in America, even after all he’s seen. He’s got the patience to play the game by the rules, the muscle to bend them. He knows his place, his role in all of this.
Some men are bound for greatness. Some must be content to be good.
Nothing about Dana Scully has ever been cliché, but he can’t help but think that in this newly fertile iteration, she really does glow. Across from him, coolly delivering her account of the events in Burley, she’s pale and dewy, clearly fighting through a bout of morning sickness. He thinks she might be wearing less makeup. Her cheeks are beginning to fill out, her cider hair shines with health. She is beautiful beyond all reason, beyond all sense. When she finishes her narrative, he has to clear his throat in order to speak.
“And Agent Doggett?” He prompts, watching her face carefully. He likes John Doggett, likes his weary moxie, his work ethic. He recognizes within him the familiar clarity of loneliness.
Scully purses her lips for a quick moment, the only indication that he’s hit a soft spot. “He’s a good agent, sir,” she clips. “He’s thorough and seems to have a respect for what we—what I—do. But…”
“But he’s no Mulder,” he finishes for her.
She blinks, slowly, unevenly, and looks down at her hands, knotted together in her lap.
“Listen, Agent Scully, I couldn’t very well leave you alone down there,” he says. “Not while you’re… not in your present condition.” He pries off his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose, knowing that he sounds like the worst kind of man. “Not that you’re…”
“It’s okay,” she says, saving him. “Thank you.”
She still won’t meet his gaze.
“Scully… off the record. We haven’t given up. We’re still working hard to find him,” he says, leaning forward, reaching for some sort of simpatico, some way to scale the wall between them. “Frohike—”
“Frohike can’t do a goddamned thing,” she interrupts, her voice thin and sharp. She lifts her shining eyes to his, trapping him in the vortex of their whirlpool blue. “If Mulder couldn’t bring me back when I was taken, then there’s nothing that any of us can do to bring him back now. We have to wait. I’ve been thinking. It’s the only way. I have to be—”
“Exactly, Dana. Now is the time for patience.” The use of her first name seems to shock her back into herself. Her pink tongue darts out to wet her lips.
“Your only job right now is to wait,” he continues. “To focus on your work, on your pregnancy. I won’t have you doing anything rash or stupid. That’s Agent Mulder’s job.”
She can’t restrain a small, sad, girlish smile, and the sheepish pleasure and relief that rushes through him is entirely inappropriate. Juvenile. Undeserved.
“Which, by the way, is waiting for him when he returns, once he is ready,” he says, forging onward. “Doggett’s position is temporary. I just feel better knowing that there is someone looking out for you, someone you can rely on, to turn to when you need something. John Doggett is a good man. You can count on him.”
She does not respond. Silence fills the room.
“I, uh, I have something for you,” he says. He rummages in a drawer, extracts an overstuffed manila envelope, slides it across the desk. She stares at it for a moment before claiming it, drawing it into her lap and unspooling the clasp.
“The investigation no longer requires these items as evidence,” he says, by way of explanation.
Scully reaches inside and pulls out a worn leather wallet. A badge. A ring of keys and a lockpick jackknife lashed together with a Liberty Bell keychain.
She opens the badge and rubs her manicured thumb over Mulder’s photo. It’s an act so intimate and heartfelt that it hurts him to observe it. He studies his own hands instead, large and square and calloused from long, punishing hours in the Gold’s weight room down the block from his condo.
There’s a soft metallic click. He looks up.
There is a single key on his desk.
“This is my apartment key,” Scully says. “Hold it for Mulder until he gets back, will you?”
She stands, and her waist is still tiny, her secret still safe. She is proud, sweet, noble, peculiar. He is not in love with her, but he could be, if he let himself.
“Thank you for looking out for me, Walter.”
He watches her disappear through the door, back to the basement, back to the shadows. He savours the sound of his name on her lips.