Title: Future Imperfect
Date: October 18, 2002
Summary: Skinner finds himself lost in more ways than one. Inspired by a Twilight Zone episode, "The Last Flight", written by the master, Richard Matheson.
Note to purists: There are a few changes in the garage scene. Think of it as the way things should have happened.
Archive: RatB, DitB
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me, nor am I profiting from their use. If they did (and I was) I would certainly treat them better than Chris Carter could ever imagine.
Old Website: members.tde.com//linval/home.html
Dedication: to Ursula, for her infinite patience
Many thanks: to Moonpuppy, friend as well as beta. What more could I ask for?
Walter Skinner's head ached. He reached up and touched the fresh wound, a souvenir from another encounter with the unexplainable. He recalled being chased into the elevator by Billy Miles--the man who was something more than human--then waking up in the hospital with a patch job on his forehead. Skinner sighed. His years connected with the X-Files had led him to accept things he would have laughed at once.
He had just leaned back in his office chair when quick footsteps from the hall outside the door made him look up. A tall man in a dark suit burst into the room. He grabbed the telephone and started to punch in a number.
"Agent Doggett." Skinner spoke with all the authority he could muster despite his throbbing temples.
Doggett started. He set down the phone and made his way across the room, closing the door as he passed.
"What are you doing here?" said Doggett, his tone a mix of anger and concern.
"They let me out of the hospital tonight." Skinner stood and moved forward. "What are you doing here?"
Doggett turned back to the phone. "Got Mulder down in the parking garage," he said as he dialed, "watching Alex Krycek."
"What the hell is Krycek doing here?" Skinner spat.
"That's what I'm tryin' to figure out." Doggett waited as the phone rang.
"Yeah," responded Mulder on the other end.
"He's here with Agent Crane," said Doggett.
Skinner could just make out Mulder's surprised voice.
"Agent Crane? How the hell does he know Agent Crane?"
"That's a damned good question," said Doggett. "He doesn't."
Skinner picked up another phone and listened, silently.
"You've been wondering who's getting these guys past security?" Mulder went on. "How Billy Miles is in the FBI? Agent Crane is in on this with your friend, which means he's in on it with Krycek. They've been in on it all along."
The `friend' Mulder referred to could only be Knowle Rohrer. Rohrer had been feeding information to Doggett about the alien conspiracy. Now Skinner wondered if Rohrer's intentions were benign or not.
"I don't understand. In on what?"
"Fooling us, Agent Doggett. Into chasing after Billy Miles, into believing that we could protect her."
"Yes, they know where she is."
"No, no, only I know where she is."
"You and Agent Reyes," said Mulder. "You called her from a phone inside the FBI, didn't you?"
Skinner finally spoke. "There's no way Crane could tap calls in here, Mulder. He'd have to have access to the communications system."
"Skinner's here with me," said Doggett.
"Maybe this goes even higher," said Mulder. "Listen to me. I've gotta get to Scully. You've got to tell me where she is. Where you sent her."
Doggett frowned at the phone. Skinner hung up his extension and moved away.
"Look," said Doggett forcefully. "We can nail these guys here, Mulder. We can put an end to it."
"No, you listen! You gotta get out of there. You've got no guarantee that these guys aren't alien replacements, too."
Doggett rubbed his forehead in frustration. Behind him, Skinner listened, and hooked a gun to his belt.
After a long moment, Doggett spoke again.
"Northern Georgia. A place called Democrat Hot Springs."
There was a long pause. Then Doggett shouted: "Mulder? Mulder!"
Skinner had heard enough. He ran out the door, gun in hand, and headed for the stairs. Spikes of pain stabbed his head with every step, but he could not afford to slow down. He was afraid that Mulder's own life might hang in the balance.
He knew that Alex Krycek was involved in this mess. Krycek had been many things to Skinner over the years. He first appeared in Skinner's office, a green, young agent full of fire. That was before Skinner learned that Krycek was working for the Smoker. Even then, there had been something nearly irresistible about the man.
FBI agent, Judas, renegade...lover.
Skinner's headache was nothing compared to the hole in his chest where a heart once resided.
He pushed the memories away to concentrate on his destination. If only he could have hardened his heart that day so long ago, after Krycek's initial disappearance. The day when the young man with the sea-green eyes and cherubic visage had appeared, unbidden, at his door. Skinner had taken him in, against his better judgment. Had listened to Krycek's tale of conspiracy and madness. Krycek had explained that he was trying to undermine the efforts of the cigarette-smoking man, the Man With No Name. Somehow, Skinner had believed him. He offered shelter, and eventually--inevitably, it seemed in retrospect--they came to share a bed.
Until Krycek disappeared once more.
Stop it! Skinner told himself again.
Dizziness flowed over him in an unexpected wave. Skinner had to lean against a wall for several minutes to let the attack pass. He cursed again. If Krycek had let him onto that elevator a minute sooner, the attack by Billy Miles might have been averted.
The pain passed suddenly. So suddenly that Skinner almost reeled from light-headedness. He looked for the door into the garage, and was surprised to find it on his left instead of his right. Must have just gotten turned around, he figured, and reached for the knob.
The light blinded him for an instant, before fading to a pale blue. Skinner blinked and paused to let his eyes adjust. Since when had the Bureau installed blue lights in the parking garage? He stared down the long hallway.
The corridor stretched in front of him, marked here and there by dark brown doors. Skinner turned quickly. He was faced with a white wall. There was no sign of any exit.
He brought the gun up...and that was when he realized his hand was empty. Skinner ran a hand over his own clothing. Nothing. The gun he'd had a few minutes ago had simply disappeared.
Skinner closed his eyes tightly. He opened them again. The wall was still there, mocking in its severity. He walked up to it and placed his palms on the cool surface.
"The Director is on Level Two."
Skinner started at the unemotional voice that seemed to emanate from the wall itself. He backed away. Suddenly, he heard footsteps in the distance. Skinner turned to the wall again. Maybe there was a secret door?
He pressed the surface again.
"The Director is on Level Two. Please proceed to the main office, Director Skinner."
Director Skinner? What the hell--
"Sir!" said a cheery voice behind him. "We weren't expecting you today."
Skinner turned around slowly at the familiar voice. Fox Mulder smiled at him.
"Agent Mulder? What are you doing here?"
"I know it's off-hours, sir. But it was supposed to be a surprise. Oh well, now that you're here, why don't you come to your office and we can go over the preparations?"
He gestured down the hallway. Skinner hesitated. This whole thing had to be a dream. Mulder looked real enough. The wall had felt real, too. Skinner took a step forward, and realized that his headache had vanished. Yes, he thought, this is a dream.
"Lead the way," he said graciously to a beaming Mulder.
The halls down which they walked were quiet, too quiet for the usually bustling Hoover Building. Skinner saw figures in silhouette behind glass panels as they passed. But overall, the effect was subdued.
Definitely a dream, thought Skinner. The best course of action was to play along until he woke up. Then he could get back to business. Let's see, he mused, what was it that Mulder just said?
"So how are the preparations coming, Agent Mulder?"
"Just fine, Sir. You'll be proud."
Mulder flashed him a wide smile.
That was another thing, Skinner realized. Mulder looked far too happy. The Mulder he knew was intense, brooding, angry or morose, but seldom happy. Skinner sighed inwardly. Curiouser and curiouser.
"Here we are, Sir."
Skinner brought himself out of his thoughts and looked up. They were in front of his office door. That much he recognized. But the door was strung with a large sign that read: "Happy Liberation Day".
"Um, very nice." It was the safest thing Skinner could think of to say.
Mulder chuckled. "There's more."
He led Skinner inside and pointed him to a chair. The interior was in such contrast to the drab outer walls that it made Skinner blink. The entire office had been festooned with crepe paper streamers. Cheerful music played on a radio somewhere. And on the far wall hung a picture of Skinner himself, his expression finely balanced between stern and benevolent.
"I am impressed, Mulder," said Skinner dryly.
"Well, we need to show the People--" Skinner could almost hear the capital "P"--"that you have their welfare in mind."
Mulder bustled around the office, straightening here and there. Skinner watched him idly. He pinched himself on the thigh, but nothing changed. Damn stubborn dream, he thought.
The sound of quick footsteps made Skinner look up. Mulder smiled wider, if that were possible, as Dana Scully appeared in the doorway.
"Hello, Director Skinner. This is a surprise."
At least Scully appeared not to have changed. She was dressed as usual in a dark pantsuit and high, chunky heels. She gave Skinner the same cool smile and penetrating look that he remembered so well. He thought she might have lost a little weight, though.
Skinner shook himself mentally. He should have remembered that the Scully he'd left back in the "real" world was nine months pregnant.
"Not an unpleasant one, I hope," he said, playing along.
Scully laughed lightly. "Of course not! It's good to see you get into the spirit of the day."
"So," said Skinner, "why don't we go over the schedule?"
"Good idea," Mulder enthused. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a piece of paper. "Let's see. We start with the People's Parade, ending at the Washington Monument. Then we'll have speeches on the Mall."
Skinner nodded noncommittally. He had no idea what Mulder was talking about.
"Then we'll have the usual food booths set up. And recruiting stands, of course, close to the Capitol."
"Of course." It was Scully's turn to speak. "We've found it to be the most efficient way to swell our ranks, Sir."
She walked over to the wall opposite and touched a hidden switch. A square of light appeared on the wall's surface, resolving itself into a map.
"Most of us will be positioned here." Scully pointed to a spot on the map. "Some over here. And the rest along either side of the Mall. We want to have the widest view possible of the crowds."
She switched the light off again and moved back to the desk, the picture of poise and elegance in her dark blue pantsuit. Skinner watched her closely. He felt somehow uneasy about professing his ignorance of the content of her speech.
If this was a dream, it was way past time to wake up.
"I'm sure you and Mulder have everything well in hand," said Skinner, picking his words carefully.
"Absolutely, Sir. You can count on us."
Mulder had been perching on the corner of the large desk. Now he slid off and started rifling through one of its drawers. He brought out a calendar. Mulder began skimming through its pages until he came to the date he wanted.
Scully arched a perfect red eyebrow.
"Already planning for the rest of the month, Mulder?"
"Why not?" He glanced at her, then went back to the calendar. "I think we ought to make this Liberation Month, myself."
"That may be the best idea you've had in awhile, Agent Mulder."
Skinner couldn't tell by Scully's straight face if she was kidding or not.
"After all," Scully went on, "everything has changed for the better since the Event. And we have you to thank for that, Sir."
She was looking at Skinner as she spoke.
"No need to be modest, Director Skinner. If you hadn't killed Alex Krycek, the world might be a very different place."
Skinner couldn't suppress a start. He'd killed Krycek?
Scully had a strange look on her face. Damn, thought Skinner. He'd be wise to watch himself. This wasn't a dream at all, he realized. It was quickly becoming a nightmare.
"Right," said Skinner, drawing himself up in his chair. "But I thought that was today."
Scully arched that eyebrow again. Then she laughed, relaxing visibly.
"Sorry, Sir. No disrespect intended. But you've forgotten the date every year since it happened."
"June twenty-second," Mulder piped up. He was still studying the calendar in his hand.
Scully's cell phone rang. She unclipped it from her belt.
"Scully...yes...what?" She cast a glance at Skinner and frowned. "There must be some mistake. Never mind, I'll take care of this myself."
With one last look in Skinner's direction, Scully headed towards the door.
Skinner unclenched his fingers. Whatever was going on, he decided he'd had more than enough. As he rose from his chair, Mulder looked up and started across the room. Skinner reached into his jacket as casually as he could.
The gun was gone.
"Sir? You need to do something for me."
Was there a sudden menace in Mulder's words? Skinner tensed as the other man moved towards him.
"What do you think of this date for an extra celebration?"
Mulder waved the calendar in the air. Skinner let out a breath in relief. He followed the agent's finger with his eyes to the date in question, then froze as he read the year at the top of the calendar.
2010. Less than a decade in the future. Skinner's future.
"I think that would do fine, Agent Mulder," said Skinner, his voice sounding calmer than he felt.
Mulder placed the calendar on the desk and bent over it. Skinner's eyes followed the movement. Something about Mulder's neck caught his eye. He peered closer to see.
There, just to the side of Mulder's spinal cord, was a distinct lump. Skinner had seen that lump before. It was the sign of a mutant, what Krycek had referred to as a `super-soldier'.
Noises from the corridor outside made both Skinner and Mulder look up. Dana Scully was marching towards them with determined strides. Several men in suits followed in her wake, including one who was decidedly familiar to Skinner.
A big man, wearing a starched white shirt and rimless glasses.
"Mulder!" Scully shouted. "That man is an imposter. Arrest him!"
Skinner didn't stop to think. He bullied his way out the door, only moments ahead of Scully's contingent. He got a quick impression of "Mulder's" head turning slowly to stare at him. Then he was down the hall, running for his life.
The footsteps behind him quickened as Skinner dashed for the way out. He ran on instinct, dodging people--or were they people?--who appeared, with startled expressions, from doors along the way. He ran as he had never run before, knowing without a doubt that this was real, and not a dream.
Skinner saw the white wall ahead of him. There was still no sign of any egress. But the footsteps were closing in, and he imagined he could feel a hand on his shoulder. Skinner didn't turn to look. He ran full-tilt towards the implacable barrier, only closing his eyes at the last moment.
He felt a brief resistance, then what he could only describe later as a shimmering. Skinner held his breath as the sensation intensified, began to fade, then died away altogether. He stumbled as the "wall" became open air again.
Skinner caught himself against another wall, which remained reassuringly solid. He listened for signs of pursuit and heard none. He was back. Back in his own world, with his own decisions to make. A weight in his hand made him look down. In the parallel world he'd just left, Skinner had nearly forgotten about the gun that had so mysteriously vanished.
Voices nearby caught his attention. Skinner followed them to the door at the end of the hall. He turned the knob cautiously. Skinner didn't realize he'd been holding his breath until he saw the familiar sight of parked cars.
The voices became clearer, and Skinner paused to listen.
"I'm bad. I'm a killer." Krycek's husky voice sent a familiar thrill through Skinner. "We wanted the same thing, brother. That's what you don't understand."
"I wanted to stop them." Mulder this time. His voice sounded flatter than ever. Almost dead, thought Skinner. "All you wanted was to save your own ass."
"No. I tried to stop them. Tried to kill--"
Skinner was close enough now to see Krycek blink and swallow as he spoke.
"--Scully's baby to stop them." Krycek's voice rose. "The tragedy is that you...you wouldn't let it go." He paused. "That's why I have to do this. See, you know how deep it goes. Right into the FBI."
"If you want to kill me--Alex--kill me." Mulder took a step forward. "Like you killed my father. Just don't insult me, trying to make me understand."
Krycek raised the gun with a trembling hand. He squeezed the trigger slowly...
A shot echoed in the garage. But it was Krycek that stumbled and fell, clutching his arm. Skinner finally emerged from his hiding place and walked into the unfolding drama.
Krycek stared up at Skinner in disbelief. He staggered in the direction of the gun. Skinner kicked it away easily, keeping his own weapon trained on Krycek.
"Skinner--" Krycek gasped. "It'll take more bullets than you can ever fire to win this game. One bullet, and I can give you a thousand lives." He glanced briefly at Mulder. The tall agent's eyes were flat.
Krycek looked back at Skinner.
Skinner turned towards his agent. Mulder was staring at Krycek, his face completely without expression. Seeing Skinner's hesitation, Krycek started across the room. Skinner watched in disbelief as Mulder suddenly stooped down to pick up the fallen gun. Mulder's form blurred momentarily as he spun around.
Two guns sounded as one in the spacious garage.
Skinner glanced down at himself, but saw no blood. He turned his eyes back to Mulder, in time to see him fall backwards to the floor of the garage. Skinner's own bullet had found its mark in the center of Mulder's forehead. Mulder twitched slightly, then lay still.
Skinner leaned against the nearest parked car in shock. He barely registered the touch on his arm until a drop of blood hit his shoe.
"We have to hurry."
Krycek's voice was soft, full of pain. He swayed, and Skinner caught him without a second thought. Movement on the garage floor startled Skinner. He looked past Krycek's shoulder at Mulder's body.
Mulder moved. His eyelids fluttered, then opened.
"M-Mulder?" Skinner asked, voice cracking.
"No!" The desperation in Krycek's voice made Skinner start. "Don't you see? That's not Mulder. Not any more."
Skinner paused as the man on the floor sat up. `Mulder' turned his face towards the two men. His forehead was unblemished. Skinner felt Krycek tug on his arm.
"Come on. We've got to get out of here. Now!"
As the stranger with Mulder's face rose from the floor, the reality of what was happening finally sunk in for Skinner. He turned and yanked on Krycek's forearm. The two men ran down the aisle of cars. But the footsteps behind them were catching up quickly.
Skinner turned back and saw Mulder was only minutes behind them. He raised the gun and pulled the trigger. Mulder stumbled, but kept coming. Skinner fired again, hitting Mulder in the knee.
"Your car, Skinner. Where's your car?" gasped Krycek, beside him.
"Over here. Hurry!"
Skinner half-dragged Krycek to the car. He had just managed to push the wounded man inside and scramble over to the driver's seat when Mulder--no sign of either wounds or blood on him--ran up and started beating on the rear window. Skinner locked the doors quickly. He fumbled for the key in his pocket, found it, and revved up the engine. The crash of breaking glass made Skinner wince. He pulled out and drove off, tires squealing loudly.
For several blocks, Skinner drove blindly, his mind on autopilot. He didn't want to think about what he'd just seen back there in the garage.
"We need a hiding place."
The weak voice near Skinner's ear startled him. He'd nearly forgotten about his passenger. Skinner glanced at Krycek. His wound appeared to have stopped bleeding. But Krycek's face was pale, and his breathing shallow.
Guilt washed over Skinner. He'd loved this man once. His feelings for Krycek were still there, overlaid with complications, but real in spite of everything.
"First you need a doctor," he said gruffly.
Krycek turned his head. His eyes still had the old fire in their depths.
"No doctors. They'll be watching us, Skinner. I know they've had taps on your place for months."
"We have to go somewhere."
A silence fell between the two men. It stretched out until Skinner thought that Krycek might have fallen asleep. Then the younger man spoke again, softly.
Skinner's hands tensed on the wheel.
"Everything." Krycek's sigh was soft as a leaf falling on grass. "For leaving you like I did, with no explanation. For making you think I was the enemy. For nearly killing you with the nanocytes."
"You did kill me," responded Skinner, his voice deceptively mild.
"And I brought you back." Krycek turned his head stiffly. "I had orders. If I'd really followed them, you would be dead."
"Orders from whom? I thought you broke off from the Consortium."
"Yes. But the splinter group I joined for awhile was worse than the Consortium. I thought they were fighting alien invasion, but they only wanted power for themselves. Starting with the FBI."
"Is all of this connected to the so-called super soldiers?"
"Indirectly. The super-soldiers are yet another alien race, able to recruit new members by making us into them. Literally. When I saw what was happening to Mulder--"
Krycek broke off. Skinner watched him out of the corner of his eye. He could tell that Krycek was in pain, but was keeping it held inside.
"So I joined the real Resistance," Krycek continued after a pause.
Skinner nodded slowly.
"You know?" Krycek sounded startled.
"Yes. Something I saw--"
"What?" asked Krycek. "What did you see?"
Skinner stared at his passenger briefly before turning his eyes back to the road. Strange, he thought. The world was changing before his eyes, and all Skinner could think of was how handsome this man was. His glimpse of the future had shown him the reality of the present. Possible future, Skinner amended.
He began a brief recital of what he'd seen and done prior to the showdown in the garage.
"Do you really think things might turn out that way?" asked Skinner when he'd finished.
There was no immediate response. Skinner glanced at his passenger and saw Krycek slumped against the door. Before Skinner could panic, Krycek opened his eyes and stared back at him.
"Yes," he answered simply. "Unless we fight it together."
"In that future," said Skinner in a low voice, "I killed you."
Krycek just nodded and leaned back against the leather seat.
The silence stretched out between them. Finally, Krycek spoke again.
"You didn't, though. I think that counts for something."
Skinner looked into deep green eyes and swallowed. Could Krycek really forgive that easily? Could he?
Another groan from the injured man.
"Kry--Alex--you need that tended."
"No doctors," wheezed Krycek.
"I know someone discreet," Skinner went on as though he hadn't heard. "She lives in the hills, outside of town. I've gone to her myself when I had to."
Krycek turned his head slowly. When he spoke, his voice was so soft that Skinner had to strain to hear.
"I never stopped loving you, Walter. Let's not leave each other again."
The last of Skinner's antagonism melted away. He reached across the seat and took Krycek's hand. Krycek squeezed back weakly.
"I promise," said Skinner. "We'll fight them together from now on."
They held hands the rest of the way, as Skinner headed the car into the sheltering night.
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