"Water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad
"You wanted to see me, Sir?" Skinner asks, not bothering to knock as he awkwardly wheels his way across the threshold.
"I'd tell you to have a seat, but it looks like you have that covered — you look like hell by the way," the director tells him by way of greeting.
"I'd say that it's not as bad as it looks, but that would be a lie."
Two broken ribs, a shattered knee cap, and numerous fractures in his right hand and wrist have certainly left their mark on Walter Skinner, but the message Kersh sent to him late last night had offered no sympathy in that regard.
My office. 06:00.
It's five minutes past the hour, but wheeling himself up from the parking garage to the 6th floor with only one functioning hand had not been an easy task to achieve unassisted. Perhaps that had been the point of meeting at this ungodly hour. Skinner certainly would not put it past his superior to make such a passively aggressive play.
His disregard for a Kersh's direct order to shut Mulder and Scully down had unleashed a series of events that Kersh has undoubtedly taken a great deal of heat for over the course of the last 48 hours.
The involvement of the national media had complicated matters profoundly, placing a highly public spotlight on the local law enforcement offices initially tasked with handling the Van De Kamp homicides. The shooting at the hospital had erupted a turf war between local and federal law enforcement, resulting in a very highly publicized hand-over and numerous leaks.
The tale of a resurrected teenager and the assassination of numerous high-ranking Department of Defense officers had been the leading story on every news outlet since it first aired two days ago. Leaked Van De Kamp crime scene photos and hospital surveillance footage were being placed side by side on the cover of every newspaper in the country, leading to numerous lines of inquiry and a multitude of internal investigations. Why was the Department of Defense searching for a teenage boy declared dead a week prior to his alleged involvement in the death of multiple officers?
The leaked photographs and statements from local detectives and morgue employees had only served to intensify the conspiracy arc laid out by Tad O'Malley, with tens of thousands of people seeking to run their DNA through privately funded labs in search of anomalies. And that was only the tip of the iceberg.
"Have you spoken to Mulder or Scully?"
"The terms of their suspension and mine were quite clear," Skinner replies dryly, tightening the brace wrapped around his trunk in an attempt to make breathing more bearable.
"I know that the three of you are close."
To this, Skinner makes no comment. His loyalties are no state secret. He's protected Mulder, Scully, and the X-Files for the majority of his career, and he has no intention of stopping today.
Shaking his head, Kersh stands with a sigh, shifting his attention away from Skinner and onto the DC skyline.
"You're a good man, Walter," Kersh says with a pause, standing and shifting his eyes to the horizon as the sun begins to rise. "You probably don't remember, but we first met when I was a cadet at Quantico. You came to discuss the growing need for specialization and expertise in counterterrorism, which was very forward-thinking at the time. I can still remember how nervous I was as I waited in line to shake your hand. It was no secret that you were on the fast track to becoming the youngest FBI director in history," he says, laughing softly to himself as his eyes shift and raise to meet Skinner's. "Yet, here we are all these years later with me on this side of the desk and you on the other."
"We've all made our beds," Skinner replies evenly, unfazed by Kersh's dialogue.
Even with the intense pain registering in what feels like every bone in his body, Skinner keeps his face passive in hopes that his indifference will push the dialogue forward to get to whatever point Kersh has dredged him up here to make.
"So it seems," the director replies cautiously, watching Skinner with renewed interest.
Not one to be baited easily, Skinner remains silent and waits.
"As you are well aware, Scully's conversation with Tad O'Malley has created quite the stir," Kersh begins cautiously, settling into the plush chair behind his desk.
His assessing intensity is difficult to place, as are his motives, but if there is any one thing that Skinner has learned in his years of service under Kersh, it's that Kersh is nobody's bitch. He's malleable in the sense that he's fluid, and fluid is dangerous — it fills the space it occupies and is impossible to grasp.
"All three of you should be out of a job if not in jail… yet here we sit because I'll be dammed if there isn't a sliver of truth laced in with the lunacy," Kersh says, sliding a large envelope across his desk.
It's marked confidential, but the seal is broken. Though curious, Skinner doesn't bite. He would love to credit nam, two nasty divorces, and thirty years of service to feds for his impeccable impulse control, but truth be told, it's pain that keeps him in place. If Kersh wants him to read something, he can get off his ass and hand it to him.
For a moment, they each sit, sizing up the other in a silent chess match where neither is aware of the power or movement the other possesses.
"Oh for fuck's sake," Kersh says, standing and tossing the file into Skinner's lap.
Ignoring the profanity and theatrics, Skinner opens the envelope and removes the report inside. It's the crime scene photographs and coroner's report from the Van De Kamp crime scene. The vast majority of it he has seen before.
The pictures clearly depict a dead teenage boy. The very same teenage boy that disappeared from the morgue and resurfaced two days later on hospital surveillance footage outside of his girlfriend's hospital room, but it's not the pictures or grainy stills from the surveillance footage that catches his eye. It's the lab reports.
The finest labs in the country have been busy. Using the DNA Mulder rushed through the labs to confirm William's identity, the FBI has run a deeper, more in-depth analysis of Jackson Van De Kamp.
Skinner is no scientist, but the diagrams and language surrounding the findings don't require a degree in genetics to interpret. There is something highly unusual and very inhuman about Jackson Van De Kamp, but given what Skinner already knows, that fact alone is not surprising, nor is it what causes his stomach to drop.
The labs hadn't stopped with Van De Kamp. A secondary in-depth analysis had been run on the sample submitted as the comparative marker. One he knows belongs to Dana Scully.
The rest of the report blurs as his mind pieces together the implications.
When his eyes raise to meet Kersh's, they are met with acknowledgment and a nod that prods Skinner to continue to flip through the report. On the last page, he finds a hand-written note. One, he assumes the director wrote himself.
We can't protect them. We can only warn them.
"If you know where Van De Kamp is or have any knowledge or inclination that they do, now is the time to stop protecting them, Walter. It's a matter of national security. I don't think I need to spell out what that means."
"No. You don't."
"You're here because, despite our differences, I've always respected you. And that," he says, nodding his towards the file still in Skinner's hand, "is coming down hard, and I no longer possess the reigns to control the fallout. It was handed over to the Department of Homeland Security at 05:26 despite my adamant objection."
Kersh is no fool, and neither is Skinner. The actions that will follow will be coming directly from the executive branch. What was a federal investigation is in the hands of the military.
They want the same thing they have always wanted.
They want William.
And this time, there will be no-holds-barred.
It's time to move, and to win, they must be fluid.