May 26, 2000
Written for Liz.


by Kest

The rain had stopped for the moment, fizzling out to an occasional drop; but she hadn’t even noticed. Her hair was damp already; she slicked it back and pushed it behind her ears impatiently as she walked---down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the stately, marble federal buildings that flanked the street like watchful stone guards. The capitol building was in front of her, lit brighter than the rest. It didn’t seem to grow any nearer as she walked, but it wasn’t her destination, anyway. Cut adrift, partner-less for the night, she had no conscious destination in mind. Nearly-deserted streets and pale spotlights accompanied her, until with a movement that might have appeared abrupt to an outsider, she stepped to the edge of the street and hailed a passing cab.

They glided through the streets of DC then crossed the Potomac: a black, sleeping snake curled lazily around the city.

She knew the address, though the area was unfamiliar. It was a modern building, bland and comfortable. Soft carpet took away the sound of her footsteps, made her feel invisible and out of place as she navigated the hallway. She came to the door, and was suddenly surprised that she had never been there before. Odd to intrude now, at this time at night---she glanced down at her watch, but the glass had fogged over and she couldn’t read it. If he was even here.

She knocked, and twenty seconds later, thirty at the most, she saw a shadow on the other side of the door. It was opened cautiously, then wider as Skinner recognized her. He looked surprised, a little taken aback, and she realized that his chest was bare and his jeans unbuttoned, as if he had pulled them up hurriedly. But she was too tired to blush and look away.

"Agent Scully," he said evenly, fastening his jeans the rest of the way with a remarkable amount of cool, she thought. "Where’s Mulder?"

She smiled, because it was a predictable question; it was hard to extricate herself sometimes from the strange entity that was Mulder-and-Scully. But here, oddly enough, she felt herself: distinct and whole. "I imagine that Mulder’s at home right now. He’s leaving for Oregon in the morning."

"He is." Skinner had caught the inference; he studied her quizzically, and with typical patience waited for her to continue. She noticed that he wasn’t wearing his glasses; he looked different without them. Younger. More human.

"I’m not going with him." It was as difficult to say as it had been to hear, however much she accepted the necessity.

Skinner sighed, as if assessing her and the situation; she watched him slip back into his role of assistant director and was momentarily disappointed. Then he surprised her by asking, "Do you want anything to drink? Go sit down. I’ll be over in a minute."

She asked for coffee and he disappeared into the kitchen. She used the time to take in her surroundings: pale cream walls and grey carpet; tasteful prints that looked tailor-made for the room. It was the picture of bland, cultured aestheticism. But then she saw other things: a trophy on the far corner of the desk, which, on further inspection, appeared to be a bowling award from three years ago; a small, framed photograph of an old farmhouse; an Orioles baseball cap stuffed carelessly in a corner of the couch. She picked it up and fingered it absently, then let it drop back to the couch as Skinner entered with two coffee mugs. He was wearing a grey t-shirt.

"Thank you," she said simply as she took the mug he offered and sat down.

"So." He sat down on the couch as well, his knee a foot or so away from hers. "Why aren’t you going to Oregon with Mulder?"

She took a sip of the coffee; it burned her lip. Then she lowered it to hold it cupped in her hands, warming them. "Mulder believes that I might be in danger if I go with him. That they’re taking…previous abductees." She glanced up at Skinner, but there was no silent ‘freak,’ or laughing ‘abductee’ in the set of his face---everything she’d ever been afraid of in admitting to herself what had happened to her. Instead he looked calm, slightly concerned. She held his gaze and shifted closer to him on the couch, unaware that she did so. "Sir…I’d like you to go with him. As a favor to me," she added after a beat.

Skinner leaned toward the coffee table abruptly, setting down the mug on its glass surface. "Of course I’ll go with him," he said immediately. Then he paused and looked away, running a hand over his forehead, rubbing at his eyes as if just now wondering where his glasses were. "But---"

"Sir, I trust you," she said quietly. "Please."

He looked back at her and their eyes locked. "All right, Dana."

At the sound of her name, spoken with such quiet certitude, such gentleness, she felt a hitch in her throat and she looked away quickly. She wasn’t going to break now, she *wasn’t*. She couldn’t afford to break, not when she could almost feel the danger Mulder was putting himself in, the strange premonition that something was going to happen, something she wouldn’t be there to prevent. That he would leave her, answering all of her unspoken questions about his quest, about her; about where things stood in the strange makeup that was Mulder.

Her hand was shaking, and she leaned forward to put the mug down before the coffee spilled; then Skinner was there, meeting her halfway with a hand on her shoulder. She felt a brief irritation---she *wasn’t* breaking, wasn’t going to---but then let herself relax as he pulled her closer, wrapped her up in soft cotton and the fresh smell of laundry detergent. She closed her eyes and wished she had the words to thank him for this without betraying her own anxieties. The rise and fall of his breath, the heat coming through the cloth of the t-shirt, the steady beat of his heart---she needed this, needed it in a way that she rarely allowed herself to think about.

But after a moment he pulled away, one hand resting gently on her shoulder as she looked up at him, feeling tousled and slightly askew. He smiled. "I’ll take care of him for you."

"Thank you." Before she was even aware of what she was doing, she reached up to put her hand behind his neck and pulled his head down so that she could reach his lips. He seemed startled but kissed her back; he kissed gently, as she had always imagined---when she allowed herself to imagine it. She leaned back on the couch and he followed, shifting his body to accommodate her as she sank down in the soft cushions. They cradled her head and absorbed the strain from her body; she felt it leave her like a physical loss.

"Dana," he said, unsure, but she didn’t want his uncertainty. She pulled him down for another kiss, feeling his weight shift over her, closer now, and this was exactly what she wanted. Skinner kissed like a man fully grounded, complete with himself; how had she not known before that that was what she wanted? His mouth tasted like coffee and burnt candle wicks, a slow, smoky flavor. The kiss broke and she ran her hand up his back, underneath his t-shirt; he made a sound and she opened her eyes. He had his own eyes closed, his head bowed over her; she could see the creases at the corner of his eyes, fine lines that shadowed the angle of his cheeks.

She raised her head to whisper in his ear, "Please."

He yielded, as she knew, perhaps, that he would. There was something about someone else’s hands on her body…Skinner caressed her not like a man does a treasured gift, but as if he were giving her self back to her. Every movement of his hands, his lips, marked her skin and curves of flesh as hers, as if he were showing it to her again, reacquainting herself with her own body.

His hand slid down her stomach, tracing the line of her hipbones and then lower, fingers moving with sure confidence to slide under the waist of her pants and into her, stroking until her breath came faster and the lights and shapes around her were nothing but a disjointed blur. She shifted on the couch to give him better access, pulled down his other hand to kiss his palm, the line of his wrist. She bit it gently as she came: silent but for the catch in her breath and the sound of Skinner’s hand rubbing against her skin.

She smiled as he withdrew his hand. The cushions had molded themselves to her; she lacked the will to move. She opened her eyes and Skinner was smiling at her as well, a faint smile---a little protective, strangely vulnerable, as if she had become something entirely different here. And perhaps she had. She pulled him down to her and kissed him once, gently, on the lips.

"Thank you."

Skinner reached over to pull a blanket down from the back of the couch. He spread it over her carefully, arranging it over her partially revealed breasts and stomach. He leaned down once to kiss the curve of one breast, the tip of flesh above the low-cut bra. Then he covered her up. She touched his hand, held onto his fingers for a moment then released him as he stood up and disappeared from the side of the couch. She pulled the blanket up closer, up to her chin. It smelled of soft wool and him; she breathed it in as her eyelids drifted closed.