Date: 23 Aug 97

This story is based on characters created by Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen
Productions. Characters used without permission. No infringement intended.

TITLE: Looks and Smiles (1/4)
AUTHOR: Jo-Ann Lassiter
DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: Post anywhere. Thanks.
RATING: PG-13 for some swearing
KEY WORDS: M/Sc/Sk Friendship
SUMMARY: An ailing Skinner accompanies Mulder and Scully to Roanoke in pursuit
of a killer the AD helped put away fifteen years ago. Along the way, Skinner
comes to realize his unique relationship with the X-Files team.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Although this is built around an X-File, the case is not the
story. This is a character piece, told from Skinner's point of view. The X-File
is incidental and is therefore treated as such.
Thanks to Jill and Darla and D. Street for their assistance in clarifying
characterization and setting.

Looks and Smiles (1/4)
by Jo-Ann Lassiter

F.B.I. Headquarters
Assistant Director Skinner's Office
July 17, 1996
5:58 p.m.

"Right now, sir?"

Skinner nodded a "yes" to Mulder's question. His eyes darted to Scully, then
returned to rest on Mulder. "They want us there for the 7 a.m. briefing."

Mulder stopped in mid-rise; his head snapped up to stare at his superior. "Us?"

Scully rose, and Skinner watched her lay a hand lightly on her partner's
still-bent back; Mulder straightened at her touch, neither of them even aware of
the action. God, to be that attuned to another person...

"You're going with us, sir?" Scully's request was polite, yet Skinner detected
just the slightest hint of discomfort in her voice.

Skinner resisted pinching the bridge of his nose to ward off the headache that
was building. "If you wouldn't mind, yes."

"Um... no. Of course not, sir." Skinner sighed at Mulder's polite, yet
uncomfortable tone.

"Fine. Shall we meet at the garage in..." He consulted his watch. " hour
and a half?" He looked from one face to the other; the agents both looked as
though they'd been condemned to life at hard labor.

After they left, Skinner slumped into his chair; he dropped his head into his
hands. Perhaps taking a four-hour drive with two of his agents wasn't such a
good idea after all.

AD Skinner's Office

A glance at his watch brought him bolt upright. 6:30? Half an hour since he'd
sent Mulder and Scully literally packing? He couldn't recall the last time he'd
fallen asleep at his desk. He grabbed his briefcase, left the office and was
halfway home before he was hit with the realization that he felt like shit. The
fact that he was going on a field trip with the X Files agents couldn't solely
account for his
rapidly beating heart, his shaking hands, and his chilled body. His face didn't
feel like the inside of a furnace just because Mulder--and sometimes
Scully--made him hot under the collar.

God damn it all to hell. He swiped at the sweat on his forehead, turned the AC
on full throttle, and opened his window to the July heat. When he stopped at a
red light, he popped three Tylenol Extra-Strength from the bottle in his
briefcase and prayed that they'd work. He didn't want to be the object of pity,
even a one as sincere as his two wayward agents'.

Arriving home, he threw his things into a suitcase and by the time he was racing
back to the garage, he had forgotten to even acknowledge that his prayer had
been answered.

On the road
8:40 p.m.

"So, sir, are you heading up the investigation?" Mulder asked.

Skinner shook his head. "No. I'm part of the team just like you."

The AD watched Mulder's mouth form an "O" in the rear view mirror.

Skinner's eyes met Mulder's. "This killer's modus operandi has a certain...
familiarity to it. Sounds like a guy we put away fifteen years ago."

"He escaped?"

"He died."

Mulder's mouth opened slightly, but it was Scully who spoke. "He died right
around the time of the first killing, right?" She turned around to face him.
"You were there," she stated as surely as she knew her own name. "The first

"I was on the team that captured him, yes," Skinner acknowledged.

"It was more than that, though." Mulder again. "You were somehow..." Skinner
read the amazement in his agent's eyes. "You were attuned to him." Although
Mulder's gaze returned to the road, Skinner could almost see the gears shifting
as the agent delved into that storehouse he called a memory. "He was a Vietnam
vet, too, and--" Mulder glanced at Scully, then said softly to Skinner, "He
didn't come out of it well at all, did he, sir?"

"You mean like I did?" Skinner said this a little more bitingly than he'd meant
to, and Mulder's shoulders tensed. The AD purposefully softened his voice. "No.
He didn't have the level of support that I--" He broke off at the quizzical look
on Scully's face. "Something wrong, Agent Scully?"

The female agent shook her head. "Just trying to put the pieces together, sir."

Skinner glanced at Mulder; the agent shrugged. "It never came up in
conversation." Mulder's tone was offhand, but Skinner picked up on the affront
Mulder had taken at Skinner's cavalier assumption that Mulder would betray a
confidence, even to Scully.

The AD leaned back in his seat, suddenly bone-tired. "No, of course it

Mulder seemed to accept this unspoken apology as he looked into Skinner's eyes.
"Shall I tell her or would you like to?"

Skinner's eyes closed. "You."

As he drifted in and out of sleep, Skinner heard the story of his being the only
survivor of an ambush being related to Scully in Mulder's soft voice.

Suddenly a bright light stung through his eyelids, a loud "crack!" startled him
awake, and a low rumbling shook the car. Skinner leaned forward to talk to
Scully, but found her seated next to him in the back, her hand pressing on his

"Scully, what--"

"It's only thunder, sir. Lie back. Please." Scully's voice was strained, and
Skinner wondered what was going on.

"Agent Scully?"

"We pulled off the road about ten minutes ago. We hit a little... uh... wild

The AD's eyes narrowed. "What kind of 'wild weather?'"

"Thunderstorm at first," Mulder replied to Skinner's reflection in the mirror.
"Then hail. When I saw a tornado touch down, I put us through some creative
driving before I found an overpass to park under." The agent turned around in
his seat, grinning worriedly. "You didn't say peep one, sir. Scully was just
making sure you were all right."

"And...?" He directed this at Mulder, then glared at Scully, daring her to tell
him anything but that he was. "Am I?"

"Just how many aspirin did you down before meeting us, sir?"

His eyes widened as the woman caught him totally off-guard. Damn, she was good.
"Tylenol. Three." A barely noticeable raise of her eyebrow prompted him to
admit, "Extra-Strength."

"How long ago?" Her voice had softened, and he felt inordinately relieved, like
he'd avoided a trip to the woodshed.

"About two hours."

She nodded. "Well, they appear to still be effective. You don't have a fever."
She eyed him accusingly. "Did you?"

He was tired, and he was growing irritated by her superior attitude. "I'm not
sure; I might have. My head hurt. I took aspirin," he said curtly. He closed his
eyes and turned his head away.

"What about now?"

All he wanted to do was sleep, and she wouldn't let him. His eyes snapped open,
and he leaned forward, hating her at that moment. "It hurts. Okay?"

Scully flinched as though hit. "Sir, I'm only trying to help you."

He turned his back on her. "Then leave me alone and let me sleep."

"Okay," she whispered. He heard the door open, and the seat beside him shifted
slightly. She stepped out of the car and settled into the front seat beside

Despite the storm raging around them, an uncomfortable silence settled over the
car; it suited Skinner just fine. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

Tanglewood Motel
Outside of Roanoke, Virginia
July 18, 1996
12:05 a.m.

A gentle hand was shaking him awake, and when he opened his eyes he was
surprised to find that it belonged to Mulder. "Sir? We're at the motel now." The
agent spoke softly, as if somehow aware of the pounding in Skinner's head.

The AD started to nod his head, then thought better of it and accepted Mulder's
offered hand. He looked into his agent's eyes and found in them the expected
concern--and a tinge of anger. Confused, he sought out the more level-headed
half of the duo; she was hauling suitcases out of the trunk, studiously avoiding
eye contact with him.

A fuzzy memory of Scully leaning over him, asking him questions, and... Oh,
lord. He had practically bitten her head off.

As he let go of Mulder's hand and straightened, he fell back against the open
car door, dizzy and out of breath. Strong arms kept him from sliding to the
ground on suddenly-useless legs.

"Let me see him, Mulder," he heard through a haze.

"Can it wait till we get inside? This heat isn't helping him any. Or me." For
the first time Skinner noticed that his agent was panting. Scully beside him was
doing the same.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Mulder shook his head. "Nothing a little air-conditioning won't fix." He wiped a
hand across his forehead. "Can you walk?"

Blinking rapidly a few times, Skinner was able to shake off the dizziness. "I'm
fine," he said, and Mulder appraised him a few seconds before he released him

Walking to the back of the car where Scully had deposited their bags, Skinner
and Mulder reached for his suitcase at the same time. Skinner's hand grabbed the
handle first, Mulder's hand hovering above it uncertainly. "I can get it,
Mulder." He looked into his agent's eyes and nodded. "Thanks."

Mulder returned the nod, and picked up his own bag. "Your room's right over
here." The agent crossed the tarmac and slid a key into the lock. "Uh, sir..."
He stopped and looked at the ground.

Skinner turned the key and pushed the door open, sighing as the cool air inside
reached out for him. "What is it, Agent Mulder?" he asked when nothing more was
forthcoming from the man.

"I think Agent Scully would like to check you out before you go to bed."

About to protest, Skinner decided to succumb to reason. "All right," he said.
"But let's all change into something more comfortable than these *suits.*" He
plucked at the white shirt sticky against his chest; what he really wanted was a
shower. "Half an hour? All right?" He looked to Scully, and she nodded stiffly.

"Okay," Mulder agreed.

The AD waited until they headed toward their rooms, then let the coolness engulf

Tanglewood Motel
12:40 a.m.

It was a much-refreshed Walter Skinner who opened his door to admit his two
agents. Although a little dismayed that Mulder would be audience to his
'examination,' he nonetheless motioned them to the room's only two chairs.
Mulder remained standing by the door, however, and Skinner eyed him inquiringly.

"I'm going for food," he said. "Scully and I didn't have supper. Did you?"

Skinner thought a second, then shook his head.

"Is there anything you really hate?" Mulder asked. "Because I'm stopping at the
first open place I find."

The AD took in the weary form before him. "Anything will be fine, Agent Mulder."

"Okay," Mulder said, nodding. The door closed behind him with a soft "click."

Alone now with Scully, Skinner felt acutely uncomfortable--and thoroughly
ashamed. He walked over and sat on the bed, across from her. "Agent Scully, I'd
like to apologize. My behavior in the car was rude and uncalled for."

Slowly, Scully raised her head and looked into his eyes. She stared a moment,
and then nodded. "How are you feeling?"

"Not too bad. I think maybe the heat got to me a little."

She shook her head in that way doctors do, and said, "I don't think that's all
it was."

An hour ago he would have been peeved by her holier-than-thou attitude; now he
found it charming. He smiled in defeat. "Does anything ever get by you?"

He was pleased to see her return the smile. "Not much," she said, touching a
hand to his forehead.

"You let Mulder think he does, though, don't you?"

She shrugged, removing her hand and reaching into her medical bag. "Sometimes."


She stopped her rummaging and regarded him with curiosity. "Why sometimes, or
why at all?"

"Why at all."

She considered for a moment. "Every once in a while he just needs to win."

"Even at your expense?"

She resumed her search, then pulled out a thermometer. "It's a small price, and
besides... he knows."

"Then why bother?" he asked, puzzled.

Scully sighed; she shook the thermometer, then gave it to him to place under his
tongue. "When you were a kid, did your school have any sort of field day
activities? Competitions, really."

He nodded. "You mean baseball tosses, foot races... that type of thing?" he
asked around the thermometer.

"Right. Don't talk." She hesitated for a second, as if trying to decide whether
or not she wanted to tell him. "Did you ever notice the kids who didn't win at
anything? They'd try their best, but it was never good enough."

He raised an inquiring eyebrow at her.

"No, not me," she said. "I was a tomboy. I won--a lot." She smiled, remembering.
Then her face clouded. "I noticed the others, the ones who never won, though. At
the start of the day's events, they were so excited, so hopeful--we all were.
But as the day wore on, and they lost and lost and lost..." She stopped,
sighing. "There were some 'mercy' events--games and contests where they couldn't
help but win. And even though they knew they were being allowed to win, they
didn't care. At that point, they needed it, and needed it badly. It didn't
matter how it came to be, so long as it was." Her eyes searched his for
understanding. "Sometimes Mulder just needs it to be."

On more than one occasion he'd wondered how Mulder coped. How he picked himself
up, defeat after defeat, and carried on against overwhelming odds. Scully played
a big part in that, Skinner knew, and although she was defeated right along with
Mulder, the male agent took it to heart much more than his rational partner.

"I suppose he does," Skinner said softly.

They finished the rest of the check-up in silence, and when Scully sat back and
frowned, Skinner knew that although the news wasn't dire, neither was it rosy.

"You have the flu," she announced.

He wasn't surprised; he still felt like the underside of a shoe after it had
tromped around in a cow field. "I need to be there tomorrow," he said.

She nodded. "I know." She looked up from putting her medical bag back in order.
"Did you take any more Tylenol?"

He shook his head.

"Good," she nodded approvingly. "Mulder's bringing you back something a little

Mortified that she had sent one of his agents on a personal errand for him,
Skinner felt his face redden.

She touched his arm lightly. "He doesn't mind, sir."

Finding nothing but sincerity in her eyes, Skinner relaxed somewhat. Of all the
agents under his command, only Scully and Mulder, upon gaining a glimpse of
Walter Skinner, Human Being, had cared enough to look beyond that one brief
peek. He supposed that was why he was here, now, with them, instead of
hobnobbing with the Roanoke agents.

"Why don't you lie down?" Scully suggested. "If you turn out the lights and
close your eyes, that headache will ease."

He didn't even bother to question how she knew about the headache. She was
Scully: she just knew. "If it's all the same to you, Agent Scully, I'd rather
wait for Mulder." He offered her an apologetic smile. "I'm starving."

"Okay," she said, snapping her bag shut. "I'm going to bring this back to my
room. I'll be back when Mulder returns with the prescription."

He felt his mouth go dry. She had sent an exhausted, hungry agent in search of a
pharmacy this late in that heat? "Scully..."

"It was his idea. Mulder never does anything he doesn't want to do." She gave
him a grin. "You ought to know that by now."

He did. Still, the idea of Mulder searching for an all-night pharmacy for his
boss didn't rub Skinner the right way. It made him feel awkward and beholden to
one of his subordinates, and this was not a situation of which he was fond.

Nevertheless, it was the one in which he found himself. "All right. Give a knock
when he's back, and we can all have a bite in here."

She seemed a little surprised by that, but recovered quickly. "Okay," she said,
nodding. "We'll be over in a bit." She opened the door. "Lights," she reminded
him, then she left.

Skinner frowned at the closed door; he got up and slapped the light switch to
"off." He sat in the dark, and he sighed.


End Part 1/4

Looks and Smiles (2/4)
by Jo-Ann Lassiter

Roanoke Field Office
July 18, 1996
6:45 a.m.

"Walter! Come in!" Special Agent in Charge James Russett grabbed hold of
Skinner's outstretched hand and pulled him into the office; Russett's slamming
of the door effectively stranded Mulder and Scully in the corridor outside.

"Jim, I'm with--"

"You know, I'd heard a rumor that you had driven down with Spooky Mulder and his
partner, but until now I just didn't believe it." Russett was grinning from ear
to ear.

"Her name is Dana Scully."

"What?" Russett's mirth faded a smidgeon.

"Mulder's partner. Her name is Dana Scully."

"Oh." Russett shrugged. "Fine. Spooky has a partner named Scully."


"Is she now?" Russett tried to look out the slits in the blinds. "I'll have to
take your word for it."

"His name is Fox."


Skinner yanked the door open and motioned for Scully and Mulder to enter. "My
agents. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, this is Jim Russett. He's the regional SAC."

Mulder extended his hand to a flustered Russett. "Sir," the agent said, nodding

"I've... um... heard a lot about you, Mulder."

"Yes, sir," Mulder said, releasing his hand and stepping back to stand beside

When Russett took Scully's hand, he looked like he was at a loss. "Scully's a
pathologist," Skinner informed him. "She'd like to take a look at your victims

"Uh... sure. Dr. Ryelin can show her."

"Right now we'd like to see what your team has on this guy. Agent Mulder was a
profiler, and he may have something to add."

Skinner was pleased to see Russett finally gazing at Mulder with respect, if not
downright awe. "I heard you were pretty damned good, Mulder. One of the best--if
not *the* best."

Mulder nodded, and Skinner noted that he accepted the compliment
matter-of-factly, and a little warily. His agent was no fool. Mulder was well
aware that behind the praise lurked envy and scorn; the not-quite-hidden smirk
on Russett's face attested to that.

"Could you point us in the right direction, Jim?" Skinner asked. He made certain
that the "us" was heard--and understood. Skinner wanted to keep the "kissing up
to the AD" to a minimum. He wanted to establish right here and now that his time
would be spent in the company of his agents, not with the SAC stuck up his ass.

At least he felt safe with Mulder and Scully, enough so that he could let his
guard down and almost relax. They didn't jump at his every word, and they left
him alone when they thought he wanted to be left alone.

It would be a perfect relationship if they didn't think he wanted to be alone so


Roanoke Field Office
Unoccupied Conference Room
11:45 a.m.

"Come on, sir. Sit down." Scully tugged on his arm, trying to pull him further
into the room.

He felt light-headed and disoriented; the door frame seemed like a very good
place to lean against. "In a minute."

He was shocked when his grip was ripped loose and she began dragging him across
the room. "Get your ass in this chair *now*."

Certain that he would be kissing the linoleum any moment, Skinner's panic eased
when he felt Mulder's arm slip around his waist and the agent's shoulder slide
under his arm. "Take it easy, Scully," Mulder said softly, slowing the pace
she'd set. "He wasn't trying to be difficult; he was just trying to regain his

Mulder continually surprised him. Possessed of an over-abundance of obstinacy,
his agent had an equal share of compassion. Skinner had experienced it firsthand
before, and it caught him off-guard each and every time it was directed at him.

Scully let go, and Mulder deposited him very gently in the straight-backed
chair. "Okay, Scully, he's all yours." Even through the din pulsing in his ears,
Skinner detected the warning/affection/apology in Mulder's tone.

Bracing himself, preparing for the full force of Scully's wrath, Skinner almost
passed out from relief when her eyes reflected nothing but concern. "You need to
be in bed." She snapped it out like the medical order it was, and Skinner
immediately dismissed it on that basis alone.

"I just need a couple of minutes, and I'll be fine," he insisted.

"You will *not* be fine," Scully said, just as insistently. "I know you don't
want to accept it, but the fact is that you're ill, sir. You had a few good
hours, and now your body needs to recoup."

"Sir," Mulder interjected. "We've got several hours while Scully does the
autopsies. I'm going back to the motel; why don't you come with me? They don't
need you right now, and I need someplace quiet to study this." He held up the
thick file folder.

"Go with Mulder, sir.You may as well rest while you can. Once he starts coming
up with his absurd theories, you're going to need all the energy you can
muster." She smiled at her partner, and when his eyes crinkled with an
understanding known only to them, Skinner felt like a voyeur.

"All right," he said, "but I still need a few minutes." He didn't think he could
walk across the room, much less all the way to the car.

"Here. This will get that fever down a little." Scully handed him a dose of the
prescription Mulder had returned with... God... was it only eight hours ago?
They'd managed about three hours' sleep before they had to show up bright and
early in Roanoke.

Skinner took the capsule from her hand, popped it in his mouth, and accepted the
paper cupful of water she gave him to wash it down. He covered his eyes with his
hand, and when he felt well enough to face the world--such as it was--he found
Mulder seated across from him, trying to look like he wasn't watching him.
Scully was nowhere in sight. Skinner's eyes met Mulder's questioningly.

"She left."


"Are you ready for the show?"

The words held absolutely no meaning for Skinner. "Show?"

Mulder indicated the door with his head. "Out there. Are you ready to face your

Skinner winced. "Being the AD really sucks sometimes, Mulder."

He expected the agent to laugh, but Mulder merely nodded in sympathy. "You
usually pull it off," he said quietly.

Skinner eyed his agent; he'd always known Mulder was an astute man, but he was
surprised that that insight extended to him. "Let's get out of here, Mulder."

Mulder was suddenly standing in front of him, a hand on his shoulder preventing
him from rising. "Scully said to be careful when you get up. Your balance may be
off." The agent reached into his jacket pocket and displayed Skinner's
prescription. "The pills."

Skinner remembered. The night before, Scully had made a point of telling him not
to take the pill until just before he went to bed. Of course, he didn't listen,
and wound up on the floor, dizzy and frightened. When he finally lay in bed,
trembling, he vowed that that would be the last piece of her advice that he'd

God, he was a stubborn man! Here it was only a few hours later,
and he'd already argued with her about lying down. He looked up
at Mulder, and suddenly another memory sprang to light: a soft
knock on his door, and then Mulder by his bed, drying his face and
talking softly to him until he fell asleep. He felt his face
flaming, and had to look away.

"Sir? Are you all right?"

Unable to ignore the anxiety in his agent's voice, he looked up once again. "I'm
fine, Agent Mulder." His eyes darted to the pills in Mulder's pocket, then back
up to meet his agent's. Skinner nodded his thanks, and when Mulder nodded in
response, Skinner was certain that he understood.

"Ready?" Mulder asked.

Skinner looked around, taking in the room's "decor."

"There are no windows," Mulder informed him. Skinner nodded and checked behind
him. "And no 'mirrors'."

Satisfied, Skinner braced himself. "All right, let's get this show on the road,
shall we?"

Mulder stood before him uncertainly, arms dangling at his sides. "Do you want a
hand up?"

The AD sighed. "I think that would probably be a good idea."

Mulder placed his hands under Skinner's elbows. "Just hold on to me if you feel
dizzy, okay?"

Skinner nodded and rose to his feet, then found himself clutching at air.

"I'm right here, sir." Something solid met his flailing hands, and he grabbed

When the dizziness passed, he was almost afraid to open his eyes; he
half-expected to find himself in Mulder's arms.

"Okay, sir?" Mulder asked, his voice muffled and directly behind Skinner's head.
Oh, God, he *was* in Mulder's arms.

"I think so." Skinner wavered as Mulder let go.

"Do you need a few more minutes?"

He felt truly awful, but shook his head. "I think it'll have to be now or never,
Agent Mulder."

"Okay," Mulder said. "I'll get us out of here as quickly as possible, but you do
realize that you'll never be able to escape without Russett noticing."

"Doesn't this place have a back door?"

Mulder chuckled. "They do, but to get to it we'd have to go through the

Skinner blanched at the thought of wading through a sea of eager-beaver agents.
"The front door will be fine."

Mulder nodded. He took hold of the doorknob and hesitated. "Ready?"

Skinner took a breath. "As I'll ever be."

They weren't three steps outside the door when Skinner was assaulted by the SAC.
"Hey, Walter," Russett began, and Skinner bristled at how he cut in front of
Mulder to get to him. "Where'd you disappear to? I'm heading off to lunch. You
can join me, and we can catch up on old times." The invitation clearly did not
extend to the agent standing behind him.

Skinner was peeved at Russett's callous disregard of another person's feelings.
"Sorry," he said, trying to reign in his temper, "but Agent Mulder and I already
have plans." The invitation clearly did not extend to the man standing before

At the man's, "Oh," Skinner decided that Russett wasn't as dense as he'd been
when they were agents together. "I'll see you later, then," Russett said.

"Right. Later." Standing was beginning to take its toll on the AD. He felt sweat
breaking out on his brow. "Let's go, Mulder," he said, making a beeline for the

Mulder made no attempt to provide assistance until they were out of view of the
office. Even then, he offered only the barest support, a hand gripping Skinner's
upper arm, gently but firmly. "Almost there," he said softly.

Skinner knew Mulder was close; he could feel the agent's warm breath on his ear,
but why was his voice so faint?

"Red alert." A whisper this time, as Mulder released his hold.

Skinner could make out Mulder's voice and... Jesus, the man *was* still fucking
clueless. "Sorry, what did you say, Jim?"

"I said the team's going to be working tonight--casual dress, and we're having a
few pizzas delivered--and we'd like you to join us." The SAC turned to Mulder.
"Of course, that includes you and Agent Scully, too."

"What time?" Skinner heard himself croak.

"About five-thirty... Are you all right?" Russett looked curious, yet not overly

Skinner cleared his throat. "I'm a little tired. We got in pretty late last

Russett nodded. "That was some storm we had, wasn't it? Didn't clear out this
heat or humidity, though."

Skinner couldn't agree more; he was just about to melt from standing in the sun
in a long-sleeve shirt and jacket.

"We'll see you at five-thirty then, sir," Mulder said. "I don't know about you,
but I'm not used to this heat." He made a move toward the car.

Russett nodded but stood his ground. "It can be oppressive at times."

"Are you ready, sir?" Mulder asked Skinner.

Skinner wiped a hand across his forehead. "Let's get out of this heat, shall we,
Mulder?" He started for the car. "See you tonight, Jim," he called to the SAC.

They reached the car, and Mulder unlocked Skinner's door and opened it. "He's
still hovering. You're on your own, I'm afraid."

Skinner sighed. "Just get me the hell out of here, Mulder."

Mulder waited until Skinner was all the way inside, then shut the door. The
agent settled into the driver's seat, started the engine and cranked the air
conditioning up to "maximum." He blew out a breath.

"Be glad to, sir."

Tanglewood Motel
July 18, 1996

The knock on his door woke him. He stumbled over to the peephole but couldn't
focus enough for it to be of any use. "Who is it?" he asked hoarsely.


He opened the door to his bluejeans-clad agent. "What time is it?"

Mulder didn't consult his watch. "Four-thirty. We're leaving in half an hour,

"Is Scully back?"

Mulder nodded. "About twenty minutes ago. Um..." He looked a little uneasy.
"Scully's kind of exhausted. We're going to show up for dinner and then call it
a night. I know Russett's a friend of yours, so--"

"We worked together, Mulder. We were never friends."

Mulder didn't look surprised. "Oh. Well--"

"He's a real ass-kisser, Mulder." Skinner looked into his agent's eyes. "In case
you hadn't noticed."

Mulder smiled. "If you want to use us as your excuse to leave, we're at your

Skinner was starting to feel a little shaky, so he motioned Mulder inside, then
sank into a chair. "Thanks, but he'll never buy it," the AD said, trying to
catch his breath. "I'll have to come up with something better."

"How about, 'I don't feel well?'" Mulder suggested drily.

Skinner stared at Mulder a moment, then snorted. "If all else fails." He sighed.
"Which it probably will."

"I heard Russett's actually a pretty good SAC most of the time." Mulder brushed
at a patch of dust on his jeans' knee. "Maybe you just need to give him a

He gaped at his agent. "Mulder, he's treated you like something he scraped off
the bottom of his shoe."

Mulder shrugged.

Skinner studied his agent. Here was Mulder, who had been, in essence, snubbed by
the entire Roanoke office, advising Skinner, who had been treated like visiting
royalty, to be more open-minded.

"Doesn't it bother you?" Skinner wondered.

The agent looked up in surprise and Skinner thought that maybe this was the
first time anyone--except perhaps for Scully--had ever asked him. "No," he said
quickly. "Well, um... maybe... sometimes." His eyes returned to the scrutiny of
his clothing.

Skinner sighed. "Okay, Mulder. I'll try."

Mulder met his eyes; the agent nodded slightly and gave a small, tight smile,
then stood. "Okay. Well. We'll meet you at the car at five."

Skinner's eyes remained on the door after Mulder went through it. The man was so
hard to fathom sometimes. Not once did Mulder ask after his health, yet he had a
funny feeling that when Scully grilled her partner on the subject, Mulder would
give her an unerringly accurate description.

Wiping the sleep out of his eyes, Skinner headed for the shower. Maybe tonight
would be a little more comfortable than the morning session where he had been
shamelessly fawned over by Russett and his agents, while Mulder and Scully had
been relegated to a rickety table in the back of the room.

Skinner stripped as he walked, peeling off the white shirt that was starting to
feel like a second skin, and then shedding the suit pants. Christ. He'd fallen
asleep in his suit again. At this rate he wouldn't have anything left to wear to
work soon. Mulder had been dressed in jeans and a short-sleeve shirt; could
Skinner get away with similar attire? Russett had said casual dress, hadn't he?

He wondered just how many of Russett's agents would actually "dress down" while
the AD was expected to be in their midst. Shouldn't he wear a suit, too?

Oh, to hell with it, he thought. He didn't feel well, it was hot out, and he
couldn't handle anything tight around his neck anymore. He grabbed his Levi's, a
knit cotton shirt, and his sneakers, and laid them on the bed.

If he didn't *look* like an assistant director maybe they'd forget who he was
and leave him alone.


End Part 2/4

Looks and Smiles (3/4)
by Jo-Ann Lassiter

Roanoke Field Office
7:00 p.m.

The pizza had tasted delicious--at first. Now the smell of it was turning his
stomach. He went to the back of the room and sat at the rickety table.

"A little too much?"

He took another breath of the non-aromatic air before he faced Scully. "What?"

"The smell. It's getting to you, isn't it?"

"Oh. Uh...." He glanced at the table laden with boxes, sodas and salads. "A
little," he admitted.

"Mulder told Russett that he's not ready to offer any theories yet, and I still
need time to put together the notes on my autopsy results, so as soon as
Mulder's done, we're leaving." They looked over to where Mulder was sitting by
himself, happily munching on a slice of pepperoni pizza. "He came for the food,"
she said.

"So I see," Skinner laughed. "But where does he put it?"

Scully shook her head. "He's got one of 'those' metabolisms. He knows that I
hate him for it." She smiled at her oblivious partner. "Anyway..." She turned
her attention back to Skinner. "He told Russett that we were all pretty done
in... what with the heat and hardly any sleep..."

"And?" Skinner prompted her.

"And I don't think he heard a word Mulder said." She shrugged. "Well, that's his
problem. When he looks around and finds you gone, maybe he'll recall a
conversation he didn't have with someone who doesn't exist."

"Mulder said I should give him a chance."

"Mulder's a jerk."

"I've often thought that myself," he said, smiling. Then both their gazes
drifted over to the agent, who looked up at the same time and caught their eyes.

*What?* he mouthed, checking his shirt front before looking up questioningly.
*Am I wearing pizza?* Picking up his plate, he started toward them, then
hesitated and left it on the table.

"Have we *all* been banished to the back now?" he quipped, pulling a chair over
and sitting. Then his demeanor underwent a one-eighty. "Do you want to leave?"
he asked, seriously, looking from Skinner to Scully.

"You can finish eating, Agent Mulder." Skinner felt a little foolish, like he
was a sick child whose parents had to cut short their visit to take him home.

Mulder laid a hand across his stomach. "If I eat any more, I'll explode."

Skinner directed his eyes to Mulder's unfinished pizza on the table where he'd
left it. "You were doing pretty good a minute ago."

The agent sighed. "I think that was one piece too many. I'll probably be up all

Scully snorted. "You'll be up all night anyway."

Mulder looked like she slapped him. "I sleep a few hours," he said defensively.

Scully stared at him a moment, and then Skinner saw understanding dawn in her
eyes. "I know, Mulder. I was just teasing."

Their eyes held another few seconds, and when Mulder's gaze left Scully and
focused on him, Skinner caught a few lingering vestiges of sorrow before the
agent slipped into happy-face mode. "Well, shall we make our good-byes, or just
slip out unnoticed?"

Skinner shook his head. "We'd never pull it off." He let his gaze roam over his
agents. "Watch." And he stood up.

The Roanoke agents snapped to, and Mulder's and Scully's eyes widened. "Wow.
Your very own trained seals," Mulder observed. "Shall I throw them an anchovy?"

Skinner blew out a breath and sat back down; his audience's attention relaxed
but didn't flag. "See what I have to put up with?"

"We know, sir," Scully said quietly. "Do you want Mulder to distract them while
we make a break for it?"

Skinner stared at her, unsure whether or not she was serious. "How?" he asked.

She glanced at her partner, then returned her gaze to Skinner and smiled.
"Believe me, you'll be better off not knowing."

Skinner was very tempted, but his sense of duty--as always--overrode his
feelings. "I appreciate the thought, Agents, but..." He sighed. He really wasn't
up to playing nice with the other kiddies. "Let's do it."

They rose, and Skinner noted the glee on Mulder's face at the jack-rabbit
response of the Roanoke agents; Scully merely looked disgusted. The AD stopped
in the midst of the pack of agents. "Well, good night, ladies and gentlemen.
Thanks for supper. We'll see you in the morning."

"Where are you going?" Russett asked.

Skinner turned to the man beside him. "Mulder, I thought you were going to
explain to SAC Russett why we would be leaving right after we ate."

Skinner could tell that Mulder lived for moments like these. "I thought I did,

The AD returned his confused gaze to Russett. "Jim?"

The SAC's skin tone underwent a rainbow of colors: red to white to green and
back to red. "I don't recall having a conversation with Agent Mulder. And I
assure you, Walter--I would." The other agents chuckled and sniggered in the

Skinner glanced at his agent. Not only had Russett called Mulder a liar, he had
ridiculed him in front of his colleagues. Yet Mulder looked more shocked by the
outright lie than by the SAC's disparaging remarks.

The AD turned back to Russett and spoke very quietly. "If Agent Mulder said he
spoke to you, then he did. That you chose not to hear him is a shortcoming on
your part, not his. We're leaving. Now. Good night."

A subdued chorus of "good night's" followed them out the door.

"Asshole," Skinner muttered once Mulder pushed the door closed. He turned to
his male agent as they walked. "What's that you were saying about giving him a
chance, Mulder?"

Mulder looked a little contrite. "Maybe he didn't hear me," he mumbled.

"Didn't hear because it *was* you, you mean," Scully argued.

"Maybe," he said in a small voice. "What does it matter anyway? Sir, I don't
think their killer is your dead perp." Mulder pulled the outer door open and
held it for Scully and Skinner. "The M.O.'s certainly similar, but there are
vast differences. When you feel up to it, I'd like you to take a look at what
I've got so far."

"Not tonight, Mulder," Scully said.

"I didn't say tonight." Mulder's voice was sharp.

"Don't let him get to you, Mulder," Skinner said softly.

The agent opened his mouth to protest, then closed it and nodded; he looked down
at the ground. "Sorry, Scully."

"It's okay, Mulder," she said, and Mulder looked up and gave her a smile.

The AD was surprised when Mulder turned the smile on him. "Thanks, sir."

Skinner was taken aback. "For what?"

"Russett. For sticking by me. I know you didn't have to."

"Of course, I did, Mulder. For Christ's sakes, did you honestly think I could
stand by and let him treat you like that?"

Mulder shrugged. "It's happened before."

"By me?"

He was pleased to see that Mulder required no thought whatsoever on the subject.
"No. Not by you."

"Then why--"

"Because that's the exception rather than the rule."

Skinner sighed. He'd seen it, on more than one occasion. "All right, Mulder.
Point conceded." They finally reached the car, and Skinner motioned Scully to
the front seat. "I feel like something the cat dragged in. I'm just going to
curl up in the back, if you don't mind."

"I'll want to take a look at you when we get to the motel," Scully warned.

"Yes, Agent Scully," Skinner sighed.

The only thing he could think of as he drifted off was that he had never heard
Mulder laugh before.

Tanglewood Motel
July 19, 1996
8:12 a.m.

"I think you should stay here today," Scully said, reading the thermometer and
then shaking it.

Although Skinner wanted nothing more than to comply, he shook his head. "We're
visiting the crime scenes today, and if what Mulder believes is true, then I
have to see them for myself." He shifted uncomfortably on the bed; God,
everything hurt today.

"You have a fever, and the pills aren't helping it."

He sighed. "Believe me, Agent Scully, I know."

A knock sounded on the door, then it opened and Mulder's head peered in.
"Everyone decent in here?" he asked cheerily.

"No!" Scully yelled, shocking the hell out of Skinner and causing Mulder to pull
back quickly and whack his head against the door frame. Skinner admired her mean
streak as she smiled and said sweetly. "Oh, my mistake... yes, we are."

Mulder pushed the door open and came in rubbing the side of his head. "Very

"Let me see, Mulder," Scully said, unsuccessfully trying to stifle her laughter.

The male agent pulled back out her reach. "It's fine."

"Let me see," she said, reaching for him, serious now.

"I said it's fine." He jerked away.

"Fine," she said, grabbing up her medical bag and heading for the door. "The two
of you can just take care of each other since you obviously have no need of my
services." She slammed the door on her way out.

Mulder was the first to recover. "So what did you do to piss her off?"

"I have a fever."

Mulder nodded. "Scully doesn't approve of fevers. She especially doesn't approve
of walking around with fevers."

Skinner sighed. "Tell me something I don't know."

Mulder chuckled, then winced and touched his head.

"Got an egg?"

"A beaut." The agent turned his head. "Can you see it?"

Skinner whistled at the impressive-looking lump. "Maybe we should both stay here
and let Scully go to the crime scenes without us."

Mulder stared at him. "You think she wouldn't?"

The AD shook his head slowly. "I never discount anything where Agent Scully is
concerned. Or you," he added.

Mulder's eyes narrowed. "Were we just insulted? I hate it when I can't tell."

Skinner's eyes closed tiredly. "No insult, Mulder," he drawled.

"You're falling asleep, sir," he heard Mulder saying. "Do you want to skip the
crime scenes today? I could take a look and then work what I can into the

Skinner forced his eyes open. "No, I want to get this over with today. Give me a
hand up, will you?"

Mulder took hold of Skinner's outstretched hand and eased him onto his feet very
slowly. It made no difference. The room swayed and blurred, and when it steadied
long enough for him to open his eyes, he found his head resting on Mulder's
shoulder, his lips pressed into the man's neck. "Oh, shit," he muttered, lifting
his head and stumbling backwards.

Mulder quickly reached out and steadied him. "That's not the reaction I usually
get, but then again it's not usually a man's head I have on my shoulder." The
agent smiled at him, shaking his head. "We've got to stop meeting like this,

As foolish as he felt, Skinner couldn't help but smile back. "Sorry," he said.
"I think Scully does it on purpose. Gives me one of those damned pills, then
leaves me to my own devices--or you."

Mulder's smile evaporated; he released his hold on the AD. "Come on, let's go
before Scully decides to leave without us." The agent walked swiftly to the door
and held it open, waiting for a Skinner who felt ninety years old.

"Mulder, I didn't mean that the way it sounded," he said, pausing in the open
doorway to catch his breath.

Mulder met his eyes and took a deep breath. "I know. It's me, not you. Scully
was right: I didn't get much sleep last night."

Uncertain as to whether or not Mulder wanted to continue this line of dialogue,
Skinner nodded and shuffled out the door.

"Are you going to be able to make it to the car?" Mulder asked, and Skinner
worried about the worry in his agent's voice.

Skinner took a deep breath, pleased and surprised when he didn't fall over.
"Damned if I know, Mulder."

A slow smile spread over his agent's face; then Mulder's expression softened.
"Come on. I'll give you a hand."


"It's no trouble, sir." The agent pulled Skinner's door shut and aimed them
toward the car. Almost immediately, sweat broke out over both their foreheads.
"I have a feeling, though, that you're going to wish you had taken Scully's
advice and stayed in bed." Mulder paused to catch his breath. "We'll be out in
this a lot today. All the crime scenes are outdoors."

Skinner stopped walking. "You're kidding."

Mulder shook his head. "I'm not."


"Do you want to go back to the room?"

Skinner finally realized that they were standing in the same spot, and he made
his legs move forward. "I just want it to be over, Agent Mulder. I want to be
home, in my own bed, where I can sleep in my underwear and leave the TV on all

"Jesus, sir, I hate to tell you this, but you sound like me."

Skinner stopped walking. "You're kidding."

Mulder shook his head. "I'm not."


Fourth Crime Scene
Mulbury Street
Roanoke, Virginia
12:30 p.m.

"Do you see it, sir?"

Skinner shook his head. "Is this what you meant? There's nothing here?"

Mulder nodded. "They're conspicuous by their absence, aren't they?"

"No trace of them anywhere?" the AD asked, taking one last glance around the
interior of the house. They stepped out onto the porch, the sun almost directly
above them, and Skinner swabbed the thin film of sweat that sprung out on his
forehead. "They weren't the easiest things to find, you know."

"I know," Mulder answered. "Don't you think we would have found at least one if
they were here?"

Skinner sighed. He was hot, and he was tired. "You know where to look?"

"Yes, sir." When Mulder did not elaborate, Skinner looked over at him. The agent
looked as exhausted as Skinner felt.

"Mulder." Skinner motioned him to the shady side of the house, leaning back
against it, letting it support him; he wiped his face with his sleeve. "I think
I've seen enough to know it's not Lemmen. Except for the missing hash marks,
though, it's him to a T."

Mulder got that gleam in his eye that Skinner had come to know as the spark of
an idea forming. "Did Lemmen have a brother? A twin, perhaps?"

The AD stared at his agent in awe, his discomfort momentarily forgotten. "Yes
and yes."

Mulder nodded absently, lost in thought. Skinner jumped when the agent's eyes
suddenly focused on him. "I need to do a background check on the brother. Did
his brother visit him in prison?"

"Yes, but they weren't allowed contact. They met with a wall between them, and
they were monitored the entire time."

"But they spoke? They could see each other?" Mulder was shifting into high gear,
and Skinner was fascinated.


"I need to do a background check on the brother," Mulder repeated. "Do you know
where he lives?"

Skinner shook his head. "*I* don't, but I'm sure Roanoke must have kept tabs on
him--especially now."

Mulder's head was bobbing with barely-restrained energy; that spent agent of a
minute ago was merely a memory. "Come on, sir. Let's get down to the field
office." And he strode away, leaving Skinner feeling like he'd just survived a
close encounter with a cyclone.

"You're lucky he even remembered you were here."

He started, and nearly fell over trying to twist around to face his other agent.

"Easy, sir," she said, steadying him, the outside wall of the house supporting
his back while she kept a firm grip on his arm. He let his head fall back
against the wall, eyes closed, while he waited for his heart to slow back to
normal and his breathing to calm. The Roanoke agents were all around them, and
he was certain that they were witnessing this little scene, but he didn't care
anymore. His connection to the case was finished. He could retire to the motel,
crawl into bed and stay there until Mulder solved the case.

"Scully..." He opened his eyes and looked at her. She was analyzing his
condition, he could see, noting every unsteady breath and every muscle twitch.
She didn't mention any of it. She had given her professional opinion to him, and
he had chosen to disregard it.

"Yes, sir," she asked, as calmly as if he were behind his desk at headquarters
instead of sweating, shaking and holding onto her for dear life.

"I think I'd like to go back to the motel, please." His voice was unsteady now,
too, and he was afraid that if she said no, he might start sobbing like a baby.

"Good idea, sir." She shifted him until she was in a position to support him. "I
don't suppose you're too concerned with 'image' at the moment?"

If he could, he would have smiled. "Not a damned bit. Just get me somewhere I
can lie down, Scully."

Their car was at the far end of the drive, not too far by normal standards, but
miles away according to Skinner's. They limped past Russett's car and Jacobs'
car and Donnelly's car and... God, how many of them were there? These people had
all been to the scene before; Skinner wondered why they felt it necessary to
return. He glanced up and saw every eye upon him. Jesus, he'd become such a part
of the woodwork in DC, he'd forgotten that not everyone saw him as such.

They were about ten feet from the car when Russett stepped in Scully's path,
breaking their momentum and causing Skinner to pitch forward. He was watching
the gravel drive rush up to meet his face when a pair of strong hands grabbed
him from behind. His reflexes took over, and he tried to break away, until he
heard Scully's voice.

"It's all right, sir. It's Mulder."

His struggling immediately ceased, and Mulder gently set him on his feet.

"What's wrong? What happened?" Russett sounded panic-stricken.

"Just a touch of flu, aggravated by too much sun." Scully's calm voice was very
soothing to him. "He'll be fine, sir."

"Should we take him to the hospital?" The SAC's voice was getting louder yet
seemed farther away. Skinner looked up and found that Scully had pulled a
protesting Russett aside while Mulder and Skinner made their way to the car.

"Agent Mulder. Stop."

It was a command if Skinner ever heard one. Mulder must have felt the same way
because he obeyed it.

Russett had made himself into a roadblock again. "What, sir?" Mulder sounded
exasperated, and Skinner couldn't blame him.

"I'll take care of this," Russett said in a stern tone. "Now step aside."

"It's okay, sir," Mulder said. "We're taking him back to the motel."

"*You'll* do no such thing. *I'm* going to take him to the hospital."

"There's no need, sir," Scully said, coming up beside Skinner. "It's only the
flu. Mulder and I can handle it."

"No disrespect to your medical credentials, Agent Scully, but this is the
Assistant Director, and he warrants more attention than you or Agent Spooky
there are capable of giving him."

Skinner was afraid he'd fainted or gone deaf, because suddenly there was an
absence of all sound. He lifted his head as much as he could and was confronted
with Scully's stormy face.

"Leave them alone, Jim." Skinner heard his voice, raspy but strong. A reserve
strength surged through him, and he straightened to his full height. Mulder's
grasp loosened, but didn't let go.

"But, Walter, you need--"

"Agent Scully is a physician. She told you I have the flu, and that I'll be
fine. I'm going with them, and that's that." He turned to Mulder to tell him to
start walking, and found the other agent red-faced, his temper barely under
control. Now was the time, he decided. He faced Russett again. "One other thing,
Jim. I don't appreciate your treating my agents like second-class citizens. They
may not meet your standards, but they damn well meet mine. Do I make myself

"I haven't--"

"Yes. You have. Your preconceived notion of Agent Mulder as an alien-hunting
nutcase--sorry, Mulder--has obliterated your knowledge of his well-documented
prowess in the art of profiling. Here he's solved your damned case for you, and
you're too fucking busy sucking up to me to pay attention to what the hell we
came here for in the first place!" He paused to catch his breath, and felt all
his strength drain away; he felt himself floating down to the ground. "Oh, shit.

"Right here, sir. After that speech, I'd be a fool to let you fall." Mulder
grabbed him up in a bear hug, just short of carrying him. Skinner's face was
pressed against the man's chest, and as he breathed in Mulder's clean scent, he
felt protected and exposed at the same time.

"Mulder, get me out of here, please." He'd had enough of heat and crime scenes
and SAC's with high ambitions.

"Yes, sir," came the quiet reply.

In two steps they were at the car. Mulder held Skinner firmly against him while
Scully unlocked the doors. Suddenly Skinner started to cough into Mulder's
chest, and Skinner heard the agent sigh in disgust. The AD's face got hot, and
he wished he were anywhere but where he was. "Sorry," he wheezed, trying to
shrug free and turn his face away.

"Sir? It's okay. Take it easy." Then another exahalation of air from the agent,
deeper and louder this time. Anger. But Mulder still held him tight, and Skinner
didn't understand. "Scully, would you..."

"Can we have a little privacy, please?" Her voice echoed Mulder's distaste, and
when Skinner finally realized that their antipathy wasn't directed at him, he
stopped struggling and rested his burning head against the cool of Mulder's
shirt. "Goddamned fucking brown-noses," he heard Scully mutter. "Let me see him,

"Why don't we let him sit down first, Scully?" Mulder asked. "I think that
coughing did him in."

"Okay. Get him around to the other side where those assholes can't see him."
Mulder did as directed, and helped Skinner into the car, then backed out to
allow his partner access. A litany of colorful language escaped her lips as she
checked his eyes, his throat...

Mulder chuckled, and Skinner realized that he'd been staring at Scully. "She was
a navy brat," Mulder whispered to him when Scully left to get her medical bag.
Mulder automatically took her place supporting the AD. He offered Skinner a
half-empty container of bottled water. "I hope you don't mind. It's mine, and
it's warm--"

"Thank you, Agent Mulder," Skinner barely choked out, accepting the bottle and
taking a swallow. "It's wonderful." He downed the whole thing greedily. "I don't
suppose you have more?"

"Sorry," Mulder said, taking the empty bottle from his hands. Skinner felt
something soft and dry on his forehead, and closed his eyes while Mulder gently
ran a handkerchief over his face. "How are you doing, sir?"

Skinner decided to go with the truth. "Terrible. Can't we get out of here now?"
He didn't understand why they weren't already heading for the motel.

"As soon as Scully gets in, I'll take you back. You just hang in there until
then, okay?" Mulder's voice was soothing, and he patted the AD's shoulder.

"Who are you, and what have you done with Fox Mulder?" Scully's voice came from
the other door, as she climbed in beside Skinner.

"Hmph," Mulder sniffed. "Try to be a nice guy, and see what it gets me." He
started to pull away, but Skinner grabbed hold of his sleeve.

"Thanks, Mulder."

"Anytime, sir."

It was then that Skinner knew how really tired he was, because his eyes were
playing tricks on him.

When Mulder smiled at him, he had seen genuine affection in his eyes.


End Part 3/4

Looks and Smiles (4/4)
by Jo-Ann Lassiter

Tanglewood Motel
July 20, 1996
Middle of the Night

He awoke to darkness and silence.

Throwing off the blankets, he sat up until felt able, then shuffled into the
bathroom. When he came out, he found Scully sitting on his bed.

"I heard the toilet flush," she explained. "I'm sorry I didn't knock, but I
wanted to catch you before you fell asleep again."

Now over his initial shock at finding her there, he started toward her--and his
bed. "It's all right, Agent Scully." He sat down heavily. "What can I do for

"I just came to give you something that'll let you sleep a little more
comfortably." She handed him a pill.

He didn't want to know how she had come to the conclusion that he hadn't been
sleeping comfortably. "It's different."

She tilted her head in puzzlement. "Sir?"

"The pill." He held it out for her inspection. "It's different from the other

"They seemed to lose their effectiveness. These are stronger, but they're easier
on your stomach."

His face must have reflected his fears, because she touched him gently on the
arm and said, "Don't worry, sir. Nothing happened. You fell asleep in the car,
Mulder brought you here, and you've been sleeping since."

For the first time, he noticed the absence of the male agent. "Where *is*

Her face puckered, and she blew out a breath. "Roanoke. Writing them a profile."

He looked at the streetlights outside the window. "What time is it?"

"A little after three-thirty."

Then he noticed what had been bothering him about Scully's appearance: she was
wearing pajamas.

"I... uh... didn't pack a bathrobe." She smoothed the lines of her pj's, then
smiled and looked away. "We... uh... couldn't find one for you, either. Mulder
thought you'd be comfortable like that."

He suddenly became aware of his attire. Or lack thereof. Blast Mulder for

And then he chuckled. It was a good thing he didn't sleep in the nude, or Mulder
probably wouldn't have left him even his skivvies. "I don't know how you put up
with him, Agent Scully. He'd have me in a straight jacket before a week was up."

She met his eyes again, her own reflecting amused resignation. "Once you figure
out that you can't figure out Mulder, it's a breeze. Expect everything, and
you're prepared for anything."

"How does he do it, Scully?" the AD asked sofly. "How does he put up with all
that bullshit they throw at him? How does he let it just bounce off him?" He met
her eyes. "How do you?"

"The same way you do, sir. You don't let them get to you, because if you do,
they've won. And there's no way in hell they're going to win."

Skinner nodded, and then he felt as if every ounce of strength had been siphoned
out of him.

"Oh, Jesus, sir." Scully caught him before he could slump over. "Sir? Can you
hear me?"

"Uh, huh." Even to his own ears, his voice sounded weak.

She began rubbing his back. God, it felt good. "Come on, sir. Don't pass out on

He wondered why not. He was in bed, for chrissakes; where better to pass out
than here? Jesus, that felt sooooo good. "Scul... ly..."

She shifted under him until they were chest-to-chest, his bare one to her
pajama-covered one. "What, sir?" Her hand slid across his shoulder blades.

He could barely get the words out. "I need to lie down."

"In a minute, sir. If you lie down now, you'll be out in a second. I still want
you to have that pill." The muscles in his lower back were rejoicing from her
touch; the muscles in his front were just rejoicing.

He tried to pull away. "No pill, Scully." Oh, Jesus, he wished she'd stop. "Now.
I need--"

"You need me to stop rubbing your back, I think."

She stopped rubbing, and he stopped breathing; then his breath came fast and
shallow. He felt his temperature soar. "Go back to bed, Agent Scully. I'll take
the pill. I promise. Just go. Please."

"Sir, it's not--"

"Please, Scully." He was about to die from embarrassment, and he wanted to do it

"Let me get you a glass of water."

"I'll get the water."


"Scully, *please.*"

"All right," she said softly, "but when Mulder gets back, I'm sending him in
here to explain a few things about the patient/doctor relationship to you. The
male patient/female doctor relationship."

He wished she hadn't confirmed it. That tiny glimmer of doubt could have
sustained the one shred of dignity he had left. Now there was no doubt: she knew
full well the reaction he'd had to her.

"Good night, sir." She was at the door, and he hardly noticed.

"Good night." The reply was automatic, and he was amazed that his vocal cords
were still functioning. Well. That wasn't where the problem lay, was it?

The door closed, and he slid off the bed and onto the floor. Besides the
obvious, what the hell was wrong with him? Scully was one of his agents, for
chrissakes. He'd never thought of her in that way. He still didn't. Then why had
what happened, happened?

She mentioned Mulder. Had he come to this hurdle and passed it? Yes, of course.
With Mulder's propensity for injuring himself, they must have encountered it on
their first assignment together. Did it still happen to him, or was he past this
particular impediment? Oh, Jesus. Why was his mind even going there?

God, the floor was hard. He pulled himself back onto the bed and looked at the
pill still clutched in his hand. A glass of water stood on the night table.
Stubborn woman, he thought, and laughed. He downed the pill, drank the glass of
water, and went to sleep.


Tanglewood Motel
July 22, 1996
1:53 p.m.

He was dozing to the hum of the TV when the sound of his door clicking open
jolted him awake. Heart pounding, he lay quietly and watched as the figure
entered his room. Mulder.

"Are you awake, sir?" the agent asked softly.

"Mulder, what are you doing sneaking into my room like that?"

"Uh, well... actually, sir, we've been sneaking into your room like that since
we've been here."

"What?" Skinner hoisted himself up onto his elbows. Mulder hurried over to him
and propped him up with pillows. Skinner ceased all movement. "What are you


"The pillows. What are you doing with them?"

The agent looked a little confused. "I'm just..." He stopped, and Skinner swore
he looked like had just lost something. "I... we were keeping your head raised
so you could breathe better."

"I can breathe fine."

"Yes, sir." Mulder backed away from the AD's head, down to the other end of the
bed. "He looked down at the floor. "I, um... I just came to check on you."

"Where's Scully?"

"In her room. She thought you'd be more comfortable with me." He glanced up at
Skinner, then his gaze returned to the floor. "For now."

Skinner's felt his face grow hot. "Did she tell you?"

"She didn't have to."

"So, it... uh..."

"Oh, yeah."


"Every time."


"So how are you feeling, sir? You look a lot better than you did earlier."

Skinner looked up quickly. "You were here earlier?"

Mulder nodded. "A few hours ago. Scully, too." The agent smiled. "I'm the
advance guard. If you were sleeping, she'd give you the once-over herself." He
shrugged. "You slept a lot. This is the first time you've been really awake."

What? "Mulder, how long has it been since--"

"Two days."

"I've been in this room for two days?" He stared at the male agent. "How long
have you been back?"

"Two days."

"How'd the profile go?"

Mulder shrugged. "They caught the guy yesterday."

"From your profile?"

The agent's voice was very quiet. "Not according to Russett."

"How then?"

"Sir, I don't want to--"

"How, Mulder?"

Mulder shook his head, clearly frustrated. "I don't know how. They didn't have a
clue about the psychic connection between the brothers--even if they believed

"Where did you run your background check? Where did you do all your research?"

Mulder's eyes met his. "Roanoke. Sir, I know what you're thinking. Don't you
think I've thought of it myself? Don't you think Scully has?"

"Is that what happened, Mulder? Or do you seriously believe that they could have
come up with it on their own?"

"It's possible, I suppose. Not probable, but possible."

"You read over their profiles. They were headed in a different direction

"I know, sir."

"Whose was it?"

"The whole team got credit. You, me, and Scully included. They caught the guy;
isn't that what really matters?"

"Is that the way you see it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Is that the way you want to leave it?"

Mulder nodded. "I don't need any feathers in my cap. I know my capabilities."
The agent took a breath. "Well, I'm glad you're feeling better. I'll get out of
your way now." He walked over to the door and opened it.

"Agent Mulder."


"It's gratifying to have those capabilities recognized every once in a while,
though, isn't it?"

The agent smiled and nodded sadly. "Gratifying, but not necessary." His eyes met
Skinner's, and then he left.

The AD stared after the closed door. "I think it is, Agent Mulder," he said very


On the Road
July 24, 1996
8:00 a.m.

The AD sat in the back seat and studied Fox Mulder as he drove them toward the
Roanoke office. The man was a picture of imperturbability: hands resting easily
on the wheel, shoulders relaxed, face serene. Skinner knew better.

Mulder had not wanted to accompany them to the field office. His part in the
investigation was over. He had no old acquaintances to bid adieu, no cases to
wrap up, no evidence to procure. He had spent eighteen hours straight at the
office writing the profile that clinched the case, and then was informed--a day
later--that while the Roanoke office appreciated his efforts, the case had been
solved without his help. He would, of course, as a courtesy, be credited as part
of the team.

How very generous of them.

In a rare display of anger, Scully had told Skinner how her partner had returned
the next morning, exhausted, starving and dehydrated. Bastards hadn't even
offered him a cup of coffee.

Skinner remembered waking to find the agent asleep in a chair, his head on the
bed atop pillows clutched possessively in a death grip, and Scully attempting to
remove him to his own bed. She had finally given up and, after spreading a
blanket over him, left. When Skinner awoke next, Mulder was gone.

Mulder twitched, and Skinner looked out the window. The agent's composure was
slipping the closer they got to Roanoke, and Skinner didn't want to watch. A
movement in the front caught his eye, though, and he smiled to himself. Scully.
A light touch on Mulder's leg, and the poise was back.

Skinner leaned into the seatback and closed his eyes. While Scully had
pronounced him fit for travel to the Roanoke office and back to the motel, their
return to DC would be delayed until tomorrow. While he felt a hundred percent
better, he still felt weak and definitely not up to the long drive home.

He still felt rather awkward about their delay in returning to DC. The case had
wrapped four days ago, yet they were still here because of him. As soon as he
felt better, he had freed them of that responsibility, arguing that he would
rent a car and make his own way home. They had politely declined.

Although he had still spent a good deal of his time sleeping, he was awake
several hours at a stretch, too. Mulder or Scully, or sometimes both, were
always there when he woke and, depending on his wishes, either stayed with him
watching television or playing cards, or left him alone. He wasn't alone much.

"Sir?" He opened his eyes, surprised to find Mulder outside the car, holding his
door open. "Are you all right?"

He smiled at the concern in the agent's voice. "Just thinking. Sorry."

The agent smiled. "You're entitled." He extended a hand, and Skinner took it.
Mulder's smile faded as he helped Skinner out of the car. "Sir, you're not here
about the profile, are you?"

"On the record: no. Off the record... yes, I am."


"Mulder, this is a courtesy call. Nothing more. I'm not going to embarrass you."

The agent snorted. "I don't embarrass that easily, sir." He exchanged a glance
with Scully. "We just don't think he's worth your effort."

Skinner smiled slyly. "Oh, it's no effort, Agent Mulder, Agent Scully. Trust me
on that."

Another glance was exchanged, and three grinning, chuckling FBI agents made
their way into the Roanoke office.


Tanglewood Motel
6 p.m.

"More lo mein, sir?" Mulder held up the half-full carton.

Skinner was just about to accept when he caught the glare Scully was directing
at her partner. "Er... no, thank you, Agent Mulder. I think I've had enough." He
looked to the female agent for confirmation.

She smiled her approval, then reddened when the men burst out laughing.


Mulder glanced at Skinner. "Nothing," he said, managing to look innocent.

"Nothing, Agent Scully." Skinner felt pretty angelic himself.

"Look, you just shouldn't have too much to eat. This is pretty heavy stuff."
Another glare at Mulder. "You should have gotten something lighter."

Mulder rolled his eyes. "Scully, we've had 'light' three nights running. Don't
tell me you didn't enjoy this."

"No, I did. It's just..."

"I feel fine, Scully," Skinner said. He cast an amused glance at Mulder. "And I
didn't eat near as much as your partner."

The female agent sighed. "I know."

"But she's still worried," Mulder said.

"So's he," Scully said, in an I'm-not-taking-this-rap-alone tone.

Skinner gazed at both of his agents. And smiled.

They smiled back.

The End

Character is like a tree, and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we
think of it; the tree is the real thing.

End Part 4/4

Comments appreciated. Thanks!