Of a Foreigners God
When Skinner arrived at the unremarkable house it held no signs of life. Maybe it was all in his head, but even the air seemed stale, as if it had settled like a layer of dust in the stillness.
"Mulder?" he called, wary of what, if anything, he would hear back.
Scully had called him only hours ago, early on the Saturday morning. Her voice had been distant in a way that had nothing to do with phone signals or kilometres.
"Walter," she said by way of greeting. For a moment then she had considered hanging up, the pit in her stomach was writhing with a new, bitter anxiety that she didn't care to analyse.
"Dana, what is it?"
She had swallowed her pride, forcefully. This was not their usual emergency. "It's Mulder."
"Where is he?"
"He's at home. He's safe, as far as I know," Scully bit down on her lip hard, knowing she couldn't drag this conversation on much longer without arriving at the point. "I don't know if he's alright."
Skinner rubbed his forehead. "What are you saying?" he asked, although a horrible theory was already forming in his mind. "Where are you, Dana?"
"I'm at a hotel. For the foreseeable future. There was nothing more I could do. I..." the sentence had trailed off, suddenly, and he felt uncomfortably sure that she was crying.
"I'll go," he said, trying to keep up a confident tone, despite his growing apprehension. "I can head out there now, check in on him, alright?"
She was shaking her head on the other end of the phone. "He won't like it," she was saying.
"I don't give a damn," Skinner said, grabbing his coat. "I'll take care of it, Scully. Don't worry."
And that's how he wound up here, in the doorway to the former Scully-Mulder home, out in the sticks.
"Mulder?" he tried again, louder this time.
The front door had opened without resistance. Feeling uncomfortable, but justified, Skinner made his way through the house. The back door was open, creaking in the light wind. It was impossible to stop the thoughts racing through his mind as he approached that door; in a thousand possibilities, the images of a dozen worst-case scenario filled his head.
"Who's there?" called a low, rough voice.
Skinner threw back the door to see Fox Mulder, looking a little worse for wear but mercifully noose-less on the back porch.
"Mulder," he said. Skinner inhaled deeply, processing the scene. There was a faint smell of alcohol about, and all around the younger mans feet were what appeared to be several broken plates. "What is all this?"
"Is this a social call, Walter?" Mulder leered at him, ignoring the question, his hazel eyes darting about shiftily despite the bravado.
"You could call it that," he replied evenly. He looked past Mulder to where a near-empty bottle of Jack sat precariously on the wooden railing. "Are you drunk, Mulder?"
"What are you even doing here? Did she send you?" he deflected, running his hand through his three-day-old stubble with an agitated hand.
"No, I'm just checking in,"
"Bullshit!" he spat.
"Calm down, Mulder," Skinner growled. "Dana did not send me, but she did call. She's worried about you. So am I, actually."
He twitched at the sound of her name and remained tense until Skinner finished talking. A tight, pained smile spread on his face. "That so?"
"You should come inside, it's freezing" said Skinner, gesturing to Mulder's thin t-shirt and bare feet.
"Go home, Walter." Mulder said, his voice colder than the November night. "I don't need your pity."
There was a long silence.
"I'm sorry," Skinner said finally. "You two are clearly going through something here, but I am not about to let you go off the deep end. We won't let you."
"We?" Mulder froze. "We...oh," an unreadable look fell over his face as he fell back into an old porch chair, "Have you been out there comforting her, Skinner? What, she tell you to come check my pulse and hurry back? Don't leave her lonely, Walter, she doesn't like that. Go, jump in my grave!" he reached for the bottle of Jack, swearing when he found it empty. "You drink all my shit, too?"
Heat had risen in Skinner at the accusations, both indignation and embarrassment. "That's enough," he said through clenched teeth, "get up!"
"Go see Scully, maybe if you get lucky she'll cry on your shoulder."
"Get the hell up, Mulder!"
Mulder's eyes shone in the porch light, meeting Skinner's properly for the first time, lucid. "I fucked it up didn't I?"
Skinner nodded once. "I don't know what happened, and I don't want to know. I'm just here to make sure you don't choke on your own vomit, or freeze to death."
Mulder looked around and shuddered, dramatically, as if feeling the hard bite of cold for the first time. Judging by his level of inebriation, it was possible.
Shakily, he got to his feet. "Where to, Skinman?"
With some relief, Skinner guided him back into his house and closed the creaky door behind them. "Sit," he ordered.
Mulder swerved to the couch and crashed down, reaching for the scratchy Navajo blanket automatically. He stopped, holding it in his hands gently.
Skinner put down a glass of water on the coffee table. "Sober up," he told him.
Mulder blinked at the blanket, all outward traces of drunkenness gone. "Is she alright?"
He looked up at Skinner, eyes pleading.
"She's worried about you, that's all I know."
He took the water, sipping it once before putting it down again.
"She'll be alright. Just drink, then sleep." Skinner settled back into the armchair, getting his cell phone out, just for something to look at other than Mulder's pitiful, blank stare.
"I should call her."
Skinner looked up. Mulder was eyeing the cell phone with the expression he usually reserved for devising his more dangerous plans. The kind that ended with a lengthy hospital stay.
"No," Skinner warned.
But Mulder already had his cell phone in his hands and had evidently pressed speed dial.
"Scully, pick up."
"That's not a good idea, Mulder."
"I need to find her."
"She's safe, turn that thing off. Now isn't the time."
"You know where she is?" Mulder was scanning the floor. He found a trainer and started yanking roughly onto his foot.
"Sit your ass down, Mulder." Skinner stood up.
Mulder's focus shifted to his former boss and, with adrenaline coursing in his veins, he made a sudden rush at him, grabbing his shirt collar with more strength than he should have been able to muster. "Take me to Scully."
Skinner shook Mulder by the shoulders, and yelled "She doesn't want to see you, Mulder! Now I see why: you've lost your damn mind!"
Mulder fell away from him, mouth open. "Say that again." He warned.
"This isn't the FBI!," Skinner all-but roared, "Scully isn't in danger, you can't rescue her! She left!"
"Yes! Get it together, Mulder. Sleep it off. Tomorrow you can start the grand plan for getting her back. Tomorrow."
Mulder slumped against him.
"It'll be alright."
"It's all wrong..."
Skinner steered him to the couch, Mulder let himself be moved, staring up at the ceiling as Skinner threw the Navajo blanket over him.
"Don't get used to this," Skinner said as he guided Mulder into something like the recovery position. "My days of babysitting you two are long over." He though the saw the ghost of a smile on his old friends face, then it was gone. He was out like a light.
Skinner leaned back into the armchair with a sigh of exhaustion. It was well past midnight.
He stretched and closed his eyes for a moment. Upon opening them again he let his eyes wander around the room. He could count on one hand the amount of times he had been here: once a few months after they finally settled, when Scully was just starting the long, arduous process of returning to medicine, and most of their furniture amounted to a mattress in front of the fireplace, once a few months later for a small, happy thanksgiving, then years later, when the pair had briefly become involved in an FBI case and Scully had re-bandaged his injuries, fretting at the handiwork of the out-of-town surgery. At that time they both had a slightly wild look about them, Mulder, having just shaved a dishevelled beard, ghostly pale, and Scully, with the hair she had once maintained so short and pristine, long and tangled down her back. They had went away shortly after that case was closed, and came home glowing. He had hoped their troubles were over.
At the coffee table, something caught his eye, behind a stack of obscure books: a photograph.