Welcome To The Harem
Haunted by Xanthe
Summary: Deslea's rec: "No-one does Skinner with quite as much genuine affection as Xanthe. A heart-rending, beautiful post-DeadAlive vignette."
Subject: New: Haunted
Date: 13 May 2001 01:29
CATEGORY: V, R, A
SUMMARY: Skinner returns home after the events of DeadAlive in need of some
serious comforting. This being a Xanthe story, he gets it!
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Many thanks to Phoebe for suggestions and beta help. I'll
admit to having had some problems both with the Skinner characterisation and
the way he's been treated in Season 8. This felt like something I wanted to
get off my chest. It's unrepentantly *Skinner* centric.
Cookies. He could smell cookies. Freshly baked, straight
from the oven. That could only mean...
"Sharon?" Skinner shrugged off his coat and glanced around
He followed the sound of her voice and found her in the
kitchen. She was wearing jeans, and a red tee shirt. There
was a smudge of flour on her cheek, and her long hair was
loosely pulled into a pony tail from which it was trying to
escape, stray strands floating around her face in clinging
tendrils. Her hands were covered in cookie dough. He smiled
at her, stupidly, and she smiled back.
"I'd kiss you, but..." She held up her doughy hands.
"Chocolate chip?" He asked.
She grinned. "Of course. Your favourite. Are you okay?"
Her intelligent eyes studied him intently. He couldn't hide
anything from her. He never could.
"Yes. I'm fine," he lied, finding himself a glass, and
pouring himself a large measure of whisky, which he downed
in one gulp.
"Bullshit!" She stopped what she was doing, wiped her
hands on a cloth, and then placed them on her hips. When
had she become so assertive, he wondered? She used to allow
him to shut her out but not any more. "Walter, what
happened?" She asked. "You look terrible."
"It's just been...a difficult day." He turned his back on
her, left the kitchen, and sought the sanctuary of the
living room - only to find that she'd followed him.
"Tell me." She perched on the arm of the couch and patted
the space beside her. "Sit down and tell me," she ordered
and he found himself loosening his collar and tie, and
sitting down with a deep, heartfelt sigh. The apartment
felt warm and cozy, and the smell of baking cookies was
divine. He closed his eyes and she pulled his head onto her
lap, and gently played with his bare scalp, the way she
always did when he was particularly stressed out. He loved
it when she did this - her long fingers soothed away the
tensions and strains of too many difficult days. He could
stay like this forever, the demons kept at bay for all
eternity by the skilful stroking of his wife's loving,
caressing fingers. "Walter." Her tone was low, whispered
straight into his ear. "What happened today?" She asked him.
A jumbled collage of the day's events sped through his
mind, like an out-of-control slideshow. Krycek's hard,
calculating, green eyes became Scully's strained, tearful
blue ones; Doggett's arm, pressing against his throat,
became his own hands, reaching fruitlessly for the palm
pilot that tortured his waking nightmares, and through it
all there was Mulder, lying on a hospital bed, plugged into
dozens of monitors that told a truth it was almost
impossible to believe, his skin faded and peeling, hovering
somewhere between dead and undead.
"Tell me." Her fingers soothed gentle waves of comfort
behind his ears, and he felt like a cat as he pushed up
against her, purring contentedly.
"Krycek showed up."
Sharon's stroking stopped, and she sat him up and gripped
his shoulders so she could take a better look at him.
"Walter - are you okay?" Anxiety radiated from her eyes,
and her fingers were reassuringly painful digging into his
Her hands moved his face to one side, and she examined the
veins on his neck, tracing one long fingernail over them
"You're not fine, Walter. They're still a little raised.
He hurt you," she said softly.
"Yes. But I'm fine."
"Did you see a doctor?"
"No...there was no time. I'm fine," he repeated again,
"You must see a doctor," she said firmly.
It felt good to have someone care about him.
"Stop nagging." He smiled, and placed his hands over hers
where they rested on his neck.
"I'm your wife. That's my job." She placed a gossamer
light kiss on his lips and he closed his eyes, drinking in
"Does it hurt?" She asked him softly, her fingers still
tracing the raised veins on his skin. "None of that macho
bullshit, Walter. I want to know if it hurts when he pushes
Skinner had a flash of the most searing pain- an agony
that sliced through every vein in his body, like a knife,
cutting him from the inside out and leaving him dazed,
dizzy, and nauseous afterwards.
"Yes, it hurts," he growled, looking down, unable to meet
her eye. He knew there was no shame to admitting that he
was weak, that he was human, but all the same, he was of a
generation of men who shut out their hurt, and dealt with
it in silence. They didn't burden their wives with it. They
didn't burden anyone with it. That, on some level, was part
of his very understanding of what it was to be a man. "It
hurts like nothing I've ever known before," he told her,
his voice hoarse. "It hurts more than all those wounds I
got in 'Nam, more than that shot in the gut I took a few
years back. It hurts so much that I just want it to end.
It's gotten to the point where just seeing Krycek makes me
want to take a knife and slit my own throat so I don't have
to feel the pain."
"You'd never do that." She pulled him close and kissed his
"No. I know."
"A few years ago you'd never have told me about that pain.
You'd have lied, kept it to yourself," she murmured,
stroking his back.
"That was then. Things were different then," he replied.
"I know." She held him for a long time.
"There's nobody else I'd ever tell, apart from you," he
said, his voice muffled by her warm body.
"I know that as well. Tell me the rest of it."
He was silent for a moment. When had words of this kind
ever came easily to him? And yet he needed to tell someone.
He had once viewed himself as a simple man, a man of
certainties. Knowing Mulder had changed all that for good.
Now his certainties were gone - and with them had also gone
his peace of mind, and his ability to see to the heart of a
problem, to take charge, find solutions, direct
operations...he could still do some of those things, but he
felt like a liar - he felt as if he was someone just
occupying the body of the man formerly known as AD Skinner.
Sometimes nothing felt real any more - nothing except the
pain of the nanocytes and the confusion that was his
professional relationship with Mulder and Scully. He was a
ghost, a wraith, drifting through his life, no longer
connected to any of it.
"What did you do, Walter? What did he make you do?" Sharon
asked him gently. "You look so..."
"Haunted?" He drew back, raised an ironic eyebrow at her.
She shook her head, a little smile curving the corners of
her mouth. "I was going to say lost," she chided. He gave a
wry grunt of laughter.
"Lost. Maybe. It's true that I don't know who the hell I
am any more."
"You're my husband. You're Walter Sergei Skinner, the man
I love - the only man I've ever loved," she told him
fiercely. "You're a good man, Walter. The finest man I've
"Thank you." He caught her hand in his, and held it for a
moment. "I don't feel like that man too often any more," he
confided. "Only around you. That's why I'm glad you're
here. Why I'm glad you're still with me, even after..." She
gripped his hand tightly, and he nodded, unable to
continue. They were silent for a while, and then he cleared
"Mulder needed a vaccine. Krycek was playing mind games
with me - offering me the vaccine but at a price. I told
Scully about the vaccine and that a price had to be paid to
get it, and she said... she said...Scully said we were talking
about saving a man's life, her inference being that no
price was too high - but then she didn't know the price."
"She only saw Mulder's life - not yours. Your life was at
stake as well today," Sharon said.
He looked up sharply. "Mulder's the important one," he
told her firmly.
"I beg to differ. You're my husband. Your life is far more
important to me," she told him, equally firmly. "Everything
is relative, after all."
"I removed him from life support," he said, ignoring her
words, ignoring everything but the magnitude of what he'd
done earlier in the day. He gazed at his hands, which he
had used to pull those tubes from Mulder's mouth, not
knowing what the consequences of that act would be. "You
see I just had a hunch - intuition - call it what you will.
I figured - Mulder was alive for all those months in that
coffin, and it's only now they've hooked up to all these
machines that they're worried he's incubating some alien
virus that will transform him into god knows what. So...it
was a long shot, but I figured it couldn't do him any harm,
and maybe it could even save him. Without Krycek's vaccine,
there was no other hope for him." His voice broke and he
examined his hands again.
"You always were smart, Walter. I think you forget that
sometimes. I was always in awe of the way you handled your
job. Did I ever tell you how my heart just swelled with
pride at each promotion you got? And you know, it wasn't
because of the prestige, or the money, or anything
like that. I used to feel proud because it meant that other
people saw you the way I did - they saw your gift for
getting the best out of people, managing personnel,
organizing effectively, being decisive, making the hard
choices and taking responsibility for them...I loved that
they saw how wonderful you are too."
"You're biased of course." He gave a faded smile. "But
thanks anyway. Next time I have to take a kicking from
Kersh I'll remember what you said. As for being smart...
removing Mulder from life support was one hell of a long
shot, even for me."
"Well he's still alive, but whether that's any thanks to
me...Scully thinks that maybe my actions saved him but..." He
trailed off, and shrugged.
"You did what you thought you had to do. You were between
a rock and a hard place."
"I feel so guilty." Skinner got up, and paced the floor.
"Why?" Sharon was as still as a statue, watching him.
"First I lost Mulder in Oregon, and then when..."
"Whoa! You didn't lose Mulder!" Sharon interrupted him.
"Last time I looked he was a grown man, perfectly capable
of taking care of himself. Did you abandon him when you
knew he was in trouble? Did you walk away from him when you
knew he was wounded?" Skinner shook his head, silently.
"Well then!" Sharon snapped, her tone angry, an enraged
lioness defending her mate. "You didn't lose him. He was
taken. You shouldn't feel any guilt for that. Ever since he
was taken you've gone out of your way to try and find him.
Who was it who mobilized the search for Mulder in the
aftermath of his initial disappearance? You. Even Scully
said it was pointless, even she had given up hope of
finding him - but you didn't, Walter. It was you who kept
all the channels of inquiry open, you who spent every spare
hour you had examining transcripts related to Mulder's
abduction, you who kept abreast of every single development
in that inquiry, however far afield, so that when Billy
Miles turned up you knew his significance. It was you who
had Mulder's body exhumed, you who battled with Krycek to
find a vaccine, and you who eventually saved his life by
removing him from life support."
She finished her long and impassioned speech, her eyes
shining furiously in the dark room, and he stood there, an
expression of stunned surprise on his face.
"You don't value yourself enough, Walter. You've been a
good friend to Mulder and Scully," she chided him.
"It just never feels good enough somehow." He walked over
to the balcony door, opened it, and took a deep inhalation
of the freezing night air. "Scully still doesn't trust me.
You know - she didn't even call me to tell me that Billy
Miles had regained consciousness today. She didn't call me.
I don't know what else I can do to make her trust me."
"She's happy enough to knock on your door in the middle of
the night to cry on your shoulder," Sharon commented
acerbically. She came up behind him, put her arms around
him, and laced her hands together in front of him.
"She's been through such a lot. I don't resent..." he began.
She squeezed, silencing him.
"You might not resent it, but I do," she said. "I'm
looking out for you, Walter, because nobody else will - you
won't even look out for yourself. You always do this. You
always give so much. Are you in love with her?" The
question blind-sided him, coming, as it did, out of the
"Who? Scully? No!" He protested.
She squeezed again. "I wouldn't mind. She's a very
beautiful woman, and she's vulnerable right now. I know
what you're like with vulnerable women. It's
that chivalry thing you have going," she teased.
"I'm not in love with Scully," he told her, staring
thoughtfully at the stars in the night sky. "I'm not sure I
even know her any more. She's different these days. She's
so distant. She doesn't confide in me - not really. When
she does...well she talks in riddles. Maybe she confides in
Doggett." He shrugged, feigning indifference, but it did
hurt. He'd known her for 8 years, had been beside her
through so many dramas and traumas, had, he thought, proved
himself, over and over again, had even sold his integrity
down the river to find a cure for her cancer even if he'd
never told her about that, and yet it was Doggett she
seemed to turn to these days - a man she'd only known for a
"It really upset you that she didn't tell you about Billy,
didn't it?" Sharon murmured softly. "You'd searched for
Mulder for months, then arranged for his body to be dug up.
It was obvious how much you cared about Mulder's condition,
and you'd just had your veins fried courtesy of Alex Krycek
- but Scully couldn't even remember to call you to tell you
something so vitally important."
"She had other things on her mind." Skinner shrugged.
"You could tell her about the nanocytes," Sharon
suggested. "Let her know how hard it's been for you. Maybe
she'd value your friendship more if she knew..."
"No," he interrupted her firmly.
"Why not?" She rested her chin on his shoulder. He gazed
steadfastly out of the window. "Ah. I see," she whispered
sadly. "Well I can understand that you wouldn't want her
sympathy. I also know how you feel about your strength
residing in silence. Not only that but if you told her
she'd probably just distrust you even more and you couldn't
bear that, could you, Walter?"
"I..." He bowed his head. "No," he whispered.
"Walter, Mulder's alive. You did a wonderful thing today."
Her hands stroked his arms, and her skin was warm and soft
against his cheek. "Scully might not thank you for it, nor
even Mulder himself, but you must know that you did a good
thing today - many good things. In your heart - you must
know it. If it hadn't been for you, nobody would even have
dug up Mulder, let alone brought him back to life." She
moved around him, silent and graceful, and rested her hand
on his chest. "You've been so brave and strong - I'm proud
of you Walter Skinner."
"Thank you." He swallowed hard, the lump in his throat
"Maybe you should ask yourself why you give so much to
people who don't really seem to care," she murmured.
He stared at her, his heart jolting in his chest. "They
do..." he began, and then hesitated.
"Do they? Or are they so wrapped up in their own little
dramas, in their own world of X Files and aliens, and
conspiracies, and how they might or might not feel about
each other - maybe they're too concerned about all those
things to care about you, Walter. You've always been their
steadfast friend, the man who has rescued them over and
over again, the man who gave up his career to help them,
and much more besides, and do they ever say thank you? Do
they even really notice your sacrifices? No, Walter. They
don't give a damn."
"That's not true!" He protested hotly. "When Krycek first
infected me with the nanocytes, they worked hard to find a
cure for me."
"And failed. You died." She shrugged. "Even if
"That wasn't their fault!" He remonstrated.
"They had nothing to do with bringing you back to life
though! I wonder if they'd have dug you up, months after
your burial," she mused. "I wonder if they'd have kept on
fighting for you, even after death, Walter. I wonder if
they'd have kept that flame burning for you or whether
you'd just have been one more casualty on the pyre of their
grand mission. Do you think they would, Walter?" Her face
was hard and cold. "I don't. I don't think they care for
you except as some expedient puppet to support and help
them when it suits them, or distrust when it doesn't. You
got shot in the gut for being the man of integrity that you
are, for refusing to drop Melissa Scully's murder
investigation as ordered, and when did you ever get any
thanks for that?"
"They did thank me...Mulder did say...look, I don't do these
things because I expect to be thanked," he growled. "I do
them because they're right. I do them because they're the
only just things to do."
"What about all the other times you've come through for
them? Fighting Mulder's informant in that elevator to get
information that saved his life? Getting beaten up in that
stairwell for that DAT tape, even despite the fact that
both Mulder and Scully pulled their guns on you and as much
as told you to your face that they didn't trust you. It
isn't fair, Walter."
"Mulder covered up for me when I was in trouble over that
body I disposed of using his ID. He also hauled my ass out
of danger when I was accused of...when..." The past stood
before them, painful, and bleak. "You know when," he
"Yes. Yes I do." She came to him, wrapped her arms around
him again, and held him tight. "I know," she whispered. "I
know." He had an image of her lying in a hospital bed, her
head bandaged, her eyes closed, her body covered in tubes,
and he knew the tears were falling down his face. "Hush.
It's okay," she whispered. "It's okay."
"That was a dark time. The truth is... I needed people after
that. People who understood. People who'd been there...who
knew what I'd been through."
"Mulder and Scully." She soothed his back with gentle
"Yes. Christ. You're right. I am haunted. It haunts me all
the time. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. My work placed you
in danger and I pushed you away because of it and yet you
still cared enough to come and ask me how I was, even after
you knew I slept with that poor call girl, and..."
"Hush." She held him close, rocking him like a baby, just
like she always had when he woke up screaming after yet
another Vietnam nightmare, and she had never asked him to
tell her what the nightmares were about - she'd just held
him, and loved him. She would have made a wonderful mother,
but they'd never been blessed with children, despite years
of trying. Tests had shown that Sharon had blocked
fallopian tubes, and he had felt so sorry for her when they
found out, and even more sorry because she felt more pain
for him than for herself. When the doctor had first told
them the news, she had just looked at him, her eyes
reflecting a terrible guilt. He had hated seeing that. It
wasn't just her problem, it was their problem, and he told
her so. Maybe if they had been lucky enough to have
children, maybe if he'd had someplace to direct his
capacity to care, and take care, to protect the weak, maybe
then he wouldn't have become so caught up in Mulder and
Scully's world. Maybe. "As for the call girl...we had been
separated for months, Walter. I wasn't exactly celibate
myself during that time!"
"You weren't?" He looked at her, surprised. She still had
the capacity to surprise him even after all this time.
"No...but nobody measured up to you. It just wasn't the
same. Of course I care about you, Walter - and that's not
because I'm a good person, or anything like that. I care
because you're worth caring about."
"No, I'm not. I fucked up, screwed up...somehow I got it all
wrong, Sharon. I didn't see that Mulder was right until too
"Too late?" She said incredulously. "Walter - he was
assigned to you during that Tooms case wasn't he?"
He nodded, his eyes dull.
"And that was a big learning curve for you, but instead of
rejecting Mulder and his theories out of hand you took the
trouble to get to know him. You cut him some huge slack
when he screwed up, and then, on his very next case after
that, you took his side, this insubordinate, seemingly
crazy young agent, over that of a man your superiors had
told you to obey implicitly. How can you see your role in
this as being anything less than completely supportive?
You're your own man, Walter, and you came to your own
decisions. You weren't anybody's stooge."
"I don't know. Mulder wanted me to be more...unequivocal I
"Walter - you gave up your career for Mulder! You were
slated to be the next Deputy Director. Hell, you were in
line to be the Director. You know as well as I do how much
courage and guts it took to walk away from that, because
you the truth mattered more to you than your own promotion.
How much more unequivocal could you be!"
"I believe in justice." He gazed at his hands. "That's all
I've ever believed in, Sharon. Mulder's case was just. I
had no choice but to support him."
"I know, and I respect you for that. I hope he does too,
even if he never thanks you for all you've done for him and
all you've given up for him - because I know what you've
done for him, Walter. I know the strings you've had to pull
and the favours you've had to return just to keep him in
his job. I'm sure he doesn't know, because I know you won't
have told him, but he's a smart man. He must surely have
figured it out. You can't piss off as many important people
as he has and still expect to keep your job without some
pretty powerful support. Your support, Walter."
"You're always on my side, no matter what." He gave a
little grunt, a faint smile hovering on his lips.
"Well someone has to be," she told him. "Nobody else is -
you're not even on your own side most of the time. You need
"Yes. Yes I do. Come here." He pulled her close, laced his
arms around her warm body, and nuzzled her cookie-dough
scented hair - sweet and strong, just like her. "Do you
remember how we used to dance?" He asked her, twirling her
around their living room. "Do you remember how good we got
during that vacation we took to Mexico in '85?"
"Oh yes!" She laughed. "Although we had plenty of
opportunity to practice as I recall. There was nothing else
to do in the evenings! Well, only one other thing - and
that was very nice too." She shot him a mischievous glance,
and he laughed out loud, and twirled her around even more
extravagantly. "I bet they don't know you dance so well,"
Sharon murmured into his neck.
"Who?" he asked, his footsteps matching hers easily,
moving fast, two bodies perfectly in time with each other.
"Mulder, Scully, Doggett...any of them. There are so many
things they don't know about you - such as your penchant
for Charles Dickens, your love of good wine, that utterly
vicious forehand smash which is about your only skill on
the tennis court...oh, and how you give the best back rub a
girl could ever want. Hmm, I still remember those days when
I was working on the Monkton portfolio, and I was stressed
every night. You'd run me a bath when I came home from
work, and afterwards you'd wrap me in a warm, fluffy towel,
carry me into the bedroom, and massage me with these big,
strong fingers." She moved her hand, the one that was
grasping his, drew his fingers to her face, and kissed them.
"Well you had a hard time with that portfolio - and you
were always there for me when I came home after a difficult
day at work. You'd cook me my favourite meal and not expect
any conversation from me except a grunt - I might not be
able to cook, but baths and massages I can do." He smiled
down on her lovely face, and tucked a wisp of her long hair
behind her ears. "Sometimes I forget how beautiful you
are," he said, loving the feel of her body nestled against
his own, and the sheer joy of holding her in his arms. They
felt so right together. They always had.
"Mulder and Scully aren't the only ones who have their own
story," she whispered. "You have yours. We're a great love
story, Walter. I never stopped loving you, even when I
left. I was hoping that leaving would bring you to your
senses, make you see how lost you'd become, how much you'd
shut me out."
"It did," he told her, his voice raw, and choking. "It
did, Sharon. I knew I couldn't lose you. I couldn't bring
myself to sign those divorce papers - I never would have
been able to. I'd have done anything to get you back.
Anything..." He buried his face in her hair. "I love you," he
"And I love you too. Always. I didn't inscribe that in
your wedding ring for nothing, Walter." He smiled, and she
patted the ring where he wore it - on a chain over his
heart. "Love forever, Sharon," she quoted.
"Love forever," he repeated softly.
He closed his eyes and continued dancing. The room was
dark - he hadn't even turned on the lights, but that didn't
matter. Sometimes he could see her better in the dark. He
held her for a long time, until she slowly faded from his
grasp, leaving only the faintest scent of cookie dough,
lingering in the living room, and then he was dancing alone
again, as he had been since her murder in that car wreck,
years before - one more thing he had sacrificed to Mulder
and Scully's cause, and the most precious thing he had ever
had to lose. His feet flew on around the room, moving in
time to a tune that he alone could hear. He didn't blame
Scully for not telling him about Billy. He understood what
she had been through these past few months, grieving for
the loss of her partner. Ever since they'd buried Mulder he
had grieved for Scully as much as he grieved with her,
because he empathized so much with what she was going
through, having gone through it himself. And he understood
Mulder, searching for a truth that always proved so
elusive, trying to uncover justice in a web of lies. That
was the kind of quest Skinner could understand all too
well. He ached at injustice. It gnawed at his very soul. He
had a deep and abiding antipathy for anyone who acted above
the law. The law was his touchstone. He lived for it. Yes,
it had been all too easy to care for Mulder and Scully, to
care for them with all the reserves of a man who has nobody
else left in the world to care for, and a great capacity
Sharon was hard on them because she saw the world only
from the perspective of how it affected him - the man she
loved, even beyond death. Removing those tubes from Mulder
today brought it all back to him. He could still remember
vividly that terrible day a few years before, when the
doctor had asked him for permission to turn off Sharon's
life support machine. At first he'd refused, just as he had
refused to sign those divorce papers, but Sharon had come
to him, and begged him for release from a life she wasn't
really living, so he had finally given his permission. He
had watched her slip away after the machine was turned off,
had watched her pale face become even paler, and her skin
gradually become cold beneath his fingertips, and still he
had sat there for the rest of the day, just holding her
dead hand. That had been the second time she had come to
him. The first time had been in her hospital room, when she
had seemingly risen from her coma and given him vital
information. She always came when he was hurting, or under
great stress, and she felt so real, so warm, so...alive.
"Love forever," he murmured, moving his feet in time to
music that played only in his head. The music faded, and
his feet slowed, then came to a stop and he stood there,
disorientated. The room was dark and cold, not warm and
cozy, and a freezing wind was blowing through the open
balcony door. There were no cookies baking, no wife waiting
for him in his empty home. He was alone. He thought of
Mulder and Scully, together in the hospital, and didn't
begrudge them their reunion.
He knew how hard it could be to ever really let go of
someone you loved.
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