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Thirty Years Of Tears by KristenK2
Summary: Skinner struggles with losing his sight. A prequel to "To Sir, With Love".

TITLE: Thirty Years of Tears
AUTHOR: Kristen K2
SUMMARY: Skinner struggles with losing his sight.
A prequel to "To Sir, With Love".
KEYWORDS: Skinner, Kim, angst, discipline
SPOILERS: All, up to Without.
RATING: NC-17 for an act of discipline
ARCHIVE: anywhere, just let me know
DISCLAIMERS: These characters belong to Fox, and 1013. No copyright
infringement is intended.
EMAIL ADDRESS FOR FEEDBACK: kristenk2@deslea.com
WEBSITE: http://lzl.dreamhost.com/ExtFamily/Kristen/KristenMain.html
DEDICATION: For Xanthe and Sergeeva, who both inspire and encourage me
with their lyrical, poetic, and thoughtful Skinner stories. Thanks to
Ursula and Deslea for beta.


Is this a place I can rest my poor head
To gather my thoughts in sweet silence
Is this a place where the feelings aren't dead
From an overexposure to violence
And is this a place I can slowly face
The only one I truly can know

-"Thirty Years of Tears", John Hiatt


Thirty Years of Tears
PART 1 of 2

The heavy thump of rotor blades jolted him awake.

He tried to open his eyes, but something foreign pressed against his
lids, keeping them shut against his will. The pain of the futile
effort pierced his skull, adding to the confused panic rolling his
stomach. Lying vulnerably on his back, unable to move, in a
helicopter, brought back stark memories of Nam.

Through the miasma of physical agony and disjointed noises, one clear
voice, familiar and gentle, stood apart. She must have been watching
him for signs of consciousness, he later realized, for she bent toward
his ear before he had the chance to speak.

"Everything's okay, Sir," she declared, and the strength of her
conviction soothed his jangled senses. "We're on our way back to DC.
You're going to be fine."

"Agent Scully..." he rasped.

"She's in the Medivac behind us with Agent Landau. Both are going to
be fine. She found Gibson Praise and he was unharmed," Kimberly
continued, pre-empting his next question. "Agent Doggett has him
safely hidden away."

The harsh scrape of a radio transmission collided with the arguing
male voices in the background of the enclosed space. Skinner couldn't
hold back his moan when the gurney rattled under him, and he felt her
soft breath leave his ear area to issue a sharp plea to the medics.
After another minute, something metallic pinched his forearm. Soon
after, the pain around his eyes receded, just a little.

"Kimberly," he murmured so only she could hear, "I can't see."

A small, warm hand slid into the cup of his palm. It was the first
physical contact he'd had with another human being since he'd lifted
Gibson into his arms in the desert, and he welcomed it. His fingers
curled around hers, letting the pleasure of her touch soften the
brittle edges of his battered soul and ease him back into
unconsciousness. He had no idea how she'd gotten to Arizona in the
dead of night, but the vast relief at her presence superceded his idle
curiosity. He needed her here, and here she was. How it happened he
didn't care.

The last thing he felt before he went under again was her breath
returning against his ear, and her whispers of encouragement were
enough to make him believe.


He awoke into a silent dark. The wooziness from the drugs had abated,
and pinpricks of pain surrounded his eyes. He kept himself still,
getting his bearings. With what must be bandages around his eyes, he
couldn't ascertain what time it was, but the warm spot on his chest
felt like a ray of sunlight from a window. The harsh noises had
disappeared, leaving a flat, dead air in their wake. Her comforting
touch was gone from his hand, but amidst the hospital odors of
antiseptic and floor wax, he could still smell her perfume. Floral and

After another moment of assessment, he heard a nearly inaudible intake
of breath. Close, right by his forearm. He reached across his body
toward the sound, and his fingers brushed against a patch of warm
skin, then into a soft mass of hair.

She was there. Asleep in the chair by his hospital bed, her head
resting on the mattress beside him.

He immediately pulled his hand away, but after listening to her even
breaths for another long minute, the temptation soon proved impossible
to resist. His fingers wandered closer, lingering over the loose
tendril at her temple. His mind's eye tried to sketch for him how she
must look, sleeping peacefully beside him, the sunlight from the
window behind her shoulder dancing across her coppery hair in
brilliant streaks. He liked seeing her in the afternoons, when she
would sit across from him at his desk, taking notes and nodding
absently while her pen scratched across the pad. Sometimes he would
lose his place in his thoughts, distracted by the way the light kissed
the hollow of her throat.

But sleeping? He couldn't imagine how her face must look at rest. Hers
was such an expressive face, with kind, grave eyes that burrowed
through his defenses and a smile that didn't come often enough
anymore. Flipping through mental images of her like the pages of a
photo album, it dawned on Skinner that he hadn't seen Kimberly look
happy for a long time now. A year, maybe more. The last time had been
just before he had been poisoned. Before Krycek had killed him, albeit
temporarily, with the nanocytes.

He prayed that his blindness was just as temporary, if only to be able
to view her smile again. Only three of his senses - sight, smell,
hearing - were permissible in their relationship, and the idea of
being denied another was acutely painful. He already longed for the
other two enough.

There was a time, a lifetime ago it felt, that he thought that taste
and touch might be allowed. It hadn't lasted that long, maybe a month
or so, but the memory of that anticipation and hopefulness still
buzzed pleasantly in his brain. So easy to recall the glances that
lingered just a shade too long, the smiles that were just a bit wider
than usual. Winter had recently faded into a warmer pre-spring air,
and her outfits had lightened up accordingly. Gone were the bulkier
jackets and sweaters, and Skinner got his first peek of the season at
her graceful neck. He'd even taken up boxing to keep himself in shape;
if he was planning on dating a younger woman - as he couldn't help but
think about when he caught her curious gaze on his mouth - he wanted
to make sure he was up for the challenge.

Then the nanocytes had come, with Krycek dogging their heels, and the
moment passed. Now he was stuck in a hospital bed again, blind,
helpless, his career and his illusions in tatters. Of no use to
anyone, and unable to protect her from the dangers that lay between
them. He couldn't protect Mulder, or Gibson, or Scully, and he would
have to deal with the consequences of his failures. But to lose
Kimberly too...that would destroy him.

No. He didn't want to think about that. Not now.

His mind struggled to find a method of releasing his simmering
emotions. The pain around his eyes was too haphazard and dull, not
keening enough to provide the necessary outlet and focus that pain
from punishment did. He knew, though, that it was too soon to expect
her to offer. It had only been two days since she'd used the belt for
Mulder, and in his current incapacitated state, she would never agree
to another session. Nor could he ask; it wasn't in him to verbalize
his needs. The first time had been difficult enough.

So he would have to wait. In time, when he was physically healed and
he had pushed his inappropriate feelings back underground, his
absolution would be granted. Until then, he had to keep his thoughts
and actions in check. Holding back what lay in his heart was something
at which he was an expert; it shouldn't be that difficult to pull off

But right now, with his hand in her hair and her breath on his skin,
it already felt like suffocation.

He heard a sigh catch in her throat, a rustle of fabric next to his
bed. She was waking up. He yanked his hand back to his side and
listened to the sounds of her stretching and settling back into her

"Kimberly?" he said after a long silence.

Her voice was gentle, a thread of exhaustion weaving throughout. "I'm
here, Sir. Is there something you need?"

You, he wanted to reply. But to admit that, especially now when such
an admission would only put her in jeopardy, was not a mistake he was
prepared to make. He'd already made too many in the last few days.

"Is it day or night?"

"It's afternoon. About two-thirty. How are you feeling?"

"Better, thank you," he lied.

"Would you like me to call the nurse?"

Skinner debated. "Not yet," he admitted, the silky texture of her
still fresh on his fingertips. He knew he should ask her for updates
on his wounded agents, inquire into the status of the search for
Mulder, but he wasn't ready. He didn't want to be the controlled,
passionless AD yet. He wanted to continue being the man that she could
fall asleep beside, the one who was allowed to love her in the quiet
ceasefire, for just a little while longer. It didn't seem like all
that much to want, did it?

The sun on his chest slowly lifted the burden pressing down on his
heart. As he drifted off to sleep, the image of the rays of light
dancing in her hair captured his imagination. The last things he felt
were her hand tucking back into his outstretched palm, and the
mattress giving way as she rested her head beside him again.

For that one brief second, he pretended it was enough.


During the first week of his return to DC, a dress parade of visitors
streamed through his hospital room, unending in their marching
cadence, and discouraging in their news.

The doctors and otology specialists deemed it too soon to evaluate his
chances for a full recovery. They were cautiously optimistic about the
skin area around his eyes, informing him that "only time will tell" if
the scarring was permanent.

He chafed against the uncertain diagnosis, and handed over the reins
of Mulder's investigation fully to Agent Doggett. Not that he had much
choice in the matter; one visit from Kersh had made it clear that
Skinner's only role in the search was to be as a bystander. "You're
too close to both of them, Walt," had been the official reason, but
Skinner wasn't foolish enough to believe the weak rationalization. Too
much bad blood had passed between him and his new boss for him to
swallow that load of bull.

Doggett had sounded not nearly as surprised as Skinner anticipated
when he gave his newest subordinate the news. Perhaps he'd had fair
warning from Kersh; Skinner determined he would need to keep his eye
on the relationship between the two men in the future. John Doggett
came across as a straight shooter, but as Skinner had learned over the
years, no one was ever as they appeared. He had Krycek to thank for
that unforgettable lesson. Unfortunately, he couldn't 'thank' the man
in person, Skinner rued grimly.

According to reports, the elusive fugitive had disappeared again after
that last meeting in Skinner's office less than a week ago. Marita
Covarrubias, from her office in the UN, could provide no information
as to his whereabouts. Whether or not she was covering for Krycek was
indiscernible over the phone, and Skinner was powerless to delve

There were two bright spots to his first week of convalescence. The
first was from Scully; she phoned him from her separate hospital room,
and assured him that both she and the baby were in good health. By
then, Kimberly had informed him of Scully's fight with the Bounty
Hunter, which added another layer to his guilt. No one else, not even
Kimberly, was aware of Scully's pregnancy, so Skinner kept his worry
to himself. With a firm eye on the potential dangers, Skinner assigned
Doggett as Scully's partner. He wasn't 100% convinced yet of where
Doggett's loyalties lay, but the ex-NYPD cop's reputation was solid
enough to ensure that, at the very least, he would watch Scully's
back. As Skinner was out of commission for the near future, he needed
to know someone was watching out for his remaining X Files agent.

The other bright spot was Kimberly. Although eventually Skinner had
shored up his defenses enough to persuade her to go home and rest that
first day, she had returned the next morning without protest or
wavering. Every day thereafter, from the first minute of visiting
hours to the last, she was there, often convincing the staff to let
her remain beyond then. His visitors dwindled down as that first week
progressed, yet she continued to stay by his side.

At first, Skinner was concerned that someone might think her constant
appearance unusual, but after a few days, he stopped worrying about
it. Part of what she was doing was acting as his eyes. She warmly
greeted every visitor by name, which let him know who had entered the
room without him looking disadvantaged or weak. Otherwise, much like
in the office, she didn't speak up much, letting him conduct business
without interruption. The only difference was that here she sat so
much closer than she normally did, and her scent stayed in the air all
day. Whether it was a doctor or a Section Chief or an agent in the
room with them, Skinner was always aware of her. He liked that. In a
sightless world where he was now groping for purchase, her steady
presence anchored him.

After that first week, it became apparent that his recovery was going
to be longer than he had expected. Out of his own pocket he paid for a
transfer to a private room equipped for VIPs. The sole reason he
requested it was because it held comfortable chairs for visitors, and
the only person visiting him by then was Kimberly.

She tried to install a quasi-office in his new room, but the nurses
wouldn't allow her to set up a laptop or bring in an extra phone,
despite her cajoling. When that failed, she lugged files from the
Hoover and read aloud to him the various memos and case files. She
took dictation for his replies, and whenever Skinner had to be moved
to a different room for more tests, she headed back to the office to
type them up. She was always back in her chair when he returned from
his tests.

Before the end of the second week, Kersh put him on medical leave, and
Skinner had to insist that she go back to work to assist in the
re-assignment of his caseload to other ADs. Without any discussion,
she made it a point to come to the hospital during her lunch hour and
then again after work each day. Oddly enough, for the rest of his
life, the pungent odor of a tuna fish sandwich would always bring back
a wistful memory of that time with Kimberly.

Lunches were pleasant, upbeat affairs. She would arrive just a few
minutes after the twelve o'clock news began, full of work tales and
interoffice gossip and amusing anecdotes. Skinner made sure that his
lunch tray had arrived before she did, and the orderly who delivered
it was very helpful in directing him where everything was on his
plate, and informing him what it was. He never ordered soup, or
complicated dishes. Getting the fork from the plate to his mouth,
without the benefit of seeing where it was headed, was humiliating

Whether or not the effort to not dribble food on his chin was lost on
Kimberly, he wasn't sure. He suspected that she deliberately didn't
watch him eat, to give him a measure of privacy. There was no way her
paper sack naturally made as much noise as it seemed to; the crinkling
and the fussing she made over her own small meal sounded much more
like an avoidance technique than real life. By their fourth shared
lunch, his suspicions were confirmed. Twenty minutes to peel an orange
was nothing but pure subterfuge.

It was one of the kindest gestures anyone had ever bestowed on him.
His afternoons, when he wasn't being poked and prodded by the doctors,
consisted of listening to the television or radio. He flipped from new
programs to talk shows to soaps, with nothing catching his interest.
When he grew annoyed at his inactive status, he would recall the
elongated ripping sound of the orange rind, and smile.

Despite the fear that his eyes would never heal, despite the worry
that Mulder would never be found, despite the despair he felt at being
forced into idleness, Skinner had to admit that that small kindness
gave him hope. It was almost enough.



By the fourth week, it wasn't even close to enough. Skinner was ready
to tear the bandages off his head and call a cab to take him home. The
hours between her visits were some of the slowest he'd ever endured,
and not being able to tell the difference between night and day threw
his sleeping pattern out of sync. He couldn't exercise, he couldn't
read the newspaper, he couldn't even take a shower by himself. Mulder
was still missing, and from Skinner's latest phone call with Doggett,
he knew the investigation had lost momentum as each lead dried up.
Skinner's helplessness rapidly shifted into irascibility, and he heard
himself snapping at the medical staff more than once.

He was sitting in a chair by the window one afternoon, assisted there
by the same nameless, faceless orderly who had just given him a sponge
bath and shaved his overgrown beard, when a muted knock rapped against
his door.

"Come in, Kimberly," he said, unable to keep the weariness out of his
tone. Without hearing or seeing his visitor, he knew who it was. He
only had one.

"Sir? Have I come at a bad time?"

Skinner evened out his expression before answering; she hadn't done
anything to merit being on the receiving end of his foul mood.

"No, it's fine. Please come in."

The familiar tapping of her heels across the linoleum brought a ghost
of a smile to his lips. If he could recognize her stride from the
passersby in the hallway, maybe some semblance of normalcy was
returning. He used to play a game with himself, testing to see if,
from his desk, he could separate Kimberly's walk out of a random group
of people emerging from the elevator in the Hoover; it amused him that
he usually could.

She pushed another chair next to his at the window, and he listened as
she made herself comfortable.

"How was work?" he asked politely.

"Long. I have to admit, Sir, I'll be glad when you're able to come

"Why long? Who were assigned to today?" He knew from her lunchtime
stories that Kim was on a round-robin between ADs and Section Chiefs
while he was out, assigned to whomever had an assistant out sick or
needed information from one of his cases that wasn't found in the

"Kersh," she said, adding a colorful oath under her breath. Her candor
didn't surprise him. He'd known, of course, that her contempt for the
new DD was as strong as his. And he'd learned early on that Kimberly
had a temper that sprang to life when goaded long enough. After the
Carinna Sayles incident, he'd overheard her hotly defending him in the
coffee room. Her passionate outburst, at first, had shocked him, but
under further observation, he came to understand that beneath her calm
exterior dwelled a strong will and a fierce sense of loyalty.

They were two very similar people in that respect. Romantics loved to
insist that opposites attract, but in reality that never seemed to
work out, in Skinner's opinion. It was like-minded couples who lasted
the longest. Even in a working relationship - which was all that he
and Kimberly shared, he reminded himself sadly - it was that balance
which garnered the most success. Out of all the opposite partnerships
he'd observed over the years, only Mulder and Scully had beaten the

Skinner shifted in his seat, not wanting his thoughts to head down
that painful path.

"I'm sorry to hear your day was bad, Kimberly. I want to get back to
work, too. Just sitting around like this...it's frustrating," he

She gave a small laugh. "I wondered how long it would take for you to
admit you're bored."

Skinner felt the edges of his mouth twitch upward. "Four days to feel
it, seventeen to admit it. How long did you think I would hold out?"

"My guess was maybe one more week, tops."

A ripple of contained laughter ran through his chest. This was the
downside to someone knowing you too well. On impulse, he reached his
hand across to her chair, and brushed his fingertips against her

"It's not because of the company," he said with subdued admiration.
"I've appreciated your visits, very much."

She didn't reply immediately, and Skinner worried that perhaps he'd
crossed an uncrossable line. But when she finally spoke, from the
clear note of happiness that rang in her voice, he realized that she
had been smiling.

He would have given anything to been able to see it.

"Thank you, Sir. It's been my pleasure."

They sat that way for a long time, not talking, just enjoying the
moment. The warming sensations of her smile and of the setting sun
were unseen but still felt, and the tension began to ebb away from
Skinner's heart.

"Um, Sir, I, ah..." Kimberly hesitated when she began to stutter,
leading him to wonder what on earth was causing her attack of nerves,
"I'm sorry."

"Sorry? For what?"

A long minute passed before she answered. "I...I've been trying to
think of things to do that would help relieve your boredom, and I'm
drawing a blank. I was thinking maybe I could run down to the gift
shop and see if they had something...like a deck of cards, or a
crossword puzzle book, but..."

Skinner pieced together her dilemma. "But everything requires my being
able to see," he finished for her, and heard her sigh in agreement.
"It's okay, Kimberly, I don't mind you saying that I'm blind. That is
the medical consensus, after all."

"It's not permanent," she said in a vehement tone.

"No, it's not," he answered, appreciating all over again her
relentless support. Had even Sharon, as much as she had tried, ever
been this encouraging and loyal? "But it's okay to discuss it. It's a
fact of life right now for me. I won't take offense."

"Okay," she agreed, not sounding as if she agreed at all. Clearing her
throat, she added, "I...ah, maybe I could read to you, if you like. I
have a book with me, or I could still go down to the gift shop and see
if they have something else more to your liking. Maybe there's a new
Tom Clancy or Nelson DeMille down there--"

"What do you have with you?" He interrupted her rapid-fire flow as
gently as possible. It was rare for Kimberly to get so flustered, but
her nervousness held a sweet charm that disarmed him.

"Um...it's a murder mystery. Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout. It's a little
old-fashioned, but, ah...I like to re-read it sometimes."

Skinner considered the offer. The truth was that he wasn't fond of
crime novels; his job gave him more than enough insight into the
horrors of a twisted human's mind. Stories of spies and
counter-intelligence and grisly death sat too close to his everyday
existence to hold any appeal. But he didn't want to reveal that to
Kimberly. She was obviously trying to help him, and he didn't want to
disappoint her.

"I'm not familiar with Stout," he commented, keeping any bias out of
his voice. "What's it about?"

"Oh, it's part of a series that started in the 1930s. Nero Wolfe is
this genius recluse detective, and his assistant, Archie..." she
paused, a slight giggle in her breath, "he's great. He's sarcastic and
streetwise, and even though the plots are easy to solve, it's his
narration that really pulls everything together."

Skinner's mouth lifted in a brief smile. Her enthusiasm was hard to
resist. "I'd like to hear you read it, if you don't mind."

"I don't mind at all, Sir," she said, the clear note of happiness
echoing in her voice again. The springs in her chair creaked as she
presumably leaned over and reached into her dropped bag. After another
moment of rustling sounds, she cleared her throat and began to read.

As twilight shifted into evening, Kimberly read to him, and for all
the nights thereafter, she continued reading, at his insistence. When
the first book was complete, she started a second, and then a third.
For the last few weeks of his recovery, every evening was spent in the
chairs by the window, listening to Kimberly.

In the beginning of their new routine, he made his request because it
clearly made her happy to comply. But as the nights passed by, each
quicker than the last, Skinner's empty daytime hours were filled with
his musings over their time together. Soon his own desire to continue
eclipsed hers.

It wasn't the stories themselves that fascinated him; it was their
structure and order. Listening to Kimberly, he began to understand why
this particular series appealed to her. It was a world where the rules
were so clearly drawn and adhered to, where the bad guys were caught
and justice was served by the last page, where chivalry and good
manners held more importance than swagger and bluff. It was the same
world he used to believe in, before Mulder had disappeared into the
Oregon night. Listening to Kimberly, Skinner's strength and faith in
that kind of world began to spark back to life.

For the first time since his blinding, the realization that he would
survive, that he would regain enough of his spirit and his equilibrium
to make a difference again, began to coalesce into reality. This time,
he vowed, it would be enough.


END PART 1 of 2


Thirty Years of Tears, PART 2 of 2
by Kristen K2

He hated his new glasses. Hated them.

That wasn't supposed to be the emotion of the day today. His vision
was back to its regular myopic standard, the scarring was nearly
non-existent, and he was finally, finally going home. He should have
been ready to do cartwheels out the door. Instead he was standing in
his private bathroom, glowering at his image in the mirror.

He couldn't wear these; they made every wrinkle on his face stand out
in bas-relief. Looking back at his reflection, Skinner felt every
minute of his fifty-one years. These were glasses a grandfather wore.
That *his* grandfather had worn, long ago. Worse, no matter which way
Skinner turned his head, there was no refraction of light. Wearing
these would invoke his greatest fear: strangers would be able to look
at his eyes, and know his every thought. There wouldn't be any shield.
No safety zone at all, and he couldn't stand the idea.

The next five minutes were spent rehearsing his speech and fiddling
with his tie. Although she'd been a blur of bold hair and pale skin
when his bandages were first removed, his hearing, now tuned to her
frequency, had easily discerned her excitement when she had given him
her gift. Letting her down would require careful wording.

When he was ready, he smoothed his expression to neutral, and made his
way out of the bathroom. The words he'd worked out so diplomatically
evaporated unsaid as he spotted her standing beside the window. The
sunlight burnishing across the upper strands of her hair, capping her
innocence with an almost unnecessary halo, was outshone only by the
wattage of her smile. Her eyes scanned his face as he walked closer to
her, the joy on her face reaching into the depths of her irises.

It had been worth all the weeks of darkness if the final result was
the lovely vision before him, he decided. The happiness and pride in
her expression turned her natural prettiness into a rare, fragile
beauty, and Skinner was loath to let that slip away. It didn't matter
what he thought of his glasses; if they brought her this much
pleasure, he'd wear them without complaint.

"Oh, Sir, you look...wonderful," she said, her voice laden with
emotion. "Very handsome."

Then she looked away, her cheeks flushing as if she'd said too much.
In the space of two heartbeats, he realized she had.

Theirs had always been a relationship more dependent on physical cues
than verbal ones. A look across his desk, a shared smile, a furtive
nod, even a tap on his belt buckle, replaced what neither felt
comfortable in saying. By nature a taciturn man, he relished the
moments in their relationship where language wasn't necessary.

His blindness had compelled him to seek a new method of communicating
with her. The small demonstrative gestures from the beginning of his
convalescence had quickly disappeared; as much as he still wanted to
be able to hold her hand, it simply wasn't permissible or smart.
Anyone could walk through the door and see what he had spent years
trying to hide. He couldn't take that risk.

With all other avenues blocked, they were only able to connect through
their voices. Listening to Kimberly all those evenings, her voice
bringing the different characters to life with changes in her
modulation and pitch, it had finally dawned on Skinner that he'd never
really *heard* her before. He was amazed at how many emotions were
held in her tones. When he replayed pieces of previous conversations
against portions of her storytelling in his head late at night, he
came to recognize that they had always been there. The pride and
respect of her 'Archie' voice describing his boss, the camaraderie and
affection when she spoke the parts of Archie's co-workers, the tightly
reined-in annoyance in her 'Wolfe' reading - all of these feelings
he'd heard in her voice before, in other contexts. He simply hadn't
been listening hard enough.

And just now, while she looked at him, his health restored and his
dignity recovered, he had heard love in her simple words of praise.


Kimberly loved him.

His hand was halfway to her cheek before he realized its destination.
Just in time, he changed its course to instead push the wirerims
against the bridge of his nose. With her gaze still pointed at the
linoleum, she didn't seem to notice his clumsy move.

As badly as he ached to touch her, to fold her into his arms and tell
her that he loved her too, he couldn't allow himself to do it. Women
he touched, women he loved...they died on the battlefield where he
fought his daily fight, and to put yet another innocent woman in
jeopardy like that was unconscionable. He already wore the deaths of
Sharon and Carinna Sayles as part of his hair shirt, and he couldn't
bring himself to do the same to Kimberly. She was the only one who
made him feel halfway normal, who made him feel secure and grounded in
a world where all else was chaos. He needed her too much to risk
losing her.

"Kimberly," he said in the same honorific, meaningful tone she used
for 'Sir', and waited until she looked back at him before proceeding.
Since his new glasses were unable to conceal his expression, he was
certain she would see what was too dangerous to admit aloud.

"What you've done these last weeks...it's meant everything to me.
Truthfully, I didn't think I would get through this, but, because of
you, I did. And my glasses..." he paused to touch one frame briefly
with his fingertips, the impersonal metal of the wirerim a poor
substitute for her warmth, "will always remind me of your kindness."

She swallowed and nodded, her eyes dampening before she looked away
again. It was the only signal she gave him that his implicit message
had been received.


Fumbling with his keys at his doorway, Skinner felt as foolish, and as
jittery, as a bridegroom about to cross the threshold. Visions of
disarray on the other side of the door worried him, until he
remembered that she had come here while he was in the hospital to
retrieve some clothes and toiletries for him. Any mess he'd left here
almost two months ago wasn't a secret. By now, he had very few secrets
from her.

He let them into his condo, placing his bag at the bottom step of the
stairwell while she closed the door behind them. A brief glance at his
living room area revealed the glass-and-chrome coffee table buffed to
a high gleam, not coated in dust as he had anticipated.

"I had a cleaning service come by earlier this week," she said shyly.
"I hope you don't mind."

He gave her a nod of thanks, inviting her further in with an awkward
wave of his hand. A new vase of orchids sat in the middle of his
dining room table, their delicate petals incongruous amid the austere,
monastic atmosphere of his home. She, too, looked as out of place as
the flowers. In seeing her here for the first time, a fist of remorse
sucker-punched him in the gut. She was young and beautiful and
trusting; he had no right to squander the life brimming inside her,
just to serve his own selfish desires.

He turned to face her, and her gaze was steady on him. Studying him.
He'd seen this particular look in her expression too many times. She
was trying to gauge his needs. But what he needed he couldn't have, so
he diverted his eyes before it was too late.


He heard the coded question in her tone, and for a brief moment, he
considered saying no. If he were a stronger man, he would have sent
her away. Thanked her for her time and effort, had her transferred to
another department, and let her go on to find someone who could give
her all the things he couldn't.

He wasn't strong enough to do that.

She was his weakness, and his strength. Letting her go was tantamount
to surrender. The inner reserves he'd been working so hard to re-build
weren't close to full capacity yet, and Skinner doubted that they ever
would be again. Too much had happened over the last few months, and
more assaults were coming. His weeks of darkness had taught him that
he had to rely on someone, and that someone was her.

"Yes, Kimberly," he replied, watching as something akin to sadness
flit across her expression.

The familiar rituals of preparation guided them through the next few
minutes. Wordlessly, they moved into the dining room, where she
removed her coat while he waited for her signal to begin. He placed
his new glasses next to the vase in the middle of the table, eager for
the returned soft focus of his vision. Without sight, within the sweet
silence that reigned between them, he wouldn't know any of her
thoughts, nor she his. This was the only time he was grateful for some
sensory deprivation around her.

This wasn't about power, or sexuality; Sharon had taught him long ago
that this particular act was one of love, to be shared between
partners. And while he didn't have the other kinds of intimacy with
Kimberly he yearned for, in this area he came the closest. Here was
the one moment in their relationship where he could show her that he
saw her as an equal, that he trusted her with what he entrusted to no
one else.

Yet there were still things that could not be said, boundaries that
could not be crossed, and for that reason alone, he needed some kind
of buffer. When his defenses collapsed and left him vulnerable in his
needs, the artificial restrictions he had pre-arranged between them
would prevent him from saying or doing too much.

Especially now, with his new comprehension of her feelings for him. In
some ways, this had been easier to do when he hadn't known. He'd never
asked her why she had changed her mind and agreed to this, but now he
wondered if her acceptance had been her first declaration of love.

With no small amount of regret, he handed her the belt. Sharon used to
use her bare hand before switching to a more powerful implement, but
asking Kimberly to strike his exposed flesh with her own was
inconceivable. For some strange reason, he feared that much intimacy
might break his resolve.

The tiny piece of his brain that wasn't absorbed by the ongoing ritual
appreciated the irony of the situation. He was standing before her,
every hair on his ass on display for her inspection, and he was
terrified that if she touched him, skin on skin, he'd shatter.

Yet shatter he did, the moment the leather first snapped in the air.
The anticipated burn had only flickered into a dull heat when his eyes
filled with tears. Too fast. Everything rushed to the surface of his
soul too fast: the hurt, the regret, the need. He couldn't slow it
down, and for the first time, he didn't want to. On the second stroke,
it all tore out of him in a rush, and he heard himself begin to weep.

He felt her hesitate, then the belt swung down again, and again, and
he was lost in the haze of welcome pain. The memory of young Gibson,
his frightened eyes as wide as his oversized glasses, flew into
Skinner's mind, but the accompanying sensation in his gut was that of
emptiness, not the bulky knot of guilt he had expected.

"I'm sorry, Gibson," he choked out, but he still felt nothing, and the
tears came faster.

As he knew from experience it would, the unrelenting pace of the belt
didn't give him time for panic or wonderment. Each stripe blazing
across his backside began to focus his tumbling thoughts into a
roughly honed clarity. All of his deeply-repressed regrets and wants,
now skimming against the forefront of his consciousness, were woven,
one by one, into a single strand of awareness.

He suddenly understood he wasn't crying for Gibson.

He was crying because Gibson wasn't the sole reason behind this
session. The boy was safe, and while Skinner knew that it wasn't due
to his own actions, it wasn't that mistake which evoked his tears now.
There were others he had let down, and in worse ways: Sharon, Mulder,
Scully, Carinna Sayles, Jane Brody, Landau, even Melissa Scully. All
bore the scars of his failures; many were dead because of him. Gibson
had gotten off lucky, in as much as he was still alive.

He was crying for all of them. He was crying for a much-wanted baby,
fatherless before the first trimester of its existence was complete.
He was crying for his Nam buddies, their lives snuffed out before they
reached adulthood. He was crying for John Doggett, on the precipice of
a fight he wasn't ready to accept as his.

Most of all, he was crying for Kimberly. For her generous heart he
knew he would bruise with neglect. For her sleepless nights spent
reaching for someone who was there only in spirit. For her sweet,
unshakeable faith in a man who doubted his own place in the world.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. Kimberly, I'm so sorry.

His body shivered and jerked from grief and culpability finally
expressed, and after a time, he felt her go still beside him. He
couldn't stop crying when it was over, even when the physical pain
began to subside. The tears scored down his face, their path the same
as where the scars from his blinding should have been.

The cautious touch of her hand, coming to rest on top of his as softly
as a butterfly on a blade of grass, brought forth a fresh batch of
sorrow. A lesser man than he would have had the bravado to turn his
palm over and accept her comfort. A better man would bundle her into
his embrace and offer her the same. He did neither.

The fiery sensation worked its way inward, from the porous layer of
his flesh to his aching heart, but his tears did nothing to cool the
burn. Only her hand, motionless and so small against his, provided the
salve he needed. At his lowest point, no matter what his sins of
commission or omission, the quiet way she stood beside him said
everything he needed to hear. She forgave him even for the things he
couldn't forgive himself.

And that, his heart convinced his brain, was enough.

When his control returned, he gave her the signal, and she complied,
noiselessly moving away from the table. He wiped his face dry, then
pulled back up his briefs and slacks without fanfare, his blurred gaze
on the shining crown of her down-turned head. He didn't understand why
she looked away; his shame came not from the nudity of his body, but
from the nakedness of his soul. If she wondered about his feelings for
her, one look at him right now would dispel any uncertainty.

He lifted her face with his hands, intent on letting her in as far as
he could. Inside the cradle of his fingers, she was bittersweet grace.
Her features were clear under his tender scrutiny; her eyes,
tear-bright and full of hope, captured his. Her lips parted, the
movement somewhere between an invitation and a smile. Not for the
first time, he wished he could meet her kiss with his own.

Instead, he pressed his lips onto the lone ridge of worry on her
forehead, keeping them there until the wrinkle yielded to his caress.
There was nothing chaste in his kiss, only love. He felt her tremble
against his mouth, then the air by his waist fluttered as she lifted
her arms toward him. The minimal tug on the sides of his shirt told
him where her hands had landed. Her touch was so light, he couldn't
feel it through the fabric.

They stood there for a long beat, holding each other at arm's length.
Caught between duty and decency, the compromise he chose for them was
nearly unbearable. But until the battle was over - and Skinner
couldn't even be certain that it ever would be over - this was the
best he could do.

"Thank you, Kimberly," was all he said, leaving off the last, most
important part.

Thank you, Kimberly, for taking care of me. Thank you for believing in
me. Thank you for letting me love you. Thank you for loving me. Thank
you, Kimberly, for forgiving me.

He hoped she was listening hard enough.