Nexus: 4. Synergy


George Washington Memorial Hospital.

March 1st, 1999.


“How is he?” Mulder paused outside Skinner’s hospital room and handed Scully a doughnut as she shut the door behind her.


“Lousy.” She made a face, and took an absent-minded bite out of the doughnut, then frowned. “Mulder, when exactly is this Krispy Kreme obsession going to run its course?”


“Not until the big guy is home, and maybe…not even then,” Mulder told her, wiping a piece of sugar from her nose, with the lofty, irritating air of a big brother.


“I stand warned. And you should be too.” Scully grimaced in the direction of the hospital door.


“A bad day?” Mulder sighed.


“They’re all bad days.” Scully shrugged.


“Maybe this is just him,” Mulder ventured. “I mean, we don’t know him that well, not really. Maybe this is just what he’s like.”


“No, Mulder, I don’t believe that.” Scully’s blue eyes were thoughtful, and sad. “Noy got to the very root of his soul, and it’s preying on his mind. I think that’s one reason why the physical injuries are taking so long to heal. Also…” Scully hesitated, and lowered her voice. “Mulder, I think he’s scared of going home.”


“What makes you say that?” Mulder frowned. This wasn’t like Skinner. He couldn’t imagine that the ex-Marine would be scared of anything. “How come I haven’t gotten any of this? Are you getting information through the link that I’m not?”


“No. I think we both experience the link in the same way, and at the moment he’s got it shut down pretty tight so it’s hard knowing what’s going on in his head. I got this information the old-fashioned way – from his body language, and what he says. Think about it, Mulder. They knocked him out, dragged him from his apartment, tied him, hurt him, beat him, and drugged him. Then they chiseled away at his soul with a precisely honed surgical instrument – Robert Noy. Skinner isn’t a man who’s used to that level of introspection. He can’t put it behind him. It’s just weighing on him. Look, you talk to him. He doesn’t listen to me. In fact, he doesn’t even like talking to me. I think it’s some macho thing.”




“I’m a woman. He doesn’t like me seeing him this vulnerable.”


“And you think he’ll be okay with me?” Mulder asked incredulously. “He doesn’t even like me, Scully.”


“That’s not true, Mulder. He…” Scully hesitated. This was so hard on all of them. The feelings and thoughts that swam around in the link were confusing, and it was easy to be overwhelmed by them. Skinner, still taking drugs for his injuries, was seemingly unable to control the Nexus, alternating between blanketing it down altogether, or swamping it with a dozen or more conflicting emotions. Mulder and Scully both felt either bereft, or under siege, and the strain was taking its toll on all of them. “He’s very fond of you,” Scully finished, privately suspecting that Skinner’s emotions were a good deal more complex than that. Mulder flushed.


“Yeah. Right,” he murmured.


“Mulder.” Scully put a hand on his arm. He looked down into her anxious blue eyes. “I know you don’t find it easy to make friends – but he really needs one right now.”


Mulder paused, and nodded. “I owe him, Scully. I’ll do my best,” he replied gently, covering her hand with his own.


Skinner was sitting at the window when he went in. Both his feet were still heavily bandaged, and his legs were raised in the air. The doctors had privately told Mulder and Scully that it was unlikely he’d ever be able to walk comfortably again. He might just about get by with the use of canes, but full movement was likely to be very restricted. That had hit them both hard. There was something so physically indomitable about Skinner, that seeing him like this hurt. His large, powerful presence had been reduced, and the loss of independence was clearly chafing on the big man.


“I heard that,” Skinner remarked, ignoring the bag of doughnuts Mulder chucked in his direction, and allowing it to fall to the ground unheeded. Mulder sighed, and picked it up.


“You heard what? Scully telling me off because I’m addicted to doughnuts? Hey, they’re good! Who wouldn’t be addicted?”


“No, the other crap. I don’t need a friend,” Skinner said morosely, turning back to the window.


“Oh, that. Right. The trouble is that Scully would take all the sugar out, and fry them in some low fat oil or something, probably substitute whole-wheat flour and stick some tofu in them instead of jelly, and they’d end up being really healthy, and taste like shit.” Mulder grinned, and took a bite of his doughnut. “Whereas men know that a doughnut, is a doughnut, is a doughnut. Don’t mess with it. Eat it – or don’t eat it, just don’t try to feed us a pile of low fat crap that pretends to be the real thing.” Mulder devoured the item of food in question, and licked the sugar off his fingers. “You’ve been eavesdropping again, haven’t you?” He perched on the armchair opposite, and looked at the other man.


“Hard not to when you broadcast the whole time,” Skinner growled.


“Well, you know, that’s your fault. You’ve never shown us how this damn link thing works. I mean, there must be a way of controlling it better than we are doing, isn’t there?”


“Scully doesn’t seem to have much problem with it. You’re the one shouting. Her thoughts are nice, and clean, and tidy, and…ordered. Yours are all over the place.”


“Forgive me for thinking,” Mulder murmured, reaching for another doughnut.


“And I’m not afraid of going home. What kind of crazy talk is that? I sure as shit want to go home,” Skinner thundered. “The doctors say I can leave here at the end of the week, and the sooner that time comes the better. I’ll get better a damn sight faster in my own home than stuck in this goddamn hell-hole, with this fucking awful food.”


Mulder watched the outburst thoughtfully, sensing the underlying tension. Scully was right – it was a kind of fear, but of what, he couldn’t tell.


“Sir, the fact that you’re not eating is one of the reasons why they won’t let you go home,” he pointed out gently, “and that’s the main reason why you’re not getting better. You’re also not taking all the meds they give you. That doesn’t help.”


“I don’t like drugs, and how the hell did you know that anyway?” Skinner turned on him angrily.


“You’re talking to a hospital veteran here, remember?” Mulder smiled. “I hate the wooziness of pain meds too, but at least when you’re taking them you get some sleep. And you do need the sleep. Shit, sir, you look worse now than when they brought you in here, and you looked pretty rough then.”


Skinner’s shoulders slumped in despair. “I’ll be fine,” he shrugged, his voice distant. “I just want to go home.” Mulder shifted uncomfortably. “What?” Skinner looked up, the nexus relaying an emotion to him, even as Mulder’s body language yelled that there was a problem. “Nothing.” Mulder did his best to keep his thoughts clamped down – he didn’t want Skinner finding out about this the wrong way.


“Mulder.” Skinner’s dark eyes met his, and they were so helpless, and hopeless, that Mulder felt a wave of pity for him. “Please – I don’t have any control over my life right now as it is. Don’t keep anything from me,” Skinner implored.


“All right.” Mulder took a deep breath, “Look, Scully just went to the bathroom. She’s going to pop back in before she goes to say goodbye. Let’s wait for her to come back.”


“You pulled the evening shift, huh?” Skinner sighed. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate what the two of you are trying to do, but there’s no need. I know that I’ve placed you in an…unusual situation, but I don’t want to be any more of a burden on you. What I did was wrong, and unfair. I had no idea that this would be the consequence. You don’t owe me anything. I don’t want anything from you. Just go, Mulder. I’ll do fine on my own.”


“Sorry, but I think you’re stuck with us.” Mulder shrugged. “And as for owing you something – you’re wrong. We’d be dead if it wasn’t for you. Jace,” he said softly. Skinner flushed, and looked out of the window again. “I don’t understand all of it, and I don’t pretend to,” Mulder made a face, “but I do know that you finished making the nexus because it was the only way to save our lives, and that’s a fact we all have to learn to live with.”


At that moment, Scully slipped into the room again. She handed Mulder a cup of coffee, and put another one down on the table beside Skinner.


“Well?” Skinner looked at them both expectantly. Mulder sighed, and glanced at Scully, who was raising both eyebrows questioningly.


“What’s going on?” she asked.


“He says he wants to go home.” Mulder shrugged. “We have to talk about that.”


“Why, for god’s sake? Since when did I need your permission to go back to my own goddamn apartment?” Skinner exploded.


“Because it’s been sub-let, and your furniture put into storage,” Scully told him, gently but firmly.


Skinner’s mouth snapped shut, his jaw clenching spasmodically. Mulder fought back an almost overwhelming urge to offer comfort. This was so damn hard! Watching this strong, capable man, taken apart piece by piece, struggling so hard to retain some semblance of his dignity in the face of blow after blow, his whole life falling apart in front of him.


“I know you had nothing to do with that, and that Noy or his…employer was behind it, but the lease is only for 6 months. By the time you’ve fought a legal battle over it, the sub-lease will be up, so it’s not worth it. In the meantime, however…”


“Where the hell am I going to live?” Skinner asked. “Damn, I need somewhere of my own, somewhere I’m familiar with so I’m not tripping over the goddamn furniture every five minutes.” He gestured towards his bandaged feet. “I need to get back to normal. I need my job. I want my life back,” he whispered, bowing his head. Mulder sensed just how hard the big man was holding onto his emotions, and realized, not for the first time, that he was on the verge of a complete breakdown.


“Damn that fucking bastard, I’m going to break his fucking neck!” he fumed, unable to contain his anger. He got to his feet, and marched to the door, slamming it shut as he left. Scully emerged a few seconds later.


“What the hell was that all about?” she demanded, catching up with him.


“Robert fucking Noy. I’m going to go down to the prison, and rip his goddamn head off,” Mulder snapped. “I can’t stand seeing Skinner like this.”


“Well you’d better get used to it,” Scully retorted, her blue eyes flashing angry sparks at him.


“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Mulder came to a halt, breathing heavily. His stomach ached as if he had a stitch. He hated standing by, watching people he loved…people he cared about, hurting like this. He needed to act. He had always needed to act, all his life, from when Samantha had first been taken, to watching Skinner being broken in two through no fault of his own, by faceless men trying to get at Mulder and the X Files.


“It’s okay. I know.” Scully wrapped her arms around his neck, and pulled him down. He buried his face in her hair for a moment, shaking.


“Shit, if this is how helpless I feel watching him, then how the hell does he feel?” Mulder mumbled into her blouse.


“A hundred times worse,” Scully told him honestly. She pushed him back, and looked at him.


“I just can’t stand being so passive. I can’t stand watching him fall apart like this. He was always the strong one, Scully. I didn’t realize how much I relied on that.”


“I know.” The distress showed in her blue eyes. Mulder knew then that she felt exactly the same way as he did, she was just better at hiding it. “Mulder, you have to get used to this, and you don’t have to be passive. There’s something you can do,” she told him, “and I don’t mean beating the shit out of Noy. I don’t think that would achieve anything, apart from giving Kersh enough ammunition to throw you out of the FBI,” she said, with a wry smile.


“What are you talking about? What can I do?” he asked helplessly.


“Well…I’ve been thinking,” she said slowly.


“Oh shit, I’m not going to like this, am I?” Mulder looked at her. “I can tell.”


“Mulder – he doesn’t have anywhere to go, and we can’t leave him alone right now. You must see that. He’s floundering…he needs us now, more than ever. Now, granted, my apartment’s bigger, but I’m just not physically strong enough to help him around the place. In addition – I think it’s you he needs particularly right now. He won’t open up to me. At least he gets angry with you. He doesn’t even do that with me – he’s just icily polite, and distant.”


“You think he should stay with me?” Mulder mused. “I wouldn’t mind that, Scully, honestly, if it was for the best. I mean, I know he’s not easy to be with right now, but he’s welcome to stay with me, if it would help.”


“He doesn’t have anywhere else to go.” Scully shrugged. “I’ll spend as much time as possible there too but he’ll find it easier living with you. He’ll need help using the bathroom, and washing and so on. I think it would just about kill him if I saw him like that. He won’t exactly enjoy it being you, but he’ll be able to deal with that better. He does need us both though – if we’re ever going to get him through this.”


“Yes.” Mulder nodded. “The nexus…when it’s flowing right, it seems to soothe him. Hell, even I enjoy it when he lets it just flow. It’s just all this stopping and starting, and the anger. Christ, the anger, the sadness, the goddamn awful pain.” He ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath. “Okay, let’s go and tell him the bad news shall we?”


“No.” Skinner said the minute they walked back through the door. “You must be really pissed off to have drawn the short straw, Mulder.”


“Eavesdropping again? You’ve got a bad habit there, sir,” Mulder told him.


“The answer’s still no. I’ll find my own place to live. I don’t need your fucking pity,” Skinner said savagely.


“It’s not pity, you stupid bastard, it’s…” Mulder exploded into a sudden frenzy of activity. He picked up a bag, and started to cram Skinner’s possessions into it. “It’s friendship, compassion, caring, and, if we’re going to be all new-agey about it, and why the hell not, love. So just shut up, and get used to it. You started it, and now you’re stuck with it, and I don’t care whether you want to stay with me or not. You’re going to. Period. And I’m getting you out of this damn place right now. You’re just going to lose even more weight if you stay, no matter how many infusions of doughnuts I get into you. At least back at my place I can feed you some proper junk food. You’ll be on a diet of non-stop pizza for the next month, followed by cheesecake for dessert, every night. No arguments,” he growled, as Skinner opened his mouth in shock. Scully’s eyes were wide with surprise, and she exchanged a glance with Skinner.


“Better do as he says,” she murmured. “Did anyone ever tell you that you’re beautiful when you’re angry, Mulder?”


Mulder flushed bright red, and thrust the packed bag into her hands. “Look, none of us are used to any of this. We’re just getting by as best we can. Okay – I don’t like knowing what girls talk about in private,” he glared at Scully, “I find some of it toe-curlingly embarrassing to be honest. I don’t like knowing every time you,” he glared at Skinner, “want to go to the bathroom, and most of all, I hate it that you know how I feel about every tiny damn thing in the whole damn world. I’m dealing with that. We’re all dealing with it but I guess it’ll take time. Let’s all just be kind to ourselves in the meantime, huh? We’re all in this together, and as you are in no condition to take care of yourself right now, why not lean on us?”


“Why not, Walter?” Scully repeated gently. “We’ve leaned on you enough times.”


“Whatever.” Skinner shrugged.


Mulder sighed. He should have known it would take more than one frenzied outburst to deal with the demons Robert Noy had extracted from his ex-boss’s psyche. And that was another thing – his ex-boss. Mulder felt a pang of sadness about that. He stood there, in the middle of that hospital room, just wishing that everything was back to normal. He wanted to turn back the clock six months, so that there would be no nexus, and no Kersh. He would still be working on the X Files, and his boss would be back where he belonged – behind a desk, and not inside his head. Then Scully wouldn’t know that he loved her, and Skinner wouldn’t know he fantasized about him…if only it was all as it had been. He wanted it back.


“So do I, Mulder,” Skinner whispered, a faint smile on his lips. “So do I.”




Scully rolled her neck from side to side as she went to retrieve a wheelchair. She felt so damn tired. She and Mulder had taken it in turns being with Skinner for the past few days, and it hadn’t been easy. Unlike Mulder, she wasn’t sure that shedid want her old life back. It had been a lonely enough existence, devoid of warmth, of love. Ever since Skinner had first entered her mind back at Thurmont, she had glimpsed something she wanted more than her empty apartment, her science journals, the X Files, and her perpetually teasing relationship with Mulder. The nexus between the three of them made her feel as if she belonged to something, it gave her a place where she could relax, and truly be herself, in the warm, comforting embrace of close friends. A part of her just wanted to knock Skinner and Mulder’s heads together, and demand that they give her what she wanted, but an age-old, weary intuition, warned her to just stand back, and let events unfold. It was hard, but she was strong. Scully sighed. Yes, she was strong – she had always been strong, and sometimes she just wanted to damn well share the burden. Stepping back, and allowing Mulder and Skinner to work this out together, was the hardest thing she’d ever done, but somehow she knew instinctively that it was right. She didn’t have any problem with submerging herself in the link, and finally claiming what felt almost like an inheritance, or a destiny, if she believed in such a thing. They were the ones who were resisting it. “Men,” Scully sighed. “Can’t live with ’em, can’t shoot ’em,” she murmured under her breath, as she pushed the wheelchair back to Skinner’s room. “Well, you can, but it doesn’t solve anything. Been there, done that.”


Skinner’s doctor was not at all happy to have his patient removed from his care.


“The bandages on his feet will need changing each day to prevent infection,” he pointed out.


“I can do that,” Scully told him, watching as Mulder tried to pull Skinner out of his armchair.


“Mr. Skinner really isn’t in any condition to leave.”


“His condition appears to get worse with each passing day,” Scully noted acerbically, thrusting Skinner’s notes at the physician in proof of that point. Skinner growled in pain as Mulder clumsily tried to swing him from the armchair to the wheelchair.


“All the more reason to keep him here.”


“No – all the more reason to take him home,” Scully told him firmly. “Put him back in the armchair.” She strode over to the two men. “Now, you,” she said to Skinner, “put your arms around his neck, and then you,” she looked at Mulder, “put your arms around his back, and pull him up that way.” They both glared at her, and she could sense their discomfort at the thought of the close physical contact that maneuver required. Tough. They’d have to grow accustomed to it while Skinner stayed with Mulder. Using Scully’s sensible method, Skinner was soon deposited in his wheelchair. Both the agents felt his total, and abject sense of misery at being wheeled out of the hospital in this way, and it hurt Scully more than she cared to admit. She didn’t know whether it was better to address the issues that were upsetting the big man, or to sweep them under the carpet, and hope they’d just sort themselves out in time.


“You will walk again,” she told him as Mulder settled him into the car.


“Is that your expert medical opinion, Doctor?” he snapped.


“No. Just a feeling,” she said softly, smiling at him.


He turned his face away, and stared out of the window.




“Home, sweet home,” Mulder threw open the door to his apartment. Skinner glanced around his new home with a sinking heart. He hadn’t relied on anyone else since…since the aftermath of Vietnam, and even then that hadn’t been for long as his young flesh had healed quickly, despite injuries that should, by rights, have killed him – had killed him. He had always been self-sufficient, he had never needed to lean on anyone. He hated the feeling of vulnerability with a vengeance.


“Vulnerability isn’t the same as weakness,” Mulder said softly. Skinner clenched his fists. It was hard enough dealing with this situation without the added problem of his thoughts leaking into the nexus. He could keep them to himself, but it required a constant vigilance that he didn’t always have the strength for. “You’re an invalid – you don’t need to be strong right now. You just need to concentrate on getting better,” Mulder told him.


“Oh, shut the fuck up, Mulder,” he growled. “What are you? Rent a homily? You sound like my Mom.”


“Ouch.” Mulder made a face. “Nobody ever accused me of sounding like a mom before. I must be getting old. Coffee? Iced tea? Oh, I don’t have any of that. So, it’s coffee or…nothing,” he finished lamely. “I wasn’t expecting company. See – I’d make a lousy mom. Look, I’ll go and get some groceries while Scully settles you in.” Mulder’s sense of relief at escaping from the apartment flooded through the nexus in a palpable wave. Skinner winced.


“Walter, give it time. Just concentrate on getting better,” Scully told him. He wasn’t sure when she had first started calling him ‘Walter’, but instead of finding it reassuring, it was just another reminder of how much their lives had changed, and it was a change he couldn’t accept right now. It reminded him of how much he had lost: his job, his apartment, his health, his peace of mind, and maybe even his goddamn sanity.


Scully drew the drapes, and tidied up an assortment of socks, old pizza remains, and magazines from the floor. Skinner glanced at the magazines as she disappeared into the bedroom.


Celebrity Skin, Blonde Babes, Leatherboys, Conspiracy…nobody could accuse you of not having eclectic tastes, Mulder,” Skinner murmured. He threw the magazines back down on the table, and wheeled himself over to the window. Mulder’s apartment was small, and cramped, and it took him five minutes to maneuver himself around various obstacles by which time he was screaming with silent rage and frustration. He hated Mulder’s apartment, and he hated the wheelchair, and his injuries, and… hell, he hated his whole goddamn life.


The view from Mulder’s apartment wasn’t exactly exciting, but at least it wasn’t the damn hospital. Skinner stared out of the window for a long time, listening to Scully clearing up with half an ear. Guilt warred with anger inside him. Guilt for having entangled them in this nexus, trapping them in a situation they hadn’t asked for, and didn’t want, and anger with them for being inside his head, and his heart, just when he needed loneliness and solitude in order to keep going. Skinner knew himself to be a loner. In the past, when he had been hurt, he’d just crawled away and licked his wounds, but even that was denied him now. Skinner felt like an animal caught in a trap – and he’d have happily gnawed off a paw in order to escape. Maybe that was what he was doing right now, in pushing Mulder and Scully away. They were, after all, as much as part of him as his own right arm. The nexus had made them so. The nexus…Skinner remembered how it had been with his comrades in ‘Nam. The link had pulsed with energy. So many minds, so much power, the heady, overwhelming sense of excitement. Much as he’d hated the experimentation that led to it, Skinner had loved the nexus itself, and this one had the potential to be so much more. It was smaller, more intimate, full of a soft, comforting warmth, like coming home, and he damn well hated it. Instead of soothing him, the nexus felt like an open wound – it was hard enough trying to keep up with his own shifting emotions right now, without having to cope with Mulder’s and Scully’s too.


“Okay – I’ve tidied up in the bedroom, and put fresh sheets on the bed, so that you can sleep there.” Scully’s brisk voice broke into his reverie.




“Will sleep on the couch. He’s used to it,” Scully smiled.


“I don’t want to put him out,” Skinner said gruffly, in what was as close to an apology as he could manage for his previous behavior.


“You won’t. He sleeps on the couch all the time,” Scully informed him. “The bed was covered in junk, so I doubt he’s slept on it in months. Now, I’m going to get some of your clothing out of storage for you. Is there anything in particular you’d like? Books, personal items?”


“No. I don’t care. Whatever.” Skinner shrugged. “You’re leaving?” He fought back a wave of panic, hating himself. Damn, he didn’t want them always around him, but he didn’t like being left alone either.


“Yes, I am,” Scully told him. “You’ll be fine here until Mulder gets back.” She patted his shoulder encouragingly, and squeezed lightly. He longed to put his hand over hers, and to kiss her cheek as she said goodbye, but he couldn’t, and he didn’t. Instead he shrugged, and turned back to the window. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she murmured, and then she was gone.


Mulder returned with enough groceries to last for several weeks – more, Skinner suspected, because he had wanted to delay returning home, than because they really needed such vast supplies. The other man kept up a constant stream of conversation as he unpacked the groceries, none of which required any participation from Skinner apart from the occasional grunt.


“Look – pizza!” Mulder held up the cardboard box triumphantly. “Bought some salad too, in case Scully scalped me,” he grinned. Skinner was beginning to find all the false attempts at cheering him up wearying. He wasn’t a man used to sitting around doing nothing. Even at weekends, he’d always had the promise of paperwork, and more paperwork sitting waiting for him at the office, if he was at a loose end. He tried to remember what he had done in his limited spare time before this whole nightmare had begun. He occasionally read novels – about twice a year, but the rest of the time he really had either worked out, which clearly wasn’t an option at this moment in time, or focused on his work, and now that had been taken away from him too. The emptiness opened up in front of him like a yawning chasm.


“It’s kind of late,” he said suddenly, fighting the melancholy. “I’ll go to bed.”


“You haven’t eaten,” Mulder pointed out.


“I’m not hungry.” Skinner wheeled himself into the bedroom, thinking that at least Mulder’s apartment was all on one level. In many respects, his own apartment would have been impractical for his recuperation, but that didn’t stop him longing to spend a night in his own bed, with his own possessions around him. He wasn’t used to wallowing in this much self-pity, and that was the whole point. He wasn’t used to any of what was happening around him. It was all spinning out of his control, and he couldn’t say, or do, anything to make a difference.


Skinner undressed, as best he could, refusing to call Mulder to help him. There was only so much indignity he could take. They had already both endured a visit to the bathroom that Skinner was sure would haunt him to his grave. He managed to strip down to his briefs, and then fell sideways onto the bed, hoping to crash-land on the mattress and stay there. He almost made it, but the foot rest of the wheelchair got in his way, and he lurched forwards, banged his head on the nightstand, and ended up in an ignominious heap on the floor. Mulder appeared in the doorway in nano-seconds, alerted both by the crash, and the wave of pain reverberating through the nexus.


“Oh shit. Why didn’t you call me, you stubborn bastard?” Mulder knelt down beside him, and wiped a streak of blood from Skinner’s head. “Damn, Scully will have my hide for this.” He managed to haul the other man up, and get him into the bed. “Look, you have to start asking for help,” Mulder told him, “I can’t damn well guess everything you want. When your feet heal you’ll be able to do more for yourself, but you can’t yet. It’s just a waiting game is all – you’ve played them before.”


Skinner didn’t reply. Somewhere, deep inside, something vital shut down. He knew he didn’t want to eat, or drink, or speak, or live. He wanted to crawl into the darkness and lie there, for all eternity if need be.


“Look,” Mulder continued, “you just need to get better. Your job’s waiting for you, you can get your apartment back in a few months. Staying at the Mulder Penitentiary isn’t a life sentence. You’ve got a Get Out of Jail Free card, you just can’t use it yet, that’s all.”


Skinner turned over, and closed his eyes. He wasn’t sure that he remembered how to speak, and if he did, he was too tired to manage it. If Mulder thought it was just a question of getting back on his feet, then he was wrong. What Noy had done to his body was nothing compared to what he had done to his soul. Skinner felt as if he had been broken into a myriad of tiny pieces, like shattered shards of crystal, each of them scattered to the four winds, and he was just too weary to even look for them. He curled up in a fetal position, and hoped for the blessed, numbing relief of sleep.




Mulder stared at the other man’s hunched back for a long time, in exasperated silence. He wasn’t usually at such a loss with how to deal with situations that involved either Scully or Skinner, but this was different. He had always been able to get through to the big man before. He knew that Skinner hid behind walls, that he was a deeply private person, but on more than one occasion he’d managed to draw him out, and make him talk. Mulder wasn’t afraid of confrontation, or of delving into someone’s psyche to make them face up to the truth. He had done that much for Skinner during that fiasco with the call girl. Skinner hadn’t been so unreachable then, though. Now it was as if he were surrounded by a dark cloud, and Mulder couldn’t get through, either physically or mentally. When he tried to push his mind into the link Skinner wouldn’t answer. It was like shouting down a well.


Mulder returned to the other room, and surveyed the pizza and salad. He wasn’t exactly hungry, but one of them had to keep eating. He ignored the salad, but took the pizza over to the couch and laid down in his favorite position, on his back, one hand clutching the remote, the pizza balanced on his chest. He turned the video on, and remembered, too late, that it contained his latest porno offering. He wouldn’t have felt uncomfortable watching porn with Skinner in the other room, if it weren’t for the fact that when he watched sex videos, gay or straight, he always ended up fantasizing about people not a million miles from home. How the hell was he ever going to be able to jack off again now they were in this damn nexus? He wondered if he was condemned to a life of permanent sexual frustration from here on in, as he really couldn’t see himself sharing his fantasies with his chief objects of desire via nexus TV. He was just puzzling this dilemma, when the ‘phone rang.


“What the hell was that?” Scully’s voice.


“What? Oh, that. Skinner fell over and cut his head,” Mulder winced.


“Is he okay? It really hurt.”


“I know. I felt it too.” Mulder sighed. “As for whether he’s okay – well he’s still alive, if that’s what you mean. More than that, I don’t know.”


“Why? What’s happened?” He could sense her concern through the link. There had been so much said, and yet unsaid between them. She knew he loved her, he knew she loved Skinner, and both of them knew that Mulder’s sexuality swung both ways. It had been one hell of a way to be outed. Emotions ebbed and flowed through the nexus in an endless eddying whirlpool, and stray thoughts, or whole internal monologues danced in and out of focus. It was confusing, and with all of them feeling too vulnerable to just sit around a table and talk it out, they were lost in the dark, fumbling their way along while trying desperately to hang onto some semblance of their own personalities


“Scully, he’s impossible. I don’t think this is going to work. I’m worried about him. He wouldn’t eat anything, and he’s so damn stubborn. Jeez, I thought you had your moments but he beats you hands down.”


“I am not stubborn.” Scully sounded surprised.


“Yeah. Right! Dream on, unbeliever,” Mulder chuckled.


“What about you!” she retorted. “Once you get an idea in your head, nothing on this earth can stop you from following it.”


“That’s called determination, not being stubborn.” Mulder paused suddenly, feeling a lump in his throat. For a few seconds they had returned to the teasing relationship he valued so much – and he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed it.


“Mulder, you need to get some sleep,” Scully said softly. “When I felt Skinner’s pain earlier, I tried talking, you know, with this head stuff, but everything’s gone quiet, and kind of dark.” He was surprised to hear a wistful tone in her voice.


“It’s hard keeping your mental voice focused too, isn’t it?” he added. “I’m not sure that telepathy is ever going to be as good as real speech. You have to really concentrate on what you’re saying.”


“I don’t find it that hard.” She sounded surprised. Mulder hadn’t thought that their experiences of the nexus might actually be different. “I know what you mean though – your ‘voice’ jumps all over the place. One minute you’re telling me something about Skinner, and the next you’re musing on some X File in the bottom of your filing cabinet, at the same time as salivating over a doughnut. It’s like having three different TV stations on at once. God, Mulder, is that what it’s like being inside your mind?”


“Must be,” he grinned down the phone, “and yours is scarily tidy. Or maybe you’ve just learned how to organize the messy bits more effectively.”


“Hmmm.” She was silent for a while. He lay there, just listening to her breathe, hearing a faint echo of her thoughts from across town – they weren’t anything he could get a handle on, but somehow it was reassuring just listening to their whispering caress. “I’ll come by tomorrow, Mulder, after work. Goodnight.”


“’Night, Scully.” Mulder clicked the ‘phone off, and stared at the heaving, panting bodies onscreen, then with a sigh, he turned the video off as well. He just couldn’t. Not with Skinner in the next room, and not with Scully listening in from across town. He switched off the TV, and closed his eyes. It was still early, but somehow he had a feeling he was going to need all his strength for tomorrow.




Scully ran herself a bath, and lay in the bubble-filled water, with a bar of chocolate, and a good novel to hand. She rarely indulged herself like this, but right now, she felt she could use all the pampering she could get, and hell, nobody else was going to pamper her so it had to be a DIY operation – like so much else. Scully ran a finger over one breast, soaping herself. She touched herself lightly. Usually, such pampering sessions ended somewhat inevitably with a the use of a certain electrical item she kept in her night-stand. She thought for a moment, about the nexus. She had no wish for either Skinner, or Mulder to witness her in this most private of activities, but another, stronger, side of herself reasoned that they’d have to know. Sooner, or later, they all had to come to terms with the fact that they could tune into any bodily activity, however private, or intimate. Scully had already eavesdropped, guiltily, on a trip Mulder had made to the bathroom. She hadn’t done it on purpose, but there was a fascination with understanding how the opposite sex felt, what their experiences were, and Scully was only human. If they similarly eavesdropped on her – well, good luck to them. She wondered again whether it was simple lack of imagination that made her so sanguine about being watched in this way, but decided it wasn’t. Somehow, the fact that it was Skinner, and Mulder who could see her stripped of all pretense, merely made it seem natural to her. It felt right. She knew them now, more intimately than she had ever known anybody. She was joined to them, and she knew only that this was as it should be. It felt almost as if the universe had clicked into place.


Scully could hear her heart beating in the warmth of the bath water, and she had a faint flash of memory, of a woman holding her hand, showing her the world’s heart beating in time to the lifeblood of every single being who lived upon it. Scully wondered whether the memory was real, or a dream, but it didn’t matter. She felt connected with herself, with Mulder, and Skinner, with the world, in a way she couldn’t remember ever feeling before. It was a good sensation. She felt at peace.


Scully soaked herself thoroughly, the warm water relaxing her stiff neck and shoulders, then enveloped herself in a fluffy towel and wandered back to her bedroom. She unwrapped herself in front of the mirror, and traced a hand over her thigh, tangled it through her pubic hair, stroked herself gently, fascinated by her reflection. Her red hair hung in damp tendrils down the side of her face. She closed her eyes, put her head back, and thought of Tom’s blond hair, and wide, strong shoulders. She imagined Todd’s mouth caressing her nipples, then moving lower. She hadn’t thought about the twins in years – some memories were too painful to look at, and that particular memory had ended in the most embarrassing experience of her life. Yet ever since she’d had her out of body experience, she felt more comfortable with the memory. Now, she looked back with longing. They hadn’t done anything wrong. Those boys had been so right for her at that time in her life, and so good to her. She’d felt special with them in a way she hadn’t felt in so many long, lonely years. Scully opened her eyes again, and gave a start. Behind her, looking at her reflection in the mirror over her shoulder, was a young man she recognized. He had dark hair, and solemn brown eyes, and he was wearing a torn uniform.


“Dana?” his voice sounded choked, and she smiled at him in the mirror.




He offered a tentative hand, and she took it, and kissed it, gently, then placed it on her breast. He pressed close to her naked flesh, so close that she could feel his hard, lean, body, and she arched back against him. His fingers played with her breasts, and his mouth nuzzled at her neck.


Scully closed her eyes, moaning softly as he touched her. In her mind’s eye she could see two heads, two bodies, caressing, and fondling her. She thought at first that it was the twins, and smiled. The stroking on her nipples intensified, and a finger slipped between the folds of flesh between her thighs. Scully leaned back, opened up, and another finger caressed her. She made little panting cries, “oh, please…” she looked down, and saw two dark heads, and not the twin blond heads she had expected. Scully faltered, wondering why this fantasy was going along a different path. One of her phantom lovers couldn’t have been more than 18-years-old, his dark brown eyes glowing with desire, as he kissed her breasts, and belly. He had wide, powerful shoulders, and a solidly muscled body. The other was gently tickling her clit with his fingers, his hazel eyes alight with love, a curl of dark hair flopping onto his forehead, his mouth wide and sensuous.


“You’re so beautiful,” someone was whispering. “So special. Our Dana, our beautiful Dana…” The whispering was like a chorus, surrounding her with love, and she fell back onto her bed, and allowed her ghostly lovers to caress her thighs, to dip their dark heads down onto her white flesh, to stroke, and soothe, and tease to climax. “So soft…so warm…” The fingers continued their work between her legs, and a warm mouth sucked at her breasts, arousing her to the point of ecstasy. Scully threw back her head and cried out her climax, and when the sound of the blood rushing through her head stilled, the ghostly voices had faded to nothing more than an echo. She opened her eyes, and found that the room was empty, and she was alone.




Skinner awoke to the beating of his own heart. It was dark outside, and for a moment, he felt the warm, hazy after-effects of the shared dreaming. He’d forgotten about that aspect of the nexus. He bathed for a moment in the glow of a sensuous twining of bodies, and a love that ran so deep it reached into the very core of his soul. He stretched out his body, feeling good, then reality kicked in. His back hurt, his feet hurt, and his head was pounding. He glanced at the pain meds on the night stand, but mutely turned away from them. There was so much that he couldn’t control right now, but he would have mastery over his own pain if that was all that was allowed. He’d suffer it, and transcend it, and, yes, maybe even enjoy it, for the distraction it afforded him.


He slept fitfully, on and off, but peace eluded him. When he closed his eyes, he saw his fallen comrades, and heard their strangled death cries through the link, or he recoiled in horror from the sight of Cressie’s bloated, naked body as they dragged her from the lake. Scully’s flashing blue eyes morphed eerily into Noy’s pale, evil ones, Mulder’s dark hair hid his brother’s scared eyes – a mish-mash of images from his past assaulted and tormented him.


He longed for the comfort of his office, for the peaceful oblivion of his job, of knowing he could rely on his body, and his strength. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the boy, standing, looking out of the window.


“Feeling sorry for yourself?” the kid’s tone was mocking.


“I told you I didn’t want to go back,” Skinner growled. “I said I didn’t want to go back, but you made me, and now this has happened.”


“You have to go back, before you can go forward.” The boy wandered over to the bed, and morphed into the Old Woman. She smiled at him tenderly, and touched his bare scalp.


“Leave me alone.” He moved away, angrily, and she backed off, her expression sad.


“Go back, go all the way back, Jace, then you can move on.” She bent to kiss him, and he felt the press of warmth on his skin.


“I said, fuck off!” he yelled, turning over, and waking up to find Mulder opening the drapes.


“Good morning to you too,” the agent murmured. “Not a good night I take it?”


“Don’t you have to get to work?” Skinner glanced at the clock on the night-stand.


“No. I’ve taken a couple of days off. I don’t think you’re in any condition to be left alone right now.”


“Mulder, I’ll do just fine on my own. Go to work.”


“Sorry. Scully’s orders.” Mulder shrugged apologetically. “It’s nice out. How about I get some breakfast then take you for a walk?”


“Oh god, I’m not a fucking dog!” Skinner snapped. Mulder’s reaction flooded the nexus with a mixture of anger and pity. Skinner knew he was behaving badly, but couldn’t stop himself.


They both stared at each other, hearts sinking, coming to terms with the dismal reality that they were facing a whole day together, which wasn’t where either of them wanted to be right now.




Mulder was grateful for the knock on the door that evening. It had, he reflected, been one of the worst days of his entire life. Skinner had barely eaten, hardly spoken, and when he did, it was merely to bite Mulder’s head off. Mulder wasn’t sure just how much sympathy he could hand out without snapping. He was just glad that Skinner was sunk so deep in darkness that he hadn’t noticed Mulder’s bitter thoughts, or emotions.


Mulder opened the door, and his breath left his body in a whoosh. Scully stood there – only she wasn’t a Scully he’d ever seen before. She was dressed in tight, faded jeans, and a bright blue sweater that clung to her breasts and brought out the vivid color of her eyes. He had a sudden, hazy recollection of a dream, of kissing her beautiful, naked body, and a flush rose to his cheeks.


“Scully?” he murmured.


“Mulder.” She kissed his cheek, which was something she didn’t exactly make a habit of doing.


“Walter.” She walked over to the wheelchair, and kissed his cheek too. “Okay – we’re going out,” she announced, ignoring the looks of surprise that both men were giving her. Even Skinner seemed to emerge from his sullen reverie for long enough to be dazzled by Scully’s new found aura. She shone as bright as any sapphire or ruby.


“Out?” Mulder got Skinner a sweater and slung it to him, then grabbed his own jacket.


“Yes. I thought Adams Morgan might be nice.” Scully started pushing the chair before either man could object. “There’s a ton of restaurants there. We could decide what kind of food to eat. Walter? Do you have a preference?”


“No.” Skinner shrugged, his stance clearly indicating that he didn’t give a damn. Mulder strode on ahead and summoned the elevator.


“There’s whole wave of ethnic restaurants recently opened – some are pretty good,” Scully informed them.


“There’s a great Vietnamese restaurant down there,” Mulder added. “Have you ever had Vietnamese food, Walter?”


Skinner gave him a withering look. “Yeah – in Vietnam,” he said pointedly. Mulder felt sure the ground would open up and swallow him. He flushed, and glanced at Scully, who shook her head.


“Ethiopian,” she said quickly and decisively, changing the subject. “I really like African food.”


The food was definitely good. Scully ordered a Messob for them to share, and a whole platter arrived, with little heaps of food on it; some egg dishes, some meat, some fish, some vegetable. Skinner sat in his wheelchair, gazing at the platter listlessly. Mulder had only managed to get one piece of toast down the other man’s throat all day, and he wasn’t even entirely sure about that, as his back had been turned for some of the time Skinner had been eating it. Mulder fidgeted, overcompensating for the atmosphere by talking too much, but Scully was equally vivacious. Mulder had never seen her so sparkling, and he had no idea why she had been so suddenly transformed. She had always been a beautiful woman, but now she had an aura that was truly stunning. He knew he wasn’t the only one blinded by her – the waiters, and other diners were also sneaking looks in her direction. Only Skinner seemed unimpressed. The big man barely spoke, and Mulder felt he made things worse every time he tried to drag him into the conversation. Skinner had a put-down for every comment he made. Skinner made no effort to eat, and finally Scully wrapped a piece of the light, thin bread around some of the meat sauce, and held it up to his mouth. He looked at her in mute rebellion for a moment, then opened up and allowed her to feed him. Thereafter she just kept doing it, whether Skinner liked it or not, and he opened his mouth grudgingly for each morsel. Mulder envied her courage. He’d tried something similar that morning and the results had been…unpleasant. Scully had been right about Skinner – he wouldn’t explode with her. Even in the midst of such a dark depression, he was still too much the gentleman to shout at her. It was only when he was alone with Mulder that he allowed the demons to come out and dance.


Mulder almost dreaded the moment when they returned to the apartment, and Scully would leave. He helped Skinner into the bedroom, and then returned to the other room, shutting the door softly behind them. Then he sat next to Scully on the couch in silence for a moment, feeling Skinner’s grasp on consciousness fade. It was only when Mulder knew Skinner had fallen asleep, that he turned to Scully.


“I don’t think I can take much more of this,” he told her.


“You have to. Mulder – he’s only been here for one day,” she pointed out. “Don’t you want to help him?”


“Yes, but I’m not. He despises me. I can’t say anything without him jumping down my throat. Scully, let’s face it, he needs expert care.”


“That’s exactly what he’s got,” Scully told him, getting up and going to his bookshelf. She put her hand on one of the volumes, took it out, and laid it on his coffee table, then another, and another. “Mulder, you did get a psychology degree…” she began, pointing to the texts.


“That was years ago!” he protested.


“And I’ve seen you in action – you’ve out-psyched serial killers. How can one tired, wounded, damaged friend be too much for you?”


“Because I know him. I care about him. I’m scared of screwing up, and getting something seriously wrong,” Mulder admitted miserably.


“Mulder.” She took hold of his shoulders, and looked him square in the eye. “You are what he needs right now. I don’t know why, I just know it’s true.”


“What about you?” he asked.


“He’ll accept comfort from me – he’ll let me feed him, and touch him, but he won’t talk to me. You’ve seen that.”


“He doesn’t do more than snap at me,” Mulder told her.


“Well, make him. You’re not the one who’s lost everything here, Mulder,” she kissed his lips gently. “You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met, and you have a handle on people, a kind of intuition that I could never hope to emulate. If anyone can figure him out, it’s you.”


Mulder gazed at her. She radiated a kind of strength, and beauty that was mesmerizing. He had never seen her so sure, so certain, so in charge.


“What the hell happened to you anyhow?” he asked.


“What do you mean?”


“You seem different.”


“I feel different.” She gave a half smile. “It’s like…Mulder, when I was younger, I agonized about whether to go into the FBI or pursue my career as a doctor, or even whether to channel my energy into medical research. I spent hours and hours talking it over with Melissa, and Mom and Dad. Mom, being Mom, used to tell me that God had a plan for all of us, but I always thought that was a cop-out. It seemed to me that God would want you to make your own plan – why else give us the sense we were born with, to say nothing of free will? I…I do have faith,” Scully ducked her head down, and played with the hem of her sweater. “I do have faith, but it’s changed. It changed last night. I don’t understand how, or why, I just know there’s a purpose, and I’ve figured out what I am, and where I belong. Before, every day seemed to be a process of negotiation. Should I go to work, or should I hand in my notice?” He caught his breath, and she shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mulder, but there were so many occasions when I felt as if your work, and your quest were swallowing me whole. I wasn’t sure who I was any more. I believed in the work, and yet…” she shrugged. “Well, I wondered if I wouldn’t be more use working as a doctor, or a scientist, than chasing after monsters and conspiracies. Today though, today I didn’t wake up questioning myself. Today I knew the answers. I know what’s important now.” She looked up, and smiled, and the sight took his breath away.


“What’s that?” he asked.


“You. And him.” She nodded towards the bedroom door. “The three of us – this nexus. It’s given me something I’ve never had before. I’d fight for it. I’d die for it. If necessary…” she paused, her face serious, “I’d even kill for it. You’re always the one acting on instinct, and I’m always the one reminding you about science, and logic, but not this time. This time I can only tell you something nebulous, something I have no proof of, but the truth is, that I believe. I believe that there is something so right about this, and I don’t know why, or how, I just do,” she shrugged. “There, go call the men in white coats, Mulder. You and I have finally swapped sides!”


“The truth is in all of us, huh?” he teased gently. “I just wish it wasn’t so damn hard.” He glanced towards the bedroom door, lost in thought.


“You can do it,” she told him firmly. “You have to. For all of us.”


Mulder said goodbye to her a few minutes later, then turned back and gazed thoughtfully at the books on the table. He fished out his glasses, sat down on the couch, put his long legs up on the coffee table, and began flicking through the books. He felt emotionally tired and wrung out after the difficult day with Skinner. He couldn’t help wondering if the way he was treating the other man was helping. Maybe treating Skinner with kid gloves was just making things worse. Mulder looked up a number of different opinions on the subject, and tried to work it out for himself. He devoured the concept of “tough love” from various papers on drug abuse, but decided that neither he nor Skinner were ready for that yet. A thought occurred to him. Maybe he was approaching this from the wrong angle – maybe he needed to write a profile of the other man, as he would when getting into the mind of a serial killer.


Mulder went to his filing cabinet and got out the notes on the Nexus project that he had taken from Lubecker’s office. He’d gone back to arrest the other man straight after freeing Skinner, and had taken the opportunity to thoroughly clean out the entire laboratory. He’d already read the notes about the Nexus project several times, but now he went through them with a fine tooth-comb.  He was so engrossed in his work, that he didn’t notice the movement by the door. There was no shadow, the door didn’t open, but suddenly, Mulder looked up to find that he wasn’t alone. There was a kid sitting on his couch. Mulder held his breath – he recognized the boy, although he had no idea how he had got there.


“Jace?” he smiled.


The kid gave a tentative smile back, then flicked through the files Mulder was looking at. “What are you doing?” he asked, his dark brown eyes solemn.


“Trying to figure you out,” Mulder said softly, pinching himself, unsure if he was awake or asleep. This was the closest he’d ever been to experiencing a paranormal event at first hand, and his mind was racing, trying to make sense of it.


“Me? I’m not that tough to figure out.”


Mulder was fascinated by the boy – he was clearly Skinner, but so young, and without that businesslike veneer, and aura of authority that characterized his older self. There was an endearing innocence to him, combined with a streetwise bravado that came and went. The boy wasn’t sure of himself.


“Why are you here, Jace?” Mulder asked gently, taking his glasses off and placing them on the table.


“To be with you.” The kid shrugged. “You’re more fun that he is right now.” He gestured with his head in the direction of the doorway.


“Hmm. That’s not strictly true.” Mulder sat back, anxious not to scare his unexpected guest away.


“What do you mean?” The boy’s face was half in shadow. He moved into the light, and Mulder fought to stop himself from gasping. The kid was blood-stained, and his uniform was torn, yet he looked quite solid, and corporeal. His dark eyes were glowing softly in the lamplight.


“Well, I think you’re a manifestation of Skinner. You’re using the nexus to escape from the prison of your own mind. Being here with me is an expression that you’d like to get well. That’s a good sign, but you can’t do it by escaping. You have to face up to this, Jace.”


“You know what’s best for me?” The boy’s eyes were wide, and scared. He was asking a question, not issuing a challenge.


“I think so.” Mulder got up, and moved carefully, so carefully, over to the couch. He hunkered down beside the boy, and reached out a tentative hand to touch him. The kid didn’t move. Mulder was surprised to find Jace’s arm felt real. He was solid flesh. “Walter…” Mulder hesitated. The boy froze, as if he wanted to run, but he was still there – the use of his name hadn’t scared him away. “Is it only as Jace that you can show your vulnerability? Is that what’s happening here?” Mulder gazed searchingly at the boy.


“I was scared every day in Vietnam. I woke up scared, and I went to bed scared,” Jace whispered. “Have you lived with fear like that, Fox?”


“No. I can’t say I have.” Mulder watched the light and dark chase fleeting battles across Jace’s pale face.


“When they died…” Mulder had a vision of a wrenching, screaming agony that almost blinded him. A dozen minds died, crying out their pain, and a white light exploded in his mind.


“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Jace’s hands batted at his face, bringing him back to reality.


“It’s okay. Thanks for sharing that with me,” Mulder said, trying to pull his thoughts back into some semblance of calm after the horror he’d just witnessed.


“I can never stop it happening. I can’t keep you safe.” Jace gave a broken shrug. “I’ve put you in danger. I’ll lose you both, like I lost the others.”


“Is that why you keep pushing us away?” Mulder bit on his lip. God, he understood! He understood all too well. “Jace, when my sister was abducted, I blamed myself. I blamed myself for years. If I’m honest…” Mulder hesitated, but Jace’s dark eyes never left his face, and he knew he had no choice but to give the kid the truth. He deserved nothing less. “If I’m honest, I still do. A small part of me always will. There’s a word for it in these textbooks, Jace – it’s called Survivor’s Guilt. There’s also PTSD?” Mulder stared at the kid keenly. He wasn’t sure how much he knew, and whether he was patronizing him or not. It felt so strange to be sitting here, talking to an 18-year-old version of the man who had been his boss, and who he knew himself to be in love with. Jace was frowning.


“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Mulder offered. “I know they didn’t give vets much help with that after ‘Nam. If nobody ever helped you, maybe you just buried that side of yourself – literally. You buried the Walter who died that day back in ‘Nam, and maybe he could have stayed buried if it hadn’t been for your recent traumatic experiences. Now, you have to make peace with him, Walter. Can you do that?”


“Can you help me?” the boy’s voice was so faint as to be almost ethereal.


Mulder smiled. “I’d like to, but you’re not an easy guy to help, Walter.” He was reminded of Melissa, the woman he’d interviewed about the Temple of the Seven Stars. She had been suffering from a multiple personality disorder, each sub-personality invented by some part of her mind in order to protect her. Skinner seemed to have just the one. Mulder wondered if the other man divided his life up into before his OBE in ‘Nam, and after it. He watched the emotions splay over the kid’s face. He was so young – his expressions so honest, and open, compared to the much more guarded personality he would become. “Do you want my help, Walter?” he said softly. “Is it so hard to ask for it?”


Jace began rocking, back and forth, clutching his stomach. Mulder put a gentle hand on his back. “Walter?” he pressed.


“I’m scared,” Jace confided.


“Of what? Of me? Of being known?”


“Of what I might find out.” Jace’s face was deathly white, his eyes darker than ever. The blood in his hair was a sickly red.




“I was…there’s a field.” The boy stared into space, his eyes tortured.


“Nam?” Mulder pressed, carefully.


“No. Before.” The boy carried on rocking back and forth. Mulder slid his hand over his shoulder, and held him. His shoulders were thinner than Skinner’s broad frame, and he was trembling. “I can hear a dog, barking. There’s a tractor…I can’t do it.” Jace broke off from the narrative. “Don’t make me do it,” he begged Mulder.


“You have to,” Mulder said, his tone uncompromising. If he could have spared the kid he would have done, he’d have done anything to help him, but he didn’t know any other way. It was so strange, seeing Skinner like this – as this lost, innocent youth. “Do you trust me?” he asked.


“What?” The boy looked distracted, then he gave a strange half laugh. “Of course,” he whispered. “You more than anyone. You, and Dana.” Mulder couldn’t help feeling a glow of pride, and warmth on hearing those words. The way Skinner was treating them these days he wasn’t sure the other man even liked him, let alone trusted them.


“Well then. What harm can you come to?” he asked, reasonably. “I’m not Noy, Walter. I won’t use the memory against you.”


“I can’t.” The boy shook his head, his movements becoming more violent, and his eyes seeming to become darker, and deeper.


“Walter, it’s okay. Look, we can…” Mulder blinked. One minute he had been talking to the kid, and the next he’d just vanished, as if he hadn’t been there, and yet he’d been solid. Real. Mulder had seen him, held him, touched him. “Jace?” He got up, and glanced around the empty apartment. “Walter?” He walked over to the bedroom, and opened the door. Skinner was fast asleep, his face as pale as that of the boy Mulder had just been talking to. “Walter?” Mulder crouched down beside the bed, but if the other man was awake, he didn’t move. Mulder watched him for a moment, seeing the boy all too clearly in the visage of the sleeping man.


“I know you’re in there, Walter. Just hang on. It might be a rough ride, but I promise I’ll be here,” he whispered. “I’m going to step back. You know what you have to do. When you’re ready, I’ll be waiting.”




Scully spent the following day pulling in a couple of favors, then she drove to the prison where Robert Noy was being held. He had been Skinner’s nemesis, and she was going to make damn sure that he didn’t end up being a nemesis for all of them. Scully had never felt so liberated from pure thought before in her entire life. She was acting on instinct, a kind of protective instinct that she’d never felt before, like a lioness fighting for her pride. She walked down the long corridors, and into the visitor’s room, and paused in the doorway, just looking at him. He wasn’t a big man, and, sitting there, head bowed, examining his fingers, he didn’t seem remotely dangerous, but Scully wasn’t fooled. This man had single handedly taken Skinner apart. She was here to see if he had any clues about how to put him back together again, and she didn’t intend to leave empty handed. Sensing her gaze upon him, Noy lifted his head, and looked straight at her. His pale, almost opaque eyes, sent a shiver down her spine. He smiled, and waved a hand at the chair waiting for her.


“Agent Scully. How good to see you. I wondered when you’d show up,” he murmured.


“Don’t try that crap on me.” She took her seat opposite him. “You had no idea I’d come here.”


“Of course I did. I know you.” He gave her an easy smile, that didn’t reach those cold, evil eyes. “He told me all about you. Do you know what he’d like to do to you?”


“I’m not hear to listen to this,” she snapped.


“Oh?” He put his head on one side. “He’s crazy about you. I asked him if he wanted to sleep with you, and he lied. Of course, he has some fairly old-fashioned views about love – he knows you’re already in love with Agent Mulder, so he doesn’t see a place for himself in your charming little love-nest. Obviously the man has never considered the intriguing possibilities of a menage a trois. You have, though, Agent Scully, haven’t you? Hmm?”


Scully felt almost lulled by the seductive cadence of his voice, and the sense that he somehow knew her. Damn, no wonder Skinner, drugged, dehydrated, and tortured, had been sucked into this man’s twisted view of the universe.


“You don’t know me, Noy,” she hissed.


“Of course I do.” He gave her a bland smile. “How is dear Walter? Ah, don’t tell me; he’s suffering, isn’t he? You see, my dear Dana, you must give me credit for knowing my job – and you really should have allowed me to complete it.”


“If, by that, you mean torturing him half to death, then…”


“Dana!” He interrupted her, looking hurt. “I know my craft, my dear. There was no gratuitous torture, just enough to get to the bottom of dear Walter’s soul. After that, well, you interfered just as we were getting to the good bit – the bit where I built him back up again. That would have been so good. Walter would truly have been my masterpiece if you hadn’t stopped me. I was so close.” Noy smiled. “I’m an artist, my dear, and Walter was the most exquisite example of my art. So many secrets, so many walls, all of them stripped down. Now, the poor man doesn’t have any defenses. You were very cruel to remove him from my care in that way.”


“Your care,” Scully spat. “He’ll never walk properly again because of you.”


“Ah, well. I never said there wouldn’t be a price to be paid. He was so obstinate.” Noy gave a little chuckle. Scully closed her eyes. The frightening thing was that Noy could almost make her believe in this nonsense. He had gotten to the core of Skinner’s soul, and maybe he could do a better job of building the big man back up than either she or Mulder seemed to be managing.


“Self doubt? How very un-Scully.” Noy seemed to guess her thoughts. She noticed the way those shifting, opaque eyes minutely examined every expression, every nuance of her body language. Oh yes, he was very skilled indeed in his black art.


“We’re not here to talk about me. I want to talk about him,” she said firmly.


“Forgive me for reducing our charming little conversation down to its most crude level – but what’s in it for me?” Noy leaned back in his chair.


“Restitution? Recompense?” she suggested. “Don’t you have any sense of remorse for what you did?”


“Remorse? You could hardly expect that from a sociopath, my dear.” He smiled, and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “No. I think I would need a show of good faith from you in order to reveal any of my little secrets.”


“All right then. Maybe we can do a deal. If you co-operate with me, I’ll certainly make sure it’s noted on your file. The court might view that favorably.”


“Or they might not.” Noy shrugged.


“I’ve spoken to Marla, and Antonio.” She tried a different tack. “Why did you use them, Noy? What were you hoping to achieve?”


“You know the answer to that very well, Dana.” He smiled smugly. “I did think Agent Mulder might drop by and see me, then I weighed it up, and I knew it had to be you. You make an interesting threesome. Have you noticed the patterns in your lives? I have. Walter’s wasn’t the only file my employer gave to me – he also provided me with yours, and Mulder’s. I needed them to make sense of the whole picture. And what a pretty picture it is too.” He laughed out loud.


“Tell me how I can help him,” she demanded in despair. She hadn’t intended to let him know how much this meant to her, but she wasn’t sure that she could truly hide anything from this man.


“You can’t. A bullet to the head might be kindest.” Noy shrugged. “Ironically, it’s probably the nexus that’s making it impossible for him to heal. He can’t hide, you see, and he does so need to hide. Such beautiful secrets. Did you know that he loves you? Of course you do. Did you know that he also loves Mulder? That did intrigue me – there’s no evidence of any previous homosexual encounters in his life.”


“You don’t know him, and you sure as hell don’t know me.” Scully got out her gun, and loaded a cartridge. Noy watched her, intrigued. “This panel between us is bullet-proof,” Scully informed him, deciding to try a little psyching out of her own. “However, if I were to fire at the same place enough times, it’ll shatter. What you have to weigh up, is how long it will take to break. Will there be enough time for the guards to come in here and stop me, or will I get to you first. This…” she took another object out of her pocket, “is a silencer. So maybe they won’t even hear me. They’re not watching – they let me see you as a favor, and they’re turning a blind eye. I don’t suppose they’ll allow me to go so far as to kill you without trying to stop me, but by then it might be too late. What do you say?”


“I say that you’re bluffing,” he smiled, but she noticed the faintest flicker of morbid curiosity passing across his pallid face.


“You see, if he doesn’t get better, then we all go down with him, so I have nothing to lose,” she said nonchalantly, taking aim at the plastic panel. “You know enough about the nexus to know that’s true.”


“And I know enough about you to know that you wouldn’t pull that trigger,” he said. “You can’t threaten me, Dana, and you can’t offer me anything, either, although it’s been very amusing toying with you. I’m already very well protected. Do you seriously think I’ll be convicted for what happened to Walter? I have friends, my dear, in very high places. We both know that. I’m not going to prison for this. I’m getting away with it – scot free.”


Scully felt an anger rise up deep inside her heart. It built up into a single ball of shining white energy, and she couldn’t contain it. There was a soundless explosion that made the world go black, and the next thing she knew, Noy was picking himself up off the floor, nursing a bruise to his chin. She wasn’t sure which of them was more surprised – her, or him. The plastic screen between them remained untouched, and undamaged. She had somehow managed to reach through it, and deliver a resounding punch to his jaw, without physically doing anything.


“I see that you’ve discovered some of the more unusual aspects of the nexus,” he murmured, rubbing his chin ruefully.


“You knew about that?” She sat down, feeling exhausted. She heard a faint clamoring sound in her mind, and then the nexus went black, as if it had been shut down altogether. She had no idea what that meant.


“You didn’t?” he smirked, seating himself back down again. “Ah, you, and Walter, and Mulder. The blind leading the blind, blundering around without knowing anything about what you’re truly capable of.”


“Why don’t you tell me?” She folded her arms. “Or next time I might hit you with more than just a psychic right hook.”


“What do I know?” He gave one of his little chuckles. “Not much. They only told me enough to help me with Walter’s particular case. You were born…when? 1964?” Scully nodded. “Well that part of the immunization program was 2nd stage so you certainly have the capability. You, and every man or woman in your generation. Of course most of them can’t access their special…gifts, because they don’t have the sheer energy required for it. You do. You have three people’s energy to draw on. Don’t ask me how it works because I don’t know. And I don’t know why either.” He held up his hand to interrupt her before she could even ask the question. “I just know what they told me. You, Agent Mulder, even me – if I were in a nexus, or had some other form of energy to draw upon, we all have dormant specialized skills. Congratulations – it looks like you’ve just found yours.”


Scully tried to process this information, her mind working overtime. She attempted to call Mulder through the nexus, but she assumed he must be asleep because it felt like she was talking from underneath a blanket – her voice was muffled, and there was no reply.


“Lubecker – does he know more?” she demanded.


Noy shrugged. “I have no idea.” He sat back, and gave her an assessing stare.


“What about Skinner?” Scully asked. “How can we help him? Can we even help him?”


“Normally I’d say no,” Noy smiled. “I did, after all, do a very thorough job. But…the nexus is the one variable I can’t calculate. It’ll either send him over the edge, or it’ll save him. Only you, Mulder, and Walter himself have the power to influence that outcome. Walter’s a strong man – my only advice to you is to be even stronger. Good luck, my dear,” he smirked, as if it were already a lost cause.


Scully gazed at him coolly, then picked up her gun, and got to her feet. “You’d better hope that your friends in the Consortium don’t manage to save your hide,” she told him, slamming the gun back in her holster. He raised an eyebrow. “Because the minute you’re a free man, you’re also a dead man,” she hissed, in a low, deadly voice.


“Dana Scully? Assassin? I don’t think so.” He shook his head, those wintry eyes never leaving her face.


“I’ve changed.” She leaned across the table, her own deep blue eyes spitting fire. “Before the nexus I was just a ghost, drifting aimlessly. Now I know who, and what, I am, and nobody touches either of my friends again. Ever.” Scully felt a protective surge inside that she had felt briefly before, when Melissa had died, and when Emily had been ill but it was far eclipsed by her current emotion. Skinner and Mulder were part of her now, and it was a bond that was stronger than any blood tie. She loved them, and would fight to the death for them, like a lioness protecting her cubs.


“Ah, not an assassin – an avenging angel. A very beautiful avenging angel. It’s an image that suits you, my dear.” Noy nodded, his expression serious. “I’ll take your words under advisement.” For the first time since the interview had begun, Scully felt that she might have rattled the other man’s cage. She was aware of those chilling, opaque eyes never leaving her back, as she turned and walked towards the door but her own resolve was even stronger. When she got to the door, she paused, and glanced back at him, resonating her determination in every atom of her body, and she knew from the expression on his face, that she had finally gotten to him.


Scully drove quickly to Mulder’s apartment in order to share her discoveries with him, but there was no reply to her knock on the door. She got out the set of keys he had given her, and opened the door, drawing her gun. Mulder was sitting in an armchair, one arm lolling by his side, his eyes closed. There wasn’t a mark on him but he was out cold. A quick look in the bedroom revealed that Skinner was in a similar condition, his face etched with lines of pain, his expression frozen into a mask of anxiety.




“Walter, wake up.” Skinner heard the voices from a long way away, but it took him several minutes to follow them back into consciousness, then he found himself gasping for air. The world coalesced into a pair of bright blue eyes, which he identified as belonging to Scully, and he came to with a start, shivering violently. She covered him with another blanket, and pressed a cup of strong, sweet coffee to his lips. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Mulder, shivering equally violently, wrapped up in at least 3 sweaters. Mulder dropped onto the bed as if his legs wouldn’t hold him up any more.


“What happened?” Mulder asked.


Skinner looked at Scully, and tried, and failed, to rub the sleep out of his eyes. He felt so tired he could barely move.


“Scully…did something,” he muttered. “She drained the link.”


“I’m sorry.” Scully looked abject in her remorse. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know it would have any effect. It just happened.”


“I repeat, what happened?” Mulder asked again. He sank back onto the pillow beside Skinner. His face was pale, and there were enormous dark rings under his eyes. Scully hesitated, and glanced at Skinner, and he sensed her anxiety, then she took a deep breath.


“I went to see Noy. I wanted information. He…made me angry and before I knew it, I’d zapped him with some kind of energy discharge. He went down like he’d been hit by Mike Tyson.”


“Way to go, Scully.” Mulder grinned. “Energy discharge? You mean it was a physical manifestation of your emotional state? Fascinating. Kind of like a poltergeist, although the psychic energy there is usually only released by disturbed adolescents. I think you’re a bit old to have your own personal poltergeist, Scully, and besides, I’d be really envious if you had one, and not me.”


“I don’t understand it either.” Scully sat down on the bed next to Skinner, and looked at him. “Do you?” she asked.


“No. Yes. No.” He shrugged.


“Ah, very decisive, Walter,” Mulder murmured. Skinner was aware of two sets of eyes looking at him expectantly. He stared into the distance. He knew he had started speaking, he just didn’t have any power over his own voice. He felt detached, numb, and the room dissolved around him, taking him back in time, to a different place. A memory, long suppressed, flashed into his mind.


“He was just a kid…we never spoke about him again. He was the youngest in our unit. One day, we were out in the jungle, and under attack. We were outnumbered – there must have been thirty of those guys – and we didn’t stand a chance. Corporal Lyle…Ritchie…he, I don’t know what he did, but the next thing I knew we were waking up in the jungle surrounded by the charred bodies of a whole unit of Vietcong, and Ritchie… couldn’t get his head around what he’d done.They knew of course…we were always monitored, and they pulled us back in and tested us to death. Literally.”


Skinner closed his eyes, remembering, then opened them again. “Ritchie’s response showed that it was possible to use the nexus to kill – that’s why they wanted me to kill one of my unit. They wanted to monitor the results, they wanted quantifiable evidence, so that they could repeat the process, duplicate it in whatever other goddamn nexuses they had set up. When I refused…they took Ritchie away to do some more tests on him – invasive procedures. We all felt it when he died. I should have just done it and saved them all the trouble, but I couldn’t choose. How could I choose? Which man lives, which man dies. They were all part of the nexus, part of me. How could I?” Skinner felt the coffee mug tumble out of his nerveless grasp. Scully caught it before it spilled, and set it on the nightstand.


“You couldn’t,” Mulder told him firmly. Skinner felt his face taken between two long, slender hands, and held fast. “You couldn’t,” Mulder repeated urgently, but Skinner wasn’t listening. He had failed his lost comrades, just as he had failed his father, his mother, his brother, Cressie, Nathan, Sharon, Mulder and Scully. He didn’t know why he hadn’t seen it before. An endless list of failure from a man who had always prided himself on…what was it Noy had pointed out – that he was a perfectionist? Oh yeah, he’d failed. He’d failed every single significant relationship in his entire life. He was a grade A fuck up.


Scully went home. Occasionally, at regular intervals, she returned but Skinner neither noticed nor cared. Days passed, maybe weeks, he couldn’t be sure. Mulder and Scully occasionally managed to coax some food down his throat, but it was only just enough to keep him alive. His feet healed – as much as they were going to at least, although they were badly scarred, and he couldn’t walk without relying heavily on a cane. He was never exactly going to be doing any boxing again. He sometimes spent an hour just getting dressed. Everything was too much effort. A whole day would pass as he sat watching the rain spiral down the windowpane. When he looked at himself in the mirror he saw a pale, gaunt stranger. He looked old, with dark rings under his eyes, and new lines on his forehead. His jaw was permanently clenched, his lips set in a hard, straight line. He paid no attention to the nexus, and the link faded into a gray, lifeless, barely pulsing shadow of what it had once been. Skinner knew it was still there, still haunting them all, but he found that by ignoring it, it almost went away.


Mulder more or less left him alone. They shared an apartment, but they rarely spoke. Skinner wasn’t sure, but he thought Mulder was waiting for him to start talking. If that was the case, he’d have a long wait. There was nothing Skinner wanted to say. He was vaguely aware that the apartment was a mess: Mulder could never be bothered to buy groceries, and he had some habits that were downright irritating, including leaving the remains of his pizza dinners lying around until they developed a layer of furry, green mould, but none of this got under Skinner’s skin, as it would have normally, so he just ignored it.


Life developed a routine. Mulder went to work, and came home, went to work, came home. Went to work…and didn’t come home. Skinner didn’t blame him. He knew he wasn’t exactly good company right now. He sat in the armchair, in the dark, watching out of the window, trying not to care. He resisted the urge to follow the link into Mulder’s mind, to demand to know where the hell he was. It was better for all of them if they ignored the nexus, and pretended it wasn’t there. That way, only stray thoughts and the strongest emotions made it through. Sometime later, he felt a streak of pain, and again, he fought down an impulse to find out what had happened. The pain had been mild – hardly life-threatening. Mulder had probably just stubbed his toe or something. It was five a.m. when Mulder rolled back home, dressed in a black sweater, and black pants.


“Oh, you’re still up,” Mulder turned the light on, and Skinner winced as it assaulted his eyes.


“Yeah. I wondered where you were.”


“Did you? I’m surprised you even noticed.”


“Hmm.” Skinner watched as Mulder rolled up his sleeve to reveal a long graze to his elbow. “Well? Where were you?” he demanded.


“Out, pursuing my hobbies. Just like the old days,” Mulder shrugged.


“Hobbies?” Skinner raised an eyebrow.


“I was breaking into a government building.” Mulder looked at him, a challenge in his eyes.


“And did you get caught too, just like the old days?” Skinner asked, wincing as Mulder slapped some iodine onto the graze.


“Oh yeah – and dragged in front of AD Kersh. I am now officially suspended for two weeks – without pay, and he’s set OPC on my back too.” Mulder made a face.


“You are so goddamn stupid!” Skinner erupted. The rage felt good. Damn good. It was the first time he’d actually feltanything for weeks.


Mulder tensed. “Yeah, I am. Why does that upset you? It’s my life, my goddamn career. Don’t you even care what information I was looking for?”


“Is it any different to what you usually look for? Evidence of ET? Proof of conspiracies?” Skinner couldn’t keep the sneer out of his voice. Mulder was so close he filled his vision, and he could smell the blood from his wound, and the sweat on his clothes. Somehow, for no reason he could understand, both enraged him. He felt his anger spiraling out of control, unreasonable, uncontainable. He wanted to get hold of Mulder’s shoulders, and shake some sense into him, to smash his fist into flesh, to seek comfort in violence, and allow the darkness full reign.


“What more proof do I need? I’ve got you. Living evidence of the conspiracies if nothing else. Or why else do you think they experimented on you?”


“To give them the edge in ‘Nam. This has nothing to do with little green men, Mulder,” Skinner growled.


“Yes it does.” Mulder pulled a file out from under his jacket, and laid it on the table. “I went back to Thurmont, Walter.”


“You did what?” Skinner felt a blind rage consume him. “You stupid bastard. After what happened last time? Supposing they’d used that weapon on you again?”


“Why would you care?” Mulder was standing close – too close.


“After all the goddamn trouble I went to last time to get you back? What do you think?” Skinner snarled, feeling the raw rage well up inside him.


“What trouble did you go to, Walter? You won’t tell us. You never even speak to us.” Mulder was so close Skinner could feel the warmth of his breath on his cheek. “Why not? We know about Jace, we know what you did to save our lives, and we know what it cost you. What’s more you damn well know that we know. What the hell is the problem here? Why won’t you let us in?”


“Drop it, Mulder,” Skinner growled, stepping back.


“Or what?” Mulder kept moving forward, and Skinner found himself backed up against the wall. “Do you think I don’t know what you want to do right now, Walter? You want to plant your fist in my face, and hurt me as much as you’re hurting. Well do it. Go on. I won’t stop you. Here…right here.” He pointed at his chin. “Go on, big guy. Lay one on me.”


“Don’t fucking tempt me,” Skinner flared.


“Do it!” Mulder’s eyes sparked flames of angry hazel light, and Skinner couldn’t stop himself. His fists flashed out, blazed streaks of pain into Mulder’s flesh. One to his chin, another to his ribs. Skinner pummelled, lost in some dark angry place, that didn’t know reason. He was so weak that the exertion wore him out, and his breath came in hard, fast gasps, but still he kept landing those blows, and still Mulder kept taking them. “Keep going…come on…hurt me…because it hurts you too, doesn’t it?” Mulder pointed out, accurately enough. The nexus had sprung into life, glowing an angry red, pulsing into violent flares of light. Every blow from Skinner’s fist hurt the big man as much as it hurt his agent. “Come on – that’s not hard enough – you can do more than that. Or are you too weak? Is that it? Too damn useless? Is it just another thing you can’t do right?”


Skinner felt the humming in his mind reach a crescendo. He stepped forward, and swung his arm back, wanting to silence Mulder forever, to cut out the fire of his words, imprinted as they were on his soul, but his wounded feet wouldn’t hold him, and the movement toppled him sideways to the floor. He lay on the rug, winded, then saw Mulder loom over him. The other man pinned his hands above his head, and he was too weak from lack of food to dislodge him.


“What’s the matter, Walter? Can’t you even struggle, damn it?” Mulder’s hand tightened around his wrists, and he turned his head away from the words, seeking the respite of oblivion. Mulder slapped his face – once, twice, making him angry again, keeping him angry, keeping him here, not allowing him to slip away, and it was too much. “How does it feel to be useless? Not to be able to do anything, out of control, Walter, a victim. How does it feel?”


Skinner didn’t cry – he wasn’t sure he even knew how to any more. He just keened, his whole body shaking from side to side, with a vicious trembling he couldn’t stop. Mulder released the hold on his wrists, and laid down next to him on the hard floor, got hold of him as if he were a child, and pulled him into an embrace. Skinner made a perfunctory attempt to push him away, but Mulder brushed his protest aside, held him even tighter, and Skinner gave in. He put out his arms, blindly, and wrapped them around the other man’s body, convulsed against him, needing the comfort of warm flesh. He felt every last vestige of his pride disappear. He had sunk to this; a useless, pathetic husk of humanity.


“It’s okay, it’s going to be okay,” Mulder soothed; meaningless, mindless words, to someone too badly wounded to understand anything other than platitudes. “It’s not a question of pride…it’s sharing. You can be honest with us. You’ve seen the worst of us,” Mulder told him.


“I can’t stand being this,” Skinner rasped, taking fistfuls of Mulder’s shirt, another wave of revulsion, and self-loathing sending him into spasm.


“What?” Mulder still wouldn’t let him rest. “What’s so wrong with being you, Walter?”


“I fucked everything up. From the beginning. It was all my fault.” Skinner kicked out, tried to reject Mulder’s embrace, but the other man was too strong for him in his weakened condition. He gasped for air, unable to see, his mind buzzing with images from the past.


“What do you mean?” Mulder’s hazel eyes were closer than he’d ever seen them before. Close enough to drown in. Skinner closed his own eyes, and clung onto sanity by his fingertips. “Tell me about the field, Walter. You’re standing in a field. There’s a dog,” Mulder’s voice was hypnotic, sending Skinner back in time, to a place he didn’t want to go. He didn’t ask how Mulder knew about it – somehow he wasn’t surprised by that fact.


“Don’t make me,” he whispered.


“I have to.” Mulder’s voice was cool, hard, in control. He was holding Skinner tight, not allowing him to escape from the questions, from the unwanted comfort, not granting him any peace.


“The field…” Skinner could smell the grass, heard a dog barking, and the sound of a child playing, and knew he was sending the image down the link, as vivid as any picture on a TV screen. “My father. He told me to stay inside, but I didn’t,” he began, faltering. “I was playing with my dog.” He saw the dog, leaping up, then running away, eagerly, and he followed it, laughing, calling out. He was so busy playing that he didn’t see the tractor until it was too late. Then several images coalesced into one. His father’s shout of surprise, the way he swerved to avoid his son, the wrenching of hard metal as it twisted and fell, the front tire slipping into a pothole, and then a ghostly silence, punctuated only by the sound of someone screaming. “Shit. I can see it, Mulder. I can see it.” Skinner shivered. “My father’s accident was my fault. I remember the way the tractor fell. There was this noise, and…my father just disappeared underneath it. I couldn’t see him. No, that’s not true. I was too scared to look. Like I was too scared to look at my OBE in ‘Nam. I’m such a fucking coward, Mulder. I’ve hidden that fact for years, hidden from it for years, but that’s the bottom line.”


“You were five years old,” Mulder’s voice sounded strange, choked.


“I didn’t even remember it, but it was always there, just out of reach. They never made me feel bad about it but…”


“But you kept paying for it anyway, huh? Oh shit, Walter, you and I have so much in common.”
Skinner started to shiver, almost convulsing with the fears that kept him paralyzed. “What’s behind the fear, Walter?” Mulder’s voice was insistent, breaking into the silence, and darkness. “I’ve been feeling the fear since you woke up in the hospital, but I don’t understand it. Tell me. How is it connected to your father’s accident?”


Skinner shook his head, turned his face away, but Mulder turned it back.


“I’m not going to let you hide. This might be hard but you have to face it. I’m going to make you. Tell me what you’re afraid of.”


Skinner couldn’t stop the image of his own crippled feet rising up in his mind. It crashed savagely through the link, making Mulder gasp as if he had been punched again, and then a wave of realization radiated between them as Mulder figured it out.


“Your father couldn’t handle his disability, but you’re not him, Walter.” Mulder’s fingers were so gentle as they caressed his face. They were at odds with the younger man’s hard muscled body that was holding Skinner tight, keeping him trapped, keeping him safe. “You think that your frustrations with your disability will cause you to treat Scully and me the way your father treated his family?” Mulder asked, holding Skinner’s face between his hands. Skinner nodded, blindly. “That won’t happen. You’re not him.”  Mulder seemed so sure, but Skinner wasn’t.


“You don’t understand,” he croaked. “It’s worse for you two. I could escape – and I did, when I upped and enlisted for ‘Nam. There’s no escape for you and Dana.”


“We don’t need an escape. We do need you,” Mulder said simply. His voice was warm now, and soothing. Skinner wondered just how damn stupid they must look, lying on the hard floor in a tangle of limbs. He opened his eyes, and winced when he saw the damage he’d done. Mulder’s jaw was bruised, and he had a cut under his eye. “I’ll live,” Mulder told him softly, as Skinner’s thoughts tumbled transparently through the nexus. “Thank god you gave up eating, or I don’t think I’d be saying that right now! I’ll live, Walter, and you know what? So will you, my friend. So will you.”




Mulder got up, hauled Skinner to his feet, and deposited him on the couch. Then he sat down beside him, still panting.


“You look like shit,” Skinner commented, sprawled untidily on the couch, too exhausted to move.


“Yeah, but you should see what the other guy looks like,” Mulder grinned.


“Bad, huh?” Skinner winced.


“Oh yeah.” Mulder shook his head. “I always knew you were a stubborn SOB, Walter, but I never thought it would take you this long to finally give in.”


“Give in to what?” Skinner frowned.


“Me!” Mulder laughed.


The light dawned visibly on Skinner’s face. “You were trying to get me angry on purpose?”


“Trying! Shit – yeah! I’ve been trying to get some kind of reaction out of you for weeks, Walter, doing all kinds of stuff I thought would piss you off. I thought something would make you snap, and start yelling – I really needed a glimmer of an opening to get my foot in, so to speak. In the beginning you were flaring up all over the place, but you wouldn’t talk. Then, just when it was clear you were ready to talk, you just closed down completely. I didn’t much like you angry, but I sure as hell hated you being a zombie.”


“Did you really go back to Thurmont? You didn’t just say that to get a reaction out of me?”


“No. I did go up to Thurmont, and before you hit me again, I had a very good reason. One of the things I found in those files, is that your friend Doctor Lubecker made an urgent visit to Thurmont while we were all in cloud cuckoo land. Coincidence? I don’t think so.” Mulder shook his head.


“You never do,” Skinner muttered wryly.


“Now that’s my Skinner,” Mulder beamed. “I haven’t figured out the connection yet – I was caught too soon – but I’m sure I’ll figure out the answers in time. It’s not important right now – you are. Hell, I kept putting off going to Thurmont becauseof you. I should have known that worrying about one of us would be more likely to get your emotions going again than any other stupid shit I could think of. It fits the profile.”


“You did a profile on me?” Skinner asked incredulously, his head lolling back wearily on the couch.


“Yeah.” Mulder dug a piece of paper out of his pocket, and handed it over. “Stubborn, pig-headed, close-mouthed, kind-hearted, control freak. Sound like anyone you recognize?”


“Hell, no.” Skinner gave the ghost of an ironic smile.


“Hold still.” Mulder got up. Skinner looked at him in surprise. “We’re going into Mulder shutdown mode. I don’t want to get up again unless I have to.” Mulder went to the cupboard and pulled out a bag of tortilla chips and some salsa, then searched around under a dresser for a bottle of whisky.


“Interesting choice of drinks cabinet,” Skinner remarked. The other man looked like shit, Mulder thought, but at least this was a break-through, of sorts.


“I don’t drink much,” Mulder shrugged.


“And you hid what you did have so I wouldn’t get my hands on it,” Skinner guessed, accurately enough.


“Yeah. Well, you were bad enough sober. I shudder to think what you’d have been like drunk off your ass,” Mulder replied. He sat back down on the sofa, and handed Skinner the bottle. “Now, I intend to find out,” he grinned. “I want to get you totally smashed, Walter.”


“This is some kind of guy thing, isn’t it?” Skinner almost smiled.


“Yeah. I thought that was what guys did when they hung out together. Not that I’d know.” Mulder gave a self-deprecating shrug. “With the Lone Gunmen I just make geek talk, and with Richard…well…” Mulder shrugged, going red. “We weren’t exactly regular guys hanging out,” he finished lamely, knowing he’d just sent a particularly lurid image through the nexus of exactly what he and the Senator used to spend their time doing. “Sorry,” he murmured. “You really have to tell me how to control this thought thing better. It’s driving me crazy.”


“You should be on the receiving end.” Skinner managed a wry smile. “I used to wonder about you and Matheson.”


“You did?” Mulder bit on his lip. “Why?”


“Well, Matheson is well-known in Washington circles for his, uh, predilection for young men, and he has a habit of helping out his ex-boyfriends in their careers. You were one of his proteges. There was gossip. You had to be aware of that.” Skinner was looking at him keenly.


“There’s always been gossip about me, one way or another. I never take much notice of it,” Mulder shrugged. “Richard was my first great love, but not my last. He dumped me. You know all this. Here, drink,” he ordered, steering the subject away from that difficult area. Skinner didn’t need telling twice. He put the bottle to his lips, and took a swig. “And talk.” Mulder took the bottle from him.


“About what?” Skinner put his head back, wincing as that movement pained him. Mulder could feel his total exhaustion, radiating through the nexus.


“Anything. Everything. Nam, your father, your wife. I don’t mind. All of it. Any of it.”


“It hurts.” Skinner shrugged.


“I know. Walter,” Mulder grabbed hold of Skinner’s neck and pulled him down so that he was resting on his chest. “Just talk. Don’t think.” Mulder felt the other man fight it for a moment, but it was a token resistance. Skinner’s body relaxed, and he remained with his back resting on Mulder’s chest, both of them staring at the ceiling. “I know what it’s like to have a…difficult relationship with a father. I know what it’s like to carry guilt around for something that happened to you as a child. Who would have thought that Spooky Mulder and the buttoned up Assistant Director would have so much in common, huh?” He nudged Skinner.


“I identified with your quest more than you knew,” Skinner admitted wryly. “That’s why I created the nexus, Mulder. It wasn’t to spy on you, or to betray you. I just…wanted to know that you and Scully were safe, to see what you were investigating. Didn’t you ever wonder why I signed off on your cases for so many years? I knew what you’d seen, Mulder. I saw it too, through your eyes. I believed. I always believed. Maybe since I was 18-years-old, since the OBE. I don’t know.” Skinner shrugged, and took another swig of whisky.


“Walter – you need to stop feeling guilty about the nexus. I know I reacted badly when I first found out, but now…well, it fascinates me – and there are worse people to share thoughts and emotions with.”


“Like Bill and Hillary Clinton?” Skinner suggested, idly.


“Well, I was thinking more of the torment that would be a nexus with AD Kersh, and Martha Stewart, but yeah, Bill and Hillary would be high on the list,” Mulder smirked. “The entire cast of Friends spring to mind too.”


“But presumably they’re as nothing compared to the entire cast of The Waltons,” Skinner pointed out.


“True.” Mulder nodded sagely. “The entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation on the other hand, well, now you’re talking.” He was rewarded by a snort of laughter from the other man. “Walter,” Mulder handed him back the whisky bottle. “You can’t expect to repair the damage Noy did in one go. It’ll take a while. Don’t get frustrated with yourself because of that. There’ll be good and bad days.”


“Yeah. I know.” Skinner drank again. “Are you drunk yet?” he asked.


“Nearly. How about you?”


“Yeah. Nearly. I don’t remember when I last ate. Scully probably knows. She seems to be taking an unnatural interest in that subject. The liquor’s gone straight to my head. Sharon used to hate it when I got drunk. Had to sleep on the couch. She was a teetotaller. Ever seen Scully drunk?”


“Nah,” Mulder felt warm, soothed by the alcohol, and the catharsis of Skinner’s confidences. “She could probably drink both of us under the table though,” he slurred.


“Yeah.” Skinner nodded exuberantly. “That woman’s something else. You in love with her?” He glanced up at Mulder.


“Yeah. You?” Mulder glanced down at him, his arm tightening protectively across Skinner’s chest..


“Yeah.” Skinner nodded again.


“She’d kill me if she knew I’d got you drunk in your condition,” Mulder observed.


“What a way to die though,” Skinner pointed out.


“Yeah.” Both men smiled happily at the ceiling for a while, musing on that fantasy.


A day passed in drunken talk, interspersed with naps. Mulder felt sure he should be trying to get some food down Skinner’s throat, but the company, and shared reminiscences were also what Skinner needed right now, and he didn’t want to interrupt that. He wasn’t sure how much time passed, but at some point Skinner hauled himself off to his bedroom, and a day or so later Mulder was sure he heard the other man in the bathroom, then pottering around the kitchen. He was therefore, all the more surprised when he finally got up, and glanced around the apartment, to find that it was empty. Skinner’s bed had been made, and the bedroom was tidy and ordered, whereas before it had been a mess, but the other man had definitely gone. There was no note, nothing. Mulder could have cursed himself for his stupidity. Skinner was vulnerable right now – anything could have happened to him. He sent his mind along the link – Skinner was definitely still alive, but wherever he was, he wasn’t answering. In desperation, Mulder called Scully, then got washed and dressed while he waited for her to arrive.


“He wasn’t abducted again?” Scully demanded when she showed up, glancing around the apartment as if she expected to find Skinner hiding somewhere.


“No. I know I was drunk, but I wasn’t that drunk. And besides, what kind of kidnappers tidy up someone’s bedroom when they abduct them?” Mulder pointed out.


Scully frowned. “What frame of mind was he in? And what the hell happened to your face?” she asked, suddenly coming to a halt, and looking at him properly for the first time.


“We had a fight. And he was okay. I think.” Mulder shrugged.


“A fight? That was what all that stuff was about a couple of days ago? I figured something big was going on from all the activity filtering through the nexus, but I didn’t want to interfere.” She looked suddenly vulnerable, and Mulder could have cursed himself for not calling her before. It must have been hell for her to glimpse half-seen thoughts and emotions through the nexus, and not understand what was going on.


“I’m sorry.” He spread his arms in a gesture of contrition. “I was just concentrating on him. There was some big stuff going on inside his head, Scully.”


“And fighting helped clear that up did it?” she remarked, waspishly. “No, don’t tell me. It’s clearly a guy thing. I don’t want to know. You’re sure he didn’t leave a note?”


“Yeah. I’m sure.” Mulder nodded. “I’ve tried contacting him, the other way… you know, but…”


“Nothing. I know. I tried too.” Scully’s blue eyes radiated her concern. “How long has he been gone? I mean, he didn’t just go out to get some groceries, did he?”


“No. It’s been several hours. Scully, he doesn’t walk too well, and he’s as weak as a kitten. I’m really worried.”


“Me too, Mulder.” Scully thought about it for a moment. “Do you think he went to Crystal City? Or to the Hoover Building? Maybe he wants to try and get his old life back.”


“No.” An idea suddenly occurred to Mulder, and he grabbed his keys from the coffee table with one hand, and Scully’s arm with the other. “He’s gone back further than that, Scully.”


Lone Oak, Iowa.


May 2nd, 1999.


“Mulder, he isn’t here.” Scully glanced around the empty farmhouse. Mulder’s shoulders slumped. He had been so certain. Damn, he’d look a fool if Skinner had just gone out shopping after all – but if he had, why was he blanking them through the nexus? A thought suddenly occurred to him.


“Not here, Scully. Come on.” He set off over the hill, towards the lake.


“Déjà vu. Who says it doesn’t exist?” Scully mumbled under her breath.


It was a lot warmer this time than when they’d last been there. There was spring blossom on the branches, and birds were singing. It was a beautiful place, with an air of peace, and tranquillity but Mulder barely noticed that. He was looking for something man-made.


“There.” Mulder pointed at the rental car parked outside Cressida Mulvey’s cabin. Scully pushed past him, and started to run. Mulder watched her go, then followed on behind, his long legs eating up the distance in no time.


Scully was nearing the cabin when there was a sudden sound inside both their minds, almost like the chiming of a bell. The door opened, and Skinner limped out onto the porch. He glanced at them, and they stood, frozen, unsure what their reception would be. Then he smiled. Mulder felt a lump rise in his throat. He watched, from under a tree, as Scully gave an inarticulate cry, and threw herself up the steps to the cabin, and into Skinner’s waiting arms. The nexus suddenly opened up, and Mulder drowned in its warm, soothing balm. It was a shock to be completely enveloped in something so benign, so comfortable, like slipping on an old, much-loved pair of slippers.


“I’m sorry. I won’t ignore it again, unless that’s what you want.” Skinner’s voice.


Mulder smiled: they made a good couple. Skinner was gaunt, pale, and far too thin, but he was alive again. There was some crucial Skinner essence in the nexus that had been missing for so long. A kind of humming vibrancy, and a quiet, understated strength. He was wearing an open-necked checked shirt, and faded denim jeans that were just hanging off him, and Scully looked so right in his arms, her red hair shining in the Spring sunshine, her eyes as blue as the sky overhead. Mulder stood there, frozen to the spot. He didn’t belong here. He didn’t belong with them.


Skinner murmured something to Scully, then looked up, and his eyes unerringly found Mulder, even half-camouflaged as he was by the tree. Mulder just shrugged, and nodded, not wanting to intrude, wanting to slip quietly away. Skinner held out a hand, and Mulder found himself walking towards them, then running, and before long he had joined his friends on the porch. Scully’s thoughts were radiating through the nexus, glorying in it. Mulder didn’t think he’d ever seen her so much in her element before. He allowed himself to be pulled into a group bear hug, then backed off, embarrassed.


“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you both. I just needed some time alone, to think things through without interruption,” Skinner said, as their reproachful thoughts reverberated through the link. “There’s something…before we go any further, there’s something I have to tell you.” Mulder could sense Skinner’s anxiety but he had no idea what was coming next. “I kept it from you…because…I don’t have any answers, or solutions. Basically, the nanocytes – I still carry them in my body. Krycek was controlling them, on the orders of our smoking friend. He was using them to bring me into line, and to make me deliver the two of you, gift wrapped, so to speak.”


“But you turned him down. That was when he decided to send you along to Noy?” Mulder pieced together that particular puzzle with a resigned sigh.


“Something like that.” Skinner glanced down at his hands. “I’m sorry. I know I’ve made you both vulnerable, I also know that if Krycek reactivates the nanocytes, or even uses them to kill me, then you two will suffer as a result. I remember what it feels like to lose people you’re in a nexus with. You don’t ever recover. Not really.” Skinner shrugged. “I wanted to tell you that. You see, it’s up to you. I can’t close the nexus, but I can withdraw as much as possible, keep it lifeless, the way I’ve done for the past couple of months, and we can try and return to our old lives – or a semblance of them at least. It’s up to you both. I’ll let you decide. Take as long as you want.” Skinner turned to walk back into the cabin, but Scully stopped him by putting her hand on his arm. She glanced at her partner.


“I can’t talk for Mulder, but I know what I want,” she told him firmly.


Mulder’s reaction was more mixed. He knew he did want the nexus. It was beguiling, seducing, and he longed to just give up, and bask in its warmth, but he didn’t find such trust easy, even with these two people, whom he loved more than anyone else. He looked from Scully’s pale face, to Skinner’s haggard one, and knew he wanted to make things right, somehow. Anyhow.


“I’d prefer that we tried, rather than just let those bastards win,” he murmured. “We’ll deal with Krycek, and his boss, when the time comes. In the meantime…the nexus intrigues me. I’d like to find out more.”


Skinner gave a strained smile, his eyes still anxious, but Scully beamed, her thanks radiating through the link. They stood there for a moment, awkward, embarrassed by what they had all just agreed on, knowing that it required a kind of sharing and commitment that was beyond anything they’d ever experienced before.


Scully broke the mood. She glanced through the open door of the cabin, then gave a startled gasp.


“Last time we were here, it looked so lived in. Now…” Mulder looked over her shoulder at the dark interior, covered in cobwebs.


“It’s been empty for years,” Skinner told them both.


“I’m surprised. It’s a pretty hideaway. Who owns it?” Mulder asked.


“I do.” Skinner said, then he laughed out loud at their surprise. “Cressie left it to me in her will. It was all she had. The cabin’s not worth much, and there isn’t much land, but Mulder’s right – it makes a nice hideaway, which is why I’m here. I’ve…decided to stay here for a while,” he confided.


Scully’s head snapped up. “Alone?” she asked, her expression anxious.


“Well…not by choice, but you both have jobs to go to, and, as Mulder so rightly pointed out, I have a lot of healing to do. I’m not ready to go back to work yet. I’ll do just fine staying here, doing the place up.”


“But not alone,” Scully insisted. “I have some vacation time due. Mulder?” She looked at him, and he nodded. He probably had at least two months vacation time banked up. He hated vacations, but maybe this one would do him good. They all needed time to get to know each other, within the context of the nexus, and where better than here, away from the stresses and strains of their lives back in DC. “Could we stay here with you? Would that be all right?” Scully asked Skinner.


“I’d like that. Very much.” Skinner gave a shy smile, then offered her his hand. “Come on. Let me show you around.”




It was pretty basic, Scully thought to herself, and she’d never considered herself to be much of a homemaker but she threw herself into renovating the cabin in a way that took them all by surprise. The cabin was small – just one big bedroom, a large living area, a bathroom and a kitchen, and it wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it was where Skinner wanted to be, so they all endured the primitive living conditions while they worked on making it habitable. She worried at first, that she’d have to return to work after a couple of weeks, when her vacation time expired, but Mulder came up with an ingenious solution to that particular problem. He disappeared off to DC one morning, and returned with a trunk full of clothes for all of them, and a big grin plastered over his face.


“We can take as much time off as we want,” he informed them, as they sat out on the porch, eating a meal of barbecued sausages cooked over an open fire, as the kitchen was a complete shell while they remodeled it.


“How’s that?” Skinner took a swig of beer, and put his feet up on the railing. He mostly wandered around in socks in the cabin, as it hurt his feet to wear shoes, although he’d happily don his sneakers if they had to go into town, or out into the yard to saw up some lumber. Both Mulder and Scully knew how much it hurt him to put his swollen feet into shoes though. He didn’t walk easily, or without pain, but he could at least get around with the aid of his cane. “Don’t tell us, you just went up to Kersh, said you wanted paid vacation leave in order to decorate a cabin in the woods, and he was so relieved to get rid of you he agreed?”


“Almost.” Mulder grinned. “No, as a matter of fact I managed to convince him that you were in danger of being abducted again. I said you’d need around the clock guarding until you were fully recovered and able to come back to work, and I volunteered Scully and me for the task. The bit about wanting to get rid of me is right though. I think he thought it was his lucky day. He couldn’t sign the 302 fast enough!”


Scully put her arm around Mulder’s shoulder, and kissed his cheek. “Thanks, partner,” she said, feeling utterly relieved. It was such a weight off her shoulders. She needed to be here right now, with these two men.


“What about the OPC review?” Skinner asked softly. Mulder’s eyes met his.


“Shelved, apparently, on the orders of a higher authority. Any idea who that might be?”


“None at all.” Skinner gave the faintest smile, and none of them were in any doubt that he’d made some strategic phone calls.


Scully felt a haze of peace as she caught the glance that passed between the two men. She cherished their growing affection for each other. The nexus grew stronger each day, and with it, Skinner’s own strength seemed to reassert itself. The big man had filled out again, and the work around the house helped return him to something approaching his former level of fitness. It would still be a while before he was totally recovered, but it was a good start.


Mulder had been right though – sometimes there were good days, in fact most days were good days, but there were the occasional bad days too. On one occasion, a song came onto the radio, while they were busy painting the living room, and he put his brush down abruptly, and limped out of the cabin, still in his socks. He disappeared into the woods for a couple of hours, then returned, tired, cold, hungry, and limping badly, but smiling again. Nobody said anything. Scully just sat him down, and brought over a bowl of warm water, adding some tea tree oil to it. She bathed his feet, while Mulder brought him a coffee. His feet needed bandaging, but Scully did that without scolding him, and he smiled at her gratefully. Although he never did tell them what had set off that particular incident, Scully received a hazy image of a dark-haired woman she knew instantly to be his mother, and saw her dancing around a farmhouse kitchen to the song they’d heard on the radio. Bittersweet, a voice echoed in her mind. She knew how even the most simple memories could take on profound depths of emotion when you were feeling vulnerable.


On another occasion he spent the entire day just sitting, his arms wrapped tight around his chest, watching them work. He didn’t say anything, just stared into space, fighting invisible demons. Scully dropped a kiss onto his head every time she passed him, and Mulder teased him incessantly about not doing his fair share about the place, until Skinner finally gave a growling response which broke the mood. Both agents were aware they had to tread carefully, but their efforts were paying off, and Skinner’s good days far outweighed the bad.


It was fun too. Scully couldn’t remember the last time she’d actually had some honest to goodness fun. She enjoyed not having to dress in power suits, and go out there and do battle in the bastion of male dominated working practices that was the FBI. Her biggest decision in the morning was which pair of paint-stained jeans she should wear. She tied up her hair into a ponytail as it got longer, eschewed make-up, and woke up each day with two men who she felt closer to than anyone she’d ever met before. They were part of her, their minds as familiar as their faces.


Mulder’s mind was all over the place; bright, spiraling, colorful – kaleidoscopic in its shifting intensity. His emotions were equally complex, a dizzying cascade of feelings, like a waterfall. He kept his companions constantly amused as they worked, singing along to the radio, yanking Scully’s pony-tail, and dancing around, his long limbs contorting comically. Occasionally, when Skinner grew too introspective, Mulder would suddenly hurl himself on the other man, and tickle him viciously until he gave in and laughed helplessly. Mulder loped around in jeans and a sweatshirt, unable to concentrate on any one task for longer than half an hour, but during that time he gave it his total all, focused on it intently, his tongue moistening his lips as he worked, a lock of dark hair falling into his eyes. Scully couldn’t resist pinching his butt and trying to distract him – there was something so earnest about him, and it was such a challenge to break his concentration. He made her shriek with laughter when he finally cracked, and pursued her around the cabin flicking paint at her.


Skinner’s mind was more restful, shot through with streaks of silver, that revealed hidden depths. Just when you thought you knew him, another side emerged. His mind was a veritable Russian doll, each layer revealing another within, then another, and another, each like the one before, and yet each uniquely individual, and subtly different. He wore a uniform of gray sweatpants and tee shirts, or faded jeans and shirts, each tucked in neatly, revealing his returning physique. He was the mastermind behind the refurbishment of the cabin, and he had a good technical grasp of how to go about the various building works. Scully loved watching him work. His big hands were so strong, and capable, and his blunt fingers smoothed down pieces of planed wood, almost caressing them, in a way that turned her on so much he’d catch a stray thought, and look up, startled, then wink at her.


“Having another Rambo moment, Cinderella?” he teased, and she didn’t even blush these days. She enjoyed sitting with her feet in his lap, after dinner, while he stroked each one, gently. It had been a challenge to get her to sit still, as her feet were so ticklish, but Skinner had a soothing aura, and before long, she found herself relaxing, and succumbing to the loving massage with a sigh of contentment. She adored sitting out on the cabin steps, watching the sun go down over the lake, leaning her head on Mulder’s shoulder, and having her feet massaged. They didn’t speak, just sat, growing more and more comfortable with each other with each passing day.


None of them had talked about taking their relationship any further, but she knew that was what she wanted. For now though, it wasn’t right. They needed more time. This was a time for gentle healing, getting to know each other, and coming to terms with the increased intimacy of the link.


The men allowed her the privacy of the bedroom where she slept on the floor, as there was no bed, while they hunkered down in the living room. Later, when it got warmer, Skinner suggested that they all sleep out under the stars and Scully, still a tomboy at heart, loved the idea. It was on that first night, lying around the campfire, that they experienced another shared dreaming.


Scully was sitting beside a brook. She recognized the forest – it was where she had taken her first lovers, the twins. She was naked. She heard a noise behind her, and looked up, to see Skinner. Not Jace. Skinner. He was smiling at her.


“What are you doing?” he asked.


“Thinking.” She held out her hand, and he came over, and took it.


“About what?” He was still smiling.


“You.” She looked across the brook, into Mulder’s hazel eyes. The other man was sitting on the opposite bank. “And you too,” she told him. Then she flicked some water into Skinner’s face, and, laughing, jumped into the brook. He followed, grabbed her around the waist, and flicked some water into her face. She giggled, then was silent, as he moved close, and touched her lips with his own. She felt Mulder’s hands on her hips, behind her, stroking her. He scooped up handfuls of the cool water, and poured the liquid onto her hair. She put her head back, and noticed the sunlight sparkling through the trees, and she was so happy, standing there, with her two lovers, that she felt as if her heart would burst.


Scully woke up with a start. Skinner was lying on his side, facing away from her, and Mulder was a huddled mass under his blanket. Both men still slept, but she knew that they had all shared the dream. The embers of the fire were still glowing orange. Scully sat and watched them for a while, sending her mind into the nexus, and stealing a peak at the men’s dreams. Mulder was chasing through the forest, calling for her, asking where she was. She soothed him softly, and laughed when his dream veered off at a tangent, with the arrival of two bright lights in the sky overhead. Even dreaming, Mulder showed his normal pavlovian response to such manifestations, and he crashed off through the forest towards the lights to investigate. Skinner’s forest had turned into a dark, inhospitable jungle. A scream sliced through the air, and Scully jumped. A sudden burst of gunfire surprised her, and she saw Skinner twitch, his body shaking. She got up, and went to lie down beside him.


“It’s okay.” She pulled him close, and he jerked out of the nightmare, opened his eyes, and gazed at her blearily.”Go back to sleep,” she whispered. He nodded, and closed his eyes again. Scully nestled close to his broad chest. She liked being next to him, lying in the warm circle of his arms. He wasn’t an easy man to comfort, but in moments like this he could be taken unawares, and Scully was glad of that. She soon fell asleep, but she didn’t miss Mulder’s look of hurt surprise when he awoke the next day to find that she had slept the night in Skinner’s arms.


None of them mentioned the shared dreaming. Scully respected the fact that although she was ready to take the blossoming friendship between them all one step further, it might be harder for the men. She also knew that despite her experience with the twins, her relationship with them had been fundamentally different. Tom and Todd had a unique bond, and shared everything, but Skinner and Mulder had to reach their own agreement on how this relationship would develop. She knew one thing though – if, when they took their friendship to the bedroom, they would go together, all three at once, or not all. It simply wasn’t an option that anybody would be left out. She loved them both to much to contemplate that, and she couldn’t truly have chosen between them. Mulder was her soul-mate. They’d worked together for years, and she looked out for him, worried about him, saved his life on countless occasions, and had her own life saved by him. He wasn’t anybody she would have chosen for herself, but he was hers none-the-less. Skinner was different. He was her resting place, her shelter. Strong, courageous and true, he was permanence and stability to counter Mulder’s wild brilliance. They complemented and balanced each other.


The cabin started to take shape. It didn’t have any furniture, but it was looking good, with fresh coats of paint, and the structural work that Skinner had designed, and she and Mulder had helped him achieve. They had been working hard for several weeks and she thought they had almost finished, when Skinner returned home with an enormous truck-load of lumber. Scully’s heart sank.


“What the hell are we going to start making now?” she grumbled.


“You’ll see,” Skinner replied with an infuriating smile.


“You’re getting like Mulder,” she observed.


“This is a bad thing?” Mulder inquired, getting up.


“Mulder don’t come over – I need that hammer.” Scully held out her hand, meaning to point, but instead the hammer whirled through the air and landed with a clatter at her feet. Skinner and Mulder both keeled over simultaneously as if they had been running a marathon.


“You know,” Skinner began, panting slightly, and struggling to sit up, “you are really going to have to tell us when you want to borrow all this energy. It’s exhausting.”


“But I feel…fantastic,” Scully replied, rushing over to make sure that both men were okay.


“You would – you’ve just borrowed half our energy supply for the day,” Mulder pointed out.


“I’m sorry.” Scully felt a wave of guilt. They both looked so pale. She ran and made them some hot, sweet coffee, and brought out some chocolate and cookies.


“I think,” Skinner looked at her over the top of his steaming mug, as he lay in the entrance to the cabin, long legs akimbo, too tired to move, “that we have to work on refining these skills of yours.”


“I’d love that.” Scully was serious. “You mentioned…” she hesitated. “Ritchie – did he have any control over this power?”


“Yeah.” Skinner nodded. He didn’t seem upset that she’d raised this subject. “We worked on it for a while. He was able to use it at will, without disrupting the nexus too much, after some practice. Basically, if you control it, then you can only take as much as you need, and it shouldn’t take you by surprise, like it did just then. You probably took twenty times as much energy as you actually needed, just to have the end result of moving that hammer from a, to b,…” Skinner broke off abruptly. “Mulder – what are you doing?” he asked. Mulder’s head snapped up, guiltily.


“I was just concentrating on the hammer,” he muttered lamely.


“Why?” Skinner frowned.


Mulder flushed. “I wanted to see if I can move it too,” he admitted. “Okay, at the risk of sounding like a whining kid, how come Scully can do that and I can’t? I don’t have any special skills!” he wailed. Skinner and Scully stared at him blankly. “Look, you can create the damn nexus, and as far as I can see, you’re in charge of it. You can shut it down at will, or open it up, and when you’re asleep it’s not as strong as when you’re awake,” Mulder said to Skinner. “Now Scully is acting like a goddamn poltergeist, throwing stuff all over the place, and all I seem to be able to do is get zapped for energy every now and again, like some kind of life-force donor or something!” Mulder finished, flushing furiously.


“Noy said that everyone in our generation had special capabilities,” Scully recalled. “So it’s probable that you can do it too. You just need to concentrate – like this,” she glared at the hammer, and it spun into the air, and smashed against the far wall. Mulder ducked, and put his hands over his head.


“Thank you, Scully, but please don’t treat us to any more demonstrations. It would be really embarrassing after the kind of life I’ve led to be put in my grave by a floating hammer,” Mulder groused.


Scully put her hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she said again, turning back to Skinner, who had gone another degree paler, and was now cramming a whole bar of chocolate into his mouth to recoup the lost energy. “You’re right.” She sat down with a sigh. “I really need to get this under control.”


“The sooner the better.” Skinner patted her knee sympathetically, then glanced back at Mulder. “Stop that – it’s giving me a headache,” he growled. Mulder started guiltily, and tried to pretend that he hadn’t been staring at the hammer trying to will it to move. Scully couldn’t help herself. She collapsed into a fit of giggles, and when she looked up both men were staring at her, which just made her worse.


“Women,” Skinner commented to Mulder.


Mulder sighed theatrically, and shook his head mournfully. “Plumb crazy,” he drawled.


Scully’s lessons started the next day. She and Skinner spent an hour doing some mental exercises, with Mulder on stand-by with a jug of hot coffee on the stove, and a plate of cookies in easy reach. Scully had likened the lack of energy following one of her displays of pyrotechnics, to the body going into shock, and sweet food seemed to help.


“Could be a great new way to diet,” Mulder commented.


“Yes, but first you have the calories leached from you, then you replenish,” Scully pointed out as he helped himself to his fourth cookie.


Mulder shrugged. “Whatever.” He sat on the steps of the cabin, and watched as Scully carefully threw a baseball to Skinner, without touching it. His sense of being left out permeated the link, and Scully felt sorry for him. He had spent his entire life chasing after phenomena just such as this, so it seemed almost cruel that he had to watch while she and Skinner exercised their psychic muscles. The baseball swung violently out of control, and landed in Skinner’s midriff with a resounding “oomph.” Skinner doubled over.


“I’m sorry. God, I always seem to be saying that.” Scully hurried to see if he was okay, but he waved her away.


“Maybe we need to start from the beginning,” he said, when he’d got his breath back. “Come here.” She walked obediently into his outstretched arms, and stood with her back to his chest. “Okay, empty your mind.” She felt his fingers on her head, then his mind, closer than she’d ever felt it before. The nexus glowed with energy, and she wasn’t sure where she ended, and it began. She merged into him, and they were one, with Mulder hovering nearby, still a separate entity. “Now, feel that, use that power, send your thought out a little way…no, don’t open your eyes, you can feel the ball, just play with it.” Scully bounced the ball up and down with her mind’s eye, made it do an aerial display of amazing agility, then panicked, and sent it flying into the lake.


“Very good,” Mulder remarked, clapping ironically, clearly not wanting her to see that he’d been impressed. Scully felt herself separate out from Skinner, and she opened her eyes, dreamily.


“That was…fantastic,” she said, gazing up at him. “Thank you.”


“You’re welcome.” He kissed her forehead.


When she looked around again, Mulder had disappeared back into the cabin.


Scully glanced at the lumber still piled up in the yard, covered by a tarpaulin as they passed it on their way back to the cabin.


“You never did say what that was for,” she commented to Skinner. He stopped, took her hand, and looked down into her eyes with an expression that took her breath away.


“I’m going to make a bed,” he told her. “A very big bed.”


“Big enough for three?” she asked, her voice almost a whisper.


Skinner smiled, and brushed away a tendril of hair that had sneaked out from her ponytail. “Of course,” he replied, then he kissed her again.




The bed soon took shape. Skinner carved a huge wooden headboard, and placed it into position, then stood back to examine his handiwork. Scully stopped varnishing, and stood beside him.


“Looks good,” she commented. We just need to let this coat dry, then we can put the mattress on.


“Yeah. What happened to Mulder?” Skinner glanced around the room, wiping his hands on a rag.


“I don’t know. He said he had to go and do something,” Scully replied.


At that moment they heard hoof-beats outside, and both went to take a look. Mulder walked into the yard, leading two horses.


“Mulder?” Skinner glanced at the horses, perplexed. Mulder’s boyish face creased up into a grin.


“Well, you guys have been working so hard that I thought you could do with an excursion. You know what they say about all work and no play,” Mulder laughed. “Come and say hello to Mork and Mindy.”


“Those aren’t really their names, are they?” Scully patted the long nose of a pretty bay mare.


“Nah, I wasn’t listening when the lady told me what their names were, but these fit them. I know Walter can’t get about much, and I know he misses the open air, and being able to walk around the lake, and take in the scenery, so I thought horses might be the answer. You’ve got them until tomorrow and then someone’s coming by to take them home. I was only allowed to borrow them ‘cos everyone in this damn town knows the local hero here.” Mulder handed the reins to Skinner. “There’s a picnic in one of the saddlebags. I want you guys to have a great time,” Mulder said. His emotions shifted, a strange, quicksilver flash that Skinner couldn’t quite catch. He was touched by Mulder’s thoughtfulness.


“Us? What about you?” Scully asked. “Aren’t you coming with us?”


“Do I look as if I know how to ride?” Mulder feigned astonishment. “No, this is for you two. I’ve been wanting some peace and quiet anyhow.”


“Are you feeling okay?” Skinner glanced at him keenly. Mulder shrugged, and again, Skinner felt that quicksilver shift of emotion – Mulder was trying to hide something, and he was thinking very hard about…a brick wall. Skinner frowned.


“Fine!” Mulder said, too brightly, the brick wall staying firmly in place. “Look,” he confided, “this nexus is great, but sometimes I feel the need for my own space. Okay? Nothing personal.” He handed Skinner the reins of the white stallion. “Go on. Go!” Mulder grinned. “Have a great time.” He practically manhandled the pair of them onto the horses, then waved them off.


It was beautiful, Skinner thought, as he rode the horse alongside Scully. She wasn’t a very adept rider, but he’d grown up on a farm, and had been scrambling on and off horses his entire childhood. It had been awhile, but it wasn’t a skill you ever forgot. He took them around the lake, which was really nothing more than a large pond, at a slow pace, leading Scully’s mare when the terrain got more difficult, then handing the reins back to her when the path opened out again. Scully’s red hair glowed in the summer sun. She looked so natural, in her torn jeans, with her checked shirt tied across her bare midriff in a casual knot. Her hair was half up, half down, and she had a smattering of freckles across her nose. She looked relaxed, happy, and her blue eyes shone as deeply as the glittering lake. It was warm, and Skinner realized that he was happy too, being out here, in a place he had always loved, with a woman he adored. It was so kind of Mulder to have thought of it. His wounded feet meant that walking any kind of distance was painful, and he had too much pride to allow them to take him out in a wheelchair. The horses had been typical Mulder inspiration. It had been so long since he had an opportunity to explore his old boyhood haunts.


They rode for a couple of hours, then stopped, and examined the contents of the saddlebag. They ate the meal Mulder had packed for them sitting under a tree, gazing out over the shimmering lake. It was almost perfect, but not quite.


“Are you worried about Mulder too?” Scully asked.


“Yeah. He…was trying to hide something,” Skinner told her. “He’s not very good at that – I can only hear your thoughts and emotions in unguarded moments, usually you’re pretty good at not flooding the nexus with them, but he finds that hard. He was thinking about…a brick wall?” he raised an eyebrow at Scully, then clapped a hand against his forehead. “The Village of the Damned,” he said, suddenly, getting to his feet.


“What?” She jumped up and followed him.


“In the film, there are these telepathic children, and the main character fools them by thinking of a brick wall, so that they won’t guess that he’s trying to destroy them. Shit, Mulder’s planning on running out on us.”


“Running out? Why?”


Skinner helped Scully onto her horse, then grabbed the reins of his own mount, and swung himself into the saddle. “Because he thinks he’s doing something noble. He thinks that we don’t need him. He’s a damn fool.” Skinner set his horse off at a gallop, and Scully followed on behind as best she could.


“Mulder!” he yelled down the link. “Stay where you are, or I’ll damn well kill you!” There was a hesitant exclamatory response, and then he felt Mulder nervously and clumsily build the brick wall back into place. Skinner urged the horse on even faster.


He galloped into the yard, and found Mulder hastily packing his case into the car. The other man stood up, blinking nervously.


“Going somewhere?” Skinner asked dangerously. “Ditching us, maybe?” He got off the horse, and slung the reins over the fence, then limped slowly over, scared of falling without the benefit of his cane.


“Maybe,” Mulder shrugged.


“No. You don’t do this, Mulder,” Skinner told him.


“Why not? We’ve been here for a couple of months, Walter. The cabin’s done. The whole nexus thing has been interesting, but I have to get back to work. I miss it.” Skinner knew that was the truth. “Look, I’m not used to vacations. This one probably did me good, but now I want to go home,” Mulder said firmly.


“Without saying goodbye?” Skinner asked.


“You’re a fine one to complain about that,” Mulder pointed out.


“All right, but not yet. Listen to what I have to say, and then decide,” Skinner told him. “Please – don’t go just yet.” He turned his head, as Scully clattered into the yard.


“Okay. Not in front of Scully though. I couldn’t bear that. I’ll be waiting for you down by the lake,” Mulder told him, striding off. Skinner helped Scully off her horse, and began to tell her briefly what had transpired, but she already knew.


“Couldn’t help eavesdropping. Sorry,” she gave an apologetic smile.


“Okay. Look, I need some time alone with him.”


“That’s fine. I’ll take a bath.” Scully turned and went towards the cabin, then stopped. “Walter.” He paused from unsaddling the horse, and looked at her, raising a questioning eyebrow.


“Bring him back. It’s time.”


“Yes. I know.” He smiled at her.


Skinner unsaddled the horses, then set them free in the field behind the cabin. It had a makeshift fence, and it would hold them well enough. Then he grabbed his cane, and limped down to the lake. Mulder was sitting on a log, gazing at the water. Skinner paused. Mulder looked so lost, and lonely, his dark hair blowing in the breeze, his slender shoulders hunched uncomfortably.


“Fox.” He sat down beside him. Mulder carried on looking out over the water.


“Ah, I’m ‘Fox’ now, am I?” he asked.


“If you want. You’ve been calling me ‘Walter’ for weeks.”


“Well, you don’t dislike your name.”


“Who says? I hate it actually. It’s like Horace, or Reginald or something. Old fashioned. It’s a family name. I never liked it.” He ran a hand over his bald scalp, feeling a faint breeze on the top of his head.


Mulder glanced at him. “Okay, let’s cut the crap, Skinner. I know she loves you because she told me, and anyway it’s damn obvious. You told me you love her. That’s fine. One of us was always going to luck out, and the other one slink away with his tail between his legs. That’ll be me. Foxes are good at that.”


Skinner laughed out loud. He couldn’t help it. Mulder glared at him.


“I’m sorry.” Skinner shook his head. “We didn’t mean to make you feel left out. I knew there was something wrong, but I suppose I found it hard to address it. I’m, uh, not used to spilling my guts, as I think you know. Emotional discussions with other men, hell, with anyone, have never exactly featured large in my life. The bottom line is…we don’t want you to go.” He put his hand on Mulder’s arm, but the other man shook it off.


“Just because we’re in this damn nexus together doesn’t mean…”


“We can work on that,” Skinner interrupted him.


“Work? How?” Mulder looked up in surprise.


“The way I did with Dana. There are some parts of yourself you want to keep private. That’s okay – we all understand that. You tend to overwhelm the nexus with your thoughts and emotions sometimes…”


“I guess I’m a more expressive kind of person than you two,” Mulder responded hotly. “You’re both so damned controlled…”


“It wasn’t a criticism,” Skinner soothed. “Just an offer of help. I should have offered before, but it was all so new, we were all finding our feet, uh, literally in my case.” He glanced at his twisted feet ruefully. “I had a few big adjustments to make myself,” he admitted. “It wasn’t easy, letting either of you in.”


“No. Being known isn’t easy.” Mulder bit on his lip. “Look, I don’t talk about it, and hell, these days I try not to even fucking well think about it, but you know the way I feel about you. You’ve seen inside my goddamn mind, poked around in my memories. You know I’m not exactly straight as an arrow like you. I love Scully, hell, I could even have been straight for Scully, but…well, you know about Richard, and…there were others, mainly one night stands. You probably know about them too.”


“Yes. I do.” Skinner shrugged.


Mulder thought about that for a moment, swallowed hard, then nodded, accepting the inevitable. “Look, my feelings don’t need to screw up the nexus. You and Scully make a good pair. It’s because I know what she sees in you, that I can’t fight this. It’s right. You should be together.”


“Mulder, we’re in a nexus. There’s always going to be the three of us,” Skinner pointed out, gently.


“I know. That’s good, but not in bed, right? We’re close, but not that close,” Mulder gave a wry grin. “Look, Walter, I know you don’t feel the same way about me…” he began, his emotions clouded with misery.


“How do you know that?” Skinner asked.


“Did you screw the guys in your last nexus?” Mulder asked. Skinner flushed. “No, I thought not.” Mulder turned his head away. “I’m not a sympathy fuck, Walter. I’ve got more pride than that.”


“Mulder.” Skinner turned Mulder’s head back, and looked in his eyes. “I didn’t sleep with my platoon. Jeez, I can imagine how badly I’d have got beaten up for even suggesting it, and if I’m honest the idea makes me shudder, but…” he held up his hand as Mulder opened his mouth to say something, “let me finish. We did share…we used to have these…I’m not proud of this, you understand, but we’d have what I can only describe as group sex sessions with prostitutes in Saigon. Not really orgies as such – we never shared the girls, but we did share the moment, and the sexual high was magnified through the link. It never satisfied me though.” Skinner felt the emptiness of those encounters, the initial high followed by the terrible low that stayed with him for days. “The link creates an intimacy, a closeness, that I’ve always found erotic. It’s no different for me now, than when I was 18, although it might have been more intense then,” Skinner confided. “Now…well, I can’t help it. I can’t describe what it’s like being in this nexus with you from my perspective, but I know I created it in the beginning because I cared about you, as much as I cared about Scully. It might not have been a physical kind of love then, but it is now.”


“I don’t understand.” Mulder looked bewildered.


“Okay.” Skinner swung one long leg over the log, and straddled it, then sat facing Mulder. “I can’t explain it in words, so this will have to do.” He put his hands on Mulder’s shoulders, and drew him close. Mulder came, reluctantly. Skinner took hold of one of Mulder’s hands, and placed it on his own heart. “Close your eyes,” he whispered.




He was young, 18-years-old, and he was in a room. There were women, with exotic, almond-shaped eyes, and sleek black hair, talking in sing-song voices. He felt horny. There was a musky scent in the air, perfume mixed with arousal. He kissed one of the women, but he didn’t love her. He did love the other men in the room though, and he loved sharing this moment with them. It was the closest, most intimate way he could express his love. They were part of him, and he would have done anything to protect them. The sounds of sex, the heady scent, the high of drugs, all combined in the nexus, creating an erotic wonderland of sensation. Mulder moaned, and put his head back, sharing the experience, reveling in the nexus, abandoning himself to it.


Then, abruptly, the scene shifted. He was sitting in a big office, behind an equally big desk. He was older, and he felt so different, nursing a loss so painful that it still ached inside as if it had happened yesterday. He was closed off, remote, detached from himself, from the world, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t want more. The memory of the nexus was so vivid he longed to recreate it, to experience that high again. He flicked through a file, then paced the office, waiting for a ‘phone call, worrying about two agents in his charge. Agents he respected, people he liked. People in danger. Silently, guiltily, he sent out his thoughts to find them, just to check they were okay, but to do that he had to open up another nexus, just the beginnings, not enough to cause any damage…and then it was too late.


The scene shifted again. A man and a woman were sitting in front of him. They were part of his nexus now, part of him. He loved them, equally, with a passion that was fed by the warmth of the nexus. He would have died for them, a hundred times over, and instead he just had to look on, wondering if they were even aware of his existence. An eternity of meetings, countless rescues, too many times when he’d risked his butt and career to save them, and always lonely. Always on the outside, looking in. Until now. He wanted them so much it was a physical ache, and he would live with that if they didn’t want him.


Another shift, and Mulder stared, fascinated, at an image of himself in Matheson’s arms, and was surprised by a fierce wave of jealousy.


“Every time you thought about him, I wanted to punch him,” Skinner admitted. “I wanted to be him. I knew I didn’t have any rights with either you, or Dana, but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel. You went out on cases, you were together the whole time. I wasn’t part of you. When I made the nexus, I was full of guilt, because you clearly belonged together, and I just forced my way in. I thought you’d reject me. I felt I deserved nothing less.” Skinner’s voice echoed in his mind.


“I didn’t know.” Mulder felt warm flesh against his mouth, and opened his eyes, startled, then drew Skinner closer, opened the other man’s lips with his own, and claimed him with a deep, loving kiss.  His hands roamed over a pair of solid shoulders as he consumed Skinner hungrily, so many years of pent-up longing going into that one kiss, needing, wanting…


“Understand now?”


Mulder drowned in the pulsing light of the nexus. Damn, but this felt so good. “Yes.” The kiss ended, and he found himself grinning like an idiot.


“Good. Come on.” Skinner got up.


Mulder sat for a moment, still reeling from what he had been shown. The sun was beating down on Skinner’s unprotected scalp, bathing him in light. He was all Mulder’s fantasies come to life. He’d gained weight, and bulked out again during their time at the cabin, and his face had lost that gaunt, haunted look. He was wearing faded blue jeans, and a plain navy shirt, open at the neck to reveal wiry curls of dark hair.


“Mulder?” There was an expression in those dark eyes that made Mulder’s heart miss a beat. Hope, love, promise…and a trace of anxiety. “Mulder?” He realized that Skinner was mistaking his awe-struck contemplation for vacillation. Skinner took a step forward, then almost lost his unsteady footing. Mulder leapt up and grabbed his arm.


“I’d offer to carry you but you’re too damn heavy,” he grinned. “And you’re really not my idea of Scarlett O’Hara.”


“Ditto.” Skinner laughed. “Come on. I guess our Scarlett’s waiting for us back at the cabin.” He fumbled for his cane, but Mulder offered him his arm instead. Skinner took it, leaning heavily on him, and angled his head for another kiss as they walked.


“You’ve never done this before?” Mulder asked, enjoying the totally mind-blowing sensation of talking to someone, and kissing them, at the same time.


“No. Why? Am I doing something wrong?” Skinner asked anxiously.


“Hardly…” Mulder held him tight, his hands roving over a firm butt, his mouth devouring the mouth that was so firmly planted on his.


Mulder didn’t even remember the journey back to the cabin. The next thing he knew he was standing on the threshold of the bedroom. Scully had made the bed with white sheets, and was sitting holding a pillow to her chest, cuddling it while she waited. Her hair was wet from her bath, and she was wearing a blue and white checked shirt, and a pair of clean jeans. She looked breath-taking. A smile of relief spread across her face when she saw them. She patted the bed beside her, and Mulder went, blindly, dimly aware that Skinner was hovering in the doorway uncertainly.


“Six years. It’s about time,” she whispered, taking his face in her hands, and kissing him. It was like all his Christmases had come at once, Mulder thought. First Skinner, now Scully, both the subject of so many fevered fantasies for so many years, now made real, warm flesh and blood, wanting him. The kiss ended, and, as one, they both turned towards Skinner, and held out a welcoming hand.


“I understand why we had to wait now, why it couldn’t happen before. We weren’t complete before,” Scully said, beckoning to the big man.


He hesitated for a moment, and they saw their image reflected back through his eyes, sitting there, together, but no longer separate from him. Now they were a part of him, and he of them. He came and sat beside them on the bed. Scully leaned forward, and her ruby lips met Skinner’s mouth. Mulder closed his eyes, felt the kiss, was both of them simultaneously, Scully and Skinner, and he experienced their arousal with his own.


“How, uh…how does this work?” Skinner asked, looking suddenly at a loss. “Um, call me conservative, but I’ve never had two lovers at the same time before.”


“Neither have I.” Mulder caressed Scully’s red hair.


“I have.” Scully grinned, clearly enjoying the look of surprise both men gave her. She flooded the nexus with an image of herself, with two identical young men, kissing them, being stroked, and caressed by them.


“Way to go, Scully,” Mulder whistled, finding the image unbearably arousing. His cock was rock hard inside the prison of his jeans.


“Getting undressed is a good first step.” Scully started unbuttoning her shirt, and was stopped by two pairs of hands, and a mental cry of protest from both men.


“Uh…I think we’d both like to take care of that,” Skinner murmured, his already deep voice sounding as if it had gone two octaves lower with arousal. Mulder leaned over and kissed Skinner as they both worked on the buttons of Scully’s shirt, opening it to reveal two round, white breasts, nestled inside her bra.


“Oh boy.” Skinner paused, and they both gazed in silent contemplation for a few seconds.


“Didn’t anyone tell you it’s rude to stare!” Scully berated. Mulder laughed, and started unbuttoning her jeans, while Skinner ran his hands around her back, found the fastening to the bra, and undid it, pulling the item of clothing away to allow her breasts to fall free.


“Dana,” his voice was choked with arousal, and he cupped each breast in his large hands, then held them, stroking them softly with his thumb, as if in worship. Mulder thought just the image of Skinner holding Scully in this intimate way would be enough to make him come. He broke into the mood, tugged her jeans down her thighs to reveal her panties, and soon disposed of those too.


“I’m more of a bottom man, myself,” he murmured, his hands caressing her buttocks, as she lifted her hips to make this manoeuvre easier.


“Well, that works out perfectly then,” Scully smiled. “Now, I want to see the pair of you too.”


She knelt on the floor, and took off Mulder’s boots, and socks, then began to undo his jeans. Mulder saw a pair of long legs appear around his thighs, pulling him close against a warm, solid body, and then he felt Skinner’s hands unbutton his shirt, the big man’s lips nuzzling at his neck, sucking his ear gently.


“Oh shit…” He spun off into space, enjoying being the focus of so much undivided attention, and felt their minds like so many fireworks going off in his head, exploding around him in their need, and arousal. Skinner finished unbuttoning his shirt, pushed it open, and his fingers played with Mulder’s nipples, making the younger man moan and cry out, his adam’s apple bobbing, his body held tight between Skinner’s thighs, the big man’s legs crossed over his abdomen. Scully started pulling his jeans, and slowly, inch by inch, managed to tug them down, taking his boxers with them. Skinner moved his legs, and stripped Mulder’s shirt from his back in one fluid movement, and Mulder gasped in shock as felt Scully’s small fingers close around his hard cock.


“Oh shit…” he cried again, incoherently, and his cry was met by their loving warmth. It was like  drowning in warm, melted chocolate. Mulder pulled himself back from the brink, and glanced down at Scully. She smiled, and gestured with her eyes towards Skinner. Mulder grinned, and nodded. They turned at the same time, and jumped on the big man, who landed on his back on the bed with an “oomph”, winded.


“Your turn,” Mulder was joined by a deliciously naked Scully, who climbed onto Skinner’s chest, straddled him, and began tearing his shirt off, ripping a few buttons in the process. Mulder carefully undid Skinner’s sneakers, knowing how much pain the other man’s feet caused him. He gently slid Skinner’s socks off, and massaged his ankles for a few seconds. Skinner had been on his feet quite a bit during the course of the day, and they were swollen, and raw looking, which often happened when he had overdone it.


Mulder disappeared into the bathroom, and found two cool, damp washcloths. He returned, knelt by the bed, and wrapped the cloths around his lover’s feet. Skinner gave a contented sigh, and Scully dipped her head, and licked his hard nipples. Skinner hadn’t bathed after his afternoon out riding, and he smelt of sweat, and horses. It was a masculine smell that turned Mulder on, reminding him of saddles, and leather, and it mingled with Scully’s newly bathed aroma of ylang ylang, to mount a dual assault on his senses. Mulder unwrapped Skinner’s feet, and kissed his toes.


“Don’t…” Skinner shifted uncomfortably. “They’re ugly. Here.” He held out his hand to drag Mulder onto the bed, but Mulder ignored it, and continued gently playing with Skinner’s scarred feet, kissing and licking them.


“They’re part of you,” Scully scolded, joining Mulder. She traced a finger over one scarred sole, then the other.


Mulder sneaked a hand up Skinner’s thigh, to the fly on his jeans, and unbuttoned slowly, his hazel eyes never leaving Skinner’s face. He was aware that being with a man was a new experience for the big man, and he wanted to take it slowly, but Skinner didn’t seem worried. He smiled, and stroked Mulder’s hair encouragingly. The younger man could feel a promising hardness beneath his fingers, but still he took his time, his tongue moistening his lips in anticipation as he worked. Scully tugged on the legs of Skinner’s jeans, and carefully guided the fabric over his sore feet, and then he was as naked as they were. She jumped back on the bed, her breasts jiggling, and they both looked down on their lover. Skinner’s cock delivered all that it had promised, Mulder thought to himself. Broader than his own, but not quite as long, nestled over two large ball sacs. Yeah, definitely worth the wait, and better even than the fantasy he’d had of it.


“Thank you,” Skinner grinned, and Mulder laughed out loud, and pressed his mouth to the tip, enjoying the way it twitched in anticipation of his caress. Scully meanwhile had taken her place astride Skinner’s chest once more, and was sitting, her head thrown back in wild abandon, as Skinner played with her breasts. She moved her round, dimpled buttocks up and down in a rhythm, as Skinner stroked her into greater heights of arousal. This was definitely a good sight, Mulder thought to himself, as he circled Skinner’s cock with his tongue. This was every fantasy he’d ever had on lonely evenings in front of the video. Scully, sitting astride Skinner, her white bottom against his tanned, washboard stomach. He had an idea, and after a planting a quick kiss on each of Scully’s pale globes, he disappeared into the bathroom and returned with a tub of vaseline.


“No condoms, guys…”


Their voices insisted it didn’t matter, that they needed to share, as closely as possible, flesh against flesh. A slight sadness permeated the link, as Scully reminded them that she couldn’t have children so that wasn’t a factor. Their thoughts soothed her, and she was soon distracted as a myriad of positions, fantasies, and growing sexual excitement flooded into the nexus, making it impossible to tell who was suggesting what. Somehow Mulder found himself on top of Scully, his tongue buried deep in the dark red hair between her legs. He felt Skinner behind him, and then a lubricated finger slid inside his body. He moaned, and pushed back with his ass, then forward into the deepest recesses of Scully’s body, and then back again. Skinner’s one finger became two, and Mulder became Skinner opening up his body beneath his firm, tender caress, and became Scully, legs open wide, limbs akimbo, panting, and writhing on the bed.




Scully grabbed fistfuls of sheets, and moaned as she was licked, her mound swollen and red with desire. Skinner ran his hand over Mulder’s back, and cupped his firm butt cheeks, probing inside, making Mulder whimper with need. Mulder drew back, and nudged his own cock into the folds of Scully’s flesh, and she pulled him deep inside her, just as Skinner entered the younger man, pushing him open, sliding into his body. Every nerve ending in Scully’s body quivered as that long, hard cock filled her, and she could feel every nerve ending in Mulder’s body responding the same way to Skinner’s thick cock. There was a pause, as if they were all waiting, and then the world erupted into a spectacular display of stars. They became each other; Scully looked down on her own body, and felt what it was like to have a penis, to thrust into warm flesh, to be consumed by another person, and welcomed deep inside. She was Skinner, making love to Mulder, Mulder making love to herself. She was all three of them at the same time, and they were her. She experienced Skinner’s brief flash of surprise at finding himself flat on his back, his white breasts being caressed by large, male hands, his legs wide open, revealing his most secret areas. She was Mulder, insatiably curious to experience everything, lying in wonderment, inside her body, looking up at himself, at Skinner over his own shoulder, seeing two men making love, being turned on by it. He moaned in wonderment at the sensation in his clitoris, his whole body convulsing in an orgasm that came from deep within; silent, invisible, a sweeping wave of pleasure.


There were brief pauses, moments when they washed each other down with cool water, anointing bodies already damp with sweat, and then it began again. Time had no meaning, nothing had any meaning but their nexus, and their need to be one, as close in flesh as they were in mind. After all they had endured, they finally came together with explosive force. The fire of their joining couldn’t be extinguished swiftly, it had a beat and tempo all of its own that had to be ridden out to the end. Skinner sank his fingers deep into Scully’s body, as she straddled his chest, while she sucked Mulder’s cock, and he, in turn, rode up and down on Skinner’s cock. Her hair was damp with perspiration, and the force of her orgasm trapped Skinner’s hand deep inside her, unwilling to relinquish him, as Mulder spent himself down her throat.


Then there was quiet. They were still for a long while, then Mulder moved in the darkness, found Skinner’s face, asked him a silent question, and received his silent reply.




Scully could have wept. She rolled Skinner onto his front, held his head, kissed his face, his neck, ran gentle fingers over his bare scalp. She got a pillow, and placed it on her lap, then put his head on it, played with his ears, muttering soothing words. She watched Mulder cup his taut buttocks, gently soothing him, then he slipped a finger inside Skinner, and another, finding some magic spot that reminded her of her own clitoris, making her cry out, as Skinner cried out, the pleasure taking both of them away on the crest of a high wave. She kept talking to Skinner, meaningless nothings, and held his head against the pillow, caressing him constantly. Mulder’s cock was hard again, and she was him, preparing to enter the muscular body of the man lying so still and acquiescent beneath him. She felt herself opened, and watched as Mulder slid inside the tight passage. Skinner tensed, and she relaxed him with soothing words, and soon he was arching his back, crying out inside her head, his body convulsing with pleasure. Mulder caressed his buttocks, as he pumped back and forth, and she heard him whisper the same little phrases over and over again – words of love, and endearment. Then there was another explosion, and they were quiet again, for a long time.


Scully remembered drinking huge, long, gulps of water, and she remembered using the bathroom, then she found herself lying on the bed once more, sandwiched between the two men. She was facing Skinner, and she could feel Mulder’s hands on her buttocks. Skinner’s lips found her dark, swollen nipples, and she whimpered in pleasure. One of Skinner’s hands tickled her clit, one of Mulder’s fingers probed inside her anus. She welcomed them in, wanted more, wanted to be them, inside her, to be herself, enveloping their hard flesh inside her own soft flesh. She remembered the sensation of being Skinner, being filled, and wanted both of them inside her. She pulled Skinner’s hard cock towards her, and guided Mulder’s cock to her anus, her mind displaying the image, showing them what she wanted. They lifted her up carefully, as if she were made of some precious substance, and gently, slowly, rocked into her body at the same time. If she closed her eyes, she could see Skinner’s broad shoulders, and Mulder’s long, lean limbs, could feel them both inside her body, inside her mind, inside the very core of her being. Their hard cocks filled her, throbbing together, synchronous, in time to the beating of three hearts. Scully was no longer coherent, she had become something else, a being of nerve endings, and an abundance of love and passion that she had denied for too long. Now that the floodgates had opened, she wanted to go on expressing herself in this way forever.


There was peace for a second, as if she stood on the top of a giant rollercoaster, towering in a dark, star-field sky. They all hovered, poised on the edge, and then they fell together, at the exact same moment in time, and roared towards their climax, exploded into it, like a sun going supernova. The heat of their passion coalesced them into one being; they were all dimly aware of the world moving, just out of their perception, of time whizzing by. They were outside their own bodies; three people, moving as one, experiencing an intensity of pleasure that they never knew existed.


Then it was over. Outside it was dark, then light again, then dark, as they slept in each others arms, a tangle of limbs, of sated bodies, and that, Scully thought later, was the most beautiful moment of all. “I love you,” she whispered, hazily, and the words filtered through the link, were met by answering assurances, and expressions of love. A hand moved on her thigh, a kiss was dropped onto the back of her neck, and a feeling of contentment, of oneness, of joy, radiated back to her. She felt as if she could fly through the air, supported by clouds, and never fall, so strong was the nexus that embraced and enveloped her.


She looked down and saw all three of them sleeping. Skinner had one arm over her hip, his hand resting on Mulder’s thigh, Mulder’s legs were entwined between her ankles, his chin resting on her shoulder, one of his hands joined loosely with Skinner’s, forming a protective circle around her. Then, exhausted, she returned to her body, and slept again in their loving embrace.


“Okay, Scully.” Mulder’s voice awoke her god knew how many hours later. “I’ve heard of the earth moving, but this is ridiculous.”


She raised her head and looked around, sleepily, then sat up, her mouth open wide in surprise. The room was a mess – it looked like a hurricane had ripped through the bedroom, scattering clothing, coins, books, and lamps to all four corners.


“And don’t try and tell us that you didn’t do this,” Mulder grinned, his lips still swollen from their activities, “because you’re the only poltergeist living in this cabin, madam.”


Skinner’s unspoken “shit” reverberated through the link, as he sat up and surveyed the damage. “If this is going to happen every time we have sex, then we’d better get all the furniture nailed down,” he commented wryly. “I don’t feel like I’ve been hit over the head with a frying pan though, and I usually do after Dana’s been busy.” He frowned.


“Me neither. I think that sex created a vibe all of its own. I’ve never felt so fantastic in my entire life.” Mulder smiled, and stretched his long limbs like a cat. He got out of bed, and surveyed himself in the mirror. “I feel sore…” he grinned at his lovers “but it’s a good sore, if you know what I mean!”


“Yeah.” Skinner wrapped Scully up in his big arms, and kissed the top of her head. “How about you, oh crazed destroyer of the bedroom?” he inquired.


“You don’t even need to ask,” she smiled up at him. “It seemed so unreal, I’m not sure if I dreamed it.”


“Judging by the state of the bedroom I’d say not.” Mulder hesitated, then opened his mouth. “Hello.” He cleared his throat, then grinned, sheepishly. “Just testing to see if my voice still works. I can’t remember when I last spoke out loud. It seemed to me that the telepathic thing got a lot easier, didn’t it?”


“I think we just hit a groove where communication of any sort was so simple,” Scully said, her voice sounding strange to her ears.


Mulder turned on the radio, and pranced around the room naked, yelling out the words to the song, while the other two grinned at him appreciatively. They all shut up, their minds clamouring with shock when the news came on. Mulder’s mouth opened and closed, and he sat back down on the bed with a thump.


“Is it my imagination…or did we just lose 3 days?” he whispered. “Shit. No wonder I’m so hungry.”


“It’s not your imagination. We did.” Skinner shook his head in disbelief.


“And don’t go blaming it on UFO’s this time,” Scully added.


“Well, not unless UFO stands for Unidentified Fucking Objects,” Mulder quipped, and was rewarded by two pillows hitting his head simultaneously.




Days went by in a haze of sex, that Skinner never wanted to end. This was a nexus as he had always wanted it to be. A true merging of hearts, minds, souls and bodies that he had never before experienced. The days were warm, and the nights sultry, dripping with the combined heat of their entangled bodies.


One night he awoke to the sound of roaring in the skies. He got up, wondering if the summer heat had been broken by a storm, and went over to the window.


“One. Two. Three.” Skinner blinked. There was a little girl, playing hop-skotch in the yard. He grabbed a pair of sweatpants and ran out of the cabin, wondering if he was dreaming, but she was still there. “Nine, ten, eleven.” She hopped towards, him, smiled, flicked her long, dark hair out of her eyes, and skipped back again. “Twelve!” she finished triumphantly.


“Who are you? What are you doing here?” he asked her. She smiled again. She had the deepest blue eyes he’d ever seen, and wide, full lips, that twisted some emotion deep inside his heart. She couldn’t have been more than six years old.


“Don’t be silly, Daddy!” she chided. Then she started to hop towards him again. “One, two…” Skinner looked up, the sound of her words drowned out by the loud noise overhead. The night sky was filled with orange flame – then he realized that it wasn’t night at all – the sun had been obscured by the shadows of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of enormous spaceships, hovering overhead.


“What the hell…?” As he watched, the ships came lower, and lower, until he could see the undersides of their sleek metallic bellies, as they hovered overhead.


“Daddy!” the little girl yelled. He glanced around, but there was nobody else in sight. “Daddy! Help me! Take me home!” He held out his arms to her, and she ran into them. He picked her up, held her tight, and started to run back into the cabin, to wake Mulder and Scully, to warn them that…


“No. Not here. Back home – to Washington.” The little girl placed her hands on his shoulders and looked into his eyes, and he stopped, bemused. “Time for you to leave, Walter. You’re done here,” she whispered, and her long dark hair grew coarse, and white, and her features became lined, and wizened, and those bright blue eyes faded into an ancient, timeless gray. She was heavy, her body that of an Old Woman.


“What’s happening?” he yelled over the roaring in the sky, putting her down on the ground.


“Jace…it’s time to go back now. It’s starting,” the Old Woman told him.


“What is?” Skinner looked up at the sky full of ships.


“The end. The beginning. Your time is near.” She kissed his cheek, as he stood, frozen to the spot. “Don’t be afraid.” She took hold of his hand. “We chose well. You and your nexus are the best of us, the distilled essence of what we are. Yin and yang, dark and light – you have everything inside you. You’ve all known great sorrow, and great joy. You’ve experienced life, and death, love and fear, in equal measure. Between you, you’ve been children, parents, brothers, sisters, lovers. You represent the male, Jace, Dana the female, and Fox, our beautiful child, our brave new soul, is both, transcending his form. Take them, and go.” She pushed him towards the cabin.


“What am I seeing?” He peered up into the sky again, but the ships had disappeared, and there was  only a black, velvet shroud, lit by a myriad of stars.


“The future. The past.” She shrugged. “To be honest, sometimes I have difficulty knowing the difference any more.”


“I can’t do this. Whatever you want of me, I can’t do it.” Skinner grabbed her shoulders. She was as faint and insubstantial as a wraith.


“Of course you can, Jace. If you can’t, nobody can. I always told you that you’re the best of us. You and your nexus.” She kissed him on the forehead, and her body began to lose its shape. “You won’t see me again for a while,” she whispered, her voice fading.


“Don’t leave me!” he cried, trying to pull her back.


“I never leave you,” she chided. “I’m always here, but next time you see me you won’t recognize me…I’ll…have…changed…” Her voice faded into nothing, and she was gone.




Skinner blinked. He was standing in the yard, dressed in his sweatpants, just as he had been in his dream, but this time he was awake. Mulder had an arm around his shoulders, trying to warm his cold flesh, and Scully was looking into his eyes, anxiously.


“Walter?” she said again. “You were sleep-walking. Are you awake now?”


“Yes. Awake,” Skinner muttered, trying to take a step. He would have fallen if it hadn’t been for Mulder’s arm, keeping him upright.


“Oh god, look at your poor feet!” Scully bent down, and he saw that his bare feet were bleeding, the blood seeping into the dark, brown earth. Skinner gazed at it in a daze, uncomprehending.


“Did you see?” He turned to Mulder. “Did you see what I saw?”


“No. What did you see, Walter?” Mulder asked gently, leading him back to the house. Between them, Mulder and Scully helped him to sit down on the couch. Scully wrapped him in a blanket, while Mulder sat down beside him, an expectant look on his face.


“There was a sky full of ships. Space ships.” He looked hesitantly into Mulder’s hazel eyes. “You think I’m crazy.”


“Me? No. I think you’re trying to turn me on,” Mulder grinned. “Tell me about the ships, Walter.” His tone was gentle, encouraging.


“There were hundreds, thousands maybe, and they wanted something from us.” Skinner shuddered, and pulled the blanket around his shoulders. “There was a little girl, she became the old woman from my previous dreams, the one who calls me Jace, the one you met, she told me…it doesn’t matter. Shit, it sounds so stupid when I say it out loud.”


“Don’t then.” Mulder pulled Skinner’s head forward, and rested it against his own forehead. “Show us,” he whispered. Skinner nodded, and tried to calm himself, to get his thoughts into some kind of order, then he gripped Scully’s hand tightly in his own, and closed his eyes, radiating the dream through the link. When he’d finished, they drew back, silent.


“What does it mean?” Scully frowned. “What was she trying to tell you? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this might have just been a dream, Walter. You know, like a cigar is sometimes just a cigar. You’ve been under a lot of stress in the past few months, and the mind sometimes…”


“No. She only appears in my dreams when there’s something important I have to do,” Skinner interrupted.


“But what?” Mulder asked.


“I’m not sure. She made one thing very clear though.” Skinner got up, limped into the bedroom, and started to pull some clothing into a bag.


“Walter? What are you doing?” Scully ran after him, Mulder at her heels.


“It’s time to go back,” he said. He heard their unspoken anxiety summed up in one word:




“I know, but I can’t hide out here forever. It’s time for us to leave.”


“All right, but not now. It’s the middle of the night,” Scully said firmly, looking at Mulder, who nodded.


Skinner allowed them to lead him back to the bed, allowed Scully to bandage his feet, and they rested uneasily in each other’s arms until dawn. Then they got up, and packed.


Skinner looked around the cabin, one last time. Somehow, he had a feeling that it would be a long while before they returned. He glanced at his companions as they waited for him by the car. Scully had put on make-up, and tidied her hair. She was wearing a pair of silky black trousers, with a belted tunic. Mulder was in an elegant dress suit, complete with tie. They both looked so different, after the past couple of months spent out here in the middle of nowhere, lounging around in paint-stained clothing, but they were still his, and he was theirs. Skinner felt a lump rise in his throat. Home was anywhere they were.


“Time to go back,” they whispered.


He nodded, and pulled the door shut firmly behind him. He had faced the past. It was time to face the future.


End of Part 4


~ I love receiving friendly feedback! If you enjoyed this story, please leave a comment below. ~

Submit a Comment

2 Comments on Nexus: 4. Synergy


Buy Xanthe's original character BDSM slash novel, Ricochet now!

Paperback on Amazon

E-book on Amazon

Smashwords in various formats

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons