More Than You Think You Are Part five
“Mulder? Come on, hon; come on back….”
I woke with a start, felt myself restrained, and immediately struggled. Only the futility of my efforts caused me to slow the panic, to realize that there was no smoke, no heat, and the only reason it was still so dark was because my eyes were closed. I was shaking, my eyes burning beneath closed lids.
Something had a grip on me, tighter than the dream restraints that I could still almost feel; I squirmed about in bands of warm-arm-pressure around my body. I could hear someone calling my name, and the near frantic quality of the voice suggested to me that the caller was worried. About me. Huh.
I couldn’t stop the shudders wracking my body; the fact—the truth—of Scully’s death kept slamming into me over and over; I could almost feel my head rocking back under the psychological blows. “No! God, no!”
Warm breath in my ear, ghosting over my cheek; my head being held as still as my body, and kisses were dropping on my hair like rain—
I opened my eyes and couldn’t see past the tears.
“Shh, Mulder, shhh…it’s okay, you’re okay….” Each word punctuated with another kiss, another hug, a warm stroke of hand over skin; it was a combination that both soothed and panicked me.
“Come on, Mulder, wake up. I’m here; I’m here.”
“Scully?” I cringed at the whining tone of my voice, feeling somehow wrong for my tears and not knowing why. “Sc-sc-“
“It’s me, Mulder. Skinner. I’m right here.”
I felt a hand brush away the tears on my cheeks and I blinked away the last tears from my eyes, and Skinner wasn’t lying. He was right there.
The room was dim but not dark, and I realized he was sitting on the bed with me in his arms. I was sort of sprawled on my side, half in and half out of his lap, and my arms were wrapped tightly around his waist.
We were cuddling, and what the hell was that all about?
I felt his breath ruffle my hair, and heard him whispering my name.
“I’m with you,” I muttered back, but couldn’t look at him, and something felt wrong, like I was still dreaming.
“S’okay,” He was still murmuring nonsense at me, meant to soothe, and no small part of me was sucking it up like a sponge in water, but—but—
I focused on mapping the muscles of his lower back with my hands and ignored the part of me that wanted to know if I felt up all total strangers this way. I let Skinner keep crooning and he let me keep silent for a long time. Conveniently, no nurse decided to make a late night ginger ale delivery.
I was still trying to reconcile how it was that something could feel at once so completely right and so completely off, and remnants of my dream—memory—kept intruding, making me sigh repeatedly. Whenever I did, Skinner would squeeze just a little tighter.
After a while, I felt him shift under my weight, and I realized that, even being no heavyweight, I was probably getting to be a bit much. A full-grown man was definitely no lap dog.
“Aw, hell, I’m sorry,” I told Skinner, releasing him immediately and struggling to sit up.
At first I didn’t think he was going to let me go, and I gave him a confused frown. He looked back at me with an almost—crestfallen? --expression, and then pulled off me and slid off the bed.
“No, don’t, Mulder! I’m so—uh—it was---“
I couldn’t remember seeing Skinner at a loss like this before. Not since I’d met him two weeks ago, not in anything my Swiss cheese memory could find; it was unnerving. Plus, I was already missing his touch, and I tried to catch his hand as he backed away. He kept a space between us, and a frown on his face.
“I’ll-uh-I’ll get the doctor.”
I was left clutching empty air, shaking off ugly images and wondering what I’d done to make Skinner jump like that.
In the time it took for Skinner to return with the doctor, I’d managed to work up a quickie headache trying to dredge up images of Walter Skinner. There weren’t many that I could bring into focus, though it was a longer list than it would have been on my first waking, when the tally would have been something like none.
Mostly what I got now was an emotional flavor from the images: security…safety…respect. Pressed suits and black coffee, steel rimmed glasses and a rock steady hand, restrained power and leashed passion—
Trying to sharpen the images started the headache, residual dream guilt compounded it, and by the time Skinner was back in the room with me, it felt like I was bleeding from my eyes.
I snarled away the doctor’s concerns and demanded something for my “damned head”.
Skinner left and returned in mere moments with painkillers; he must have found a nurse or an orderly and sweet-talked or bullied them into turning over the pills to him. ‘More hospitals use Tylenol than any other…’ I thought stupidly as I dry swallowed the two tablets he put in my hand.
“I’ll get you something to drink,” said Skinner.
“Stay,” I replied.
He looked like he might argue. Then he looked like I’d just handed him a million dollars. And then he looked ready to argue again. I took hold of his hand and gripped tightly. He froze, and I turned my attention back to the doctor.
“It sounds like your memory is starting to return, but perhaps there is a block there—something you’re repressing for some reason—and so it’s manifesting itself symbolically, in dreams,” he said.
“No shit, Freud,” I snapped, “I got that far myself.”
The doctor didn’t seem surprised by my temper, but Skinner frowned and pulled his hand from mine. He bent to retrieve the papers from the folder that had still been in my lap when I fell asleep and now were tossed around on the bed and floor, and I remembered using the same ‘kiss-my-ass’ tone of voice on him earlier. ‘Which is how this whole thing started’, I thought with regret.
“Sorry,” I said, and I think Skinner knew I wasn’t talking to the doctor. “I’m still having a little trouble processing everything.”
“Of course, Mr. Mulder. That’s perfectly understandable. The good news is that you *are* processing. Everything. Mentally and physically, it seems.” He gave me what I suppose he thought was his ‘big hero’ smile. “I’m going to recommend several good doctors for you to follow up with that can help you adjust as your memory returns, but beyond that, I’m prepared to release you.”
“R-really?” A real smile, one that felt like it was going to split my face in half, and was a greater balm to my aching head than a million pills. Skinner looked up at me from the papers he was shuffling back into the file, and seemed startled by my smile. Startled, and maybe a bit embarrassed.
“Mr. Skinner has made arrangements for your return to ‘civilization’,” said the doctor. “And unless you happen to break a leg on the way to the bathroom in the morning, I’d say we’ve done everything here that we can for you.”
My smile lost just a little of it’s mega-watt glow at the words “Skinner has made arrangements…” as confusion reared its nasty little head again. I gave him a quick, sharp look, which he ignored in favor of the papers in his hand, and the doctor advised me that I should call for a nurse if I needed anything to help me sleep, and he would have the release papers ready for me by noon next day. Another ‘superman’ smile, and a flick of his non-existent cape, and he was gone.
Skinner set the file folder down on the bedside table, fussed with the fishbowl a moment, then looked over at me, and it looked like he was trying for relieved, guilty and wary, all in the same face.
I knew I’d been an ass earlier—pretty much what had caused this, from nightmare to now, and there was no way to take back all the crappy things I’d said. So I took the next best route, and held out my hand.
There was no hesitation from him, just his sure, strong grip, and I pulled him towards the bed. I wasn’t sure what to say; too needy to tell him to go to hell again, and too proud to apologize. I didn’t want him arranging anything. I didn’t want him showing up with my life, such as it was, in his hands, and making me feel like I didn’t have control.
On the other hand, I wanted—needed him to do just that. What I’d read, what I’d remembered, the pictures that remained in my mind told me that Walter Skinner was a rarity in my life—a constant, a touchstone, the wall I could put my back up against.
I didn’t know what to say, but he seemed to understand even that, somehow, and the next thing I knew we were back to playing snuggle bunnies again, with him perched on the side of the bed, one arm around my shoulders, letting me nestle in the crook of his arm. He didn’t speak, and I wondered if he could hear my thoughts. The things I wanted to say: ‘Thank you. Thank you for being here. For finding me. For caring enough to stay. For helping, for wanting…. wanting…
I couldn’t find a way to express what I was feeling in words that didn’t sound trite and stupid in my head, so I opted for a non-verbal approach. I let him slip his fingers through my hair (and no small part of me was looking forward to more petting of this variety in the future, God willing), and then caught his hand as he pulled it back. Caught it and held it and looked at it. Strong hand, nails neatly manicured, thick fingers. Not nearly as rough as they should be, I thought, but not soft, like a paper-pusher either. I gave the hand a squeeze, and then a tug, and Skinner gave me a confused frown.
He was close enough, and I pressed my mouth to his, traced surprised lips with my tongue, and with a gasp that could have come from either one of us, he opened his mouth and I was granted entrance.
He tasted like coffee, sweet and bitter at the same time, and something else, faint and minty that might have been that morning’s toothpaste. But mostly he tasted like himself; hot and slick and welcoming, his tongue doing some skillful dueling with mine.
His hand was back in my hair, holding me firmly in place, and he deepened the kiss, doing his best to apparently devour me. I had a sudden image of Winnie the Pooh and the Hunny Pot, and had to pull away as a completely inappropriate laugh bubbled up and out of me.
Skinner did that hands-off thing again, making me feel less like honey and more like a hot burner. I shook my head and laughed again, a little breathlessly.
I held onto his gaze with mine, seeing worry in those dark eyes. Also a bit of ‘should I be calling in someone with drugs and restraints?’ flashing there, too, that I didn’t think he was even aware of. But more than that, his look spoke of care, and longing, and something else—some powerful emotion that even I couldn’t mistake for simple former-employer concern. It was a look that made me want to laugh and smile and wriggle in its sunbeam warmth and at the same time it made me want to frown, confused and a little frightened of what might lay behind that look—in him, and just maybe, in myself.
“Skinner?” I replied. “I need--
“Maybe some rest?” he asked quickly. “The doctor said—“
“I know what the doctor said; I was here, remember?” I cut him off abruptly. “This isn’t about me.”
Again, I interrupted, hearing a demanding tone in my voice that I tried to soften by taking hold of his hand again. “Who are you?”
Sudden apprehension tightened his features, and I realized that my words made him think I’d forgotten—forgotten the last two weeks—forgotten *him*--and if I hadn’t been feeling so muddled myself, I might have tried offering him some reassuring words. Instead, I gave his hand a squeeze, which he returned fervently enough to almost wring a groan out of me.
“I mean, who are you—to me?” I let him startle, but didn’t let him go. “You’ve made “arrangements” for me. You’ve been here in the middle of the desert for weeks now.” I glanced over at the small acrylic tank on the table. “You bought me fish, for God’s sake!” Then back to Skinner. “No “boss” does that—not even Donald Trump.” I focused on his mouth, licked my lips without thinking about it, and finished with, “And you don’t taste like a co-worker. So, Walter Skinner…. who are you?”
He didn’t answer right away. He looked around the room, focusing on everything but me. He dropped my hand, and then took it up again seconds later. Then he looked at me, eyes wide and searching, like he’d never seen me before. Slowly, almost as if he thought I’d try to stop him, he traced the thumb of his other hand over my cheekbone and across my lower lip.
Foxes don’t purr, but I think I came damned close.
Finally he gave me a dark look, one so full of sexual heat that I felt myself growing hard under that intense scrutiny. But when he leaned in to kiss me, it was the softest feather-brush of his lips on mine, more chaste than any maiden aunt. And then he said:
“I’m your lover.”