Chapter 23: Nostalgia

J.EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING

     WASHINGTON, D.C.

     10:07 P.M.

     Deputy Director Walter Skinner doesn’t have much patience for nostalgia.

     Former Special Agent Fox Mulder is incorrect about one thing—Skinner doesn’t have a soft spot for the guy. A hardened military veteran, his soft spots have long grown callouses, a measure of protection against men who would take pleasure in tearing him to shreds.

     He’s a man of justice. Accountability. He’s worked his way up from the depths of hell to get here, and the D.D. position suits him. It’s no secret that life at the Bureau is quieter without the likes of Fox Mulder storming into his office, ranting about conspiracy theories and aliens and God knows what else.

     And then there’s Dana Scully, Mulder’s partner. A bright young agent with a good head on her shoulders, she’d had promise as a future director herself, but she’d thrown that future away the moment she walked into Mulder’s basement office. Most agents would have turned tail and walked right back out, and frankly none of her superiors would have been surprised or disappointed if she had.

     But she’d stayed.

     And thank God for that, Skinner thinks. Mulder spent enough time in Skinner’s office as it was; without Scully, it would have been twice that, easily…at least until the man got his ass kicked out of the Bureau for good.

     That Scully had originally been assigned to the X-files to debunk Mulder’s wild theories—it was the greatest of ironies. She, who was meant to be used as a weapon against him, who was his opposite in every respect, became one of Mulder’s greatest assets—she gave him someone to trust, something to fight for. She tempered his craziness with strict rationality, smoothed his rough edges, brought him back to Earth when he was floating off to other galaxies.

     Rumors about their relationship abounded, but gossip was worthless to Skinner. What the agents chose to do behind closed doors was none of his business; fraternization was a slap-on-the-wrist offense, and he had his hands full trying to keep them from larger charges, while trying to maintain some semblance of a career for himself.

     As big a pain in the ass as Mulder was, the cards were stacked against him. The dark men whose company Skinner was forced to keep told him as much—they preyed on Mulder, toyed with him, and paid no mind to the destruction left in their wake.

     Being a man of hard-earned integrity, such casual disregard for basic humanity left a bad taste in Skinner’s mouth.

     He sits back in his intimidating leather chair, a finger pressed to his lips. No, he doesn’t have a soft spot for Mulder, but he respects the man, which is why he’s sitting in his office at this late hour, letting the past absorb him.

     When the Rendezvous County Sheriff’s department called, saying they were holding two people who claimed to be former federal agents (“kinda tall, big nose, brown hair, doofy-lookin’, an’ his girlfriend’s a bossy little red-head,” was how the officer so kindly described them) Skinner had no doubt about who was behind this.

     Mulder and Scully had been out of the Bureau for years—they had no business using his name or their retired badge numbers to garner favors from local law enforcement. He confirmed their identities, making a mental note to give Mulder hell (because surely he was the brains behind this—Scully wouldn’t be so foolish) and try to forget the whole thing.

     If looking the other way were a marketable skill, Skinner has the equivalent of a Ph.D.

     But upon learning the former agents’ son was involved…that gives him pause. Mulder and Scully paid for their work on the X-files, and William was the ultimate price. There had been no justice for the agents’ countless losses, the boy among them.

     And isn’t that what Skinner fought for? Could he ignore the evidence before him because it was inconvenient to his career, a black mark on his fast-approaching retirement?

     Not in good conscience, he couldn’t.

     Skinner knew the past had come back to haunt him when John Doggett showed up at his door, demanding to speak with him about something called Project Ultimam, a top secret cloning project that sounded more like the premise for a bad sci-fi film than a military initiative. It was exactly the kind of thing Mulder would have brought to him had he still been with the Bureau.

     Skinner had no authority to put Doggett on the case—because it wasn’t an official FBI matter—but he couldn’t tell the man how to spend his vacation time.

     He thought he’d been careful, but too many years at the top have made him complacent. Someone got wind of Doggett’s plans, his whereabouts, and suddenly Skinner is getting calls from the Director, demanding to know why two former FBI agents, one of them an ex-fugitive, are running around Montana brandishing Bureau resources.

     He sighs, the events of the last few hours weighing heavily on his mind. He’s beginning to think sending them to the safe house was a grave mistake. Mulder and Scully can handle themselves, but now he sees what they’re up against, and wonders if he should have ordered a formal investigation.

     As if on cue, the phone rings. It’s his private line, one that bypasses his secretary, used only by Bureau employees with high-level clearance. He picks up, expecting it to be one of a handful of people, but the voice on the other end is unfamiliar.

     “Is this Deputy Director Walter Skinner?”

     “Yes. Who is this?”

     “I can’t tell you that.”

     “How did you get this number?” Skinner demands, rising from his chair.

     “I can’t tell you that, either, sir.”

     “I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but…”

     “I’m a friend of Fox Mulder’s.”

     Of course you are. He picks up the other line, hesitating, wondering if he should have the call traced.

     “Sir, are you there?”

     “I want to know who you are and how you got this number,” Skinner growls.

     “Sorry, Deputy Director, it’s not in my best interests to say. But I’m calling because I believe Mulder needs your help.”

     “What are you talking about?”

     “We’ve heard reports of activity over northern Idaho—increased radiation levels, strange lights. Mulder said he was headed to Bonners Ferry, a few miles south of the Canadian border. I’m afraid that’s more than a coincidence.”

     “Look, I don’t have time for whatever games you’re…”

     “With all due respect, sir, you need to make time, unless you want the weight of their deaths on your conscience.”

     Skinner pauses, sets his jaw, but before he can speak again, the line goes dead.

     He dials Doggett’s cell, but it rings through to voicemail.

     If he was smart, they’ve already split up. Damnit. What have those two uncovered up there?

     He slams the phone back into its cradle, a familiar vein throbbing at his temple.

     What would you have done ten years ago, Walter?

     He picks up the phone again, index finger stabbing at the keypad. “Special Agent Markel? I have a situation here. I need you on the next flight to British Columbia. Yes, right away. I’ll brief you when we get to the airport.”

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