It took a full 42 days before they reached their destination. Skinner and Todd secured Krycek and moved forward to check out what they could.
"It's too late to approach them tonight. I want to wait for full daylight so they can see me and not shoot on sight. You'll stay here with Krycek and keep the gag in his mouth. I want to look as non-threatening as possible. They post a guard so they're already nervous. And he looks hungry."
"Yeah, a lot of the people we've passed lately do."
"Beginning to think it wasn't so bad at home?"
"Yeah," Todd grinned, "I guess quiet is better than it's cracked up to be. I'm ready to be heading the other way."
"Soon I hope. I don't know what to expect traveling on the way back. They may not be in great shape, like you've noticed. And we know the conditions in the mountains."
Todd grimaced. "Well, that's why we pushed so hard to get here with plenty of time to spare, right?" Skinner nodded; they had pushed to get here. Skinner was ever mindful of their deadline and could only hope that everything was going okay at home. He'd never missed his cell phone so much. Mulder must be losing his mind, not having any information about their progress on top of worrying about Scully.
He waited until full light the next morning and, after helping Todd secure Krycek, headed toward the main entrance of the community.
He approached from the main road, making no attempt at stealth, his arms away from his side, trying to look as non-threatening as his ex-marine body could.
"Hello! May I approach?" He watched both rifles being leveled toward him.
The older gentleman rose, "Might as well save yourself the steps, mister. We're not taking anyone else in."
"I understand, I'm not looking to stay. I'm searching for family to take home with me and I heard they might be here." He didn't attempt to move closer, these men weren't military and a lot more nervous than he was.
"Who you lookin' for?"
"Margaret Scully. I heard she was here with her son Charles and his family." No poker faces here, they knew the name. Skinner breathed a sigh of relief. He still didn't know their condition, but Krycek had the right location.
"Charles be able to confirm that?"
"No sir. I've never met Charles. I knew Maggie in Washington, DC. I'm here as a favor to her daughter."
The men had a short conference and finally spoke to him again. "Put your hands on your head, sir and come up the middle there like you're doin'."
"Yes sir." Skinner laced his fingers on top of his head and walked slowly toward the gate. When he stopped, still well back from the men he asked, "Can you tell me if they're okay?"
"Yeah, probably thinner than you remember. You wanna take `em all with you?"
"Yes sir." The older man nodded slightly and moved to open the gate.
"Keep your hands where they are and come on in. Jake, you keep an extra eye peeled, I'll take him in and be right back." He turned back to Skinner. "I don't suppose you're alone."
"No sir, I have two traveling companions back that way." He pointed with his elbow. "It's not good to travel alone right now. But I came up here alone, they're back at the camp. They just want us to get the Scully's and go. We don't want any trouble."
"We'll have to see about that. Come on." He had lowered his rifle though `Jake' still had Skinner in his sights. He fell in behind Skinner and directed him toward a larger white house not far down the road. "You got a name?"
"Walter Skinner, and you?"
"I'm John. Where you come from?"
"South of here, down in Tennessee." That's what he had instructed Todd to say, and they didn't want anyone talking to Krycek.
All activity at the house stopped when John knocked on the door, not attempting to enter. A large man came to the door, a pistol in his hand. "Sam, this gentleman here is looking for the Scully family. Wants to take `em home with him."
Sam looked Skinner up and down carefully. "You frisked him?"
"Nope, but he's been careful not to make any moves."
"Frisk him now." Sam aimed at him and John put his rifle down out of reach.
John was thorough but Walter took it stoically. "He's clean."
"I'm not here to cause any trouble. I just want Maggie and her family to come home with me, if they're agreeable to it."
"If they aren't?" Sam still hadn't lowered his weapon.
"Tell Maggie it's Walter Skinner here for her. Let them make the decision." Sam nodded, an answer he could live with. He motioned for Walter to take a seat and the entire atmosphere of the room warmed. People moved from their frozen positions and went back to what they were doing.
Sam sent a runner out the back door and waited out of Walter's sight. When Maggie entered the house Sam met her in the kitchen.
Maggie didn't bother to smile at the man; "You sent for me?"
"There's someone here from outside, says he's come to get you and your family. I wanted to see if you recognized him."
"A man has come for us? What's his name?"
"See if you recognize him first." Maggie managed to hide her annoyance and reluctantly allowed the man to take her arm and lead her to the front of the house.
Walter stood as he heard them approach and waited. When Maggie spotted him she stopped dead still, then she broke out with the biggest smile he had ever seen. "Walter!"
She shook loose from Sam's hand and started across the room. Walter met her half way and when her arms went around him, he reciprocated, actually picking her up and twirling her around.
"I was hoping you'd remember me, but. . . " He whispered in her ear.
"You're someone from home. Do you know where Dana is?"
"That's where I've come from. She wants me to bring you to her, and her brother and his family." Now she was wiping tears of joy away and nodding, not letting go of his arm.
"Is that recognition enough?" Walter finally looked back at Sam who was watching from the doorway. Walter couldn't read the expression, but it didn't look that happy. Sam turned abruptly and left the room. "Is everything okay?"
"Later. Tell me everything about Dana. Is Fox with her?"
Walter smiled, "Oh yes."
"Why didn't she come with you? Is she really okay?"
"She's fine, but she's the only one of her profession, " he glanced up to see who might be listening. "So she couldn't just leave."
Maggie nodded, realizing his caution. Walter took the opportunity to really look at her. She'd lost weight since the last time he'd seen her, but she looked wonderful and truly delighted to see him.
"You need to meet my son and his family. Come on."
"Is it okay for me to be wandering around?"
"You're with me." She tucked her arm into his and led him out the front door. They turned to the right and headed down the street. Something made him turn and look back at the house. Sam was standing at the door watching them. Maggie tugged at his arm and they continued on.
A young woman, late teens or early twenties was waiting for them. When she spotted Maggie, she ran out to the street and threw herself into Maggie's arms.
"It's okay Anne. I'm fine." The young woman eyed Walter suspiciously. "He's a good friend of mine. Is Mary here?"
The woman nodded, tightening her grip on Maggie's arm. Maggie patted her hand and moved toward the door. Walter followed, making sure he kept his distance from the nervous woman.
"Mom? Is everything okay?" A woman around Scully's age hurried into the room. "Did Sam. . . "
"No. Mary, this is Walter Skinner. He's come from Dana and Fox and wants to take us to them. It's a chance to get out of here."
Walter took all of this in, especially the look of hope that was growing on Mary's face. He didn't know what was going on, but he was becoming even more glad they had arrived when they had.
"Charlie and the boys are still in the fields."
"Why don't we start getting some things together." Mary's smile grew even bigger. She nodded and headed back the way she had come.
Walter looked back at Maggie to find her comforting Anne. "I wouldn't leave you here. Just relax Honey." She turned toward Walter. "We wouldn't have to leave Anne, would we?"
"I think we can work that out." It didn't earn him a smile, but it did relieve some of the tenseness around her eyes.
The women retreated to the rear of the house to begin preparations to leave. Walter took the opportunity to take a hot shower for the first time in ages, followed by a close shave. He was feeling human again by the time Charlie and his sons returned to the house.
Charlie stopped just inside the door, throwing his arm in front of the boys to prevent them passing him. "Where's my wife?"
Walter extended his arms from his sides. "In your bedroom. I'm Walter Skinner."
Charlie's eyes widened in obvious recognition of the name. "What are you doing here?"
"Dana sent me to get you and take you to where she's living."
"Is Mulder with her?"
"Yes." Always the first question, he noticed.
"Good. When can we leave?"
"Tomorrow morning as far as I'm concerned."
"Sam's given permission?" Charlie looked surprised.
"I wasn't aware we needed it." Walter glanced toward the back of the house.
"Three able-bodied workers, Mary's capable of having more children. We're assets and Sam wants - "
"Charlie, I didn't hear you come in." Maggie entered the kitchen. "I see you've met Walter."
"Yeah, we were discussing his plans. I was asking about Sam."
Maggie ignored that, "Walter's agreed to take Anne with us as well."
"Mom. . . "
"Why don't you go help Mary? Let me talk to Walter a little."
"I think you better." Charlie herded the boys past them out of sight.
"I think he's right, Maggie. What does Sam have to do with you leaving?"
Maggie gestured him into a seat at the table and sat facing him. "Sam runs this community. He's set himself up as mayor, but he likes to think of himself as a dictator. Walter, I was married to a man in a position of command, William knew how to lead people; motivate people. Sam only knows intimidation. The guards aren't there so much to keep people out as to keep us in. He's using Charlie and the boys to help in the fields; I understand that, but Mary and Anne are being kept for, if you'll excuse the expression, breeding purposes."
Walter waited as she collected her thoughts, then reached out and took her hand. "Tell me the rest, Maggie."
She studied his hand over hers for a moment. "For whatever reason, he's taken a fancy to me. He wants me to marry him and move into the big house instead of here with my family. I don't know why, I can't give him children. . . " Her voice trailed off.
"I can understand why." Maggie looked up at him startled, then quickly away, blushing at his regard. She finally faced him again, "If only high school had been like this." She managed to smile.
"Well, at least I understand why he was so angry when I greeted you."
Her smile faded, "Angry? Was he?"
"Well he wasn't happy."
"I'm sorry. I should have shown more restraint. I may have caused extra problems."
"Restraint I'm used to. That kind of greeting was wonderful." He cleared his throat and squeezed her hand, then removed his hand from hers as though embarrassed. He was pretty sure his face had reddened and she was definitely blushing. What was going on with him?
They moved back from each other simultaneously. Well, whatever it was, she was aware of it too. Skinner cleared his throat.
"I think Charlie and I need to have a conversation with Sam. There might have to be negotiations." Maggie nodded. "Keep packing, but don't worry about equipment. Clothes, traveling food and bikes. Anne can ride can't she?"
"I'm sure she can. She's okay when she trusts you. Before she came here, well, she didn't have an easy time." Skinner nodded that was no longer rare. "I need to get back to Mary. Come on."
Skinner followed her down the hall. Charlie had checked on the packing and given Mary and Anne directions. He had a good grasp of what was ahead of them and Skinner felt a sense of relief.
"Charlie, Walter wants to have a conversation with Sam and wants you there."
"Good idea. Now?"
"No time like the present."
"Charles, I understand your wish to be with your sister, but we're coming up on harvest soon and we're going to need every hand we've got."
"Sam, that's weeks away, and then the weather could change. We'll be leaving a lot more behind than we're taking - "
"How can you say that? Women, son, women are the most valuable resource we humans have right now. If we're going to continue as a race, women are the key."
"Excuse me," Skinner sat forward in his chair, "are you planning to breed these women?"
"That's a crude way to put it Mr. Skinner. We want humanity to survive; the ones that have so far seem to have some immunity. If these survivors mate, a stronger race could be the outcome, giving us a better chance to take back control of the planet."
"You're talking eugenics here. And I can state as fact that a stronger human body is not going to win any war you might think we're waging. They have technology that's so far advanced it appears to be magic to us. Their very bodies are toxic to ours. We're here on sufferance at present. I'm not even sure negotiations are still on going to give us a reservation to live on. There is nothing to keep these creatures from walking in here today and taking everything you hold dear away from you, except that we've kept our place. Until they do, those women and this man and his sons are free to walk away. I'm here to help them do it. All we'll take is clothing, bikes and enough food for a few days. You don't have compelling enough reasons to keep this family apart."
Sam sat for a moment. This man in front of him had an aura of command about him unlike anyone else in town. This was the first real threat to Sam's authority since he'd started leading this community. Skinner was younger and therefore even more of a threat. He wanted him gone. Was he willing to give up the others to get rid of him?
"I need to sleep on this gentlemen. We can talk again in the morning."
"We'll want your answer at that time." Skinner rose and Sam felt physically less than him for a moment. He wouldn't be able to win a fight with this one.
"Charles, I'd like to talk to your mother before I turn in."
"Why Sam?" Charlie had kept quiet during their conversation. He knew that Skinner understood Sam better than he did.
"To discuss the pros and cons of the situation. You don't have to worry Charles. Maggie will be safe with me."
"I'm sure that's true Sam," Skinner spoke, "but I'll bring her here and wait for her. Okay?"
Not okay, but Sam couldn't push it. He wanted to talk to Maggie, but he didn't want to tear the town he'd built down completely. "Fine. I'll see you in a few minutes."
Skinner nodded. Charlie followed suit and they left the room. Neither spoke until they were outside. "Walter, did you mean what you said in there about the aliens?"
"We can't talk here, but there's a lot Mulder and I need to tell you when we get home." Charlie nodded, willing to let this man take command, actually grateful he was here to do it. Charlie had never aspired to command like his father or Bill. Having it thrust upon him had probably done him a world of good, but a break now would be very welcome.
Skinner escorted Maggie back a few minutes later. He settled himself on the porch to wait. In a surprisingly short time Sam was back on the porch, Maggie behind him. "Mr. Skinner, I would like for you to tell me the nature of your relationship with this woman."
Skinner saw that Maggie wanted to communicate with him but the opportunity wasn't there.
"I would never embarrass Maggie or demean our relationship by discussing it with you, Sir." He could see Maggie relax and some of the bravado leave Sam at those words.
Sam turned to Maggie, "So you refuse my bed but give yourself to this man? I want you out of here, you and your family. I will not have my authority undermined this way. Everything that was in the house is part of the community and you are forbidden to take it. What you brought with you can be taken."
"We'll leave most of the food that Mary and I have canned and preserved as payment for what we do take. We will not be indebted to you."
Sam nodded curtly and turned back into the house. Skinner took Maggie's arm and led her from the porch. After a few steps he leaned over her, "May I ask what that was about?"
"He didn't want me to leave. I had to tell him that. . . " She looked down, "that we had been lovers and that was the real reason you'd come looking for us. Fortunately my little display when I saw you helped the story along. I'm sorry Walter. I didn't mean to put you in such an awkward position, but -"
"You didn't embarrass me Maggie. I rather enjoy the role you cast me in." Now she was blushing, he should shut up. "Come on, he may be watching us." He tightened his grip on her and felt her arm go around him in response. This could be an interesting trip home.
Skinner sent everyone to bed finally. What hadn't been packed could be stuffed somewhere in the morning. He had no intentions of pushing them seventy miles on their first day, but he did want to be out of easy reach of this community as soon as possible. For that, everyone needed some sleep.
No one had to be roused when the sun rose. They were all heavily laden with supplies, but that wouldn't last long. Besides, he knew Todd and Krycek would be anxious for some fresh food.
Sam was waiting at the entrance Skinner had used when he had arrived. Had it only been yesterday? He could feel the entire company tense at the sight of him, even the children. He wanted to hear more when they were away from here. As Skinner was the obvious leader of the group Sam approached him.
"Do you want to examine our packs?" Skinner offered.
"No, sir. In spite of everything I don't think that Maggie would allow anyone to cheat this community of its rightful wares." His eyes went to Maggie and he stepped toward her. "I will miss you Maggie. We could have done great things for this town and these people. I hope you never regret your decision to leave."
"Thank you. I'm sure being with my loved ones again will be worth the trip." Skinner, less trusting, wondered if a threat had just been issued and upped his estimation of how far they would need to have traveled by nightfall. At least the mountains were several days away at their best traveling speed.
He stepped toward Sam and extended his hand. "I appreciate your help with these arrangements. I know Maggie's daughter will be delighted to have her family reunited." He forced Sam to look him in the eye and shook his hand firmly. Okay, now whatever happened Sam would have to live with the fact that he had made a deal in public, in front of a lot of witnesses, with them.
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Mulder, Scully, the Lone Gunman and Skinner all belong to Chris Carter,10-13 and Fox. No infringement intended.