Skinner led the way with Charlie bringing up the rear. He took them on a circuitous route to where Todd and Krycek were waiting. Todd was packed and ready to go. He made no secret of how happy he was to see Skinner again. Though he brushed it off as relief that he didn't have to pack again the next morning. "Well, don't we smell better?" was his first comment to Skinner.
Skinner's face colored at that. Two hot showers in two days were luxury like he had forgotten existed. "Would have sent for you, but they didn't have enough hot water to clean you in the whole town." Todd grinned and Skinner made sure the situation was explained in more detail that night while they shared guard duty.
Skinner watched Krycek size up the group and found them wanting. Good, the less he had to do with them the better. He'd better warn Charlie about Krycek before he was shackled for the night.
The day went without mishap and Skinner felt better with each mile that took them away from Sam. The inhabitants of the town had seen them leave on a southerly route and thought they were headed for Tennessee. Still, the farther away they were the better. Charlie had to rein the boys in at first, reminding them that they would be riding their bikes for days and not to wear themselves out.
When Skinner called a halt for that evening they had traveled nearly thirty miles and still had some energy left. Rather than push it, he had them set up camp, using an actual tent for the ladies - an extravagance they had not bothered with except for rainy nights on the way to Ohio.
Warm fresh food was the main treat for the evening, and Skinner made sure those aspirin were liberally distributed again. Toward the end of the trip west he and Todd had no longer felt the need and he hadn't bothered to offer them to Krycek.
When he spotted Krycek sitting close to Anne for dinner he moved in. She wasn't secure enough in the first place and having rat bastard paying attention to her didn't feel right.
Skinner found himself sitting with Maggie and enjoying her companionship immensely. He finally noticed her eyes continuing to return to Krycek. "Do you know him?"
"I don't recognize his face, but the name. . . Krycek. Why do I know that name?"
"He was Mulder's partner just before Dana was missing." Was his reply, if she didn't know more than that it was enough.
She did know more and turned to stare at him, her eyes wide. "He killed Melissa." Her voice was breathless, horrified.
"He was involved, but he didn't pull the trigger. We do think he was the man that killed Mulder's father and probably many others we don't know."
"Why are we traveling with him? Why didn't Mulder. . . ?" She was whispering but with the intensity of a shout.
"He's too valuable a source Maggie. He's the one that located you and Charlie. He travels around, bringing information, and so far he's been accurate. He didn't know I had joined Mulder and Scully and we figured if he made the trip with Todd and me that information would take longer to get to whomever else he gives information to. I'm sorry to have to subject you to him."
"No, if he is responsible for reuniting us with Dana and Fox, I can certainly stand to be in his company for a few days."
"Weeks, Maggie. This is not a short trip."
"But Tennessee - "
"We're not going to Tennessee. That was just to keep anyone we met off track. We're going to Rhode Island, across the Appalachian Mountains. It took us six weeks to get here. I'm not sure how long it will take to get back."
"Six weeks?" She glanced over at the bicycle. "I suddenly feel very old."
"Nonsense Maggie. I watched you today. You can do this. You can do anything you set your mind to. We've got a good group here too, with the exception of Krycek. We'll work together. Come on, you need to get some rest." He stood and pulled her to her feet.
"Are we far enough away?" She glanced back toward the road they'd traveled.
"I think so. But just to make sure Todd and I are going to keep watch."
"But you need your rest too." He smiled at her concern, feeling very safe for a moment.
"Let me worry about you for a while Maggie. You can take over later." He walked her to the tent feeling very comfortable in her presence.
It became a ritual with them - every evening no matter how tired they were or how many miles they had traveled - to spend a few quiet minutes alone, just talking before turning in for the evening. It became more important to each of them than the aspirin when it came to relaxing.
They were well into the trip home before they realized that Todd and Anne had begun the same practice, and that Todd occasionally held her hand when he walked her to the tent, though it had gone no farther.
Skinner noticed also how well Todd got along with the two boys. He helped them, of course, over rough spots on the road, but he also talked with them, showing them constellations at night and discussing baseball and hockey during the day.
Skinner finally commented on it to Todd, "When I met you, you didn't seem the type to spend much time with kids."
"I wasn't. Kids bore me, but these two. . . I don't know, they haven't complained about how hard things are, they don't whine. They're actually kind of interesting to talk to. They even talked to me about how hard it's been for Mary and Anne and Maggie. I mean, they noticed that, I thought kids that age were usually oblivious to stuff like that."
Skinner nodded, the two boys had shown more fortitude than he had expected. Todd spoke again, "It makes me wonder what they endured under Sam's command. I didn't meet him, was he capable of scaring the boys?"
"Todd, I think you're the one that's maturing. About Sam, yeah you're probably right. Things should be much improved for all of them once we're home."
"Listen, about Anne. . ." Skinner waited. "Uh, I mean, she's not Dana's sister, right?" He nodded. "Well, if I wanted to, to. . . "
"Date her?" Skinner offered.
"Well, yeah." He grinned at the term. "Who should I . . .shit!"
Skinner smiled. "I think you're doing fine on your own. She's an adult. If you want to know more about her Maggie would probably talk to you. I know she went through some bad times before the Scully's took her in, you need to go slow."
"I know. You think Maggie would mind?"
"I think she'd be happy to talk to you. She cares a lot about Anne and wants to make sure she's not hurt." Todd nodded his agreement with that.
Skinner mentioned it to Maggie the next time they had some privacy. Maggie's response surprised him. "It's taken him long enough."
"What? I've been cautioning him to slow down, not push her too fast."
"Well, that's probably good advice, but Anne needs to feel like she belongs to someone. She knows she belongs to us, but she needs the security of a relationship. I've watched Todd with her and with the boys. I like him."
Skinner relaxed, he trusted Maggie's instincts with people. If she was okay with the two of them, it was fine with him. Besides he had other things on his mind. It was getting to be time to cut Krycek loose; the problem was would he go? If Dana was still pregnant, and she should be - hugely so by now - the last thing he wanted was Krycek showing up with them when they returned.
This wasn't a matter he could discuss with Maggie, which already felt strange. He'd talked about everything with her. He still marveled at how comfortable they were with each other.
Todd was more than delighted that the time had come. His opinion of Krycek had been low to begin with, and had only deteriorated while traveling with him. He did suggest posting a guard to ensure that all Krycek did was leave. Skinner agreed with that and they decided not to shackle the man beginning that night, under the assumption that he might not take the bait the first night.
The rest of their group was warned that this would be happening, though no mention was made to Krycek himself. The boys were especially excited at the intrigue of it all and decided to stay awake to see if he ran.
Their eyes finally closed on them and they were more than disappointed when he was still there the next morning. Nothing was said though Krycek seemed more alert and energetic than anyone could remember ever seeing him before.
Following the last break before setting up camp for the night, Todd found Skinner checking the chains on all of the bikes. "I think he's gone."
Skinner looked up startled. Well, he probably wanted to get some distance between them while there was still daylight. Yeah, that's what he would want, should he be escaping. Fine, but there would be guards around the camp tonight. He knew Krycek wasn't armed, he and Todd held all of the weapons at all times. Still, he wasn't willing to take chances with these peoples' lives. They already meant more to him than he had thought possible.
All three men stood guard that night, and the night after. There was no disturbance and they decreased their guard to one on the third night. Being only days away from home was adding a lightness to the trip, more laughter, and more handholding; except for the weather it could have been spring.
"Dana! Oh my god!" Maggie held her tight for a moment, then finally released her and stepped back to take another look. She turned to Mulder. "When are you going to marry her?"
"I did already. A long time ago." He held up his left hand and then hugged this woman who had already been more mother to him than any other.
"I'm so happy for you Fox." She whispered to him. He squeezed her tighter. A mother-in-law; what a concept.
Mulder watched the man in the group approach Scully and even though this had to be Charlie, he was on alert. Maggie smiled, Dana was in excellent hands here.
Charlie took Dana in his arms and hugged her, then stepped back. "You are really knocked up, Dana." Before she could reply he turned toward Mulder, "And I assume you are the knock-er. Mulder, not Fox, right?"
"Right." Mulder held out his hand and shook with the younger man. He could see Scully in his face.
"Funny, I don't see horns."
"Ah, you've been talking to Bill."
"Yeah, but don't worry about it. Bill and I don't agree on a lot of things." Mulder felt himself relaxing. "This is my wife, Mary and my boys, Will and Sam. We're very glad to be here."
"Not nearly as glad as we are to have you here safe. We've got a house ready for you, and your stuff is already being taken there." He'd seen Kevin take over as soon as Scully had so obviously recognized the group. "We'll have dinner for you in a little while, after you've had a chance to freshen up."
Scully took her mother's hand. "I'll take you over."
"No, you won't." Mulder put his arm around her. "I'm taking you home, you'll see everyone at dinner."
"Mulder, I'm pregnant, not sick." Maggie grinned.
"And you're going to stay that way for a few more weeks. You've had enough excitement. If they made it this far, they're not going to get lost going to the house." His tone was light, but she knew she wasn't going to win this one. He winked at Maggie as she muttered, took Scully's arm and headed her toward the door.
"Walter! Why didn't you tell me?" Mulder heard Maggie as she approached Skinner who was grinning ear to ear.
"And spoil the surprise? Why do think I was in such a hurry? I had orders to meet my deadline and I did it. I don't plan to move again for at least two days."
"Not even to help me get settled?"
"Well, maybe I could be persuaded. . . "
Mulder nearly turned back. Maggie and Skinner, flirting? Scully didn't seem to have heard them. What had happened on the trip here? He definitely wanted a few minutes alone with Skinner as soon as possible.
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Mulder, Scully, the Lone Gunman and Skinner all belong to Chris Carter,10-13 and Fox. No infringement intended.