Skinner watched Mulder's eyes as he entered the cell. The younger man had automatically looked behind him, watching, waiting for Scully to enter. When she hadn't been there his disappointment was obvious for just an instant.
"We can't keep meeting like this," Mulder deadpanned. "People are beginning to talk.
Skinner ignored that, taking a seat on the cot beside him.
"Doesn't look like I'm going to enjoy this conversation."
"Mulder, there're some things we need to talk about."
Skinner looked away at the baby's name. The cell was too well lit; he couldn't hide his emotions as well as these two. Mulder's hand clamped around his arm.
"What?" he demanded urgently. "What is it? Is Scully ill?"
Scully, always his first concern, Skinner thought. No, she wasn't ill, not physically, but she wasn't okay. She functioned but she wasn't whole anymore. First being separated from Mulder, then William . . . Skinner knew she hadn't spoken to Mulder about the boy. It hadn't been safe; and then there was the question of what to say. He'd spent a lot of time with Scully over the last couple of years. Maybe frightened was the wrong word, but she was definitely anxious about telling Mulder that their child was . . . gone.
"Skinner?" Mulder's voice was low and harsh.
"It's William," Skinner said quietly.
"He's okay?" He'd obviously wanted that to be a statement, but the question was there.
Skinner met his eyes then. "I need to give you a little background."
"Is my son all right?" Mulder got that out through gritted teeth.
"We believe so. That was our goal."
Mulder's lips parted, but no sound emerged. He looked like he'd been kicked in the gut, hard.
"A lot has happened while you've been gone. William, things happened around him. I don't have all of the details, but he was able to, to do things. Remember the artifact? He apparently moved that with, with his mind. He made it come to him, and, and spin above him while he watched it."
Mulder had grown pale, but he didn't interrupt.
"He was taken by some people that had discovered another ship, like the one Scully saw in Africa."
Mulder's grip around his arm grew painful at those words, but Skinner continued. "We think they wanted to use him to activate the ship. I guess in a way it worked, but they were all killed. Scully and Monica found William lying in the midst of the debris and fire, completely unharmed. Scully . . . she was terrified for the boy, day and night. She knew she couldn't keep him safe, not here, not with her."
Mulder's eyes widened, but still he kept silent.
"I, I helped her arrange . . . Mulder, he was sent to an undisclosed location, to a family that desperately wanted a child. Somewhere no one would know him or his link to - "
"To me," Mulder's voice was dead, hollow.
Skinner didn't respond, giving him a moment.
Skinner had to close his eyes for a moment, unable to take in the pain on Mulder's face. He had known the man would be devastated, but actually seeing it was so much worse than he had imagined. Skinner felt a sense of relief that he had been the one to tell him.
"Is Scully okay?"
Skinner shook his head. "She had to do it, but . . . "
Mulder dropped his face into his hands. "What I have done to that woman."
"Don't," Skinner said immediately. "Don't do that. If you take on that guilt, it will only increase her own. Mulder, it was the right thing to do. I believe that. I can't imagine how you feel, but William is safe because of it. Do you understand that? She needs you, Mulder. She doesn't have the strength to carry you on this. You need to be strong for her. You, you need to let her know you don't blame her."
"She gave away your son."
Mulder faced him then. "She feels that way?"
Skinner nodded. "She's . . . I'm not sure she'll ever forgive herself; even knowing it was the best thing for him."
"She's not afraid of me, is she? Did she ask you to - "
"No. She doesn't know I'm doing this. I wanted to spare her having to . . . she's in as much pain as you, Mulder."
Mulder's eyes closed again at those words and Skinner saw the tears. "You believe he's okay?"
"Yes, I do," Skinner spoke immediately. "I've seen some files. I was discreet, but I would never have advised her blindly. These are good people."
"I don't know. I'm not holding back, Mulder. That was one of the conditions. He's safer that way. No one can coerce his location from me. I don't know it."
"I need to see Scully."
Skinner hesitated for a moment. "I know you do."
"I don't blame her. I did the same thing, I thought my leaving would help them, would keep them safe. God, I've missed them, but I always imagined them together. She's been as alone . . . " he shook his head. "I need her to know there's no blame. It was a sacrifice of love." He forced Skinner to look at him then. "You and I know I won't be getting out of here. You'll have to convince her, after, that I understood, that I love her."
Skinner nodded solemnly. He rose then, to give Mulder some time. He'd have to grieve, but at least now he knew.
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Mulder, Scully, the Lone Gunman and Skinner all belong to Chris Carter, 10-13 and Fox. No infringement intended.