Our Skinners

He's been to Vietnam a hundred times, and each time he barely gets out alive he prays he'll never have to go back. But there are still mornings when he wakes up back in Nha Trang, Long Binh, Boi Loi, Cu Chi, Tan Son Nhut, he's eighteen and fighting a war he doesn't understand, and when they shoot him he lies in the mud and waits.

He's lived in Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Montana. His wife Sharon, his ex-wife Sharon, his dead ex-wife Sharon used to say he worried too much, but he thinks he has good reason. Everyone in Washington has tried to kill him at least twice, including Mulder and Scully, who have always been way outside the bell curve. It's rare for a week to go by without one of them pointing a gun at him, and every time they shoot him, they think they have good reason.

Skinner likes it when Kimberly wears short skirts, when Scully acts protective, when Mulder gets that stubborn look, when Krycek shows up in black leather, when Doggett stands too close and insists there must be a better explanation. Sometimes he pays for it. Sometimes he gets paid.

He's a god behind an oak desk and a brass bulldog. He's a drone with a government-issued nameplate and a photograph of the President on his wall. He's whatever he needs to be that day in order to go home and sit on the couch and wait for the phone to ring. He's a puppet, his strings pulled, a hand shoved up the back of his shirt and working his levers, a hand, made of plastic, working his levers.

He lies to Mulder and Scully and the smoking man. He lies to himself. His office has a back door and he feels dirty every time it opens and closes. He sacrifices himself for the greater good, for the cause, for Mulder, for Scully, for Mulder, for Scully, for himself, for no good reason. He dies of gutshots and nanobots and black oil and bees. The center cannot hold.

He drinks a lot.

He used to think he was a man of honor. He used to think there was a difference between right and wrong. He used to be a much younger man.

He watches Mulder disappear, die, rise, die and die and rise again. He watches Mulder leave Scully, her baby, his baby, the baby. He watches. He waits. He knows this can't last.

He gets up every morning, takes a shower, gets dressed, goes to work. The halls of the J. Edgar Hoover building are wide and glossy. There are secret meetings in New York, in London, in Izmir. In Washington, Walter S. Skinner sits at his desk and pretends the papers he signs have meaning, that his name still belongs to him. He sits across from Mulder and Scully and knows he can't protect them from what's coming.

He was a soldier. He was a husband. He was, occasionally, a father.

Now he's just afraid.