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Skinman 2: Courtside Seats
Author:  ML
Distribution:  Yes to the usual gang of suspects (and you know who you are!), but if you haven't archived my stories before, please drop me a line and let me know, and leave headers, etc. attached. I thank you!
Spoilers: If you've seen the S8 finale, no surprises. Little
references to past season eps here and there.
Rating: PG-13 (can't get the guys to stop swearing!)
Classification: Vignette
Keywords: Skinner POV
Summary:  Skinner has a little glimpse into the Mulder-Scully

Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, they belong to Chris
Carter, TenThirteen, and Fox Broadcasting.  I am using them only
for recreational purposes, mean no infringement, making no money.

Author's notes:  This is a continuation of a story I started in
"Skinman on Campus."  If you haven't read that one, you might
want to before reading this one.  More notes at end.

Skinman 2: Courtside Seats
by ML

He is early.  Not much of a surprise, really.  Skinner is nearly
always early, a habit instilled in him by his military training,
one that he's never tried to break.

Mulder, of course, is late, and this is no surprise, either.  
Mulder was seldom on time for meetings while at the FBI, though
he somehow always managed to be Johnny-on-the-spot when Scully
needed him.

Not too many minutes later, he sees the SUV pull up with Scully
in the driver's seat.  Mulder is in the back, presumably sitting
next to Will.  Skinner sees him lean down to either speak to or
kiss his son, then lean over the front seat to do the same to
Scully.  It makes a nice picture of a family, any family, on any
Saturday morning.  He feels a tiny surge of envy but suppresses
it.  If anyone has earned a normal life, it's these two.

Skinner looks away until he hears the car door slam and he looks up
to see Mulder, still standing by the driver's window.  Another
word, another kiss, and he bounds toward Skinner's car.

Skinner gets out and raises a hand to the vehicle.  He thinks he
sees Scully wave back through the glass before she drives away.

Mulder's dressed in the rattiest shorts and sweatshirt Skinner has
ever seen.  He's carrying a gym bag in one hand and a basketball
in the other.  Skinner feels a little too spit and polished next
to Mulder, even though he's just dressed in track pants and a nylon
jacket over his shorts and tee shirt.

"Hey, Skinman," Mulder calls, and Skinner winces.  He tries not to
rise to the bait, on the theory that Mulder will get bored with
calling him that if Skinner doesn't react to it.  So far it isn't
working, but Skinner figures it's bound to, sooner or later.

Since his guest lecture for Mulder's class at the University,
Skinner has gone to dinner at Mulder and Scully's once, and taken
them to dinner once.  They don't see each other all that often;
the get-togethers take place at intervals of several weeks.  
Mulder calls fairly often, and even Scully has done so once or
twice.  Skinner is learning that it is okay to just call to say
hello or to tell them an interesting bit of news.  He's never
been given the impression that he's calling at a bad time, or
that his calls are unwelcome.  Still, he feels a little awkward.
He senses Mulder's awkwardness, too, and suspects that Scully was
the catalyst for the initial contact.  Mulder as much as said so
on that first day, though he seems genuinely interested in
friendship with Skinner, too.  

This is the first time Skinner and Mulder have done something
together without Scully there, too.  Over the years, Skinner
has observed that Scully often acted as a buffer for Mulder
against the outside world, and wonders if she's been fulfilling
that same function between him and Mulder.  It strikes him that
he and Mulder have a lot in common.  They both tended to be loners
and had few close friends.

"What are Dana and Will up to today?" Skinner asks as they enter
the gym.

"Visiting Scully's mom, and probably shopping or something,"
Mulder says.  They enter the basketball court and see that there
are already three guys horsing around in a little one-on-one-on-one.
The guys notice Mulder and Skinner standing in the doorway and they
stop their play.

It's interesting to Skinner to see Mulder in this context.  He's
loose-limbed and entirely at ease in this environment.  He greets
the players already on the court, who seem to have at least a
nodding acquaintance with Mulder.

"Hey Milk," one of the men says.  "I see you brought back-up.  
Tired of having your ass whipped?"

"No, seeing that it hasn't happened yet," Mulder replies with a
grin.  Handshakes all around as Skinner is introduced, and it is
quickly decided that Mulder and Skinner will take on Toby, Kendrick,
and Jamal.

Skinner strips off his track suit and puts it on top of his gym
bag in the corner next to Mulder's.  Basketball has never been
Skinner's game; he's always preferred boxing.  But Mulder invited
him, and he hadn't wanted to turn him down.

There's a lot of trash-talking during the course of the game.
Skinner's not much help with this.  He's never been one to talk
just to hear his own voice.  Mulder, however, is a virtuoso of
quips and comebacks.  And his hands and feet are almost as quick
as his mouth.

Skinner finds that he and Mulder work pretty well together on the
court.  They play a pretty good game against the three, who
obviously spend a lot more time on the court than either Skinner
or Mulder, and are probably at least ten years younger than Mulder.
Skinner concentrates on guarding Mulder when he has the ball, and
otherwise assisting.  He's absurdly pleased when he actually makes
a basket during a free throw.

At first, it appears that they might play to a draw, but eventually
numbers and age take their toll and Mulder and Skinner concede
defeat.  A little more trash-talking ensues as handshakes are
exchanged all around and then Mulder shows Skinner where the
showers are.

"Hey, Skinman, you got game," Mulder compliments him as they wash
up and change.

"It's been a while," Skinner admits, but it pleases him that Mulder
says that.  At least he didn't embarrass himself.

"Wanna go get a beer?"  Mulder asks as they leave the gym.  Skinner
figures this is part of the plan for the day, and he readily agrees.
It's Saturday, after all, and what else would he do besides go home
and watch whatever game is on TV?

Mulder directs him to a sports bar/pizza parlor not far away.  He
seems to be known here, too, as a couple of people greet him as
they walk in.

Mulder buys the first round, and Skinner gets the popcorn from the
machine by the bar.  They  drink in silence for a while.  Skinner
looks up at one of the many TVs ranged around the walls, trying to
identify who's playing whom.

"So, have they closed the X-Files division down yet?"  Mulder asks
suddenly.  He could be making a joke, but Skinner takes it as a
serious question.

"Not yet," Skinner says.  "Kersh has been laying off it lately.  
Might have something to do with his connection with Knowle Rohrer
and Agent Bates."

"You might want to get in touch with the Gunmen," Mulder tells him.
"They told me some stuff the other day that you and Doggett might
find useful."

"Thanks for the tip, Mulder," Skinner says.  "Doggett says he got
a call from Byers the other day.  Did you tell him to call?"

"Well, I left a message for Agent Doggett but I didn't think he'd
follow up with it.  The information could be significant, and I
can't do anything with it."

"What about Dana?" Skinner knows she's not supposed to have anything
official to do with the X-Files, but she has been known to help
Agents Doggett and Reyes out on occasion.

"Scully actually suggested that I get Doggett to go visit the Gunmen,
but it might be better if you took him," Mulder explains.  "I don't
want Scully to get in too deep with this, either.  Our deal is that
we both keep out of active involvement."

"You miss the work, don't you?"  Skinner asks.  It's so obvious.

"Well, yeah," Mulder admits.  "But Scully and I have talked about
this.  A lot.  Right now, Will has to be the focus of our lives.
Running all over the countryside doesn't fit in with that equation.
But we keep up with what's going on as best we can."

Skinner shakes his head and smiles into his beer.

"What?"  Mulder asks.

"Mulder, it's just that this is the last thing I would have seen
you doing."

"Believe me, it's the last thing I saw myself doing, too," Mulder
pauses for a long moment and sips his beer reflectively.  "Scully
never made it a secret that she hoped some day to have a normal
life.  For a long time, I didn't think that normal life would
include me.  Unlike Scully I never expected it, and frankly, I'd
convinced myself that I didn't want it."

Both men are quiet.  Skinner is not going to say anything to break
Mulder's confessional mood.  He senses the other man has needed to
talk about this for a long time, and he's immensely moved that
Mulder has decided to confide in him.

Mulder continues.  "I didn't have the best example of a happy home
life, you know.  So I just waited for the day when Scully would
come to me and tell me she'd found someone, and she was leaving me."

Mulder is staring straight ahead as he speaks.  Skinner's not sure
what he's seeing, but his voice and expression are as bleak as they
would be if his words had come true.

"I tried to convince Scully a couple of times that she should quit,
get as far away from me as she could.  But she stayed."  He smiles
a little now, but it's not a very happy smile.  "I'm still not sure

"Mulder, is there something wrong between you and Dana?"  Skinner
hates to ask, but there's obviously something troubling the other

"No, it's not Scully.  It's me," Mulder explains.  There are long
silences between his words as he struggles to express himself.

"I just keep thinking that some time I'm going to wake up and find
myself strapped down aboard the ship again ... or in an operating
room ... and find that I've dreamed this life.  That I still don't
have Scully, that there is no Will."

Skinner is beginning to feel out of his depth.  Is Mulder suffering
from post-traumatic stress?  Is Scully aware of this?  He keeps
quiet for the moment.

"It happened that way before," Mulder continues.  "I dreamed a
normal life for myself, though it wasn't with Scully.  I had the
love of a woman, I had kids, a house, everything.  I knew while it
was happening that something wasn't right, but it wasn't until
Scully came to rescue me that I knew it for sure.

"When the aliens had me, it was the same.  I dreamed of another
life.  I dreamed of Scully, and it probably kept me alive longer
than I would have lived otherwise.  When I first woke up in the
hospital, I wasn't sure what part was the dream:  Scully, or being
on board the alien ship."  He gulps his beer.  "Or that maybe, I
was still in the operating theater, dying."

He's tracing patterns in spilled beer on the tabletop.  "I know
how upset Scully was when I first came back and I seemed so
distant to her, and to everyone else.  I just couldn't quite
believe what had happened to me.  I kept looking for the trap
door, for Cancerman behind the curtain, for everyone to melt
into green goo.  Sometimes I wake up expecting to find myself
strapped in that fucking chair again."

Definitely post-traumatic stress, Skinner thinks.  He asks,
"Does Dana know about this?  Are you seeing anyone for it?"

"Yeah, to both," Mulder says.  "Look, I don't mean to burden you
with all of this.  I know why I feel this way, we just haven't
figured out yet how to make it stop.  Maybe it won't ever stop."

"I don't think you can let yourself think that, Mulder," Skinner
tells him.  "I have some experience with post-traumatic stress.  
Do you remember a story I told you, a long time ago?"

Mulder finally looks up at him and nods slowly.  Skinner  thinks
that maybe Mulder had forgotten that story, told so long ago, at
another crisis point in his life.  Maybe he just hadn't absorbed
its full impact at that time.  So much more has happened to all
of them since then.

Skinner goes on, carefully.  "I told you that I didn't want to
look beyond that experience, and it's true, in a sense.  But I
did finally seek professional help."

When he did, it was too late to save his marriage to Sharon, but
at least it finally helped him to sleep nights.

"It will get better, Mulder," Skinner tells him.  "Sometimes it
takes a long time, but it will get better.  I'm sure Dana has told
you the same thing."  He chooses his next words carefully and says
them slowly, as if he could snatch them back if Mulder's reaction
is bad.  "I don't mean to pry, but she has to have had some similar
reactions to her own experiences?"

Mulder merely nods.  "Yeah, in fact we made a pact that if I went
in for therapy, she had to, too.  It's really awful when we both
have nightmares, and then Will has one, as well.  In fact, I've
begun to wonder if ours set his off, sometimes."  Mulder shakes
his head.  "Some normal life, huh?"

"It's what I said before, Mulder," Skinner tells him.  "It's just
life."  He signals for another round.  "It's what you make of it,"
he adds.

Mulder nods.  His expression looks a little lighter.  "Thanks," he
says quietly.

"Don't mention it," Skinner replies.  After a couple of minutes,
they start to rehash that afternoon's game, and somber atmosphere
dissipates.  But Skinner feels like he's been let into the closed
circle just a little.

Later, when Skinner drives Mulder home, Mulder asks him in to say
hello to Scully.

Wonderful cooking smells assail them as they enter the house.  
Mulder sniffs appreciatively.  "Mama Scully must be cooking."

"Well, you're half right," Scully laughs as she comes out of the
kitchen.  They can hear Will in the background, banging a pot lid
or something with great gusto.  "*My* Mama Scully cooked, and she
sent it home with me."  She turns to kiss Mulder and then kisses
Skinner on the cheek.  "You got here just in time.  Can you stay
to dinner, Walter?  There's a ton of food."

"I'd love to," he says.  No one would ever know, looking at these
two, what they've been through.  He supposes it's the same with
him.  Who would know what any of them has been through?  It's a
good thing that their experiences have left no visible scars; they
would all look like Frankenstein's Monster.

"How was the game?"  Scully asks Mulder.

Mulder looks over at Skinner.  "We kicked ass," he says.

"Or got yours kicked?" Scully asks, one eyebrow arched.  She
smiles.  "Doesn't matter, as long as you had a good time."

"I think we did," Mulder says, and Skinner nods this time.

"Yeah, I think we did," he agrees.

"You must have gone to Bud's afterwards," Scully says.

"How well you know me, Scully," Mulder grins.  "Cheap beer,
free popcorn, and all the sports you can stand."

"Yeah, but I still thought you'd be back before this.  Did you just
drink beer and watch TV all afternoon?"

"Is there anything wrong with that?"  Mulder teases her.  "We had
important guy stuff to talk about."

"Sounds like a great afternoon," Scully says dryly.

"To each his own, Scully.  Bet you spent the afternoon at the
mall, or looking at catalogues with your mom."

"I fail to see the connection," Scully says with a twinkle in her
eye.  This must be a familiar conversation.

Skinner excuses himself and goes into the kitchen to say hello to
Will, who looks up and crows with delight when he sees Skinner.

Okay, so maybe the picture isn't as perfect as it seems, Skinner
thinks, but it's still pretty good.

Author's notes:  Yeah, I was going to have more of the Babe Magnet
in this one, but I thought that Skinner and Mulder had to have a
little more male bonding before Mulder hands The Boy over to his
Unca Skinman for the afternoon!

Since I got so many nice requests that I continue the story I
started in "Skinman on Campus," I thought I'd see if I can't turn
this into a series.  If you like, let me know!

I wrote this one because, as much as we all might wish it for
them, it's not going to be entirely happy-ever-after for any of
these folks.  But I hope to leaven the angst with more happiness
than they've had so far.  I know they all have to still be suffering
the after effects of everything they've gone through.  But they're
dealing with it <g>.