Title: "Begins Responsibility" sequel to "In Dreams"
Author: JiM
Date: 9/01
Fandom: XF
Pairing: sort of...Sk/D
Rating: PG for language
Summary: After the events of "Existence", Skinner needs someone to talk to. Or not. A sequel to "In Dreams", which can be found at my website, url below.
Author's Note: Thanks to Ruth and Karen and Ness and Dail. You are so kind! And, of course, the talented Mona.
Website: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html
Feedback to: Jimpage363@aol.com
Archive: Yes to DitB and anyone else who asks.

* * *
"Begins Responsibility"
by JiM
* * *

"In dreams begins responsibility. " (William Butler Yeats)

The knock on the door didn't surprise Doggett. He'd been sitting on his couch, just staring at the morning sunlight on the carpet ever since Mulder's call. It made sense that he wasn't the only one Mulder would have called with the good, the unexpectedly good, the unbelievably good news that both Scully and her baby were fine. His partner was OK; the thought made him grin at odd moments, before the knowledge of the true depth of the oddness wiped any expression from his face again.

Alien replacements, unstoppable super soldiers, friends who became soulless killing machines chasing him through the midnight halls of the Hoover building... his life had become all too much like his nightmares again. He didn't want to think about it any more and the knock was almost a welcome reprieve from the thoughts in his own head.

But he should have realized that there was no way that would happen. The list of people who would knock on his door at dawn after the night he'd had... none of them were likely to contribute to his peace of mind. Certainly not this man.

"AD Skinner," he said, and stood aside to let the other man in. No other words were needed. No polite nothings, no surprised inquiries, no questions left to ask really. He'd known that this day would come, that there was a debt to be paid for a snowy night months in the past now. He owed the man for the hours he had spent sleeping dreamlessly in his home, in his bed, in his arms. As much as he had tried to forget that night, the waking that had followed, Doggett was too honest. He might flinch, but he couldn't deny.

He led the way down the hall into the kitchen and began to put up a pot of coffee. Leaning against the counter, listening to the machine begin burbling and hissing, Doggett took the time to study his superior. Skinner looked like hell. He had slumped into a chair at the table, face pale, brows knit against the pain of his concussion. He rubbed his hands against the stubble on his face, then stopped and stared at them. Doggett watched as Skinner slowly turned his hands over, studying them carefully. He had a weird flash of memory, the sight of Mulder standing over Skinner's hospital bed last night, gingerly holding one of those hands as the man slept. He thought that Skinner didn't know about that, probably never would, if Mulder ran his personal life like he handled his professional duties.

It finally caught his exhausted attention that Skinner kept staring at his own hands and that they were shaking. "Skinner?" His own voice sounded too harsh and too old in the fresh light spilling into his kitchen.

"Blood," the other man said at last, still staring at his hands. "I thought I'd gotten it all."

"What?!" Doggett was in motion, grabbing Skinner's hands to check them for damage. There were dark flecks around the nails, some smears in the creases of his knuckles but no wounds. Skinner's hands didn't shake in his grip, but there was the faintest hint of instability, of fissures forming deep below the surface.

"Krycek," Skinner said, answering a question he hadn't been asked. "I killed Alex Krycek last night." Doggett dropped Skinner's hands and turned away. He grabbed a dishtowel and started running warm water over it. "When?"

"Not 'why', Agent Doggett?" Skinner's words were mocking, but his voice was just tired, so tired.

"I know 'why', Skinner. I want to know when. And where's the body?" Doggett moved back to the table, feeling like he had aged overnight. He handed the towel to Skinner and watched as he dabbed at the rusty specks.

"He tried to kill Mulder. While you were on the phone with him. I got there just as... I had no choice." Skinner was twisting the damp towel around his hands, knuckles whitening as he gripped it. Doggett wondered what Skinner wasn't telling him. He turned away and poured two mugs of coffee, put one down in front of Skinner and watched as he took his first sip, then asked again, "Where's the body?"

"Burnt. Industrial furnace. I've used it before..." Then Skinner was on his feet, lurching to stand over the sink, retching and spitting, bringing up nothing but bile. Mechanically, Doggett turned on the water, let it run as he laid a steadying hand on Skinner's back. Eventually, the gagging stopped and Skinner cupped cold water to his face before slowly straightening up. He took the towel that Doggett offered without looking at him, first wiping his face, then taking off his glasses and wiping the lenses.

"You said you used it before," Doggett said, not really asking the question, not really wanting to know. Skinner only nodded, still staring down at his glasses. "It was a long time ago. I made a deal... to save Scully. Part of the deal involved stealing a woman's body from a morgue and disposing of it."

Doggett saw Skinner's jaw work and wondered if the man would throw up again. Then he saw the smear of dried blood along the side of Skinner's neck. His own teeth gritted and he took the towel from Skinner's hands, ignoring his stare of confusion. Doggett wet the towel and put his hand against Skinner's temple, pushing his head away until the stain was revealed. He scrubbed at it carefully until Krycek's blood was gone.

He was remembering that snowy morning months ago, when he had awakened in Skinner's bed. He had tried to apologize for being there, for even needing his help in the first place. And Skinner had looked up from his morning coffee and said only, "I *know* about nightmares, John. Trust me." And he had. But now he knew why - Skinner's life was full of fucking nightmares. Or maybe it was just the spillover from Mulder's life. And he wanted to blame Mulder for it, for all of it -- but hadn't they all chosen this path with their eyes wide open? Just because Mulder was out in front breaking the trail didn't mean that they had to follow him; but they all had. Hard to say who had lost more on that road, Scully or Skinner; but it was Skinner standing in front of him now, fingers rubbing against the damp streak Doggett had left on his throat. Scully had Mulder now and probably always would. Skinner just stood there.

"Have you slept, Walter?"

Skinner shrugged and gave a humorless laugh. "In the hospital." Doggett saw that strange scene in the hospital again -- Mulder, just standing there, holding the sleeping man's hand, not even bothering to blank out his expression when Doggett came into the room. And Doggett remembered seeing that hand clench against the sheets as Mulder left the room.

"Come on." Skinner followed him, stumbling once on the stairs before catching himself with a hand against the wall. Doggett bypassed the two empty bedrooms and the one guest room he kept for his parents' infrequent visits and led Skinner into his bedroom. Another day, a different crisis and Skinner would have balked. Doggett could see it in the set of his jaw, the slump of his shoulders. But not today, not this particular sleepless morning.

Skinner shucked his slacks and his slightly stained shirt. When Doggett held out a silent hand for it, Skinner passed it over. There was a faint, acrid stink to it and Doggett tossed it into the trash can in the bathroom. He dumped the rest of their clothing in the hamper and slipped into the shorts he normally slept in, left hanging on the bathroom door more than 24 hours ago. When he came back into the bedroom, Skinner was already beneath the covers, lying on his back, an arm across his eyes.

He slid into bed and lay on his side, facing Skinner. Everything was silent in the dim cool light that filtered through the curtains. He didn't have to wait long. With a long exhalation too full of unspoken things to be a sigh, Skinner turned onto his side, facing away. After a moment, Doggett slid over, carefully passing his arm underneath Skinner's neck, looping the other one across his ribs, cautiously fitting his body against Skinner's.

"John..." Then Skinner said nothing else, could say nothing else. Doggett felt the tremors, the deep hitching breaths that Skinner was fighting with every last ounce of willpower in him. But there was nothing left in him with which to fight; they both knew it.

"It's all right, Walter. I know," Doggett said. "Trust me, I know."

And he did.

* * *
Feedback cheerfully appreciated at: jimpage363@aol.com

* * * *
Someday, I'll look back on all this, laugh nervously and change the subject. (courtesy of am w)

Archived: September 23, 2001