The Legacy
rac / November 1999
Archive: yes, as long as front matter is kept intact.
Rating: slash, PG-13

Insert disclaimers here: Not mine, wish they were, although boy, are they ever high maintenance! Except for Charlotte; I'll claim her.

Author's notes: this is for JiM...whose own writing inspired me lo these many years ago to embark in a new fandom, and for her continuing words of encouragement. Thanks. :-)

feedback, please! to rac@enook.net


.o0O0o.

The Legacy
by rac / November 1999

Walter remembered the first time he'd ever seen Sharon's lawyer.

He'd been served the separation papers, and he had to go to court with his own lawyer for the proceedings.

It was not a shining moment in his life. Consequently, he'd been in a foul mood, and his temper, usually reined in by an innate sense of fairness, had sought any and every outlet it could find.

It found Charlotte Denbigh.

Nature had not gifted Charlotte Denbigh with an abundance of looks. An abundance of some things, yes: brains, money, and a wicked sense of humor. She'd probably needed the sense of humor over the years since she resembled nothing more than a short, wide, ugly toad. One of undetermined gender, until the clothes were examined.

Walter took one look at the person sitting next to Sharon on the opposite side of the courtroom, and leaned over to his own lawyer, Jane Parker.

"Who's the troll next to Sharon?"

It wasn't *quite* a whisper.

Jane narrowed her eyes at him and said quietly, "Her lawyer, Charlotte Denbigh."

"You weren't kidding when you said Sharon had a 'bulldog of a lawyer' handling her end of things." He was perversely gratified to see Sharon's head swivel around to glance at him with angry eyes.

Five sharp, pointed nails piercing the fleshy part of his arm caused him to whip his own head back toward his lawyer in surprise.

Jane's hand was wrapped tightly around his forearm. "If you open your mouth again, Walter, I'd suggest you plan on representing yourself," she hissed. The nails relented; the grip stayed. "I understand this is difficult. I can make allowances for that. But I will not sit here and listen to you denigrate a woman who's single-handedly opened more doors for female lawyers in this town than you can imagine. Not only that, if you say one more word in her earshot, we don't stand a chance in hell of coming out of the divorce with much more than the clothes on your back. Do you understand me?"

Walter's ethical sense of fairness reappeared, and most of the anger fled from his eyes. A bleak, opaque look took its place. "Yeah, I hear you, Jane."

She let go of his arm, and he leaned forward, elbows on his knees, head in his hands. He knew he'd been a rude son-of-a-bitch, but he couldn't quite bring himself to apologize. Not at that point, not when all the women involved were busy dismantling his personal life like so many pieces of theater trappings and props.

Act over, quick change for the intermission skit, five minutes to curtain.

But somebody had forgotten to tell him his lines, and he was stuck on center stage without knowing the play. Hell of a place to be. Nobody deserved that.

Funny, Walter thought now. Here he was, looking at Sharon's lawyer again a year later, and he felt the same way. Didn't know his lines, wasn't sure what play was being acted out. It confounded him.

"Excuse me, Counselor, but I'm not sure I'm following any of this."

The lawyer stopped reading, and glanced up across her desk with her flat, mud-brown eyes, protruding and bulging just enough in their sockets to give her a reptilian look. They unemotionally assessed him, and the lawyer leaned back in her chair, papers lying flat on her blotter.

"It's simple enough, Mr. Skinner. Sharon named me Executrix of her estate in her will. She had two life insurance policies active at the time of her death, and instructions for me to dispose of the payments in a certain way. You are to receive benefits from one policy held with Metropolitan Life, totaling three hundred fifty thousand dollars, less a sum set aside for a mandatory vacation you must take if you wish to inherit the money. The arrangements are all made and paid for; all that you need supply is yourself, and the time off from your place of employment."

"But..." Walter skidded to a halt. It was too strange. Too bizarre. Too soon after Sharon's death and everything surrounding it to take any of this in. "I don't understand why Sharon made this vacation a stipulation in her will. I don't need the goddamn money."

Charlotte remained unmoved. "All I can do, Mr. Skinner, is my best to adhere to the wishes of my client, and inform you of the arrangements. As to the reasons why my client wanted it this way, that's not for me to say."

Obviously, nothing more was going to be forthcoming from The Troll, Walter thought, then mentally cringed at his own callousness. The lawyer didn't deserve his nasty thoughts. "Tell me what arrangements have been made for this vacation. To where, doing what?" And *why*, he thought again. What perversity had taken hold of Sharon that she would even think of this? And I'm supposed to take a vacation a month after her death? Her murder?

Ms. Denbigh hesitated, sighing. "I am prohibited from telling you anything about the trip, Mr. Skinner, by the conditions set forth in my client's will. You must agree to the trip first, and at the appropriate time, the destination will be revealed to you."

"You've got to be kidding."

"Not at all, Mr. Skinner. Possibly your deceased wife hoped you might slow down before you follow her with a heart attack. In any event, these are the stipulations I must abide by."

Walter reached a hand up and smoothed it restlessly over the side of his scalp as he frowned and thought. "Do I have a certain time limit to decide my answer? And am I allowed to know the dates of this supposed vacation?" He barely restrained the sarcasm in his questions.

"Certainly. You have one week to respond with your answer. If you choose not to abide by your wife's conditions, then the money will revert to a charity she's pre-named, one..." small fingers picked though the papers on her desk with a surprisingly graceful motion, "Augusta Winthrop Animal Foundation." Charlotte looked up at Walter with an strangely blank expression. "The charity was founded to care for pets after their owners are deceased, where there is no other family or friend available to care for them."

Walter did manage to grab hold of some credulity. "The Augusta Winthrop Animal Foundation," he repeated.

The lawyer nodded. "Yes. Without it, pets in the vicinity would be sent to the pound, facing euthanasia after the usual seven days, once their owners had left them homeless." She stopped, and blinked at him. "Rather like pet suttee, wouldn't you say? In any event, if you choose to accept your wife's condition of her pre-arranged trip, you will have one month in which to begin the two weeks' vacation. The exact dates, as long as it is started within the month, are left up to you."

"Thank god for small favors," he mumbled. That was about all of this bizarre and ridiculous farce he could handle for the moment. "Ms. Denbigh, I'm going to take my week to think it over." He stood, shrugging into his trench coat. "I've got a full calendar at work; it's not exactly easy for me to simply walk away on a moment's notice for two weeks." He gathered his briefcase in hand. "I'll be in touch."

She stood, dwarfed by his height, and he took her oddly dainty hand in a brief, firm handshake. "I'll be here, Mr. Skinner, awaiting your decision."

As he left her offices, the vision of her odd eyes followed him out the door and the whole way down the elevator.

.o0O0o.

"Take it," Kim had counseled. He couldn't even remember how he'd come to confide the odd conditions of Sharon's will with his assistant, but her opinion remained firm. She even typed up his leave chit in hopes he'd sign it and make it an official request.

"Jeez, Walt, you've got to be kidding. Take the damn vacation and grab the money. Are you nuts? I'm sorry that Sharon died, but she left this to you, so it's the least you could do to honor her wishes." Harvey had offered to go in his place, also, if Walter wanted to get out of it and was willing to use a bit of deception. "I could use the vacation, even if you don't think you need it." What else had he expected from his old 'Nam buddy, now a detective in the Philadelphia PD?

Walter found himself tempted to confide in two other people.

Mulder and Scully sat in their usual places with their usual postures in his office. Scully, as always, was cool, calm and collected while spinning scientific mumbo-jumbo to support their latest cases. Mulder was surprisingly not his usual wired self. He sat quietly in his chair, for once, his hands not drumming on his leg. Of course, reading their latest reports explained Mulder's lack of energy; they'd just arrived back yesterday after a grueling week on the road dodging a variety of blood-sucking creatures. Sleep apparently had been lacking in their daily schedule. Walter made a note to himself to file that idea away for future tactical use when wanting to slow Mulder down. Sleep deprivation might work when many other things he'd tried hadn't.

Their voices lulled Walter into a musing state as they both waxed eloquent over their experiences of the past week. He realized that of all the people he knew, Scully and most especially Mulder would give him the best insight into just what the hell Sharon was attempting to do by setting him up on this vacation bit. The whole arrangement Sharon had left behind took on the air of an X-File, with no apparent cause or reason for existing, to Walter's mind. An animal charity? Good God, they had never even owned an animal. She had to have chosen that simply to get his goat, hadn't she? Hell, he'd only lived with the woman for seventeen years, you'd think he'd know how in the hell her mind worked

Mulder's voice called him back from his musings, and Walter covered his lapse by asking a generic question. The moment passed, unused, and Mulder and Scully left without getting to dispense advice to their boss, and he was left still pondering.

Hell. He loved solving a mystery. That's why he'd been a good investigator. Don't leave any stone unturned. Get all the answers.

Damn. And Sharon had known him well.

He groused while he signed the government leave form on Kim's desk, and Kim grinned, walking it personally to the Director's Office for approval before forwarding to personnel.

He knew he'd been had, but the extent of his situation remained to be seen. Frowning, he picked up the phone to call Charlotte Denbigh.

.o0O0o.

Everything was planned, right down to transportation to and from the airport. Early Sunday morning, the airport limo picked him up at his home, and he was on his way...to the middle of nowhere: Jackson, Wyoming. Right in the middle of the Grand Tetons and the Snake River valley.

What in God's name was in Jackson, Wyoming? Except, of course, a great amount of nature, and very soon, him.

The flights out were uneventful; he flew non-stop Dulles to Denver, and transferred to a commuter plane to Jackson Hole. There was lots of time to sit and ponder; remembering the few times he'd previously been to Wyoming: in Cheyenne for business and Yellowstone National Park for pleasure. Beautiful country, remote, scenic. If Sharon had wanted him to relax, he had to hand it to her, she'd put him in some beautiful country. Maybe it wouldn't be an onerous chore, after all.

Walter exited the small airport in Jackson and pulled his jacket closer around him. Spring in Washington was a bit warmer than spring in the Continental Divide. But, with typical preciseness, Charlotte Denbigh had given Walter a list of recommended items to pack...most of which were warm, casual clothes. He hadn't been so annoyed that he ignored it. Gritted his teeth, possibly, while he'd packed them; yes. The trip was, after all, being taken on near-blackmail advice. Let the stagemaster dress the players; it didn't mean he had to say his lines.

Walter was doing this only on sufferance. Penance, in many ways, for dragging his ex-wife into situations beyond her ken, situations which ultimately cost her her life. She wanted this, fine. He'd do this for her, bite the bullet, suffer whatever indignities or absurdities she had come up with. He owed her a debt he could never repay. Her death was on his hands; he could never forget that.

Taking a deep breath of the crisp, fresh air, Walter was annoyed. It wasn't fair that he instinctively liked the place. He thought of the amused look in Charlotte Denbigh's reptilian brown eyes and frowned.

He wished his private life could remain just that, with lines the shadow men from work would not cross, or decisions that the women around him hadn't sewn up nice and tight in their web-like plans. His life did not feel like his own; he was a puppet much more than the lead actor in his own play.

A sparkling Grand Jeep Cherokee pulled up to the curb in front of him, and a young man in jeans and quilted jacket hopped out. "Walter Skinner?"

Walter sighed. "Yes, that's me."

"I'm Joel," the cheerful, young man smiled and picked up Walter's luggage to load it in the back of the Jeep. "I'm here to take you to Rara Avis Aerie."

Walter blinked. "Of course you are." He should have known. Two weeks holed up at a bird watchers' resort. Thank God he packed his laptop.

Joel bundled him in the Jeep as efficiently as his luggage, and they took off. "Ever been to the Aerie before?"

"No, first time. A last-minute thing." First and last time, Walter thought absently, staring out the windows at the passing scenery. White-capped mountains towered on the western side, while evidence of melting snows clung to the meadow grass even at this late date.

"You're in for a treat. You'll love it. We're booked up years in advance; you must know somebody to get in." Joel flicked a curious look at him.

Walter frowned, but didn't respond. Bird-watching must be a more popular vacation agenda than he would've guessed. Years?

He let Joel chatter on, talking about the resort and the area while he kept one ear listening. The rest of him was absorbed in the grandeur of the country they were driving through. Everything seemed disconcertingly bigger than life, this far away from the city. The sky seemed more vast and blue than back east; the mountains loomed much larger and more rugged than the gentle eastern summits. The trees, full of buds, seemed ready to burst into life after a long, harsh winter.

Walter caught himself thinking in poetic terms, and nearly groaned out loud. Two weeks. Two weeks of the big, blue sky, the towering Alpine peaks, and he'd be a blithering idiot at the end of it. He loved nature, he really did. Hiking, fishing, camping...he'd done it all.

But not for some years now. The job had consumed him. The demands, the maneuvering; maybe that was Sharon's point. Then again, if she'd died fifteen years from now, he'd be kicking back with his federal retirement, and what lesson would her little arrangements have taught him then?

He sighed, and sat back in his seat. Follow the trail and let it unfold, he reminded himself. The point would, hopefully, be revealed sooner or later.

.o0O0o.

Rara Avis Aerie wasn't exactly what Walter expected. He was glad he hadn't spoken up to Joel and appeared as the completely ignorant rube he was in this matter.

Despite its name, Rara Avis was an exclusive resort. A very plush, very expensive resort, with illusions of roughing it for those so inclined. Walter smiled, thinking of Sharon years before, gritting her teeth at his enthusiasm for the cabin he'd bought. Wood stove and heat, water pump, reservoir for hot water in the stove...needless to say, Sharon hadn't been amused. This was more her speed.

Joel ushered Walter in through the large, carved oak doors under the covered portico; no elements would mar the arrival or exit of Rara Avis' exclusive guests. The lobby they entered was huge: polished wooden flooring covered in thick, expensive native weavings; soft, leather sofas and chairs scattered in groupings, and a huge fieldstone fireplace dominating the far side of the room, its flames cheery and welcoming. No reception area, just a handful of attentive-looking people, one of whom came immediately over to them.

"Mina, this is Walter Skinner," Joel gestured back to him with a smile and passed him on to the next player. "This is Mina, she'll get you settled in your room and give you the grand tour."

Belatedly, Walter fumbled for his wallet, but Joel stopped him before he could produce it. "No, that's not necessary; everything's already taken care of. Enjoy your stay," Joel smiled at him and slipped back out to his Jeep.

Yup, everything was already taken care of. Walter groused and wondered if he'd have somebody to hand-feed him and wipe his ass at this pansy-assed resort masquerading as a wilderness retreat. He gritted his teeth and followed the bouncing bust line of his chattering hostess as she guided him through his home for the next two weeks. He hoped they at least had real fishing poles.

continued in part two.....

-------------------------------------------------

.o0O0o.

The Legacy, part two
by rac / Nov 1999

Continued from part one.

They did. Expensive ones, expensive Daiwa and Penn flycasting and spinning reels and flyrods, waiting for the next avid fisherman. Private guides could be reserved for the day, to take guests either by horseback or by boat along the Snake River or to the local lakes. Hiking trails were marked, also, if guests would rather go it alone, loaded down with expensive gear and food.

Of course, if one preferred, it was just as acceptable to stay back at the Aerie, and book a session with the physical trainer, or get a massage, or play a game of tennis with the resident pro, or even book a tee-off time at a local golf course. Five-star resorts did have their benefits, after all.

It was all a bit overwhelming, when he hadn't been expecting anything that he'd found. Walter stood looking out of the windows of his room--his suite--watching the way the sun angled down over the jagged, snow-covered edges of the Tetons. What was he doing here? Why would Sharon insist upon this lush vacation spot? He would have thought the idea of him suffering through some god-awful rat-infested hole, or even a package tour with Disney, would have given her much more satisfaction. It just didn't make sense.

Walter hated things that didn't add up.

He picked up the phone--an expensive cordless model--and dialed Charlotte Denbigh's office number. He needed a few answers.

She was in; within seconds, he was connected straight through to the lawyer herself, not her assistant. "Mr. Skinner, what can I do for you? I trust your trip went well and you've arrived without mishap."

Walter ignored the niceties. "Ms. Denbigh, I need some straight answers. First, when did Sharon write her will?"

The silence was deep and lengthy as Charlotte reassessed her approach. "Mr. Skinner, I don't owe you that information."

He gritted his teeth. "No, you don't. But I would very much appreciate knowing the answer."

"Well," Charlotte hesitated, "She wrote her initial will about five years ago, before you were separated. Later, at various times, there were different versions and various codicils added."

"When was the current version completed?"

This time, Walter heard the sigh filter through the line. "Mr. Skinner. I'm sorry, that information is not necessary. If it is not enough to know that your wife--your ex-wife--desired you to experience what I'm sure is a relaxing stay at an exclusive resort, I cannot help you further. Everything has been arranged according to her wishes. If I were you, I'd just sit back and let things unfold as planned." Irony crept in to her voice. "I can appreciate that sitting back in a passive role is not something you are used to, Mr. Skinner, but...look on it as a test of your own inner strength."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Simply put, Mr. Skinner: truly strong people have the equal capacity to sit back and let things happen at the proper time, and don't feel the constant need to control everything around them. Control does not equal strength, contrary to popular belief. The need to control weakens one, Mr. Skinner. Ponder that as you enjoy the beautiful scenery from your suite's windows. Good-bye."

The line buzzed empty in his ear. She had hung up. He scowled and looked out his windows on the incredible scene. Just what he needed, the ghost of his ex-wife and her lawyer playing psychoanalyst in his life.

Two weeks, he reminded himself. In the meantime, he took out his briefcase and began to set up his laptop on the beautifully appointed workspace set into the corner of the living room. There was always work, and more work could be downloaded from the office via his modem hook-up. He could fish a little and work on those budget reports due at the end of the month. With room service, he didn't even have to leave his suite. It wouldn't be an entirely wasted time.

.o0O0o.

Walter managed to pass three days holed up in his room, working on budget reports, reading monthly department summaries, and reviewing the occasional dry case report from the few units he supervised personally.

None were from the X-Files unit; they were *never* dry.

Room service was efficient and good; he barely noticed when the next meal was delivered and the old dishes whisked away. He slept when he felt tired, watched two games on ESPN, and tried not to look out at the seductive beauty of each dawning spring morning, when the sunlight crept down the faces of the glowering monoliths, sparkling off the snow and highlighting the deep green of the evergreens on the lower slopes. He was determined not to read his lines as pre-planned by his two puppet masters. He owed Sharon a lot; but some things stuck in his craw.

But on the fourth day, when Mina stopped by his room to inquire if everything was all right, he found himself agreeing to go fishing with one of the Aerie's guides the next morning. Fishing couldn't hurt, could it? He loved to fish. It was one of the things he'd missed so much in the past few years, being unable to get away all that often to the little cabin down in the Virginia woods.

So he went fishing the next day, just he and the guide, a man in his late thirties, a taciturn, thoughtful man who knew how to keep his counsel and his mouth shut around guests who weren't looking to chatter away the day. They took two sturdy horses out after an early breakfast, wandering down the valley to the river, and spent a lovely day fishing with the best equipment he'd ever used. He caught three trout, one a damn good size, which they threw back. Sport fishing, not fishing to eat; the Aerie had no need of more fish in its larders. They ate a hearty lunch the kitchen had packed for them, and drank the river-cooled beers they'd had chilling in the icy run-off waters since 8:00 that morning. It was perfect, and Walter forgot to be determined not to have a good time until he arrived back at the lodge late in the afternoon. He spent the rest of the evening not even turning on the television to watch the game, but applied himself to more reports in his quiet and lonely suite.

The fifth day, a man he'd not met before stopped by the room and announced that Walter was scheduled for a session with Rolf at 4:00 that afternoon, so he might want to go out and take a hike during the day since Rolf would work out any kinks he developed during the exercise. Before Walter could think of anything to say, the man had bopped back out and left.

Rolf, Walter thought, that sounded like somebody who knew the art of Swedish massage quite well. Hunching over his laptop for days on end had given him a neck and shoulder strain that throbbed when he thought about it. Okay. But hiking?

Still, he strapped on his hiking boots and carefully layered his clothing for the uncertain spring weather, and stopped by the concierge office to pick up a back-pack stuffed with gear and a map of the Aerie's trails, and set off. It was a glorious day, with the sun shining, the air crisp and clear. Early spring flowers were blooming and the pale fuzz of green graced the winter-bare branches of deciduous trees. Birds were plentiful, busy building nests, and the land teemed with wildlife. Deer spoor was plentiful on the trails, and many times, off in the trees, Walter spotted them standing, watching. In one alpine meadow, he came across a small herd of buffalo, their shaggy coats still heavy and thick from winter. Later, he heard the distant, hoarse bellows of moose, although he didn't run into them and was just as glad.

After a few hours' hike uphill, he arrived at a natural look-out over the valley, complete with flat-topped boulders perfect for sitting and eating lunch. Jackson Lake glimmered off to the north, with a silver trail marking Snake River's meandering route through the valley floor. The sun was warm on his face, a perfect balance to the altitude's thin, dry, cold air. The snow-topped caps of the Tetons poked up around him now, close and intimate rather than distant and forbidding.

He had passed no one else on the trail; it was perhaps still too early for most to be drawn to hiking up in the mountains, with the air still chill and the remnants of snow clinging heavier the higher he went. But the sky was clear, and the trail was dry, and Walter cleaned up from lunch, careful to store away all trash, and lay down on the sun-warmed boulder.

It was peaceful up here. Nothing moved except the wind through the grasses and the trees, a soughing sound whispering with its passing. When the cry of a bird pierced the stillness, Walter opened his eyes and spotted an eagle gliding on a thermal not too far away. Digging binoculars from his pack, he spent the next hour or so watching the pair of golden eagles flying around their cliffside nest. He was too far away to see clearly, but figured that the female and the male were busy feeding newly hatched offspring hidden in the nest.

Peaceful, and a long way from Washington, D.C.. For the first time since their conversation, Walter allowed himself to remember what Charlotte Denbigh had said to him about strength, and control. Her words rang in his ears all the way back down the mountainside.

At 4:00, after a long, hot shower to warm up, Walter made his way to the massage rooms and found Rolf. Easily the same height or more than Walter, Rolf was a good half again his bulk, all rippling muscles, ski-tanned skin and gleaming white teeth. He also had the hands of a magician; Walter didn't know he'd fallen asleep until Rolf had finished and covered him with a sheet, murmuring to take his time before dressing to leave. Walter could barely stir to acknowledge him.

When he awoke nearly an hour later, he felt rested and relaxed to the point of quiescence. His stomach rumbled; he was hungry. For the first time, he dressed and made his way to the lodge's dining room for dinner.

The staff treated him like a long-lost son; young waitstaff he'd never seen before told him how glad they were to see him, how happy he'd joined them for dinner. His table sat by the windows near the room's fieldstone hearth. The warmth and light from the fire played over him while he watched the sky turn colors and give way to the night. Two different kinds of wine, four courses and the desert cart came and went over the next two hours.

The subdued lighting, the muted clink of cutlery and glassware and the murmur of quiet voices all combined with the alcohol and good food as a tremendous soporific. It was all Walter could do to say good night to the smiling staff and nearly stumbled back to his suite, where he crawled under the down comforter of his king bed, totally relaxed and dead to the world. The waxing moon rose and moved through the sky, leaving a trail of white beaming through his open windows and over his bed, not once disturbing his slumber.

.o0O0o.

The next three days passed in similar pleasant pastimes, and Walter continued to feel as if he were drifting through the days. He took advantage of the state-of-the-art gym, using the weights with the onsite trainer as spotter; took a canoe trip down a portion of the Snake; and hiked back up the same trail to watch the same pair of golden eagles doing parental duty. Once again, he arrived back at the lodge to his pre-arranged session with Rolf, and left his capable hands ravenous and looking forward to another excellent meal in the dining room.

Sipping his wine, Walter realized he had been here a week now, and was starting into his second week. He had long since given up resisting Sharon's machinations; his distrust had been a stupid reaction, one Sharon had not deserved. Even after their separation, she had never been anything but gracious and caring toward him. *He* was the one who had been brusque and curt, unable to crawl out of his own painful rut to connect with the one person who had loved him. Now she was gone.

He didn't deserve this; he hadn't deserved her. He had treated her badly, and still her posthumous hand reached out and offered a gift of love. Why? What had she seen when she looked at him that he did not?

"Mr. Skinner, excuse me." The voice of his waiter pulled Walter from his musing. "I've been instructed to give you this." The waiter held out a sealed envelope with his name written on the front of it.

Sharon's handwriting--he'd recognize her distinctive, neat hand anywhere. "Thank you," he said absently, frowning at the envelope as he took it. A posthumous letter, from Sharon, addressed to him. Everything was getting stranger and stranger; after all, Sharon hadn't known she was going to die. It had been a horrible, unexpected accident. She'd lain in bed for over a week, going in and out of consciousness after they'd operated on her to relieve the pressure in her head. He had honestly thought she was going to pull through; the doctors hadn't indicated they were very concerned. Yet a week later, a completely unexpected hemorrhage had ravaged her brain, and in less than a day, she'd passed away.

Maybe Charlotte had visited her during that week, with the two of them colluding together. What other explanation is there? That prior to that time, Sharon had made all these arrangements?

Suddenly, the whole affair smacked of such high melodrama, he nearly laughed out loud. Get on with it, Walter, he chided himself, and gently slid a finger under the sealed edge of the envelope.

continued in part three......

-----------------------------------------------------

.o0O0o.

The Legacy, part three
by rac / Nov 1999

continued from part two...

Sharon's perfume wafted out to him, a subtle, spicy scent. He remembered buying it for her over the years, for birthdays and Christmas; remembered kissing skin that tasted of its scent. He shook out the piece of expensive vellum and began to read:

"Dearest Walter."

No further than the salutation, and he had to lay aside the paper and take a gulp of his wine. Walter blinked back sudden emotion. Sharon's presence was so strong, permeating the letter; it was as if he'd heard her voice speak the words out loud. *Damn*, he cursed at his weakness, and determinedly took up the paper again.

"Dearest Walter,

As I dictate these words, I imagine you silhouetted against the backdrop of the Tetons. Yes, I am assuming all will go as I plan. Forgive me if I'd rather assume that than not, but time grows short and so does my strength. Regardless of what the doctors have said, something is not right, I can feel it. It is, after all, my own body, not theirs'.

I also image that you've chafed under the requirements of my will. In the eighteen years I've known you, you never were one to submit easily to another's will. Stubborn man. I bet only the fact you're castigating and blaming yourself for my death has held you back from cursing me for making you do this. Pardon me if I have to smile; you're so predictable.

Walter, before we go any further, let me absolve you from any blame in my death. Charlotte kept me informed of your struggle to clear your name. Idiots. If they had an ounce of intelligence, they'd have seen that you were incapable of doing such a thing. No, I never saw who ran me off the road, and I told the police that when they finally questioned me. But never, never, did I ever think it could have been you.

I am assuming also that this mess is a colossal example of some of the things that caused you to grow distant from me over the years. I watched the work change you, once you took the promotion; I knew something wasn't right, but you would never talk about it. But whatever it is, please do not go on beating yourself up for what some other people did to me, trying to get to you. I'm not stupid, Walter, regardless of your efforts to keep me in the dark. You are a good man trying to do his best in a hard position. And I was a handy tool that some very nasty people decided they'd try to use to get to you. I'm right, aren't I?

Don't let their scheming work, Walter. Don't give them that satisfaction. Whatever they were attempting to do, don't let them win. It wasn't your fault. I don't know how else to say it.

Now that you've been absolved of guilt in my death--and I will admit, it feels very odd to be discussing that state so objectively--let's move on to our relationship. I'm sure that, beyond the guilt for my death, you're still bearing the guilt for the fact that our marriage didn't work. Walter, a wise person once told me that it takes two to tango, and if our marriage wasn't working, there was blame for that state on both our sides.

That idea started me thinking...and I thought about a lot of things. About us, about the eighteen years of our relationship. About what we had, and what we didn't have. About your behaviors, and my behaviors. It was an interesting journey of discovery.

More than once over the years, you had asked me what I saw in you, what kept me with you despite the government pay, the bad hours, the surly temper you brought home from work. Walter, you are a good man. A strong, decent man. You care about things; that's why you made the choices you did. We found in each other a respite from the loneliness. Never doubt that you were that to me, despite the way things worked out.

But Walter, I realized something. Even though you filled the empty spot in my heart, I don't think I ever really filled that role for you. I didn't realize this until just a year or so ago. And before you start to argue back, even if in your own head, wait. Just wait. There were too many things I began to put together, too many things that finally all connected to make sense to me. I know I'm right. And soon, I trust, you will know it, too.

If there is one last thing I can do for you, Walter, it would be to give you this gift, the gift of your heart. We lived through many things together, you and I. We conceived children together, we lost those children together. We grieved for them, and for the ones we'd never have again. We buried parents; we suffered through other bad times. We also celebrated the good ones.

I want you to have your heart, Walter, to discover it anew. In the midst of the serious games you play at work, I want to know that you're getting up each day knowing that someone loves you. As I loved you.

One thing that I could always trust about you, Walter: you hated to cause a personal scene in a public place. I'll trust that your sensibilities are still in effect.

Much love, Walter. I have no regrets. And right now, I am smiling at what I'm imaging the next scene to be.

Sharon"

A public scene...Sharon was right about that. He was glad his back was angled to the rest of the dining room. The huge plate glass windows reflected the flickering candle lights on all the tables; he could see the people sitting in their seats, the waitstaff threading through, attending to their jobs. But he was protected. No one could see the grief on his face, the damp in his eyes that Sharon's words evoked.

She'd planned it well, his Sharon. Gave him a week to lower his defenses, waited until he was nice and relaxed, then pierced him with her words. She always did have a great sense of timing.

What could he say? Nothing. There was nothing to say; there was no one to hear his words. No one to hear him cry out the buried well of emotions he'd kept tamped down. She had lanced the reservoir and he was unable to hold it back.

But she had longed for him to be more in touch with his feelings, pleaded with him over the years to let out the things he'd held inside. He didn't understand why would she plan to pierce his armor in public, and make it plain she knew he wouldn't cause a scene. He wanted to cause a scene. He wanted to scream and shout, but of course, he would not. He could not. It wasn't who he was.

Raw and undone, he reached blindly for his glass of wine, unable to see clearly through the haze of tears in his eyes. A gentle hand stopped him from knocking it over in his blind grope, and led him to the glass.

"Thank you," he husked, not looking up, his voice thick and odd from the large bubble of emotion lodged in his throat.

"You're welcome," the person replied from next to him. Very close to him, as a matter of fact, and the voice was very familiar. Extremely familiar.

It was all too much. "I--excuse me," he murmured and pushed back from the table and was through the dining room before he took another breath, all without looking back at the person who had stood next to him.

.o0O0o.

The night air was chill, downright cold, actually, as he stood on his balcony overlooking the valley and the mountains. He had turned on no lights, inside or out. Only the fireplace lit the inside, and the natural light of the rising moon illuminated the scene outdoors. Everything was bathed in its glow, a ghostly white illumination much more forgiving than the light of the day.

So much, all at once. So much. Control, Charlotte had talked about. Knowing when to let things happen, knowing when not to assert control. Damn, but that was hard.

But he forced himself to stand there, breathing in the chill, clean air. Waiting. Because suddenly, he knew his lines in this play. He knew his lines, and he knew the next act. He knew it, and it felt right. Finally, a play he understood and wanted to enact.

When the balcony doors clicked open behind him, he wasn't surprised. He heard the door snick shut, and felt the warmth from the suite puff out around him. "Come on out. It's cold, though, get your coat."

"It's okay, I'm fine."

Walter looked over to see Mulder standing next to him in his sports coat, taking in the moon-bathed scene, his arms wrapped tightly around himself. For some reason, seeing Mulder huddled there let Walter fling his hesitancy to the moon. "Fuck, Mulder, you don't have the sense God gave a goose. Come here." With quick motions, Walter pulled Mulder off-balance and into his arms, pulling Mulder's back tightly against his chest, and he wrapped his voluminous down jacket back around both bodies. By touch alone, he managed to snap together the first three snaps before he was unable to pull the edges together enough for the next one. "Better?"

"Uh...."

Walter settled his arms more comfortably around the strong, slender body in his embrace and smiled. Good to know he wasn't the only one off-balance here tonight. Damn. How had Sharon known? Mulder shifted, and Walter's cheek brushed up against the soft pelt of Mulder's hair. "Did you know I'd be here," he murmured into Mulder's ear, "Or did Sharon and her lawyer pull a fast one on you, too, and not tell you?"

Mulder turned, looking at Walter out of the corner of his eye. "I was told, I knew. You didn't?" Walter shook his head. They stood in the silence for a few minutes. "No wonder you freaked when I showed up."

"Actually, Mulder, I didn't even know how I felt until five minutes before you stood next to me." Walter pushed his cold nose in Mulder's warm, fragrant hair.

"You didn't know. Are you saying...this is all new?" Mulder sounded as confounded as Walter had ever heard him.

"Some of it's new, not all of it," Walter said dryly. "But one thing I've learned over the years, especially as your boss, Mulder, has been to roll with the punches, and adapt to new situations."

"This is a pretty big roll, Walter."

Walter smiled and tightened his arms. "Yeah, but I'm flopping around in the ring with you, this time. I figure, between you and me, we've gotten this roll with the punches thing pretty well covered. Each of us takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin' fairly often."

Walter felt Mulder shiver at those words. "Yeah, but Jesus, Walter. Maybe together we'll be nitro and glycerin, and we won't tick anymore."

"I don't think so, Mulder." Walter hugged Mulder closer as a cold night breeze reached the balcony, and pulled him back against the shelter of the building. "I'd just finished reading a letter Sharon wrote to me, right before you arrived. I was confused; she told me she was imagining the next scene when she signed off. What next scene? But you know what she'd said earlier, Mulder?" Silky hair shook against Walter's face. "She said 'she wanted me to have my heart'. And you know what?" he rumbled against Mulder's ear, thinking of the guts it took for Mulder to come here, knowing what this was all about. "I think you've got enough heart for us both."

Walter knew at least one of the snaps on his down jacket busted as Mulder turned around in the tight confines. Cold hands wormed around Walter's back as he suddenly was face to face for the first time with the man who'd become so unexpectedly important to him over the years. Hazel-green eyes gleamed in the moonlight, shy and bold at the same time, a slightly stunned half-grin on his face.

Walter blinked, his eyebrows rising as other things became more apparent. "And it seems you've got enough, uh, balls, too."

Mulder actually blushed deeply enough for Walter to see it in the moonlight. "It's all that heart, Walter. I guess I'm just an emotional, excitable guy."

Walter shook his head. "I know. I've spent years dealing with your emotional tangents." He reached behind him with one hand and opened the door to the suite. "But I can see a whole new vista of emotional excesses opening up in front of us." He walked them in out of the cold air and shut the door behind him. "First, though, you are warming up. Your hands feel like ice." Walter removed his jacket and steered Mulder over to the sofa in front of the fire. He stopped and poured two glasses of whiskey before joining Mulder. "I don't know about you, but...I could use a shot." He downed a healthy swallow.

Mulder gleamed at him. "So you *are* feeling as strange as I am about this. I mean, work and everything..."

Walter drained his glass. "Hell, yes, Mulder. Do you think I'm impervious? This scares the hell out of me." He glanced up. "But I'm also feeling more alive than I've felt in years, so..."

"So...come here, Walter." Mulder reached over and curled a hand around the back of Walter's neck. "Let's do this right, try it by the book."

As Mulder leaned in, Walter smiled and wondered *which book* as their mouths met. Then his thoughts scattered, and it was a few more minutes before Walter realized the fear he'd been feeling was no longer an issue. Only the warm, alive feeling pumping through his body mattered.

Thank you, Sharon, he thought, as he folded Mulder into a comfortable embrace, watching the flames. You helped me find my heart.

Once again, he owed her a debt that could not be repaid.

But he could repay Charlotte Denbigh.

Maybe he'd make a disgustingly large donation to the Augusta Winthrop Foundation, in Charlotte's name. Then call the local tv news with an anonymous human interest story about a generous lawyer. Give them the details, including Charlotte's disgust at the idea of "pet suttee".

Surely, Charlotte would thank him for such thoughtfulness, wouldn't she?

Less than one hour with Mulder, and already Mulder's presence was corrupting him. He pulled Mulder's unresisting warmth closer.

Damn, it felt good.

-=the end=-

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