CATEGORY: RH,Slash (Mulder/Skinner)
RATING: PG Slash - very mild, mostly UST
SPOILERS: None
DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Skinner, Scully & Kimberly are the creation and property of CC, DD, MP, GA, assorted actresses, 1013 Productions and Fox Broadcasting, no infringement of copyright is intended. All other characters mentioned are my creation (well, one of them even *is* me!), and may not be used without my permission. I'd give a lot to look after Skinner for a little while... hey, CC, are you listening? At least he's appreciated in my universe <g>
SUMMARY: Skinner accepts help in solving a Valentine's Day problem - he just doesn't realise quite how much help he's getting...
ARCHIVE: Yes, indeed. Just let me know where and keep my name and email attached.
SPECIAL THANKS: To Hal, who gave me the whole idea for this. Kudos to you, darling!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was written in one go on Valentine's Day morning. It's been spell-checked but that's about it, so any shaky grammar, dodgy punctuation, unbearable schmoopiness etc. is all mine - blame me.
FEEDBACK: I'm not too shy to admit I love it, so send any thoughts to: sergeeva@geocities.com
WEB SITE: My other stories (virtually all M/Sk) can be found at Sergeeva's Walter Altar http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Shire/7155/


First Catch Your Man.
By Sergeeva (sergeeva@geocities.com)

It started on the Monday.

He was meeting with Sachs and Martello to go over their report on the Oregon kidnappings case and Kim put a call through. That was unusual in itself: she knew he didn't take calls during meetings, unless they were extremely urgent, or from the Director himself. This call was neither. It was from Marilyn Harris in Records asking him if he "had plans for Sunday". He was mystified. Sunday? Why Sunday?

Ms. Harris was a nice enough woman, late 30s, well groomed, tall. she was an efficient worker and always pleasant to him when he had cause to go down to her department. In fact, now Skinner came to think about it, she was more than pleasant. She always bustled forward to make sure that she was the one who dealt with him, and she seemed to smile an awful lot in the course of their usually brief exchanges. Surely she wasn't trying to...?

Skinner harrumphed and blustered his way out of the awkward phone conversation, sure he was blushing and giving Sachs and Martello plenty to speculate about in the bullpen later. He'd have to have a word with Kim about filtering personal calls better.

On Tuesday, he came into the office to find a box of homemade cookies on his desk, and a bunch of tulips in a small vase near his phone. Each had a note mentioning Sunday. He marched back out to confront Kimberly. She forestalled his inquiries:

"Did you see your gifts? I made sure they were where you could find them as soon as you walked in. " She leaned forward conspiratorially. "The tollhouse cookies are from Susannah Fisher and the flowers are from Geraldine Bennett. You're really Mr. Popular this year, aren't you sir? No excuse for spending another Valentine's Day alone."

Ah. The penny dropped. Valentine's Day. Sunday. Kim's pals were ganging up on him, encouraged by Kim herself. Skinner didn't know whether to be furious or just embarrassed. He knew that Kim had been trying to fix him up with one of her friends for a while, but his attempts at diplomatic discouragement clearly hadn't worked. The ladies were still out to get him.

What was worse, he felt guilty about it. They were nice enough women - Susannah was a large, quiet woman who watched him with naked longing in her grey eyes every time he had to speak to her in the Library, Geraldine was a terrifyingly intelligent young woman in Computer Services who managed to make him feel woefully ignorant, even as she effortlessly sorted out his problems. In other circumstances, he might have been happy to spend time with either of them, but these weren't "other circumstances". They were his particular, impossible circumstances and not something that anyone else could ever know about or understand. No dates for him on Valentines' or any other day.

He looked at Kim's bright, encouraging smile and felt weary at the thought of trying to convey gracefully that she should pass the word: he just wasn't interested in dating any of these women. It amazed him that they were interested in him; he thought of himself as a boring, grouchy, workaholic - what was there to like?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, 11am, the weekly meeting with Agents Mulder and Scully. Except that Scully was currently on loan to Quantico, working on a particularly complex poisoning case, so this week it was just Mulder lounging in the chair opposite, watching him with a wry grin as he read the latest mind-boggling casefile. Why did the man always look so infuriatingly amused by it all? And so uncrushed by Skinner's best quelling frown? Damn him.

He was scanning the outrageous expenses report for the third time, searching for the words to convey how completely unacceptable it was, when the phone beeped at him. Scowling, he snatched it up. A soft feminine voice began purring in his ear:

"Walterrrr. it's Lorraine in Central Accounting. It's been too long since we ran into each other, I wondered if you'd be free to meet for a drink on Sunday. We could try that new tapas bar on Grove and 34th? What do you say, Walterrr?"

He was blushing, he knew, could feel Mulder's curious, perceptive gaze on him as he cleared his throat and tried to think how to handle this.

"Um. Ms. Bradley." Keep it formal, try and give her the message that he was at work and this was inappropriate.

"Oh, call me Lorraine - I think we know each other at least that well, don't you, Walterrr?"

No I don't! He thought, panic rising. We've met accidentally in a bar on two occasions, shared one drink and I've escaped as soon as was decently possible, and now she thinks she's my... what? It was ludicrous, not to mention intolerable, to be chased after this way. Kim was taking liberties now, after he thought he'd made it clear he wasn't...

"You still there, Walterrr? Have I caught you at a bad time? I know how hard you work, but a boy must have a bit of relaxation, you know. think about Sunday, and give me a call - I bet I could work the tension out of those gorgeous shoulders!"

"Um... right." Very articulate, Walter. "I, um... well, I don't really..." Pull yourself together, man. "I'm in a meeting now, Ms. Bradley. I'll get back to you. Goodbye." Okay, more or less coherent, amazingly so, considering I must be beet red and sweating like a pig.

He looked up to find Fox Mulder watching him intently. Oddly, there was no trace of derision on Mulder's often mocking face, only an intense interest. It didn't help either the flaming blushes or the nervous perspiration to be the object of that bright observant gaze. He looked down at his desk to compose himself. And heard Mulder speak:

"Kim's 'Ladies who Lunch' getting a bit persistent are they, sir?"

Oh God, was it all over the building? What had he done to deserve this? He gave them no encouragement; in fact he was as gruff and reticent as he could politely be, to all of them. What did they see in him, anyway, surely it should be a good-looking guy like Mulder who was pursued by the eligible spinsters of the Bureau? He heard a soft chuckle.

"Don't worry, sir. I don't think it's doing your reputation any harm. You don't realise how your growling at them only makes them worse, though. The effects of all that surly scowling. not to mention the jaw clenching... take it from me, sir, it's very appealing."

A slight smile in the hazel eyes now, maybe a twitch of the lips? Skinner felt his anger surge again at the thought that Mulder was teasing him.

"I really don't think this is..."

"I'm sorry if you think I'm butting in, sir, but it's just that I know what

it's like. They used to pursue me until I convinced them I had hopes elsewhere. That's what you need to do, sir - tell them you already have plans for Sunday. It's the only thing that will make them leave you in peace, believe me."

He looked sincere, not teasing now. Earnest in fact. Skinner considered the advice. It had merit, but...

"Well...you may be right, Agent Mulder, but I couldn't lie about it. I don't have..."

"Oh, you have to be utterly convincing, sir, or they'll see through you. I had no trouble spinning them a yarn, but if you're not happy about making something up, you'd better get yourself a genuine date you can use to hold them off."

"But that's exactly what I'm trying to avoid, Mulder. I'm not interested in... any of them."

A shift of that lean body in the uncomfortable chair. Long legs elegantly crossed, settling in to enjoy himself. Mulder looked speculative. Skinner still felt unsure about even discussing this with him, of all people... what did that look mean?

"You could say that we were planning to spend the weekend together. Fishing or something."

"Fishing? Us? Together?"

"It has to be something manly and unromantic or they'll think it's another woman and you *really* don't want to get them jealous, sir. Take it from me, if they think they have a female rival for your attentions, they'll stop at nothing to find out who it is and remove them from the game."

" 'the game'? It seems to me they take this awfully seriously for a game, Mulder. Are you really sure about this, that it will work?"

"Oh yes. But they won't want to believe you're not a closet romantic, sir, so to really convince them, we have to make the fishing weekend look like a cover for a real romance. I'll see to that in the next couple of days. You can arrange the fishing trip and let me know where and when."

"Hang on here, Mulder. You've lost me totally now. First you say I can't let them think it's another woman I'm meeting, then you say we have to convince them it is a real romance? Now maybe I'm just stupid, but..."

"Naw, sir, just an innocent it the ways of wooing. See, they'll assume it really is a romantic assignation whatever you tell them, that's how their minds work. But if you just came out and said you were interested in another woman they'd be like ICBM's targeting the enemy until they found out who it was. Of course, all they'd find out was that it was *me*, and that would only make them more determined to show you how the love of a good woman could change your life.

"Now the trick is, to suggest that the fishing trip is actually an elaborate cover for a very secret romance. You'll be able to tell them about it convincingly because it won't be a lie, they won't bother to investigate the fishing trip because they know it's a cover, but at the same time, there won't be any woman waiting in a motel for you anywhere for the harpies to uncover. See - simple."

"It sounds anything but simple to me, Mulder. Can't I just say I'm going fishing on my own?"

"No, that wouldn't work at all. Besides, this way, I can confirm your story at every opportunity."

"Is that what you meant by 'seeing to the cover'?"

"Mmm, that and... other things. Trust me - I know what I'm doing."

"I'm not sure. Wait a minute - if this works by covering a supposed true romance with a fake fishing trip story, what's your secret romance?"

"Now don't you worry about that either, sir. I have that in hand too."

"Why do I have the feeling I'm a pawn in some devious plan of yours, Mulder?"

"Well, that's nice, I must say! You try and help a guy out..."

"Okay, okay, Mulder... I give in. This better be worth it, though."

"Oh it will be. This will be a Valentine's Day to remember."

Skinner still felt very dubious about all this bluff and double bluff, but oddly enough the prospect of spending a weekend fishing with Mulder had it's attractions, and it was time he gave the cabin it's Spring clean.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On Thursday his meeting with Deputy Director Ferguson and the ATF liaisons was interrupted by the delivery of a heart-shaped chocolate cake and a shiny red helium-filled balloon, that said 'Thinking of You, M" on the attached card. His colleagues sniggered and made ribald remarks. Ferguson looked sour-faced and disapproving, as always.

He had to hand it to Mulder, he was making a very convincing show. The phonecalls continued to punctuate his day and Kimberly denied that she had any idea how all her friends had got hold of his private number. He'd caught her once, having a giggly whispered conversation that was cut off abruptly when he strode up to her desk. All he caught was "Well, its news to me too, Shirley."

After lunch he had to go down to the Library for some information and Susannah looked wistfully at him as he signed out the books. He wished her a good day and saw her face light up. My God, do I really have such an effect? It pained him to think of any woman needing a kind word that much. He tried to be courteous and appreciative of those around him, but it was going to be impossible now, when anything he did could be misinterpreted as something else. But then Mulder said scowling and being remote was just as bad - it was a minefield...

Sighing, he went back to his office, only to be greeted by Kimberly struggling to hold a huge teddy bear. Aware that he was scowling but too taken aback to worry about the possible effect on Kimberly, he stood, hands on hips, thinking that this had gone too far. Kimberly sat the bear on one of the chairs in front of his desk and turned to him, beaming.

"Your new admirer is very keen, sir. I'm thrilled for you - you've been on your own for too long since your wife..."

"Thank you, Kim," he said halting the gush of romantic congratulations. "I'd appreciate it if you kept this to yourself, though." There, that should ensure that it was passed on to all the gossips with the speed of light.

"Of course, sir. There'll be quite a few broken hearts around here, I can tell you. Shouldn't you be spending Valentine's weekend with your 'M', though?"

"I have a prior arrangement to go fishing this weekend, as you know. I don't like to break a promise."

"No sir, of course not sir."

She was smirking outrageously as she backed out of the office. Maybe Mulder was right - she clearly didn't buy his fishing story for a moment, so provided the mystery 'M' kept sending the romantic tokens, it looked as if the plan might work. He wondered if he'd have to keep going up to the cabin for weekends just to satisfy the curious that he actually had a lover? Oh well, he could get lots of reading done, and break in his new hiking boots.

The solitude wasn't a problem for him. He was used to his own company, and if he sometimes longed for conversation, it was a fleeting wish. Somehow he couldn't see Mulder becoming a regular companion for outdoor activities. Now why was it Mulder he thought of? He had ex-Marine buddies he could call up, who would jump at the chance for some good fishing or kayaking or climbing. He had a brother in-law who had been urging him to give hang-gliding a go, and a neighbour not a mile from the cabin who had offered him the use of one of his horses any time he wanted. He could indulge his liking for strenuous, physical activity in any number of ways, with any number of people, so why was it Mulder, who looked as if he wouldn't know one end of a fishing pole from another, who came unbidden into his mind when he thought of how he wanted to spend his free time. Didn't he have enough of that infuriating man at the Bureau?

As if on cue, Mulder strolled into the office with a wide grin on his face.

"Kim waved me on in." He said, sitting down in the chair next to the one occupied by the enormous bear. "She was deep in some intense conversation with one Sandra, apparently breaking it to her that you were no longer available. It seemed to require a lot of tissues. I'd stay well clear for a while, if I were you. Well, how do you like Cuddles here?"

"Cuddles?" Skinner shuddered at the whole idea of cutesy Valentine schmoopiness.

"That's his name." Mulder dragged the other chair up close to his own and slung his arm around the bear's neck. "He has to be my substitute until the weekend. I hope he's making you feel suitably adored?"

"I guess so." Skinner was uncomfortable with all this teasing. For some reason he got the feeling that he and Mulder weren't following quite the same script here, and that made him... nervous.

"Wait until you see what I've got lined up for tomorrow. bet you didn't know what a romantic I was, huh?"

He was loving this, positively bouncing in his seat. His eyes never left Skinner's face, no doubt making the most of a rare chance to embarrass his boss. No question, this was definitely making him nervous.

"No, I had no idea you'd enter into this with such enthusiasm."

"There's a lot you don't know about me." Those disconcerting smiling eyes still fixed on him. "Did you read the message?"

"Uh, no, I just got here."

Mulder snatched at a red heart cut out of card and hanging round the bear's neck on a cord.

"'To my big Honeybear from his M. You never know where love will find you, sometimes it's right under your nose.' And there are kisses - lots of them. I thought it suggested someone you already knew, it makes the speculation even more delicious."

A wicked grin, lighting up that puckish face, making Mulder look like... Skinner didn't want to think about what Mulder looked like. It was difficult enough. Nerves, that was all it was, this shaky feeling. Or a cold coming on.

"Well, much as I'd like to sit here giving you such enjoyment, Mulder, I do have work to do." He gestured at the office door.

Mulder got up readily enough, unfolding his long frame from the chair and patting 'Cuddles' on the head as he moved away. He was almost at the door when he turned and gave Skinner a long look. Not teasing, serious.

"You do give me enjoyment, but not the way you think, sir." It was said so low and Mulder had opened the door and left almost before Skinner could process what he thought he'd heard.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He opened the office door on Friday with a good deal of apprehension, but there was nothing untoward in the outer office. Only Kimberly seated at her desk, composed and calm, the picture of a perfect assistant. He wished her good morning, and she smiled up at him. Was that unusual, he tried to remember? Was there a degree of warmth in that smile that signified anything, a hint of a glint in those blue eyes?

No, you're getting paranoid, Skinner chided himself. It's spending time with Mulder that does it. After this weekend you'll be seeing little grey men round every corner. Shaking his head, he swung open the inner door and nearly tripped over his own feet in astonishment. The room was full of flowers. Baskets and vases and bowls and pedestals overflowing with roses and lilies and orchids and freesias and carnations and baby's breath and trails of ivy and fronds of fern and making the place look and smell like a florist's. A very classy florist's, Skinner had to admit, but still, nothing like a suitable working environment for an Assistant Director of the FBI.

He stumbled forward into the miasma of perfume and the riot of colour and sat down shakily at his desk. Behind him he could hear Kim laughing softly to herself. On his blotter was a plain white envelope with a small red heart in one corner. He picked it up and opened it. Inside a square of stiff card with a hand he recognised all too well. 'Sir, I'm clearing my desk and can be ready to leave for our fishing trip as soon as you are, M. P.S.- Enjoy the flowers, you're worth it and they'll have to do until I can show you how much I really care.'

Skinner felt dizzy and clutched at the arms of his chair for something solid to hold on to. His whole world was shifting around him. If this was Mulder's idea of a joke it was going too far. If he meant what he said...well, that was something Skinner didn't dare contemplate. Something he'd resolutely pushed into the darkest recesses of his heart for a long time now. He felt inexplicably breathless and emotional all of a sudden. He closed his eyes and willed himself to be rational. Of course it was just Mulder 'playing the game' to the hilt. He managed a shaky laugh and ran his hand over his damp brow.

"You're too old for all this", he muttered out loud. Too old for romance, for intrigue, for ridiculous dreams.

The morning dragged. He had plenty of work to do, meeting after meeting as everyone tried to finish as much business as possible before the weekend. He had to put up with a good deal of joking about his fishing trip, but it was good-natured and no-one seemed to believe it was anything more than a cover story anyway. One of the section chiefs actually said "Who'd want to spend the weekend with Agent Mulder, anyway?" and Skinner found his fists were clenched in defence of his Agent.

"Oh you'd be surprised what good company he can be." He stated, firmly. And thought to himself that it was no more than the truth. Despite the stress of keeping the subterfuge going these last days, he'd enjoyed the banter with Mulder and caught himself wishing it was the start of a real friendship. That would be a real X-File, though. He doubted that he and Mulder could last the weekend without driving each other mad. Mulder didn't want to fish, that was obvious, so why was he doing this? Skinner had been pondering on this ever since Mulder fist suggested the idea, and he was as mystified as ever. Dragging his attention back to business, he pushed his questions to the back of his mind.

The lunch hour passed with no more surprises and no sign of Mulder. The overpowering perfume in his office was beginning to give him a headache and he began to think about calling off the weekend trip. After all, they'd achieved what they set out to, to deflect the attentions of Kim's man-hungry friends. He didn't actually need to put Mulder to the trouble of spending the weekend with him. He thought it best not to dwell on those long looks Mulder had given him, or that whispered comment as he left the office yesterday, or the note left today.

He was reaching for the phone to call Mulder and cancel their plans when the man himself appeared in the doorway. He was carrying a weekend bag and looking as eager as a puppy with the prospect of a romp on the beach.

Skinner felt his heart start to pound, all the rationalising in the world couldn't change what he felt when he was around Mulder. Nameless, terrifying, wonderful feelings, impossible feelings.

Mulder carefully closed the door to the outer office behind him, put his bag down and came to stand in front of Skinner.

"I've written all my reports, emptied my in-tray and answered my email. I'm hoping my boss will let me leave early today. What do you think?"

And he reached forward to take Skinner's wrist in his fingers. He lifted Skinner's heavy hand and held it between his own. Skinner gulped in air, trying to find his voice, but aware only of those cool fingers stroking his.

"I think that would be okay." He managed to breathe.

Mulder pulled on his hand and he found himself wrapped in a circling arm.

"Good." Mulder shushed his half-hearted attempts at protest with a finger placed firmly on his open lips. The finger began to smooth over Skinner's mouth, and Mulder's face lit up in a radiant smile.

Skinner felt the choking rush of emotion again and closed his eyes. He felt his head cupped and turned gently into the kiss. He felt soft lips brush his own and a lean body, matching him in height, and at that moment commanding him in everything, pressing against him.

A sleek, knowing tongue teased the roof of his mouth, sucked at his own tongue that felt suddenly thick and clumsy. He was swaying unsteadily, his glasses fogged, his head spinning. Mulder held him up, Mulder took his breath away with a kiss that promised everything. Mulder steadied him as he slowly broke the luscious contact of their mouths and Mulder's long fingers stroked the curve of his ear and the side of his neck.

He never did mange to speak, as Mulder handed him his suit coat and trench, scooped up both their weekend bags and steered him out of the door.

"We're off then, Kimberly. 'Cuddles' and the flowers are all yours, and thank you for everything." From inside his coat Mulder produced a single long-stemmed rose and handed it to Kim.

"You're a great PA, Kimberly, but then our boss *is* the best."

And Skinner felt a hand curve over his buttock as Mulder shooed him out into a fortunately empty corridor.

Kim's voice rang after them:

"Happy Valentine's!"

THE END