TITLE: TAILSPIN
AUTHOR: Blue Mohairbear
BETA: m. butterfly and Sergeeva
FANDOM: X-Files
PAIRING: Skinner/Mulder
RATING: PG-13
FEEDBACK: bluemohairbear@t-online.de
WEBSITE: http://www.squidge.org/3wstop
SERIES: no
ARCHIVING: yes
DISCLAIMER: Does CC make them happy? So there. Mick Skidmore belongs to Halrloprillalar. Read her wonderful story "Semper fi, Ski" at http://come.to/prillalar
SUMMARY: Mulder loses someone, then finds someone. A dream comes true for the Big Guy.
WARNING: PLEASE READ THIS !!! One of the characters in this story is based -just *based*! - on a real person. If that is not your cup of tea, please delete. Don't read it and flame me afterwards, I'll just ignore you.
NOTES: Thanks to my darlingest m.butterfly and to my dear friend Sergeeva for tons of help and encouragement! This story wouldn't exist without their kindness.


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TAILSPIN
by Blue Mohairbear
Started: August 1999
Finished: August 2000
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"Skinner."

"Sir? It's Scully."

He felt a headache coming on with the speed of a fire engine. This could only be about Mulder. Damn.

He sighed deeply.

"What is it, Agent Scully?"

"It's Mulder, sir."

Surprise. He felt the muscle in his jaw twitching.

"What is it this time, Agent Scully? Don't tell me he managed to put himself into the hospital again."

"No, sir." Scully sounded worried.

"He's locked himself up in his apartment. He's drinking and refuses to open the door. I've been worried about him all day because he's been looking sick and he left early, but he wouldn't tell me what happened. I don't know what to do anymore, sir. He's like a parrot. 'I'm fine, Scully, go home. I'm fine, Scully, go home.' I was wondering if you -"

"Where are you now?"

"In front of Hegal Place, sir. In my car."

"I'll check on him, Agent Scully. I'll leave in a few minutes."

"Thank you, sir." She sounded relieved. "I *really* have to go now, sir, but I'll leave my cell on. Would you...?"

"I'll call you as soon as I know more," he promised her.

Sighing, he began to pack his stuff. It was seven thirty and the paperwork would have kept him at the office at least until nine. Damn. Damn Mulder. What was it this time? It couldn't be a case - Mulder wasn't working on anything special at the moment - so it had to be private. But why didn't he want to tell Scully? As far as Skinner knew, *if* Mulder trusted anyone, it was his petite redhead partner.

When he arrived at Hegal Place, he wasn't astonished at all to find the entrance door to the building wide open. Everybody could just walk in here. Hell, everybody *did* walk in here. Some of the trouble Mulder had been in over the last few years had been due to that fact. He took a deep breath and knocked at Mulder's door. Number 42. According to Douglas Adams, that was the answer to the 64-000-Dollar Question. In a way, that suited Mulder, he thought, as he heard an exasperated voice inside.

"Scul-leee. I *told* you I'm fine. Leave me alone, *please.* Go home."

"Agent Mulder," Skinner said quietly. "It's me, Skinner. Are you okay?"

Mulder groaned.

"Oh, no. Don't tell me she called you, sir." He sounded tired. "I'm sorry she did, and I'm grateful for your concern, but it's nothing. I'm fine. I just need some sleep."

Then there was silence again. Damn. What was this about? You just need some sleep my ass, Skinner thought grimly. Mulder obviously didn't know how he sounded. The only time Skinner had heard *that* voice had been the day when Mulder had seen Scully at the hospital, close to dying.

He waited for about ten seconds. Then he knocked again.

"Agent Mulder." He tried to talk as quietly as before - no reason to alarm the neighbors. "Open the door. Or *I'm* gonna open it. I mean it, Mulder."

Silence.

Inwardly, Skinner slowly counted to ten. Then the door opened and Mulder stared at him, defiant and red-eyed. His hair was tousled, he smelled of alcohol and -god.

He was wearing jeans and nothing else.

Nothing else.

Skinner felt his world spinning for the fraction of a second before it settled again. Without a word, Mulder turned around and walked back into the apartment, not even looking to see if his boss was following him or not.

Skinner closed the door behind him and looked around. Mulder sat slumped on the sofa, staring at the floor. His desk was a mess, pictures, letters and newspaper articles strewn around. A bottle of whisky, almost empty. Skinner wondered if the younger man had really drunk that much already.

"I didn't drink all of that tonight."

Mulder answered Skinner's guilty look with a bitter glare.

"I'm not drunk, you know. Whatever Scully told you. But I intend to get drunk, so I'd be grateful if you'd leave me alone. *Sir*," he added in a slightly provocative tone.

Skinner sat down on the other end of the sofa and looked at him. Mulder's eyes weren't wet, just red. He was pale, almost white, which made his five-o'clock-shadow stand out in ghostly fashion on him. Skinner resisted the sudden urge to take the man into his arms.

"Mulder," he said as patiently as possible. "I suppose if you couldn't tell your partner what's bothering you, then you won't tell *me*. I accept that, but I won't accept this attitude of yours. You know as well as I do that drinking is no solution. My turn to say that now, I suppose."

Mulder shot him another glare from under his eyelashes and snorted. Skinner noticed with satisfaction that his Agent had got the message. After Sharon's death, Mulder had found him in his apartment, pathetically drunk, and had read him the riot then. It had helped, too.

"Get dressed, Mulder. I'll make some coffee."

Yeah, he thought, clenching his jaws again. Get dressed. *Please*.

Wordlessly, Mulder got up and vanished into the hallway. Skinner examined his Agent's kitchen and opened doors at random, hoping for coffee. Ah, there. Not much left. Not that there was much of *anything* in this kitchen. Except dirty dishes. And empty takeout cartons.

He filled the coffeemaker with water and brown powder and sat down on the sofa again. Mulder returned wearing a "Hard Rock Cafe" t-shirt, but still barefoot. Skinner couldn't help noticing that Mulder had nice feet.

The younger man sighed deeply and leaned back, resting his head on the arm of the sofa. He rubbed his face.

"I suppose you won't be going away if I promise not to drink anymore and go to bed like a good boy."

"No."

Mulder nodded. "Thought so." He took a deep breath.

"I can't tell Scully about this. I know she's mad at me because I haven't and she doesn't deserve to be shut out, but... " He swallowed convulsively and cleared his throat.

"I -- I lost someone. A friend. He... he died. I -"

For a moment, it looked as if he was going to cry. He pressed his eyes shut and breathed quickly. The coffeemaker gave a long, almost obscene slurping sound.

"Maybe I should descale that thing," he said. Looked at Skinner, understood that his boss was *not* going to talk about coffeemakers, and sighed.

Skinner closed his eyes for a moment.

"Mulder," he said kindly. "I'm sorry to hear this. Really sorry. But, as I said, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to. I'd like to help, but if you don't want to talk, I'll be content to know that you won't end up drunk and sick on the floor tomorrow morning -"

Mulder gave him a wave with his hand.

"It's okay, sir. In fact, it could be kind of nice to talk about him. Makes him less... gone. Maybe." He stretched over to the desk and picked one of the photographs. A polaroid.

"Here. That's him. We were seventeen. I'll get us some coffee."

While he cluttered around in his sorry excuse for a kitchen, Skinner found himself looking at two young men - boys? Whatever. They grinned and squinted into the camera, blinded by the sun, both wet from swimming. Both had dark hair, dark eyes and... well, yes, beautiful bodies. Mulder he recognized easily by his nose and ... god, that mouth. That full lower lip.

Mulder's friend was a very handsome young man with a wild mop of curly hair. It was pretty obvious that he was going to be absolutely stunning as an adult. Skinner wondered if the boy *did* look familiar or -

"I haven't got any milk left. No sugar, either, I'm afraid."

Mulder set a cup of coffee down before his boss. Skinner nodded his thanks. Mulder sat down again, clinging to his own cup. He took a sip. One corner of his mouth lifted infinitely.

"You make a mean coffee, sir. Much better than mine."

"That's not difficult, Mulder."

Another look from under those eyelashes.

"Right. Scully says she prefers any coffee from any coffee machine to mine."

Oh yes. Scully.

"Mulder," Skinner said cautiously, "what I don't understand is why you can't tell Scully that a friend of yours died -"

The pain in Mulder's eyes flashed so violently that Skinner wanted to kick himself for asking.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "Sorry, Mulder. It's really none of my business."

Shit. He felt so dumb. All the management training in the world didn't help you worth shit when it came to situations like these. He'd always hated having to be the one to tell the wife, the husband or the family that one of their beloved had been killed. This was more difficult still because the one suffering was somebody he lo-- cared about. Cared about a lot.

Mulder shook his head.

"'s okay. I couldn't tell Scully because... he wasn't just my friend. He was...." He took a deep breath and looked directly into Skinner's eyes.

"He was my lover."

Then those hazel eyes watched him, expressionless, watched him staring dumbstruck.

Disjointed thoughts tumbled through Skinner's brain like pieces of a puzzle. Lover. Dead. He was so sorry for Mulder, so deeply sorry. Mulder had a lover. A *male* lover. He wanted to wrap his arms around Mulder and never let go. He was glad Mulder wasn't straight. He wished he had known that earlier. He was jealous of the unknown lover, and, at the same time, deeply ashamed for feeling like that. The man was dead and Mulder was suffering.

His hand seemed to move on its own, reaching over the arm of the sofa until it came to rest lightly on Mulder's shoulder. Skinner prepared himself for rejection, but Mulder didn't move.

"I'm sorry. I know how that feels." That sounded dumb, didn't it?

Mulder looked at him, eyes slitted.

"Do you." Flatly.

Skinner nodded. "Yes. I do."

Mulder's eyes told him that he didn't know shit. Ah, of course. He was thinking of Sharon.

"No, I don't mean Sharon," Skinner said. Suddenly his throat was dry and scratchy.

"He... died in Vietnam."

Thirty years, and the words still hurt as if he had swallowed broken glass.

But then he could barely suppress a smile as he watched Mulder's eyes grow round.

"Oh," Mulder said. Nodded. Took another sip of coffee. Skinner could almost see his Agent's brain busily digesting the information and filing it away for further use.

And still Skinner's hand lay on Mulder's shoulder. And still Mulder hadn't done anything to remove it.

"We met when I was fifteen and he was sixteen," Mulder said. "George." He swallowed. His voice wavered. "His name... was... George. You know that my parents have that summer house on the Vineyard? His family had a.. well, a house... farther away, but they visited the Vineyard often. We met at the beach. He was a great swimmer. After that day, we met more frequently, swam and dived together, became friends."

He stared over to the pile of pictures on the desk, biting his lip. With a start, Skinner realized that his thumb was slowly and lightly stroking Mulder's collarbone. He stopped the movement, waiting for Mulder to shrug him off. Instead, the answer was an infinitely small movement of the shoulder into his hand. He tried to breathe regularly and continue stroking Mulder while he talked. He knew only too well how Mulder must be feeling right now. And he wanted so badly to comfort the younger man.

"The following summer, we became lovers. We'd both been attracted to each other from the beginning, but... you know... each of us was terrified to say something, of course."

Skinner gave a snort and nodded. Oh yeah, he *knew*. He remembered vividly how terrified he had been when he had kissed Mick Skidmore for the first time. He'd expected Mick to break his nose for that, but he hadn't.

And now he realized two things: that he hadn't told anyone about Mick, ever. And that he wanted to tell Mulder. Later. When they would be more... comfortable with each other.

"And you've been together until now?" he asked gently. That would be a pretty long time. Half of Mulder's life, to be exact.

Mulder took a deep, shuddering breath and settled back against the arm of the sofa - and, with the most subtle movement of his shoulder, made sure Skinner's hand stayed there. God, Skinner thought, he looked so heartbroken. Pale, sad and very, very young.

"Yeah... in a way. We met quite regularly until we went to college. Holidays, you know. He invited me somewhere and we would find a way to be together without rousing any suspicion. His family is rich," he added when he noticed Skinner's questioning look. "And I mean *dead* rich. One of the richest families in the US. When we met he already had bodyguards, his own motor boat, car, horse - you get the picture. I wonder how he managed to stay such a damn nice guy. He was allowed to have friends over for holidays, you know."

Skinner nodded and, with the slightest pressure of his fingers against Mulder's collarbone, encouraged him to go on. Mulder's gaze wandered away, into the past. His voice was hoarse.

"We met as often as possible, which wasn't often enough, of course. Then I went to England. He said he wanted to tour Europe, which was no problem, and he managed to visit me there twice a year. It would have been difficult for him to explain to his family why he'd suddenly discovered a deep love for England and wanted to go more often." He raised an eyebrow at Skinner. Skinner nodded.

"Well, he had girls, of course, and I had girls - a few, at least," he added wryly. "I didn't turn out to be very good at relationships. But regarding other men, we were exclusive, even if we couldn't see each other very often. Do you think that's ridiculous?"

Skinner was surprised by the unexpected question.

"No. Absolutely not," he said sincerely. "If Mick hadn't been killed-" he stopped, realizing he just had said Mick's name aloud. His heart skipped a few beats as Mulder briefly covered the hand on his shoulder with his own and pressed it.

"Yeah. And now George is dead." He played with the polaroid. His voice sounded dull, flat. Skinner stretched his arm a bit and covered the nape of Mulder's neck with his hand. It seemed to give Mulder some comfort, he sighed and rolled his head back, tickling the back of Skinner's hand with his hair. It felt... nice.

"I take it you didn't see each other very often over the last few years?" Skinner asked.

Mulder sniffed and shook his head.

"He married three years ago. A beautiful girl, by the way. After that, it was even more difficult to meet. I didn't always have the time, or wasn't exactly in the best condition, you know."

Boy, did Skinner know. How often had he visited his wild, beautiful and stray Agent in hospitals in the last two years?

"How did he die?" he asked softly.

Mulder opened his mouth, tried to speak. Couldn't. Cleared his throat.

"Plane crash," he croaked. "It was his own private plane. He thought he was a good pilot, but, to be honest, he wasn't that good. He only had learned to fly on sight, you know, and when he suddenly came into that cloud..."

Then something like a dry sob broke from his throat and, without warning, he was in Skinner's arms.

Skinner found himself holding Mulder tight, cradling him against his chest and whispering unintelligible endearments into his hair... and finally Mulder began to cry. It sounded like he hadn't done that in a very long time.

Then something dawned on Skinner.

Plane crash.

Inexperienced pilot.

And suddenly the teenaged face from the polaroid, - the one that had seemed faintly familiar to him, - clicked into place.

Damn.

Damn, Mulder.

*Did* the man have to make everything so much more difficult than necessary?

"Sorry about that," - Mulder sniffed and withdrew from Skinner's arms, visibly embarrassed. "I'm not a whiner, normally. I didn't mean to abuse you as my--"

"Mulder, this hasn't got anything to do with whining," Skinner said urgently. "You've just lost someone you loved. A friend and a lover. And I'm grateful for your trust, by the way. I appreciate this a lot. You should be glad you could at least cry a bit. And shouldn't *you* be the one to tell *me* that tears wash the stress hormones out of the body?"

Mulder snorted, but relaxed, and, to Skinner's secret and overwhelming joy, leaned back against his chest. Skinner gathered the younger man back to him once more.

"Mulder," he said cautiously. "Are we talking about the man I think we're talking about?"

Mulder turned his head back and looked up at him.

"Yeah," he said simply. Withdrew again from Skinner's arms, reached over to the pile of pictures and grabbed a handful of them. His glass of whisky was still half full. He finished it with one swig, shuddered briefly and... settled back into Skinner's arms, his back to Skinner's chest.

Skinner moved around to make it comfortable for Mulder and put his arms where they had been before. Oh, this felt good. This felt *right*. Mulder shuffled through the photographs until he found the one he was looking for and handed it to his boss.

Yep. Skinner found himself staring at the beautiful face of a man in his late thirties whose picture he'd seen many times in newspapers and magazines. Like in the polaroid, George was just coming out of the water, squinting into the sun, the dark chest hair matted, glinting droplets covering the marvelous body. On the next pic Mulder handed him, George was at a press conference, wearing a dark suit and looking simply smashing.

Skinner gazed down at Mulder.

"I intended to ask why you two didn't make any attempts to live together. Now I know why." He shook his head. "This is unbelievable, Mulder. I take it that nobody ever found out about you?"

Mulder merely raised an eyebrow. "Huh. You would have known. What a feast for the press all over the world. A hoot, isn't it? Considering the fact that he comes from a long line of renowned womanizers. Did you know that his father and his uncle even shared some of their lovers?"

"Hmm." Skinner remembered those rumours, of course. And, of course, the FBI must have tons of files about George's family. He gave Mulder a little squeeze, just to let him know he was there.

"Will you go to the funeral?" he asked.

"No," Mulder said flatly. "First, the funeral will be for close relatives only. Second, I wouldn't even count as a 'friend'. I met his mother once or twice, and his sister. I doubt anyone in the family would even remember me."

He sighed. It looked to Skinner as if Mulder had lost weight since he'd last seen him - but that had been just the day before, about lunchtime, so it wasn't possible. Or was it? Mulder glanced up at him from dull eyes. They were sunken and circled with dark rings.

"I can't go," he said flatly. New sobs wracked his body and he turned around and buried his face in Skinner's shoulder.

Skinner just held him against his chest until the sobs slowly receded, softly stroking the thick brown hair.

Thinking.

Making decisions.

Sending old fears to hell with a swift kick in the ass.

Rearranging his future.

Marveling at how easy that was, all of a sudden.

Mulder stirred in his arms.

"I think you need a hot shower and some sleep," Skinner said roughly.

"I don't think I can sleep," Mulder sighed. "But I'll try the shower."

Skinner let him go, very reluctantly - and was it wishful thinking or did Mulder also hesitate to free himself from Skinner's embrace?

Mulder got up, and so did Skinner. He reached for his jacket, but Mulder turned to him before he left for the hallway.

"Why don't you have another coffee? I won't be long."

Skinner felt a cautious, slow elation filling him. Mulder didn't want him to go. He didn't dare speak, just nodded tersely and went into the kitchen. Dimly he heard the shower running.

With Mulder safely out of earshot, Skinner dug his cell phone out of his pocket and punched in a familiar number.

"Scully." She answered it on the first ring, her voice tight but still professional.

"It's Skinner."

"How is he?"

Skinner sighed. "Hurting, but I think he's going to be okay."

Her simultaneous relief and curiosity came through loud and clear over the small phone.

"Thank God. What happened to send him into such a tailspin?"

"He'll have to tell you that himself, I'm afraid. If and when he's ready."

"But sir-" She sounded annoyed.

"I'm just respecting his wishes, Agent Scully," Skinner told her, feeling more than a bit guilty over usurping her position as close confidant. "I'm sorry."

"I understand, sir." Did she?

"Look, Agent Scully. I'll stay with him a while longer. Just to make sure he gets some rest."

There was a slight pause.

"All right. But promise you'll call me if anything happens, sir."

He presumed she meant anything *bad*.

"I will, Agent. Good-night."

A few minutes later, Mulder wandered back into the kitchen, in a pair of night blue boxers and a white t-shirt.

He stood in the doorway, looking at Skinner, worrying his lower lip with his teeth. Skinner could see the thoughts ticking and clicking behind those beautiful eyes and wished he could read them. At least some of them. He felt himself growing hot under the scrutinizing gaze of those hazel almonds. Suddenly he had the stupid feeling that Mulder could read him. He turned to the sink to wash his cup.

"Gonna tuck me in?"

As the words registered in his brain and he turned around in disbelief, Mulder was already gone. Dazed, his heart pounding a hard staccato, Skinner went into the hallway and found the bedroom at the end of it.

Mulder was lying on the bed. A bed that looked so neat that Skinner was sure it hadn't been used for quite a while. Scully had told him about Mulder's habit of sleeping on couches. Even when they were on the road.

Mulder looked pale and drawn, his still-damp hair leaving wet spots on the pillow.

"Are you gonna stay?" His voice sounded rough and tired. "Maybe I can sleep then, at least a bit."

Skinner opened his mouth, but nothing came out. The need to hold Mulder, to protect the man, to help him heal, to make him smile, was overwhelming and seemed to have trapped his tongue in his mouth.

Mulder watched him, almost as matter-of-factly as a scientist who watches one of his lab animals. Then his eyes softened.

"You want to stay, don't you?" It was more a statement than a question, like he had somehow known this even longer than Skinner had. And maybe he had - you just never knew with Mulder.

Skinner realized with relief that speaking wasn't required. Without a word, he stepped over the piles of books and magazines beside the bed, got rid of tie, shirt, shoes, socks and pants in quick efficient movements, and slipped under the covers Mulder held open for him.

Still silent, he took Mulder into his arms. Mulder eased into them as if he had done it for years. Skinner sighed with contentment. This was good; and it would get better. Much, much better.

After a long stretch of silence, Mulder spoke again, a bit drowsily.

"Will you tell me about Mick?"

Another sudden rush of emotions flooded Skinner's heart and he felt tears welling up in his eyes. He gathered Mulder fiercely against his chest and gently kissed his temple.

"Yes," he whispered hoarsely.

Mulder nodded.

"Good," he murmured into Skinner's neck. "Good."

***END***

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  In the end there can be only one.
  May it be Walter Skinner, the Assistant Director.
  Find my Skinner-slash at: http://www.squidge.org/3wstop