Stocking Stuffers

by Amazon X

Title: Stocking Stuffers

Author: Amazon X

E-mail: yankeestarbuck@yahoo.com

Website: http://yankeestarbuck.tripod.com

Feedback: Oh, my goodness, you'd better!

Category: vignette, Ursula Challenge

Rating: PG-13 for swearing and allusions to a slash (M/M) relationship

Summary: A case of abductions leads the agents, and others, to a local mall to try and catch the bastard.

Archive: Anywhere, just ask and tell me where it's going.

Disclaimer: I never intended to write a straight-forward X-Files ep, but then again, neither did TenThirteen after a while, did they? But they created them, I just fuck with them when I can.

Notes: This originally was an Ursula challenge for the Alex H/C or D Yahoo list, but I thought I should share it with everyone before Christmas. I'm getting stuff. Should I explain more? OK, here is the original challenge: "X-File Character of your choice MUST: Play Santa at a store as undercover assignment or because they are down and out. What happens from there is your choice." OK, here it is. And no sex, how messed up is that! Well, just the allusion to it. This takes place during S9, before "William". But certain episodes didn't exist. And ya'll know which one I mean.

Author's Notes: Oh, this is such a challenge. No sex and I have to come up with an X-File. I'm so fucking lousy at that! Well, it's a learning experience, isn't it? I hope it goes well for you guys! This is dedicated to my beta, Erynn, who I forgot to thank for beta in my Thanksgiving fic, and also who helped me with the fine points of the story. You are a top-notch lady, Erynn and if it weren't for you, I wouldn't be half the writer that I am! I love you, Bosslady!


MARLEY STATION MALL
GLEN BURNIE, MD
EARLY AFTERNOON

If anyone had told Walter Skinner that he would be sitting in a shopping mall, dressed as Santa Claus for a case, he would have told them that they were insane. He would never have guessed himself. But how do you tell your boss to fuck off, you don't do the holidays?

"Sir, please, let me again tell you that I am not the man for this job." He was pleading; he was praying in his mind. Dear Lord, please let the Director change his mind.

"So what you're telling me is that I've passed on every male agent in the entire bureau to ask you to do this, and I'm wrong? You're telling me I'm wrong, Walter."

Skinner sighed quietly. "No, sir, I'm telling you that you think too highly of me. I cannot do this assignment as you ask."

"Why is that? I need you to help me understand why this is so difficult? I know you're a private man, Walter, but I'm sorry, this is huge. Children are disappearing from malls all over the country. And it's made its way here, fast. There are no bodies and there are no leads. We are the Federal Bureau of Investigations. This is our job, Walter. Tell me why you can't do your job. Is it the fact that you have no particular love for children? Is it that you get melancholy around the holidays missing your late wife? Tell me, please, so that I can understand."

Walter smiled and took another deep breath, finding his shoes particularly interesting. "You are a very smart man, sir."

"That is why they've made me the director. And hopefully, one day, they'll be smart and do the same with you. Now, are you going to save the children of Maryland or not? You need to decide now, since I need you at that mall, in costume in two hours."

Skinner smiled, stood to shake the director's hand and walked out of the office. He met Scully, who would work with his as Mrs. Claus. Everything had been finalized in the overnight meeting the task force had held in the north wing war room. It was decided, and plans were being put into motion. Eleven children had disappeared from eleven different malls in America and one was the niece of a prominent councilman from Delaware, who was pushing the investigation. Skinner sat beside Scully and watched the DC metro view become suburban Maryland. He'd made his way down the Eastern seaboard and Maryland was the logical next stop.

"You're very quiet, sir," Scully noted at a red light on Gov. Ritchie Highway. He looked at her then looked away. "I can't imagine you volunteered for this. We'll solve the case soon. Then you can go back to..."

And she stopped. Skinner looked over at her. "To what, Agent Scully?"

"I...I...I don't know, sir. You don't talk much about yourself."

"Would you listen if I did?" Skinner didn't turn his head toward her, not needing to see the hurt in her eyes.

"Sir, I...with the baby and Mulder and..."

"I know, Dana. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that." The blush of shame burned heavily in his cheeks. "This time of year is...not...fun for me."

"I'm sorry, sir. I guess not...well..."

Skinner smiled and snorted a small laugh. "Yes, Sharon loved the holidays. She kept hinting that she would love a house full of children for Christmas. I...didn't have the heart to tell her..."

Scully looked over at Skinner, waiting, hoping finally to get some of the closeness Mulder boasted with Skinner. "Tell her what, Walter?"

"I can't father children. A...by-product of surviving that ambush in Vietnam. I just kept telling her no."

"Was that the reason you both separated?"

"We separated after I started sleeping in the guest room. I'd really rather not relive this, Agent Scully." The walls went up so fast, Scully's head spun. They were silent for the rest of the drive. Scully was relieved to pull into the mall parking lot. Doggett and Reyes met them straight off and led them to the staging area. With his usual, frank efficiency, Doggett related the security measures being taken to ensure that not only was the perpetrator captured, but the child was safe as well.

Skinner didn't subscribe to the type of law enforcement that supported "acceptable losses". The Director was right. There were eleven missing children, ages four to nine. Someone had to find them.

Skinner sat with barely suppressed anger as Reyes clucked over him, applying the beard and eyebrows with spirit gum. She meant well, and Skinner doubted she knew how pissed off she was making him. "Do I really need the eyebrows, Agent Reyes?"

"Sir, if I may, even though your hair has gone lighter than it was year ago, your eyebrows have yet to catch up. I think the white hair and beard and thick black eyebrows wouldn't be authentic."

"Do you think I care so much about authenticity?" Skinner looked at her pointedly, hoping his stare was boring a hole or two in her soul.

But she just plastered a serene smile on her face and said, "Sir, if anyone can teach a lesson in attention to detail, it's you. Do you want to disappoint the children? The ones who are here to see Santa?"

Taking a deep breath, Skinner closed his eyes and tilted his head back slightly to allow Reyes to finish applying the white, puffy eyebrows to his face. Scully watched from a safe distance with Doggett flanking her.

"You think he's really doing this voluntarily?" Doggett whispered with trepidation in his tone.

"No, he isn't. The Director asked him personally. He usually isn't this...cooperative."

"No kidding."

Reyes smiled down at Skinner, who'd opened his eyes. Two pairs of brown eyes watched each other, one jovial, one wary. "Sir may I speak frankly, off the record?"

"If you must." Skinner didn't like the sound of this.

"I would have loved to see a picture of you in your youth. I've seen the photos from the academy archives, but I'm not sure they do you justice. Not one shows you smiling."

"I don't smile."

"You'd better do some today, or you'll have a lot of kids crying on your lap."

Skinner took a deep breath. "How did I let him bully me into this?"

"I didn't make you do this, sir," Reyes huffed, her calm demeanor falling quickly.

"I meant the Director. HE forced me into this." Skinner's tone dripped with venom.

"I'm sure it's because he wanted the job done right, sir. And I would think you should feel flattered."

"I'm not, Agent Reyes. I am only here to catch a kidnapper, and for no other reason. Is that clear?"

With a smirk and hidden giggle, Reyes nodded and stepped away to get the rest of the Santa Claus costume, belly padding and boots. Slipping into the clothes, Skinner was not happy to feel his body temperature slowly rising. "Jesus Christ, I'll be sweating like a racehorse in no time."

Reyes smiled. "Sir, you look just fine. And the children will love it."

With a grunt, Skinner stalked to the quasi-arena set up in the middle of the mall. Scully had gone to change into her costume as Mrs. Claus and Reyes was going to be an elf. Doggett would wear a mall security uniform and patrol the outer edges of the crowds.

The agents tried very hard not to laugh at Skinner, but somewhere in his mind, he thought he could see them snickering and laughing at him. Even though they weren't. But being laughed at was nothing new to Skinner. His family laughed at him when he enlisted for Vietnam, they laughed when he decided being a police officer wasn't enough and he wanted to join the FBI, after spending five years in night school for his criminal justice degree. They stopped laughing at him when he began solving important cases.

They didn't know he was being helped by members of the Consortium, Spender in particular. Yes, Skinner was ashamed of his actions, but knowing that his brothers and sisters didn't laugh at him anymore, the doctors and lawyers and engineers, and their wives. His father, the self-made head of his own family medical practice, had respect for an assistant director of the FBI. Finally, the youngest Skinner boy had come into his own.

And knowing what he knew, if Skinner could go back and stay an honest cop, he would have. He liked the community he worked in, in Indiana, Pennsylvania. It was quiet, everyone knew him, and more importantly, the community respected him. He held no respect for himself in his current position. Especially not dressed as he was.

Tom Petty said waiting was the hardest part, and Skinner understood completely. He sat on a gilded throne, made of sprayed pressboard and paper machete stairs leading up to it and down from it for the children. Scully would assist the children up and sit them on Skinner's lap. It was up to Skinner to find out what they wanted and then take the obligatory picture. The idea at how "cute" they looked was enough to make his breakfast roll in his belly. The real one, not the padded lump over his flatter abdomen.

It was terrible. It was horrible. It was the most excruciating time of his life. But he smiled. And he laughed. And the children smiled and laughed at him. Or were they laughing with him. By the middle of the afternoon, he didn't quite care. Screaming children, shouting mothers, the stifling heat and the damn merchant across the way with his damn mechanical stuffed animals was annoying the life out of him. And he was concerned why there was a huge taxidermy kiosk near children shopping for toys.

After getting word from Skinner through Scully, Doggett wandered over to the huge kiosk to review the man's stand. He would report to Skinner when they broke for lunch.

At lunch, Skinner sat with his red jacket off and belly padding laid aside to eat. Scully handed him the plate of mall cafeteria pasta, and looking at the oil collecting, Skinner said a small prayer for his stomach. He would be paying with ulcer medicine for days. But they needed to debrief from the morning's surveillance, share information and come up with an idea on how to figure out who the next victim might be.

"Sir, I gotta admit, I think today may not be the day," Doggett reluctantly said. "The guy seems to like a kid from a big family. Likes a distracted mom, and he grabs them like that."

Skinner shook his head. "What is with that booth with the birds? It looks a little too creepy for Christmas. Is it left over from Halloween?"

"Yeah, he's a taxidermist. Got all these owls, like from Harry Potter."

"Who?"

All three agents, and a few who were sitting by them, all turned to look at a truly perplexed assistant director.

"Sir, Harry Potter is the main character in a series of kids' books and now to be a series of movies," Reyes explained. "It's a very popular story. I've read the books myself."

"Sorry, Agent Reyes, I guess I'm not quite up on my youth fiction as I should be. When I'm not keeping up with endless reports, I barely have enough time to make it through the Washington Post. But thank you for this little mini-course on children's reading habits."

The three agents looked at each other as if to say, 'Tread lightly, Stoneface Skinner is on the warpath.' They went back to eating until Doggett spoke up again. "Sir, that taxidermist, he's got owls out there, and the kids seem to like it. I'm gonna keep my eye on him."

"You do that, Agent Doggett. I'm sure he's the one. Yes, situated so close to the action, right where he can be seen by all the parents and children. What does he do with the child?"

"I don't know yet, sir." All three agents noticed Skinner's derisive tone and though he was getting a bit abusive. Scully stayed behind to help Skinner put the costume back on.

"Sir, I think you're being a little hard on Agents Reyes and Doggett. They're working as hard as anyone here."

"Except me. I'm the one with a lapful of children, forcing smiles in this godforsaken season. All I'd like to do is finish my reports and spend my day off resting my eyes. Is that too much to ask?"

"No, sir. I'm sorry. I was going to ask you if you had plans for Christmas. My mother wanted to invite you if you were free. She's got the room."

Skinner smiled at her, taking a moment to check his temper. She was only trying to be nice. They all were. He should give it a shot himself. "Thank you, Dana. I know I'm being difficult. I'm sorry. Tell your mother Christmas sounds nice."

They finished dressing and returned to the mall floor where the children were waiting, none too patiently. Screaming and yelling, crying and fighting, the children wouldn't stop. Skinner wanted to massage his temples, wanted to take off his glasses and rub his eyes, wanted to thrash himself for not using the bathroom before sitting back down on his throne. But he watched the crowds as much as he looked at all the children who sat on his lap and smiled and said, "I love you, Santa." Children who gave him hugs and kisses on his cheek, and who told them that they wanted a job for their parent, or medicine for their sibling, or for the fighting overseas to end so their father could come home for the holidays.

Skinner didn't realize how much kids thought about current events, what their brains really held, how much of the world they understood, and how much they didn't. It became harder to tell them he would do his best to make sure they got what they wanted, when they wanted a cure for leukemia or Neurofibromatosis. He wasn't even sure how a child who looked like he was about six years old knew that word. But the boy was determined to find the cure for his sister. Skinner fought hard to keep the tears back on more than one occasion.

Scully stood before her boss and looked down into his wistful eyes. "Sir, is everything all right?"

"Scully, who would have guessed children would want an end to war and a cure for cancer for Christmas?" He shook his head.

"Sir, children are amazing, aren't they?"

He nodded quietly. There was a flash of light and a popping sound. Skinner looked up and saw a puff of smoke billowing from the kiosk owned by the taxidermist. He seemed to be trying to make his way around the back of it to get to where three children stood crying. Skinner couldn't see too well as far away as he was. But he did see Doggett hovering close by. The child to his right began to cry, so turning away, Skinner immediately began to try and calm the girl down. He was thankful that her mother took her off his hands.

Skinner watched Scully's and Reyes' faces for signs of trouble, but their smiles didn't fade. Until the screaming. It was a woman this time, calling her son's name. "DAY-VID!" over and over until Skinner thought he'd scream at her to stop. And then he realized it. The boy was gone.

"Scully, seal the mall, this is the snatch!" Skinner shouted and watched as his agents jumped into action. He stood from the throne and walked down the display to where agents swarmed the mother. He stood back and observed the situation logically. The woman had four children with her, minus the missing boy. They were milling about, near Reyes, who was asking them what they saw. She had been paying for the photographs taken, a couple of the children were fighting and she was arguing with another.

It was the perfect set up. Skinner motioned to one of the agents to hand him a radio. He took it and called into it, "I want all videotapes of the boy from when he left my lap to just moments ago reviewed immediately. I want all waiting families taken to the waiting area on the other side of the mall. I want every inch of this area searched carefully. This child did not disappear under our noses. Now, move!"

Skinner strode to the door where he knew he could get rid of his costume and change back into his suit. He was just wiping his hands on a paper towel, having washed the spirit gum from his face and finally gone to the bathroom, when the radio shouted to life, "We've got him! Skinner to the main floor, we have the boy!"

Skinner took off at a run toward the main floor where he was greeted with a sight that would puzzle him for years. Doggett was correct to keep the taxidermist in mind. The man had designed his hollow log floor stand to appear seamlessly sealed. There was a hinge that opened it and it was there that he concealed the small boy. He was unconscious, under the affect of a drug, according to Scully. They were rushing him to North Arundel hospital for initial triage, then to Bethesda for treatment.

Skinner sat beside Scully in the car as they followed the police car containing the taxidermist to the local police station. Skinner spent the entire trip on his cell phone, and hurriedly followed Scully into the station to await the man's processing. They paced, they bit nails, they argued, they drank bad coffee, but all the waiting was worth the moment the three agents and their assistant director walked into the interrogation room with the man they now knew to be Ezekiel Clement Taylor.

Skinner circled the man sitting at the table. He wasn't quite as tall as Skinner was, and was thinner by at least fifty pounds. His mouse-brown hair was oily and too long, but not long enough to fashionable. His piggish eyes were deep set and too close together. His skin should have been Caucasian beige, but it was tinted a grayish-green from years of exposure to the taxidermy chemicals. Skinner took the chair opposite the man and began the staring contest. Doggett, Reyes and Scully stood back, pacing in their own individual circles.

"So, Mr. Taylor, would you like to tell me why you drugged that boy and put him in the hollow tree trunk?"

The slimy man looked into Skinner's eyes, barely registering the man across from him and said, "I thought I was getting' a lahw-yer. I need me a real lahw-yer. You folk can jess kiss mah ass until I git me a lahwyer."

Skinner stood abruptly, throwing the chair back, almost hitting Doggett. "You will tell me where the other children are! What have you done with them?"

Doggett grabbed Skinner's sleeve and pulled the big man back. "He isn't talking, sir. He won't talk to us. He wants his damn lawyer. We can't use anything else."

"Use! There are either eleven missing children or eleven fucking bodies, John! I don't really care about what we can use in court right now!" The redness of crept Skinner's face as his anger increased. Doggett grabbed Skinner by the shoulders and forced him out of the interrogation room. The door slammed behind them. Through the viewing window, he watched as Reyes and Scully tried to speak to Taylor further. Skinner paced as he watched. The man remained silent. Both Scully and Reyes abandoned the room.

"He won't talk to us, sir. He keeps asking for a lawyer," Scully informed them. Skinner tossed his empty Styrofoam cup across the room in a vain attempt at the waste basket. He felt the fight drain out of him through his size 13D wingtips into the floor.

"Get him a lawyer, but leave him there until counsel arrives. No food, no water, no toilet, no cigarettes. If he's gonna make the kids suffer, I'm gonna do the same to him."

Doggett walked out of the room and went looking for the civilian administrative assistant to call the DA's office. Scully and Reyes stood side by side, staring through the window at Taylor. He looked in their direction, but all he saw was a mirror.

The tones of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" tinkled through the small room. Skinner fumbled for his cell phone and flipped the cover open. "Skinner."

"They're in a pit, about two miles south east into Prince William Forest Park. Start at Independent Hill, in Virginia. Get plenty of medical attention. Some of the kids are close to death."

"Who is this?" Skinner shouted, but didn't need to. He knew exactly who was behind the deep, gravelground voice that told him what Taylor wouldn't. "Who are you?"

"They have some water, a few blankets, but you need to get there fast. It's the other side of Quantico. Go!" And the line went dead.

Skinner turned to his two agents. "Who was that, sir?" Scully asked. She was wary of Skinner, still to this day, but knew that, ultimately, he would do what was right.

"Someone who told me where he's stashed the children."

"Wait, you just listen to someone who calls you out of the blue?" Reyes asked, completely taken aback by Skinner's whole-hearted attitude toward the unsubstantiated information.

"Agent Reyes, someone who has my private cellular number and calls me about a case that hasn't been reported yet, with details not in any case file, I tend to listen to." Skinner shrugged into his overcoat and headed for the door. A small, gentle hand on his arm stopped his with all the force of a freight train. Skinner turned to the diminutive redhead, who wore a look of concern touched with pity.

"Was it..." She didn't continue her question. Skinner turned and left. His message to her was clear. Skinner barked orders at the agents waiting outside the observation room to mobilize the rescue efforts. He met Scully at her car and followed the many agents and police cars that would be joined by ambulances from all over the area near Independent Hill, Virginia.

Keeping her eyes on the road, Scully gripped the wheel tightly. How did he always know? Skinner looked over at her and shook his head. "I have no idea, Dana. He only calls when it benefits him."

She looked at him a moment, shocked and amazed at his omniscience. He was an amazing man.


PRINCE WILLIAM FOREST PARK
INDEPENDENT HILL, VA

Skinner followed the pack of agents and bloodhounds as they trampled through the forest, heedless of the noise they were making. If the information was good, they would come upon the pit where he'd said the children had been left. How he knew was a very good question, and one that Skinner wanted the answer to. He knew he was ruining a pair of very good shoes by plodding blind through mud puddles and low bushes. Another suit ruined in the course of work.

There was shouting up ahead, and the dogs were barking in one long, loud sound. Skinner followed and waited at the forefront, watching the black pit and the lights that flicked around in the hole. What flitted by in little yellow circles turned his stomach. Eleven small bodies, filthy and huddled in a mass of attempted warmth-sharing, lay in the pit waiting for rescue. Scully, Reyes and Doggett, followed by the EMTs and more agents, arrived on the scene. Scully gasped loudly, her thoughts immediately fleeting to her son, safe at his grandmother's house.

In a flurry of equipment, ladders were lowered into the pit and EMTs were dispersed to check on the children. Construction spotlights were erected to light the way. A crude pulley system was strung to haul the children on stretchers out to be carried to waiting ambulances. Scully came to stand beside Skinner and held his hand.

"Sir, how did he know if he didn't do this?" She was quiet, so that others wouldn't hear her, but she was concerned with Skinner's misguided loyalty. It was a loyalty she thought was tinged with fear. And that wasn't a good way to work, or live.

"Agent Scully, I think your medical expertise may be needed in that pit. I suggest you get down there." Skinner let go of her hand. She waited a beat, hoping he would turn to her and give her some hope that her fears weren't real, but he stood stock still, as stoic as the trees around them.

It was frightening. The children were silent, not crying, not whimpering or screaming. Some were unconscious, some were shivering, but most were just staring at the rescue workers with large, dull eyes that took up most of their faces. They all smelled of waste, as if they were incontinent throughout their entire captivity. Skinner was ready write them all off as "damaged beyond repair" until he heard one little voice. It was a little girl, clear and coherent, asking to speak to her uncle, who was a very important man. Skinner knew it had to have been the councilman's niece.

"Lucy? Are you Lucy Fenderman?" Skinner crouched beside the girl who had just been laid on a stretcher. They clapped an oxygen mask on her face and began moving the stretcher in the direction that led to the ambulances. Skinner followed and looked down at her. "Lucy, can you tell me who gave you guys the water and the blankets?"

She nodded behind her oxygen mask. Skinner waited but she didn't speak. He followed her to the ambulance and climbed in with the EMTs. The men worked on the little girl, giving her an IV and asking if she was in any pain. She wasn't. They put an oxygen cannula under her nose. Skinner took her hand and said, "Do you remember the question I asked you?"

The little girl nodded. "He was a tall, like you, but not as big. Black hair and green eyes. Leather jacket, too. Said he was gonna send us help, but he couldn't stay. Then he was gone. And a while later, you guys came."

Skinner kept his mental tape recorder going, memorizing each of the little girl's facial expressions. She smiled at the big man. "Are you Walter?"

Skinner cocked his head but left his reaction for his internal face, not his external one. "Yes, that's my name, Walter Skinner. How did you know?"

"Alex told me before he left, 'Don't worry, Walter will find you.' He was right."

"Why would he say that? Did he mention why he said that?"

"Because I was crying and screaming and yelling about my uncle. He told me to be quiet, and keep the other kids quiet. They were crying, too. He said we should be strong and brave, and would be found in an hour or so. He said we should concentrate on thinking warm. Thank you for finding us."

Skinner gave her one of his rare and treasured smiles. "Lucy, it was my job to find you. Alex helped me out, a lot. Did he say anything else?"

"No. He just told us all to tell you the truth when you asked us about Zeke."

Skinner sat back. Finally, they were getting to the meat and bones of the issues. "Zeke is the man who took you? Ezekiel Clement Taylor?"

"He said to call him Zeke. His momma called him Clem. And we aren't his momma. Then he did a lot of cursing about her. And then he left us. Said he needed an even dozen. He would bring us another doll. That's weird, he called us dolls."

The ambulance pulled into the emergency drive of the hospital. He got out and watched as the little girl was wheeled in the doors and whisked away. Some of the children, ashen-faced and emaciated-looking, were the first few to be abducted. It seemed they'd had no food, no water but from the rain, or urine, and were on death's doorstep. Skinner watched Scully assist in reviving one child as Doggett and Reyes announced to parents what was happening. He let it all whirl past him. He needed to leave. The local area SAC was on the scene and everyone was taking notes.

Coming up behind Doggett, he didn't even need to tap the man on the shoulder. Doggett wheeled around, frightening Skinner and the parents he was addressing. The men looked each other over and Doggett excused himself from the crowd. "Sir, is there something wrong?"

"No, Agent Doggett, no, I'm fine. I...uh...think I'm going to leave. You have everything in hand..."

"Sir, no, you can't leave," Doggett protested. He reached out to take hold of Skinner's arm when the big man tried to turn away. "Please, Assistant Director, you're the man who found them. Their parents want to talk to you. You should make the statement to the press. This was your show from the beginning. You should host it."

Skinner shook his head, but reluctantly stepped before the group of parents and gave them as much information as he could without having been debriefed by the Director. Skinner expected the cell phone to ring at any moment. He was relieved when it did.

Skinner spoke quickly and bluntly to the Director, and the man wasn't surprised by what he was told, which did surprise Skinner. "Sir, I'm sorry, but you don't sound as if this is a problem for you."

"It isn't, Walter. Why do you think I put you on this case? To torture you? No. I know you have certain...contacts. These contacts are retained from the tenure of Agent Mulder. And I know they are loyal to you because you were loyal to him. Well done, Walter. Enjoy the holidays."

The line went dead without a closing. Skinner put the phone away and stood there a moment, thoughtfully. It seems the Director was a smarter man than Skinner gave him credit for.

After filling out all the reports, and all the forms for the hospital and local police and rescue departments, Skinner stopped by a curtained area to see one of the children. The others were being monitored until they were stable to be transferred to rooms upstairs. Only one little girl was sitting in her bed, waiting to go home.

"Lucy? How are you feeling?" Skinner shook hands with the girls parents and councilman uncle.

"Hi, Walter. I'm ready to go home. How are you?" She smiled widely.

"I'm tired. I'm ready to go home, too. I just wanted to make sure you were well. I'll be going now."

"Wait!" Skinner turned to Lucy who crooked a finger at him. He leaned down, hoping she wouldn't embarrass him by kissing his cheek. But she didn't. She put her hand on his shoulder and so close to his ear that he could feel her warm, sweet breath, she whispered, "Tell Alex thank you."

Skinner nodded then left the family to the little girl. He strode purposefully toward a BuCar, and was thankful it had keys in it. He would return it to the Hoover the next day with his apologies to the agent who requisitioned it. He drove straight back to his apartment, yearning to get out of his clothes, get out of his skin if he could. He needed to get himself into a glass of scotch as well. Numbing was the order of business for the night.


VIVA TOWER
CRYSTAL CITY, VA

Skinner walked into his apartment and immediately the few hairs left on his head stood up. Fear, another presence in the apartment, or just the frigid air blowing the curtains through the open terrace door, could be anything. But Skinner knew what to do. He hung his coat in the closet as he always did, dropped his keys and wallet on the table and walked to the small wooden liquor cabinet. Its surface boasted his cutcrystal glass of single-malt, 25-year-old scotch neat.

Naturally, Skinner investigated the open door. It was exactly how he'd pictured. The dark figure stood by the very end of the terrace, far away from where he had once been handcuffed. Even though he didn't stay out there very long, he still didn't like the implication to Mulder that he had spent the night out there. Krycek better enjoyed waking in the warm bed curled around a warm body, the body that stood watching him.

"How did you get in?" Skinner asked, walking to the railing and leaning on it.

"How I always do. Are they still alive?" He didn't turn. Skinner could barely hear his voice over the wind.

"Yes. Why didn't you get them out of there? You left them there almost two hours alone."

At the accusation, Krycek did turn, but if Skinner's harsh words cut to the bone, Krycek didn't show it on his face. His flat features gave the impression he didn't care. He did. "That's your job, boy scout. You play by the rules, when it suits me. You keep the peace and the laws. You should get the glory. No one should know I was there."

"Lucy knows." It wasn't meant as an accusation, but was all the same.

Krycek smirked. "Lucy. Bright girl. But she knew I couldn't stay. YOU knew I couldn't stay. I'm dead. You, of all people, should know that."

Skinner downed the rest of his drink. He flirted with the idea of tossing the glass over the railing but the street below still had people on it. And getting hit with a glass from 17 stories up would be a devastating injury. So he tossed the glass in the door to land on the carpet. Skinner heard the ice tinkle out onto the beige plush nap.

"What do you know about him?" Skinner asked, crossing his arms over the wide expanse of his chest.

Krycek let a huff of laughter fly out at that. "Everything. Ezekiel Clement Taylor. Born March 15, 1965."

"The Ides of March."

"The very same. Born to a single mother, another bastard out of Virginia. But he was a tortured kid. Mom used to force him to play with his four older sisters. They dressed him up like a doll. His granddad used to pull him out of there. He was a taxidermist, taught the kid what he knows."

"What does this have to do with why he took those kids?" Skinner shouted, losing what little patience he had left for the man on his terrace. It was enough that the man solved his case for him and broke into his house. But talking in circles was not getting him anywhere, and he was going to get physical soon.

"He was going to let the kids die. Let them starve and loosen their flesh. Then stuff and mount them in his house. He wanted playmates. Dolls, Skinner. He was going to make dolls. Out of the children."

There was silence for a moment while Skinner processed the information. But it didn't compute to him. "Why? What could be his purpose? To hurt his family? His sisters or mother or grandfather?"

"Close as I can figure, because he was a crazy freak. That's why. And not the kinky freak...like me. His freakiness is evil. Mine is just...sensual. But you already know that."

Skinner flushed at the accusation. He didn't deny it. He knew who and what he was. But it didn't mean he liked it thrown in his face. "Don't think I'll say 'thank you'. I won't."

Krycek walked to him, stood an inch away, close enough to feel the heat radiating from Skinner, close enough to smell the mud on his shoes. "I know you won't. But you'll show me."

With that, he turned abruptly and walked into the apartment. Skinner waited a moment, sighed heavily and followed without a word. He closed the terrace door behind him.


HOME OF MAGGIE SCULLY
ANNAPOLIS, MD

"I'm sorry, but I cannot wait to get out of this damn suit and into some sweats."

The group laughed heartily. Skinner was in a very believable Santa suit, with the jacket open, Scully wearing a matching, and very fetching Mrs. Claus costume. Doggett and Reyes were in matching green elves costumes, which were tailored jackets and green trousers. The hats made all the difference. The rest of the group, the Lone Gunmen and Skinner's personal assistant, Arlene, were in casual wear, not opting for costumes.

Skinner felt obligated to visit the kidnap victims on Christmas day, and he not only dragged his three agents, but he also made the three Lone Gunmen, who he felt a certain kinship to, come as well. He decided if he would be treated like the father of this chosen family, he should act like it. He called everyone out to haul the toys into the children's ward of Prince William hospital where they'd taken the children after finding them. They had the best pediatric trauma unit in the area.

It was a trying day, to say the least. All the children in the hospital were invited to the breakfast party that Skinner had Arlene arrange. The children that had already been released were also present. Lucy was a little disheartened that "Alex" hadn't come to the party. But Skinner, not enjoying lying to the child, told her that "Alex" was somewhere else making sure other children made it home for Christmas. Scully had heard him. She would question him later.

Maggie Scully, true to her word, had a huge Christmas dinner waiting for everyone. They exchanged gifts during cocktails and everyone was happy to know that they knew their friends and colleagues well enough to get gifts that had meaning to each recipient.

As the group began to leave at the end of the night, Scully finally cornered Skinner in the kitchen, after the two had helped with the dishes. "Sir, can I ask you something? I know you wouldn't answer me with everyone here."

"You may ask. I may not answer." Skinner was short. He knew what she wanted to know.

"Walter, between you and I, why would Krycek go out of his way for those children? And if he did, why didn't he rescue them himself?"

Taking a deep breath, Skinner searched for the words that Krycek had used long ago about his life. "He told me once that he grew up a part of the regimented life in Russia as a child of the Consortium. His parents gave him over to be trained as an agent when he was about three years old. What he went through, I won't go into. I know you won't pity him, since I don't either. But he had told me he couldn't let the children be hurt the way he was."

Scully snorted in sarcasm. "Alex Krycek, lover of children."

It was Skinner's turn at the sarcasm. "No, he doesn't. He just doesn't like monsters."

"Then he must hate himself." Scully quickly turned to go upstairs to her son who was beginning to cry. Skinner hung his head. He walked to the living room and hugged Maggie, thanking her profusely for inviting him for dinner. He slipped on his coat, stepped out of the door and into the dark night. He looked up at the sky and located the North Star. He smiled. "Goodnight, kids."

The End
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