Another stressful day at the office. What a joke. Those pencil pushers in accounting keep giving him a hard time about the budget when he’s worrying about his agents’ lives. Don’t they know what’s at stake? It’s easy to criticize and critique, say the Bureau should cut back on travel expenses and daily stipends when you’re not the one in the shitty flea-infested motels nursing your wounds and your ego.
Skinner swirls the murky amber liquid in his elegant whiskey tumbler, a thoughtful gift from Sharon for his forty-fifth birthday, along with a bottle of 1973 Glenrothes single speyside malt. He takes a long, slow sip and it burns on the way down.
He’s aware that several of the departments he oversees are over budget, the worst offender, of course, being the X-Files. Justifying spending money and manpower on finding one of their own wasn’t a problem, but as time wears on, it’s becoming more difficult. Scully’s determination has never once waivered. Nearly six months ago Mulder was lost on his watch, so who is he to insist she stop?
A knock at the door disturbs his thoughts.
Adjusting his cowboy hat, Skinner stands with the large candy bowl, sauntering to the door with his best cowboy walk with his movie-star smile plastered to his face.
Privacy and introspection be damned, this is a high-end building and parents have paid the HOA’s so that their kids can trick or treat for full-sized candy bars. It’s time to face the ghouls and goblins. Not that he doesn’t get enough of that at work. At least these adorable monsters he can handle.
Throwing the door open, he ‘s greeted by a tiny Buzz Lightyear yelling, “trick or treat!” while holding up his half-full bucket of candy.
His heart skips a beat at the woman next to the fiery-haired space ranger. The weight of the world hunch her shoulders more than usual, her usually determined eyes dulled, the strain on her lower back causing it to arch while she runs her fingers over her slightly-protruding stomach.
It’s a glimpse into the future: the protective hand on the child’s head, a backpack of essentials - water and snacks and a change of clothes, just in case - slung across one shoulder, a polite smile. This will be Dana Scully’s life in a few short months.
“Hello,” she says, almost apologetically, adjusting the cat ears atop her head.
“Scully?” he says, still surprised by her appearance. She is a fixture in his work life, a ghostly apparition in his dreams, but this sudden emergence into his hallway is enough to fluster him completely.
“Trick or treat!” shouts the rambunctious Space Ranger.
“Matthew, this is my friend from work. His name is Walter. This is my nephew, Matthew.”
The child, no older than five, smiles up at him, exposing patchy rows of small teeth. No doubt those would have quite a few cavities after tonight’s sweet escapes.
“Trick of treat, sir!” Matthew calls again, bucket extended for easy access.
A large Snickers bar dropped into the bucket is all it takes to appease Matthew, who looks at his spoils in awe.
“I was wondering if I could use the bathroom.” Scully winces, whether at the weight on her bladder or the awkwardness of this situation he isn’t sure.
“Oh, sure,” Skinner replied, stepping aside and letting the two in. “Down the hall, first door on the right.”
“I’ll be just a minute, Matty,” says Scully, as she disappears down the hall.
“Wow!” Matthew says, looking around the home. “Do you live in a hotel?”
Brows knit, Skinner says, “No, this is my apartment.”
“It’s so clean,” observes Matthew.
Though he can’t tell if this is a compliment or criticism on his way of life, Skinner decides he’s proud of his home and says, “thanks.” He’s worked hard his whole damn life to get this apartment with a great view, fighting the oppression of his meager upbringing, fighting through Vietnam, fighting through Quantico training and the bureaucracy. Maybe he’ll even share it with someone again one day.
“Wow! You have a great TV!” Matthew says, taking his own tour of the living area. “We only have one TV downstairs on the naval base, and I only get to watch until six. Then I have quiet time before bed. And soon there’s gonna be even less time for me to watch TV because mommy has another baby in her belly and I bet she’s gonna watch TV instead of me. I’m gonna be a big brother and it’s a big responsibility. Everyone keeps telling me that.”
Verbose for someone so young. Though this was no surprise for the youngest of the Scullys.
“Well, it’ll be some time before the baby will get to choose what to watch,” Skinner says, hoping to offer the older brother some consolation for the major change.
Matthew considers this for a moment. “You think so?”
“She’ll sleep most of the time,” Skinner explains.
“How do you know so much about babies? Do you have any?”
Skinner clears his throat, a stall tactic as he thinks of an appropriate response. “I don’t. Most of my time is spent working. Not everyone has kids.”
“How come? My auntie’s gonna have a baby soon, but daddy isn’t happy about it. He says that she’s-”
“Matthew, that’s enough,” Scully said sharply, stepping out from the hallway, sleeves rolled to her elbows. “Not everyone has to know every detail about our family life.” Then, turning to Skinner, she said, “thank you again. And sorry about this chatty child, sir.”
“You don’t have to call me ‘sir.’ We’re not at work.”
“Right,” Scully says, averting her eyes and brushing a stray strand of hair from her face. “Sorry.”
“Hey, you’re like Woody and I’m Buzz Lightyear! You should come trick or treating with us!” Matthew declares. “Is that alright Auntie Dana?”
Skinner and Scully share an awkward moment, eyes flicking to one another, then around the room.
“You’re, uh… you’re more than welcome to join us, if you’d like,” she extends an invitation.
“Sure, I’d like that,” he agrees. “My night has been slow.”
He catches her pursing her lips while eying the whiskey glass. Self-conscious shame rises to the surface, warming him more than the whiskey had.
“It would be nice to have the company,” admits Scully.
“Okay,” Matthew exclaims exuberantly,”you’re going to be Woody and I’m Buzz. Too bad Auntie Dana didn’t dress up like a cowgirl. She would have been a great Jessie.”
“It was not clear that this would be a themed Halloween,” says Scully, defending herself.
“She even has the hair for it,” says Skinner. “Let me grab my jacket.”
“You’ve seen Toy Story 2?” asks Scully, brows shooting up in surprise.
“And the original Toy Story. You’re not the only one with nieces and nephews, Auntie Dana,” Skinner replies, shutting off the TV and heading for the door.
The smile that spreads across Scully’s face reaches her eyes and he is warmed further, drunk from her expression. If he didn’t know better, he could swear she was blushing.
The thought that he is giving her the opportunity to see a new part of Assistant Director Walter Skinner both unnerves and excites him. He is not just a man who demands excellence and results from his agents, but a dedicated family man with a certain softness for children and Disney movies. This is a chance to be someone different than the hardened boss. It’s an opportunity to show her that he too, despite his sterile and lonely living arrangement, is a family man.
As Skinner opens the door, Matthew bounces into the hallway, excitement bounding in every step. Scully follows and, with a hand to the small of her back, Skinner shuts the door and they make their way to the next apartment, where full-sized candy bars await.