Title: Greatest Gift of All
Summary: Scully and Skinner's relationship hits a rocky patch.
Chapter One: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
Home of Walter and Dana Skinner
Dana Skinner patted her rounded belly as she crossed from the stove to the ringing telephone on the wall, "Hello, " she answered blandly, setting down the bowl of green beans she'd been snapping.
"Dana?" her mother-in-law's voice came over the telephone line. "It's Mama Skinner."
"Hi, Mama. How are you? How's Dad?" she asked. Her father-in-law had a heart attack a few months before.
"We're fine, Sweetie, " her mother-in-law said, "It's been a while since we've heard from you. We were wondering how you and Walter and the children are."
"We're fine, " Dana sighed, "Laura's doing excellent in school, Caitlin loves her pre-K class, and Wally is trying to potty train. As for me, I'm getting bigger by the hour. Pretty much the same old story around here." She snapped another bean.
"The reason I was calling, Walter and I wanted to know if we could count on your family for Christmas this year. You didn't come last year and we couldn't make it out in the summer because well you know and we missed the children." Irena Skinner was never very forward but she didn't conceal her feelings well either. She was disappointed and upset when Walter and Dana hadn't gone to Tahoe the Christmas before but because of Dana's grandmother's visit from England the family had chosen to remain in Virginia. This year however, she hoped that her son and "daughter" would bring their three children to Lake Tahoe for the holidays.
Dana wasn't sure what her husband would want to do. The terms of their marriage were not the best since she'd become pregnant a fourth time. After Wally was born, she was certain he'd want at least one more child to round out the pack. It seemed that each time she'd given birth to a child he wanted just one more, so much so that each time she tried to go back to the bureau; she'd end up pregnant again.
Dana didn't realize how long she'd been silent until she heard her mother-in-law say, "Dana? Are you still there?"
"Oh, yeah. Sorry. I was thinking. Let me speak to Walter about he holidays and we'll get back to you. I'm game, I'm not too big to travel yet so let me just check with Walter when he gets home and make sure he can get the time off." She tried to keep her voice light and not reveal to her mother-in-law what kind of trouble she and Walter were having.
"All right, " Irena said, "Just let us know. If you and Walter can't come her, maybe we'll come there. We really want to see you and the kids."
"Great. Well, I'll talk with Walter and we'll see how it goes. I have to go pick up Laura and Caitlin at school. I'll call you back at the end of the week."
Dana and Irena said their goodbyes and Dana went to fetch her son out of his playpen, "Come on, little man. Time to go get your sisters."
"Sis-sers, " the boy echoed and held onto Dana's neck while she pulled him out of the playpen. She put his little coat on him and held his hand so he could walk down the stairs on his own power. He was so like his father; quiet, thoughtful, and fiercely independent, the only resemblance her bore to her at all was his red hair.
After Wally was born she decided to take a permanent leave of absence from the bureau. It seemed each time she was ready to go back to work she'd become pregnant. So she and Walter finally decided until the stopped having kids, she'd be a stay at home mom. It was not something Dana ever envisioned herself doing that, but somehow it was one of the most rewarding experiences of her life. If only Walter would be at home more and take more of an interest in their life, things would be perfect.
Foster Elementary School
Dana sat in the pick-up zone at Foster Elementary School waiting for her daughters to be dismissed. Foster was on e of the best private elementary schools in the area with a top notch Security to protect the children that attended. Often they would be the children of politicians, well paid federal employees, high-ranking military officials, or in her case, high-ranking FBI agents.
She saw her two daughters, side by side coming out to her car. She got out and held out her arms hugging and kissing each of them, "Hello, Angels. Did you have a good day at school?"
"Yes. Mommy, " Laura, the very image of Walter's oldest sister Mary Ellen at six, beamed. "I got a perfect on my spelling paper, " she bragged thrusting the paper at Dana.
"That's terrific, good for you. We'll put on the refrigerator over the other ones, " she kissed her cheek. "And what about you Caitlin? Did you have a good day at school?"
"No, " her younger daughter declared.
"Oh? And why not, " Dana asked her while securing her in the car seat beside Wally.
"Cause Billy Mead said that his daddy told his mommy the Daddy isn't gonna get po-moted and I said he was so cause he works all the time, " Caitlin told Dana. She was the picture of her mother.
"And why did Billy say that, Kitten? He doesn't know anything about Daddy's promotion, " Dana buckled Laura's seatbelt and got back into the car.
"Yes he does. His Pop-Pop is one of Daddy's bosses, " Caitlin insisted.
"That may be Caitlin, but Billy is still a very little boy. He could have heard wrong. Anyway, it's not very important, so don't let Billy upset you okay?" Dana smiled in the rear view mirror.
"Okay, Mommy, " Caitlin chorused and remained silent on the subject.
"Mommy, " Laura asked, "are we going to Grandma's tomorrow?"
"No, Cookie Bun. Not until Thursday. Daddy is worked still tomorrow. But guess what?"
"What?" Laura, Caitlin, and Wally all attempted to chorus.
"Uncle Mulder is coming to see you guys tomorrow. Isn't that great?"
"Yeah!" the children exclaimed. They loved Mulder. To them Mulder was like a grown up kid who always had an abundance of goodies and fun. After Dana left the bureau, Walter had stopped worrying about he amount of time he spent with the kids, occasionally enjoying the fact that Mulder would take the kids out and leave him time alone with Dana.
Dana smiled and drove the car towards home.
Home of Dana and Walter Skinner
It was a rare occasion these days that Walter came home in time for supper, but usually he was home before the kids bedtime. Wally's was 7:30 pm, Caitlin's was 8:00 pm, and Laura's was 8:30 pm. It was all ready 8:00 pm and Caitlin was being difficult about going to bed before her Daddy read her a story.
"Kitten, Daddy's working late. Mommy will read you a story. You don't want to be a sleepy head for Uncle Mulder, do you?"
"I miss Daddy, " Caitlin whined.
"I know, Kitten. So do I, but Daddy's very busy at work. Things will settle down in a while and Daddy will be home more, " she kissed her daughter's cheek, "Now, do you want Mommy to read you a story before bed?"
Caitlin shook her head. She didn't want a story for the sake of a story; she wanted it because it was time with Walter. Laura was the bookworm, the brain; Caitlin was smart, but not as smart as Laura. Caitlin was more physical.
"All right, Kitten. Sleep tight, Baby. I love you." Dana clicked off the overhead light and leaving the door part way opened left the room.
"Okay, Cookie Bun, " she called to Laura, "Time for bed. Brush your teeth and I'll read you a bedtime story."
"All right, Mommy, " Laura turned off the TV and headed to the bathroom to brush her teeth. Dana checked to make sure her molars had been reached then tucked her into bed. She read one of Danielle Steel's children books before kissing Laura good night.
Laura loved both of her parents, all of the children did, but she was more partial to Dana than to Walter. Caitlin was much more a "Daddy's Girl" and was summarily affected by Walter keeping later and later hours. Wally was too young to remember when his Daddy ate supper home nearly every night so Walter's absence did not matter to him at all.
It was nearly ten o'clock when Walter finally did come home. Dana was in bed reading "What to Expect When You're Expecting" investigating the possible source of the cramping feelings she'd been having lately. Each night when Walter came home it was later and later and each night he looked more tired and more tired. Tonight was no difference.
"Dana you're in bed all ready, " he sounded surprised.
"It's after ten, " she replied more coldly than she intended, "I put the children to bed two hours ago. You missed reading to Caitlin."
Walter held up his hand to stall her, "Not tonight, Dana. Please."
Skinner had a terrible day. He'd been in meeting after meeting followed by an endless closed door summit of the FBI top brass. There were some major changes being made in the FBI infrastructure and if he wasn't careful and didn't pull his weight, he could find himself on the outside looking in.
"I don't know when anymore Walter. You don't talk tome anymore, but it never affected my daughter before. She adores reading with you, " Dana remembered the look on Cait's face when she'd told her to go to bed before Walter had gotten home.
"I know, Dana. I'm sorry. I'll make it up to Caitlin. We all were late tonight. DD Brown's retirement is causing a major upheaval and with six of us eligible for promotionsif I don't stay on top I could find myself Assistant Director in charge of Training or something, " Walter complained removing his tie.
"Would that be so terrible?" Dana asked casually knowing she was opening a huge can of worms.
"I can't believe you'd even say that to me. I worked hard to get up to where I am. I was the youngest person ever appointed to that position My position is important to me, very important."
"What about us, we're your family!" Dana shot at him, "Aren't we supposed to be important to you?"
"Dana you're being ridiculous!" Walter shot back at her.
"I'm not being ridiculous. It seems every time the bureau restructures or every time something in this family doesn't go the way you want it to you start working insane hours, neglecting your children, neglecting us, " she passed her finger between them, "You have to get your priorities straight."
Skinner sighed and sat down on the bed removing his shoes, "Dana I don't need this. I don't need to have this conversation right now, I don't."
"You don't want to hear it because you know what I'm saying is true. When DD Spellman got the directorship two years ago and the same six Assistant Directors were up for promotions and I was pregnant with Wally and we were arguing over me going to back to work, you did the same exact thing. And when you got passed over, I know you held it, at least partially against me."
Skinner was only half listening to her while he continued undressing. He was exhausted and he hated being away from Dana and the kids as much as he was, but ultimately a promotion would give him more time at home. He had to sacrifice in order to benefit. He wanted to tell Dana this. He wanted to explain his reasoning, why he felt compelled to achieve this promotion. Instead, he felt himself getting angry at her, "Dana, that's enough. If you had any idea how stupid this sounded you'd be laughing at yourself. Our marriage has nothing to do with my work habits. If I need to work late, I'll work later. If I'm angling to get a promotion and I am, I will work harder and later to prove I'm worthy of it.
"It was my decision to marry you, to have a family with you. And it's my decision whether or not I want to work late and advance my career or not. One thing has absolutely nothing to do with the other."
Dana learned a long time ago not to interrupt Walter when he finally did open u p and speak so she remained silent until he'd finished before speaking again. This time she changed her tactics, "Walter you're right. It is your decision, but, I love you, the children love you and we don't want to see you get sick. And we miss you, " she leaned forward and cuddle up to his strong back.
Skinner turned for the first time to face Dana. The look in her blue eyes said it all. He tried to soften and reached out to touch her cheek, "Do you want me to stay home more?" he asked her as if he hadn't heard a single word she'd said since he'd been home.
"At least try and be home early tomorrow. And maybe take Thursday off. It's going to be us and Charlie's family at Mom's this year and" she first broached the Thanksgiving subject. Depending on his attitude to that she'd approach Tahoe.
"I suppose I could manage it, " she smiled, "Your Mom's pies are worth it, " he leaned closer, "that and to make you happy." He gently took her lips in a kiss.
"They are. It does. I am, " she smiled, addressing his comments and returning his kiss. She trailed a gentle finger under his eyes, "You're tired, " she assessed, "Do you need some supper?"
"I ordered up, " he told her, "You lie down and rest. I'm going to look in on the kids before I go to bed."
Maggie Scully's Home
The whole of the Skinner family arrived at Maggie Scully's by noon Thanksgiving Day. Dana could help her mother with the cooking. Caitlin was clinging to her father, she was more of a Daddy's girl while Laura stayed obediently in front of her parents. Wally was held securely in his mother's arms.
"Hi, Mom!" Dana called out, "We're here!"
Maggie dried her hands and came out of the kitchen, "Hello, Dana, " she called. When she appeared she was nearly run over by Laura. The usually stoic child loved her Grandma.
"Grandma!" she yelled excitedly rushing to her and hugging her tight around her leg. Walter and Dana let their burdens down and soon Maggie was covered in hugs, kisses and Thanksgiving wishes. Finally with Laura and Caitlin at her heels and Wally on her hip she reached her daughter and son-in-law.
"Happy Thanksgiving, Sweetie, " she kissed her cheek, "Walter."
"Happy Thanksgiving, Maggi3e, " he bent down and kissed her cheek.
The day fell into a routine of sorts. Charlie arrived shortly after they did and he, Walter and their son settled in to watch the Redskins game. Dana, Pat, Maggie and their daughters set to work on the supper. Dana's younger children had small tasks, like pouring ingredients into bowls of larger contents or wiping off the counter. The older girls measured or peeled, while the adults chopped, mixed, and heated.
"How are you feeling, Dana?" Pat asked after a few hours of being on their feet. She's noticed her sister-in-law wincing and that her color had paled.
"I'm fine. Seems each time I have a baby it gets harder, " she sighed, massaging her belly.
"Because each time you're a bit older, " her mother offered, "and each time you have another child to keep after. I know, " she smiled and winked.
"It doesn't get easier, " Pat told her, "That's why I stopped after six."
Dana sighed, "I intend to stop" she trailed off and pressed a hand to her stomach a sharper cramp than the ones she'd been feeling taking hold of her.
"Dana?" A worried look crossed Maggie's face, "Dana? Honey, what is it?
"Just a cramp. I've been having them lately, " she breathed.
Maggie continued to fuss over her daughter while Pat ran and got Walter. Amelia, Charlie and Pat's eldest daughter kept Laura and Caitlin busy so they wouldn't be upset by the goings on. Walter was at Dana's side in seconds, "What's wrong?" he asked composed in voice if not in features.
"It's just some minor cramps, Walter. Nothing to be worried over." Dana was used to dealing with it on her own.
"Maybe. Walter you should help Dana lie down in the den. She's been on her feet too long as it is in her condition, " Maggie more ordered that advised.
"That's an excellent idea, " he agreed, settling an arm across her shoulder, "Let's go Baby."
Dana was normally moved by her husband's demonstrations of tenderness, but lately it seemed to her like those were forced. Yet she felt tired enough to lean on him and let him help her to the den. She lie down on the couch in there, and Walter tucked an afghan around her. When his eyes met hers, his features turned dark and angry, "How long has this been going on Dana?" he asked.
"A couple of weeks, " she told him, "at first I though it was extra strong kicking or something. I went to the doctor and she said" She was cut off by his darkening glare.
"And you never told me?" he barked.
"You were never available, " she bit back.
"I'm always available when it comes to you and our children, " he replied in his coldest AD tone, a tone Dana hadn't heard in seven years, not directed at her at any rate.
"Walter, if I had to list the events you've missed in our children's lives, I'd run out of fingers and toes. Birthday parties, Laura's Christmas play last year, Wally's birthI can go on and on. Anyway, you have enough to worry about." She stopped again, "and I'm getting tired of fighting."
"We're talkin'" he countered his Texas accent peaking out under the stress and emotions.
"Not fighting with you. Fighting for you. I come last in your world. These are your priorities, the FBi, career advancement, and politics, and maybe then you vaguely remember you have a wife and children and an entire family in Tahoe wondering when they'll see you again.
Dana's words were cut off by Walter's cell phone chirping, "Walter, don't." Her tone practically begged him not to answer. He turned his back to her, "Skinner."
Walter listened for a few minutes and murmured occasionally, "Uh, huh. Yes, Sir." Finally, Dana heard him sigh, "Ill be right there."
He turned to face his wife, who's face was unreadable.
"Something's come up at the office. I've got to go. I'll"
Dana rose from the sofa, and looked her husband square in the eye, "Walter, if you leave now, don't bother coming back."
Skinner didn't respond. He didn't argue. Instead, he nodded in quiet acceptance, turned, and walked out the door.
Home of Walter and Dana Skinner
Walter was astonished that his wife was still awake when he got home. He let himself in and nearly died on the spot when she flicked on the dining room light, "I thought I was clear about what I said before." Her tone was even, stoic, so much like Agent Scully, not like Mrs. Skinner.
"I didn't go back to your mother's. I came home, " he told her knowing he was hair splitting. Yet, he set down his case and hung up his coat.
"You're not a stupid man, Walter, so don't pretend to be, " Dana told him firmly. "You know what I meant at Mom's. You just hoped I'd cool off and forget about it."
"Dana" Walter closed the gap between them reaching out to touch her cheek, genuine remorse in his eyes, "I"
Dana stepped back out of his reach and covered her swollen belly with her palm, "I want to leave, Walter. You've never really here now anyway. I'm giving you what you want."
"Dana I don'tI love you, " his voice was cracking with emotion, tears stinging his eyes. Dana was unmoved. She was too hurt to forgive him again.
"How is this happening?" How am I so suddenly losing my wife?"
"Not so sudden, Walter, not so sudden, " she whispered, throat hurting with the need to cry, "I've asked you to leave. Please go. Now."
Walter said nothing further, knowing Dana was too hurt by7 his failing of late to be reasonable. In a few days he'd try to reason with her. For the time being, he'd do as she asked. Without a backward glance, he dejectedly walked out the door.
National Outlet Mall
Scully wiped excess mustard from Laura's face and slipped another Burger Mountain French fry into Wally's mouth. They were due to meet Mulder for a visit to Santa Claus and a little shopping.
"Mommy, " Laura asked biting her burger, "is Daddy coming too?"
Dana shook her head sadly, "No, Laura. Daddy's probably working."
"Dada wok, " Wally loudly declared, "Dada bye-bye."
"You guys get to go see Daddy tomorrow, " Dana told them. "You'll get to stay over night in a hotel. Won't that be fun?" Dana tried to sound upbeat. Her recent break up with Walter was deeply affecting her children, but not as much as their constant fighting would have done. The truth was she missed Walter terribly, yet some how his permanent absence was easier to bare than his repeated delays in arriving home.
Mulder arrived just as Scully was paying the bill, amazingly on time. He gave her a swift hug before receiving his nieces and nephew's greetings.
"Unc Muwer, " Wally greeted with a toothy grin. Laura greeted Mulder as enthusiastically as she did anything. Only Caitlin held back. Mulder went to her.
"Hey, Caty, " Skinner hated that nickname. He preferred Cat or Kitten. Caitlin usually adored Mulder but she drew back against Dana's leg. Walter's absence had deeply affected her.
"Caitlin say hi to Uncle Mulder, " Dana urged.
"Hi, " Caitlin shyly mumbled. Mulder pressed on.
"Caty, you want to see Santa Claus?" he asked. She nodded her head but didn't meet his eyes.
"What are you going to ask him for?" Mulder asked, meeting Scully's eyes over Caitlin's head. Caitlin did not answer.
"Scully?" he asked, his voice holding a million questions.
"Later, Mulder." She dismissed him and took Caitlin's hand as they began to make their way toward Santa Claus' village in the center of the mall.
To Scully's chagrin, Laura was beginning to doubt the existence of Santa Claus but Caitlin and Wally still believed. While the children waited to see Santa, Mulder made Scully talk to him.
"What I don't understand is why. Skinner loves you to bits; he loves his children to bits." Mulder was frankly baffled by the whole thing and he couldn't fix it if he didn't understand it.
"He's never around Mulder. He's always working and at some point becoming DD became more important than me and the kids. It's not so much me I care about, but he's let my kids down, " Scully wished he hadn't broken her heart.
"You know seven years ago marriage to Skinner wasn't going to be moonlight and roses. I could have told you that. Sharon did tell you that when we met her. He's a workaholic and worse yet, he's a private workaholic." Mulder was trying to get a rise out of her, to have her defend Skinner to him, to get her to see how she cared for him.
"He wasn't. Not always, " Scully countered, "And it's not even that, it's his indifference, the complete lack of remorse when he isn't there for something. When he missed Caitlin's Halloween play, she was so disappointed, instead of apologizing to her, he said, 'Well, you had Mommy there.' Walter knows full well how much she adores him. She couldn't care less if I was there or not there." Dana was getting angry just talking about that memory.
"Scully, Skinner is angling for a promotion he hasn't moved up in twelve years "
She cut him off, "And he holds that against me and the kids, " she finished.
Mulder shook his head. "No, he doesn't. He wants it because of you and the children; he'll make more money, get a better pension, and work more regular hours since he has other people to stick with supervising rebels like me" he smiled at her.
"And all we want is for him to be at home with his family. The cost of being DD is way too high, " Dana said sadly.
"He's hurting, Scully, " Mulder said after a few minutes, "He's been working even longer hours now and he's testy and nasty, just like he was the last time you were kidnapped before Caitlin was born, " Mulder told her.
"Mulder I still love him and it hurts me too to have this rift between us. I only did it to get him to see what he was doing" she treated off and her voice broke, she could no longer hold her pain inside.
Mulder put his strong arm around her shoulders and cuddled her as she cried. His Scully, the old partner Scully rarely cried. Skinner's Scully, the wife and mother Scully more often, not usually for her own pain but for her children's. This was for both.
"It's all right, " he whispered, "It'll all work out, you'll see."
Scully buried her face in his neck and let Mulder for once support her while she cried. He checked on the children's progress in the line. Laura was next, she held Wally's hand. Caitlin stood behind her. Mulder saw the long downcast look on her face and made a note to examine her reaction tomorrow when he spent time with Skinner and the children.
By the time the children had their photos taken and came down the ladder to Dana and Mulder, she'd composed herself. Dana ordered five sets of photos, usually she ordered only four.
"Mommy?" Laura asked, "Why five?"
"One for Mommy, one for Grandma, one for Nana and Pop-pop, one for Uncle Mulder, and one for" her voice dropped off, "Daddy."
Laura's face feel but she didn't comment. Caitlin was a bit more vocal about her parent's new estrangement with her mother but refused to speak about it in from of her Uncle Mulder.
Scully loaded Wally into the stroller and began pushing it through the mall, stopping in a few stores to acquire holiday purchases before heading home.
National Outlet Mall
Skinner waved at Mulder as he saw him approaching from the top of the escalation. He kept one hand in Caitlin's and the other rested on the handle of Wally's stroller. He knew from what the children told him Uncle Mulder had come shopping with them and Dana last night. He couldn't wait to extract information from him.
"Hello, Mulder, " he greeted as he approached.
"Good evening, Walter. Hey, kids, got hugs for Uncle Mulder?" he asked stooping down to get hugs from Laura and Caitlin. "Feeling better today, Caty?" he asked.
"Yes, " she nodded. "We get to stay with Daddy tonight." She was obviously thrilled with that prospect.
"Daddy? Is Mommy coming?" Laura asked hopefully. She wanted her parents to see each other again. Her Nana in Texas told her how her parents loved each other. If Mommy wasn't coming tonight, she'd resort to Plan B.
"No, Baby. It's just us tonight, " he sighed, "Want to get some ice cream?"
The children temporarily brightened at the idea of ice cream and Laura obediently held onto Wally's strolled and Caitlin did as well. Walter pushed them to an empty food court table and Mulder purchased three vanilla ice creams and two coffees.
Mulder watched Walter's movements. His boss and friend seemed depressed, just as his wife had and he still wore his wedding ring, as his wife had done. Caitlin and Laura busied themselves with their ice cream and Mulder broached his concern, "How you holding up, Walter?" he asked. The use of Skinner's first name setting the tone for a personal conversation.
"I miss Dana I'm not used to being without her, " he moped, "How is she?"
"She missed you too. But I have the feeling that's why she asked you to leave. I really don't want to break her confidence but Walter, she feels like you were gone long before she asked you to leave." Mulder sipped his coffee.
Skinner spooned a bit of ice cream into Wally's mouth, "She thinks I don't care about her or the kids. SheI want this promotion. It'll be better for all of us if I make DD. It's more money, a better pension, better hours, but the road to less crap is paved with more crap and Dana"
"She is hurting" Mulder trailed off, "She was crying last night."
Skinner knew what Mulder was trying to do. He wanted him to go back and fix things, but his pride would not let him. He was right; he would not admit he was wrong.
"Mulder, I'm hurting too. I love Dana, I love my children. I didn't leave her, she asked me to leave. I'm trying to do what's best for my family. I'm trying to be a good provider, a good husband; a good fatherMy career is important to me, but not more important than my wife or my kids, " he said this with such passion Mulder almost wanted to hug him.
"But Dana thinks it is. You have to change her mind. You have to show her it's not true."
"Mulder, you didn't see howwhat Dana and I had is over. It's done. My only hope is that I haven't heard from a lawyer, but that's probably coming. I destroyed what we had. I know it." His voice cracked, and he stopped. Caitlin pulled on her father's sleeve, "Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom."
At the same time, Skinner's cell phone chirped. "Skinner, " he answered, as Mulder told Caitlin, "I'll take you let's go."
Laura knew it was now or never. She'd heard her father saying he wanted to be with her mother, but he didn't think she wanted him. She knew she had to make her want to be with him. So she got up from the table and walked out into the mall.
Skinner kept his eyes on the kids, except for one time when he had to refer to a paper in his briefcase. That was Laura's chance.
When Skinner looked up at the table he didn't see Laura. He assumed she'd gone to the bathroom until he saw Mulder coming back with Caitlin. Just Caitlin.
"Mulder, where's Laura?" Skinner asked his heart in his throat.
"Isn't she at the table?" Mulder looked directly where she had been.
"Fox, call security. I have to call Dana."
Skinner was sick inside. He spun around in his place looking for his baby girl. She was no where to be seen. Mulder grabbed a security guard while Skinner dialed his wife. When she answered, he wasted no time, "Dana. Laura's missing."
Home of Dana and Walter Skinner
Dana shook with fright as she hung up the phone from Walter's call. Just moments before his parents had arrived unexpectedly for a visit. When Dana dropped the phone to the floor and began to shake her in-laws rushed to her side.
"Dana? Sweetie?" Irena asked, searching her daughter-in-law's eyes for explanation.
"That was Walter on the phone. Laurashe's uh, missing. We uh, have to go to the mall. He lost my"
Irena pulled her into a hug, "It's going to be all right, Baby. She probably just wandered off. You know how kids are."
Dana shook her head. "No, not Laura. She's not like that. He wasn't watching, wasn't paying attention and someone..."
"Dana, " Walter Sr. interrupted firmly, "You don't know that. We need to go down to the mall and see what's happening. You need to try and relax until we know. Now, do you want me to drive or"
She cut him off with a shake of her head, "Walter is sending an Agent. It's snowing pretty hard outside." At this point, Scully's rationale was taking over she was calming down and regaining control. "Someone should be here soon; we should get our coats ready."
National Outlet Mall
Laura stood in line to see Santa Claus for the second time in two days. She wasn't sure if she bough this Santa Claus stuff anymore, but if it were all true and Santa Claus could do anything like Mommy and Daddy said, then he could get her Mommy and Daddy back together again.
The line wasn't long; she shouldn't be missed by her Daddy or Uncle Mulder yet. If she was they would look for her privately before they called the police. By that time, she'd be back.
Finally it was her turn to see Santa Claus. The old gentleman sat her on his knee, "Didn't I see you yesterday?" he asked remembering the lovely little girl, he's seen her the day before, "Did you forget something?"
"Sir, I'm six years old. I'm going to be seven on Christmas day. I know how this works. I know you're not the real Santa Claus, but if there is a Santa Claus and you really work for him like my mother says you can get me what I really want for Christmas." Laura's doe brown eyes met his.
"Honey, just because you don't get exactly what you want for Christmas doesn't mean there isn't really a Santa Claus." The old man explained.
Laura sighed, "I thought you might say that. Well, I want to ask, if there is a Santa Claus and you know him, if he can me a favor?"
"I'm sure, Little One, if you've been a good girl, Santa will see what he can do. Now, what's this favor, Little One?"
"Well, you see, my Mommy and Daddy, they love each other a whole lot. But on Thanksgiving my Daddy had to go to work and my Mommy got mad at him. She thinks he doesn't love her and he thinks she doesn't love him. But my mommy cries at night and Daddy told Uncle Mulder he loves Mommy. So Santa Claus doesn't have to bring me any toys for Christmas this year. Or Caitlin either. Just have my Mommy and Daddy say they're sorry. And if he can, maybe he can bring Wally some toys. He's just a baby. Well that about does it." Laura sighed and waited for Santa's answer.
Santa sat there, stunned at what this little girl just asked for. He knew there was no way anyone, Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, or Bill Gates could manage that if the partners were unwilling. He sighed, "Well, Little On, I'll go my best."
"Thank you, Sir, " Laura replied and slid off his lap. She'd better hurry before her Daddy realized she'd left.
Mall Security Headquarters
When Dana walked in the mall security office with Walter's parents, he went right to her. She'd been crying and it was his fault again. She backed away form him, refusing him contact.
"Don't touch me, " she snapped at him. "What do you know? What's being done to find my baby?"
Skinner didn't trust his voice. He knew it was his fault Laura was missing. He knew he shouldn't have answered his phone, butDana was speaking again
"How did his happen, Walter? Where were you? Where was Mulder?" Her tone was accusatory.
"Dana, please. Sit down." She allowed his motherhis mother?
"Mom, what are you doing here?" he asked, "Aren't you supposed to be in Tahoe? It's Christmas. It's the busiest season."
Irena sighed and shook her head at her son's shock, "Mary Ellen is minding the lodge. We felt we need to be here. Now, Dana's asked you a few questions and you've neglected to answer them." Irena raised her eyebrows at him.
"All right, " he sighed and ran his hand over his head, "I don't know how it happened. One minute she was sitting with Caitlin and Wally eating ice cream. Then Mulder took Caitlin to the bathroom, and I turned around for a second when the phone rangI swear it was only for a second" he trailed off voice choked with fear.
"Well, a second was all it took, " she said her voice low and cracking, "Because of you and your stupid phone calls and stupid meetings our little girl is gone." Dana started to shake again pressing her hand to her mouth.
"She's not gone, " Skinner fervently shook his head, "She's just wandered off. Mall security closed all the exits within seconds of her disappearing. She's going to be found. Mulder and the others will find her. It's all going to be just fine."
At his positive attitude and reassurance, Dana began to cry. She wanted so badly for him to hold her, she wanted to hold him. She knew he was just as upset and just as afraid as she was, if not more so. Laura had been his responsibility. He'd been careless with her. IT was his fault and Dana knew how deeply he'd carry that burden and God forbid if something terrible really did happen she'd knew how he'd feel that loss. She wanted to comfort him, she wanted to be comforted by him, but her anger and her pride smothered that urge.
He moved to embrace her, but she stiffened and pulled away, "Don't touch me." She warned him, "Don't ever touch me again. Ever." With that she quickly rose and resumed her pacing.
Laura was lost. She thought her Daddy and Uncle Mulder would be near the ice cream stand but they weren't. She looked around at all of the men and women buzzing by. None of them were her daddy. Without realizing it, she began to cry.
She stood motionless for a long time before a young couple in their twenties saw her tears. The girl, a short blonde knelt in front of her, "Where's your Mommy?" she asked.
"At home, " Laura sniffed and rubber her eyes.
"Where's your Daddy?" the girl asked.
"He was here, " Laura cried, "but he left."
"I bet he's looking for you, " the young man said. "I'll got get a cop. There are plenty of them around today." The boy went off before he could stop a policeman, a man stopped him.
"Excuse me. Have you seen this little girl?" Mulder showed a recent school photo of Laura.
"Yeah, " the young man said, "She's over her. You her Dad?"
"No. I'm Special Agent Mulder, FBI. Where is she?"
Moments later the couple had been thanked and Laura was safely in Mulder's arms.
"Where did you go, Laura?" he asked her. "Mommy and Daddy were very, very worried about you."
Laura's face brightened, "Mommy's here?"
"Yes. And so is Daddy. Everyone is very, very worried, " Mulder tried not to scold her, for he was very relieved himself.
"I went to see Santa Claus, " she told him, "I want him to get Mommy and Daddy not mad at each other for Christmas." The innocence of her thoughts made him shudder.
Mulder carried Laura into the security office. Scully cried out with delight when she saw her, "My Baby! Oh, are you all right?" Scully fell to her knees and held Laura close, "Where were you? What happened?"
By that time Skinner had dropped to his knees as well as was embracing his daughter. I wandered away while Daddy was looking at his papers. I know I shouldn't have, but I had to see Santa Claus." Laura was starting to cry.
Scully pulled away from her to look into her daughter's watery eye, "Why? Laura, Mommy took you to see Santa Claus just yesterday." Dana's voice held a bit of frustration.
"I know, Mommy. But then Cat and Wally were there and I had to ask him in private, " Laura informed her mom.
"Laura you could have been"Skinner started then stopped, "Laura, " he tried to be gently, "Why was it so important you see Santa Claus?" You scared me. You scared Mommy." He frowned at her.
"I just wanted to ask him to make you and Mommy not mad anymore so you are happy again."
Walter softened, "Oh, Sweetie. Mommy and Daddy have to work that out for ourselves. It's nothing for you to be concerned with." He hugged her as she sniffed, "Don't cry." He dabbed at her eyes with his handkerchief.
Laura calmed herself down. Dana rose and took her hand, "Come on Laura. Let's get home. It's been a very long day."
"Dana, " Skinner interjected, "It thought we agreed I got the children for the night, " he said a bit sheepishly.
Scully gave a harsh laugh, "Oh. After tonight you expect me to let you be alone with these children. You can't be trusted. All you care about is work, not our children. You are very lucky Laura is fine. If not, well" she paused, "I'll t ell you one thing though, Walter. I'm hiring a lawyer and you will never, never be with these children again alone. Never!"
Home of Dana and Walter Skinner
Days passed and those days turned into weeks. Finally, it was less than a week until Christmas. Walter hadn't heard from a lawyer like Dana threatened but she had not relented on her vow to not let him see the children without supervision.
Whenever he'd call and ask her permission to see them she either outright refused or insisted that he could only see them if she had assurance that one or both of his parents would be there to supervise the visit. Dana had nothing against the Skinners and in reality she still loved Walter very much, but her anger and her pride fueled her stubborness.
Now it was the Friday before Christmas and she could see their children were suffering just as much as she was. Every night before bed Wally would ask, "Daddy home morrow?" And when she would say "no" the light in her little boy's eyes would flicker and die.
Caitlin had almost completely withdrawn. She missed her father being in her life. Only Laura retained some glimmer of hope that by Christmas her Mommy and Daddy would be back together again and happy.
After Dana had put the children to bed that night she set about wrapping some of the gifts she hadn't gotten to yet. That's when her doorbell rang.
It was late. Who could that be? Mulder was out of town. She looked through the spyhole before she opened the door. To her infinate surprise, it was Walter.
"Dana, " he said gently, raising his gaze to meet her eyes, "I was hoping that if it's not too late we could talk. We have to get things settled before the holidays. I...you were right about a lot of what you said. I know that now but...and I need...can I at least come in, it's freezing out here?"
Scully stepped backwards to allow him to enter the entrance hall He began to lean in to kiss her, but the cold glance that she sent him, imediately dissolved any intimate gestures that he could make. The stood uncomfortably in the small area until she indicated that they should move into the front area. He could feel the tension radiating off her.
Skinner removed his hat and coat and set them down on the leather lazy boy that was "his chair". Dana sat across from him and waited for him to start to speak. She knew he was going to try and make things right, but she wasn't about to make it easy on him.
"I know that you don't want to see me, " he began but she shortly cut him off
"Cut the crap Walter." Her face held a stern line, she would not betray a single emotion.
"Dana, just hear me out, " he kept his tone even although her tone cut him to the quick. "I know you have every right to be mad at me and you were right about every thing you said the last time we talked. I was careless and irresponsible, but it's not because I don't love you and the children, it's that...I'm so...the truth is Dana after almost a month without you and the children, nothing much matters to me anymore. Not the job, not the promotion, none of it."
"Walter, you don't know how much I've wanted to hear that from you. But now that is not enough, " she said rubbing her rounded belly with his left hand. She still wore his ring upon her finger, "How do I know that you mean that? How can I tell that it won't happen in two to three months time?"
Walter crossed over to her and knelt down in front of her taking her hand in his, "Dana, I promise you that it won't. I've never felt so horrible in my entire life. I've missed you, " he raised her hand to his lips, "so much." He leaned up to try and kiss her lips. She held back.
Skinner rose from his crouch, "This isn't about the children. While I miss them like crazy, Dana, it's Christmas. I want to spend the holidays with you and the children as a family. Please, we can let the kids down. You know how they love big Christmases."
Dana sighed. It was true. The children love their Christmases and they would all be terribly disappointed if their Daddy wasn't their to share it with them. "All right, " she told him, "You can spend Christmas with the children. What happens after that, we'll have to wait and see. They've been asking me if you were going to be here Christmas Eve. I'll tell them now you are, but if you dare disappoint them by not showing up, we will have nothing further to discuss whent he holidays are over. Am I making this all perfectly clear?"
Skinner couldn't help but smile. She'd given him a second chance, she didn't know it yet, but she had given him another chance to be with his family and to prove to her and to his children that they mattered to him above all else. His Dad had been right, if he just told Dana the truth and if he'd speak from his heart she'd hear him.
"So I'll see you for Christmas then?" he asked, "Around six for dinner?"
Dana nodded, "Six is fine, " she said evenly as he put on his outer clothes and walked to the door.
"Take care of yourself, Dana. I love you."
She couldn't answer him. All she could do was nod her head as he walked out of the door.