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TITLE: To Absent Friends
AUTHOR: Lara Means
ARCHIVE: NO to Gossamer, Spookys; I'll submit directly to both. YES to Ephemeral. YES to mailing list auto-archives. Anywhere else, please ASK. I'll say yes; I just like to know where the kids are at the end of the day.
DATE POSTED: 01/13/02
DISCLAIMER: I don't own them. Heck, I don't even own my name. It all belongs to 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
SPOILERS: through "This is Not Happening"
SUMMARY: "You lost more than just an agent, didn't you? You considered Agent Mulder a friend too."

written by Lara Means

I can't sleep.

Not that I thought I could, but I had to try. But I can't. So I came out here for a cigarette.

They finished up at the scene a few hours ago. A.D. Skinner left before they were done -- he brought Agent Scully back to town, to the hospital's morgue, with Agent Mulder. John and I stayed behind, he to supervise the evidence collection, me to... to stay out of the way, I suppose.

I can't for the life of me figure out why John brought me in on this thing when he did. If he'd called even a month or two ago, maybe I could've helped -- but for him to wait until they had a solid lead, an indication that Agent Mulder might turn up soon... But I know John Doggett. He wanted to solve this case the old-fashioned way, with good, solid police work. Well, John, sometimes that just isn't enough.

It's an amazingly clear night, clearer than last night. I remember what I saw, and again I wonder if that was the ship that brought Agent Mulder back. If I'd gotten to him before the men in the truck, would we have been able to save him? If we'd held off the raid, would that man Smith had been able to heal him, as Agent Scully believed?

Agent Scully. God. The woman was tightly wound when I met her -- now...

"Can I bum one of those?"

I know I jumped a mile at the sound of that deep voice at my side. I glance over and give him a sheepish grin. He returns it.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you."

I shake my head and hold my cigarettes out to him. "I didn't know you and Agent Scully were back."

A.D. Skinner takes a cigarette from my pack and shakes his head too. "I got back about an hour ago. She's... she's still at the morgue. Doggett's with her. Well, he's in the hall outside. She won't let anybody in the room with her... with them."

He cups his hands around mine and the flame as he lights his cigarette. He takes too deep a drag, which sends him into a coughing fit.

"Been a while?" I ask after he catches his breath.

"I quit ten years ago," he tells me and takes another drag.

He's changed out of his suit, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt now. He's not wearing his glasses either, and I could see deep down into those dark, dark eyes -- if he were looking at me. But he's staring up, into the night, at the stars.

Neither of us says anything. We just stand there in the motel parking lot, smoking and looking at the stars.

Eventually he says something, but his voice is so low I almost miss it.

"Two nights ago I stood right here and told her not to prepare herself for what... for what happened."

I look at him, at his strong profile, and I can see it in my mind. Him urging her to not give up hope, her drawing on his strength to go on.

"That was two nights ago. There was still reason to hope then."

"I should've helped her prepare for this months ago. But I couldn't ask her to give up, not when I couldn't give up myself."

I drop my cigarette and grind it out. "You did everything you could to find him."

When I look at him again, he's shaking his head and taking another drag. "Not everything," he murmurs.

There's another long pause. Maybe he doesn't need to talk, maybe this is my cue to go back to my room and leave him to his thoughts. Maybe --

"God, I could use a drink."

I turn to him just in time to watch him stamp out his own cigarette. Maybe he needs to talk after all. I touch his arm so he'll follow, and head back to my room.

Once inside, I pull the bottle of Jack Daniel's from its brown paper bag and show it to him. There's a question in his eyes.

"I knew I'd need one, so I stopped on the way back. Is this okay with you?" He nods, even gives me a tiny smile.

I make our drinks and turn to find him sitting in the room's lone chair, so I settle in on the bed. He doesn't drink right away, just stares into the flimsy plastic glass like he stared up at the stars outside. As if it holds all the answers.

I take the initiative and raise my glass. "To absent friends."

He doesn't look up. He just nods and drinks. I do the same.

I can sense that he *wants* to talk, but I also have a feeling that this is a man who doesn't have a lot of people he *can* talk to. If I want him to open up with me, I'm going to have to draw him out.

"It's all right for you to grieve, Sir." He looks up at that, then shakes his head and takes another sip. "You lost more than just an agent, didn't you? You considered Agent Mulder a friend too."

"Yes. He was a friend."

"And you weren't prepared to find him dead. You need time to process --"

"I don't *have* time. I have to be on a plane in a few hours with Scully, to take him back to D.C. -- she's gonna want to do an autopsy, God I can't let her do that... Then the funeral..." He looks at me, his eyes hard but with moisture behind them. "I don't have time to grieve. I have to be strong, for her. She needs me to be strong now."

I watch as he drains his glass, then I reach out and take it from him. I refill it and hand it back as I say, "Not *right* now."

His eyes narrow. He's not sure what I'm saying.

"Right now, Agent Scully's at the morgue. Agent Doggett's there with her. He can be strong for her right now."

He shakes his head again, goes back to staring into his glass. But I don't want to give up. Something tells me this man is worth the effort.

"Tell me about him." That gets a reaction from him. "I never got to meet him, just heard stories --"

"He was nothing like the stories." He takes another drink, then looks at me, into my eyes. "He was intelligent, driven, passionate... he had more integrity than any agent I've ever known, except maybe for Scully. He... he cared about people, the cases he worked that no one else would touch." He looks away now, and I can almost see something breaking inside him. "But he was a pain in the ass too... running off on cases without authorization, turning in reports that read like science fiction..." A tear slips down his cheek, and I slide off the bed to my knees in front of him. "I admired him. I never told him..."

That first tear is joined by another, and another. I set his glass on the table and put my arms around him, guiding his head to my shoulder. His arms come up around me and he holds me tightly, finally letting go.

After his tears subside and he pulls away from me, I can see the wall rebuilding itself, cutting off his emotions. Unwilling to let this end just yet, I stand up and take his hand. "Come on," I tell him, tugging him to his feet. As I turn down the covers on the bed, he lets go of my hand.

"Agent Reyes, I didn't --"

"It's Monica, and neither did I." I reach out and wipe away a stray tear. He leans into my touch slightly, and I wonder about the possibilities with this man. "You need to rest. What time do you have to leave for the airport?"


"I'll get a wake-up call for six-thirty, then."

"If I'm seen leaving an agent's motel room at six-thirty in the morning --"

"Would it be better or worse than being seen leaving at two-thirty?" He glances at the clock for confirmation of the time, but he's still deciding. "If you went back to your own room now you'd just lie there, going over everything in your head a hundred times, wondering what you could've done differently." He shrugs slightly at that, and I know I have him. "Take off your shoes and get into bed."

After another moment's hesitation, he does. I slip my shoes off as well, but he's startled when I climb onto the bed from the other side. Staying on top of the covers, I tell him to roll over onto his stomach. The look he gives me is priceless, and I fight the urge to laugh. "I just want to help you relax."

"This isn't the way to do it."

He shoots me a real grin as he rolls over, and I'm pleased by his reaction -- that he's able to see the humor, that he might be the slightest bit interested -- but mostly that he's finally seeing the need for self-care. I fold the covers down to his waist and settle on my knees next to him.

His muscles are incredibly tight, especially his shoulders, so I keep my touch firm until they begin to loosen up. Then I trail light strokes up his neck into his hair, down his shoulders to his arms. By the time I'm finished, he's sound asleep.

I climb off the bed and call the desk with my wake-up call request, then head for the bathroom. When I come back, he's curled a little tighter into himself, but still sleeping. It's a chilly night, so I crawl under the covers next to him, careful not to wake him.

After a few minutes I shift closer, reaching out a tentative hand to stroke his back. He seems to relax a bit so I move nearer, spooning up behind him, my arm going around his waist.

His hand finds mine, and we both can rest.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Karen and Kristen for insightful and reassuring beta. Gratitude as always to IWTB for support and encouragement.

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