Title: Wonderland Lodge
Author: Kristen
E-mail: Cookie8302@aol.com
Keywords: Skinner/Scully romance, Holiday story
Rating: R for sexual content and adult situation
Category: SRA
Disclaimers: I don't own Walter Skinner or Dana Scully, I do however own the Skinner family as the are of my own creation. The song used when Skinner and Scully dance belong to the great Irving Berlin.

Author's Note: I hope you all enjoy this story. It is my second completed X-files fanfic. It is definitely alternate universe and for those of you that are diehard MSRists, I apologize. I have had some requests to write a sequel to this and I am considering it. Please let me know what you think. Constructive criticism is appreciated as is undying praise, lol. Thanks for reading. Special thanks to my new beta reader, Margie for her suggestions and corrections and to my dear friends Anita and Peggy for reading this in parts and helping me keep my focus.

Wonderland Lodge

by Kristen

Lake Tahoe, CA
December 4

AD Walter Skinner was home. He tried to get home almost every year, either
to the house where he was raised in Amarillo Texas or the family ski lodge in Tahoe, California. This year he was going to be reunited with his family for a whole month. He could hardly wait. He'd had a niece born while he was away and he couldn't wait to hold her. His little brother was a daddy. He was now the only Skinner that had not achieved the status of "parent."

As he turned the car up the snow covered road, he sighed. This place was always the same. It never changed. It was always warm and welcoming. It always had snow on the ground and Christmas lights around the buildings. It was always peaceful, always good, not like DC. But most of all, whenever he was here, he could feel the love.

He pulled the car smoothly into the space provided for VIP patrons and walked inside the main lodge. There was the same sign he'd seen every year since he was a teen, Wonderland Lodge, owned and operated by Walter S. Skinner Sr.

He walked behind the registration counter and came up behind his sister who was kneeling over a crate of files.

He covered her eyes with his hands and felt her start, "Guess who?" he asked, stifling a laugh.

"Wally!" she shrieked turning in his arms and pulling him into a hug. "Oh, when did you get here?"

"About a minute ago," he laughed. " I have the whole month, Mary Ellen. I wanted to spend the whole season up here with the family this year."

"That's unlike you, little brother," she commented, "But after what's happened to you over the last year..."

"Mary Ellen, not now!" He cut her off. " Where's Mama and Daddy?"

"Mama is in the back making cookies and Daddy is up at the family cabin," she told him, giving him one more squeeze. "Get on in there and see Mama. She's going to freak when she sees you."

Walter smiled and walked through the long wooden hallway to the large kitchen in the back of the lodge. He sighed at the sight before him. She looked the same. She was small, very petite in fact, only about Scully's height. Her dark hair had grayed somewhat, and she'd gained a little weight, but she was still his Mom.

"Hi, Mama," he said softly, so as not to startle her.

She turned around and ran to him all in one fluid motion, "Oh, Wally! What are you doing here, Christmas is 20 days away. You are very early young man."

Skinner scoffed at that, "Young man, Mama, I'm forty..."

"Hush, don't remind me. I can't stand to remember that if you are that age I'm twenty years older."

"How is everyone? The only time people call me is when someone dies or gets arrested, like Pete did last year." There was levity in his voice.

"Ah, well, everyone is well. Daddy is going to be so glad to see you. And the children, they are all growing so fast. Sergei can't wait to see you. He is going to bust something when he sees you're here."

Sergei was the eldest of Skinner's nieces and nephews. He was twelve and the most interesting kid Skinner had ever met. He loved to ski and the times they spent together at the lodge were priceless to Skinner. If he were ever fortunate enough to have his own child, he'd want him to be just like Sergei, only with red hair.

The Skinner family sat down to dinner that night with feelings of elation. Their "Wally" was home and he was staying that way for the entire month. Skinner looked around at his family seated about the table, his Mama and Daddy sitting next to each other, still so much in love. His sisters, Mary Ellen, Cindy, and Maggie and their husbands, and his brothers, Pete, Josh, and Alex. They were all married and happy, except Alex, but he was only 25, they were the only ones still single and he was the eldest son. It should be him with that new little baby in his arms as she sucked on a bottle and gazed reverently at her Daddy. He felt the slightest pang in his heart, realizing he'd never have that.

"Well, Walter," he thought, "this is not the time to dwell on what you don't have in life. Look around at what you do have. You have a wonderful family, your health, and well... what more could one ask for really?"

As he looked at his family once again, he realized what he could ask for, someone to hold in his arms and love. Maybe, if this place still held the Christmas magic it once had, he'd get just what he wanted for Christmas. A petite redheaded agent to love.

J. Edgar Hoover Building Two weeks later

Agent Dana Scully hung up the phone and sighed. This would be the first Christmas in a long time that the entire family wouldn't be together for the holidays. Her mother was going to England to visit her Aunt Mary and both of her brothers had shipped out so their wives were going to spend the holidays with their parents.

Of course her mother had invited her to go to England with her, but she couldn't get enough time off from work to make it worth the effort. She was sure that if AD Skinner was here instead of wherever he was she wouldn't have a problem, but he had up and left and she couldn't seem to quell her anger at him for that.

Part of it was because she measured herself against him. As long as he existed, someone's life was even more pathetic than hers. She knew that was a horrible thing to say, but it was true. She at least had a family, even if she didn't spend Christmas with them this year, poor Skinner had nobody.

Mulder had offered to take her to Greenwich with him to visit his mother, but something about Mrs. Mulder turned her off and she declined. She'd rather spend the holidays at home watching the old black and white version of A Christmas Carol then sit at a stuffy, polished society Christmas she knew Mulder's Mom would have.

She sighed and rose from her desk, taking her purse and some files she wanted to look at over the weekend, when the she heard the advertisement on the radio that had been playing softly in the background.

No plans for this holiday? Need some time with family and friends? Looking to get away from it all? Then come to Tahoe's Wonderland Lodge. With ski slopes for beginners to the most advanced champions, Wonderland Lodge is suitable for all people, whether it is to ski or sleigh, or just curl up by the fire place. Family owned and operated for over 30 years, Wonderland Lodge is the perfect place for you to spend your holiday. Come join our family at Wonderland Lodge.

That was it, she decided, calling the airline immediately, she was going to go to this ski lodge. She hadn't skied in years and was pretty good. This could be fun.

Two days later Tahoe, California

Scully stepped out of the car and breathed in deeply. You just couldn't beat a California mountain day. She walked around to the back of the rental car and opened the boot, hauling her bag from within the dark interior. Scully walked up the main drive and a sign caught her eye. Wonderland Lodge, Walter Sergei Skinner, Sr., She gasped. Was it possible that Walter Skinner's father owned this lodge? No. Walter didn't seem the type. Not the type to ski...She mentally reprimanded herself, "Dana, you don't even like him. Why are you wishing to see him?"

The inside of this place was beautiful. It was a large wooden cabin, with rustic furniture and a huge fireplace. There weren't many people around, probably out on the slopes, she decided.

There was a tall, broad young man behind the wooden counter. The register was not on computer, as she thought, but on paper. The young man smiled at her as she approached the desk.

"Hi, I'm Dana Scully, I have a reservation. I think I'm a little early for check in," she said.

"Ah, no. No such thing as an early check in at Wonderland Lodge, at least not for a beauty like you," he flirted, kissing her hand, "How are you doing, baby?" he asked sleazily.

"I'm fine," she answered, getting pissed off and pulling back her hand. This guy was pathetic.

"That's great baby. How'd you like me to help you unpack, if you know what I mean?" He winked.

Scully let out an exasperated sigh. This is what she gets for not taking her own advice and staying home to munch on popcorn and catch A Christmas Carol. "Look just forget it. Cancel my reservation." She turned to leave. "I'll try to get a room at the lodge I saw on the way up here."

"Excuse me, Miss. Is there a problem here?" Irena Skinner entered the room from the kitchen. Her son Alex tried to charm women like his older brothers, but usually to no avail. She had heard his comments from the kitchen and the guests subsuequent request to cancel.

Scully looked at the woman that entered the room. She was older but not what one would consider old and had a lovely smile. She also had the deepest and most soulful brown eyes she'd ever seen, with the possible exception of Walter Skinner's. All at once she felt a tiredness sweep through her. She felt raw and exposed. She ran to the nearest bathroom to get away.

Moments later the bathroom door opened and the sweet older woman with the amazing pair of eyes spoke to her. "Miss," she called, seeing Scully leaning over the sink in the bathroom, "I'm Irena Skinner, the owner's wife. I'm so sorry about my son's actions.

"I'm so sorry ma'am. He wasn't that bad, really," she said blushing, " I should have handled it better."

"What I think you need is some down time here with us at the Lodge and that is what this place is for. You're room is out by the family cabins, an upgrade to apologize for my son's actions."

"That is very unnecessary. I just want some time to relax. I work in a very..."

"I told one of my sons when he got here, and I'll tell you, no talking about work. Clean up, come out and I'll call another of my sons to carry your things up to your cabin."

Scully liked this woman. She was sweet and forceful. She could be.there she went again. Skinner is no relation to these people, he couldn't be.

Outside of the bathroom, Irena saw Wally tending to his brother's battered ego. He was talking firmly, yet gently.

"Alex, you can't do that to women. This one should have decked you and if she had more power to her. I have an agent under my command, if you did that to her you'd be lucky to escape with both your penis and your balls still intact. Subtle approach, little brother."

"Wally, our spirited new guest will need someone to take her things out back to the deluxe cabins. Could you do that please?" Irena asked, watching her eldest son dry some of the blood from his brother's nose.

"Sure, Mama," he said not looking up from his task.

The bathroom door opened then and Alex indicated the woman emerging, "Now, Walt, tell me you don't want a piece of that."

Skinner looked up and turned around. There she was. Dana Scully. He couldn't believe it. No wonder Alex had been so enamored with their newest guest. Who wouldn't be? He sure as hell was. She looked so surprised to see him and he felt his heart begin to race as he surveyed her; her beautiful hair, her sweet face, her piercing blue eyes. He couldn't believe she was there in front of him.

Scully saw Skinner rise to his full height and look at her and her knees went weak. She felt herself start to fall and the last thing she saw before the world turned black was Skinner rushing toward her.

Skinner sprinted and made it to Scully's side only a moment after she hit the floor. Quickly, he gathered her into his arms and carried her to the sofa in the center of the room. She was cold and felt so small in his large arms.

"Wally, what happened to her?" Irena asked anxiously.

"Mama, please," he said curtly, the AD persona taking over. "Dana, come on, can you hear me?"

Her eyelids fluttered and opened. Six worried brown eyes were looking at her. She couldn't catch her breath enough to speak, but she had to tell them it was all right.

"I'm fine, Sir," she said, her voice shaking as she began to shiver. She was so cold.

"No, you aren't, Agent. When one is fine, one does not faint," he told her, taking a blanket from his Mom and wrapping her in it, "What happened?"

"It was my fault, Sir. I didn't eat breakfast and the food on the plane looked horrible, Sir. I can sit up, now." She struggled against his arms, but he pushed her down.

"Lay there a few more minutes, please," he sounded like he was begging.

Meanwhile, Irena Skinner's head was spinning. This lovely, little spitfire was the Dana Scully that her son had written home about. The one he cared so deeply for, hmm? Yes, this could work.

"Wally, why don't you take Miss Scully to that lovely little Bistro just up the road a piece?"

"Mom, she's just collapsed. She needs something easy on her stomach..." he answered, blushing that his mom called him Wally in front of Scully.

"Excuse me, Sir, I'm in the room," she was exasperated.

"Be careful, Wally, she may deck you," Alex teased.

Skinner leaned in close to Scully's ear, "If you tell anyone about this, it will hurt," his words were menacing but his tone was light.

Scully tried to sit up again and this time he let her, "I really am fine, Mrs. Skinner. I just think a hot bath and a cup of tea will do the trick. I'm looking forward to dinner tonight as well. Someone said on the plane the food was great here."

"Well," said Mrs. Skinner, "Walter will see you to the cabin and I'll send up some tea."

With that Skinner offered a hand to Scully to help her up. He lifted her case and threw it in the Jeep parked outside.

"It's cold out, it's quicker to drive," he said guardedly.

She got in the Jeep and studied him as he turned the key and drove up the hill to the cabin. It was enormous.

"I'd never figure you for the rustic type, Sir?" she finally said.

"I didn't figure you a skier either, Scully," he countered.

"Oh, I used to ski all the time. I was pretty good too," she bragged.

"Well, we'll have to see, won't we?" he asked, getting out of the car and going to open her door.

"I'll pick you up at eight, where something dressy, not to revealing," he told her in his best AD voice.

"Pick me up to go where? I never said yes to a date with you," she knew she sounded cruel, she couldn't help it.

"Not a date, dinner. Trust me on this, you don't want to face the wrath of Irena Skinner. She makes me look like Winnie the Pooh any day of the week. Just please, save me that torture?"

Scully laughed, her big, strong, tight-ass boss afraid of his Mommy.

"All right, I'll be here, with bells on." She smiled at him as he turned and walked out the cabin door.

About twenty minutes later, Scully heard a knock at the door. Maybe it was Skinner trying to cancel, she hoped. She'd said yes to a date with him, why had she done that? She knew why deep down of course, because he was so adorable. The way he'd blushed from top of his head to his chin when his Mom called him Wally and practically demanded that he take her out to dinner was nothing short of priceless. She couldn't help but want to see more of the relaxed, at home Walter Skinner.

She opened the door to reveal her boss with a young boy of about 12 years old, each was carrying something; Skinner a thermos of hot tea and the boy a plate of cookies.

"Your tea as promised, Scully," he said extending the thermos to her.

"Come in gentlemen," she said moving away from the door.

"Agent Scully, this is my sister Mary Ellen's son, Sergei. Sergei, this is one of the Agents I supervise, Dana Scully."

The young boy smiled and placed his burden down on the table. "Grandma said to give you these," he told her, "Do you really work for my uncle?" he asked.

"I really do," she told him smiling.

"Does he bust your balls?" the boy asked as Skinner clamped a hand over his mouth and grumbled, "What did I tell you about that? I'm so sorry, Scully."

"It's all right, Sir, and yes, he does sometimes," she answered calmly.

"Do you really cut up dead bodies and chase aliens?" asked the curious little imp.

"Um, I do cut up dead bodies and I've seen my share of strange events, whether or not they are caused by aliens..."Skinner cut her off. "Agent Scully is a scientist. She doesn't believe in aliens."

"But they're out there, Agent Scully," the boy piped up. Skinner caught her gaze and held it and she understood. Obviously, the preteen believed in aliens and EBEs. She wouldn't ruin it for him."

"You just may be right, sweetie," she said, "Now, if I'm to be ready by eight o'clock, I'd best eat these wonderful cookies and get changed."

"Sergei, why don't you go and mount up? I'll be out in a minute," Skinner told the boy, who immediately did his uncle's bidding.

Scully waited on what Skinner was going to say and somewhere deep inside she hoped it wasn't "Let's not go out tonight."

"I just wanted to apologize for my behavior earlier. I should have realized you wouldn't want to spend time with me. I pushed too hard and I'm sorry."

His eyes were filled with remorse as he turned away his shoulders slumped.

"Sir, I'd love to go out with you tonight. I owe you an apology for my rude behavior. I was tired and hungry and very surprised at seeing you here. Please forgive me?"

"Scully, if we're going to be eating together and seeing each other unofficially, might you consider calling me Walter?"

"Only if you'll call me Dana," she smiled at him as he blushed again and left her in the cabin to dress.

Meanwhile, back at the main lodge, Walter Skinner Sr. was arguing with his wife.

"For God's sake woman, leave Wally alone. He's not even been a widower a year. Give the boy time."

"He's had time, Walt, and this is the woman of his dreams. He should not let this one get away." She was determined; it was evident in her stance, her shoulders squared, and her wet dishpan hands plunging into the water for another cup.

"Irena, he's known her what eight minutes, how could..."

"Walter, that woman is Dana Scully. The Dana Scully. She's here." Irena spoke of Dana as one may speak of a revered saint. Walter spoke very highly of her, even when Sharon was alive and things were going well, his eyes lit at the mention of her name or as he relayed a story with her as the central character. What made Irena love her though was the story Wally told her about the shooting and how Dana had rushed to his side and protected him and nursed him while his wife avoided the hospital's calls.

"Dana Scully? The woman he works with? She's here?" He couldn't believe it.

"Yes, she's here, and I'm going to see to it that our son gets what he wants this Christmas."

The older Skinner leaned over and kissed his wife. She was an incurable matchmaker and he loved her for it, he just hoped that her efforts wouldn't be for naught and that both mother and son would not end up with broken hearts.

As Skinner and Sergei rode down to the stable the young boy looked up at him. "You were right, Uncle Walter," he said seriously, "She is a knockout."

Skinner laughed, "And how would you now about things like that?"

"Uncle Walter, I'm 12. I've been around." He informed his uncle seriously.

Skinner bit his lip and tried not to laugh. This kid sounded so grown up like he was 50 instead of 12. But he was right. Scully was beautiful. In fact, she was prettier today than he'd ever seen her. Gone were the tailored business suits and too high heels and in their place were faded jeans, a soft sweater and hiking boots. She seemed so tiny and soft without her guarded persona. It made him want to protect her.

They rode the rest of the way in silence, Skinner pondering his petite agent and Sergei studying the expression on his uncle's face. He'd never seen that one before, at least not on his uncle. He's seen it on his Mom and Dad and on his grandparents, so he realized what it was. His Uncle Walter was in love.

That evening Scully's Cabin 8:00 p.m.

Scully wasn't sure if time passed too quickly or too slowly, but when 8:00 finally rolled around she was nervous. She rarely spent time with the AD outside the office and since the incident with Carina Sales, the relationship became even more strained and delicate. She'd tried to select prim attire for the evening, but ended up in a somewhat sexy black dress that fell just above her knees with a plunging neckline. It looked wrong but if felt perfect.

One minute later, Skinner arrived at the cabin door and Scully braced herself for his commanding presence. She gasped when she saw his choice of attire, black slacks, a blue shirt and a sport coat. Very Skinner like, yet very different all at once. He wasn't wearing a tie and the shirt had terrific color.

His heart hammered when he saw her, "You look very nice, Dana," he mumbled.

"You look nice too, S...sorry, Wally," she teased.

Skinner put on his best AD stare and gritted his teeth, "Never, never call me Wally."

She blushed and murmured her apology as he offered her his arm, "Shall we, my lady?"

Scully giggled and looped her arm through his, "We shall kind Sir," she replied walking in step with him out the door.

Valentino's Bistro 8:30 p.m.

The Bistro was a cozy romantic restaurant with cloth napkins and candles on each table. An elderly gentlemen played Christmas songs on the piano while a DJ set up for the later crowd. They were seated immediately at the corner table where they could watch the quiet snowfall.

"Walter?" Scully asked, "How did we get a table before all of those other people?"

"Relax, Dana, I don't own this, too. I made a reservation." He pulled her chair out for her then sat in his own studying her. She was nervous and it looked adorable on her. He'd seen many feelings on her in the past three years, anger, fear, recrimination, but he'd never seen nervous. She played with one end of her hair, twisting it around her finger and stared at her place setting.

"Ah, nice to see you again, Mr. Skinner," greeted the waiter, "can I offer you drinks?"

"Um, we'll have a bottle of the 1989 Merlot," he said. Scully glanced at the wine list. It was $100 a bottle.

"Oh, Walter that wine is too much money. I can have a coke."

"Nonsense, this is your vacation, I am your host and your date. Do not look at another price on that menu, the sky, Dana, is the limit tonight." Skinner knew he sounded cliche but he didn't care, it was the truth.

She blushed at his unusual display of consideration for her desires. No, it wasn't unusual at all, in fact, it was quite common for him. He was always considerate of her, even when he was lying in the hospital; it was her he cared about.

The waiter returned and took their orders then the conversation stalled. Skinner watched as Scully buttered her bread and took a delicate sip of wine. She watched as he took a roll and a pat of butter out of the basket but did not use them. Instead he fingered the bread absently between his fingers.

The piano player took a break and the DJ began to play his selections for the evening. An old Irving Berlin piece started to play and before Scully knew it, Skinner was out of his seat and drawing her out to the dance floor.

"Would you care to dance with me, Dana?" he asked taking her small hand in his and drawing her to her feet.

Scully wasn't much of a dancer, but suddenly there was nothing more appealing to her than being in Walter Skinner's arms moving to the slow rhythm that had begun to play. She followed him onto the floor with a smile.

The best things happen while you're dancing Things you would not do at home Come naturally on the floor For dancing soon becomes romancing When you hold a girl in your arms That you've never held before Even guys with two left feet Come out all right if the girl is sweet If by chance their cheeks should meet while dancing Proving that the best things happen while you dance.

As the music played, Skinner held Scully close to him. This was the only way he knew how to communicate his elation at having her here. For her part, she considered they way he moved. For such a large man, he was rather graceful and moved her through the steps with ease. When the song ended, he held her for a moment longer before returning to their table.

The intimacy of the dance broke the ice and Skinner worked up the nerve to ask her what brought her up here.

"To Tahoe? Well, it's pretty far away from DC and my mother went to England to visit her sister so it was one of three choices go to Greenwich with Mulder, stay home alone, or go skiing."

"But why here? Why Wonderland Lodge?" he asked, his tone holding a pained sound.

"Well, excuse me, Sir, but how was I supposed to know you owned the place?" she questioned, defensive.

Skinner knew he sounded as if he didn't want her there, but that wasn't true.

"You couldn't have known, Dana. And I'm glad you're here." His big hand caressed one of her smaller ones to emphasize his words.

"I shouldn't have snapped at you. I'm sorry. I'm just so wound up. My father passed away three years ago on Christmas and after losing Missy, my heart isn't...but what am I saying, Sir, you lost your wife less than a year ago," her voice started to catch and she squeezed his hand.

"My name is Walter. I don't want to hear "Sir" out of you until we're back in DC," his tone was harsh but his eyes glowed with mirth, "and that Agent Scully is an order."

"Yes, Walter," she replied in a sing song voice. He smiled, but it quickly faded as he began to speak about his wife.

"Sharon, was gone from me long before she died. She was gone long before we even separated. The Sharon I married..." he stopped, his jaw starting to quiver and his eyes misting. Scully was shocked, her strong stable ex-marine boss was losing his control over what must be a very painful memory.

"What is it, Walter? What happened?" she tried to keep her voice soft and gentle to lull him into security and trust.

"I killed the Sharon I married long before she left me," he finished hurriedly, pulling his hand away and taking a deep breath.

Scully sensed there was more to his pain than guilt over his failed marriage, but she didn't push. He'd tell her when he was ready. Instead, she began to talk about herself.

The meal ended too quickly for both of them. Skinner's mood improved and before either of them realized it, it was midnight and the restaurant was closing. Skinner paid the bill, left the waiter a generous tip, and helped Scully on with her coat.

She was surprised at how the gentle snow fall had increased to almost a blizzard. She was almost amazed at how beautiful it was.

Skinner's Jeep handled well in the snow, and he delivered her safely to her cabin.

"It's beautiful here," she said softly as he walked her to the door.

"Yes," Skinner replied, fingering her hair, the wine and the peaceful snowfall making him lose his inhibitions, "Very beautiful."

Scully realized suddenly that he wasn't looking at the grounds, but at her. Her heart skipped a beat. She hoped he'd kiss her, it would make the night perfect.

"Well, I'd better let you get to bed. It's 3:00 in DC, you must be exhausted I'll see you tomorrow. Maybe on the slopes, yeah?"

"Perhaps. I wanted to try out the cross country trails," she told him.

"I love cross country, perhaps we can ski one of the shorter trails together. If you haven't skied in years..."

"That would be lovely, Walter. That way you could catch me if I fall," she couldn't believe she'd said that.

"It would be my pleasure, Dana," he told her as he climbed back in the Jeep. One look back at her, shutting the cabin door and he said once more, to himself, "My pleasure."

The following morning The Main Lodge

Skinner was surprised to see Scully come into the lodge before eight the next morning. If her body was still running on DC time, she should be exhausted, but yet here she was as fresh as a daisy, walking into the main lodge.

He sat by the fireplace as he lingered over a cup of his mother's coffee, reading the paper. His feet were propped up on the coffee table in front of him. His big body cloaked in a heavy woolen sweater with a picture of Rudolph knitted on it. The sight of her boss, surly and domineering wearing a sweater with a red nosed reindeer on it made her laugh. It was the melodious sound of her laughter that turned his attention to her.

"Good morning, Dana. Sleep all right?" he asked, not knowing what else to ask.

"Yes, like a baby. The beds are so warm and the smell, I love the smell of clean air," she told him, inhaling, "I also love the smell of cinnamon rolls. How could I get one of those?"

"My mother makes the best cinnamon rolls this side of the Mississippi, and there are three left in the kitchen. Come on, I'll show you around the lodge a bit, too."

He was so relaxed here, almost giddy. His step bounced as he led her around the large oak desk and into the kitchen, where they met up with his Mom.

"Hi, Mrs. Skinner, that restaurant was lovely," Dana said, smiling at the older woman.

"Ah, so you enjoyed yourself did you? Wally, I mean, Walter, wasn't so sure."

Dana looked pained. He didn't think she enjoyed herself. Couldn't he see how much she really did enjoy herself? She hadn't slept a wink all night, despite what she'd told him before. She hadn't been able to get him out of her head. She hadn't been able to shake the sensation that had run through her body when she was dancing, held so securely in his arms.

Walter leapt to his own defense. "Well, you see, Dana, you seemed so sullen last night. I wasn't sure if I was very good company."

Dana looked up into his deep brown eyes and stared at him intently. There was sadness there, "Walter, you were excellent company. I haven't enjoyed an evening like that in a while, and I was hoping that, perhaps, we could ski together this afternoon?"

"Ah, that would be lovely, wouldn't it, Wally?" Irena answered for him, seeing Dana's expression as she looked into her son's eyes. This woman cared for him, and she was going to make her see that he also cared for her.

"I think that would be precious," he said softly. "Why don't you eat and let me shower and change? I'll meet you at the stable in an hour."

With that, he was gone, leaving Scully to eat her cinnamon roll in the company of his mother.

An hour later, Scully stood by the most beautiful chestnut horse she'd ever seen. He was Skinner's, Irena had told her. He loved the animal, he'd even delivered it when it was born. It was hard to think of Skinner bringing a new life into the world, especially at work, but here, it seemed different. He was relaxed and gentle. She felt herself beginning to care for him, care deeply.

"He's a beauty, isn't he? His name is Firestone. Would you like to ride him?"

"I'm not much of a rider, Sir, in fact, I've never ridden a horse in my life," she told him, blushing.

"Never ridden a horse?" he asked, "Or never ridden a stallion?"

"Neither, I'm sorry," she said softly.

"There's nothing to be sorry about, Dana," he said lifting her from the ground and setting her on top of the gentle giant, caressing her body slightly with his hands as he did so.

"Now, I'm going to guide him, but you have to move with him, all right? Hold on to him, okay. Don't be afraid, I'm here."

She was afraid, but at the same time, she knew he wouldn't let her fall. He tugged on the horse's bridal and the animal began to move and she lifted her hips in rhythm with the rise and fall of its muscular back. Walter walked beside the animal, leading him around the stable, letting her get accustomed to the sensation of the animal moving beneath her small body.

"How does that feel Scully?" he asked, looking at her. She was holding herself so tight, he knew she was afraid.

"Nice, it's soothing."

"Liar, you're scared, I know it. I can tell by the way you're holding yourself. Let go, relax, let him take you for a ride."

"Walter, don't let go," she almost begged him, but kept some semblance of pride.

"It's all right. I'm letting go, let him walk you around."

Just when Scully felt Skinner let go of the reins, she started and tightened her thighs around the horses back. The animal took this as a sign to go faster and began to speed down the trail at an alarming speed.

"Oh, shit," shouted Skinner, climbing on a horse of his own and heading for Scully at a gallop.

The moments passed slowly, it seemed like his horse was moving in slow motion as he tried to catch up to Scully. If she fell, if something happened to her, it would be his fault, all his fault, just like what happened with Sharon. He'd never attempted anything like this before, and he didn't know if he would succeed, but he knew he had to try.

At amazing speed Skinner rode up along side the horse and reached one hand out to pull on the horse's reins. In a forceful, yet soft tone he whoaed the horse to an abrupt stop.

Scully sat on top of Firestone, breathing heavily, her hands shaking. Skinner quickly dismounted from his horse and ran to her side. Her reached up his arms and pulled Scully off the horse. He held her small body close to his and rocked her back and forth trying to still her quivering.

"It's all right," he whispered softly, like he would to a frightened child, "You're all right, I have you. I'm sorry, Dana, I'm so damned sorry."

Scully stood motionless in his arms for a moment, then with the force of a lioness shoved at his chest in effort to get away from him. .

"You bastard," she hissed through clenched teeth, "I told you I didn't know how to ride, I asked you not to let go, I asked you not too."

Skinner let her vent at him. She was so angry she couldn't muster a yell. He would have preferred her to yell at him, to slap him, and call him names. He would have preferred that to the cold resignation he now felt. She'd hurt him deeply when she pulled away from his arms. Perhaps she'd meant to, Lord knew he deserved it. She had asked him not to let go and he had. She could have been killed or seriously injured and he'd never get the chance to...

Skinner brought his hands up to capture her shoulders and forced her to come closer to him. He wanted to hold her, to let her feel his remorse, to let her know that he would protect her. He didn't have the words for that, he had to tell her with actions. She fought him as he tried to take hold of her. Her arms came up and she tried to take make a defensive strike at his chest. He shook her a bit to still her struggles.

"Stop it, Scully!" he grated out. "Stop it. I'm sorry, Dana. I know I shouldn't have let go of that horse, but stop fighting me. You aren't hurting me, you're only hurting yourself. Calm down, I've got you."

She stopped her struggles and allowed herself to be pulled next to his strong body. His arms held her close and he began once again to rock her, trying to soothe her.

All at once he began to allow his fear to come to the surface. He increased his hold on her and began to shudder himself. All of a sudden their roles reversed and she was the one that was rocking him, whispering comforting words as he released his fears.

"Walter, I know you didn't mean it. I know you didn't think the horse would spook. It's all right. It's not your fault; I didn't mean to blame you. It's all right."

Walter finally settled and stepped out of her arms. He looked down at her face and she saw the traces of tears along his cheeks. She gently reached up to caress his face with her thumbs and he bent his head to her lips. She felt so slight and small in his arms, he wanted to cherish her and worship her. A shock went through her as he leaned in for the kiss, he was centimeters, millimeters away and...

"Wow, that's was some great riding Uncle Walter!" exclaimed Sergei coming out from his hiding place behind the bushes.

"How long have you been hiding back there?" he asked tersely.

"I wasn't hiding, I was following. Then Agent Scully almost fell of Firestone, then I hid."

Skinner shook his head. "Come on, your Mom is going to be looking all over for you. Let's go back to the lodge and Dana if you're up for it we can try out that cross country trail."

Scully sighed and shivered a little at the loss of his heat and support. He settled his arm around her shoulders and walked her over to Moonbeam, the gentle mare that he had used to chase down Firestone.

"Dana, you have to get back on that horse," he said softly. "This time I'm going to sit up there with you. Sergei, why don't you ride Moonbeam back."

"I think I'd rather walk it, Walter," she said studying his shoes.

"It's over a mile on rough ground, Dana. I'm going to put you on the horse then I'm going to mount behind you. All you have to do is sit I'll do the rest. Come on, now. Trust me, I will not let you fall. I will not let you get hurt again."

Scully realized as he spoke those powerful words that she could trust him, that she did trust him.

She nodded her approval and felt his heat return as he settled her on the saddle and climbed up behind her. His arms settled around her trim middle, and she settled back into his arms. They rode up to the stable in silence, each thinking about how much the other was coming to mean to them.

They skied together that day and every day after that. Skinner was coming to realize just how precious Dana Scully was and she was coming to notice the small intricacies of his personality. How protective he was, how gentle he could be, and what a great sense of humor he had.

These thoughts of him, in his relaxed home-bodied manner kept her awake at night. On a particularly rough night, she rose to take one of her midnight strolls to the lodge. Irena or Mary Ellen usually left sandwiches on the bar. As she walked she passed Skinner's cabin and saw the firelight spilling out from under the door.

It seemed some unknown force pulled her to the door and she pressed her ear against it. What she heard was something she never thought she'd ever hear from Assistant Director Skinner. She heard him crying, deep desperate sobs. Slowly, she raised her hand to the knob and turned it. The door opened and she saw him, seated in front of the fire, holding a tiny crumbled photograph in his large hand.

She rushed to him, and he didn't look up. She settled her arms around him and pulled his head to her chest, "Why are you crying, Walter? Tell me," she begged, stroking his shoulders and back, "Please, Walter, tell me."

He didn't say anything. He didn't even consciously settle into her embrace. She sat and began to stroke his back and neck in effort to calm him. Scully held Skinner for a long time. His hand remained clutched around the old, yellowed picture as he lay across her lap and sobbed. She didn't know what was wrong; the only thing she knew was that he needed her. His large body was crushing her thighs, but she didn't care. He seemed to relax a little in her arms, but still those harsh, desperate sobs still came from deep inside his body.

She didn't know what to do. She let him lay his head against her breast and wrapped him in the quilt draped over his couch. She gently rocked him in her arms and stroked his shoulders, occasionally murmuring senseless words, assuring him he was all right and safe and in her arms.

When the shuttering finally lessened and he pulled away, Scully forced him to look into her eyes. He saw fear and concern in their blue depths, emotions he'd sworn he's never cause her to feel. "I'm sorry, Dana," he said, his voice still hoarse from crying.

"For what? For being human? For hurting? There's no need to be sorry. I'm only sorry that you didn't say something to me before whatever it is hurt you so badly that you couldn't control yourself anymore. What is it, Walter? What is hurting you so much? Please, tell me." She was starting to cry herself. Why wouldn't he trust her? Something must be truly awful to make him hurt so deeply and cry so desperately.

"It's nothing. It just gets too hard sometimes," he told her, touching her face. Her hair was beautiful in the firelight.

"What, Walter? Tell me. I'm here and I'll listen and I won't judge you. I just want to help. I just want you to see how much..."

She never got to finish her sentence. He leaned in and stopped her words with his lips. His kiss was gentle, reverent almost as if she were a precious jewel, something to be worshiped. Hesitantly, she brought her hands up to cup his face and returned his kiss. They kept the pressure light, until Skinner let out a guttural moan and deepened the kiss. His tongue pushed through her teeth and explored the intricate depths of her mouth. She had a sweet mouth, tasted like chocolate and strawberries.

She was a shy kisser. She let him explore her, but held back and did not explore him. His hands began to roam over her body, touching her shoulders, breasts, and arms with feather light touches. She settled her hands about his waist and pressed her slight weight into him. He took this as his cue; she was offering herself to him.

It wasn't until sometime later that he'd know what a precious gift she'd given him. He carried her to the bedroom and lay her down on the bed. Gently he removed her clothes, starting with her blouse. As he worked he kissed his way down her body, worshipping every inch or perfection in front of him. Her skin was like white silk, soft and without a scar or blemish. She was perfect, like an angel from heaven and he wanted her.

It didn't occur to him that Dana did relatively little in the way of responding to his attentions. She moaned and called his name in a sexy little voice when he pleasured her, but she did not try to touch him. Finally, he felt that he could not hold back another minute. He rose above her and settled himself between her slightly parted thighs.

She was wet for him and tight, very tight. Almost as tight as, then it dawned on him as he heard her gasp a bit and saw the tracks of tears on her face. She'd been innocent, a virgin, and he'd...He froze and stared blankly at her. She shook her hips a bit to encourage him and sighed, "Please, Walter. I need...please..."

"Oh, Dana, I'm sorry. Why didn't you tell..." he asked out of breath with need and concern.

"You wouldn't have done it if you had known," she replied.

"Did I hurt you?" he asked, hoping not.

"No, love." she assured him. "It feels wonderful."

He didn't need any more encouragement. He began to move within her, taking her to the heights of unbridled passion. When it was over, they lay together, her head on his chest. He began to speak.

"Sharon and I married when I was still a young man. I had dreams of where I wanted to take my life. I wanted to be the FBI Director one day. I wanted a marriage like my parents had and a house filled with children. She wanted all of those things too.

Sharon had a hard time getting pregnant. We were married eight years before she finally got pregnant and she miscarried in her third month. We thought we had all the time in the world. Finally a year later, she got pregnant again, and she lost it again. When she got pregnant a third time, we thought, well third time's the charm. When she made it to her sixth month, we thought for sure, this was the one.

One morning, I was on a case in Idaho when I got a call. Sharon was in the hospital. She was bleeding. By the time I got to her, her water had broken and our daughter had been born. She weighed just over a pound. She lived for two days. Before she died, they let us touch her and after they let us hold her. That is what the picture is of, Dana. That was a picture of my family, for the short time I had one."

Dana tightened her hold on him and whispered as he drifted off to sleep, "You have a new family now, Walter. I'll be your family."

He didn't hear her, she realized for he began to snore softly, so she curled herself tighter against him and fell asleep herself.

Skinner awoke and instinctively reached out for Dana. Her side of his bed was empty but not cold; she couldn't have been awake for very long. He sat up slowly, keeping the white sheet now stained with the evidence of his passion and her innocence around his naked body. She sat by the window cocooned in his heavy blue robe staring out at the mountains. He approached her quietly as he didn't wish to startle her. She seemed so lost in her thoughts, so confused and bewildered over the last nights events that it tore at his heart. He raised his hands and set them on her shoulders, squeezing lightly before nuzzling her neck and murmuring into her hair, "Good morning."

She stiffened when his lips met her neck and turned to face him. Yet she left her eyes downcast. This was not the Dana Scully he knew. Who was this innocent, demure childlike person in her place? The smallness of her body and downtrodden stance stabbed him in the gut.

"Walter..." she began.

"Dana, we should talk about last night." He would be gentle and understanding. She'd given him a woman's most sacred gift. Could it be she now regretted it?

"There's not much to talk about, Sir. What's done is done and...we can't undo it, so why try?"

"Sir? Dana after last night, I highly doubt 'Sir" is the appropriate term. Sweetheart, Darling, Lover, all of those have a much nicer ring to them."

Skinner could tell where Scully was leading them. She regretted their lovemaking and would prefer to resort to the comfortable superiors, subordinate relationship they were familiar with. He didn't want to let her. He knew deep down this was not a mistake. He knew the moment he'd entered her tight, hot, welcoming body that they had crossed am invisible line between friendly respect and unbridled love. He loved this tiny red headed power house with his whole being and could tell by the way she held him last night while he cried and how she accepted his advances without reservation that she loved him too.

He tried to punctuate his light, joking words with a kiss on her full mouth but she turned her head, giving him her cheek. She smiled sadly, "You know as well as I that this cannot be. You're...I'm ...we...It isn't the right time for us."

She turned away from him again and began searching for her clothes that lay around his bed. She couldn't allow herself this vulnerability with Skinner. She wasn't even sure if she trusted him and yet she'd lain with him, in this very bed and allowed him to take her virginity.

"Why not, Scully?" Skinner prompted, "Why isn't this the right time for us? We're here at this gorgeous cabin, we've made love, and you've trusted me with the most sacred moment of a woman's life...

"Trust. Sir, you don't have any idea what that is. I didn't entrust anything to you. I felt sorry for you. I pitied you and well I never said you didn't have a Hell of a body, and well I'm not getting any younger. It was a stupid thing to do, but hey, you can't be responsible all of the time, right?"

Her words stung. She was trying to tell him that she'd used him. That last night when he'd found such comfort, such safety, such security with her, she'd felt nothing for the man he showed her, only lust for his body. He couldn't believe those words were true, they were forms of self preservation and protection. He wouldn't let her disappear behind that mask.

"That's bullshit, Scully. You enjoyed last night just as much as I did. Scully, last night, I opened my heart to you. I told you things I've never told anyone, Scully...Dana this past week I've come to feel about you a way I haven't felt in a very long time even when I was married. I've felt close to you, I wanted to share with you, Scully...I love you."

Scully gasped and stared at him, mouth agape. He loved her. How could he love her after what she'd just said to him? She scoffed at him, "You love me? How could you love me, you barely even know me?"

"I know enough. I love you, Dana Katherine Scully, I'm certain of it. I've never been so sure of anything in my whole life as I am about this. The question is, Dana, how do you feel?"

Scully was confused. Skinner was in love with her. Since coming to Wonderland Lodge she wished to hear those words, but now she didn't know what she wanted. He reached for her but she backed away shaking her head.

"Walter, I...I don't know. I'm so...I don't know what I feel. I've always been so sure of myself, so certain, I usually know what I want, but suddenly you're confusing me."

Skinner watched as she finished dressing and pulled on her coat. She was in such a hurry to get away from him.

"Dana? Where are you going?" he asked.

"I have to think. I'm going to ski, let the wind run through my hair. I'm so sorry about what I said, I'm very confused and I don't know what I need or what I want and I just need to think, I'm sorry."

With that Scully hurried out the door leaving Skinner staring after her, his heart breaking in his chest. Skinner dressed quickly and headed directly for the main lodge. Mrs. Skinner watched as her son entered the main lodge and knew instantly that her son was deeply upset about something. After seeing Dana Scully breeze through here, she knew that her feisty little guest had something to do with it.

"What did you do, Wally?" she asked sternly.

"I don't know, Mama. I honestly do not know. I think I screwed up big time last night. Christ, Mama, what am I going to do?"

"First of all, you are going to stop using the Lord's name in vain, and secondly, you are going to sit down and tell Mama everything that happened. Come on, there's coffee in the kitchen."

Meanwhile, young Sergei was watching as the pretty FBI Agent strap on her skis. He ran to the stable to get his and strapped them on, following her toward the most dangerous cross-country trail on the property. She seemed upset and he wanted to make it better, so he followed her into the woods.

"So, what you are telling me is that you feel guilty about what happened with Dana. Well, you should, I raised a more considerate son," Irena scolded after Walter had poured out the whole story to her. He'd finally told her everything. He'd told her what really killed his marriage to Sharon, he'd told her of the pain and loneliness of those long ago years. He'd told her how Dana had come to him and held him and given him the greatest gift that anyone ever had, herself.

"I know, Mama, and I feel terrible, but I didn't know she'd never... I mean she's beautiful and she's over thirty, it never crossed my mind that she'd never..." He couldn't manage to call her a virgin, it was like a knife in his heart each time he said it. He'd taken something from Scully that wasn't his to take, no matter how fervently she offered it to him, and it ripped at his soul.

"I know, Wally. The values of a decent life are lost on most young women today, why I'd never even think that she'd be an innocent. But, she was Walter, so what are you going to do about it?" She asked rising out of her chair and taking both coffee cups over to the sink.

"I don't know. I talked to her this morning, I told her that I loved her, but she wasn't interested, she ran off and I don't know where she went. She's out on one of the trails, she said she wanted to clear her head."

"She's scared and confused, Walter. You can just spread your seed and go on your way, but she is stuck. She will never get back what she gave you last night. That is the ultimate gift, Wally; there are no refunds or returns on that." She leaned over a kissed him on top of his head. In so many ways, he eldest son was still a little boy.

Before Walter could make his next comment, his father along with Alex and Peter came in stomping the snow from their boots.

"It's turning into a real blizzard out there," said the older Skinner removing his sodden clothing and accepting the mug his wife brought him. "Best call all of the guests and settle everyone in here; we may be stuck in here for a while."

His father hadn't finished his sentence before Skinner was on the phone calling Dana's cabin, hoping to hear her voice, praying that she'd decided on a hot bath instead of a long ski. He let the phone ring a full ten minutes, hoping that if she were angry with him and not answering, the incessant noise would drive her nuts and she'd at least pick it up to hang up on him. She never touched the phone at all.

"Mama, tell Daddy to come here," he said, fear evident in his voice.

"What is it, son?" Walter Sr. asked. His son was pale and his hands were beginning to shake. "Is everyone in their rooms?"

"Dana isn't in her room, Dad. She'd said something about skiing one of the cross country trails. She went out there all alone, and she isn't that great a skier. She's out of practice and most of the trails in a blizzard are dangerous for those of us who've lived here most of our lives. We have to find her."

"You know how to pick them, don't you," he sighed. "Give it a few minutes, when everyone is here, if we haven't seen her, we'll go out a look for a bit. She's a smart girl, she wouldn't go out there if it were dangerous, she's more than likely not answering the phone. I don't know the whole story, but Mama said you pissed her off but good."

"Dad, please. Something doesn't feel right," his eyes began to scan the room and counted the heads of all those gathering in the lodge. He counted his nieces and nephews and was startled to realize he was missing one, "Dad, Sergei isn't here."

Meanwhile, Sergei had followed Agent Scully down the trail and out into the woods. He had done this once or twice with Uncle Walter and he knew that they were no longer on the trail or on lodge property. The terrain was rough here and he slowed his pace to avoid falling. Twigs and rocks interfered here and as blinding as the snow was they were impossible to see. He could not let her continue on, he had to get her to hear him, to get her to stop and turn around.

"Agent Scully," he called, "Stop, it's too dangerous."

Scully heard the little boy and started to slow her speed when she felt her ski catch and her body fly about ten feet. She landed hard on the ground, her leg twisted in a way that no leg should ever twist. The pain was agonizing; both in her leg and back, which had connected with sharp rock.

Sergei unstrapped his skis and ran to her. She could barely breathe and was crying, her tears freezing on her lashes.

"Uncle Walter is going to be mad at me," he said, approaching her.

"No, he's not sweetie," she told him. "It's me he'll be mad at. You have to go back to the lodge, I'll be all right," she lied, patting his hand on her injured leg.

"I called out to you and distracted you; he said to never do that when someone is skiing."

"Sergei, listen to me, you have to go back to the lodge and get your Uncle Walter or your Grandpa. I think I hurt myself. You have to get help." She was squirming out of her parka and scarf, and handed them to the child. "Wear these over your clothes, you have to stay war..."

The young boy was crying but knew he had to try. No one could survive in a blizzard, his uncle always told him. He didn't want this woman to die alone, but if his uncle could save her, that would solve both their problems. He pulled on the coat and started to run back to the lodge.

Mary Ellen sat with her mother as she watched her husband, father, and brothers come back yet again without her son.

"Please God, keep him safe," she prayed, frightened for him.

As if her prayers were answered, the lodge door blew open and her son, cloaked in two parkas and scarves fell inside.

Walter was at his side in an instant, holding him tight, before passing him to his mother.

"Uncle Walter, you have to help," he mumbled falling asleep from exhaustion.

"Help? Sergei, is this Dana's coat?"

"She's hurt real bad, out in the cold. Gave it to me."

He was asleep then and Skinner paled, his dark eyes meeting his Dad's. He once again pulled on his coat but his father stopped him.

"Let me, son. You're too close to this."

He motioned to the rest of his family to pull on their coats while Skinner stared dumbfounded at his Dad. He wanted to save Scully, to warm her with his own heat if he had to, and damn it, that was what he was going to do. Only moments after the search party left, on a buddy system, Skinner bundled himself and started off on horseback, praying that he or someone would get to her in time.

Hours passed without a sign of Dana Scully. The men finally returned to the lodge after six hours of searching. Irena met her husband and sons with blankets and hot cocoa.

"Any luck?" she asked hopeful.

"No, sweetheart," Walter Sr. replied. "And we aren't gonna have any. This is the worst blizzard in 25 years out there, with subzero temperatures. Her tracks are all but gone and even if we knew what direction she headed in, the terrain is dangerous and she'd be buried alive in snow by now. We have to call it off, Irena." He was sad. He'd like Dana Scully and wanted her to join his brood as a Skinner, as soon as she and Wally decided they could stand each other. He didn't want to have to see his son go through another painful loss, but he didn't see the plausibility of Dana surviving this blizzard. He didn't see his sons or himself surviving it if they continued to search.

"Where's Wally? I want to be the one to tell him. I just don't see hope here Irena."

She moved to hold her husband, who like her oldest boy hated to admit defeat.

"Mama," Mary Ellen spoke, "Walter left. He went to search for Dana on his own."

"Oh, Christ!" his father exclaimed, "I told him to wait here. I knew he wouldn't be rational enough to stop when..."

The older man nearly collapsed and his sons rushed to help him sit down. The strain and anxiety had taken its toll. Irena ran to get him some tea while he let go of all of the emotions he'd bottled up. For some unknown reason, she looked at the clock. It was just past midnight. It was Christmas Eve morning. Christmas was here. All of a sudden hope filled her heart. Her son, her stubborn son, would find his lost love, for at Christmas any miracle was possible.

Walter Skinner searched every path the spread from the West Forest Trail. There were no tracks, no signs whatsoever that anyone had been there.

"Dana!" he called again, he throat sore and voice hoarse from calling her name. He knew it was useless, that his voice was lost in the roaring wind. "Dana, its Walter."

He could hardly walk through the snow. It was up to his thighs. If it were to his thighs, it must be at least to her chest. Sergei had said she was hurt. What if... He couldn't entertain that thought just now. He just knew he had to find her. He had to tell her he loved her and make things right. He just had to. It seemed hopeless, but it was Christmas, and that was never hopeless, so as he waded through mountains of snow, he did something he hadn't done in many years. He prayed.

"God, I know that I've lost my way in things. I know that I've blamed you for things that I shouldn't have, but I'm begging you now, help me find her. You know how special she is and how much I love her. If you do this one thing for me, I promise no more anger, no more lies, no more walking the fence. I'll only give you the honest truth from now on; I'll only give Dana and Mulder the honest truth. Please Lord, help me find her. I need her. I need to set things right, but I can't unless I have her back. Help me get her back, God, please."

He began to cry and felt his tears freeze on his eyelashes. He'd never believed in prayer. He knew he should just turn around and head home, but he couldn't. If he stayed out much longer he may not ever get back home, but that didn't matter. All that mattered to him was Scully. If she died, he'd wish he could too.

He began to walk again when his leg came in contact with something hard. He pulled and dug to reveal one of his nephew's skies.

"Thank you," he cried out to the heavens and slowly waded through mounds of snow. If the ski was here, she must be close. Sergei had followed her on skis but came back on foot. He'd taught the boy well.

"Dana! Dana, can you hear me!" He yelled it over and over again until he saw a light in the darkness, a single glove.

He moved the snow around the glove and finally revealed the unconscious form of Dana Scully. She was only wearing her sweatshirt and ski pants.

"Scully, it's Skinner. It's all right now."

He saw blood marring the perfect white snow, her blood. He had to get her back to the lodge. His sister and mother would know what to do.

Scully slowly opened her eyes for a moment. She'd been drifting in and out. Skinner was there and he was holding her. He'd removed one of his coats and had wrapped her in it and was speaking to her as he checked her pulse.

"Wal......" What happened to her voice?

"Ssh, don't speak. I've got you." He pulled her against him, and kissed her face and hair, continuing to wrap her in the coat. "It's all right now, Dana. I'm going to take care of you."

With all of his strength he lifted her out of the snow bank and turned his steps toward home. He fell twice before her reached the clearing of the trail. Scully was dangerously cold against him and when he moved to check her for pulse and breathing, he stopped. The rhythmic rise and fall of her chest had ceased, she made no sound or whimper. Her pulse did not beat steadily in her neck. And Walter Skinner felt his own heart die.

Skinner's next conscious thought was that he ached. His head ached, his arms and legs ached, but most of all, as the memory of what he'd lost returned full force, his heart ached. He opened his eyes to meet the worried eyes of his parents. His father's face was still and emotionless, while his mother sat and silently cried.

"Mama?" he asked, confused. "How did I get here? Where's Dana?"

"Wally, you're dad and brothers found you and Dana just north of our property line. You were both unconscious, but Dana...Honey, she..."

"What? Where is she, I want to see her?" He sounded so scared, like when he was little and would wake from nightmare. His mother looked at her husband worriedly.

"She's upstairs in the master room with Mary Ellen. She is still unconscious," the older Skinner explained.

"Well, I want to see her. I want to see her right now," Walter said raising from the makeshift bed his parents had made for him. It was then that he finally realized his state of undress.

"Mama, where are my clothes?" he asked, his tone short, "I want to go and see Dana."

Irena knew that nothing she would say would keep her Wally lying down any longer, so she handed him his pants and shirt and gave him the privacy he'd want to dress. Without a word, Walter climbed the stair and walked to the Master Room. What he saw inside shocked him to the core.

Scully lay in the bed, quilts and blankets around her, her tiny hands and feet, wrapped in warm compresses. Her lips still held the bluish tinge and her breathing was slow. She looked so small. He fell to his knees beside the bed and placed his hand on her head, smoothing back the unruly hair from her forehead.

"Oh, Dana, I am so sorry. So damned sorry," he murmured to her. His sister realized her brother needed a private moment, and rose to leave him alone with his very ill love.

Skinner spooned his body around Scully's and pulled her as close to him as he could without disrupting the compresses Mary Ellen had set up. He knew her limbs had to be warmed and the compresses were the best way. How could he have let this happen? Why did he have to be so stubborn and possessive? If he had just went with her this wouldn't have happened. He had to tell her how sorry he was and how special she was to him. He was going to make it right when she recovered, marry her if she wanted, and make an honest woman of her. That was what he would do, he decided. As soon as Scully woke up, he'd tell her he loved her and that he wanted to be with her for the rest of his life.

Deciding on what he was going to do, Skinner settled once again around Scully and held her tight. He tried to stay awake and talk to her, but exhaustion from his own ordeal soon claimed him and he drifted to sleep with his precious bundle in his arms.

Scully awoke much later with fierce chills. She tried to huddle more under the covers, but there wasn't room enough in the bed. Something was up against her back. She squirmed and wiggled and it didn't move. Finally, she got around and came face to face with a sleeping Walter Skinner. His hold was protectively tight on her. It made her feel safe and warm.

She studied his features, noting that they were relaxed in sleep. Slowly, she raised a hand to brush his face. He'd saved her life. She's heard him calling her, felt him holding her, he was her hero, plain and simple.

Walter came awake when Scully's hand touched his face. He met her blue eyes with his brown ones. No words were spoken. None were needed. He brushed her hair back out of her eyes and brought his lips to hers, kissing her hungrily, thanking God for his good fortune.

"Dana, I'm sorry, Love, for everything," he murmured," I should have protected you, but I didn't. I should have stopped when I realized..."

"Ssh, Walter, it was my own fault. I should have listened to you, and I didn't want you to stop. You made me feel whole, Walter, you always did. I should have realized it before now. I love you, Walter Skinner."

Walter sighed and pulled her closer, "And I love you Dana, so much. I'm just sorry it took me almost losing you to realize it. I know this seems a bit sudden, but I've never been more sure or anything in my whole life. Dana, will you consider marrying me?"

"Oh, Walter, there's nothing I'd rather do more. Merry Christmas, Darling," she whispered leaning to him for a kiss.

"Merry Christmas, sweetheart," he replied, obliging her.

Outside the door, Sergei and Irena shared a smile for they knew that by next year, there's been one addition to the Skinner family. And by the sound of things on the other side of the door, it might be two.

Lake Tahoe, CA One year later

Walter Skinner walked around the side of the Jeep and opened the door for Dana Scully Skinner, his wife of ten months. It seemed like so much longer though. Had it only been a year since Dana unexpectedly arrived at his family's Lake Tahoe ski lodge? Had it only been a year since their first date? First kiss? First time they made love?

He looked at her and fell in love all over again. She was beautiful, more radiant now than he'd ever seen her. Even eight months pregnant she was gorgeous. What had taken him so long to admit his feeling to himself?

Dana Skinner took her husband's proffered hand gratefully. It was difficult for her to get in and out of the Jeep at this stage of her pregnancy. He'd even wanted to stay in Washington as a result and not come out and spend their first Christmas as a married couple with his lovely family. Her own mother and youngest brother Charlie would be along within the week.

Irena Skinner and her mother, Maggie, had taken to one another immediately. Both had a spunky, irrepressible spirit and both were dyed in the wool romantics. There was nothing they liked better than telling their friends or anyone who would listen about how their children found each other.

Scully stumbled a bit when she reached the ground and Skinner reached out for her elbow to steady her.

"Are you all right?" he asked, concerned. It seemed he was always concerned these days, always protective. She understood why he behaved like this in the beginning, he couldn't stand the pain of losing another child, but now she was so close to her time that his concern was no longer warranted. Nothing could go wrong now. Even if she delivered early, the child would still be healthy. She'd tried to tell him that, to reach him with reason, but to no avail. Walter was a worrier and worry he would until he held their perfect son or daughter in his arms.

She smiled at him and reached up to caress his cheek, "I'm fine, my love. We have to start driving the Ford more often when we get back to Washington. I can't take climbing in and out of this thing."

"I'm sorry, Dana. But you know..."

"There's no 'I'm sorry' needed. I know that the Ford cannot maneuver well on this road. We'd still be somewhere near the bottom of that mountain if we had it."

A dark look began to cross Walter's face and Dana turned around to see what he was looking at. She saw no one.

"What is it, Walt?" she asked. He looked like he was angry, but she couldn't think of a reason why he should be.

"I'm such a selfish bastard. I never should have made you make this trip. It's all the way across the country for Heaven's sake. When the doctor said you couldn't fly we should have given up on the idea of spending time here over the holidays. It's not like you can actually ski or anything..."

Dana stopped his personal assault on himself by rising on her toes and kissing him hard, square on the mouth.

"Walter, try to get this, there is no other place on this earth that I want to spend Christmas this year. We fell in love here, we made love here, and we made our child here last spring. This place Walter is you and I and I want us to spend our first holiday as a couple right here. I love you."

Before Walter could respond he heard his mother's excited call from the doorway.

"Wally! Dana! You've made it! How did you do it? I thought Dana's doctor said she couldn't fly."

Then she noticed their Jeep and the license plate on it. Virginia plates.

"You didn't drive all the way across the country in the Jeep did you, Wally?" she asked sternly. If the answer were yes, she'd skin him for doing that to his wife.

"No, Mama. Even we aren't that stupid. We loaded it on a train and took the train to the city and then drove up the mountains. We only drove about two hours," he hugged her close and tried to reassure her that she did not raise and idiot for a son.

"It wasn't Walter's idea, Mama Skinner," Dana provided, moving into her mother-in-law's strong embrace as best as her pregnancy would allow, "When the doctor told me not to fly he wanted to stay in Virginia, but I wanted to come out here and see everyone. Don't be cross with him."

Irena pulled out of her daughter-in-law's embrace and studied her. "Should I be cross with you then?" she asked.

"If you must. I am a doctor, Mama Skinner. I wouldn't have traveled if I didn't think it was safe. I'm not due for five more weeks. We'll only be here for two weeks. It's my first baby; I'll make it back with time to spare."

Scully smiled up at her husband as she felt him tense. He'd been doing that a lot lately; she'd have to address that with him.

Irena and some of Walter's brothers carried their things inside the main house and Irena helped Scully get settled. They weren't sending them to the family cabins in the back this year, God forbid it became necessary to have an ambulance or a doctor summoned. It would be easier to reach Dana if she was in the main house.

Dana was exhausted and wanted to lie down, which of course called Walter to fuss even more.

"Are you all right? Do you want me to call for a doctor or for Mary Ellen?" He was seated on the large bed where she lay; her knees curled up to her chest, her head resting delicately on her hand.

"I'm fine, darling, I'm just tired. It so hard for me to sleep at night, your son or daughter is definitely going to play soccer."

"Oh, you poor thing," he reached out and caressed her rounded belly, "Forgive me?"

She opened her eyes to see if he was kidding or smiling. He wasn't. "Forgive you? For what?"

"For putting you through this. I'm a real son of a bitch for asking this of you." He hung his head in shame.

Scully pushed herself up on her elbows and tugged on his hand until she met his gaze with her own and sighed. "Walter, I wanted this baby as much as you did. You didn't ask me to do anything I wouldn't have done willingly anyway. So what if I'm a bit uncomfortable right now, in a few weeks, Walter, we'll have a baby, a perfect healthy gorgeous little baby. I love you for asking this of me and I thank you for granting me my wish."

He leaned over and placed a kiss on her lips. It was a chaste kiss, but still filled with love and admiration, emotions he felt for her every day.

"I'll leave you to rest. I'll be downstairs if you need me." Skinner rose and watched her dose off to sleep in a matter of seconds, before he walked out the door.