Mulder put his face in his hands and shook his head. "Jeffrey Spender. I don't get it."
Skinner took a careful breath. He didn't want to elaborate, not right now. Mulder would force him to, though, he was certain.
This wasn't right.
"He can provide physical evidence of the kind of torture these people have perpetrated. The scars he has. . ."
Mulder looked up. The shrewdness of his look startled Skinner, and for a moment he felt like Mulder could read his mind. "Can he prove how he got the way you say he is? Does he have medical records that say he was tortured by government forces trying to turn him into an alien hybrid?"
"Of course he doesn't, Mulder. But he'll testify to that effect."
Mulder waved it off, that calm, sardonic smile again curving his mouth. "It doesn't matter. Bring him on. Maybe if we bury them in unsubstantiated evidence, it'll start to feel substantiated." He delicately rubbed his forehead, scratching the wound there. "But you have to tell me one thing first."
Skinner braced himself. "What's that?"
"You explained to me how it happens Spender's not dead in spite of a gun shot point-blank into his face. You haven't explained exactly how you and Scully discovered this."
"I told you. He came to us."
It was Skinner's turn to put his face in his hands. He didn't know what to say. He was shit for a lawyer, and at this moment he felt like he was shit for a friend, as well. He looked at Mulder's patient face. "This is not stuff you need to hear from me. You need to hear it from Scully."
Mulder's eyes narrowed. Skinner knew that look. It was the look Mulder got when he put two and two together and got seventeen and somehow it was the right answer. He had made the leap, somehow. "It's about William."
Skinner said nothing.
"Nobody's said anything to me about William. Not even Scully." Mulder's voice was measured and even. But Skinner knew him too well to interpret that as calm. "Something's happened to William."
Gritting his teeth, Skinner said, "You need to talk to Scully."
Mulder shook his head, once. "Is he alive?"
"He's alive."
"Then what happened?"
"I said you need to talk to Scully."
But Mulder was shaking his head again, the look in his eyes strange and distant. "No. I think I need to hear it from anybody but Scully."
Skinner leaned back in his chair. Mulder looked up, directly at him, with that look, that look he'd had when Scully had been in the hospital dying of cancer. It hurt just to see it, that awful, unguarded, inconsolable pain.
He knew. How did he know?
"Spender came after him." Skinner began, not sure why he spoke at all. "He had some crazy idea he could do something to William to make him be . . . something other than what he was. To change him."
Mulder's mouth had tightened. He nodded stiffly, carefully.
Skinner went on. "It wasn't the first time someone came after William. Scully was afraid for herself, for her mother, for me, for Doggett, for Reyes, but most of all for William."
Mulder's gaze swept up toward the ceiling. He blinked a few times, then said through thinned lips, in a carefully controlled voice, "She gave him up."
How the hell did he do that? The intuitive leaps had always floored Skinner. But in this case he was grateful. It saved him having to say the words. Instead, as Mulder's head turned, as his eyes met Skinner's again, Skinner only nodded.
Mulder looked away. Skinner looked at the table, unsure what else to say. Maybe he should just say nothing at all. But then Mulder made a noise, and Skinner looked up.
Mulder had his lower lip between his teeth, and the pain in his eyes had overflowed onto his face, the tears gleaming in the dim light.
"Mulder--" Skinner ventured.
Mulder shook his head. He closed his eyes, gathered himself with a visible effort. Leaning forward over the table, he covered his face with his hands.
Skinner just sat there looking at the table. He didn't know what else to do. The room was silent for some time, except for Mulder's odd, jerky breathing as he brought himself back under control.
Finally he lowered his hands and looked up at Skinner. His red-rimmed eyes held no emotion any more. "What else can you tell me?"
"Not a lot. Reyes handled most of it with her. I do know they made sure all the adoption records were sealed, then they hacked into the system and destroyed them. She wanted to do everything in her power to make him disappear." Mulder nodded. His blank expression made Skinner nervous. "Mulder, you can't hold this against her."
"No," said Mulder firmly. "I don't. She did the right thing. He's just a baby. Two, maybe three records to destroy and he'll be damn near impossible to trace."
Skinner nodded. "They took care of all of it." He paused, looking at Mulder, trying to read the tight, sealed-off expression. "Are you okay?"
Mulder didn't answer. He was staring at the table. Suddenly he said, in a pale voice, "She's so much stronger than I am."
"What do you mean?"
"I never could have done it. I would have died to keep him safe, but I never would have even considered giving him up, because it would have devastated her. But she did it herself. Devastated herself. To protect him. How could she have done that?"
The emotion was far too thick in here, and Skinner had never been comfortable with emotion. But he'd held Scully when they'd found Mulder dead, let her soak his shirt with her tears. Looking at Mulder now, he realized he'd grown to love them both, in his own, fumbling, inadequate way. So he said, carefully, "The same way she let you go."
Mulder looked up. His mouth moved oddly, as if trying to smile, but he made that strange noise again. Skinner wondered if he would have just broken down and cried, if he'd been alone. Or with anyone but Skinner. "It was my crusade, but she's lost the most. It's not right."
Skinner could say nothing to that. He tapped his fingers on the manila folder holding the information on Jeffrey Spender. "I think we're done here."
"Yeah." Mulder's voice was choked and breathy. Skinner picked up the folder and left the room.