Summary: A Houseboat Variation. Skinner and Krycek are
the last two left standing...
Thanks to the wonderful betas: Te, Leila, and Dawn (who
has forgiven me the kittens.)
The other Houseboat Variations and my other stories can be
found at: www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html
“Courage to Forget”
I sit beside my lonely fire And pray for wisdom yet:
For calmness to remember
Or courage to forget. (Charles Aide, Remember or Forget)
He shifts against me and mutters something in his sleep, the
words exhaled against my throat. I don’t even need to look
at him, I just draw him in a little closer and tighten my arm
around his back. He subsides and I can give my full
attention to watching the fog roll up the river. It is Sunday
afternoon, that long dead time, so like 3 am, when all you
can do is remember and regret and wonder about your life.
It’s not love.
No. It’s shared need. We give each other what we need.
Security. Companionship. Release. Security. I know where
his wounds and scars are and how he got them and he
knows mine. Hell, he put some of them there. It’s the
It’s the way he moves against me in the night and I know
what he needs - some nights, it’s punishment. Others, it’s
for the sheer sweaty animal freedom of it. And then, times
like this, it’s just comfort. He needs to be held, to sleep
knowing that someone else will keep watch, keep the enemy
at bay - even when there is no more enemy. There are still
the demons in our minds, clawing out of memories and
I hold him while he sleeps, murmur when he stirs, stroke his
forehead lightly until he sinks back into sweeter dreams.
And he does the same for me, on those nights when I can
no longer be strong, can no longer carry the memories
without crying outloud. Ah, the things I should have
said...the things I should never have done...we understand
vain regret, we two. And we are gentle with one another
because of it.
The gentleness is hard to see; if you were an outsider, you
might see only the harsh words, the silences that last for
days, two men who live almost as strangers, whose daylight
lives rarely intersect.
And yet, we sleep together at night, wrapped around one
another, unable to stir without the other waking and
clutching, holding on until the panic of loss recedes enough
to loosen hands so used to loss.
I found him one morning at dawn, sitting on deck. Five
years since it had all gone down, five years since we were
certain he was dead and there he sat.
Doing nothing, just sitting there, river mist beading his hair.
He must have been sitting there for hours while I slept. I
hadn’t even heard him come aboard.
I was stupid. When I saw him sitting there, I just stalked out
to confront him, no gun, no backup, just a cup of coffee in
my hand. By all rights, that should have been the last thing I
ever did - confronting a known assassin wearing only my
jeans and a flannel shirt. But my strange luck held that
morning, too. I’ve lost everything that mattered in my life
except my life. That morning was no different.
“Krycek? What are you doing here?” His head was tilted
down; he was slouched in one of the beach chairs I keep
on deck for fine weather, feet up on the rail. He looked up at
me through the dark fringe of his lashes, like an animal
peering out of a thicket.
“I was in town, so I thought I’d pay you a last visit, Mr.
I should have guessed. The Consortium, defeated and
disbanded though they were, had a passion for tying up
loose ends and I was one of them. It wasn’t enough for
them that I had already caught my Golden Bullet - the one
that earns you the pension but doesn’t quite kill you. No,
they sent Krycek to finish it. I hadn’t expected them to be so
I took a deep breath and watched it steam away into the chill
morning air. I remember feeling grateful for noticing the
sweetness of that breath, the last clean taste of spring that I
I think that I thought of the ones I had lost, the ones I
desperately wanted to see again; Sharon, Dana Scully, my
parents, Fox Mulder. I hoped they would be waiting for me.
I nodded once, gaze still locked with his. Then I slowly set
my coffee cup down on the rail and turned my back. And
waited, watching the sun come up over the Potomac.
After a time, there came a choked sound, distant kin to
laughter. “I’m not here to kill you, Skinner, although you do
look all noble and ready. I just want to talk.”
Well, there are three ways to take the news that you are not
going to die on a spring morning; relief, despair, and
breakfast. I had used up those particular emotions years
before. So I made breakfast.
I watched Alex Krycek over the breakfast table. He had
always had a lean and hungry look. But now he seemed
blade-thin and worn, badly used, carelessly handled. He
was gaunt and unshaven, his eyes burned and his
movements were jerky, almost uncoordinated. There were
scars that I didn’t remember - a long vertical cut beneath his
right eye, a jagged line across his throat, as if he had worn a
choke-collar of barbed wire. The open collar of his shirt
showed livid flesh beneath; he had been burned. His left arm
rested stiff and unalive on the table.
We did not speak until I put a plate of eggs and sausage
before him and the coffee pot between us.
“You look like hell, Krycek,” I said, then took a bite of my
“You look the same as you always did.”
“Yeah, it’s a comfort to still be able to recognize the guy in
the mirror. Why are you here?” He hadn’t touched his food.
I jabbed my fork at it and said, “Eat. Why are you here?” He
chewed and swallowed one mouthful of egg and I knew that
I could have fed him ashes and salt and it would have tasted
the same to him. “I came to find Mulder.”
“Mulder’s gone,” I said shortly.
“I know. I found out. So then I went looking for Scully. And
she’s gone, too.”
I nodded shortly. “And the Lone Gunmen.”
“And Spender,” he said. “They’re all gone, Skinner. All of
them. Except you.”
“Except me,” I agreed and sipped my coffee. “And you.”
He shook his head, a lock of dark hair fanning itself across
his pale forehead. “I’m gone, too, Skinner. It just doesn’t
“Do you have the cancer?” I asked evenly.
“No, at least not the one you think,” he bared his teeth in a
funhouse smile. “But I’m dead all the same.”
Oh, I knew what he meant. It was clear in his eyes. Even
killers get sick of death after a while. They become infected
with it and there is nothing left to do then but die
I finished a last mouthful of egg. “What do you want from
He gazed steadily at me, as if honestly trying to answer the
question. “I don’t want anything, Skinner. I came looking for
someone that isn’t here any more. I wanted to...I needed to
say...,” his voice trailed off and his eyes became unfocused,
as if he were having a conversation with the past.
Something low and dark prowled behind my eyes, someone
I hadn’t been in a long time. “Don’t tell me you came to
apologize, Krycek, because I’ll kill you where you sit.” He
blinked and I picked up my coffee cup.
“No. That wasn’t it. No apologies. But I wanted to ...
explain. To give him the last few puzzle pieces. To tell him
that they’re all gone. I killed every one I could find. That it’s
“Over,” I repeated, turning the word over in my mouth. The
dark slinking something between my eyes gnawed at it for a
bit, as I drank my coffee and Krycek pushed cold eggs into
piles. After a time, I nodded and said, “Over.”
He stayed. I don’t know why. But he was still there when
night fell, so I made up the couch for him. And I lay
peacefully under the same roof as the man who had once
been ordered to seduce me or kill me. He had failed at both
and the river rocked us both to sleep that night.
He woke me in the night, screaming. When I got to him, he
had no more breath to shout. His muscles had locked and
he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. His eyes
were staring at nothing, whites rolling in the gloom.
I had seen night terrors like this in the jungle. The cure is
short, brutal and very effective. I slapped him twice across
the face, then shook him hard once.
I heard him draw a ragged breath, then another. Then
self-awareness flooded back into his eyes and he began
trembling. I pulled him into my arms and held him tightly,
anchoring him back in the waking world. His breath was
sobbing past my ear and his tremors shook us both. His
body was cold beneath my hands, even beneath the t-shirt I
had lent him. I don’t know what I said to him, that night in the
dark. I meant to murmur reassuring things, soothing things,
things that you say to children when they wake screaming in
the night. But, somehow, I didn’t say those things. I
vaguely remember whispers using my voice, saying,
“Krycek, you bastard, why’d you have to come back now?
You son of a bitch, it was over for me. Shhh, it’s all right.
Bastard. Come on, breathe. That’s it. Can you stand?
Good. Rat bastard. Through here. Sit. God, I hated you.
I think I went and got him some water. He took it, trusting
as a child. There were no tears on his face. I think the
expression in his eyes would have been less terrible if he
could have cried. He drank the water, then just sat looking
up at me. I couldn’t bear that look. Anything but staring at
my own reflection in those eyes. I got into bed and pushed
and prodded him until he, too, was beneath the covers.
Then I settled him on my chest, pulled his arm across my
abdomen and stroked his hair until he went to sleep.
We woke that first morning, surly, uncommunicative,
bewildered. But he didn’t leave and I, well, I had nowhere to
go. Some days, I would leave him to go teach my classes
at Quantico or to do errands, wondering if he would still be
there when I returned. I don’t know what he did with his time.
But I went home every evening certain that he would be
And there he’d be. Reading. Or sleeping. Or just staring
out at the river. He took to cooking for the both of us. He
wasn’t bad at it. Sometimes we’d talk, but mostly, I was
aware of the silence between us. Calm. Unthreatening.
And at night, he would slip into my bed and I would pull him
into my arms and we would sleep, no words between us.
The frequent nightmares we both suffered provided a
staccato rhythm to our nights. It was good to have someone
to hold when imagination and memory twisted together to
torture me. I grew used to having him there; his dark head
beside me on the pillow, the flash of a sharp-edged grin
when he was amused, the solid thunk of his artificial arm
against the furniture, his own peculiar smoky scent on the
clothes that he borrowed, willow green eyes that watched
me wherever I was on the boat. And I knew that we were
both waiting for something.
Then came the night when he didn’t reappear.
I had gone out that morning, dropping him at Dupont Circle
to cruise the bookstores. He wasn’t on the boat when I got
back to the marina. He didn’t come back when night fell. I
went to bed alone for the first time in weeks and couldn’t
sleep. He wasn’t home when I finally fell asleep at dawn.
I spent the next day not thinking about him. It took a lot of
my time and energy and I resented it. It grew dark. I could
feel my teeth gritted against what I knew was coming. I
wondered when the police would come to inform me that
they had identified another dead John Doe. Odd that I never
questioned that assumption...until I heard the scrape of his
boot on deck and felt the boat dip slightly as he came
He said nothing when he walked in. I don’t know how I
looked. I was sitting beside the wood stove, a paperback on
my knee, thumb marking the place where I had stopped
reading, several hours ago.
He’d been roughed up; there was a scrape along his jaw and
he had the makings of a bruise high on one cheekbone. His
lip was split and it had bled a little. When he took his jacket
off, I saw that he was wearing only a t-shirt, not the sweater
he had worn yesterday, and that the t-shirt was torn. There
were dark red welts around his wrist; those marks are hard
to mistake - handcuffs. His prosthesis was gone.
“What happened to you?”
“Ran into some old friends,” he said in an offhand tone and
got himself a beer. I was left to imagine how he had
managed to survive a beating and escape to come back
here. He came back and held the bottle out to me in the
system we had developed for those times when I didn’t just
open it for him. He held it steady, I twisted the cap off. He
nodded his thanks and drank thirstily, not looking at me. It
was when he tilted his head back that I saw them. Bite
marks, all along his throat, dark and mocking welts against
that pale skin. And I remembered what else was available
down at Dupont Circle besides used book stores. It was
Washington’s main sleaze center - anything could be had
down there, for a price. Idly, I wondered what price Krycek
had paid for the particular services he seemed to have
Krycek finished his drink, then looked at me with a pleasant
smile, a polite social expression at odds with everything that
passed between us in the dark.
I was only vaguely aware that I was still holding the book I’d
been reading. His eyes darted to the book and widened. I
looked down and discovered that the spine had split in my
grip. I raised my eyes and met his and saw that he knew
the truth. Busted. I sighed, tossed the ruined book on the
floor and got up. And paced toward him, steadily, inexorably
backing him up against the door. I didn’t touch him, but
leaned in close enough to feel his breath against me face.
He smelt of sex and smoke and burnt sugar.
“If you need something, Krycek, just ask.”
I leaned even closer, still not touching him, but now I could
feel his heat all along my length. I touched my finger to the
split in his lip, then traced the swollen line of his hurt cheek.
“Is this what you need, Krycek? What you want?”
“Not all the time,” he whispered.
So I found myself kissing him, gently moving my mouth
across his bruised lips. He tasted of burnt sugar and spring
air and I wanted to crush him against me. Instead, I braced
my hands on the door at either side of his head and said,
“Do you want this, Krycek?” But I knew the answer; I could
feel it rippling through his body and see it crackling in his
eyes. Then his hand was on the back of my neck, pulling
my head to him again.
I don’t know how long we stood there, kissing one another,
struggling to control the other. I had jammed my leg
between his and used it ruthlessly to put pressure on his
hardening cock. He moaned and writhed against me but he
didn’t give in. He kept his mouth on mine, his tongue darting
between my lips and sparking waves of heat and dizziness
through me. It was a wonder that we didn’t hit the floor.
When I felt like I was losing control, I steered us toward the
He’s good with that one hand. My clothes were half off
before I even realized it. I was too busy tracing that line of
welts down his throat with my own mouth. When I felt his
hand skim down my chest, I grabbed his wrist and twisted it
behind him so that I could concentrate better. He hissed
when I caught the raw welts left from the cuffs, but I didn’t let
up. I could feel his hard cock throbbing against my thigh as
I trapped him against me again.
His t-shirt, mine actually, was already torn, so I didn’t
particularly regret tearing it off of him. I stopped to consider
my handiwork; he was panting heavily, his skin flushed and
his eyes were burning into mine. There were bruises and
bite marks along his collar bones and ribs. I could see the
calloused and rubbed areas where the fittings of his artificial
arm had cut in. I ran the fingertips of my free hand gently
over the marks of violence and pleasure and pain.
“What do you want from me, Krycek?”
His eyes flickered, as if I were speaking an unfamiliar
language, then they locked back on mine, decision made.
He gave a tentative tug on his imprisoned hand, and I let it
go immediately. He brought it up to the side of my face and
tilted my head with the lightest of touches. Then his lips
were moving against mine, so sweetly that I moaned into his
Somewhere in the darkness, we stopped struggling for
dominance and tried for linkage. We made love so gently,
so tenderly that night. I have rarely used that kind of care
with a lover and I have never been handled so kindly. We
were both making love to someone who was dead, and we
knew it. We slept that night without dreams, without
The next morning was the same as always. No kisses, no
words, just an untangling of limbs and morning grimaces.
Then I made breakfast.
And that’s how it has been for two years. He has never left
again. We give each other what we each need, security,
space, quiet, sex. He still wears my clothes, although he
buys all the groceries and liquor and dozens of paperbacks
per month. I still don’t know where he gets his money,
although I have sometimes seen him palm unset diamonds,
teasing them out from the lining of his leather jacket. We
sometimes go out for meals now, always at his instigation.
Once he showed up unannounced as my morning class let
out at the Academy. His demon grin dimmed not at all as I
waited for someone to discover that his security pass was
forged, that he was still a wanted man. No one noticed that
day or on the handful of days since then that he has
appeared there. I shake my head and wonder what’s
become of national security.
I do not know when his birthday is, I only know the date his
cover story gave. He knows mine and we ignore it. But we
both celebrate Mulder’s. And Scully’s.
It’s not love. It’s shared need. We give each other the
space and quiet and the calmness to remember our dead.
Sometimes, in the night, when we hold each other and there
are soft touches to take the place of words, I think it possible
that we may one day give each other the courage to forget.