"I Still Have Plans to Go to Mexico"

"I Still Have Plans to Go to Mexico"
by MJ and JiM
(with apologies to John Berryman and tips of jaunty little hats to Torch and
Kass, whose fault this is).

* * * * *


The battered Dodge pulled in on the gravel paving outside the Rusty Bucket. A
few yards further down the road, by the traffic light, was the turn for heading
up into Schoharie County. If you bear slightly to the left, across the narrow
bridge, county route 324 leads you into Potter Hollow. The Rusty Bucket is the
last watering hole between East Durham and Potter Hollow. Everything else is
trees, deer, and rundown wood-shake houses interspersed with farmland, more
trees, rusty Ford pickup trucks, and long-anchored mobile homes on concrete
slabs with propane tanks outside. It is not an area for night driving.
Especially not in the autumn, when the leaves on the road are like a sheet of
ice under your tires. And especially not when your friends from East Durham are
right behind you, hoping to escort you out of town if not out of existence.

The driver of the Dodge pulled as far over to the side of the parking area as he
could. A fading sign read "Home of the Fun Seekers." 'Fun' was clearly a
negotiable term up here at the base of the Catskill Mountains. Damn if you
didn't expect to stumble over Rip Van Winkle up here every time your foot met a
branch, a log, or a tree root. He made his way in through a side door of the
old wooden structure - did they have fire codes up here? - and squeezed his way
through a gathering of fun seekers to find a seat at the bar. His leather
jacket was still zipped; the gun jammed into the waistband of his jeans didn't
show that way.

A bartender who appeared to have quit seeking fun several decades previously
worked his way toward Alex Krycek's barstool. His plaid flannel shirt had been
washed to the point of wearing through at the stress points on the fabric; at
his weight, every part of his chest appeared to create a stress point. If he
spit tobacco juice on the floor, Krycek thought, it would be no surprise. "Get
you something to drink?"

"Yeah. Yeah." Krycek looked around. Mostly bottles of beer there, some
drafts, some men with shot glasses. Few if any mixed drinks; those seemed to be
the province of the few females present. "I'll take a boilermaker."

"Jim Beam? Jack?"

"Beam is fine," Krycek sighed. He was exhausted after the collapse of his
business meeting; the finale had been ...bruising. Pounding down several
boilermakers and getting shitfaced sounded like a plan. Someone here had to be
from over towards Cairo; maybe he could get a lift in someone else's car to a
motel on the other side of East Durham.

He surveyed the crowd as he downed his shot. He recognized no one from the
meeting. One guy in the corner looked vaguely familiar, a blond in a flannel
shirt over a Rensselaer Polytech T-shirt. They weren't that far from
Rensselaer; that was right. The guy must be some kind of overaged student
computer science geek who commuted. At least he asn't one of the damned Mick
terrorist wannabes he'd just severed relations with.

East Durham has the distinction of being the "Irish Catskills". An Irish-
American Museum lies down the road from the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock and in
front of the Irish Sports Grounds, where sheepdog trials are held. If you have
ever wanted to swim in a shamrock-shaped swimming pool, the resorts of East
Durham can oblige. Pubs lie down the road from other pubs, each trying to
outbid the others in their offering of Irish bands playing folk or contemporary
Irish music. In the midst of this 365-day-a-year Saint Patrick's Festival lies
a more solemn note. Shops and restaurants which elsewhere would hang posters
about the firemen's carnival or the Knights of Columbus spaghetti dinner here
advertise the latest Irish Republican Army fund raiser. 'Help our boys in
Belfast and Ulster'. 'Free the prisoners'. 'Wear the Green Proudly'.
Underneath the inncuous words of support, the real message lies: give money for

Krycek signaled the bartender to set up another. Who the hell had gotten him
into this mess? Good old cousin Vladimir, that's who. The IRA sympathizers had
checkbooks. They wanted rifles, grenades, ammo. An easy deal, right? Some
former Eastern Bloc contacts with weapons to spare now that democracy had
invaded. A few acquaintances with private aircraft. He had called a few
markers in, and had gotten promises that everyone would come. Then Vladimir had
to stand them up, promising to deliver only half of the Soviet rifles agreed
upon, at twice the price offered only two weeks before. The IRA boys were not
happy. Not one bit.

Krycek could hardly blame them. The only problem was the couple of younger
hotheads who were blaming him for Vladimir's shafting them. He'd ducked the
Consortium. He'd ducked the FBI, the CIA, the KGB - he had ducked the alphabet
soup of several countries and was happily alive. Well, alive, anyway. The IRA
boys, however, didn't play by the same rules - if they had any at all. And now
he had their three letters to throw in the soup kettle of people who wanted a
piece of his hide.

The IRA, unlike the other acronymic groups he was ducking, was not part of a
government. The government of Northern Ireland and the government of England,
rather, wanted the IRA. These boys didn't want to arrest him and have a real or
imagined trial. The bastards he had ticked off earlier today, like the
Consortium back in the good old days, just wanted him dead. And he was getting
too old for the "Wanted: Dead or Alive" deal. Being down an arm was an
additional drawback with these types of assholes. If he got out of this in one
piece, it might just be time to think about getting out of the game.

Deep in his thoughts and his beer, Krycek never noticed the blond man's trip to
the rest room, cellular phone in hand.

* * * * *

"I found him... Yes, I'm sure it's him... He's at a bar called the Rusty
Bucket. He sidestepped the boys on his tail, but they'll come around again soon
enough... This place only looks like it's off the beaten path. Oh - he's
drinking... Like a fish, man. You're coming in? Okay, I-84 to the Throughway.
Exit 21 - Catskill. Are you writing this down?"

By the time Krycek decided to relieve himself in the decidely unspacious and
unsanitary facilities of the Rusty Bucket's men's room, the blond was off the
phone and heading back out to a bowl of pretzels and a pitcher of cola. A fun
seeker indeed.

* * * * *

Krycek walked relatively steadily back to the bar after his second trip to the
men's room and ordered another boilermaker and a ham sandwich from the kitchen
for ballast. The blond's cellular phone rang. Krycek heard it, but couldn't
tell who had the phone; he returned to the chips he was munching. The blond
stepped outside.

"Yeah... shit... look, I called, but we're talking Massachusetts, not next
door... you're sure? Positive? No... not more of them... anything we can do?
I don't think so, just monitor... damn, they'll be here any time ... look,
thanks... hey, Frohike, think I ought to tell him?"

A ham sandwich with more chips and a large pickle wedge was being slid under
Krycek's nose as the blond wormed his way up to the bar. "Uh... Krycek? Alex

Krycek nearly jumped out of his skin. He slid his hand into his coat before
turning to answer. "Who wants to know?"

"Look, Krycek, my name's Langly, Ringo Langly, and I'm a friend of Mulder's."

Mulder? Oh shit. A name hadn't let himself think of in more than a year. What
the hell was going on here? "Yeah?"

"Uh, look, I just got a call from another buddy of mine. That IRA jerk who was
looking for you is heading back this way, and it sounds like he's checking every
place open."

"What do you know about all of this, Langly?"

"Never mind what I know, I'm trying to save your neck. Give me your car keys;
I'm stashing your car in a barn down the road. At least they won't see your
car. I went Rensselaer undergrad; I know my way around up here. Look, take my
car keys - it's a blue Chevy with a rental sticker around back. Don't leave if
you don't have to, Krycek - if you have to split, here's a spare phone and my
number. Call as soon as you get someplace and we'll get you."

"What the hell is this?" Krycek asked, astonished.

"It's a rescue operation. Let's just say word got out that your deal was going
South. You're messing around with some goons that you don't want to tick off,
and the feds want them nearly as badly as the UK does. I'll be back in about
forty minutes. Hang on tight."

Langly ducked out the side door as Krycek looked on in amazement. It was
definitely time for another boilermaker.

* * * * *

Five men filtered into the Home of the Fun Seekers. The bartender headed to
their table and took their order. Odd; the East Durham Irish crew usually
ignored the Bucket. He went back to the bar and began pulling a pitcher of
beer. "Blasted Irish tourists," he grumbled.

"Huh?" Krycek grimaced, coming alert.

"Sometimes these Irish guys heading to or from East Durham pull in here thinking
this is part of the tourist trade. Then they make trouble when they find out
they were wrong. Some nasty fights from some of the soccer fans, especially."

Wonderful. Just goddamn fucking wonderful. If it isn't the IRA, it's the
soccer fanatics trying to kill you, Krycek thought. Leaving sounded like an
excellent idea, even though Langly was now back and had been for a while. How
long had he been in this dive, anyway? It seemed as if it had been hours; it
was definitely at least two hours by now. He decided to check in with Langly
about the new bar patrons. Rising from his stool, he turned and headed towards
Langly's corner.

A hand reached out to grab his jacket. "Not so fast, Krycek." It was the
anxious Billy. "I don't believe you're going anywhere unless you go there with

"Really?" Krycek blasted. "Care to join me in the men's room, then?"

"Aaah, who are you calling a bloody fruit, arsehole?"

Krycek had never been above resisting obvious bait. "If the shoe fits,

That did it. A backhand from Billy O'Keefe straight into Alex Krycek's jaw.
The only possible response was a heave of Krycek's left shoulder, as his solid
prosthetic arm caught Billy squarely in the gut. The idea of checking in with
Langly or of ducking out to the rental car was forgotten; Alex Krycek had
himself a barroom brawl. What more could he want out of an evening? Billy's
beer mug went flying as Krycek sidestepped, only to have to slam Billy's
originally more rational buddy with the prosthetic as well. Who was tugging at
his jacket? Well, kick backwards at them, then swing. A few more mugs whizzed
past the table; since Billy's first pitch had landed at a table of local
rowdies, it was interpreted as a sign for them to join in. Krycek considered
going for his gun as he ducked a local redneck's swing; no, not worth it. No
point shooting any of the non-Irish, and in these quarters that only left trying
to pistol-whip his way through the crowd. Might as well leave it in place, like
it or not.

Langly watched Krycek slugging and ducking his way through the donnybrook, then
ducked outside for another call. "Byers, are there any cops around here?"

"Just the State Police," Byers replied on the other end. "Why?"

"Because those goons are here and Krycek's cutting loose with them already.
Krycek's armed and I can't imagine that they're not."

"All the Staties that aren't doing Throughway patrol are over at a hazmat

"Shit. The road down here isn't blocked, is it?"

"No, fortunately. Stay calm and for God's sake stay out of the way."

Glass flew out into the parking lot; beer mugs were meeting windowpanes.
"Jesus, Langly, it sounds like the Rodney King riots."

"And me without my video camera." A few rednecks who had been fighting inside
were now out the door and intro the parking lot swinging at each other. "When
the hell is the pickup?"

"Soon. Should be anytime. Does the phrase 'bat out of hell' mean anything to

"Yeah - it's how fast I want to be out of here."

"Just keep your eye on the package, Langly."

Langly ran back to the side entrance and forced his way back into the bar. The
IRA boys were doing their best to wrestle with a crew of anti-Irish locals who
had found them, as Krycek wriggled out of the melee. Langly flagged him, and
they met at the bar.

"Some fun seeking, huh?" Krycek asked as he wiped a trickle of blood from his
temple. Langly winced as he viewed the temple, apparently hit by a mug, and
what looked all too much like a split lower lip. Krycek wasn't well equipped to
defend against head injuries while fighting with only one arm.

"You're drunk," Langly accused.

"Not as drunk as I will be. I'll take another boilermaker," he called to the
barkeep, waving a twenty to encourage the man. "By the time I get this in me,
O'Keefe will have gotten loose, and I want the painkiller in me first."

The prediction wasn't far off. The better part of the tussle moved towards the
bar as one of Billy's mates called out a hearty "There he is!" Krycek chugged
the beer and lobbed the nearly empty can towards one of the Irishmen. Billy
O'Keefe broke free of the crowd and lunged back at Krycek. Kneeing Krycek as
hard and as quickly as he could, O'Keefe hooked his leg around a barstool and
brought it down on Krycek's ribs with a jerk of his foot.

Langly ducked back towards the men's room as Krycek worked his way off of the
floor and the crowd started pressing around the bar. A chair flew across the
back of the room. Krycek collared one of Billy's companions only to find Billy
and one of the others grabbing his shoulders from behind. As he concentrated on
kicking hard and on feeling no pain in his rib cage, he suddenly realized that
Billy had crumpled back to the floor. Apparently someone else had figured out
how to fight effectively, or had at least sobered up sufficiently to pack a
punch. "Thanks, man," Krycek gasped.

"No thanks needed," came the response as Krycek felt a cuff snap onto his right

"Mulder? What the hell?"

"Langly told me you were down here, Krycek." Mulder elbowed several drunks out
of his way as he made his way to the door, Krycek cuffed to his left wrist. "I
broke the landspeed record on I-84 hauling ass to get you out of here. Of all
the idiots to get yourself mixed up with, you had to find O'Keefe."

Mulder and Krycek kicked a few more drunks and one of Billy's friends out of
their path as Mulder pulled Krycek along to his car. He quickly uncuffed Krycek
and shoved him in the passenger seat, then climbed in himself. "And behave,
Krycek, or I'll cuff you to the door."

"What is this, Mulder, a nostalgia trip?" Krycek snarled and lunged for the
handle of the passenger door, only to stop short moaning and holding his head.
Mulder hit the power locks and said,

"It's more in the nature of a rescue, Krycek. If you throw up on my upholstery,
you're cleaning it." He spun the big Wagoneer in a tight circle, then peeled
out of the parking lot as several of Alex's disappointed Irish playmates came
spilling out of the 'Rusty Bucket'. Sliding back onto Rt 324, Mulder ignored
Krycek's wretched groan and hit a speed dial on his cell-phone. Krycek only
dimly registered Mulder's conversation with the Lone Gunmen.

"No one following, Byers? Are you sure? Yeah, yeah, I trust you. Yes, I
blacked out the plate. OK, we're heading back to I-84. I'll call you from
home. Thanks again, guys. Great job. I really appreciate it." He signed off
and looked over at his passenger.

Then he reached over, snapped on the map light and took a closer look. "Well,
you look like hell, Krycek. What the hell happened to you?"

The solid blows he'd taken to his ribs and head and the kick to his groin had
left him feeling weak and nauseated. Krycek slumped against the window with his
eyes closed, desperately trying to hang on to whatever was still left in his
stomach. He just turned and pressed his battered temple against the cool glass,
then said,

"My arms deal just went to hell, I was double-crossed by my own cousin, I'm
broke, I've had the shit kicked out of me TWICE tonight, I'm drunk and you've
kidnapped me. And that scenario worked out so well for me last time."

Mulder snapped off the light and said nothing, just kept driving. Tact or
guilt, Krycek wondered and shifted so that his split lip was now against the
cold glass. The darkness was thick and unyielding, almost a solid thing clawing
and grasping at the car as it raced by. Krycek sank into a bruised doze filled
with the jagged edges of memory and distant voices.

* * * * *

He was awakened by Mulder shaking him gently. His former partner had the
passenger door open and was standing beside him. The height of the car put them
almost on level and Krycek tried blearily to focus on Mulder's concerned
features. He flinched away and groaned when Mulder shone a bright light into
his eyes. Warm fingers took his chin and firmly pulled his face back into the

"I think you've got a slight concussion, Krycek. You're lucky, they were trying
to give you more than a headache."

"I'd noticed," he muttered, then blinked and tried to sit up and take notice of
his surroundings.

They were in a rest area off the interstate, lit by garish orange lights that
stabbed at his eyes. It was nearly empty except for a couple of idling 18-
wheelers. Krycek figured that he could take Mulder down with one sharp blow
behind the ear that was offered so obligingly to him as his former partner
rummaged in what looked like an EMT's jump kit on the floor at his feet. Then
steal the keys and...dump Mulder or take him along, cuffed to the door? Payback
time, he thought and began to try to coax his battered body into going along
with the plan.

"Krycek, if you even think about hitting me, I swear I'll beat the shit out of
you, then sell you back to those IRA geeks for a six-pack of green beer."
Mulder's threat was delivered without heat as he laid out gauze pads, tape and
antibiotic ointment, breath steaming in the chill night air.

Krycek saw the flash of his hand and heard a sharp smack! just as he flinched;
he was frankly surprised when he realized that Mulder hadn't hit him. Something
blessedly cold was laid against his bruised forehead - a chemical ice-pack. He
automatically put up his hand and adjusted it, taking it from Mulder.

Krycek had to admit that he probably wasn't up to an escape yet; besides,
Mulder's actions had him bewildered. They'd been together for at least half an
hour and Mulder hadn't hit him once, was...helping him? he wondered vaguely
just how hard that last shot he'd taken to the head had been. He blinked as
Mulder wet a gauze pad with antiseptic and began dabbing at the various cuts on
Krycek's face with an absorbed expression on his own.

His various cuts and contusions were taken care of in that same gentle,
impersonal manner. "Anything else?" Mulder asked. Without thinking, Krycek
answered truthfully,

"I think I've got a couple of cracked ribs and I could use another one of those
cold packs for my groin."

He shivered suddenly and gasped as his abused ribs complained firmly.

"Nothing I can do about the ribs until we get home. Here," there was another
smack! and another cold pack was laid on his thigh. "I'm not applying it for
you," Mulder grinned that intensely annoying grin that used to make Krycek grit
his teeth during their too-brief time as partners. Mulder took the spent cold
pack from Krycek's forehead and waited for him to gingerly apply the fresh cold
pack to his abused crotch. Then Mulder pressed a couple of pills into his hand
and held out a bottle of spring water.

Krycek stared suspiciously at the innocuous white tablets until Mulder started

"They're Tylenol-3, Alex, nothing more insidious than that, I promise. Some
Tylenol, some codeine -- come on, take them. You'll feel better," he coaxed.

Krycek foggily noted that Mulder actually seemed to care whether he felt better
or not. Sheer astonishment carried the tablets and water to his mouth. The
water seemed like a blessing flowing down his throat and he drank until the
bottle was empty. When he lowered it, Mulder was watching him, a calculating
look on his face.

"Here's the deal, Krycek. I'm not into kidnapping. If you don't want to be
here, you can leave this ride right now. I'll even give you enough money for
the bus. The Springfield bus stops here at 6 am. Or... you can come home with
me and let us look after you for a while. Food, rest, quiet. No one will find
you, I promise. What's it going to be?"

Krycek blinked and shivered with chill, certain that he was caught in another of
his surreal Mulder dreams again. He looked directly into Mulder's eyes and was
shocked at the ... hope? that he saw there.


Mulder looked away, stared toward the lights of other late-night travelers
passing them by on the highway. "Call it paying a debt, if you like."

Alex's flight response wrestled with his exhaustion and pain. He was so tired
of running; he couldn't remember the last time he'd slept the night through.
He'd begun to slip; if he were honest, he'd admit that he'd lost his edge. It
went when the last of his enemies lay dead, when the last of his one-time
controllers was splattered around a gray cell somewhere distant and unmapped.
He was so far gone that he had nearly let a couple of Mick bully-boys with
delusions of adequacy take him out, only to be rescued by his dearest enemy. If
it weren't so embarrassing and if it didn't hurt quite so much, he'd laugh
himself sick.

And now that enemy was offering shelter, a quiet place to heal, sanctuary.
'Well, he reasoned fuzzily to himself as the tablets started to take hold, 'if
I'm going to die, it might as well be Mulder. At least he has good reason to
want me dead.' It was a measure of how far gone he was that this seemed like
logic to him.

"Truce?" he asked.

"Truce," Mulder agreed, relief smoothing his face into a smile. "No assault, no
lying, no stealing. You want to go, you leave. Fair enough?"

Krycek was so tired, he could only nod. He vaguely realized that he had made a
key mistake, taking codeine on top of all of that alcohol; it was knocking him
out. His eyes kept drifting shut and he felt a brief flare of instinctual
desperation which flickered out when he realized that he really didn't care if
Mulder was going to kill him. At least he didn't hurt quite so much any more.

He dimly registered Mulder fastening the seat belt around him again, then
slamming the door. A second later, Mulder was saying something as he clambered
into the driver's sleep, then Alex Krycek was sliding cold miles into dreamless

Somewhere on the Mass Pike, Alex woke up for a few moments. He shifted stiff
muscles and immediately wished that he hadn't. He couldn't move his arm and he
jerked in panic until he realized that he had a thick wool blanket tucked around
him. Ribs, head and groin all began to throb in a muted cacophony and he

"How do you feel?"

Mulder's eyes were fixed on the highway in front of them as they sped through
the night. The green dashboard lights gave the former FBI agent a pale,
demented glow and Alex felt the desperate panic rising in him again, to become
tangled with the pain from his physical injuries. He whimpered in confusion at
the rush of conflicting impulses and didn't realize he'd even made a sound.
Mulder handed him an open bottle of spring water.

"Drink that. It'll help. I can't give you any more painkillers for a while,
not with that concussion."

He drank, then gathered his wits sufficiently to ask, "Where are we going?"

Mulder smiled briefly and said, "Home."

"Oh," Alex said. "Timizzit?"

"4 am. We'll be there soon."

"Where?" Krycek asked fuzzily.


"Oh," Alex said, then handed Mulder the half-empty water bottle and went right
back to sleep.

* * * * *


Mulder smiled at how easy this had been. Finding Krycek had merely been a matter
of putting the Lone Gunmen on the case and promising them exclusive use of the
house during a prime summer weekend. Then it had been a waiting game, waiting
for Krycek to use any of his aliases, a credit card, a calling card; waiting to
hear about a one-armed man wheeling and dealing on the murkier edges of society.
And sure enough, a mere two months later, up he bobbed. And now he had him.
Finding him had been the easy part; getting him home was proving to be trouble-
free as well. But Mulder had no illusions - the real fireworks would start as
soon as he got Krycek home.

Home. Home was a hundred year old two-story gray-shingled Cape house, set low
in the dunes of Eastham, facing the sea. Home was a tall man with scars on his
belly, an iron jaw and hands that could soothe him from the darkest of
nightmares. Home was the ragged kitten cradled in those big hands, rescued from
beneath a demolished shed last autumn. Home was also the easy-going setter
puppy Skinner had accepted as payment in kind for weather-proofing a poor
family's home before the tough weather set in. Home was lying for hours on the
couch, watching the fire and listening to the wind and Walter's low voice
reading aloud to him. It was the first real home he'd had since he was twelve -
- and he was going to bring Alex Krycek, liar, thief, murderer, traitor,
collaborator, resistance fighter, spy...the man made a profession out of being
an unknown factor... into it.

He sighed and hoped that Walter hadn't had too hard a night. A sleepy tractable
Walter Skinner would definitely be an asset here.

* * * * *

Walter Skinner had had a miserable night. A night that had begun early
yesterday afternoon with a general call-out for the entire volunteer fire
department. It had rapidly escalated into a four-alarm blaze that had mobilized
fire companies from all over the Cape. He had spent the last 14 hours racing
from site to site as the wind blew the brush fire up the seashore, treating
firefighters for smoke inhalation, dressing minor burns, doing triage on one
major burn case, and trying to pump fluids into every firefighter he could find.
Sometime around 3 am, he had even taken his turn on the fire line, shoveling
earth into the fire's greedy maw, trying to choke it out before it ate another
neighbor's house, scarred another firefighter.

The tide had turned shortly after that and they had all been sent home as fresh
volunteers arrived from Hyannis and Brewster. 7 am and he was finally dragging
himself up the front stairs of the house, hoping that Fox had some coffee going.
No such luck, he was probably still asleep. Walter dropped his boots by the
door and stripped off his outer shirt, grimacing at the sooty mark it left on
the counter.

The dog came trotting in, his red fan of a tail swishing gently in cheerful
welcome. Skinner patted his head absently and opened the fridge. Only now was
he realizing how thirsty he was himself; he grabbed the orange juice and fumbled
for a glass before muttering "The hell with it," and drinking out of the carton.
He hated it whenever Mulder did that and he felt a pleasurable jab of rebellion.
He finished the carton, standing in front of the open refrigerator, then threw
it away.

Mulder's cat showed up, jumped onto the counter, then up onto the top of the
refrigerator where it sat looking expectant. "No. You were fed. Go catch a
mouse." The cat, recognizing this as the first volley of their daily battle,
merely blinked and chirped sociably at him. He ruffled its ears, then trailed
upstairs to find Fox and a shower, not necessarily in that order.

No Mulder in the bedroom. Skinner stripped, dropping his filthy clothes in the
hamper, then wrapped a towel around his waist before wandering into the
bathroom. Which was occupied.

It took his exhausted and smoked brain a few seconds to register what...*who* he
was seeing in his bathroom. When all his synapses finally connected, Skinner
thrust himself backwards into the bedroom, bounced and rolled over the bed,
snatching his gun out of the bedside table. He found himself covering a
battered, half-dressed Alex Krycek, who had been sitting slumped on top of the
toilet with his head in his hands. The bleary eyes were now fixed on Skinner
and on the unwavering weapon in his hands.
* * * * *


Two voices came floating down the hall to him-- one was a demanding roar and the
other a plaintive yelp. So much for the sleepy and acquiescent Skinner he'd been
hoping for. Dropping the blanket on the bed he'd been making, Mulder sprinted
down the hall and skidded into the bathroom.

Sleepy. Tractable. Right. Walter Skinner looked about as tractable as a brick
wall. As did the Glock he gripped in both hands, aiming the muzzle directly at
Krycek's head.

Mulder took a deep breath. "Uh, Walter... put it down, okay?"

"Mulder," his lover said coolly, "in case you hadn't noticed, Alex Krycek is in
our bathroom. Tell me how this is a good thing." The gun remained pointing
steadily at Krycek's throbbing forehead. "I admit he looks like something the
cat dragged in from the dunes, but he's still Alex Krycek. Now, give me one
good reason why I shouldn't throw him out with the rest of the garbage."

Tired but steady, Mulder reached a hand out to Skinner's arm, pushing down on
it, forcing Skinner to move his aim, however involuntarily, to the floor.
"Because I brought him here. We got in about half an hour before you did."

Skinner set the gun down on top of a wicker hamper, just beyond Krycek's reach.
He leaned against the glass door of the shower.
"You brought him here," Skinner said levelly. "May I ask why you dragged Alex
Krycek into the house and stashed him in the bathroom?"

"He's here in the bathroom because I haven't finished making the guest room bed
and because I want to get a good look at a couple of his injuries. I'd rather
have you look at them, actually; you're the one who knows what he's looking at.

"He's in the house because I went after him. He got mixed up in a small IRA
blowup down in the Catskills; the Gunmen called me yesterday afternoon while I
was writing and asked me if anything ought to get done. Considering that the
O'Keefe boys were involved - remember those cases we had involving Brady and
Connor O'Keefe? - I figured that getting him out of there was the easiest
solution. So I drove down and picked him up. They apparently hadn't heard I'd
left the Bureau because Connor and little cousin Billy looked pretty damn scared
to see me. I hardly had to beat anyone up to get to him."

Skinner stared. "So you brought a Russian ex-Consortium agent who's got
enemies in the Irish Republican Army sympathizers and likes to murder people's
relatives into my house. Wonderful."

"It's our house, Walter. I paid two-thirds, if I have to remind you." Mulder's
voice was steady. The remark was cutting, but not incendiary. "I think I've
got a say about who stays here. And you know as well as I do that he didn't
kill Scully's sister."

"Excuse me," Krycek said. "Can I have some more codeine? "

Mulder glanced at his watch. "Yeah, I guess you can handle some more Tylenol-

Knowing that he probably didn't want to know the answer, Walter Skinner asked,
"What's wrong with him?"

"Some bruised ribs, a couple of cracked ones I think, but he's breathing okay
and I don't think he's got any internal bleeding. I'd rather have you check,

A practical medical emergency delivered to him on a platter was something that
Walter Skinner found easier to assimilate, despite his exhaustion, than the
surreal possibility that Mulder had Alex Krycek, triple agent, stashed in their
bathroom. After another hard stare at Mulder, Skinner grabbed his robe off the
back of the door and belted it around himself before starting to line up first
aid supplies on the vanity.

Mulder looked nearly as relieved as he felt; his lover had shifted into "coping
with an emergency" mode. If Skinner could handle the medical end, Mulder could
handle Skinner. Skinner began easing off Krycek's shirt. Mulder heard a
"Jesus H. Christ" and a low whistle from Skinner as he began to examine the
wounded man.

They had come a long way, in a very short time, from their days at the FBI.

* * * * *


Fox Mulder, jacket and tie off, had been slouched sideways on the couch, his
long legs lying across Walter Skinner's lap, on an April evening two years
before. Both men had been putting a serious hurt into a bottle of Skinner's
best scotch after the events of that day. You couldn't have paid Fox Mulder to
believe that the Consortium would collapse on itself even a few months before
this. But internal rifts on policy and procedure among the Consortium's members,
the abandonment of their allies and their enemies, not to mention the Mulder
assassination debate which had played out for several years, had finally caused
it to implode as member turned on member. The final member assassinations had
produced a sensational set of hearings. Only today Mulder and Skinner had stood
in a packed federal courtroom as a cancer-riddled older man whose name had
finally been disclosed was sentenced to life in prison for treason. The war,
unbelievably, was over.

"I'm tired," Skinner sighed to his companion, who was idly playing with the
television remote control.

"Did you want to turn in early?" Mulder inquired.

"I don't mean that kind of tired," Skinner replied. "I'm sick and tired. I'm
tired of bullshit. I'm tired of lies, conspiracies, backstabbing, double
dealing. I'm tired of the garbage. The paperwork. The fucking Bureau one-
upsmanship. The whole damn thing. I'm not enjoying myself any more - not that
I ever was - and I'm sick of it."

Mulder sat up straight and looked at Skinner. He'd never heard this from
Skinner before, but the man appeared to be perfectly serious. In the several
years they had worked together, in the few months since they had begun seeing
each other, Mulder had never harbored any doubt that the Bureau was Walter
Skinner's life. He could see himself leaving the Bureau now that the Consortium
was down, now that he had found out what little could be learned about the
secrets in his own family, but he would never have thought it of Skinner.
Still, he didn't appear to be lying. "You mean it, don't you?"

"Yeah, I do. Mulder, I want out. I've given them my twenty years, and I want
the hell out of there. I want to go live on the beach in a shack, make
furniture, and shoot at anyone who comes to bother me. I've got enough money
coming to me to live on, especially if I sell this place." He downed the rest
of his tumbler of Scotch. "I've been thinking about it for a few weeks now,
and it's going to happen. I can have my resignation on the Director's desk at
the end of next week."

Mulder sipped thoughtfully at his drink. They had been together only a few
months, and some issues had never been addressed between them. It might be time
to raise them. "Are you serious?"

Skinner nodded. "I've never been more serious in my entire life."

"Then I only have one question for you."

"What's that?" Skinner inquired as he reached for the bottle.

"Where are we going and when do we leave?"

Skinner set his glass down firmly. "Did you say, 'we'?"


"Are *you* serious? I mean, really, Mulder?"

There was a very pleasing light coming up in Skinner's eyes and it made Mulder's
voice a little rougher than usual as he said,

"Absolutely. I've got nothing left here at the Bureau now. And I might as well
leave while I can rub the VCU's and Behavioral's respective noses in the dirt.
Looks like old Spooky was right all along. I can stay and never have this kind
of triumph again or I can go out in a blaze of glory and leave with you."

"You could write your own ticket if you stayed, Mulder. You're so hot right now
they'd give you my job if you wanted it."

"Yeah. Or I could leave, write a pile of magazine articles for the science and
paranoia journals, and hit the talk show circuit. I got a call before I left
the office today. I've been offered a book contract."

Skinner looked at Mulder with something akin to awe. "No shit."

"They want a book about my investigation into the alien coverups. I could be
speaking at sci-fi conventions for the next ten years. Do college campus tours
speaking about the government and the little gray men; they'll pay me a hefty
speaker's fee for babbling about the same stuff that used to get me kicked out
of bars. Or I can stay at the Bureau. Do I look stupid, Walter?"

The other man grinned, then dragged Mulder into his lap again. "And to think
all I was going to do was find a shack on the beach and do my woodworking," he
said meditatively nuzzling at Mulder's ear.

"You could still do the woodworking. It's just going to be a really nice beach
shack. And I think I know just where to find one."

* * *

Eastham was as close to home as Mulder cared to get. Home, as it had been
called, was a town with too many bad memories. But he had always liked Eastham,
and had played with his sister and with his friends along the beach there many
times. It was at the candy shop in Eastham that he had his first "date" many
years ago, taking a girl there for an ice cream cone. He had been all of ten,
flush with money from helping clean the attic. She had been nine, the daughter
of some summer people. The romance had lasted all of three hours, or so family
recollection went.

The old Morris place, up in the dunes, had been one of his favorite haunts.
Looking every inch an abandoned house, he and his friends went by to see if the
ghosts at the Morris place really did come out at night and dance in the dunes.
Mrs. Morris was dead these twelve years. Her children were in California now;
his mother had said that they never came back to the Cape. Two days after he
and Skinner had placed their letters of resignation on the Director's desk, he
had bundled Skinner into the car for a drive to the Cape. The Morris property
had, as Mulder recalled, a couple of ramshackle outbuildings on it. If they
were still standing, surely one could be refurbished into a carpentry shop. The
thought of fitting out the other for a place to hook up his computer and set up
shop writing hadn't escaped him.

* * *

Scully had looked at him in astonishment when he told her.

"You're resigning. You're leaving DC. You're writing a book. You're moving back
to Cape Cod. You're moving to Cape Cod where you just bought a house with
Walter Skinner. Mulder, this is more information than my brain can process at
one time."

"Gee, Scully," Mulder chuckled. "Which part was too much for you?"

"I know you want me to tell you that it's the part about you and Skinner. It's
not, Mulder. I'd suspected something like that. Give me some credit; I'm not
blind or stupid. What gets me is, I've read your reports -- and you really
think you can write a book?"

But she had been glad for him, in the end. And it was with something like
relief that she had pulled a file folder out of her desk drawer and shown him
the contents -- her own resignation paperwork.

* * * * *

Skinner dried his hands on one of the towels. "Looks like the codeine's
kicking in," he told Mulder. "Krycek's ready to sleep. He's going to hurt
like hell when he tries to sit up, though; he's got two cracked ribs. A very
minor concussion, bruises, contusions, the usual. But he's pretty worn down,
Mulder. I'd say he's exhausted, about 20 lbs underweight and he's going to have
a winner of a hangover when he wakes up."

They were back in the bathroom, having gently manhandled a semi-conscious Krycek
into bed in the guest room. Skinner had treated Krycek's wounds without a word,
unless it was to ask if something hurt and how much and how to unstrap his
prosthesis. He hadn't missed the new scars, the poorly healed ones, the
evidence of a hard life lived too fast.

"Speaking of waking up, can I take my shower and get some sleep now?" he asked

Mulder nodded and picked up the towels and washcloths they'd used. "I need one
myself. Want me to set up the coffee pot?"

"Might not be a bad idea. Right now, though, all I want to do is crawl in and
sleep for a couple of days. That brush fire job was nasty. Too many men down.
Smoke inhalation. Thought we were never going to get it under control."
Skinner was usually terse; this degree of brevity, however, was reserved for
when he really was bone tired. Or maybe it was a sign of how much Skinner was
trying *not* to say.

Mulder put an arm around his lover, kissed him quickly, and took the towels out
of the room. Skinner headed for the shower. The setter, Casey - the prior
owner's children had already named him - trotted into the bathroom to see what
was what. "Good Casey. Quiet, boy. I know it's daytime, but people are
sleeping. No barking. Go back downstairs and bother the cat."

The dog gave a small "whuff" of understanding and went trotting back downstairs
with an air of determination that made Skinner laugh. The dog had been trying
to get the better of the huge Maine Coon cat for a year; it was a low-level war,
more noise than actual damage and the participants seemed to enjoy it immensely.

Back in the bathroom, he finally got to climb into the hot shower he had been
craving since sometime late yesterday. Walter let the water pound on the back
of his neck and wash away the acrid mixture of smoke and sweat and fear from his
skin. His over-tired muscles relaxed into the warmth and he felt the adrenaline
high that had begun with the instant he recognized Alex Krycek finally seeping

Krycek. Mulder had actually brought Alex Krycek into their home and he was
behaving as if this were a good idea. Mulder had even made up the guest room -
no balconies for Krycek this time. What the hell was going on? Walter briefly
considered the possibility that he was hallucinating, but the water was growing
steadily cooler as he stood there - they needed a new water heater - and that
lent a brisk lick of reality to the entire insane incident.

Which meant that Mulder wanted him here for a reason. Skinner reviewed the
facts as he knew them to date, while toweling himself dry. One: Mulder had had
the Lone Gunmen looking for Krycek - Skinner didn't believe for an instant that
the three paranoia fiends would just happen to stumble across an IRA arms deal
on their own. Two: Mulder had gone and rescued Krycek out of the teeth of the
O'Keefes, without official sanction, support or backup - memo: Strangle Mulder
for doing anything that stupid without him. Three: Krycek was suffering from
more than a simple beating; the man was exhausted, way underweight and had a
collection of poorly tended scars that would have made a Marseilles dockworker

Skinner wandered into the bedroom and looked longingly at the bed - king-sized
flannel sheets and a down comforter caroled a siren song- but his mind worried
away at the problem like a terrier on a rat. No sleep yet, not until he knew
what the hell was going on here. Sighing, he pulled some sweats out of the
bureau and winced a little as over-strained muscles reminded him that he wasn't
a kid any more and he'd worked too damned hard last night, all night.

Going over the facts again as he dressed, Skinner was faced with two working
theories. One: Mulder knew something of what Krycek had done for him and this
was his way of repaying him. Two: Mulder had finally lost whatever was left of
his questionable sanity and had decided to open a shelter for abused and
unwanted assassins.

There was a faint but tantalizing scent of fresh-brewed coffee in the air. He
followed it downstairs, pausing beside the half-open guest room door to check on
their guest/prisoner/stray cat. Krycek was lying on his side, curled into a
near fetal position. He frowned in his sleep, as if unable to fully relax. His
hand lay outside the covers, clenching and jerking; whatever Krycek's dreams
were, they weren't pretty. Skinner pulled the door closed firmly and went
downstairs to tackle Mulder.

Mulder greeted him with a cup of black coffee and a determinedly innocuous
expression on his face. "French toast in a minute," he said and waved Walter
over to sit at the set kitchen table. Resigned to his fate, Skinner sat down
and waited for his breakfast and the bad news. After a couple of restorative
sips of coffee, he said,

"Mulder - the Donna Reed thing is *not* you. Although you do have a nice hint
of June Lockhart in there. Just tell me why you want Alex Krycek upstairs and
not in a federal lock-up. And stop *bustling*," he added irritably, pinching at
the bridge of his nose.

Mulder smiled wryly. "Busted," he agreed, then divided the french toast onto
two plates and brought them over to the table, ignoring Casey's hopeful look.
He sat across from Skinner and there was a pause while Mulder went through the
elaborate ritual with butter and maple syrup that Walter had become familiar
with in the past three years. Once everything was swimming in calories and
cholesterol, Mulder looked up and said,

"I owe him, Walter."

Ah, so it was Theory One, then. Mulder was indebted, not insane. Some comfort.
Skinner sighed and reached for his fork. They ate in silence for a time.

"You're not even going to argue with me about it?"

"What do you want me to say, Mulder? You know what he is, just as much as I do.
He's hurt you, and me, and Scully in ways that no one else has or ever could.
Yet you still want to help him. OK - you must have your reasons. You'll tell
me when you feel you can." Skinner could feel his jaw starting to clench and he
worked hard on relaxing it.

Mulder let his breath out in a whistle. "Jeez -- when the hell did you get to
be the grown-up around here, Walter?"

He shrugged and chased the last piece of toast around in his syrup.

They sat, unspeaking for a time. Skinner watched the gray Atlantic swell and
crash onto the beach below the house. Rain started to fall, churning up the sea
and darkening the sand to pewter. Mulder finally spoke.

"He was the one who kept sending all the information on the Consortium members,
Walter. He *gave* us the Smoking Man on a platter."

"I know."

Mulder looked confounded. "How?"

"I had them take prints off the packages. We found one partial thumb print on
one tape and got a pretty good full index finger from the flap of another."

Skinner wanted very badly to smirk at the sight of Fox Mulder with his mouth
hanging open in shock. Instead, he drank some more coffee.

"You had a forensics team go over MY evidence?!"

"Yes," he said simply but with relish.

"Why? Didn't you trust me?"

"Mulder - in six years of working together, when did you and Scully ever give me
the full story, unvarnished, without obfuscating, lying or omitting crucial

"That's not the point!"

"That's exactly the point. And, speaking of points, weren't we discussing our
house guest?"

"Fine. Be reasonable," Mulder snarled, but Skinner could see the gleam of humor
in his eye as Mulder realized that he had been outmaneuvered. "We'll come back
to the trust issue later," he promised.

We usually do, Walter thought with a touch of grimness. "Can we take this
somewhere more comfortable?" he asked.

They ended up on the couch in front of the fire that Mulder lit. They sat
unspeaking at opposite ends of the sofa for an entire five minutes before Mulder
sighed loudly and threw himself at Skinner. After a few breathless minutes of
pushing, prodding and kissing, they wound up with Skinner lying on his back,
Mulder draped all along his length, head tucked beneath Skinner's chin.

"So, about Krycek...?" Walter prompted, one hand stroking down Mulder's long,
muscular back.

"He gave me back my sister."

Ah. That was the true debt, Skinner thought. Fox had found his sister again;
the two were as close as he could have wanted for them. She and her family were
frequent visitors and gave his lover a kind of foundation, a stability that
nothing, *no one*, else could ever achieve for him. And Walter had to
acknowledge his own debt to Krycek; Samantha was as much his sister now, teasing
and loving him, accepting his place in her brother's life without a word.

"Damn," he whispered into Mulder's hair, giving in.


"How long is he staying with us, Mulder?" He could feel Mulder's smile against
the skin of his throat.

"I don't know, Walter. He's pretty beat up. Maybe a couple of weeks?"

Walter sighed and shifted Mulder's weight slightly. "Fine," he grumbled. "But
we are not opening a Home for Wayward Spies, got it? No more strays."

"Hey! Who brought home the cat? And the dog?"

"Neither of whom are wanted by the FBI nor the O'Keefes. Speaking of which..."

"The FBI got them last night - Langly and Byers dropped a dime on them as soon
as I got Krycek out of there. And, before you ask, no one followed us and no
one got our plate number. I had it blacked out until I was over the
Connecticut border."

Skinner sighed and tried to count the number of felonies his lover had committed
last night, then gave up. "So the IRA isn't going to be showing up here any
time soon, nor our old friends from the FBI...is anyone else after him?"

"Not that the Gunmen could tell."

"Oh good. We don't have enough spare rooms."

Mulder leaned up and stared down into Skinner's face.

"You're taking this rather well," he accused.

Skinner only smiled and pulled Mulder back down onto his chest again. He was
feeling tired and warm and well-fed and loved, and he wanted to enjoy the
sensation. No, he had to be honest with himself; he wanted to store up this
memory against the lonely time he could see just ahead, just around the curve.

Mulder and Krycek had always been circling around one another, always drawn
together but unable to complete the circuit that whispered and sung between
them. All those years ago, Skinner could see it, Mulder's fascination with his
younger partner. It had never dimmed, not even through the betrayals, the
reverses, the revelations. And now, Krycek was upstairs, hurt and helpless,
claws sheathed and fangs hidden. The man who had given Mulder all that he had
ever wanted, revenge and redemption, lay sleeping under his roof and all Skinner
could do was tighten his hold on the man who was slipping away as surely as the
rain drops ran down the windows.

After a time, they slept.

* * *

When Krycek came downstairs, early in the afternoon, the first thing he saw was
an oak plank coffee table, yesterday's paper and a copy of "Discover" with
Mulder's name on the cover tossed carelessly on it. There was a paperback copy
of "The Unsuspected Aliens", Mulder's second book, peeking out from under a
tsack of Enquirers. An end table which matched the coffee table caught Krycek's

There was a group of framed photos grouped on it. A large silver frame on the
table held a Christmas photograph of Samantha Mulder Cummings, her husband, and
their twins, Jessica and Courtney, familiar to him from his occasional private
surveillance activities. A smaller photograph on the table showed Mulder and
Skinner with the girls. Mulder and Skinner, Krycek thought. Thinking was a
feat he was barely capable of handling, hurting and hungover, but he knew he was
missing something.

Mulder and Skinner?

The pain engendered by thinking nearly sent Krycek back to bed, but the smell of
coffee in the kitchen compelled him to push onward. Then he saw the living room
couch. Skinner was still draped across the couch, sprawling on it comfortably,
with Fox Mulder curled against his chest. There - that was what hadn't
registered. Krycek blinked twice and pursed his lips, leaning against the

When had Mulder and Skinner become lovers? He had been aware that Skinner had
retired after the Consortium hearings, had known that Mulder had quit to take up
writing; how had he missed this? His grapevine wasn't what it had been once,
any more than his reflexes were what they had been.

He moved silently through the living room - at least he still had that skill -
and on into the kitchen. Finding a stoneware mug, he poured himself coffee and
reviewed the food. After some consideration, he decided on a bagel as the least
threatening to his delicate condition. The dog came over, sniffed his hand,
licked it happily. The cat glowered from the top of the refrigerator, a looming
feline monstrosity with bright eyes. Huge, luminous greenish eyes, making him
think of Mulder again. The cat had to be Mulder's. Cat and human could not be
more like one another.

So Mulder and Skinner were lovers. A bit of a surprise, that. And a
disappointment. Why had Mulder rescued him? Once, when they were partners,
Krycek recalled, there had been the intriguing possibility of claiming Mulder
for himself. The Consortium had moved too quickly on Scully, destroying that
dream. That Mulder had still had feelings for him he knew only too well;
Mulder's harassment of him had always had a heavily sexual element to it.

A few years ago, when he had led Mulder to the UFO pilot, there had been a
moment... the only time he had ever had the chance to kiss Mulder. The look on
Mulder's face had told him everything then; the feelings were still there.
Last night, when Mulder had rescued him from the O'Keefes, he had allowed
himself to imagine that those feelings might have had something to do with the
rescue effort. But Skinner and Mulder looked far too settled, far too
comfortable, for that to be likely - and it was plain that Skinner didn't relish
Krycek's presence in what was obviously their home.

Propping his feet up on one of the other kitchen chairs in a vain attempt to
ease his aching ribs, Krycek ate slowly, nursed his coffee and watched the rain
through the kitchen window. If he could manage it, a walk on the beach might be
in order later. There was no better way to think. And, no matter how much it
hurt, thinking seemed to be required now.

* * *

The cat stepping on his face wakened Skinner. He growled at it, took a half-
hearted swipe and then blinked up at the ceiling, trying to remember why they
were sacked out on the couch. Memory gradually seeped back in and he shifted,
trying to wake the man who still drowsed against him.

"Mulder... we'd better wake up...."

Mulder shifted. "Why? I'm comfortable."

"Yeah, but it's two o'clock. And we ought to check on Krycek." Skinner
wriggled beneath Mulder emphatically to provoke movement. "Besides, Casey
probably wants to go out."

"I already let the dog out."

The voice came from the armchair across the room. Krycek was slouched in it
with a plastic bag of ice against his right side, reading a section of the
Boston Globe. A mug was balanced on the chair's arm.

"I made more coffee if you want any. Mulder, you must have made that last pot.
Your coffee sucked when we were partners and it hasn't improved much yet."

"Gee, thanks, Alex." Mulder sat upright and stretched. "Still raining?"

"No, it stopped about half an hour ago."

Skinner drew himself up slowly, grimacing as sore muscles complained. He was
trying hard to ignore the prickle of unease he felt at the idea that he and
Mulder had been sleeping peacefully with Alex Krycek sitting across the room,
watching them.

"Krycek, you ought to be back in bed. I'd like to check your temperature, too."
Skinner got up and headed for the stairs.

Alex Krycek, too bewildered by any show of concern from such an unlikely
direction, made no reply as Skinner left the room. Mulder still sat on the
sofa, blinking. He was rumpled and adorable looking and Alex felt something
twist inside himself. Mulder ran a hand through his hair and looked up to catch
Krycek watching him.


"How long have you two been an item?"

Unfazed by the other man's bluntness, Mulder said,

"Don't ever let Walter hear you say that. I think that he thinks people might
not know. Hell, the whole town knows it. And it's not like we don't live near
Provincetown or anything.

"How long? Pushing three years now. We'd started seeing each other just before
the hearings started. By the time they ended, Walter decided he wanted to take
his twenty and retire. And I wasn't ready to stay in DC without him. So here
we are. He's got his woodshop, I write; it works for us."

"Wood shop?"

"Yeah. Walter decided to take an old hobby of his into full time work. He does
furniture, some house carpentry, odd jobs around town. Mostly furniture,
though. He did the tables in here, and the kitchen set. There are a couple of
outbuildings here; one was a large shed of some sort, and one was a kitchen.
Walter made the shed over into a woodworking studio and I do my writing out in
the old kitchen."

"Jesus. The Boy Wonder of the FBI and his boss turn into artists' colony
residents. Guess I'll have to take up pottery if I stay here."

"No, but basket weaving's in big demand right now, and so is tole painting."

Krycek grinned and was half-surprised when Mulder smiled back, eyes gleaming.
Had they ever been this relaxed with one another? He didn't think so.

"You're in love with him?" Alex was surprised to hear the words coming out of
his own mouth. It had to be the drugs.

Mulder didn't seem fazed by the question, though. "God, what a question.
Absolutely. I wasn't sure until the day he told me he was retiring. But when I
realized that he really *could* throw it out the window and walk away from the
Bureau... well, I figured that I needed to be with Walter a lot more than I
needed to be with the FBI. So I handed my resignation in the same day he filed
his retirement papers. Then we came up here and bought the house. I knew this
place when I was a kid."

"So how did Scully take the news?"

"Which news? That I was leaving or that Walter and I were running away
together? She was a lot happier about one than the other... but she finally did
accept that forensic work really is her best thing. She's a medical examiner in
Philly now; teaches part-time at Penn. Her husband's a professor of psychiatric
medicine at Penn. Nice guy; I like him. They came up at Easter and I think
they're coming for Christmas."

"Fox Mulder goes domestic. I can't believe it. You know, Mulder... back when
we were partners... did you ever wonder..."

"Constantly," Mulder chuckled as he flipped through the television listings.
"You wanted me bad, Alex. I knew damn well that you were drooling on the floor
every time I turned around."

"I was drooling? Hell, I caught you checking me out enough times, even with
that geek haircut I had back then. Come on - that time in Hong Kong? You could
have had a piece of me faster than McDonald's sells burgers and you knew it. So
why didn't you ever move on it?"

"Why didn't *you*, Alex? You had plenty of chances, and the only times you ever
got close to trying were in Tunguska and that night in my apartment when you
actually kissed me. Not great examples of romantic timing. Now, why I didn't
go after you - you wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Try me."

"Nope. Can't do it. You'd never buy it."

"What are you gonna do, Mulder - claim you were a virgin?" Krycek could feel his
mouth hanging open.

"Took the words right out of my mouth."

"Liar." But Mulder, unbelievably, was blushing.

"I said you wouldn't believe me, Alex." He had obviously had enough of playing
'True Confessions' for a time. He ran his hands through his hair again, then
stood up and asked,

"How do you feel?"

Surprised again, Krycek answered honestly. "I feel like hell."

"You look like it, Krycek." Alex started at the sound of Skinner's voice,
jerking his gaze from Mulder's. The big man moved surprisingly quietly. He had
dressed in jeans and a navy river driver's shirt that seemed to emphasize the
muscles in his arms and chest. His expression was neutral and Alex couldn't
tell how much, if any, of their conversation he had heard. Mulder smiled
gently, touched Alex once on the shoulder, then rubbed against Walter on the way
out of the room.

Krycek was left to Walter Skinner's tender mercies. "Let's get you upstairs."
He slipped an arm under Krycek's good shoulder and walked him slowly back up to
the guest room. Once there, Skinner had him sit on the bed. At Skinner's terse
direction, he slowly took off his filthy shirt and allowed his sore ribs to be
poked and prodded, then his head.

"You weren't actually concussed. But I'll bet you have a hell of a hangover;
you smelled like a brewery this morning."

Krycek nodded, then decided to stop. The Tylenol had helped with the headache
but he still felt fragile. And confused. If he had been asked, only yesterday,
he would have said that Walter Skinner was high on the list of "Those Who Most
Wanted to Kick the Shit Out of Alex Krycek" - definitely in the top five.

Still pondering, he pursed his lips around the thermometer Skinner had shoved
into his mouth. Skinner slid a blood pressure cuff around his upper arm. He
considered further as the cuff squeezed, then loosened with a hiss.

He wondered vaguely if Skinner knew how much he had wanted Mulder, once upon a
time. How he had fantasized about that body, those eyes, that voice speaking
softly to him, only to him. Definitely not, he decided. If Skinner had known,
Krycek had no doubt that he would be occupying a damp hole somewhere out in the

Skinner was putting away his equipment. Krycek started to shrug back into his
shirt. Skinner reached an impersonal hand and took it away from him. He held
out a fresh flannel shirt. Alex took it and slowly began to pull it on. Skiner
reached over to help ease it back over his shoulders, looming over him. There
was a warm, spicy scent this close to Skinner's body and Krycek felt his
dizziness rising again. "So, doc, will I live?" he tried for an impudent,
light tone.

Skinner smiled down at him as he straightened the collar. "If you're a good boy
and do everything I tell you." For some reason, something in that smile made
Krycek shiver.

Everything had really gone to hell the moment Mulder had shown up. Before then,
it had been a blissfully simple equation - Alex Krycek snarling and snapping his
way through a hostile world. Not bright, not very pleasant, but it was all he
had come to expect. In some ways, he knew it was what he deserved. The gun
Skinner had pulled on him this morning had been expected, familiar, almost a
welcome relief in what had become a bewildering scenario. But all hope of a
return to SOP had faded when Mulder had gotten Skinner to patch him up. Then,
all the cozy domesticity he had witnessed ... he shook his head, trying to clear

"Head still hurt?" Skinner asked, holding out a small glass of something amber.

"A bit," Krycek admitted, taking the glass and sniffing it. Scotch. He looked
up to see Skinner watching him. "What?"

"Let's just say that this is not what I expected," Skinner said with a wry twist
to his lips.

"I'll drink to that," Krycek said fervently. They solemnly raised their glasses
to one another, then drank. Krycek felt the excellent single malt rolling
through him, spreading warmth and pushing back that fragile feeling.

"So, what happens to me now?"

"Now?" Skinner repeated. "Nothing. Whatever you want. You eat and sleep a
lot. Heal."

"Why are you doing this?" Krycek couldn't help the bewildered whine that crept
into his voice. The scotch must be hitting him, he thought.

"Because Mulder wants it," Skinner said simply.

Shortly after that, Skinner had taken away the glass and eased Krycek back into
bed. He had pulled the covers over the younger man, proppsed a pillow against
the damaged ribs and left without saying another word.

* * *


The next few days were a codeine blur to Krycek. His injuries sapped whatever
remaining strength he had and he spent most of his time asleep. Mulder would
awaken him and he would dress in borrowed clothing. Then Skinner would check
him over and he would stagger down to eat whatever was put in front of him.
Then he would retire to the couch to read, eyes flickering over the same page
again and again before falling asleep there. Or, if the weather were mild
enough, he would wrap up in a borrowed parka and sit for hours on the front
porch, staring at the sea.

The evenings were quiet, spent watching TV, reading, listening to music. Their
conversation was light, studiously avoiding any potentially explosive topics.
Alex frequently found himself falling into reveries, staring into the driftwood
fire or watching Mulder's hand meditatively stroking Maxie's fur. When
startled out of them, he could never remember what he had been thinking.

Mulder and Skinner were surprisingly restful, non intrusive companions, coming
and going in regular patterns like the tide. They gave him space and quiet,
demanding nothing from him. More than once he had been awakened by one of them
tucking a blanket around him, or removing the book from his lax fingers. More
disturbing were the times that he awakened to find traces of their care. He
took it as simply more proof that he had lost whatever edge he had once had that
he could sleep through someone *touching* him.

Skinner was frequently gone during the day doing his odd-job carpentry in the
towns up and down the Upper Cape. Mulder spent most of his time writing, or
staring into space and avoiding writing. Krycek quickly grew familiar with
Mulder's work habits, they weren't so different from his work habits at the
Bureau. Two hours of time-wasting followed by six hours of intense
productivity. Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, he usually remembered
to eat lunch; when he did, he fed Krycek too.

If Skinner were working at home that day, meals were more regular. Alex was
amused to discover that Skinner was the more concerned with making certain that
Krycek ate; he had even politely inquired as to Krycek's favorite foods. When
they began appearing at breakfast and dinner, Alex felt vaguely guilty for
merely tossing out some names. The man had gone to some trouble for him, but
how to explain that he didn't much care what he ate? That nothing had much
savor any more? That without the constant low-level headache, the ache in his
ribs, the tenderness in his groin, that without these, he wouldn't have been
certain that he were awake?

It was an odd sensation, being taken care of. Swallowing the vitamin tablets
handed to him, allowing his temperature to be taken, gentle hands taping his
ribs, impersonal hands helping him shower. It was unsettling to be the focus of
so much politely distanced concern and it made him sullen and snappish. Except
at night.

At night, the concern was no longer distanced and he hung onto it desperately.
The nightmares banished all pride, all caution, all possibility of sleep. It
was the same story every night. He went to bed when his hosts did, around
midnight. Within two hours, he always found himself bolt upright, throat hoarse
from screaming and face stinging from the slaps needed to bring him out of it.
The worst of it was, he could never remember what he had dreamed - the terror
was nameless, faceless, limitless.

No - the worst of it was that it was Mulder who woke him. Mulder who saw him
screaming and gasping, tears pouring down his face. Mulder who held him until
the shaking stopped, who never said a word about the episodes in the daylight.
Mulder who never said a word at night, but who lightly kissed his forehead as he
left him, soothed into silence. Who never knew that Alex lay, unsleeping,
staring at the shadows on the ceiling until dawn.

So Alex caught up on his sleep during the day and tried hard not to notice the
dark circles under Mulder's eyes.

One night it was Skinner who brought him out of it. For a wonder, he awoke
without his own hoarse screams grating in his ears. He swallowed dryly and
stared at Walter Skinner, who loomed among the other shadows, real and imagined,
in his room.

"You were dreaming again. I happened to hear you before you could really get
going." He stood beside the bed, wrapped in an old flannel robe. Without his
glasses, he seemed both more human and more remote.

"Good. Mulder could use one night's uninterrupted sleep," Alex said and wiped
the sweat from his face on the sheet.

"Do you remember what you were dreaming about?" The voice, cool, interested but
not pressing, soothed him like water.

"No. I never do. It's all dark. Nothing to see..." his voice trailed off.
After a moment, Alex said slowly,

"You know, when I was on the run, I never had nightmares? All those years - I
never had a single bad dream. Slept like a baby any time I could. I only get
them when I'm not in danger. Like there's some conservation of horror in my
life. If there's enough on the outside, the shit inside takes a break. Here's
the punch line, Skinner - you'll like the irony - it's only when I'm somewhere
safe that I can't sleep." He smiled bitterly up at Walter Skinner, expecting
him to share the joke.

Those dark eyes were unreadable in the moonlit room. Then Skinner flipped back
the covers. "Get up."

Krycek looked at him, uncomprehending. Skinner put one hand on Krycek's bare
shoulder. "Come on, get up."

Without understanding, Krycek slid out of bed, shivering in his borrowed shorts.
Skinner's hand propelled him out of his room, down the hall and into the master

"Skinner, what's going on here?"

"I'm going to help you get a night's sleep, Alex," the deep voice told him. The
hand on his shoulder pushed him gently toward the large bed. He could see
Mulder curled asleep on the far side of the bed, burrowed under the comforter.

Without understanding, Krycek allowed Skinner to push him down onto the bed. At
Skinner's shove, he slid over, under the comforter, closer to Mulder. Then he
lay down next to Krycek, not touching him, but cowing him with the sense of his
strength and mass. The warm flannel against his chilled and sweat-soaked skin
made him shiver.

That deep voice rumbled in his ear. "You're now in the most dangerous place in
the world, Krycek. You're in between me and Mulder. You ought to be able to
sleep just fine here...just fine. Pleasant dreams."

Then the comforter was pulled up to his chin and he listened to the man beside
him settling, pushing the pillow into a better position, sighing as the warmth
gathered him close.

Walter Skinner, a man he had beaten and robbed, lay beside him. Fox Mulder, the
man he had betrayed and beaten, lied to and loved, lay beside him. If he
stretched out one hand toward him, Skinner would know in an instant. Mulder's
crisp fragrance and Skinner's spicy scent wrapped around him, making his head
swim. Best to close his eyes until the dizziness passed. Within moments, he
was asleep.

Somewhere deep in the night, Krycek awoke. No terror, no screaming, no
adrenaline rush, just a gentle slide into a warm wakefulness. He was curled on
his side, the soft sheets and heavy comforter a sheer pleasure, something solid
and warm at his back. He dimly recognized that it had been the soothing touch of
fingers brushing across his forehead that had awakened him. He opened his eyes
and met Mulder's questioning gaze from across the pillow.


"Skinner's idea," he whispered back. He tipped his head slightly, mutely asking
for that soothing touch again. Mulder's fingers brushed through his hair again
and he sighed in pleasure. "When was the last time anyone touched me with
kindness?" he thought and was appalled when his eyes filled.

"Alex?" Mulder asked, whisper deep with concern. There was no way Krycek could
explain what was going on in his head; fear, gratitude, loneliness, longing,
affection, despair. He could only slide a few inches forward and kiss Fox
Mulder. Gently, sweetly, the way he had always wanted to kiss him. Well, *one*
of the ways he had wanted to kiss him.

After a startled moment, Mulder kissed him back, long fingers threaded through
his too- long hair, curving gently around his skull. He wished he could pull
Mulder closer to him, but he was lying on his arm. So he settled for licking
and nibbling at that tender bottom lip until that dark, sweet mouth opened for
him. Lost in the taste, the feel of Fox Mulder's kiss, Krycek never even
noticed the shifting weight behind him. He never felt the bed dip as Skinner
leaned up on one arm and took in what was happening beside him.

The first hint Krycek had that Skinner wasn't safely asleep and oblivious was
the large hand that closed over his left shoulder. A slight tightening of those
fingers, then he was pushed onto his back. Mind blank, he could only stare into
the shadowed face above him.

"Walter..." Mulder started to say miserably.

"Shut up," Skinner snarled, then leaned across Krycek to kiss his lover

Krycek wasn't certain whether he was gasping due to fear or the mass of man that
was pinning him to the mattress. Or was it the sheer hunger that he saw above

Skinner broke their clinch and leaned back. Mulder's eyes were dazed and his
mouth swollen. Smiling grimly at the evidence of his skill, Skinner turned his
attention to the smaller man still partially pinned beneath him.

"I told you this was a dangerous place, Krycek. But you just had to push,
didn't you?"

Krycek gasped, trying to draw breath to deny or defend himself. His ribs ached
where Skinner pressed against him. The voice growling in his ear shivered
through him and he couldn't even bring up his arm to defend himself. 'Great,'
he thought, 'one stolen kiss is going to do what years of lying, double-dealing
and murder couldn't - I'm going to die.' He closed his eyes in sheer irritation
at himself. The feel of Skinner's mouth covering his own shocked them open

This was a kiss of domination; Skinner was not brutal, but he was implacable.
Alex never had a chance of resisting. Large hands came up to hold his head
still and Skinner's tongue forced it way past his still stuttering lips. The
sweet taste of Mulder's mouth was burnt up in the sheer power of Skinner's kiss.
Without warning, all of Krycek's defenses went down; he found himself clutching
hard at the muscled arms that held him pinned and moaning with need. Burning -he
was burning up and it felt so good after the days of numbness, the months and
years of cool detachment.

Skinner pulled away suddenly and he whimpered, not caring how needy it sounded.

"Damn! I forgot about your ribs."

"The hell with my ribs!" Krycek groaned and tried to pull Skinner's head back
down. The larger man resisted, catching hold of Krycek's wrist and pressing it
back down onto the bed.

"No, Alex. We're not going to let you hurt yourself and we're not going to do
it for you."

Skinner ran his hand down Mulder's arm until he came to the hand; squeezing it
once in reassurance, he placed Mulder's hand on Krycek's. Even as Mulder looked
at his lover in complete bewilderment, his fingers laced with those of his
former partner. The hand in his trembled; Mulder turned his attention to Alex,
lying there on the knife-edge. This time, he licked and nibbled until he was
allowed inside that mobile mouth.

Alex Krycek tasted of the sweet smoke of a driftwood fire; all the colors of
need sparkled in his hungry kiss. Mulder drank him in, trying to ignore the
sheer relief that twined throughout his growing desire. Finally, he had this
man in his bed; perhaps he could uproot him from the dark places in his soul

He felt Krycek stiffen beneath him, body going rigid. When he looked up, he saw
Walter running his hand gently up and down the left side of Krycek's body. He
watched in fascination as that large brown hand skimmed up Krycek's smooth
chest, over the strapping tape, gliding up the strong column of his throat to
slide down the shoulder and down the ruined arm to brush across the scar tissue
before reversing its direction and beginning the circuit again.

Krycek's eyes were fixed desperately on Skinner's face. "Don't," he whispered,
moving restlessly between them.

"Shh," Skinner said and repeated the caress with the barest brush of his
fingertips. Mulder found his hand mirroring Skinner's touch; as his lover's
hand skimmed up the left side of Krycek's heaving chest, his glided up the right
side. Again and again, they mapped out twin routes across his torso. Krycek's
breath shuddered out as broad blunt fingers and long cool fingers circled his
flat nipples. His skin was smooth and beautiful and it shimmered in the pale
moonlight. Then he went rigid again and Mulder looked up from his fascinated

Skinner was nuzzling the point of Alex's shoulder, gentle kisses and licks,
small bites that raised gooseflesh. And he was sliding lower, always coming
closer to that ruined flesh, the ugly truncation of Alex Krycek's beautiful,
abused body. Skinner's big hand was rubbing in comforting, restraining circles
on Krycek's belly.

Krycek's moaning became more desperate than aroused. Mulder put a hand on
Skinner's jaw and gently pulled his head up. Their eyes met. The calculating,
cruel light of seduction that Mulder saw there took him aback.

"Go easy on him, Walter," he whispered and watched as that cold light went out
and the man he knew and loved returned. Skinner kissed Krycek's panting mouth
gently, apologetically, soothing him with fingers stroking through his hair,
caressing his face.

Reassured, Mulder let his hands slip down Krycek' torso, delighting in the
silken smoothness beneath his fingers. The occasional ridge of a scar was no
deterrent; it only emphasized the sleek skin beneath his hands. His hands
caught on the sharp hipbones, thumbs slipping beneath the loose flannel boxers
he had lent Krycek for sleepwear. The hard rise of Krycek's cock was visible
beneath the cloth. Krycek's hand fumbled then seized on Mulder's thigh,
stroking and squeezing with a tactile entreaty that Mulder couldn't deny.

He slowly slid the boxer shorts down Krycek's hips, easing them over the jut of
his straining cock, then away. Krycek shimmied, working them down his own legs
and kicking them away. His energetic squirms had caught Skinner's attention and
the dark-eyed man leaned up to survey the length of Krycek's body laid out in
silver between them. He and Mulder looked into each other's eyes and grinned in
pure animal appetite.

"Jesus, you're beautiful, Alex," one of them whispered, then their hands began
caressing him from shoulder to thigh.

Those hands were burning him, skimming over him, never touching where he needed
them. Mouths devoured him, tearing at his rational cool persona, leaving him
naked and alone at the center. Ah, this was cruelty and he couldn't, wouldn't
lift a hand to stop it. Let Mulder have his pound of flesh; he was owed.
Skinner - he ran his hand over the raised scars on the big man's abdomen. Once
he had beaten and kicked Skinner, aiming for those scars, those points of
vulnerability. He owed Skinner, too; let him take what he wanted. He had no
more use for himself.

He was gently turned, first to his side, then to his stomach. A large hand
cushioned and braced his cracked ribs and he was distantly grateful that no
minor aches would be allowed to distract him from the storm of sensations. Then
those hands and mouths were back, caressing and stroking. Mulder's mouth, he
recognized it now, was nipping across his shoulders, tongue soothing the welts
he was leaving. Alex's back arched as Skinner's teeth counted coup down his
spine, the hot breath of that mouth sending his own sweat trickling down his

His hand fumbled out, searching for something to anchor himself to. All he
found was Skinner's leg, muscles like iron beneath his flexing fingers. He slid
his hand up and down, not caressing but exploring the solidity, the sparse hair,
the stolid reality of him. Alex knew now that, if he were ever struck blind, he
would always be able to identify this man in this way. He almost grinned at the
absurd picture of himself as a street beggar, running blind fingers up and down
a multitude of legs until he found ... the fantasy blew away with a gasp. A hot
tongue was running up and down the crack of his ass. The sharpness of teeth
along the curve of his buttock made all of his muscles clench.

The leg under his hand suddenly slid away as Skinner moved down the bed. His
legs were pushed apart and he was even more vulnerable, waiting. The scrape of
night beard along the inside of his thighs made Alex gasp and throw up his head.
His face was immediately seized by Mulder and he was dissolving in the laser
focus of Mulder's kiss, fist knotting in the sheet. The shocking first touch of
Skinner's tongue to his asshole almost caused him to convulse, pulling painfully
on his ribs. Mulder threw a leg across him and Skinner's large hands held his
hips down, elbows locking his thighs open, leaving him exposed.

Mulder recaptured his head and pressed a gentle kiss onto his mouth just as
Skinner's tongue began to gently lap at him again. He moaned and began
trembling. Mulder nuzzled his way across Alex's cheek to his left ear and he
began lightly tonguing it, unknowingly mimicking his lover's motions. Drowning
in the sensations, Alex could no longer tell them apart. The two men were
connected somehow, using his body to communicate, telling each other the things
they could never say aloud. Skinner's tongue pierced him and he could only
moan. Mulder's hand reached above and across him and he threaded his fingers
through Alex's, allowing him to grip as hard as he needed. His lips moved
against Alex's temple, whispering and slick with sweat. The words were kind and
gentle and impossible t o hear as Alex writhed and moaned.

A cool, slick finger entered him and he went rigid. Neither man moved until he
slowly relaxed. Then Skinner resumed slowly stroking gel into him and Mulder
kept caressing and kissing him. His cock was digging into the mattress and it
hurt but he felt no urgency about relieving the pain. He felt a dim trust that
his two tormentors would strip away that pain, too, as they had inflicted and
taken away every other sensation.

Then Skinner slid back up along Alex's trembling length and rumbled, "Who do you
want, Krycek?"

It took a few moments for the meaning of the soft words to penetrate. Was this
a trick question? Two hands stroked up and down his back, waiting for his

"Mulder," he gasped. "Please..."

"Ok, Alex. Hang on..." Mulder sounded breathless. There was the sound of a
drawer being fumbled open, then a tearing noise, which he vaguely identified as
a condom being unwrapped. Careful Skinner, he thought and wanted to smile but
couldn't remember how. Bodies shifted around him and he spread his legs wider,
hoping for a solid weight to settle on his back and anchor him within his body.

"Mulder - wait. His ribs can't take it like that." A warm, implacable hand
sliding under his right shoulder, pushing him up onto his left side. He
whimpered in protest and Skinner's hand came up to cup his face, a broad thumb
against his complaining lips.

"I told you, Alex, we won't hurt you, whether you want us to or not."

Bastard, thought Krycek, without heat. You should have just shot me -it would
have been kinder. Look at me, begging for you to touch me again, praying that
Mulder will slide into me and never leave. Finally knowing just how big the
dark and empty spaces are; and nothing to fill them but the crumbs you two have
thrown me from your table. You should have just shot me.

Then Mulder was spooned up behind him, a long thigh thrust between his own and a
hard length forcing its way into him. He was filled with Mulder's heat and
strength and he was still so empty...

"Skinner," he rasped, hand slipping down to the man's hip, pulling him up.
Skinner silently slid up until Alex could pillow his head on one hard thigh.
His eyes slid up until he met Skinner's gaze. Then Skinner nodded and Alex
dropped his attention to the heavy, purple cock that waited for him. Sliding it
into his mouth was a simple pleasure, uncomplicated in the sea of sensations in
which he was drowning. Alex barely had time to register the salt-bitter musk
and solid silk of him before he felt Mulder slide all the way home and lightly
brush his prostate. It took all his training to neither cry out nor bite down
as flashes of light crossed his vision. One of Skinner's hands came down to
clasp the side of his head, fingers threading into the dark hair.

"Alex," Mulder whispered and began to move gently within him. Skinner stayed
stock still, so Alex let Mulder's movements rock him slightly up and down
Skinner's length. He fondled the heavy balls that were already drawn up tight
against his body, then he slipped his hand up to trace the scars left by
shrapnel and gunshot. The hard muscles under his fingers trembled slightly and
he knew the big man was close, so close.

Mulder was moving faster now, fingers digging into Krycek's hip, and it was
good, so good. There were no more empty spaces within him. He was anchored and
warm, burning and filled. He wanted nothing more. Then Mulder's hand slipped
down to stroke his cock and the world disappeared in a sheet of flame. He would
have cried out if Skinner hadn't been filling his throat, his come pumping out
hot and silent, like his own. A few more strokes and Mulder cried out and went
rigid within him, teeth scraping against Krycek's shoulder.

He didn't know how long they all lay there, sweat turning icy on their skins,
slowly slipping away from one another. His head was still pillowed on Skinner's
thigh, Skinner's hand rhythmically stroking his hair. Skinner himself was
slumped against the headboard. Mulder had rolled onto his back behind him, but
his hand was also patting Krycek's hair, occasionally tangling with Skinner's.

After making one or two abortive tries, Skinner slid Alex's head away and
clambered to his feet. A little unsteady, he made it to the bathroom and wrung
out a couple of washcloths in warm water. Then he filled a glass with cool
water, grabbed a towel and staggered back into the bedroom. He tended to Mulder
first, disposing of the condom and wiping him down, then giving him the dry
towel. Mulder smiled his thanks and touched his hand.

Krycek was still lying where he'd left him and Skinner wondered if the man had
passed out. He gently wiped away the extra gel and his own semen, then gently
pushed him onto his back and reached for the towel Mulder passed him. He ran
the towel lightly across the pale skin and was concerned to see a fine tremor.
Krycek was shivering - it wouldn't do to have him get chilled. Skinner looked
up to tell him to slide under the covers; the man was crying. Tears were
cutting silvery streaks into the hair at his temples. Strangest of all was his
total lack of expression. Eyes open, staring at the ceiling with tears pouring
down. Skinner tapped Mulder and made him take his arm from over his eyes before
silently pointing to Krycek.

Post-coital haze was blown away from Mulder's expression in an instant. He sat
up and tapped Krycek on the shoulder.


"What?" Krycek asked in a perfectly controlled, normal voice.

"Are you all right?"

"Oh yeah, Mulder, I'm fine. It was great. Thanks." Chilling, those words, so
calm and clipped, and the tears still sheeting down, unnoted.

"Then why are you crying, Krycek?" Skinner finally asked.

The assassin's eyebrow's knit in a puzzled frown. "What are you talking about?"

Skinner drew one finger across one of Krycek's tear-stained cheeks and held it
up, glinting in the moonlight.

"Mulder?" Krycek looked to Mulder automatically, confusion and fear seeking

"Let's get you warm, Alex. We'll worry about it later, all right?"

And stranger still, Krycek allowing himself to be tucked under the comforter,
passive as a small child, those silent tears still flowing. Mulder brought
Krycek's head down to rest on his own shoulder. Skinner slid back into bed
behind Krycek and pressed up against the shivering back. Krycek gave a small
sigh of animal contentment as he burrowed into the warmth on either side of him
but didn't speak again.

Mulder met Skinner's concerned gaze with a small shrug and a raised eyebrow. He
had no idea what was going on either but didn't seem unduly worried. So Skinner
merely mouthed the words "Love you," to Mulder and settled down to let his
exhaustion take him, one hand on Krycek's bony hip.

Krycek, lying there between them, wondered how he would die now. Until this
night, he had always assumed that it would involve a bullet - perhaps a lucky
shot or a careless move on his part and he would have found his instant
retirement plan. He regretted it.
Before this night, at least, he would have remained himself as he died.

Now, between them, Mulder and Skinner had completely annihilated anything he had
been used to calling 'Alex Krycek'. What was left? The empty spaces inside
seemed so much larger now. What was left?

* * * * *


The light streaming in through the curtains roused Mulder more or less abruptly.
He shook his head, hoping to clear cobwebs, and tried focusing his eyes. There
was Alex...and Walter...and...oh, shit. Either he was recalling one hell of a
dream or the three of them had...coffee. That was it; he needed coffee. He
slid out of bed carefully, trying not to wake either of the other two men, and
fumbled for his robe. He grabbed his reading glasses as well; maybe the paper
was outside. If it were, he could try waking up without having to do any of
his own thinking.

Too bad if Krycek didn't like his coffee-making skills; they served him quite
well enough, and Walter, if he didn't like Mulder's coffee, was too kind to
complain. Alex, on the other hand, could reasonably be counted on to bitch at
anything Mulder did. In some perverse way, it was one of the Rat's more
endearing habits. The coffee was smelling great, anyway; why didn't someone
market coffee aftershave? He poured out a mug of the coffee, dragged it and
himself to the kitchen table, and sat down for the morning pet onslaught.

Mulder heard footsteps. He looked up from his coffee and saw Walter, also
robed, coming into the kitchen to Casey's delight. "You're up early," he
observed. "The coffee smells wonderful." He scrounged in the cupboard for a
mug. "Krycek is still dead to the world. He'll probably be out for a few more

"Walter... can we talk?"

Skinner seated himself across from Mulder. "Uh, oh. What's the matter?"

"Last night."

"Oh." A pause. "What about it?" casually asked over the coffee mug.

"Did I have a really wild dream, Walter, or did we... uh..."

"Did we both wind up fucking Alex Krycek senseless? As I recall, yes. At
least, I was doing something like that. I'm fairly certain you were, too." He
sipped at the coffee. "Now that we've settled that - breakfast?"

"Walter, we haven't settled anything. I mean, my God, we were doing Alex. Both
of us. In our bed."

"That about sums it up." Studied casualness. "You didn't enjoy it?"

Mulder looked scandalized. "Walter! I hardly think that's relevant!"

"On the contrary. It's rather important. Are you telling me that you didn't
enjoy it?"

"I'd be more afraid to tell you that I did."

"Are you telling me that isn't what you wanted?" Mulder hadn't heard Skinner's
voice in that neutral a tone for nearly four years. It was the voice he had
used at the Bureau prior to his "now you're going to die" pronouncements to
incorrigible agents, of whom Mulder had been chief annoyance.


"Mulder, if that's not what you wanted, then why the hell is Alex here?"
Walter's jaw was firmly clenched. Lockjaw was bad news; it was Skinner's
traditional indication that you had your choice of the swift sword of death or
slow torture. "Come on, Mulder. Ever since you two began working as partners,
it was pretty obvious. You two used to look at each other like two starving
dogs that found a steak. I figured for a while it was pointless even thinking
about you - you were completely wrapped up in Krycek."

"Look... Walter... that may have been true, but - until last night - I mean, I
never actually... I wouldn't dream..."

"You *were* dreaming about it, Mulder. That seems to be part of what got things

Mulder stood up, then walked over to the kitchen window. He stared out at some
seagulls flying around a dune. "I love you, Walter. More than anything."

"I know. I love you, too. I wouldn't be here if I didn't."

Mulder leaned down, elbows on the sill, watching the gulls. "Then what was
last night about?"

Skinner rose, met Mulder at the window, and reached around Mulder from behind.
"Last night? Last night was about... maybe everything, maybe nothing. Us,
Alex, none of the above. You had two people who are in love with each other in
bed with someone who's sex on two legs and has a thing for one of us. You've
got a thing for him yourself. You just said so. I can't blame you. Alex
Krycek can arouse anyone who isn't comatose. The universe didn't change,
Mulder. You've just gotten a better look at what's in it."

"The only reason I went after Alex is that I owed him, you know. He found Sam
for me. He didn't have to do that. He busted the black-lunged bastard for us.
Hell, if he hadn't swiped that Russian vaccine and the Consortium hadn't gotten
it from him, Scully would be dead. I had to do it for him, Walter. The sex had
nothing to do with it."

"Maybe it didn't for you... but it might have for him. You wanted it anyway, if
you're willing to be honest about it."

"Speaking of being honest, how do you feel about it? Really?"

Skinner relaxed his grip around his lover. "Truth? It was something I'd never
expected I'd do. But - I enjoyed it. I thought I would be jealous of the two
of you, but I wasn't. I have to admit it was kind of a turn-on."

"Really?" Mulder wriggled around in Skinner's arms to face him. "Me too, big

"Would you do it again?" Skinner asked.

"Alex? Or both of you?"

"Your call."

"Hmmm... Alex is a nice warmup, I admit... but I passed him up for years before
I made that play for you at that training seminar in St. Louis. Definitely both
of you."

"Good answer." Soothed ina deep part of himself, Skinner slid a hand into
Mulder's hair and drew Mulder in for a kiss. Breakfast could handle a short

* * * * *


It was in the later part of the afternoon that Alex Krycek awoke. He looked
around. An unfamiliar bed, not the one he'd been using lately. A pile of
blankets and a heavy comforter. Then the events of the previous night fell back
into place. Mulder's room. He was in Mulder's and Skinner's bed. Someone had
left him a pair of sweatpants and a Boston University sweatshirt at the foot of
the bed along with clean towels. Maid service? Hell. What was next - fill out
your breakfast order? Breakfast... Krycek looked at the clock. Four o'clock.
Showering and shaving was probably in order, then There was probably coffee
downstairs; at this point of the day, that would do. He grabbed the towel and
headed to the bathroom to shower. The other rooms seemed unoccupied; the others
both had to be downstairs or in their workshops.

He ran the water in the shower as hot as he could take it. The day was cold
and damp; there was a chill in the house. A second chill ran through him, deep
into his bones. The first chill was a chill from the weather; the latter one,
it seemed, was the chill from recalling the night before. What had happened?

Objectively, the answer was easy. He'd been in bed with two other men, had had
sex with them. Not a common occurrence in his life, but not one that he had
never experienced before. He'd had sex before with men whom he'd expected to
rough him up or kill him as part of the deal. But those recollections had
nothing to do with last night. Nothing at all to do with his finally winding up
in bed with the one man he'd come as close to loving as he had anyone, only to
be there with Mulder's lover as well. Nothing at all to do with realizing that
while he'd spent years thinking about what he'd like to do with Mulder, what
he'd like to tell Mulder given the chance, Mulder had not only not been
thinking of Alex Krycek, but had settled into apparently blissful domesticity
with one of the main remaining carriers of a grudge against him.

And nothing had prepared him, nothing could have prepared him, for his own
discovery of at least part of what Mulder saw in Walter Skinner. He had been
aware of Skinner's strength from the day it had taken three of them to beat
Skinner and to get the digital tape from him at the hospital. But he had never
seen Skinner's more normal use of his strength as restrained power being reined
and held in check, not before last night. He had not been prepared in the least
for Skinner's gentleness, his concern for as well as his clear interest in the
one man he should really be trying to kill radiating throughout the room. What
the hell was up with Skinner?

As the stinging water hit Alex full force in the face, both anger and tears
began welling up inside him, however. He had been crying last night without
understanding why, had chalked it up to its having been years since prolonged
physical contact with another man had been for anything other than business on
one side or the other, or for at least attempting to kill someone. In the cold
light of day, he was no longer so sure that this was the only contributing
factor. After all, Skinner had dragged him to the bed; why, if it hadn't been
for someone's personal amusement? He hadn't as much as been asked, just dragged
into their bed, and then, just as he was trying to sort through his feelings
about Mulder, wham, it had happened.

He supposed he shouldn't be this irate. Hell, he'd been used before, and far
worse. Maybe he should just accept that this was Skinner's idea of rent
payment. Krycek toweled himself down and dressed hurriedly to avoid a chill.
Mulder and Skinner had goddamn fucking everything, didn't they? Skinner's
retirement salary. Mulder's father's estate. Mulder's book deals and the
campus lecture tours. A house and land on the beach, straight down the road
from Provincetown, two cars, the proverbial dog and cat, artwork on the walls.
What was left - picking him up as their house boy? Or was he supposed to be the
third pet - the dog, the cat, and the rat?

Bending over to get his borowed sneakers on hurt his ribs. He'd had to leave
the laces tied in order to get them on himself without using his prosthetic arm,
One of these days he'd have to switch to Velcro fasteners, decidedly uncool but
easier to handle with one arm. It galled him to acknowledge that, even in
better health, some things were virtually impossible for him to do anymore. It
was hard to admit that age, the lack of an arm, and the burnout of living on the
edge were catching up with him as he neared forty. Maybe it was worth resigning
himself to playing house boy, maid-of-all-work, and fuck toy for Skinner and
Mulder to reduce his physical and psychic wear and tear. Maybe, but it sounded
like a lousy deal.

Heading down the stairs, Krycek noticed two things in the living room -
flickering and voices. There was a fire going in the fireplace, and someone was
talking softly. One voice, speaking in a cadenced fashion. As Krycek stepped
into the doorway, he was able to take in the whole scene: Mulder lying on the
couch, reading poetry aloud from a book balanced on his chest; Skinner propped
against the couch, Mulder's arm draping down across his chest, his head resting
against Mulder's side, eyes staring into the fire. One of Skinner's legs
stretched under the table; the other was drawn up, his arms around it. The cat
lay curled on Mulder's stomach, the dog was on the hearth rug. The coffee pot
sat on the table, an open box of Oreos beside it. Alex had the stray thought
that if it got any more domestic, he would be ill.

"You two look like a gay Currier & Ives print," he snarled.

Mulder looked over the top of his reading glasses at Krycek, grinned, said,
"Smile when you say that," and nodded for him to come in. Skinner merely said,
"About time you got up," then poured a mug of coffee and held it out to him.
Alex found that he was unable to do anything but cross the room and ease down in
the space Skinner offered him, taking the cup of coffee and sipping gratefully.

"To continue..." Mulder said, and traced his finger down the page until he found
his place again. Mulder's voice wrapped around him and he allowed the words to
cocoon him. After a time, they began to make sense.

"/In a world of possessions, People will take balls,
Balls will always be lost, little boy,
And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.
He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,
the epistemology of loss.../"

As the meaning began to scrape through, Krycek turned his mind away from the
disturbingly familiar images behind the words. Mulder's voice was low and
gentle as it delivered the harsh truths that Krycek had learned so many years

He concentrated instead on the warmth around him -- the heat thrown by the fire,
the solid warmth of Skinner's shoulder against his own, the knowledge that
Mulder was mere inches behind him. Krycek found himself leaning partly against
the couch, partly against Skinner. Mulder's arm was still down around Skinner's
neck and shoulder, but it had to be visible to Mulder that Skinner had quit
hugging his knee and was now resting his own arm along Krycek's shoulders. When
had that happened? The heavy warmth was as comforting as it was disturbing. He
could feel his life-saving paranoia kicking into high gear when Skinner's
fingers began rubbing in small circles at the base of his skull.

Apparently Mulder wasn't disturbed by watching his lover running his fingers
along the neck of the FBI's least favorite ex-agent, though Krycek did not feel
in the least reassured by the fact. What was this supposed to be about? You
don't usually fondle the house guests, Krycek figured, but neither do you waste
culture on the rent boys.

Mulder's voice spiraled to a close. He folded down a corner of the page he had
read and handed the book to Skinner. With a near-certainty that he was
hallucinating, Alex Krycek watched the former AD page through the book one-
handed, then give a grunt of satisfaction and prop the book on his knees.

"What's going on here?" Krycek twisted around to look at Mulder and grimaced as
his cracked ribs and sore ass protested.

"An argument about 20th century poetry," Skinner answered. "Mulder appears to
have never heard of internal rhyme or meter. He prefers the stream of
consciousness garbage that passes for poetry now."

"Oh," Krycek managed weakly and reached for a cookie. Maybe some food would
help; sugar was supposed to be good for shock. Then Skinner's rough voice began
and he had to listen. There was no comfort for him in the measured lines, the
simple rhythms did not camouflage the murky truths that twisted and roiled in
his memories and in the words Skinner read.

"/I have longed to move away
From the hissing of the spent lie
And the old terrors' continual cry
Growing more terrible as the day
Goes over the hill into the deep sea.../"

Skinner's voice hitched for a moment, and Krycek lost the thread of the poem.
He wondered what it was that Skinner remembered, which lies still gnawed and
burned within him as they did within Krycek.

"/...I have longed to move away but am afraid;
Some life, yet unspent, might explode
Out of the old lie burning on the ground,
And crackling into the air leave me half-blind.../"

Alex Krycek sat beside his oldest enemies and drank their coffee and ate their
food with his eyes burning and throat closed tight. Last night, these men had
torn at him with the gentlest of touches. Today, they ripped at whatever was
left of him with their words. What did they want of him? If it was revenge,
this was certainly the most creative and excruciating that he had ever

Mulder had the book again. His tawny voice poured across them.

"/Death is the dog -headed man zebra striped
and is surrounded by silence who walks like a lion,
who is black. It was his voice crying come back,
that Virginia Woolf heard.../"

Mulder, Krycek figured, was blissfully unaware of his misery, or else he was
getting some kind of cheap thrill from it. Remembering Hong Kong, it occurred
to him to wonder if Mulder were really a major sadist. Where sheer physical
pummeling had failed to do him in, perhaps this literary flensing would do the
trick. Shit, Mulder had more poetry. That book had to have a thousand pages,
easily; what were they doing, today's 100 pages?

"/Let the oars be idle, my love, and forget at this time
our love like a knife between us
defining the boundaries that we can never cross
nor destroy as we drift into the heart of our dream,
cutting the silence, slyly, the bitter rain in our mouths
and the dark wound closed in behind us./"

Whatever the hell Mulder was reading now - it couldn't all be the same poem,
could it? - was striking too close to home, Krycek thought, as he drifted out of
attention again. They were definitely trying S&M by poetry. He shifted his
weight slightly to avoid pressing so firmly against Skinner. There was no sign
that either Mulder or Skinner objected to this, but he was hideously unnerved.
There had to be a trick here. Lean the wrong way, or touch Mulder on the wrong
part of his body, and get his other arm amputated. Ask to hear Mulder read
Allen Ginsberg and have Skinner break the rest of his ribs. What was the wrong
move they were waiting for?

"/A basis rock-like of love & friendship
for all this world-wide madness seems to be needed.
Epictetus is in some ways my favorite philosopher.
Happy men have died earlier./"

Shit. Low blow, Mulder. That had to be deliberate. Much more of this and he
was going to have to beat someone up just to clear his head; it had always
worked before, he thought, trying to shrug back into his leather-and-gunpowder
persona. And deciding who to beat up wasn't terribly difficult with one of
Skinner's massive arms wrapped around his shoulder. Mulder might look good with
false teeth. Entirely oblivious to his impending doom, Mulder continued his

"/I still have plans to go to Mexico this summer.
The Olmec images! Chichen Itza!
D. H. Lawrence has a wild dream of it.
Malcolm Lowry's book when it came out I taught to my precept at Princeton.

"I don't entirely resign. I may teach the Third Gospel
this afternoon. I haven't made up my mind.
It seems that others have easier jobs
& do them worse./"

Krycek shifted again, skittish and in pain, both physical and emotional. The
disturbance, slight though it was, was this time just enough to disturb the
comfort of the cat napping on Mulder's stomach. Maxie rose, turned, and
resettled himself with his tail over the edge of the couch hanging directly on
Krycek. Maxie twitched his tail irritably and it brushed across Krycek's face
and into his mouth. Little though it was, at the moment it was more than enough
for Krycek. Without thought, he grabbed Maxie unceremoniously under the gut and
heaved the cat away; the animal landed on the dog with a screech. Krycek
lurched to his feet and headed out to the kitchen. The door slammed.

"Oh, well," Mulder sighed. "Not everyone takes to John Berryman at a first

When Skinner turned to look at him in disbelief, he grinned, then abruptly

"You know, he's going to keep turning and biting when we least expect it."

"I know." Skinner remembered how fragile they themselves had been in the first
few months as they had tried to slide into normal lives, to forget or at least
learn to not automatically expect attacks of the body and spirit.

"It could take months before he's calm enough to handle the most routine stuff."

"I know." They had torn at one another, sometimes in frozen silences, sometimes
in words. They had wanted to put away the weapons that had kept them alive so
long -- fear, suspicion, hatred, paranoia -- they had wanted to lead normal
lives so much and it was so hard. It had taken so much trust, so much borrowing
of each other's strength to get to this point of peace and calm. He remembered
and could see the memories in Mulder's eyes as well.

Mulder looked pleading. Skinner sighed, then nodded once, agreeing to the new
circumstances without hesitation; he supposed he had brought this about himself,
with his barely understood impulse to bring Krycek into their bed.

"He's going to freeze out there," Mulder said quietly.

"I know," Skinner groused, climbing to his feet. "I'm going. But he'd better
not pick on my dog anymore."

"Your dog? That was MY cat he threw, Walter!"

"Your damned cat throws *himself* at Casey harder than that. Where the hell are
my shoes?"

"By the door. Where you left them. See if you can get him to come back."

"Am I authorized to use force?" Skinner asked, an angelic expression on his face
as he toed into his shoes.

"Don't forget the ribs, Walter. You were solicitous enough about them last

Skinner shrugged into a wool jacket off the hooks by the kitchen door. "Where's
his gun?"

"Still locked up. I checked this morning."

"Well, that's a relief. Hey - why am *I* chasing after him? It's you he's in
love with."

"He'll actually listen to you, though. Me, he'll just give me another head
injury - it's kind of a tradition."

Mulder rolled to his feet in a boneless motion that Skinner had to watch. It
made him seriously consider rolling Mulder right back onto that couch...but he
had to go find Krycek. He closed his eyes and counted to ten silently before
opening them and looking at his lover.

"This was not exactly how I'd envisioned my retirement," he confided.

Mulder smiled serenely. "I know. Go find our pet spy and bring him back. I'll
make some dinner."

Casey bounded up to Skinner with an imploring look as he put his hand on the
doorknob. "You have no shame, dog. A man throws a cat at you and you're ready
to go lick him to death, aren't you?" Casey merely bounced and gave one sharp
bark. Rolling his eyes heavenward, Skinner went out into the steel-grey
afternoon, the big red dog racing down to the sand before him.

Krycek was a dark figure against the gray landscape. He was walking very fast,
head down and hand in his pocket. At Skinner's hail, he walked faster. The
tide was out, so there was plenty of firm, damp sand and he made good time.

"Dammit, Krycek, would you stop?!" There was no answer.

Skinner began to jog across the sand, glad that he sometimes joined Mulder on
his morning runs up the beach. Casey cheerfully broke into a gallop and
outstripped him quickly. The wind was cutting, damp and raw and Skinner knew it
meant another storm spinning in off the north Atlantic. He was steadily gaining
on Krycek but Casey was already there, bouncing and barking in circles around
his strange new friend, forgiving him the cat, demanding that he play.

When he saw the dog, Krycek knew that Skinner couldn't be far behind. But when
he looked over his shoulder and saw the big man within twenty paces, something
in him snapped. Without reason, he took off. The angry yearning that had
driven him out of the house was gone; now, he was operating on instinct alone.
Someone was chasing him, so he ran. Everything in him was devoted to getting
away from his pursuer. He pounded down the beach, knowing the danger was just
behind. The cold air burned in his lungs, his ribs ached, he was running
clumsily, he used to be able to run like the wind -- where had it gone?
Running.... the surf pounding to his left, the wind cutting across him, trying
to slow him down, the dog keeping up with him, and the man right behind him,

The tackle took him down hard. He hit the sand facedown and saw stars. His ribs
were screaming and he was gasping, trying hard to breathe and failing miserably.
Skinner was half-sprawled across his back, his breath rasping across the back of
Krycek's neck. He made a noise low in his throat, like a growl, and Krycek
actually expected to feel fangs sinking into his unprotected spine. The weight
shifted and he was flung onto his back, Skinner straddling his hips, pinning him
to the cold sand.

He flung his arm up to protect his face, flinching, waiting to ride out the
first blows until he could slip a shot in under the attack. When none fell,
Krycek cautiously lowered his arm. Casey chose that moment to bounce up and
begin happily washing Krycek's sandy face. Skinner pushed the dog away and said,
"Casey. Sit." The words were quiet but the tone impossible to ignore. The
setter immediately sat, panting and looking adoringly at his master. Who was
looking down at Krycek without even a hint of adoration in his face.

In that same quiet voice, Skinner said, "Why are you running, Krycek?"

It was impossible not to answer that voice as honestly as he could. "I don't
know. I just couldn't be there with you two, not like that."

Skinner looked confused. "Like what?"

Krycek could only shake his head and pant. He had no more notion of his own
motivations than Skinner, but they weren't going to tease him like that. It was
cruelty, pure and simple, like dangling poisoned meat in front of a starving

"Look - I don't mind being your rent-boy, if that's what I need to do, but let's
not pretend it's anything more than that."

The thunder rolled in across Skinner's face and Krycek tensed again, waiting for
the blow that he could see rippling in the other man's chest and arms. Skinner
reached down and took hold of Krycek's shoulders. He shook Krycek hard, once,
bouncing his head on the sand.

"Don't *ever* say that again."

Walter Skinner's voice sounded like granite cracking in the cold and Krycek was
suddenly convinced that he had never been closer to death. Casey whined, eyes
locked on his master's face. The wind had freshened and was coming straight in
off the water. Skinner realized that his hands were aching with the cold, and
that, beneath them, Alex Krycek was trembling. Slowly, carefully, Skinner
unlocked his death grip on Krycek's shoulders. He clambered off the other man
and stood up stiffly. He looked down at Krycek, dark eyes unreadable and face
expressionless. Then he held out a hand to the man sprawled in the sand at his
feet. After a moment, Krycek took it and was hauled upright. The two men
brushed sand from their clothes, not looking at one another. Skinner stripped
off his coat and handed it to Krycek.

"Put it on," he ordered.

"Skinner," Alex began, shoving it back at him. Skinner's chest was no more
unyielding then his expression.

"Put it on, Alex," he grated, and watched until his order was obeyed. Then he
turned and started back down the beach toward the house, now a pool of golden
light in the rapidly descending gloom of an autumn afternoon. There was nothing
left for Krycek and Casey to do but follow.

* * *


Fox Mulder whistled to himself as he chopped vegetables. It was an atonal
whistle, and anyone overhearing it would have wondered if the whistler were tone
deaf or if he were terribly fond of experimental music. It was supposed to be
an old Kinks number, but no one would have believed it had they heard. He
looked down at his hands. "Damn beets. Should've used a food processor."

At that moment, Casey bounded to the door, barking joyously. Mulder wiped his
hands and opened the door as Casey led Skinner and Krycek into the kitchen.
Maxie, who had been observing dinner preparations from his vantage point on the
kitchen table, darted off to another room.

Skinner sniffed. "I see beets. What have you got going - red flannel hash?"

"Actually, yeah." Mulder grinned. "Half of the beets are going into the hash.
The other half are going into the borscht." Skinner smiled; Krycek's jaw
dropped. "What's the matter, Alex? You don't like borscht?"

"I love borscht. What the fuck are you doing making borscht? Americans don't
eat borscht."

"I hung out with a radical crowd at Oxford. Nigel used to do borscht dinners
and read Trotsky. It was as close as I got to collegiate rebellion. The
politics only lasted a term but I hung around for the food. I stole Nig's
recipe before I came back."

"And you passed an FBI background check?"

"So did you," Mulder reminded him. "Gentlemen, the cook is occupied. I
suggest that one of you bring him a drink or you'll never see dinner." Skinner
headed for the liquor as Krycek settled into a kitchen chair, stripping off
Skinner's coat.

"Looks like another storm," Krycek told Mulder, who was scrounging a cabinet
looking for dill.

"I thought the storm already hit," Mulder observed. "Or what was that little
scene about?"

"Why did you bring me up here?" Krycek asked.

Mulder turned to the counter, poured hot coffee for Krycek, and placed the mug
on the table. "Good question, isn't it? You'd rather have let the O'Keefe boys
finish the job? I think you like being alive a little too much for that. Maybe
I think you ought to stay in one piece." He returned to his chopping.

"What's it to you, Mulder?" Alex Krycek's gaze was locked on the table, his
fingers white as they gripped his mug.

Mulder put his chef's knife down on the cutting board and accepted a double
Scotch from Skinner. Seeing Skinner and another glass inching towards the living
room and a football game on television, Mulder nodded towards Skinner, he said,

"No; stick around. Let's get it all out in the open." He took a long pull from
the tumbler and set it on the table as Skinner seated himself. "I love you.
For a reasonably intelligent guy, Alex, you're as big a moron as I am. Walter
had to bash me over the head, metaphorically speaking, to figure it out myself.
Think about it."

Krycek looked at Mulder dubiously, but with what appeared to be growing
awareness. He went back to his coffee, apparently attempting to affect
nonchalance, then glanced at Skinner out of the corner of his eye. Skinner
didn't look furious... he didn't look ecstatic, but at least he didn't seem to
be threatening anyone's continued existence at the moment.

Mulder's gaze, fixed on Krycek, could have thawed the cold out of Krycek's body
more effectively than Skinner's coat had. Skinner seemed to be aware of it, but
wasn't reacting. "Okay, Mulder, but what the hell do you want from me?"

"Your mistake, Krycek," Skinner interjected, expression calm, despite the twitch
in his jaw, "is thinking that anyone wants anything from you. This may be hard
for you to follow, but not everyone in the world is just out for what they can
get from people. I realize that this is an unfamiliar concept for you, but try
to bear with it."

"Come off it. I know damn well what you wanted last night. I've played rent
boy before. Don't sugarcoat it."

Mulder coughed deliberately. "Uh, Alex - I've got a knife and I know how to use

Krycek's lip curled. Did they think he was stupid? Or just naive? Mulder was
looking at him like he was a prime rib dinner, but suggesting he didn't want a
repeat of the previous night's games? Preposterous. Of course they wanted it.

"Look. You bring me here, do the medical bit, and tell me all I'm supposed to
do is hang out. Come off it. Everybody wants something from other people.
Basic fact of life. So I found out what you two want last night." He shrugged.
"No big deal; I've traded it before. I don't mind it that much; just don't lie
to me about it."

Skinner drained his glass. Standing up, his face increasingly red, he stepped
closer to Krycek, then, suddenly, reached out and slapped him. Alex reeled from
the blow, into the back of the kitchen chair and then slightly forward as he
steadied himself.

"Good God, Krycek, you're the most infuriating human being on the face of the
planet! If you can't handle the concept that anyone might just give a shit
about you, you can be that way, for all I care. But I'll be goddamned if I'm
going to sit here and listen to you tell me - tell us - that you think last
night was the rent coming due on your hotel privileges."

"I'm going to watch the game. Call me when dinner's ready."
Skinner turned on the ball of his foot and stamped out of the kitchen.

Mulder sighed and turned to the stove. "I might just remind you, Alex. For
whatever reason Walter got you in bed with us - and it was the nightmares,
wasn't it? - you kissed me first. Just like what - five years ago? That night
in my apartment. What the fuck is your problem? You started it -- don't take
it out on us."

Krycek gulped more coffee. "Look, Mulder. I'm not taking anything out on
anybody right now - like I'm in any kind of shape to do it right now, anyway? I
didn't think I was starting anything."

"Then what was it?"

"Hell, I don't know. I guess - I -- look, you know I'm not good with words. I
can fuck up what I'm trying to say in three different languages. What I wanted
to do was... try to - what? Thank you for dealing with some of my shit when I
couldn't deal with it myself? I was half-asleep; I didn't know how else to show

"And I wasn't going to respond to it? You know damn well how I feel."

"Wrong. I knew how you might have felt five years ago. You're here now, living
with Skinner; you told me how you feel about him and it's damned clear how he
feels about you. I didn't realize I was still on your list."

"You are. I didn't realize it myself. By the way ... did you ever stop to
consider that just maybe you deserve to be treated, let alone live, like a
human being?" Mulder stirred a large kettle. "Here. You check this." He
handed a spoon to Krycek, who came over to the stove with Mulder. "How is it?"

Krycek dipped the spoon into the kettle, lifting out red broth and shreds of
cabbage. He tasted it gingerly. "Whoa. Hot." Then he swallowed. "Better
than my mother's if you must know. My mother was a dreadful cook." He handed
the spoon back to Mulder. "But you'd better have sour cream."

"In the fridge." Mulder slipped an arm around Krycek's waist and pulled him
closer, sliding one hand up into Krycek's hair and moving close enough to kiss
him briefly.

"What about him?" Krycek asked, dazedly nodding in the direction of the living

"Talk to him yourself. And try not to be a prick about it. Now, get out of
here. I've got to start watching what I'm cooking."

Try not to be a prick about it? Wonderful; wasn't it Skinner who was being a
prick? He started to leave when Mulder said, voice coated in ice, "Oh, and
Alex? Do. Not. Fuck. With. My. Cat. Again. Ever. Got it?"

Got it. There was no doubt in his mind as to what Mulder would do to him if he
ever found even one of Maxie's whiskers bent. Right - no messing with the cat.
He jotted that down in his mental notebook. Mulder might care about him, but
Maxie was kin.

Krycek exited the kitchen realizing that his only option other than going back
outside and checking the storm front was heading into the living room and
passing through that probable storm front. The outdoor option sounded the safer
choice, but he didn't feel up to being taken down on the sand again.

Skinner was sprawled on the couch, watching the Patriots taking a beating.
Krycek sat down in the armchair across from the couch and ventured into safe
territory. "What's the score?"

"Patriots are down 21 to 10. They're getting clobbered this quarter. How's
Julia Child getting along in there?" Skinner's voice was neutral; he seemed
fairly well absorbed in the game.

"Fine. Hasn't chopped off any fingers, anyway. I got evicted so he could
finish cooking."

"The man is a monster when he's cooking. I always thought those stories of
French chefs behaving like tyrants were exaggerated until we started living

Krycek shifted anxiously in the chair. "Look - Walter - Mulder said something
to me in the kitchen before he chased me out with the carving knife. I hate to
suggest that he might actually be right about anything, you understand..."

"I know. Goes against the grain to say he's right about anything. I used to
feel the same way."

"But he said that it was time I started living like a human being. I'm not used
to the idea that you do something for someone without a deal. I don't get that.
I haven't lived that way since I was in college. Where I come from, doing
something for someone means business. Being nice to them means you're really up
to something. Before last night, the last time I even had sex that wasn't
either a business transaction or a quickie was... hell, I don't even remember.
I can't take living on the edge anymore. I'm getting too old for it, and I'm
not physically up to it. But it's all I know. I don't belong here. I don't
belong with people who've gotten their lives together. I can't even imagine
what it means to live in one place, use one name, pay income taxes, and have
people around who would notice if anything happened to you."

Skinner sat up on the couch, focusing his attention on Krycek. "And that makes
you one pretty miserable bastard, doesn't it? You have two choices, don't you?
Go back to your rat hole and get killed fast so you can get put out of your
misery, or join the human race. You used to be there, Krycek. You don't really
forget it. It's like riding a bike."

"I wouldn't even know where to start."

"I'll show you where," Skinner told him. "Listen to me. Stand up. " Krycek
unseated himself. "Face me." Krycek turned slightly.
"Put your right foot in front of your left foot." Krycek complied.
"Walk over here." Krycek hesitated momentarily, then did so.
"Now. Listen up. Sit down here on the couch with me and watch the game. Got

Alex nodded. Moving around the coffee table, he sat down beside Skinner but
well over at the other side of the couch, too far for Skinner to reach him
without moving. "How's that?"

"You could look less like you think I'm going to kill you, but it's a start.
Killing you would just waste my time, Alex, and I'd only get Mulder mad at me,
so you might as well relax."

Comforting thought, that his existence depended on Skinner not wanting to make
Mulder angry. Oh yeah, time to just kick back, Alex thought bitterly, feeling a
flash of intense dislike for the man sitting so casually beside him. A man who
had a normal life, who knew what it was to go to sleep and wake up to the one
person in the world he loved.

A commercial came on and Skinner got up and left without a word. The
meaningless stream of colors and sounds flowed past him as Krycek tried to sort
out what he had just been told. Both Skinner and Mulder had reacted violently to
the idea that they were expecting sex in return for room and board and nursing
care. Mulder had been waving a knife and Skinner had slammed him around twice
today for the same suggestion. He had to admit that they were fairly convincing
in their arguments - his ribs ached and there was a vicious jab of pain every
time he took too deep a breath. OK - he would take that at face value for now -
no rent boy gig. But he still wondered where he was expected to sleep tonight.

Then there was the other matter; Mulder loved him. Had said it out loud, almost
casually, in front of his lover. Was the man trying to get him killed? In
Alex's experience, those words were just another commodity. What did Mulder
mean by them? Krycek knew what love was for him - inconvenient, dangerous,
bitter. Time spent dreaming, regretting, lying to yourself and others, with
just a few sweet flashes of light to stir the ashes into a fire to cremate
another part of your soul. Somehow, he didn't think that was what it was for
Mulder. He shifted uncomfortably, trying to ease both his ribs and the odd
hollow feeling that had opened in his chest.

Skinner came back into the room with something wrapped in a piece of plaid
flannel - the rag of a shirt he realized. "Here," Skinner said and knelt in
front of him. "This'll help." Moving slowly, he pulled Krycek's sweatshirt up,
brushed away some clinging sand, then carefully laid the heated gel pack against
Krycek's abused ribs. The blessed warmth soaked through the flannel wrap and
into his aching muscles and Alex's eyes closed with a sigh. He vaguely felt his
sweatshirt being pulled back down, then Skinner drawing Alex's arm across as a
brace to hold the gel pack in place.

"When it cools, just throw it in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Use it
tonight and most of tomorrow."

Krycek opened his eyes and looked at Skinner. "Thanks."

The big man looked uncomfortable but stayed where he was. Suddenly he said,
"I'm sorry about earlier. On the beach. In the kitchen."

The hollow feeling in Alex's chest was being transformed into something that
felt a lot sharper. Walter Skinner was apologizing for hurting the man who had
once beaten him in a stairwell, whom his lover had brought into their home, who
had made love to Mulder in their bed, who had sat and blinked as he listened to
Mulder declare his love. It made no sense. Alex shook his head to clear the
cobwebs and Skinner closed his mouth abruptly and stood.

"It's OK. It's not like I don't deserve it."

Skinner sat down beside him again, eyes on the TV again. "No more, Alex. I
offered you a truce when you came into this house and I've broken it twice. I'm

Jesus, the man was serious. As if justice wouldn't actually turn a blind eye if
he and Mulder and Scully filleted him. Alex remembered that moment, deep in the
night, when he had realized that he owed Skinner and Mulder and had been content
to let them take whatever they wanted from him. This morning he had resented
their taking it. In another dizzying turn-around, Krycek realized that Skinner,
of all people, actually cared what happened to him. How odd. Skinner was
worried about a man who, as of one week ago, had tried to commit suicide using
the unusual combination of alcohol and the IRA fundraising arm of upstate New
York. Mulder loved him enough to hunt him down and bring him here. He was
safer with them than he was by himself; they seemed to want him to live. All he
wanted was for the pain to stop.

The two men continued to sit side by side, eyes following the game on TV,
although neither could tell Mulder the score when he called them to dinner.

* * *


Halfway through the mostly silent meal, the telephone had rung. Mulder had
groaned, then looked pointedly at Skinner, who grimaced and got up and answered
it. After a few short sentences, he hung up and looked apologetically at

"I'm sorry. It's a call out. There's a big car accident at the Bridge, so the
regulars are there. In the meantime, someone's visiting sister is about to give
birth up in Truro. Guess which one I get?"

"Walter Skinner, the Hester Prynne of the Outer Cape." Mulder slanted an evil
grin at his lover, who was already in motion, pulling on boots and grabbing an
oilskin coat with an EMT logo on it.

"Ha ha." He stopped, hand on the door. "Look, Mulder, about earlier..."

"It's fine, Walter." The words were short, but the look in his eyes was enough.
Skinner smiled slightly and went out into the storm.

Mulder and Krycek continued eating. The silence was thoughtful now. Finally,
Krycek broke it. "That happen a lot?"

"Often enough. More in the summer. Don't let his grumbling fool you - he loves
it when he gets to deliver babies. One woman even named her kid after him."

"He likes being needed," Krycek murmured, not realizing he spoke aloud. Mulder
looked surprised for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. He does. And I don't get
into enough trouble any more."

"Now that surprises me," Alex smiled.

"Hey! You'd be surprised how calm your life and medical history can get when
you no longer have shadowy conspiracies trying to kill you and you quit the FBI.
Most days, I don't even have band aid on."

"How come he's not a volunteer fireman?"

"They asked him. But you can get killed that way - and I wanted him around. So
he took the EMT training instead. He's good at it."

"I can imagine." Cool, controlled Skinner. Of course he'd be good at it.

"He still has nightmares like the rest of us, Alex."

Mulder's words were too close to telepathy for Krycek's comfort. That sharp-
edged feeling he'd had earlier when Skinner had been apologizing to him was
back. if he had to name it, he'd call it sympathy or recognition. He now knew
much more about Walter Skinner than he was comfortable with. Somehow a blow job
in the night had been far more impersonal.

He helped Mulder clear the dishes and listened to him grumble that this was the
way Walter always got out of doing them. As soon as Mulder heard the hitch in
his breath when Alex stretched too far to grab a plate, he was sent to sit on
the couch with his discarded hot pack reheated. He let himself slowly relax
into the soft leather, soothed by the heat against his side and the sound of the
rising wind lashing rain against the house. It was good to know himself inside,
safe, out of the cold. Mulder was making homely noises in the kitchen and
whistling tunelessly.

After a time, he felt the couch next to him dip as Mulder sat down. He opened
his eyes sleepily and just looked at Mulder. He didn't know what the other man
saw that caused his eyes to soften. But suddenly he was being pulled up against
Mulder's chest. And then they were reclining and he found himself stretched out
against the back of the couch, his head on Mulder's shoulder and the hot pack
carefully tucked around his ribs. He sighed and curled his fingers on Mulder's
chest. The TV came on and Krycek drifted off to sleep to the sounds of the
television, the storm and the comforting rhythm of Fox Mulder's heart beating
beneath his ear.

When Skinner came in around nine, they were still on the couch. Krycek was
sleeping deeply and Mulder was watching some horrendous B-movie with the volume
turned low. He smiled as Skinner dripped beside the kitchen door. "How'd it
go?" he asked softly.

"Fine. It was a girl. We didn't make it to the hospital until after she was
born, delivered on the side of Rt. 6. But she seemed like she was in good
shape. Mother was fine," Skinner was stripping off his boots and wet socks and
drying his glasses, carefully not looking at the tableau on the couch.

"Walt? I'm sorry about all this," Mulder said quietly.

"You didn't know, really. It's OK."

"No, it isn't. Not until you understand something." Mulder's eyes locked with
Skinner's. "I am not leaving you. You can throw me out, but I am not leaving

Something heavy and primitive flared in Skinner's eyes, then he asked, "What
about Krycek?"

"I don't know. But I am here, with you."

Skinner took a step into the room. "Actually, you're over there, with him." He
smiled slightly, then growled, "Come here."

Mulder carefully shifted the sleeping man's head off of his shoulder and slid
out from beneath him, settling him carefully onto the cushions. He flowed to
his feet and crossed the room with deliberate steps. There was no hesitation as
he walked into Skinner's arms and kissed him. Pulling his mouth away, he said
breathlessly, "Here. With you."

Skinner growled again, wordlessly, and Mulder shivered as his mouth was caught
once more. Skinner tasted of rain and the wild salt wind that screamed outside.
Mulder loved it when Skinner let himself slip the leash but it happened so
rarely. On the few times it did, Mulder surrendered all control happily and let
himself drop into the free fall of all the dark places between them. He thought
that Walter feared those shadowy places, where love is possession and hunger, as
well as tenderness, but Mulder didn't fear them. He knew them to be the other
side of the coin he had bargained for years ago when he had clumsily seduced his
boss in a cheap hotel room in St. Louis.

"Bed," he suggested. Skinner kissed him once more before releasing him and
letting Mulder take his hand. Passing the couch on the way to the stairs,
Skinner's eye fell on the abandoned figure on the couch. He stopped. Generous
in victory, he grabbed a heavy Hudson Bay blanket off the end of the couch and
shook it out, then tucked it around Alex Krycek as he slept. Mulder watched him
silently, then reached out and took his hand again, leading him upstairs,
turning the lights off behind them.

* * *

Alex Krycek woke slowly. He tried opening his eyes, realizing gradually that he
was in the living room. The last he remembered, he had been curled up with Fox
Mulder, snuggling through "Attack of the Mushroom People." Looking around as
consciousness crept back, Krycek realized that someone - Mulder? - had covered
him and almost literally tucked him in on the couch and turned the television
off. Maxie was perched censoriously over him, looking down from the top of the
couch; however, Casey, who normally slept in the bedroom with Skinner and
Mulder, was curled up at the other end of the couch, at his feet, which were
cheerfully warm. He was surprisingly comfortable, and it occurred to him that
for some reason he'd had no nightmares during the night. He wondered what time
Mulder had left, not angry at having been left on the couch himself. Two on the
couch all night probably would have been uncomfortable, and Skinner was almost
certainly back from his rescue efforts of the night before. Yes, there was
light, but it was still quite gray out; he could hear the continuing rain.

'I could be out there in this', it occurred to him. He'd spent more than one
night of his life out on the streets, or out on the road, in the rain, with
little more than a leather jacket and a gun, and he'd endured that same
discomfort in several different countries. This morning, on the other hand, he
was waking up from having fallen asleep in Fox Mulder's arms in front of a
television and a fireplace, tucked in, with a dog at his feet, while some other
poor slob was out there in a leather jacket freezing his ass off. All in all,
there was clearly something to be said for domesticity.

Krycek grinned, realizing that he was feeling a very tiny warm spot somewhere
inside. He'd curled up against Mulder last night, watching television with him
after dinner. Mulder had checked him and reheated the pack he was keeping on
his ribs. And without Walter Skinner anywhere in the vicinity, Mulder had
repeated the same thing he'd said earlier in the day. Fox Mulder obviously
didn't associate love with pain, discomfort, or inconvenience, or any of the
other torments of the damned that Krycek had learned to associate with the word.
If the night before had been an indication, it might be that Mulder was actually
on to something.

Rising, Krycek stretched and then folded the blanket that had been covering him.
Casey jumped up; Krycek waved a finger at the setter, telling him to be quiet,
and let Casey out. It was time to start the coffee; whether the other two were
up or not, he needed at least one mug of it himself. As he finished pouring the
water, he heard Casey's return and let the dog back in. All told, he really
felt quite cheerful. It might just be worth it, if he could find a tray, to
walk in on Mulder and Skinner with the coffee and a wet dog.

He found a tray and stacked mugs, the coffee pot, sugar, milk and a pile of
muffins on it. Maxie looked on impassively from the back of the couch. Looking
once more at Casey, Krycek decided to be merciful. And prudent - he remembered
that Skinner kept a pistol beside the bed. He found an old towel and dried the
dog off, leaving him only with the faintest hint of wet dog odor, which even the
best-groomed dog can't escape. He picked up the tray and made an inviting noise
at the dog, who preceded him happily up the staircase.

Mulder and Skinner had left the door to their room open. Casey swept through it
and launched himself cheerfully into the mound of quilt in the center of the
bed. A heartfelt moan and an aggrieved shout of "Dog!" were ample repayment for
a night spent alone on the couch.

Alex came into the room less precipitously and had time to note the scattered
clothes on the floor, the half-used tube of lube on the floor, the untucked
sheets, and the elusive scent of sex that still hung in the air. He inhaled like
a connoisseur and grinned at the two men being enthusiastically licked by the
big red dog.

Skinner sat up and grabbed the dog by the head, roughly ruffling his ears and
crooning nonsense at it, getting him to calm down. It was obvious that Casey
loved it, from the fatuously adoring expression he fixed on his master's face.

Mulder sat up in bed and ran his hands through his hair before fixing his blurry
gaze on Krycek in the doorway. Their eyes met and something complicated and
wordless passed between them; Krycek didn't know what, but it fanned that small
warm spot he had discovered inside him and he found himself smiling. Mulder
smiled back slowly, then said in a false upper crust accent, "Ramon, we're ready
for breakfast."

Skinner's head came up sharply at that and he stared at Krycek for a moment
before a small grin broke out on his face, too. "Now you're a houseboy?" and he
gently shoved the dog off the bed and reached out for the tray.

Krycek handed it to him, then lounged across the foot of the bed as he watched
Walter Skinner pouring three cups of coffee. At least, he tried to lounge. It
came out as more of a startled gasp as his damned ribs acted up again. He
shifted gingerly, trying to find a position that didn't make him want to scream.

"Here," Skinner handed him a cup of coffee and Mulder handed him some tablets.
He swallowed the Tylenol gratefully, swilling it down with coffee. He watched
Mulder take a dose , then hand the bottle to Skinner, whose mouth quirked as he
shook two tablets out for himself. When Mulder leaned back against the
headboard, Krycek saw the livid bitemark on his shoulder and couldn't help the
undignified snerk sound that escaped around the rim of his coffee cup. It must
have been one seriously good bout of make-up sex, he decided. He briefly
wondered what had gotten into him - cheerfulness and good humor were not his
standard morning mood.

He took a muffin off the tray and schooled his expression into a pleasantly null
facade. Maxie came wandering down the bed to sniff at his fingers.

"So - how did you sleep?" he asked.

When he looked up again, the other two men were looking at him with complete
disbelief on their faces. Mulder was looking faintly outraged, in fact. "I'm
practicing social niceties."

"You're lying in the wreck of our bed, smirking like a pimp, drinking my coffee
and...stop feeding muffins to the cat! - and you call it 'social niceties'?"

"Well, what would you call it?" Alex Krycek was enjoying himself enormously,
aching ribs aside.

"There are several perfectly good French words for it, Mulder, and a few in
English as well. Would you like me to elaborate?" Walter Skinner asked, sharing
a conspiratorial grin with Alex.

Mulder knew when he was beaten. He drank his coffee in silence for a few
minutes, then said, "You know, this is not what *I* expected from your
retirement, Walt."

Skinner's mouth quirked and he looked at Krycek for a long moment, then said, "I

* * * * *


Krycek's ribs were beginning to show improvement, Skinner declared as the next
week went by. Alex acknowledged as much; he was certainly in far less pain than
he had been. He was also starting to show signs of filling out again; the
weight was creeping back on. His skin, where it wasn't darkened by bruising,
had regained a healthy glow and his hair was becoming glossy again.

Trying to get into some semblance of shape, Alex asked to join Mulder on his
morning run. He was slow, but it was a start. Mulder kept cautioning the
younger man not to overtax himself. Much of the time, they jogged slowly for a
mile or two, then walked the beach, talking, always talking, trying to cross the
chasms between them, to plumb the deeps within them.

To his own surprise, Krycek began to spend more time out in the wood shop,
helping Skinner sort out and reorganize some of his wood, holding the dummy end
of the measuring tape, bracing larger pieces, sweeping up. They spent hours in
quiet partnership, working together without the need for discussion. Alex felt
himself relaxing into Skinner's silences, almost restorative after the deep and
sometimes painful conversations he seemed to need to have with Mulder. Skinner
had recently finished making his own chessboard, so the work sessions in
Skinner's shop were punctuated by breaks for chess over by the Franklin stove.

It was during those three or four daily games that the two men gradually grew to
know one another. Each became accustomed to catching glimpses of the other in
the quiet spaces between moves. Their words struck Alex like the flickering
passage of a wild animal in the brush, quickly glimpsed, but never entirely seen
nor understood in the moment.

Once, he wondered why the chess board, a beautiful piece of oak and cherrywood,
was never moved into the house.

"Mulder doesn't play chess."


"Really. I live with the king of instant gratification. If I didn't know
better I'd say he had ADD. The man has no patience for this sort of thing. He
can't wait for anything."

Krycek was trying to fit this information into the picture of the obsessed man
he used to know. "I guess he burned up all of his patience on the X-files and
the conspiracy stuff," Alex offered, moving a pawn.

Skinner promptly took it. "Probably. He hasn't got the tenacity for non-
essential things any more, therefore no strategy. He never did, really. He's
always been very reactive. It's no fun to play against someone if they can't
attack and defend at the same time. You need to play against someone who
understands the idea of sacrificing a piece deliberately in order to accomplish
something larger." Skinner looked at Krycek thoughtfully. "No wonder you like

"Yeah. The old smoking bastard was a hell of a chess teacher."

"Among other things," Skinner agreed dryly.

Mulder touched him. A lot. Casual caresses, a hand on the shoulder, one-armed
hugs, and the occasional gentle kiss which did more to keep Alex off balance
than anything else in this odd menage. Alex kept waiting for Skinner to bring
it up, yet he never mentioned it, never seemed to notice. He had walked into
the kitchen once, just as Krycek was trying to catch his breath after one of
Mulder's very focused kisses. He knew what he had to look like; something had
flickered in Skinner's eyes, but it was gone the next instant and his voice had
sounded perfectly normal when he greeted them.

Mulder was just as hands-on with Skinner. Not demonstrative, exactly; it was
almost as if he were using physical contact to continually prove ... something
... to himself. And Walter Skinner, not the most cuddly person Alex could name,
tried to give Mulder what he needed. The two men were almost always in some
sort of physical contact; an arm along the back of the sofa, a hand resting on
a thigh, hands playing absently in dark hair as they read or watched TV. They
rarely embraced or kissed in his presence, for which he was profoundly grateful.

One morning, about a week after that shattering night in their bed, he had
wandered into the bathroom, too sleepy to be careful or observant. Skinner,
still wet and steaming from his shower, had been plastered against the wall,
pinned by Mulder on his knees before him. Alex had been unable to do anything
but watch as Mulder skillfully and enthusiastically brought Skinner up to the
edge of orgasm, then pushed him over with a cheerful headtoss. In that last
instant before Skinner had come, he had opened his eyes and seen Alex. They had
stared at one another for long moments, before the pleasure ripped Skinner away
and closed his eyes, locking him away from Krycek.

Back in his own room, Alex had expected the gnawing jealousy he felt. He had
been ready for the hunger and the raking of sheer lust that he felt at the bare
idea of Mulder naked, on his knees, and ready to swallow him whole. He hadn't
been ready for anything else he had felt. Not the sense of the beauty of the
two men together, not the need he had to touch the two of them, not that jolt of
connection he had felt when Skinner's gaze met his. And certainly not the need
he had to cherish Mulder, to either pick him up and lead him to a soft bed to
love him for hours or to join him on that floor...

Another chess game, another conversation.

"Skinner, I don't exactly work and play well with others. How are we gonna work
this so Mulder doesn't get chewed up between us?"

"I have no idea. This wasn't what I'd...."

"I know. This wasn't what you'd planned on."

The two men grinned at one another, surprised again by that spark of connection.

"I'm not too good at sharing my toys either, Krycek."

"I'd guessed," Krycek flashed another grin, remembering the one bite mark that
could still be seen over the collar of Mulder's flannel shirt. Mulder had
blushed like a teenager when Krycek noticed it.

"We'll work it out," Skinner promised, suddenly heartened by the sense that he
*knew* Alex Krycek now and recognizing for the first time that he truly had
nothing to fear from Mulder's feeling for this man.

"OK," Krycek agreed and absently took his Queen's bishop. "Checkmate."

* * *

Thanksgiving was approaching; Mulder was on edge with excitement. Although he
had never enjoyed holidays as a child, he was growing fond of them now, but he
had a family now with whom holidays could be shared. Samantha, her husband, the
twins, and their golden retriever were coming in for Thanksgiving, and Mulder
genuinely looked forward to spending the day with both his sister and the man
who had brought her back into Mulder's life. Samantha had professed similar
anticipation over the telephone. By the time Mulder had included his mother -
there was no way not to invite her - and Samantha's best friend, the head
librarian of a community college library, her husband, and their children, who
were of an age with Samantha's twin girls, he had assembled twelve for
Thanksgiving. He deployed Krycek as his lieutenant in the kitchen, and informed
Skinner in no uncertain terms that Skinner was in charge of football game crowd
control in the living room for the day. That was probably the hardest job,
entailing control of the television remote, beer can patrol, snack food
monitoring, and keeping children and dogs from blocking the view of the
television. However, it did entitle the delegate to watch all of the football
he wanted, so it was also the best job of the day in Skinner's estimation.

The holiday weekend was pleasant and singularly uneventful, as was the week
following. The snows were beginning, flurries icing the sand dunes along the
beach with a silver-white coating of snow. Maxie moved fractionally closer to
the fireplace in the evenings, though Casey was all too happy to frolic on the
icy crust in the morning.

Krycek had begun to relax visibly since the morning he had brought his hosts
breakfast; Mulder came home from a library steering committee meeting that
Tuesday afternoon to find Krycek and Skinner on the living room couch, each
reclining from the opposite end of the couch with their legs negligently
tangling in the middle around a bowl of popcorn. Mulder merely grinned. Alex,
he thought, was beginning to look downright domesticated, his nose occasionally
buried in an old financial accounting textbook of Skinner's that he had found in
the attic.

* * * * *


Nearly a month after Alex Krycek had been kidnapped?... rescued?... retrieved?
... from that trashy bar in upstate New York, he awoke early one morning and
discovered that it was time to leave.

He got up and flexed and twisted and found that he was nearly completely healed.
His ribs only gave him a slight twinge; his muscles were flexible and he had put
on weight again. He was well-rested and found that he had regained a sense of
energy and purpose that he hadn't had in nearly two years. There were people to
see, things to do, a life to be finished with... it was time.

He dressed in the best of the clothes that Mulder and Skinner had lent him.
Mulder's jeans and Skinner's shirt and sweater. Boots. His own belt and
leather jacket. The jacket had been cleaned and repaired; he had discovered it
hanging in the closet in his room two weeks ago; the laundry ticket in the
pocket said "Skinner". His holster had been cleaned and oiled, as well, and it
hung beside the jacket.

It was almost five a.m. as he catfooted downstairs and went to the cabinet in
which Mulder had hidden his gun. Then he went and retrieved the clip and the
spare ammunition from a decorative vase on the mantelpiece. He smiled; Mulder
had chosen excellent hiding places, but Alex had been bored one long rainy
morning when both men had been out of the house. Curiosity tempered with
tenacity had always been his hallmarks.

He went back into the kitchen to find himself a snack. He estimated that he had
at least an hour before either of the other two got up. By 6 a.m., he'd be over
the Bourne Bridge and well on his way to Boston and points west. He told
himself that he wasn't running, he was simply making it easier for all of them.
This way, there would be no embarrassing scenes, no strings, no ties ... no
reason for Mulder to ask him to stay. He had things to do, things that Mulder
wouldn't understand and Skinner wouldn't condone. There were loose ends that
needed an expert's hand to them tie up or cut them off, as circumstances
warranted. There was also a car to steal; his lip quirked when he thought of
what Mulder would say.

It's for the best, he told himself coolly and sat down to make sure his hardware
was in good order. As he snapped the clip into the pistol, a voice said,

"Going somewhere, Krycek?"

He nearly jumped. Oh shit. He did *not* need this right now.

He looked up and was captured by the angry glitter in the other man's eyes.
"Skinner. I'm leaving."

"I can see that." The dark gaze was unwavering. Krycek checked the clip and
slid it back into the pistol, then slipped the pistol back into the shoulder
holster beneath his jacket.

"What I want to know is - why?"

Krycek shrugged his shoulders, partially to settle the shoulder holster, grown
unfamiliar with weeks of non-use, and partly as an answer to the big man in the
doorway. How could anyone look that menacing in a bathrobe?

"Not good enough, Krycek. Why are you leaving?"

He gritted his teeth at the casually commanding tone in Skinner's voice.
"Because I feel like it! That was the deal, wasn't it? I stayed here, I
healed, I could leave when I wanted. I'm healed. So I'm leaving." He saw
Skinner's jaw clench, then relax slowly as he nodded, remembering the terms of
Krycek's stay.

"Will you be back?" he asked quietly.

Krycek looked up sharply. "I...don't know. I hadn't planned on...," he
stopped, not willing to tell any more of the truth than necessary to get away
from this man who always seemed to compel him to expose more of himself than he

"Why are you really leaving, Alex?" Skinner asked softly. Damn. Before he
realized it, Alex Krycek was telling the unvarnished truth. Again. How does he
*do* that?, Krycek wondered, even as he said,

"I can't live off you any more. I have some money and some 'business'
opportunities that I can still tap. It's time for me to hunt for myself again."
His face darkened. "And there's still the little matter of Vladimir to be dealt

But Skinner was nodding, as if he had heard the truth in Alex's words and
accepted it. "What about Mulder?"

Alex Krycek couldn't answer. How to explain that he felt himself changing,
becoming someone different, transmuting under the unceasing heat and pressure of
Mulder's affection? How to explain that the gentle look in Mulder's eyes
frightened him more than the psychotic bloodthirsty Mulder who had once held a
gun to his face?

"He's got you."

Skinner nodded once, but said, "And he wants you, too."

"Jesus, Skinner, what do you want?! I would have thought that I couldn't leave
fast enough for you!"

Skinner smiled a little sadly, one corner of his mouth quirking. "You'd think,"
he said ruefully. "Just come back, Alex."

It took Alex Krycek a moment to correctly interpret the expression in Walter
Skinner's eyes. Krycek's eyes closed as he realized that the two of them had
outflanked him. Where he could run from Mulder standing before him, he couldn't
evade Skinner too. He was well and truly caught.

"Damn you two," he snarled.

Skinner smiled.

Krycek shrugged his leather and gun oil persona back about him. "Tell Mulder
I'll bring him a present." He flashed a cocky grin and headed for the door. He
was almost home free when Skinner's voice touched him.

"Alex - who has to die for you to bring Mulder a present?"

'Oh no,' Alex groaned internally, 'here it comes.' His shoulders slumped and he
turned around, waiting for the ultimatum. Skinner just looked at him, serious,
concerned, silent.

After uncounted moments, Krycek snarled, "All right! White collar only, I
promise. No one dies. No contracts. Is that good enough for you?"


This time, Krycek groaned aloud. "Skinner - that's family business. He deserves
it, trust me." That same steady regard, demanding nothing but compelling him

"Fine!" he snapped. "Vladimir is safe. More or less," he said under his breath.

Skinner nodded, smiling slightly. He crossed the room and put his hands on
Krycek's shoulders. "Safe journey, Alex," Walter said softly, then bent and
kissed him the way his grandfather had when he was a child, leaving home --
once on each cheek, then a brief brush across his lips. Alex could feel his
eyes burning when Skinner stepped back.

"I hate you," he said without heat.

"I know," Skinner smiled gently and handed him the Wagoneer's keys. "Bring it
back without a scratch or Mulder will have a fit."

Alex Krycek went out into the darkness before dawn, smiling.

* * *


When Mulder awoke and found that Alex had gone, Skinner was prepared for every
kind of reaction except the one that he got -- resigned acceptance. At least
until Mulder discovered that it was *his* car Krycek had ... borrowed. Mulder
spent all of breakfast and most of lunch sputtering and muttering about the
graphically unloving things he wanted to do to Alex Krycek when he caught up
with him. Skinner finally grew tired of it and all but shoved Mulder out to
review the latest set of galleys from his publisher.

A short time later, the telephone rang in the house, where Skinner was idling
with the television. "Walter," Mulder yelped, "get over here. I've got an e-
mail from him."

Skinner grabbed his jacket and dashed out to Mulder's study. Mulder sat in his
desk chair with his legs crossed under him on the seat. "Damn Alex," sighed
Mulder. "What's that line about leopards and spots?"

He pointed to the screen.

"To: fwm1@ma.on~line.com
From: ak47@hotmail.com
Re: Thanks for the car, Dad

Mulder - I did what you said. And I'm not entirely better yet, but I'm well
enough to do this. I owe you and Skinner, and I know what to do about it. I
should be back by summer but you'll hear from me before then. If you don't hear
from me by Christmas, call your friend Langly. This e-mail address will find me
but I don't know how often I'll have a chance to access it.

Tell Skinner thanks for the financial accounting book, and for the medical
assistance. I couldn't have made it this far without him. Oh - tell him I
promise to keep it white collar. He'll know what I mean.

/It is sometime since I have been
to what it was had once turned me backwards,
and made my head into
a cruel instrument.

It is simple
to confess. Then done,
to walk away, walk away,
to come again./

--- Alex"

Skinner chuckled; Mulder looked up at him, curious. "Looks like Krycek took a
piece of advice I gave him to heart," Skinner explained. "Also your poetry
anthology. I think we've created a monster."

"I don't care what we've created," Mulder spluttered, exasperated. "And I
don't care what he's up to. But damn it, he's got my Wagoneer. And I won't get
any insurance coverage on it unless I report it stolen. Shit."

Two weeks later, there was another e-mail.

"To: fwm1@ma.on~line.com
From: ak47@hotmail.com
Re: Hi

/Nervy with neons, the main drag
was all there was. A placeless place.
A faint flavor of Mexico in the tacos
tasting of gasoline. Trucks refueled
Before taking off through space./"

And that was all.

"I don't get it at all," Mulder vented. "What the hell is he trying to tell
us? I'm lost."

"Well, Krycek isn't," Skinner snorted. "And apparently he's been doing a
little reading on the side. He's in the Californian desert, I'd guess," Skinner
mused, reading over Mulder' shoulder and absently rubbing at the tense muscles
he found there.

"How do you get that?"

"Because, Oxford grad, that's from a poem celebrating - of all places - Barstow,
California. I have no idea what he's up to, but that's where he is. However, I
doubt if he'd tell us where he is if he were planning to stay there. At least
he's in one piece."

"Yeah. God, what kind of mileage is he piling on my car?"

And Skinner, hearing the worry and yearning behind the cranky words, kissed him
lightly on the temple and kept rubbing.

A week before Christmas. Mulder entered the kitchen after working in his study,
stamping snow off of his Bean boots. Skinner was at the stove making coffee.
"Your broker called," he informed his lover. "He was confirming a purchase."

"Huh? I didn't buy anything."

"Tell him that," Skinner replied. "You seem to be the proud owner of fifteen
hundred shares of American Megatherium now."

"American Megatherium?" Mulder gulped. "Sam's husband was talking up Megatherium
at Thanksgiving. I asked Scott about it, but three fifty a share is way too
salty for me. What's Scott mean, fifteen hundred shares?" He stamped back out
to his study, booted his computer, and called his broker, who cheerfully
confirmed that Mulder had just purchased fifteen hundred shares of Megatherium.
For cash.

While he was still staring at the screen in bewilderment, an email arrived.

"To: fwm1@ma.on~line.com
From: ak47@hotmail.com
Re: Conspicuous consumption

Mulder - In case you don't hear from me shortly, Merry Christmas. Or Happy
Hanukkah - your choice. I've taken the liberty of sending you a holiday present
by way of your broker; sorry I hacked your on-line account to do it, but your
brother-in-law is right about Megatherium.
Let's just say a former Megatherium director owed me a few favors. Oh, I sent a
present to the Gunmen too. Don't even ask.

/The Elwha River, I explained, is a real river.../
There are no redwoods north of southern Curry County, Oregon./

Thank Walter for letting me borrow the poetry anthology; I have to do something
between jobs. I guess the cultural shit is rubbing off. Thank him again for
the financial accounting refresher, by the way.
Love, Alex."

A call from Langly.

"You know, Mulder, it's interesting how many of the businessmen involved in the
Consortium were from the Pacific states, you know it? We wound up with a list
of the businesses indirectly involved. Did you know that the chairman of Oregon
Paper mills - he used to be a director at American Megatherium - was the
treasurer for those dudes? Byers says there's about twenty million of Oregon
Paper mills and AmMeg money unaccounted for that this guy might have diverted
before the Consortium collapsed. Somebody's sending Byers anonymous mailings on
this stuff. We checked it out and it's all true. Jeez, you can't trust anyone.
I was gonna get a cabin out there but I think they've sold out worse than we
have, and that's not even counting all of Bill Gates' spies out there."

Four-thirty, Christmas Eve. Mulder was suffering the torments of the damned,
waiting for confirmation that Scully and her husband would be in by seven. The
doorbell rang. Mulder ran to the front door to answer it, halfway expecting a
few of the local schoolchildren to be up to last minute charity collecting.
Instead, it was a young man in a service uniform from a Boston auto dealer, with
a flatbed car carrier behind him.

"Is there a Mr. Fox Mulder at this residence?"

"Uh, yeah, me. Why?"

"Well, I was asked to deliver a Christmas present for you." The man looked at
his clipboard and read in a flat South Boston accent,

"Uh...Alex says thanks for letting him use the car and he hopes this will
replace it okay. Sign here."

Skinner wandered downstairs and looked out the window. "Mulder, what's that
Range Rover doing in the driveway?"

"I'm not sure, but something tells me that someone else owed Alex a favor."

"He's a touch extravagant, your boytoy."

They stood watching the delivery man unhook the car and park it in the driveway.
"At least it's the same color as the Wagoneer," Skinner offered, then sighed,
"And all I got you was a sweater."

"Well, if I need to hunt the rat-bastard down, I've got all the driving
capacity needed for a safari."

Skinner dropped a hand on his lover's shoulder. "Is that any way to talk about
someone who just gave you a shiny new toy for Christmas?"

Mulder looked at the older man inquiringly, his head tilted slightly. "Walter
Skinner, if I didn't know better, I'd think you missed Alex."

Skinner shrugged, a little embarrassed by the gently speculative look on
Mulder's face. "Why shouldn't I? He could play chess. And I have to admit
he's really starting to understand modern poetry."

It wasn't until later, when they took the new car out for a test drive, that
they saw the bumper sticker. Walter noticed it first, as he crossed behind the
Rover heading for the passenger side. There, professionally positioned on the
extreme left edge of the rear bumper, was the message:

"Earth is Full, Go Home!"

They nearly laughed themselves sick.

* * *

New Year's, then February. An e-mail near Valentine's Day, this time to
Skinner's account:

"To: wss~1@ma.on~line.com
From: ak47@hotmail.com
Re: Whiter whites

/What I expected, was/Thunder, fighting,/Long struggles with men/And
climbing./After continual straining/I should grow strong;/Then the rocks would
shake,/and I rest long./

Happy Valentine's Day. My collar is purer than the driven snow. You'll be
hearing about my activities shortly, Walter. Think of it as a bouquet of
delayed justice. Love to Mulder.

Skinner rubbed his head. "I can hardly wait," he muttered, wondering what Alex
Krycek would consider an appropriate Valentine's gift for his lover's lover. He
ignored the treacherous tickle of hope that Alex might come back.

A week later, after dinner, Skinner turned on the network news. He figured that
life had not changed much if Tom Brokaw was still putting the world in order
every evening. Mulder came in, carrying coffee mugs, at the first commercial

"You don't have any stock in Ogilvie Petrochemical, do you?" Skinner asked his

"I'd better not; I told Scott to steer clear of petroleum stocks generally. Why
do you ask?" Mulder settled onto the couch beside the older man, curling against
his side.

"Donald Ogilvie was just arrested for embezzling one hundred fifty million
dollars from the corporation. Why would he do that? The man's a billionaire."

The news resumed while Skinner lightly browsed in Mulder's hair and began
stroking one finger down his throat. At first, they paid only sporadic
attention to the newscast.

"In an apparently unrelated development," Brokaw droned, "Peter Carpenter,
maverick businessman and political renegade, committed suicide today at his
ranch in Montana. Carpenter was chairman and chief executive officer of
Carpenter Pharmaceuticals ... accused yesterday by his corporate financial
department of diverting fifty million dollars from corporate accounts to ...
used to fund illegal research in biochemical engineering at three Spanish
universities. ... denied any knowledge of the projects. ... he and Donald
Ogilvie have been indirectly linked a few years ago to genetic research projects
allegedly covered up by the federal government. With news of the impact of
Carpenter's death on the world pharmaceutical markets, here's Ellen Chang with a
special report...."

By the time pretty Ellen Chang began speaking, they were both staring at the
screen, Mulder's shirt hanging half-open and forgotten.

"You don't think ... ?" Mulder sighed.

"I don't think is right. I know. It's got to be him."

"In business news," Brokaw continued after Chang's report, "the stock of
Kenneth Aeronautics took a nosedive today after chairman William Kenneth was
found at a stockholders' meeting at the Philadelphia Sheraton Society Hill in
his suite with three call girls. Two of them, ages nineteen and twenty, had
been provided with alcohol and cocaine, apparently by Mr. Kenneth. Kenneth has
denied any knowledge of how the women, whom he claims were intoxicated when he
found them, arrived in his room."

"I give up," Skinner groaned into his coffee mug. "I thought we were done with
all that. Once is accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is Alex Krycek.
Was Bill Kenneth linked to anything Consortium-related?"

"I'd have to ask Byers to be sure," Mulder mused as he began gently soothing his
lover's shoulders. "But I think he was providing technical support on some of
the mechanical studies of the alien spacecraft for them."

"I knew it. Ooh - don't stop that - right there, yeah," Skinner sighed as
Mulder's fingers dug into the knots in his shoulders. "Apparently that's our
Valentine's Day present from Krycek."

"Well, it certainly beats a box of chocolates," Mulder pointed out, a demonic
grin beginning to bloom at the thought of a little one-armed retribution
visiting the last of the Consortium Untouchables. He saw the edge of Skinner's
mouth start to turn upward as well and knew that he was just as tickled by the
effervescent feeling of Justice being served to those bastards. He had to admit
that, in the gift-giving department, Krycek had style.

* * *

Then it was March, and a blustery cold Easter, shared with both Sam and her
family and with Scully and her husband. After years of treatments, Scully was
pregnant, and the day brought them no common dose of joy. But looking at Mulder
down the table, Skinner knew that Mulder needed one more face at the table to
make him truly happy.

Later that day, Skinner found another e-mail waiting for him.

"I don't get it," Mulder groused when Skinner dragged him away from playing
chess with his niece to read it. "The poetry is hard enough to figure out,
but that looks like code."

"It's not code," Skinner said gruffly. "It's Russian. Transliterated, not in
Cyrillic. If I remember what little I grew up with around my grandparents and
cousins, it's part of the Orthodox Easter liturgy on death and resurrection.
It's about hope and renewal - I did tell him I grew up with Russian Orthodox
relatives - but knowing Alex Krycek, it has to mean something else."

Mulder, seated at Skinner's keyboard, closed out Skinner's e-mails and logged on
for his own mail. "I've got one from Alex too. If it's in Hebrew, he's dead.
Unless you read that, too?"

"Did I ever tell you about my college roommate? Yitz Kauffmann? The college
Hillel president? The only guy I knew who got his first lay in the back seat of
a car with a Catholic girl while wearing a yarmulke?"

"No, you didn't," Mulder sighed. "I should have known, Walter. Oh - wait -
no, it's English. In fact, it's ... Sylvia Plath, I think."

"To: fwm1@ma.on~line.com
From: ak47@hotmail.com
Re: (no subject)

/The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.

It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amazed shout:

'A miracle!'
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart -
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge,
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes./


They've killed me three or four times over. Now they're gone, and I'm still
here. And I think I've finally gotten my charge for the pieces they took in the
process. Revenge may not be enough, but it's close. I'll be heading east again,
but don't wait up for me...

/I still have plans to go to Mexico this summer/

The note was unsigned.

"I take it back," Mulder laughed.

"What's that?"

"I guess Alex does have a taste for Berryman."

Neither of them commented on the hesitant, skittish sound of Alex's message. It
was obvious that he had reached a crisis point and there wasn't a damned thing
they could do to help him. Who are you when everything you've ever fought for
or against is gone? They had each gone through that particular fire separately,
as every man must.

They silently agreed to await developments and Alex Krycek together.

A few weeks later, Easter, and Dana Scully, having passed once again from the
Cape, and the weather was on the upturn, Mulder sat crosslegged at his desk
chair in the study. It was time to review some lecture notes, with a talk at
Columbia scheduled for that weekend. This crew would enjoy antigovernment
paranoia, he figured; nothing like the actual history of Area 51 coverage to
induce fear and loathing in even the least skeptical.

The "mail" chime played on the computer. From Alex. It began with another

"To: fwm1@ma.on~line.com
From: ak47@hotmail.com
Re: The Apple in Decay

/'Ah nuts! It's boring reading French newspapers/in New York as if I were a
colonial waiting for my gin...'/

Dear Mulder:
I see in the Village Voice that you're at Columbia University on Friday night
and Saturday. Hate to miss the talk but I figure I'm part of it anyway - been
there, done that, still have the t-shirt.
I've got a little more moving to do, and I don't love New York any more, not
after last year. A few more markers to call in before I can hang this up. I'm
too old for the game any more; I just want to close out my hand with as big a
flush as I can engineer before I deal myself out for good. You did the same
thing when you left the Bureau, and you know it. You'd never have left without
your sister, a book deal, and your man there.

I hope to hell you don't hate my guts, but you can tell me when I bring back the
car. Love, Alex."

Mulder spoke to the computer. "I don't hate you, Alex. Come on home." Then he
went to tell Walter.

* * *

A few days before Memorial Day. No e-mails; surprisingly, however, a postcard.
A picture of Fanueil Hall, postmarked Boston, with no return address. Two lines
in the message space.

/Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston./

No signature. Skinner and Mulder looked at each other and nodded; no signature
was needed. The prodigal appeared to be on the direct return route home.



It was a dark evening a week later when they drove in and noticed that the
motion detectors didn't turn on the outside lights. Then Mulder pointed out
that the houselights were all off as well- he had certainly left one or two on.
Skinner turned off the headlights and let the car coast in, stopping before the
curve of the driveway.

"I'm probably being paranoid," he started.

Mulder reached up and flipped off the cabin light switch, to prevent the
interior of the car from lighting up as they got out. "I'll take the back, you
take the front," he said shortly and loosened the gun in his holster. A hand
reached out and touched Skinner's shoulder, then Mulder was slipping from the
car, leaving the door ajar and moving silently into the dark.

Skinner knew he was overreacting. Probably. If it turned out that the power was
out and the generator hadn't kicked in, he was going to feel like a fool. But
he and Mulder had so many old enemies and more than one ex-FBI man had lost his
life to some old adversary.

He got out and decided on a straightforward approach, walking confidently up the
front walk, up the stairs. He could hear the ocean's soothing rhythm and see
the outlines of the porch furniture in the starlight. Casey gave one short,
happy-sounding "Yarf!" at the sound of his step on the porch. That tore it -
the dog was plainly too calm for there to be an intruder. Shaking his head at
his own overtrained fight or flight response, he reached for his keys. And
stopped when the shadow at his shoulder rippled and there was the cold touch of
gunmetal at his left temple.

"Put your hands on the doorframe," a voice spat.

Skinner complied, mind working furiously. His gun was in its holster in the
small of his back - useless now. The gun at his temple began sliding down the
left side of his face, an obscene caress that made him shiver. Where the hell
was Mulder?

The shadow man's hand began patting him down, finding his weapon and relieving
him of it in record time. Damn. He would have to wait until Mulder distracted
his assailant, then... His was shocked out of his tactical planning when that
shadowy hand began running over his chest, then slid slowly down his abdomen.
His fingers dug into the doorframe. "What the hell are you doing?!"

There was no answer, but the muzzle of the gun tucked itself under the point of
his jaw and that wandering hand slipped down his right thigh.

Terrific. It wasn't enough that someone from their past had tracked them here;
it had to be a pervert from their past. His attacker's hand crept across his
leg to press against his groin. He choked and squirmed away. His movement was
stopped when the barrel of the gun, now warmed by his skin, dug in.

"What do you want?" his voice grated out.

"How about a kiss?"

It took a moment for Skinner to realize that the breathy whisper was familiar,
then his fear turned into a red haze and he was preparing to spin and rend the
man behind him when there was the merest whisper of movement and the hand on him
went very still. The gun was taken away from his jaw and the hand dropped away.
Slowly, he turned.

Alex Krycek stood behind him, both hands in the air, Mulder's gun tucked snugly
beneath his left eye. His lover's eyes met his, one spark away from hilarity.
As well he might be, Skinner grouched internally, *he* hadn't had been the one
thinking he was about to catch a bullet on his own front porch.

He took a deep breath, violently suppressing his urge to pummel either or both
of the grinning men before him. He resolutely did not think about why the three
of them needed to play such sharp-edged games, nor why he was hard and hot and
achingly ready; the past left its marks in the strangest places.

"Krycek - don't you ever knock?"

Then he and Mulder had Krycek sandwiched in between them and there was no more
to be said.

* * *

In retrospect, Walter Skinner knew better than to allow the Mulder and Krycek
out of the house unsupervised the next morning. Particularly the new, improved
version of Alex Krycek that had returned to them. This was no longer the
battered, broken man they had nursed last autumn. This was Alex Krycek back in
form; glossy, brassy, energetic and as ready for mischief as a business of
ferrets. And Mulder was his match, bouncing and chattering.

Skinner knew better, but he'd allowed himself to be lulled by the excellent
breakfast they served him and the exhausted hum of his own well-loved body.
The unusual luxury of letting someone else deal with the tedious Saturday
morning errands drowned out the little warning bell that went off when he
thought about Mulder and Krycek loose together on the Outer Cape. So Skinner
had no one to blame when the two of them returned a few hours later, arms full
of groceries, laughing like boys. Obviously something was afoot.

He dragged himself off the couch to start putting away groceries when he saw
Mulder go back out to the car and return with a tuxedo in a rental bag. Skinner
put away two gallons of milk - Alex drank it like a calf - and wondered. He
knew he had seen Mulder's tux upstairs next to his own in an unused corner of
the closet. Then it hit him -- the Highland Lighthouse Gala Fund raiser was
tonight - and it was black tie. As a trustee, he was expected to be there and
Mulder was invited as a matter of course. Mulder clearly thought that Skinner
preferred being in the closet, but Walter had never hidden his lover away and
routinely refused any invitations that didn't include Mulder. The rented tux
had to be for Alex.

Walter Skinner stood in front of the open refrigerator door while he considered
the idea of Alex Krycek loosed upon a collection of Yankee Society matrons,
environmentalists and historical preservationists. A dull pain began at the
base of his skull.

Mulder shut the door of the refrigerator for him. "Walter, we ran into Barbara
Hatch at the post office. She..."

Barbara Hatch was the biggest gossip in town. She was also the wealthiest and
was hosting the evening at her summer "cottage" which rivaled the Vanderbilt's
little summer hut in Newport. And she adored handsome men of all ages and
sexual preferences. She would have fallen on Krycek like a starving lioness on
fresh meat.

"... invited Krycek to the gala tonight," Skinner sighed.

Mulder grinned admiringly. "That detective ability must be why they made you an
A.D. Anyway, we picked up a tux for Alex while we were out."

"Oh, good," he said wryly. "Mulder, what happened to low profile for him?"

Alex came back into the kitchen with the last of the groceries, a 25lb bag of
dog food slung over one shoulder and Casey dogging his footsteps with devotion.
"We took care of that. We told her that I was Mulder's brother."

Skinner slumped against the fridge. "Brother? You told her he was your
brother?" Unbidden, a shockingly graphic memory of Krycek slowly sliding into
Mulder's body last night flashed through Skinner's head, leaving him flushed and

"Our is a *very* close family." Alex's grin was pure wickedness.

"And how are you explaining the different names?"

"Actually, we told her he was my half-brother," Mulder explained cheerfully.

"Oh, good," Skinner repeated, feeling a sense of impending doom. "Please tell me
you didn't tell her his name was Alex Krycek?"

"Of course not," Mulder said hastily. "He told her his name was Alex Corcoran."

"My mother's maiden name," Krycek explained, putting the dog food in the pantry.
"At least, I think it was," he added reflectively. "That's the name I used all
the way through school, anyway."

"Gentlemen, I believe we agreed on 'low profile'. None of us wants it getting
around certain circles that there is a one-armed man answering to the name of
'Alex' staying with us. It would call too much attention to us and likely get
one or all of us killed. I don't want a repeat of last night."

"No?" purred Alex Krycek from right behind him, running his hand down the seam
of Skinner's blue jeans, making him gasp.

"No?" growled Mulder, rubbing against Skinner's front, hands straying beneath
his t-shirt. Pinned between the two of them, Skinner tried valiantly to stick to
the point.

"I meant that I'd rather not get shot on my own porch some fine evening. Nor do
I want either of you...oh hell!"

He lost the thread of his argument as Mulder began gently running his tongue
across Skinner's lips and Krycek's mouth was hot on the tender skin behind his
ear. By the time his shirt was gone, he knew he had lost the argument as well.

That evening, as he tied the younger man's bowtie, Skinner reminded Krycek about
the 'low profile' agreement. Then, knowing who he was dealing with, he defined
the words 'low profile', 'discretion' and 'careful', as he tied Mulder's tie for
him. He had only the vaguest hope that they would restrain themselves - the
limpid looks of utter innocence he got from both Mulder and Krycek were warning
enough, like the rattle on a snake. But at least he would have the moral high
ground in whatever debacle ensued from tonight's adventure.

The Hatch Estate was glittering when they arrived. A string quartet played in
one corner, waiters circulated with platters of irritatingly dainty food and
insipid champagne. The three men paused in the doorway of the ball room,
unconscious of the striking tableau they presented. Popular in their own right,
there was no way that Mulder and Skinner could avoid introducing their eye-
catching companion as various admirers and friends swarmed around them. Skinner
was vaguely reassured as Alex made polite and socially correct replies to his
first new acquaintances. The three men were soon separated by the press of the
crowd and Skinner lost track of both of his lovers.

When he next caught sight of Alex, the younger man was standing beside Barbara
Hatch, her plump white hand pressing his shoulder comfortingly. The unnaturally
grave and resigned expression on Krycek's face gave Skinner a premonitory chill.
When next he saw him, there was a small collection of Barbara's close friends
around him. Most were also trustees, so Walter allowed himself to drift into
the group, just in time to hear one earnest young man ask,

"And what are your plans now, Major Corcoran?"

Major?! And then he heard Krycek's reply.

"I'm not sure. There aren't too many experimental aircraft made for one-handed
pilots yet," and he raised his artificial limb with an expression compounded of
resignation, fortitude, and faith in the future. Skinner wanted to strangle him
on the spot and left quickly to remove himself from temptation.

Mulder caught his eye from across the room and held up a fresh drink in
invitation. Plowing through the parade of backless evening dresses and black
wool tuxedos, Skinner reached Mulder's side. Without a word, he took Mulder's
gin and tonic and swallowed half of it before handing it back to him.

"How's he doing?" Mulder asked cheerfully, eyes on Alex as he illustrated some
anecdote with an energetic wave of his hand.

"Your 'brother', the major, has convinced his harem that he lost his arm in some
military experimental testing accident. Apparently, he was a pilot."

Mulder blinked, then gulped the rest of his drink. "Oh, shit," he said faintly.

He ordered two more drinks for them as various acquaintances began coming by to
chatter excitedly about Mulder's exotic and intriguing brother and to relate
some of the fascinating stories he had shared. They began drinking really
heavily when Barbara Hatch remarked that she had invited Alex to join the
Restoration Committee.

* * * * *


"Major Alex Corcoran" gave himself a once-over in his mirror before leaving the
bedroom. LL Bean pleated khakis, cuffed. Blue and white chalk stripe shirt.
Navy hopsacking blazer, courtesy of the downtown Boston Brooks Brothers shop.
One pair of devastating emerald eyes with heavy lids and dark lashes, original
issue, which he would flutter meaningfully today while lunching with his best
client. Who said you had to give up being devious when you retired from the
game? The primary trustee of the Hatch Foundation was going to be eating out of
the palm of his hand again today at lunch and she was going to enjoy it. He,
naturally, would enjoy it even more.

He strode into the kitchen, where Walter Skinner was finishing the process of
scrambling eggs. "Morning, big guy."

Still waving the spatula, Skinner, denim work shirt sleeves rolled up his
forearms, said nothing but turned his head to plant a kiss firmly on Alex's

"Mmm. Remind me about last night, huh?" Alex purred

"As if you needed me to." The spatula went into the sink. "Coffee?"

Alex sank into a chair. "Please."

Skinner cast an appraising eye over Alex while pouring two mugs. "You look
good. But where's the tie?"

"I was going to ask you about that. I think Mulder hid all of my favorite ties
before he went on that damn trip to Vegas."

It was one of Mulder's more juvenile tricks to keep Alex from thinking he ruled
the house completely. Walter would pre-tie all of Alex's ties for him and hang
them, ready to wear. All Alex needed to do one-handed was to slide it into
place and assume his CPA persona, as he had come to think of it. Mulder was
constitutionally unable to leave his tie rack alone, especially when he knew
he'd be likely to miss the explosion when Alex discovered his latest outrage.
One particularly successful maneuver, when both Walter and Mulder were going out
of town for a week, had left Alex with nothing to wear to the office but a dull
purple monstrosity spotted with daisy yellow polka dots.

"Again?" Alex could see Skinner's mouth trying not to twitch and he once again
wondered if Mulder were the only one in the house who had it in for Alex's

"Wait a minute; I've got one that'll work with that outfit." Skinner exited the
kitchen, forgetting his eggs. Alex could hear the larger man tramping up the
stairs as he drank his coffee.

He returned in short order dangling a yellow silk foulard with a navy and maroon
print. "How's this?" Alex nodded, smiled.

"Okay, hot stuff; stand up and I'll tie this thing for you." Alex rose
obligingly, turned around, and pressed himself seductively along the length of
Skinner's body.

"You have to go to work, AlexÉ" Skinner reminded him a little breathlessly as he
looped the tie around Alex's neck. He stopped for a moment to admire the
precision placing of a love bite on Alex's neck. He had been very careful to
fix it slightly behind Alex's ear and just over the collarline. It would be
glaringly obvious to anyone who looked at Alex this morning, but placed just so
that Alex wouldn't have noticed it while shaving this morning. Walter Skinner
smiled cheerfully to himself.

"Rosa can handle things 'til I get there." He ground his hips into Skinner as
the the other man's hands measured and looped the silk. "So why rush?"

Attempting to ignore the provocation, Skinner went on about the business of
adjusting Alex's neck wear. "Half-windsor okay?"

"Fine." Alex continued his attempt to distract his lover from the task, only to
be interrupted by loud barking.

"Okay, Casey! We hear you! Who's at the door, boy?" Under his breath, a
muttered "shit" was clearly audible. Skinner, who was facing the kitchen door,
chuckled as it swung open. Casey began chasing his tail in excitement.

"Well, don't let me interrupt," Mulder tossed a suitcase on the floor. "I
catch an early flight back and what do I find? You're starting without me

"Then get your ass over here before you miss something." Skinner waved him over
to them. "How was Vegas?"

"Disgusting. Hotter and tackier than ever. I hate doing those sci-fi con
panels on extraterrestrial life. So naturally they repeated the panel for three
days. Plus I had to do a fucking autograph session. I'm gonna have carpal
tunnel or something." Mulder wormed his way into a three-way embrace, his arms
around both of the other men.

"Carpal tunnel? Why not? It's about the only thing you didn't have when you
worked at the Bureau," Skinner groused. He let go of Alex to catch both arms
around Mulder and kiss him deeply. "How'd you get back here from the airport?"
he asked when he finally released his lover from the kiss.

"I got a lift from the ferry with the Marshes next door." Mulder turned to Alex
and smirked. "Nice tie, hot stuff. Looks just like one of Walter's." He slid
an arm around Alex's neck and pulled the younger man over for a kiss.

"Quit fucking with my ties, Mulder," Alex threatened cheerfully upon
relinquishing the embrace.

"Why?" Mulder asked, grinning. "We've gotta use someone's ties in bed and I'm
not giving up mine." He went back to the suitcase. "Besides, I bought you your
own Marvin the Martian tie while I was there." A silk tie with a repeated
print of the little alien and his ray gun was waved at Alex.

"You only bought it so you can borrow it from me," Alex snorted. "And I can't
wear it today. I'm having lunch with Barbara Hatch. It's time for the
Foundation's quarterly taxes."

The rest of breakfast was eaten in the same querulously cheerful manner and it
was after 11 when Alex got on his way, leaving Mulder and Skinner drowsing
amidst the rumpled sheets.

Barbara Hatch was curled on a chaise in her sun room when Alex arrived at the
Hatch mansion, which was rumored to be the largest seaside baronial retreat
between Newport and southern Florida. The house always reminded Alex of a
government-owned dacha on the coast of the Black Sea where he had stayed a few
times. Of course, the caviar there had been better and more plentiful, as had
the vodka; the boys had been amusing, too, for that matter. But Valery Arntzen
was a long way away, and a long time past, as was Alex Krycek.

"Major Corcoran. So nice to see you. Please, sit down. It's a lovely day; I
thought we'd look at papers and have lunch in here. If that suits you, of

"Mrs. Hatch, I would love to sit here with you all day anytime. But you know
that." Soulful green eyes peered out from under long, fluttering lashes at
Barbara Hatch, who was as soft, plush, and overstuffed as her furniture. She
looked back at him with middle-aged adoration, edged with a certain amused gleam
that always suggested that she knew exactly what he was doing and allowed it
because it amused her. He liked her and what was more, respected her cheerfully
ruthless business mind and her full-bodied enjoyment of life.

She rang for drinks as he opened a black ostrich-skin portfolio.

"The taxes are done; they'll just need your signature. I thought you might want
to review the Foundation disbursements for last year while you were at it, so I
had a spreadsheet done for you. I'll give it to you after lunch, so you can
look at it and call me next week. At the rate the Foundation's making
donations, you might want to restructure the investments."

"I don't know a thing about money, Major. You know that. You'll just do it for
me, won't you?"

The maid arrived with a tray. Mrs. Hatch removed a martini and pointed Martin
towards Alex. "So that takes care of the business. All before we even get to
the drinks. How nice. Now, how are you and the boys doing?" Mulder and
Skinner, though Skinner was likely Mrs. Hatch's contemporary if not actually her
elder, were always "the boys."

"I know your brother's been out in Las Vegas. Dreadful town. So, well, you
know. Over-stated." She waved one plump hand, adorned with a single
understated 4 carat diamond solitaire.

The word "brother" had had a slight inflection to it, hadn't it? Barbara Hatch
did her "dumb female" act very cleverly but Alex saw clear through her. *She'd*
been the money mastermind, not her husband. She tended to call Alex once a
week, ask him what he knew, if anything, about a particular stock, and whether
it would be a good choice for the Foundation's portfolio. It usually was. He
had no doubt, after all the time they'd spent working together, both
professionally and with Mulder and Skinner on the lighthouse project and other
charitable concerns, that Barbara Hatch had a perfectly good grasp of their
domestic situation. Obviously, she didn't care.

"Monte Carlo is much nicer. You've been there, of course?" she added, playing
with her ring.

"Yes, of course. I had a wonderful time." That was no lie. He had "invested"
twenty thousand dollars' worth of money that had been part of an arms deal on
the roulette tables there. A little strategic betting and more strategic
manipulation had netted him thirty thousand in pocket change after he replaced
the borrowings, and he'd made a solid profit on the arms transaction as well.
And the liquor and boys had been very easy to come by, he recalled. More long-
past business. Who had he been then? Krycek? Arntzen? Or someone else? No

Mrs. Hatch nodded. "It's a lovely place, just like Cancun. Which reminds me.
I'm going to Cancun for a few weeks - at the beginning of June - and I do hate
traveling alone. Especially where I don't know the language. You speak
Spanish, don't you?"

"Yes, I do. Why do you ask?" And Russian, and German, and enough gutter French
to get by in Marseilles that one time; it had served during those drug
transactions in Algeria, too, as he recalled.

"Well - those Latin men - one needs an escort, you know. And I could use some
company anyway. I'd asked Frederick if he could go, but he can't take off

Frederick was Mrs. Hatch's hairdresser. And probably the most flamboyantly
"out" gay man in town. His "swishy hairdresser" routine - which was indeed a
routine - seemed to be popular with clientele of a certain age. If Alex was
her second choice after Frederick, either he now had her completely snowed or
she knew exactly what was what; perhaps both.

"It's just after the Library Gala and before the Strawberry Festival, you
understand. Everyone will need their hair done, so he'll be rather busy.
Would you like to come? My treat, of course."

Alex bit his lip, trying to appear thoughtful while struggling not to laugh.
"Well, I'll have to check with Mulder and Walt. It's a very nice offer."

"Please say you will, Major. We'd only be gone for two, perhaps three weeks.
I'd love to have you, if the boys can live without you for that long."

While in Italy, he had run into several elegant older ladies who had each
sported a cavaliere servente, a younger man who danced pleasant attendance upon
them. In exchange for charming conversation and various light social duties,
the young men were provided with all manner of tangible rewards and entry into
the best that society had to offer. It was a good system, honorable in its way,
and nothing so vulgar as a physical relationship was ever suggested.

He smiled at her, favoring her with a dazzling display of teeth. Major Alex
Corcoran - retired test pilot, accountant, and tame escort to older rich
clients? Well, why not? Mulder and Skinner would get a laugh out of it when he
told them.

"All right, I'll do it. You won't even have to twist my arm. After all," he
added, his grin becoming nearly feral with good humor and memory,

"I really did have plans to go to Mexico this summer."


Feedback would be cheerfully accepted at: JimPage363@aol.com and MJR91@aol.com

Poetry and literary terms used:

PROLOGUE - you know that one!
CANTO - one of the main divisions of a long poem
PROTHALAMION - written to celebrate a marriage
CAESURA - a break in the rhythm
EXEMPLUM - a short narrative with a point, used to support a specific argument
JEREMIAD - prolonged complaint or lamentation
AGON - a dispute between the characters and the Greek chorus
REFRAIN - regularly recurring phrase or idea
ELLIPSIS - the omission of words essential to the meaning but easily filled in
by the reader
ANTIPHRASIS - ironical description
ANALECTION - a passage made up of literary fragments
IDYLLS - short poems describing charming episodes of everyday life
(adapted from the Random House Word Menu)