TITLE: "Settling: Down" - Book Two of the "Settling" series
FEEDBACK: Jimpage363@aol.com
ARCHIVE: Yes to the allslash and Xslash. Others, please ask.
SUMMARY: Skinner and Krycek are threatened by unbridled
domesticity until Fox Mulder rescues them from all that
peace and quiet.
Leila, Karen, Merri Todd, Kass, Dawn and all those who
periodically talk my ego off the ledge!
www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html (Thanks Mona!)
NOTE: Book One can be found at my website.

* * *

Settling: Down - Book Two


* * *

Old. He was getting old. There was no other explanation
for the screaming muscles in his shoulders, the general dog-
weariness he felt as he got out of the SUV in the gloom of a
late winter afternoon. Skinner leaned in to get the bag of
clean laundry he'd left on the passenger seat and felt a muscle
over his ribs twang. The fact that he'd unloaded twenty cases
of books since noon might account for some of it, his more
practical side suggested, and he growled at it, preferring to
enjoy his bad mood for a while longer.

It lasted until he got across the ice-pack of the clearing where
they parked and up the stairs to the front door. It had snowed
again today, but the stairs and porch were spotless, clear and dry.
He scraped the snow and salt from his boots and went in. Krycek
looked up from his desk across the room and gave him his usual
calm nod of welcome and Skinner felt his mood lighten. He
stripped off his jacket, kicked off his boots, hung up the keys,
took the laundry into the bedroom and dumped it on the bed to be
sorted out later. Krycek had gone back to peering intently at
his screen, hand running through his own hair until it had the
same sincerely rumpled look it got after two hours of dedicated sex.
The memory of the last time Krycek's hair had looked that rumpled
cheering him up considerably, Skinner asked, "How's it going?"

"The guy who originally wrote this code was either a ham-handed
moron or a complete genius. I can't decide which."

Finding out that Krycek had honest work had been something of a
surprise. Somehow, during that long Thanksgiving weekend of sex
and mutual discovery, it had never occurred to Skinner to ask how
Krycek supported himself. Then, that Monday morning, he had
rolled out of bed to discover that his ex-assassin-conspiracy-
thug-roommate had a thriving on-line consulting business running
out of his living room. It had been almost as big a shock as
discovering the big screen flat wall TV in Krycek's bedroom, hooked
to a satellite service that gave him access to over four hundred
channels in 7 countries. Or the wall-to-wall bookcases that lined
that bedroom, filled with the most surprising mixture of classics,
fantasy, philosophical treatises and poetry. His home was
comfortable, not opulent, but in his own specialized way, Alex
Krycek was a hedonist of the mind.

Skinner had adjusted with remarkably little effort. He enjoyed the
novelty of watching Chinese soccer matches, Scottish soap operas,
and Canadian variety shows. He also caught up on movies he had
missed while he was trying to save the world and keep himself and
his friends alive. He read voraciously, walked in the woods and
tried to remember who he had wanted to be. After about a week of
lazing in this fashion, he had borrowed Krycek's car keys, gone
down into town and found himself a job.

He had turned down Sheriff Hunt's job offer twice since Thanksgiving.
Skinner had been firm but polite both times the sheriff had cornered
him. He was done with law enforcement. He had been deliberately
vague about which branch he had been in and his reasons for leaving
and he could see the sheriff was unconvinced. He wondered if this
would be likely to cause trouble later on. So far, it hadn't.

That afternoon, he had dropped into the bookstore next door to
the cafe and found Sarah, the owner, a woman in her mid-forties
with rheumatoid arthritis, struggling with a crate of new books.
He'd lent her a hand and an hour later he'd walked out with a stack
of new paperbacks and a part-time job.

Krycek had laughed once at the idea of a former assistant director
of the FBI selling bodice rippers and Goosebumps books. But he had
given Skinner a set of keys to the SUV and a list of books he wanted
ordered and they had settled into an oddly domestic pattern that
Skinner hadn't known for years. He suspected, from Krycek's well-
disguised consternation, that the younger man hadn't ever lived
this way but that he was enjoying the novelty.

There was a chicken roasting with a handful of potatoes on the rack
beside it, so Skinner grabbed a beer and went into the living room.
The mail was on the coffee table, so he dropped onto the sofa and
rifled through the stack that was his. He had adopted Krycek's
remailer service for his own correspondence and now his mail was better
traveled than he was by the time it finally reached one of the post
office boxes that Krycek maintained in Asheville and Charlotte.
Nothing more intriguing than some bills and his monthly pension/payoff
from the FBI, approximately half his old salary. Cashing those checks
felt weirdly like accepting alimony, but he dutifully signed them and
mailed them back to his bank in Virginia figuring that the bastards who
had railroaded him out could pay for his continued absence.

About twice a month, there was a letter from Mulder, detailing whose
ass he was now roasting with the information in the files that Krycek
and Skinner had sent him after Thanksgiving. The letters sometimes
had a plaintive note to them, usually in the closings. Skinner had
called him twice; the short, stilted conversations had left him feeling
hungry and edgy for hours afterward.

He had not told Mulder where he was nor with whom he lived and Mulder
did not ask. Skinner didn't give him a phone number and he made no
apologies. Mulder asked none but sometimes it seemed as if the air
between them crackled with words unsaid and feelings only half-
suspected. Skinner knew that this was merely a period of calm after
a storm, so he made the most of it, enjoying the quiet life he now
lived with Alex Krycek.

He chuckled at the inherent absurdity of his thought and heard Krycek
ask, "What?" just before a warm hand closed over his right shoulder.
A cool weight lay on his left shoulder and Krycek began to massage
the tense muscles, the pressure lighter on the left since he had no
real way to estimate the grip of the prosthetic. Not minding the
unevenness of the massage, Skinner closed his eyes and let his head
drop back against Krycek's abdomen, sighing in pleasure at the
unexpected overture.

It had taken a while for Krycek to become accustomed to simple
non-sexual, nonviolent physical contact outside of a bed. Skinner
had missed it from earlier, happier days in his marriage and had
hesitantly experimented with Krycek. A touch on the arm here, a
grip of the shoulder there, the occasional hug, fingers ruffling
through hair. It had made Krycek skittish at first, but Skinner
persisted and Krycek now accepted it cheerfully. In fact, he
sometimes sought out Skinner's touch on occasion and, rarer still,
reached out. Neither of them spoke of it; after all, what would
they say?

"How was your day?" Skinner asked, ignoring the question.

"Jesus. Can we get any more 'Ozzie and Harriet' here?" But
Krycek's hands never stopped their soothing rhythm.

"Now you know why I was laughing. Pretty soon, we'll have to
get a cat."

"Don't laugh. There are mice in the pantry. They seem to
like pasta and that really expensive chocolate you buy and never

"The mice are carbo-loading?"

The hands on his shoulders stopped and Skinner opened his eyes to
look up into Krycek's upside-down exasperated gaze. "You know,
you're just getting weirder, Walt."

"I know," Skinner smiled. He made a mental note to pick up
some mousetraps in the morning, as Krycek knew he would.

The perimeter alarm peeped suddenly. They exchanged glances that
told them both that no one was expected. Krycek moved away and
Skinner got up. He put a hand to the small of his back to check
his weapon, watching Krycek do the same. There was nothing to do
but wait the five minutes or so until the car that had tripped
the alarm down at the turnoff made it up the hill. So they waited,
Skinner choosing a stool in the kitchen, Krycek moving to stand in
the shadows beside the fireplace, out of sight of the door.

Eventually, a car pulled into the clearing. The outside floodlights
kicked on. From the corner of his eye, Skinner watched the car's
lights go out; he heard the door slam. There were steps on the
porch, then a hand knocked briskly.

Skinner turned, saw who it was and said quietly, "Oh shit."

"What?" Krycek hissed.

Skinner got up, eyes on the man standing and staring at him
through the glass of the door; then he walked over and opened it. A
blast of chill air rushed in to swirl about him as he just stood and
stared at the man who shouldn't be there. It had begun to snow



From behind him, Skinner heard Krycek agree quietly, "Oh shit."

Mulder's head snapped around at the sound of Krycek's voice, but
he didn't look especially surprised. "Krycek," he nodded, still
standing out in the cold.

"Let him in, Walt," Krycek said and came out into the light,
holstering his weapon.

Skinner shook his head and stepped out of the way, ushering Mulder
into the cabin and closing out the darkness. He silently held out
his hand for Mulder's parka, shook the snow off it, then hung it
on an iron hook next to his own. Mulder's holster was on his belt
and he looked from Krycek to Skinner before unclipping it and
handing it to Skinner, as well. Krycek nodded once, then unclipped
his own holster and crossed the room to put the weapon in one of
the kitchen drawers. "Truce, Mulder?" he asked.

Mulder nodded, swallowing once, staring at Krycek. Melting
snow gleamed in his hair.

"Then, welcome to Boone. And to this house." The words had an
oddly formulaic sound. "We were about to eat dinner. Hungry?"

Mulder nodded again, then looked at both of them. "You look good,"
he said haltingly. "The quiet life suits you." Skinner didn't
know which of them he was speaking to, so he went into the kitchen
area and started taking down plates for dinner.

"Why did you come here, Mulder?" Krycek asked.

"I need more information. There are gaps...you didn't send me
everything, did you?"

Krycek shot a glance at Skinner who met his gaze steadily but said
nothing. Krycek said, "What do you think is missing?"

"There are references to files that aren't there, records of
experiments...," Mulder stopped, then said quietly, "My family.
There are no files on them."

Krycek only nodded. "Let's eat."

A flash of Mulder's temper broke through. "Don't play with me, Krycek."

Krycek held up his hands peaceably, Mulder's eyes automatically
tracking the false one. "I'm not, Mulder. But there's a hell of
a lot of material and it'll still be there in an hour."

"Mulder. Sit down and eat," Skinner rumbled in a tone of voice
he hadn't needed to use in over four months. Mulder held out for a few
minutes, probably out of pure perversity, then seemed to shrug and went
to take a seat at the table.

They ate in silence for a while, passing salt and utensils and making
polite inquiries about beers as if they were any three people sharing
a meal. Mulder ate very little, staring at his plate and gripping
his fork with white-knuckled fingers.

"You don't seem too surprised to see me," Krycek said, breaking the
silence like a man testing the ice on a pond.

"No." Then Mulder relented and looked up. "I knew Skinner was
staying with someone he didn't want to talk about. Then the files
started coming through and there was a very short list of people
that this sort of information could have come from. Then I
realized that we'd never found your body."

"Mulder..." Skinner began, then stopped, not sure what he was going
to say. It had the shape of an apology and he bit it back.

"I didn't trace you, Skinner. If you had wanted us to know where
you were, you would have told us." Mulder looked almost imploring.

"Yet, here you are," Krycek pointed out.

"I got a call yesterday morning, Krycek. From a man looking for
background information on one Walter Skinner."

Krycek and Skinner stared at one another, startled, then Krycek
guessed, "Hunt."

Mulder nodded. "Sheriff Hunt tells me he's looking to hire
this Walter Skinner as a deputy and he's just looking for background
and references. We chat for a while and I ask how my 'old buddy Walter'
is doing down there and he tells me that the guy seems to like Boone
and that his old friend, one 'Alex Michaelson' seems to be taking
pretty good care of him. In fact, the way Alex looks after him, he's
wondering if Walt has had a breakdown or something."

Skinner's jaw was clenching and he looked furious. Krycek knocked
a knuckle on the table in front of Skinner to catch his attention
and grinned. "Chill, Walt. There's nothing for him to find out.
Although, I have to admit I'm impressed with his persistence. We
didn't give him all that many clues."

Skinner glared at him for a moment, then relented. After all,
hadn't he, in essence, *had* a breakdown? Krycek did look after him,
pampered him, really. Someone with as sharp an eye as Hunt would have
noticed. Deep down, he realized he didn't actually give a damn about
what a small town sheriff in a backwater like Boone thought of him.
Krycek was still staring at him, so he raised an eyebrow and shrugged,
which got him a widening of that grin.

Mulder's eyes flickered between them, watching the byplay with fierce
interest, then he continued. "So I ask him why he'd want to hire a
guy he thinks has had a breakdown and he hems and haws for a while,
then I get him talking about this 'Alex Michaelson' guy." Mulder
looked at Krycek and, for the first time, smiled a little. "He
likes you, but I don't think he quite knows what to make of you."

"So he gave you my address and you just decided to show up?" Skinner
grated. "I thought you had better impulse control than that, Mulder."

"Fuck you, Skinner." Mulder's jaw was clenched now. Powerfully
unnamed currents surged around the room.

"Something's happened," Krycek said suddenly.

Most of Skinner's irritation faded. Of course something had happened;
he felt like an idiot for not realizing it before. Mulder had had
more than enough information to skiptrace him for months now but
had respected Skinner's unstated wishes. He thought back to the
plaintive tone of some of Mulder's letters to him and realized that
this man, his friend, had been waiting for his confidence, his trust.
Once again, he had pushed Mulder away and he was doing it still.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "What's happened?"

"They canned me."

"WHAT?!" Even Skinner was surprised at the roar that ripped out
of him. "Those double-dealing sons-of-bitches!"

Mulder and Krycek were blinking at him and he got himself under
control with some effort, righting the beer he'd knocked over. He
busied himself sponging up the spill and avoiding the looking at
either man. He was surprised at how deep the wound still went,
being railroaded out of the Bureau, away from the most important work
he'd ever done. But to discover that his sacrifice had been for
nothing ... he wanted to taste hot blood.

"What kind of deal did you make with them, Skinner?"

When he looked up, Mulder's bright hazel eyes were locked on him,
and he could see them digging deep and rooting around in the mystery.
He shook his head, denying without lying.

"You traded yourself, didn't you? That's the deal you meant." Mulder's
mouth thinned and he shook his head once, swearing almost silently.
"You let them push you out without a fuss, as long as I kept my

Krycek did nothing, said nothing, just watched the two men
untangling the heart of a bomb between them in his home.

"I thought they'd just paid you off when I found that two hundred
grand deposit in your account."

"That was my severance pay. You were watching my checking account?"

Mulder looked guilty. "I forgot to cancel the bank research when
you called Scully and told her you were fine. Honest."

"Let's stay focused here," Krycek intervened, then turned to Mulder.
"What reason did they give for firing you?"

"Actually, I'm on 'administrative leave', pending an investigation
into 'financial irregularities' in my department records, going back
over *five* years."

"Yeah, that sounds like your standard trumped up charge,"
Krycek said thoughtfully. "You'd think someone there would develop
some creativity but it's always the same old shit."

Skinner caught up suddenly. "You were pushing for full disclosure,
weren't you? And you showed them all the evidence we sent you."

Mulder nodded. "I'll give them credit. It took less than 24 hours
from the time of my presentation to the Director and the AD's for
Cassidy to have my weapon and badge on her desk."

Skinner nodded sourly. "It took them a full two weeks to screw me

"I think they're getting more practiced at it." They shared a
grim smile and Skinner finally noticed how drawn and tired Mulder
looked. 'Beaten,' he thought and was pained by it.

"The question is," Krycek said loudly, "what are we going to do
about it?"

Skinner looked at Krycek who met his gaze frankly. Slowly, a
demon grin began to come up on Krycek's face; a wolfish reflection on
Skinner's face had Mulder asking, "What?"

"The orange-labeled files?" Skinner asked, ignoring Mulder for a

"Why not? The bastards deserve it now, wouldn't you say?" Krycek
turned to the other man. "How do you feel about blackmail, Mulder?"

* * *

Skinner knew what Krycek was doing. He just didn't know why yet.
They had cleared away their half-eaten meal, then Krycek had
pulled out his fateful laptop and powered it up. He taught Mulder
the security code, but only the code that accessed the orange
files. The other directories were hidden in this mode, the
directories that contained all the ugliest facts about Fox
Mulder's life and family.

Skinner watched the two dark heads nestled close together as they
peered at the screen and Krycek pointed out certain files that he
thought would be of particular use. He saw Mulder's tight-lipped
nod and saw his long fingers touch the keys to open the first can
of worms. Krycek's hand rested for a moment on his shoulder, then
he straightened up and crossed the room to stand at the mantel next
to Skinner and stare into the fire.

"Whose file is he reading?"

"Cassidy's." Krycek's smile was not nice.

"And her Achilles heel is...?" In the end, Skinner had never opened
those files.

"... named Charles. A married attorney in Baltimore." Krycek
kicked at a log in the stack on the apron.

"Boring," Skinner said, watching Mulder page through information
rapidly, storing away details with a blank face.

"Completely. But then, he's not my type," Krycek flashed a grin
that sputtered and went out quickly.

"Why are you giving him those files and not the ones he came for?"

Krycek was silent for a time, and Skinner turned to look at him,
surprised anew by the elegant beauty in some of his features.
Firelight made Krycek's eyes seem dark, the mysteries within swirling
to meet an explorer. He shook his head at his own weird fancies and
felt a rippled of that deep laughter begin to stir within him. The
intriguing pointed shape of Krycek's right ear held his attention
until the other man finally spoke.

"He's not in good shape, Walt. Look at him," and Skinner turned his
head to obey. "They've pounded him down. He probably hasn't had a
decent night's sleep in months and you saw what he ate. Right
now, he's fueling himself with anger and revenge and not much else.
Let's get him through that, get him some sleep, feed him up, then hit
him with all the rest of the shit." Krycek's voice was deeply worried.
"Besides," he smiled a little, "a little revenge is therapeutic. I
keep trying to tell you that, but you won't even take a stab at

"I prefer your other therapeutic approaches," Skinner said in a
very low rumble, watching as Krycek shot a quick look at him, then
flushed and looked away.

"Yeah, well somehow I don't think Mulder is gonna go for that, so
let's try this route, OK?" The sight of Alex Krycek flustered and
blushing was a sparkling pleasure and Skinner laughed aloud.
Mulder's head shot up and he turned to stare at them for a long
moment, face unreadable across the room. Then he slowly turned
back to the computer and bent to his review again.

Skinner nodded, reassured now that he knew what Krycek was doing
and why. If they could just get Mulder through this ... he had no
idea how he intended to finish that thought.

* * *

Paging through chapters of other people's pecadillos and private
sins, Mulder wondered vaguely how his life would read. Pretty sad,
he figured. Dull, if you left out the kidnappings, the shootings,
the aliens, the monsters and anything with flashing lights. Empty
now, with no job, no wife, few friends and a finished quest that
had held fewer answers than he had mysteries.

Finding Skinner and proving his theory about the source of those
files held a hollow satisfaction at best. Because the one thing
Mulder hadn't been able to work out had been Skinner's motivations for
staying where he was. But now he knew. He heard that laughter, a deep
crushed velvet sound that he had never heard from Skinner before, and
he knew. He didn't understand it, but he knew.

In some odd, detached corner of his mind, he knew that this, too,
made sense. Krycek and Skinner were more alike than either man
would have wanted to admit; they had shared shadowed rifts and
bleak self-knowledge in ways that Mulder could barely guess at.
They were both seeking the same thing; was it so odd that they
had decided to find it together?

Mulder's hands clenched on the edge of the table and the gray light
of the monitor washed out before his eyes. The sense of tearing
loss went so deep that he thought he might begin bleeding. For a
moment, he wanted to hate them both deeply. But it wasn't in him,
any more. He never had been able to truly hate either man, even
when they'd so plainly betrayed him.

He'd tried. But the pure diamond blade of hatred always shattered
and became the spinning fragments of every other emotion but that
one. Skinner's sins were always mitigated by the knowledge that
he'd been blackmailed, mediated by all the times he had acted to
protect and defend Mulder, even when things were at their craziest,
evidence non-existent.

Krycek, well, that was a harder one to explain. Mulder had always
felt a kinship with Alex Krycek, a bond that went too deep for him
to beat it away. The knowledge of Krycek's true role in bringing
about the downfall of all they had fought against just confused the
issue even more. He put his aching head down on the table and
wished for something to be simple again.

"Mulder?" There was a warm hand on his shoulder. When he looked
up, Skinner was looking down at him with a worried frown. Mulder
hadn't seen that particular combination of annoyance and concern
in over six months and he smiled at its comforting familiarity.

"Come on, Mulder. Bed time."

Mulder shook his head. "No. I've got more files to got through.
And these aren't really the ones I need, are they? Where are the
files on my sister, my parents...me?" He turned back to the laptop
monitor, only to be perplexed by the twisting red and blue geometric
patterns of the screen-saver. How long had he been lost in thought?
He shook his head vigorously to clear it and was only stopped from
falling out of the chair by Skinner's large hand still gripping his

"Tomorrow, Mulder. I'll give you everything you want tomorrow.
But for now, go to sleep. You're exhausted."


"Now, Agent Mulder," and Skinner slipped both hands under Mulder's
elbows and bodily lifted him to his feet, where he rocked a little,
then turned to face Skinner. Mulder smiled dopily at him. "I
missed that growly AD voice. Cassidy tries but I don't think she
has the mass for it."

Skinner's lips twitched and he used a hand on Mulder's shoulder to
steer him toward the left-hand bedroom. "Alex, have you got the
sheets...oh good," he said as they came through the doorway to see
Alex Krycek shaking out a Hudson Bay blanket over the freshly-made
bed. "He's crashing. I don't know when he last slept."

"He looks like hell, Walt. You know, it wasn't exactly my
intention to open a half-way house for recovering Fibbies."

"I'm still here," Mulder informed them with drowsy dignity. He
shucked his sweater and his tee shirt came with it. He thought
that, if he'd been more awake, the sight of both Skinner and
Krycek suddenly heading for the door and almost bouncing off
one another would have been funny.

"Good night, Mulder. We'll talk in the morning," Skinner said from
the living room.

Krycek suddenly reappeared in the doorway. "Mulder, the alarms
are set. Don't go out until one of us is up in the morning, all
right? They make a hell of a lot of noise when they're tripped.
The remote for the TV is by the bed."

Mulder looked up from trying to unfasten his belt. "I didn't
mean to throw you out of your bedroom," he said carefully.

Krycek didn't meet his eyes. "Don't worry about it."

After a moment, Mulder nodded and Krycek left, closing the door.
"Shit," he told the empty room.

* * *

"What the hell are you doing?" Skinner snapped, coming into the
living room a few minutes later.

Krycek stopped in the middle of unfolding a sheet. "What's it
look like?"

"You're not sleeping out here."

"Well, we've got a stray FBI agent in my bedroom, Walt. What do
you suggest?"

"What's wrong with where you've been sleeping for the past four

Krycek blinked at him. "Um..." he said intelligently. Skinner
sighed. "Just don't even start. It's been good, not lying about
anything. Let's not start now; not with this. Not with *him*."
The memories of all the lies they had told Mulder were piled up
behind Skinner's eyes.

Krycek nodded slowly and dropped the spare comforter on the couch
before moving past Skinner toward the bedroom they'd been sharing
since November. Skinner flipped the light switch and they went to bed.

* * *

Skinner was awakened by the sound of someone coughing, then the
sound of running water in the kitchen. Krycek slept beside him, face
turned toward the wall. He lay and stared at the ceiling, remembering
his own reactions to those files, knowing that he was hearing Mulder
being sick. He swore silently, wondering why the hell he'd ever
believed that Mulder would do as he was told and wait until morning to
open those locked files. He quickly reviewed the previous eight years
of his relationship with Mulder and came to the conclusion that he'd
been an idiot and he felt a stony chuckle rising in him.

"You're doing it again," Krycek mumbled sleepily and shifted onto
his side.

"Go back to sleep," Skinner whispered, then got up and hunted
around for his jeans and a sweatshirt.

When he came out into the living room, all the lights were off, but
the fire was still burning. The laptop sat open, the blues and
reds of its screen saver flickering and reflecting from the dark
windows. There was a strange little black box plugged into the
side of the laptop, humming quietly. Skinner tapped a key and
scanned the titles of the files Mulder had electronically jimmied and
been reading. He'd left them open, moving from one to another,
probably crosschecking facts, building theories. Skinner, W.; Krycek,
A.; Spender, C.; Spender, CGB; Mulder, W.; Mulder, T.; Mulder, S.;
Mulder, F.


Mulder was lucky the whole thing hadn't blown him to Hell. Skinner
turned and scanned the room until he found Mulder. The other man
was sitting on the rug in front of the fireplace, knees drawn up,
arms clasped tightly around them. He was staring into the flames,
motionless. "Mulder?" There was no answer.

Skinner crossed the room to stand beside him. When he said Mulder's
name again, the other man looked up briefly. His eyes were liquid
and full, his wet cheeks gilded by the firelight. He wiped the back
of one hand across a cheek and Skinner saw the ghost of the serious,
round-faced boy from the files mourning the final secrets of his life.

"Go away." The voice was hoarse and decades younger than it should
have been.

Skinner shook his head and squatted down to peer into Mulder's face.
"You read them all, didn't you?"

Mulder nodded, staring into the fire, refusing to look at him.
"Leave me alone." It was a plea.

"I don't think so." Not even understanding what he was doing,
Skinner shifted himself until he sat on the floor behind Mulder.
He slid as close as he could, fitting his long legs around Mulder.
Then he curved his arms around Mulder's torso and pulled the other
man back against his chest. Mulder fought him silently, fiercely
tense, muscles locked and vibrating with everything boiling within
him. He took two or three deep, wrenching breaths then his head
dropped suddenly and his weight came back to rest against Skinner's

Skinner craned his neck forward until his chin was nearly resting on
Mulder's shoulder and said quietly into his ear, "It's OK, Mulder.
I know. It's Ok." Mulder shivered and shook his head. Skinner
tightened his arms slightly. "It will be, I promise. Believe me,
I know. It takes a while, but it will be OK. You'll be OK," he
kept whispering. The chill of the floor crept quickly into his
back and leg muscles; the only warmth he had was the fire on his
face and the man in his arms. They said nothing more.

When Krycek found them an hour later, Skinner was still holding
Mulder in his arms and they were both staring into the fire. Krycek
came silently across the room and was standing beside them before
Skinner was aware. When he looked up, Alex Krycek's face was shadowed
and unreadable.

"He read them?"

Skinner nodded. "All of them."

Krycek's lips flattened and his hand reached toward Mulder's
shoulder, then stopped. "You idiot," he said softly. Then he saw
Skinner shivering and his lip curled. He went to the fireplace and
threw another log on, then crossed to the other couch and grabbed the
down comforter that he had left earlier. He brought it back and threw
it around Skinner's shoulders, arranging it so that it shielded Mulder,
too. Mulder didn't stir, still staring into the fire. Krycek looked
at the tableau they made for a moment, then turned to go.


It stopped Krycek in his tracks. Skinner rarely called him that;
he had heard his name come from those lips only a few times, in
the deepest part of the night. When he turned back, Skinner was
holding out his right hand, the quilt flowing like an opened wing
over his shoulder. Mulder had shaken off his fugue and was looking
up at him, his expression one that Krycek had remembered seeing in
the mirror once or twice before.

Krycek knelt and was gathered against Skinner's body, his mutilated
arm hidden in the warmth. He pulled the comforter around them,
pressing closer, helping Skinner take some of the weight of
Mulder's body. Mulder sighed and tipped his head toward Krycek's,
leaning against him as they stared into the fire. Slowly, Krycek's
arm crept around Mulder's middle, across Skinner's.

Dawn found them still there, Mulder and Krycek sleeping against
one another, Walter Skinner dogwatching over them and thinking
long thoughts for which he had no words.

They had never spoken of Mulder. Not in all these months, preferring
instead to focus on themselves, on what they were becoming. But
Mulder had always been there; in a sense, he was between them,
part of what bonded them together. Mulder's quest, the tragic
pageantry of Mulder's life, the unanticipated results of Mulder's
decisions had shaped and marked them both. It was useless to deny,
so they didn't try to. Neither of them would have known what to
say, so they said nothing. Skinner kept up his fitful, stuttering
correspondence with Mulder and Krycek sometimes phoned Mulder's home,
just to hear his voice and they said nothing to one another about

* * *

Krycek woke first, rolling into wakefulness between one breath and
the next. He sat up, blinking and tangled in the comforter.

"Christ, Walt, you're not gonna be able to move. How long were
we..." he stopped, looking down at Mulder's head, cradled on Skinner's
other thigh, one hand loosely gripping Skinner's ankles where they
crossed. His face was pale, ashy with griefs, old and new. The bones
of his skull seemed too sharp to remain within his skin and Krycek's
fingers crept out to touch Mulder's rumpled hair before he was even

"About three hours, maybe." The fire had burnt down to coals
that were nearly the same colors as the eastern sky. The snow had
passed in the night, leaving the sky to catch fire this morning. A
forgotten bit of weather wisdom from the coast came back to him. /Red
sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky at morning, sailors take
warning./ Mulder ought to be enough to make anyone take warning, he
thought with a touch of irritated fondness.

Every muscle in Skinner's back was screaming, in a chilled, muted
sort of way, protesting hours spent sitting on a cold wooden floor,
not shifting for fear of waking the men he held. His legs were
numb and his eyes felt gritty.

Krycek reached over and ruffled his fingers through Mulder's hair
in a more purposeful way than his earlier caress. "Mulder. Mulder,
come on, wake up. Rise and shine," he said in that quiet, breathy
voice that never failed to make Skinner think of seductions and
assignations. His practical side informed him that Krycek was
just hoarse from sleep; he told his practical side to take a hike,
because that voice, heard from the level of his breastbone, made
him want to do anything Krycek asked. Apparently, it had the same
effect on Mulder, who stretched, turned over onto his back, then
opened his eyes. And smiled.

It was the effect of that smile, that open, unguarded, momentarily
unshadowed expression, that undid Skinner. He shoved Mulder's head
off his lap and lurched to his sleeping feet, the pins and needles
of returning blood already a bearable kind of agony. He staggered
off to the bathroom, leaving Mulder and Krycek half-wrapped in the
quilt, looking after him with twin sleepy, bewildered expressions.

'It's not a good idea,' Skinner lectured himself under the hottest
spray the shower offered. 'Wanting Mulder is like wanting the moon
- a nice fantasy, but what the hell would you do with it if you
actually got it?' He bent to soap his legs, groaning a little at
the stiffness in his lower back. 'You're old, Walter Skinner. What
the hell would he see in you?' Hell, for that matter, what did
Krycek see in him? He'd never had the guts to ask, never really
needed to ask before. Somehow, whatever it was between them, it
worked. Krycek. Damn, another reason that his thoughts were
completely inappropriate. He had a ... good thing here. Whatever
it was. Krycek deserved some consideration, didn't he?

The whole swirl of his thoughts left him breathless and amazed. If
anyone had told him, one year ago, that he'd be worried about not
wanting to hurt Alex Krycek's *feelings* because of his own ill-
timed emotions for Fox Mulder ... Why hadn't he figured it all out
sooner? He could have put the moves on Mulder and lost his job in
a time-honored fashion instead of being railroaded out. Walter
Skinner leaned against the tiled wall and let it all bubble out
of him, laughing until the water ran cool.

* * *

Mulder and Krycek had stared after Skinner's retreating back in
shared silence. When the bathroom door slammed, Krycek suddenly
rolled to his feet and held out his hand to Mulder. "Come on, I
could use some coffee."

He pulled Mulder upright, steadying him as he rocked a little and
shook his head. His expression was unreadable and Mulder suddenly
remembered everything that had passed in the deepest hours of the
night. He could feel his face setting up like plaster and he
couldn't look at Krycek.

"Mulder. It's all right. Those files are tough going even when
they're not about you and your family. Walt and I both went
through it, we understand. Just don't worry about it, OK?" Mulder
looked up finally and met Krycek's serious gaze; he searched it for
mockery and found nothing but old wounds, well-healed by time. In
he background, he dimly registered the sound of the shower.

"Is he OK, do you think?"

Krycek picked up the comforter and tossed it to land on one of the
couches. Just then, the sound of deep laughter came from the
bathroom. Krycek's lip quirked and he said, "Yes and no, apparently."

Krycek moved stiffly across the room and began setting up the coffee
maker. The laughter continued to rumble softly, like the hint of a
distant storm. "I can never decide if he's just enjoying life more
than he used to or if being kidnapped pushed him over the edge."

Mulder wanted to be horrified, shocked, something. But he was too
tired, still bleeding from too many internal cuts to say anything
more than, "I knew it. Last November, you *did* kidnap him."

Krycek's face had gone wary. "Not exactly. It's more of a joke
between us."

"Now it is," Mulder said with the confidence that came from that
same dark seething place that birthed his best profiles, "but you
actually did it, didn't you? Snatched him right off the street."
He shook his head at Krycek's audacity, at his own stupidity. "Damn,
I knew it. I had a witness and everything, but they discounted
her because she was only seven years old. His neighbor. Said he'd
read Winnie the Pooh to her all night and she'd made her parents bring
her back to say goodbye to him."

"Hell, Mulder, I can't believe you bought that. The Winnie-the-Pooh
thing is the most unconvincing part of that narrative," Krycek said,
grinning some, but still wary. He took out a container of oatmeal
and peered into it as if hoping for a mystery to be revealed.

"Obviously, he doesn't mind too much about it. He's stayed,"
Mulder said and immediately hated himself for using the thin voice
that was the only way to let that question out.

Krycek only nodded and filled a pot with water. He turned away to the


Krycek's shoulders jerked at the question; water sloshed and hissed
onto the burner. Facing away from Mulder, he said, "I don't know."

"You're not keeping him prisoner, are you? Not blackmailing him
to stay?" Mulder hammered away, already knowing the answers to his
stated questions, wanting them to push Krycek further, push him
into admitting ... what?

Krycek had turned and his eyes burned. Mulder couldn't tell what
color they really were, but he knew now that they were the color of
anger. "He's got over a quarter of a million dollars in liquid
assets, Mulder, just an ATM away. He has my car keys, my spare
gun, a cell phone and all the alarm codes for this house. You
tell me if he's being held against his will."

"Stockholm Syndrome," Mulder suggested.

"Yeah, Mulder, that must be it. The repeated beatings, the sleep
deprivation, they must have all finally taken their toll," Krycek

"Don't forget the hours of Swedish pop music you subjected me to,"
Skinner said mildly from right behind them. "I crumbled after the
third straight day of the 'Abba Gold' album," he confided to Mulder
as he reached for a coffee mug.

The two younger men started and each took a step back, like tomcats
startled out of a territorial battle. Skinner poured himself a mug
of coffee, leaned against the counter, still between them, and took
a long drink. He wore dark jeans and a crimson sweater and he
looked surprisingly awake for a man who had held them all night
long. He met Mulder's glance firmly. "Mulder, if there's something
you want to know, just ask me." He smiled suddenly. "Don't bother
trying to tease Alex into confessing to anything, he'll just change
the subject." And, as Mulder and Krycek both stared at him, he
added, "Is the oatmeal ready? I've got to be at work in an hour."

* * *

Breakfast was silent, as usual. What was not usual was Krycek
playing with his food rather than eating it. He was a mirror for
Mulder, who heaped sugar and cinnamon into his bowl, then spent
ten minutes swirling it into intriguing patterns and never once
took a mouthful. Skinner noticed while halfway through his own food.

"Eat, both of you." They both stared at him with identical
expressions of sullen rebellion, although Mulder's lower lip pouted
and Krycek's thinned to a pale line. He wondered at the
uncompromising tone in his voice; giving orders to either one of these
two was sure to end in disaster. But he'd just spent the night sitting
on a cold wooden floor and he figured he was entitled to be a little
dictatorial, especially when they were behaving like teenagers. He
glared until they each took a mouthful, then he said, "So, Mulder,
what actually happened? When I left, you were riding high and nothing
could touch you." Skinner smiled, a touch of grimness at the corner of
his mouth. "I made sure of that, I'd thought."

"It was just business as usual that did it, I think. The fact that
I refused to let it go, kept questioning your early retirement,
wanted to know when they would be releasing the reports we'd filed..."

"That would have set the whole paranoid machine into high gear
again," Skinner commented.

"They must have spent months discrediting me, bringing up every odd
tale, every weird anecdote they could. By the time I walked into
that board room, they were ready to pull out the straitjacket.
But then," Mulder smiled and there was a definite flash of fang
in it, "I started heaping the evidence onto their laps. Books of
it. Photos. Files. Video clips. Signed affidavits from witnesses.
Everything you gave me, plus whatever I could dig up from leads in
those files.

"You should have seen their faces. The ones who knew, they just
looked like they wanted to see my head on a stick. But the ones
who didn't know...they looked like dying trout, all pale and gasping
for air. It was," he said reflectively, "a beautiful sight."

Skinner thought about those faces, so familiar from years worth of
administrative meetings, gray and green and underlit by those
idiotic conference table lights, and wished he could have been
there to see it. But they had reneged on part of the deal they'd
shoved down his throat. He'd been willing to go quietly, if they
would just leave Mulder and the others alone. But they hadn't
and now all bets were off. He felt a certain lawless joy in the
knowledge that anything was possible again.

Krycek spoke suddenly, his cereal bowl now dutifully emptied.
"The question now is: what do you want to do about it? The files
you read last night have enough clout to insure that a large group
of very powerful and influential people will jump through whatever
hoops you show them. Of course," he added, "some of them may also
try to kill you."

"Not if they can't find him," Skinner said, rubbing at a spot on
his spoon with his thumb.

"No," Krycek agreed evenly, and Skinner knew that he was also
agreeing to keep Mulder safe until they had played out this game.
He nodded his thanks and Krycek blinked once and sighed.

"Do I have any say in this?" Mulder asked in exasperation, knowing
perfectly well that another deal had just been made on his behalf.

Skinner's sleepless night finally caught up with him. "Of course
you do, Mulder. You don't like it, there's the door."

Something young and unarmored flinched in Mulder's eyes and
Skinner abruptly recalled how much of the past had slammed into
Mulder last night. He remembered his own reactions to that
material and realized that Mulder's entire self history had
shattered in a single night. He was abruptly ashamed of
himself for pushing so hard.

"Look, Mulder, just take the day and figure out what you want to do
about the situation. Sleep some, watch some TV...don't read those
files again yet. Does Scully know where you are?"

"No," Mulder said slowly. "I should call her."

Skinner nodded encouragingly. "Call her, but don't tell her exactly
where you are, OK? They probably didn't tail you and it's unlikely
they have a trace on your cell phone or a tap, but better safe than

"No one tailed me," Mulder said confidently. "I didn't take a very
direct route. And Frohike checked over my cell phone before I left,
then gave me one of his."

"The paranoia doesn't die, does it?" Krycek commented with a small

"No, but then, neither have we."

Skinner looked at his watch, then took a last gulp of coffee and
got up. "I'm going to be late if I don't go now. Short day today,
I ought to be back by three or so." He put his bowl and mug in
the sink, then went to grab his jacket. He stopped, hand on the
door. "Mulder, I meant what I said about not going back into
those files. Just give yourself time to absorb it all."

Those deep bruised eyes looked at him. "Are we ever going to
talk about what I read in those files? Yours and," he hooked
a thumb over his shoulder, "his?"

After a moment, Skinner nodded. "Someday. Not today. Probably
not tomorrow, either. But soon." And, giving his usual nod to
Krycek, Skinner left. It was only as he was backing the SUV out
of its snow-edged parking slot that he realized that his own car
was parked next to it. Mulder had brought Skinner's car to him.
He wondered what it meant.

* * *

After Skinner left, Mulder was left sitting across the kitchen table
from his dearest enemy. Not surprisingly, he couldn't think of
anything to say. This man had killed, tortured, stolen, beaten,
blackmailed, kidnapped ... and had fed him, sent him all the proof
he could hope for, offered him any informational weapon he wanted
against his political enemies, had lent him strength through the
longest, darkest night he'd known in years ... how the hell was
he supposed to behave around him now? Mulder shook his head and
a dry chuckle escaped as he considered how entirely usual this
kind of dilemma had become in his life.

"Oh hell, not two of you," Krycek snarled. He refused to explain,
but banished Mulder to the couch while he cleaned up from breakfast.
Mulder lay on the overstuffed leather, growing drowsy and stupid
and wondering why he had ever come at all. The last thing he was
aware of was someone draping a light comforter over him, just heavy
enough to push him down into sleep.

//He was dreaming, that much he knew. He was very familiar with
this particular nightmare, nearly comfortable with its tediously
horrible details. His sister's voice, screaming at him for help
that he couldn't give, no matter how hard he tried, it was never
enough, he was never good enough, she was screaming, crying out for
him still...but something was different this time. This time, he
knew she was dead. She was crying out to him but she was dead,
her small body hanging pale and lifeless in that bluish glare.
And he could still do nothing, nothing but call her name...


Then came a low voice in his ear, one he trusted. He wanted to
sob as he heard its reassuring tone. "Shh...quiet. Hey. It's
OK. Hey, you hear me?"

Hey. Hay. He was surrounded suddenly by the scent of hay. He
was standing in the Horner's barn, their neighbors, just down the road.
He looked around and saw the door to the tack room hanging off its
single hinge as it always had, then the bucket of water in his hand
jerked a little and he saw the muzzle of a pony splash into it. The
horse's brown mane scratched a little against his hand as it

"Isn't he lovely, Fox?" His little sister's eyes shown as she ran
a brush over the pony's flank. He remembered now; the pony was her
twelfth birthday gift from their parents. Her eyes shone as she groomed
the glossy hide that was nearly the color of her own hair and he sank
into the bright stream of her chatter, loving it even as he feared its
ending, wondering when the screaming would begin.

But it didn't. The gentle dream went on and on and he sank from it
into deeper, more restful sleep again.//

* * *

Krycek slowly got up from the edge of the sofa and made his way back
over to his desk where he sat staring at his computer screen and
occasionally raised his fingers to his face, to catch again the
scent of Fox Mulder's hair.

* * *

Mulder was still sleeping when Skinner returned a little before
three p.m. Krycek was working stolidly at his computer and barely
looked up when Skinner came through the door. The imp of the
perverse seized Skinner. He crossed the room, ignoring the
quilted lump that indicated Mulder, and walked right up to Krycek,
who merely looked up in distracted inquiry. Skinner bent down and
kissed him, very gently and very slowly, one hand curling around
Krycek's neck to prevent him from escaping when he tried to jerk
away. After a moment, Krycek gave in and let Skinner casually
explore what ought to have been familiar enough territory by now.
When Skinner finally broke the kiss, straightening slowly with a
grin, Krycek managed a breathy "Hi."

"Hi," Skinner said cheerfully, then dropped a small paper bag,
letting it clack onto the table. "You owe me six dollars."

"For one kiss?" Krycek's upper lip was wet and very red and
Skinner debated nibbling on it some more.

"No. For three mouse traps. Your house, your mice, your traps."

The light of battle gleamed in Krycek's eye. "Hey. I didn't have
mice until you moved in here, Skinner. You pay for the traps."

"You're the one who complained about them. I like mice. I don't
mind sharing my chocolate with them."

Mulder's voice, thick with sleep and something else, cut off
Krycek's next sally. "Just get a cat, already."

They both turned to see him sitting up, staring at them over the
back of the sofa. Skinner was abruptly aware, under Mulder's
bright eye, of how close he was still standing to Krycek. He
didn't move. Instead he said, "I wanted to, but *he* was afraid
it was too 'Ozzie and Harriet' domesticated."

Something complex and strained showed in Mulder's gaze, but it
flickered away too quickly for Skinner to understand it. The
lush lip thinned out as Mulder said, "Yeah, I can see how you'd both
really worry about being mistaken for that." He surged to his feet
and stomped into the bathroom. The door was ostentatiously not

"Ok, what did I just miss here?"

Krycek was staring up at him with a mixture of exasperation and rue.
"Well, what did you think he'd do, Walt? Sing three verses of 'The
Wedding Song' and give us a crock pot?"

"You lost me." But a suspicion was flaring to life, deep within.

"Do you know why he's really here, Walt?" Krycek picked up a software
disk and began fiddling with it.

"He wants the truth." Skinner couldn't look up.

"Try again," Krycek snapped.

"What the hell do you want me to say, Alex?"

"Why do you think he's here?" Krycek repeated his question slowly.

"Because he was worried about me, I guess."

"Jesus, are you really that blind or are you lying to me?"

"I don't lie anymore, Krycek," Skinner said in a low voice. "What
are you trying to say?"

"Did you see his face when he finally figured out we were lovers?"
Krycek tried again, speaking slowly and distinctly, as if to a very
challenged pupil.

"Lovers?" he repeated stupidly, the word thick and strange in his mouth.

"Lovers. People who live together and sleep together. Is the
definition something new for you? What the hell did you think
this was, Walt?"

Shrug. "I guess I thought we were... buddies."

Krycek turned an alarming shade of rage. "You thought we were fuck
buddies? Well, listen up, 'buddy'. I did not save your sorry ass,
drag it out of D.C., dodge bullets and half the damned Consortium,
then bury myself up here with you just for the sex. Which is
excellent, I admit," he added.

Skinner blinked at him, his shocked expression that of a man who is
watching the world realign itself in entirely new and unexpected
patterns. Krycek barreled on, voice low and dangerous, stealing
out from between clenched teeth. "I do not put up with your sulks,
your tempers, your fucking alpha behavior and your lousy coffee
just for the blow jobs, got it?"

Skinner blinked again, staring at Krycek as if he'd just spouted
green blood. His mouth opened and closed a couple of times.
Krycek waited impatiently. Finally, Skinner said, "I do not sulk."

The disk in Krycek's fingers snapped and he stared at the gleaming
shards on the desk for a moment. Then he got up, walked past
Mulder who now stood in the middle of the living room, grabbed
his jacket and left.

Mulder and Skinner's eyes met as they heard Krycek's SUV start up
and tear out of the clearing. There were a hundred questions in
Mulder's eyes, but Skinner saw him swallow and say only, "Shit.
I'm sorry."

Skinner nodded and looked anywhere but at Mulder. "I don't
suppose there's a hope in hell that you didn't just hear all of that?"

Mulder shook his head sadly. "I came in right before he asked if
you knew why I was really here." He came back into the living room.

Skinner groaned and rubbed at his temples. "My life is so fucked
up." He dropped into the recently vacated chair, feeling the last
of the warmth of Krycek's body soaking into his.

"Welcome to my world."

"Look, Mulder," Skinner started to say, then stopped, not knowing
what the hell he planned to say next. He stared at the floor in
front of him.

"He's right, you know," Mulder said in a rush.


Mulder turned to look at him, forcing Skinner to meet his hopeful
eyes. "He's right. About why I came here."

"Oh, shit." Skinner heaved himself to his feet and took a step

Mulder backed away then, saying quickly, "Don't worry about it.
It won't be a problem..."

"Mulder." Skinner's flat voice broke into his panicked backpedaling.
"Mulder." Skinner grabbed him and pulled him close. "Mulder. It's
already a problem," he said softly into the dark hair behind
Mulder's ear. He took a deep breath and smelled the wildness of
winter and the sweetness of the man beneath it. "I think it has
been for a long time."

Mulder's arms came around him then and held him very tight. Skinner
let his eyes close and leaned his head against Mulder's for a moment.
Then he gently, firmly pushed him away. He stared into Mulder's
deep eyes, flinching when Mulder smiled brokenly and said, "Go
after him. Take my car. Your car," he corrected himself.

Skinner shook his head. "No. He'll have to find his own way home."
He knew that much about Krycek, now. "Besides, it's his house."

"What are we gonna do?" A whisper now.

Skinner only shook his head. He started to walk past Mulder, came
abreast of him and just had to touch him, laying a hand on the
tense shoulder. He squeezed, then held on until Mulder slowly
turned his head. Their eyes met and they both knew that there
was no easy way out of this. Then he let go and went into the
bedroom, closing the door behind him.

* * *

Hours went by and the winter night fell cold and heavy. Mulder made
himself a sandwich, scaring two mice when he went into the pantry for a
loaf of bread. He considered knocking on Skinner's door and offering
him something to eat, trying to coax the man out to talk to him but
realized that it had all been said. There was nothing to do but wait.
So he waited and read some of the files stored on the laptop.

He had to hand it to Frohike and the guys; they had provided him with
the software equivalent of the Jaws of Life. Their little black box
made it possible for him to pry open any directory he wanted without
tripping whatever security systems Krycek had installed.

Krycek. He read Krycek's file again, concentrating solely on the man
himself, not how he had intersected and crossed Mulder's own life.
It was a banal suburban kind of tragedy, the sort at which the
Consortium had seemed to excel. Krycek's mother was a Cold War
immigrant, a scientist persecuted for her poetry, who came to the
United States and married a young geneticist at Princeton. They
had raised two boys, Alexei and Peter, and lived very normal lives.
Until Peter disappeared at the age of 13, the same week that his
older brother turned 15. Alex had been briefly implicated in his
younger brother's disappearance, until a new boy in school had
furnished him with an alibi. The Michaelsons had been definite
in their statement that Peter had not been harmed by his brother but
they had also been strangely uncooperative in the ensuing search.
They had not complained when the case was closed after no more
than two months.

Records from a school guidance counselor documented the remaining
boy's slide, both academic and social, until one morning, he simply
didn't appear at school. When the truant officer visited the
Michaelson home, he found it vacant. The entire family had simply

Reconstructing the time line, Mulder guessed that this was the
period during which Alex's parents had begun a new phase of
their work, this time in Canada. Young Alex had been set to finishing
his last year of school under his mother's maiden name, Krycek. His
time was rigidly scheduled, learning the skills that the Consortium
deemed necessary for his future role. There were exhaustive
psychological notes during this period, noting possible outcomes of
certain conditioning to which they were subjecting him. The guerrilla
style training seemed to be highlighting a suggested psychopathic bent
in the youngster's makeup, exacerbated by his younger brother's
disappearance and his parents' aggressive unconcern about his
whereabouts. In short, young Alex Krycek was being fashioned into a
tool for the Consortium's future interests. But in the end, he'd
proved to be no more a successful creature than Mulder. There were no
less than three separate termination orders in the file, each rescinded
eventually, when Alex Krycek had proved too difficult to kill or too

His list of successes was far longer than his failures. Successful
hits, infiltrations, courier work, security - he showed a flair for
it all. But it was Fox Mulder's name that topped his failures list
and the speculations for that were stark and snide. "Too close to
his mark"; "a psychosexual component prevents successful completion",
"further conditioning unsuccessful". Mulder found himself swallowing
bitter memories again, wondering if he would lose this meal, too.

Oddly enough, the file contained no suggestion or even a hint of
the possibility that Alexei Krycek might be a double agent working
against the Consortium. There was only one note, signed by a 'Sir
John' with an obscured last name, that stated baldly that he had been
vetted and cleared of any possibility of double-dealings. There was
also a side note that Peter Krycek had died very early on, unable to
survive in the rather rarefied climate to which the Consortium
guarantors were exposed. The parents were never informed, so the
pressure to comply was never lifted.

Mulder didn't want to feel this kind of bond with Krycek. His fists
clenched and he shot to his feet, to pace and mutter. He wanted to
hate him again, with that searing acid wash of emotion that made
everything so clear and simple. Krycek had killed his father. He
fastened on that for a moment, before recalling the other facts
he'd learned last night.

Bill Mulder wasn't his father. Bill Mulder had known from the first
where his daughter was and yet had let his nominative son shoulder
the burden of guilt for her disappearance throughout the long years.
He wondered if his father had ever known that Fox William Mulder was
nothing more than a cuckoo's hatchling left for him to raise.
Probably not. Not even when Fox Mulder had been taken at the age
of twenty. Testing had revealed the all-too-human hoax that had been
played on Bill Mulder's family and young Fox Mulder had been returned
to his college dorm room with a wiped memory and a small patch of
skin missing from his back and a bruise on his inner elbow.

The pit of his past was yawning before him again and Mulder couldn't
risk another foray just yet. His sense of identity was too fragile,
too brittle to encounter any more. Krycek. He was piecing together
the mysteries of Alex Krycek's life, not running his hands through
the shards of his own.

He returned to the table and flipped through the files until he
found pictures of Alexei and Peter, both boys in blue soccer
uniforms, beautifully white smiles, arms around one another.
The taller boy was leaning toward his younger brother, both
protective and affectionate and Mulder felt a stupid knot of
tears in his throat at the death of the young boy in the photo.
Both boys, really. That Alexei Michaelson was no more, as dead
as his brother Peter.

Cold. He was cold. He couldn't find any thermostat and knew he
couldn't knock on Skinner's door to ask, so he busied himself
making a fire. He had just gotten it drawing well when the SUV
came skidding into the clearing. Mulder froze standing near the
mantel, as he heard the engine shut off, the door slam and then the
footsteps come up onto the porch.

Krycek came into the house with the over-careful movements of a
drunken man. Mulder knew them intimately and his voice was flat
when he said, "Have a good time?"

Krycek didn't even look up, just concentrated on taking his jacket
off and hanging it carefully on the hook beside the door. "Left
the alarms off. Stupid," he said to himself, then touched buttons
on his key ring before hanging it up as well.


"Mulder," Krycek said with a sigh. "What are you still doing here?"

"Where did you think I would go?"

The red-rimmed eyes fixed on him and Krycek came three paces closer.
"With him. Why aren't you with him?" Mulder could smell the tell-
tale aroma of vodka, rolling off of Krycek, carried by waves of
cold winter night air. Krycek's gaze was too bright and his
diction too clear; he was very drunk.

"He's not going anywhere, Krycek You said it yourself, you're not
keeping him here. He has all the money he could possibly need, he
could leave any time he wanted, but he stays. With you."

Krycek snarled suddenly and the sound reminded Mulder of a wolf
at bay. "He stays, Agent Mulder," Krycek articulated carefully,
"because no one else has made him a better offer."

Something dark red and forest-born stirred in Mulder at that low growl.
"What if someone did, Krycek?" He raised his chin. "What would you
do then? Go poison yourself with cheap vodka and let him walk?"

They stared at one another, firelight flickering and sputtering at
them, and Mulder wondered if this might finally be the time Alex
Krycek put Fox Mulder on his success list.

* * *

Krycek was wondering the same thing. He took three more paces and
crowded Mulder into the corner, eyes blazing and lip curled to
reveal perfect white teeth that bit into each word as it crossed
his lips. "You want him, Mulder? You think you're man enough to
take him from me?"

Something flashed in Mulder's eyes, then, shockingly, the light
died and Krycek could feel the other man's whole body slump. "No,"
Mulder whispered.

Alex Krycek's anger flowed away, water down a drain, over the dam,
he thought drunkenly. He found himself putting his arms around
Mulder, holding him up, nudging at Mulder's forehead with his chin,
forcing him to look up. "Mulder. He does want you. That much I

"He's got you."

Krycek nodded slowly. "And I won't give him up. Ever. But..."
He couldn't believe he was actually going to say this. But the
bruised look in Mulder's eyes, the one that had been there so
long it was now rooted too deeply to ever be driven away
completely, that look commanded him where no amount of bullying or
threats ever could. "But I could share, Mulder. If you promise..."

"Promise what?" Mulder's breath against his face made him shiver,

"Two things. You won't take him away...and you won't hurt him.
Can you do that?"

Mulder nodded slowly, his bewildered eyes still locked on Krycek's.
"I'll try. I swear to you, I'll try."

Krycek nodded, then closed his stinging eyes. He was so tired and
he had drunk more vodka this evening than he had in a long time.
Mulder shifted slightly in his arms and then he found himself
being drawn closer, his head being pressed against a warm

"Thank you," Mulder whispered into his left ear, then began
lightly stroking Krycek's hair, soothing him as he might calm a
shivering animal.

"All I wanted was a real life, Mulder."

"I know." The soothing stroking continued.

"Just somewhere quiet to live, something to bring in a little
money, time to read, to walk in the woods, someone to share it
with. That's all."

"I know," Mulder's warm voice drew him in closer.

"Walt needed that, too."

"Mmm." Mulder's hands began lightly massaging the iron cables
of tension in his neck.

"I wanted to give him something back." Krycek whispered into
Mulder's neck.

"You did, Alex, you did. He looks more relaxed, happier than I've
ever seen him."

"I thought about you," Krycek confided, breath silvery with alcohol.
"I wanted you to have that material, to prove them all wrong, to
know what happened...but the rest of it was going to destroy you.
Couldn't do that again....so I took Walt instead. He knew what was

Those kindly massaging hands felt so good, so much better than the
anger, the shattered granite hatreds that paved so much of his life.
Krycek closed his eyes. "Walt's good at this stuff," he waved his
hand around, "all the stuff that goes with a normal life. It's
easy for him. I like it," he whispered, breathing in Mulder's
woodsy scent, liking how it mixed with the scent of smoke and
vodka. "The domestic shit, I mean."

"Yeah," Mulder said softly, the word thrumming through his chest
and against Krycek's own. "He would be."


When Mulder tipped his head down to look into Krycek's face, Krycek
kissed him. It was a surprisingly gentle caress from a man who had
been within a hair of murdering him ten minutes ago. Smoky and dark,
the metallic taste of vodka burning away and Mulder was kissing him
back and it was good, better than he'd thought it would be, all
those years ago when he'd lay in bed and think about this man
and wish for something he could never have. He was dizzy with the
sudden realization that Fox Mulder *was* here, was kissing him and he
might actually have that unbelievable something he'd dreamed of.

He pulled his mouth away and gasped, "I'm too drunk for this."

"Oh yeah," Mulder whispered. "You are." Then he kissed him again.
His hand came up to brush through Mulder's hair and down his
unshaven jaw. Good, his body hummed. Very good, his cock sang.
Very stupid, his brain murmured, then fell asleep.

Somehow, Mulder maneuvered them over to the couch and they collapsed
on it, still kissing. Christ, he felt like a teenager again, under
the bleachers with Julie...Someone. She had let him touch her
under her sweater and it had been heaven. Krycek snaked his hand
under Mulder's shirt and let his hand glide up Mulder's smooth skin,
the silky hair whispering under his palm. It was warm and welcoming
and a different side of heaven but so good. Mulder lay back slowly
and cradled Krycek against him, breathing a little faster, arching a
little into that exploring hand. "Alex," he whispered. "Maybe we
should wake Walt up and talk about this."

Krycek groaned, wanting to whimper, but knowing that Mulder was right.
He'd waited ten years for this, he could wait another hour, couldn't
he? He dropped his head onto Mulder' chest for a moment, trying to
figure out what to say when he walked into Walt's room.

'Hey, Walt! Sorry I was an asshole, but Mulder and I worked it out
and we're drawing a dotted line down your middle and sharing,' didn't
have quite the apologetic ring to it that he'd been hoping for, but
it did make him dissolve into vodka-based giggles. He was asleep
before his laughter ended.

* * *

Skinner woke later than usual, feeling heavy and unrested. He woke
alone and that was a bad sign. He and Krycek had never truly fought
before and he wasn't certain what it might mean. In fact, last night
they hadn't fought either. Krycek had gotten scared and he'd run.
Skinner shaved and wiped the extra shaving cream from his face before
he sighed and really looked at himself in the mirror.

Last night, he'd realized that he had just been using Alex Krycek
as a weird sort of firewall against the past. All of it. Life
with Krycek was peaceful because neither of them had any
expectations at all. They both knew what they deserved and
figured that just breathing was a gift. Neither man could really
reproach the other and so issues between them had simply lain down
and gone to sleep. He'd gotten caught up in the fantasy of living
a normal, peaceful life; the simple spell of waking up next to
someone, going to work, coming home and going to sleep next to the
same person. With a sense of shock, Skinner found himself
wondering if *anyone* would have done.

He dressed carelessly in the clothes that Krycek had first bought
him months ago. He remembered being surprised one evening, as they
had sat in front of the fire, reading and listening to some quiet
jazz, by the knowledge that he liked Krycek. His lip quirked.
The sex *was* terrific, no question. Krycek had an enthusiasm and
ability to focus on the carnal that bordered on the idiot savant,
but they spent very little time in bed, really. Instead, it was
the conversations and the silences that had woven the ties
between them. That, and Mulder.

He looked around for the shoes he'd kicked off the night before,
when he'd fled from Mulder and that hopeful, terrified look in
those green eyes. If he'd stayed another instant, he knew that
he would have touched Mulder's mouth, or his cheek, or his hair
and it would have been all over.

He had been fiercely stupid to not have realized how Krycek felt.
They had been playing at being lovers - why hadn't he realized were
it might lead? For both of them. He wanted to groan outloud.
How the hell could he love Alex Krycek? How could he not? And
there was Mulder between them still.

//One night only, they had admitted it to one another. He had
had a letter from Mulder that afternoon and it had made him morose,
inclined, he now admitted, to be sulky. Krycek had tipped him into bed
and pounced upon him, stripping him until Skinner had turned the
tables, and muscled the other man onto his back. He had kissed Krycek
into submission, stripping away clothing and prosthetic in between the
kind of kisses that stole oxygen and IQ points. He had pulled back to
observe the results and noticed that, for the first time, Krycek's eyes
were closed.


Krycek, noticing Skinner's regard, had opened his eyes and stared in
curiosity. He had reached for Skinner, only to be stopped by a large
hand in the middle of his chest.

"No." Skinner had let his eyebrow rise in an expression that asked
Krycek to let him lead. Krycek had nodded slightly, then lay back,
his whole body spread out for Skinner's use and pleasure. "Close
your eyes," Skinner whispered. True to form, Krycek's eyes opened
wider, a touch of suspicion in their green depths. Skinner drew a
hand down over Krycek's face and the other man's eyes closed in
pure animal instinct.

"Good," Skinner nearly purred in Krycek's ear. Krycek gave a small
shudder but lay still, eyes obediently closed. Skinner let his hand
pass over Krycek's chest, so close to the skin that the air stroked
the shivering flesh but not his hand. "Keep them closed, Alex.
Don't open them, no matter what. Do not move unless I tell you to.
Do you understand?"

Krycek had only been able to nod. He was mute and blind
now, more effectively gagged and bound than if Skinner had used
restraints. Too much had happened in their lives to make bondage a
simple game for either man, but this, the voluntary handing over of
power to one another...that was a heady brew.

Skinner drew one finger down the center of Krycek's chest, lightly
brushing across ridges of muscle, scars, the sparse dark fur.
Krycek shivered slightly and shifted, trying to get closer to the
teasing hand. Skinner took his hand away before it got anywhere
near the more interesting parts of Krycek's geography. He leaned
close to Krycek's ear again. "There's someone in the room, Alex.
Can you feel who it is?"

Alex Krycek had hesitated, then nodded once, jerkily. Skinner had
stroked his hand across Krycek's taut belly in reward. Then he
had leaned close again and whispered, "He's watching, Alex. He's
watching me touch you." Skinner had drawn his fingernails down
one of Alex's thighs and watched him jump, cock filling steadily
and twitching at his words.

"He's standing at the foot of the bed, Alex, staring at you. At me.
At my hand on you." Skinner didn't know what demon had possessed
him, but the shuddering gasp Alex gave convinced him to keep
speaking. He let his hand wander over Alex's body, stroking the
column of his throat, massaging at the muscles of his shoulders,
tracing over the stump of his left arm, trailing down the sculpture
of his right arm, lacing their fingers together for a moment. "He
wants to touch you, Alex. I can see it in his face. Can he touch you?"

Alex had squirmed, unable to nod or shake his head. Sweat covered
his pale skin and his cock was leaking clear fluid now. Skinner
touched one finger delicately to the tip, taking up a single drop.
He grinned at the harsh gasp that came from the man beside him.
He traced his wet fingertip across Alex's full lips, pulling it
away when Alex's tongue came out desperately to lap at it.

"No," he said quietly, watching the thunderclouds gather on
Alex's blind face. "Soon," he promised and he stroked the frown away.
He roughly stroked his hand through Alex's hair, currying the dark
locks between his fingers, liking the way the man leaned into the
caress. He trailed his hand all the way down the side of Alex's head,
his throat, down the middle of his chest, swirling around his abdomen a
few times before stroking down his left thigh. His fingers passed
within millimeters of the flushed and straining penis and Alex's body
twisted, trying to force contact.

"Lie flat," Skinner ordered, "so he can see you." Alex's body
relaxed back onto the bed, but his hand twisted in the coverlet.
"Let him touch you," Skinner breathed and let his hand slide on
down Alex's leg, circling his knee and then shaping his calf. He
reversed his path back up Alex's right leg and watched him tremble.
Without warning, Skinner bent his head and nipped at Alex's left
nipple. His shocked groan was pure animal need and Skinner found
himself vibrating to the sound.

"He's licking his lips, Alex. I think he wants to taste you. Can
he taste you?"

Skinner shifted himself across his captive and bent to lick at the
right nipple. He thought vaguely, that he would be shocked as hell
at himself in the morning, but right now, he was having too damned
much fun, pinning Alex down when he thrashed and moaned.

"Quiet down," he murmured, shifting back up until he lay beside
the panting man again. Alex's lips locked together and he forced
himself lie still again, but the sweat was pouring off him now and
his legs were locked straight and trembling. It was time for a
little mercy, Skinner judged.

"He's sitting down across the room, Alex. Just sitting there,
watching you. His eyes are just moving up and down over you,
looking." Skinner brushed his finger tips from thigh to shoulder
and back again, watching the tremors he left in his wake.

"Do you want to show him more, Alex?" Another jerky nod. "Show him,
Alex. Touch yourself...slowly!" He grabbed at Alex's wrist to
steady him. "Show him how you like to be touched." Skinner
released Alex's wrist and watched as the newly freed hand very slowly
stroked up and down the length of the rampant cock. "Again," he
suggested softly and watched the stroking hand carefully. When it
began to tremble, he gently took hold of the wrist again and raised the
hand to his mouth. The touch of his tongue on the palm of the hand
made Alex jerk and moan once before he strangled the sound. Skinner
lapped and licked at Alex's palm until it was gleaming and slick, then
he moved it back to hover in the air over Alex's cock.

"Show him," he whispered, knowing that Alex would know exactly what
he was talking about. That hellishly teasing move, the one that
electrified every nerve but wouldn't let you come. The one Alex
had used on him every night for a month, it seemed. "He wants to
touch you himself, but he can't, Alex. He's got his own cock in
his hand now. Show him how he should touch you." Christ, he had
no idea what black hole in himself this was spilling out of, but
it was hot and dark and he couldn't stop it to save his soul. Now
*he* felt there was a third man there with them.

Alex's hand descended, fell onto his own cock, palm polishing
the head the way one polishes a newel post. The head was shiny and
slick with precum and Alex's own spit and the slender hips were
writhing beneath his own touch. His breath came in gasps and Skinner
knew that he would be begging, if he only had the voice for it.

"His hand is moving up and down, a nice hard, steady stroke, Alex.
Would you like that?" At the tortured nod, Skinner said, "Do it."

Alex had groaned in relief when his own hand had closed over his
shaft and begun that stroke that would release him finally. He
was barely breathing at all when Skinner finally said, in a low
growl, "Come now, Alex. Come for him."

Alex did, in long, slow writhing spurts that seemed to leave him
wrung out and unconscious when he was done. It was all Skinner
could do to not look over at what he knew had to be the empty
chair in the room.//

He found his shoes and realized that, in addition to all the other
disasters this morning undoubtedly held for him, he would have to
face it with a hell of a hard on. He ran a hand over his scalp,
stood up and decided to go face the music.

Four paces into the living room and a brass band could have started
up in the bathroom and he would have missed it. Because, there
on the couch, wrapped up in the comforter and Fox Mulder, Alex
Krycek slept in angelic peace, a slight smile on his whiskered face.

"You son of a bitch," he said slowly, watching them start awake at
the sound of his voice. He didn't even know which one of them he
was talking to. "You bastard," he said calmly.

Krycek's head shot up and he twisted around until he saw Skinner.
"Oh shit," he groaned, eyes closing as the early morning light
stabbed at them. "Walt, it's not what it looks like."

"Yes, it is," Mulder said tiredly from beneath Krycek. "You're
just too hungover to remember."

Skinner's fists clenched and he felt them tremble slightly. He
was cataloging his reactions, watching with detachment as he strode
across the room, grabbing his jacket and yanking open the door,
slamming it behind him. He was halfway across the porch before he
heard the alarms go off. The klaxon was deafening and he hoped
that Alex's eyes were bleeding. It was still going off as he strode
down the road, breath steaming and packed snow squeaking beneath
his sneakers. He had no idea what direction he was heading, but
he had no intention of stopping until he got there.

* * *

After two fumbling tries, Krycek keyed the right sequence into his
security system and the alarm shut off. The sudden silence was
deafening. "Shit, shit, shit," Mulder started mumbling from the
couch. Krycek started to shake his head, then decided against it.
"That *did* not go as planned."

"Oh, you *had* a plan? What do we do now? Go after him?"

This time, Krycek gritted his teeth, then shook his head. "No.
He needs to walk it off. He's usually back in a couple of hours."

"Alex, he was white with rage."

"He'll be back," Krycek said, then folded over slowly, clutching his
own gut and hoping the room would stop rippling. Mulder was there
beside him, then, helping him to stand. "If he's not back by dusk,
then we'll go looking for him."


"Yup," Krycek agreed, then staggered to the sink and threw up.

* * *

It was 2 o'clock when Deputy Hunt called on Krycek's cell phone.
They had spent the intervening six hours waffling between depression
and mutual recriminations. The chirping of the phone made Krycek
wince, but he answered politely enough.

"Mr. Michaelson? Rhonda Hunt here. Listen, you know your friend,

"Yeah?" he asked cautiously. "Is he OK?"

"Well, he's down here at the cafe. Just walked in about half an
hour ago. Looked half frozen, was covered in slush. Jim Page
says he passed him out on the highway twice; he refused a lift
both times. Now he's just sitting here, staring at a cup of coffee."

"Was he hurt?" Krycek was already crossing the room and shrugging
into his jacket.

"Doesn't look like it, but he's not talking to anyone. You know
him, he'll pass the time with anyone, stop and chat for a moment."
Actually, it was news to Krycek, who went into town maybe once a
week, while Skinner was there most days and ate lunch at the cafe
any day he worked. The deputy kept speaking. "It's almost like
he's in shock, or something. He didn't even seem to hear me when
I spoke to him."

Krycek met Mulder's questioning gaze and tried to look encouraging
while his stomach did a slow roll. "I'll be right down, Rhonda.
Don't let him go anywhere, OK?"

"Is he...does he have fits or spells or anything like that?" she
asked hesitantly. "Dan thought he'd had a breakdown."

"No, he just got some bad news and needed to go for a walk. I
just didn't figure it would be a fifteen mile stroll. I'll be
there in 20 minutes, OK?"

"Half an hour," Rhonda said firmly. "If you're here in 20 minutes,
I'll have to give you a speeding ticket myself."

"Half an hour," he agreed, shaking his head as Mulder reached for
his own jacket. He ended the call and said, "He's downtown. He's
fine. Let me go get him and bring him back here, Mulder. He's
got a few choice things to say to me and if we both go down there,
he'll say them in front of the whole town."

Resentment flared in Mulder's eyes, but he nodded. There was
something roiling behind the resentment and Krycek thought he knew
what it was. "Mulder," he said flatly. "Be here when we get back."
He waited until Mulder nodded, but he noticed that the other man
wouldn't look up. He walked back to him and gave him a quick hug.
"It'll be OK," he said softly. Mulder nodded again, and there was
nothing to do but go, so Krycek left.

* * *

Less than twenty minutes later, Mulder was standing beside Skinner's
car, swearing and pounding on the roof. Krycek, that son of a
bitch, had lifted his car keys.

* * *

Skinner had just emptied a third little plastic creamer into his lukewarm
coffee when someone slid onto the stool next to his. The creak of
leather and the undefinably smoky scent told him who it was. The
blue-haired teenaged waitress brought Krycek a cup of coffee and
dropped a fresh handful of creamers on the counter in front of him.
Skinner appropriated them and used them to make a fourth tier on his
creamer pyramid. He paid careful attention to balancing them according
to their individually dented shapes and weights. Krycek turned and
looked over his right shoulder, nodding slightly to Rhonda Hunt, who
got up, put her hat on her head and walked out.

"I hope you're paying her enough. Good babysitters are hard to
come by," Skinner said and took a sip of his coffee. He scowled
into his cup.

"She's a volunteer. I guess she thought someone taking a 15 mile
walk in 15* weather was a little odd."

"Hell, if I'd had a shotgun over my shoulder and a couple of dead
animals tacked to my belt, she'd be buying me a beer and offering
to let me use her smokehouse."

"Welcome to the South."

"What do you want, Krycek?" How many times in past years had he
said those exact words? But they were missing their customary bite.
He honestly wanted to know, now. What did Alex Krycek want from
this entire fucked up situation? Because Skinner couldn't see a
single damned good thing about it anymore. Any way he turned,
someone had to lose.

Krycek stared at the specials, written on paper place mats and
tacked to the wall over the service window in front of them.
Skinner could tell he was thinking, and thinking hard, so he was
patient. The blue-maned waitress came back and refilled their coffee
mugs. Krycek took a steaming gulp before saying, "I want you to come
home and for the three of us to decide how this is going to work."

Oh Christ. Krycek had pulled out that low, breathy voice, the one that
seemed to curl right around his reptilian brain and put Skinner's
entire body on a leash. Skinner swiped his hand through his pyramid of
creamers and began rebuilding it into a ziggurat. He stopped suddenly,
the actual words finally struggling free from their lust-colored
bindings and make their way into his brain.

"Say that again." He turned to look at Krycek and saw him biting
his lip. Krycek passed his right hand up over his hair, the single
gesture of nervousness that Skinner had never seen him able to
control. He took a deep breath, then said again, "Come home and
we'll figure it out. Together."


Krycek nodded, unable to look up and meet Skinner's eyes. That
alone was endearingly convincing. Krycek was a gifted liar, but
he had to be able to look you in the eye to make use of those
engagingly boyish features.

"The *three* of us?" Skinner hated how it sounded as if he had run
out of breath halfway through that sentence. Krycek nodded again
and started stirring a spoon through his black coffee.

"Mulder will never go for it."

Krycek just shrugged and still wouldn't look at him. Somehow, that
shrug managed to convey that what Mulder wanted wasn't important just

"He'll be long gone by the time we get back there."

Krycek shook his head and a small grin started to cut across his
face. He thrust his hand into a pocket and threw a set of keys
onto the counter top between them.

"You son of a bitch," Skinner said admiringly. Krycek nodded,
expression lightening as he finally looked up and into Skinner's
face. He jerked his chin toward the door hopefully.

Skinner nodded and let his face relax into an expression that, given
time and care, might sprout into a smile. He dropped a $20 bill on the
counter, grabbed his jacket and led the way to the door.

Outside, standing beside the SUV and waiting for Krycek to unlock
the door, Skinner turned his face up to the weak winter sun and
said for the second time in less than 24 hours, "My life is so
fucked up."

"It was always fucked up, Walt. It's just a hell of a lot more
fun now," Krycek said, and tripped the locks.

* * *

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