Surviving the Truth
Surviving the Truth
by Courtney Gray
Walter Skinner wasn't sure where he was.
It was almost 2 a.m. and the Leonid meteor storm would soon be visible. He dug a road map out of the glove compartment and flipped on the interior light. The sudden brightness made him feel like an open target in the surrounding night. He had to remind himself again that he didn't have to worry about an alien suddenly morphing out of nowhere. And Cancerman had been burned to a cinder almost a year ago now. The Conspirators and their henchmen, both human and alien, were gone.
Everyone was gone. At least, for a while. And some were gone forever.
Skinner wiped a hand over his face and put his glasses back on. He spread the map open on the seat beside him and calculated his bearings. A few minutes later, he'd determined he was a few miles west of Windsor. He must've taken a wrong turn back in Guerneville. Well, it didn't really matter anyway. He folded the map up neatly, stowed it back in the compartment, and turned off the light. The night wrapped around him again and he leaned back in his seat.
He was running out of country. He'd driven westward to California from D.C. until he found himself standing on a bluff overlooking Bodega Bay, staring out at the wide blue Pacific. So he'd turned around and gone back up Highway 12, then began meandering north.
There was always Canada, he supposed.
With a sigh, he opened the door and stepped out of his SUV. The air was cold, his breath misting as the dried leaves and twigs crunched under his boots. He burrowed his hands into the pockets of his fleece-lined jacket and looked up at the sky. Cloudless and black as velvet, the stars stood out like sharp crystal pinpoints. And then, as he watched, there was a streak of light, and then another. The Leonid was beginning its show.
Skinner's mind took him back to a night when he'd gaped at a sky much like this one, to see a shooting star slash the darkness with its silvery trail. It was just outside a village near DaNang and he had been 18 years old. The beauty of that night sky studded with stars had taken his breath away. The contrast with the stark horror of the dead, mutilated bodies littering the field in which he stood, boot soles sinking in blood, had deeply affected him, stripping him then and there of what little innocence he still possessed.
He'd tried to be a good soldier in Nam, but he'd been caught in a very bad war. Many years later, he'd tried to be a good FBI agent, but again, he'd been caught in very bad war, a war that was secret and apocalyptic from which none of its covert players had emerged unscarred.
He rolled his shoulders to relieve the tension in his muscles. He was dwelling too much in his memories. Sometimes it felt as if they were consuming him. The past either stroked him with a few soft remembrances or gripped him with nightmare talons. Mostly...fittingly, it was the nightmares.
Meteor tails dashed across the sky, more now, several every few minutes, like fast strokes across a blackboard, disappearing almost as quickly as they appeared. Skinner had heard the reports on the radio that the Leonid would not be back with another sky show for almost a hundred years. He watched the rare nocturnal display and thought of Fox Mulder and his certainty that the Aliens would return in less than a decade to finish what they started. According to Mulder, there would be no stopping them next time.
Skinner watched the sky until his neck began to ache. The meteors were dancing across the heavens, dozens and dozens of them, some with long, shimmering tails, but most only short streaks of light. It was beautiful and, like all things beautiful, ephemeral. He couldn't help but wonder if there would be any human eyes left to watch the Leonid the next time it passed across the Earth's sky.
He rubbed at the knot of muscle in his neck and tilted his head from side to side. His Land Cruiser was parked on the wayside of the two-lane road. He was in the middle of wine country, the vineyards stretching out over the sloping hills in all directions, looking like little more than tangled, spidery shadows. There didn't seem to be any houses nearby. He could see the faintly lighted window of a house nestled further up in the hills, but that was all. Perhaps someone in that house was up in the middle of the night to watch the meteor shower. Perhaps they were watching it with someone else, maybe it was even a whole family staying up together, sharing the rare moment.
With a sigh, he stood alone by the side of the road and gazed once again at the sky. It was very quiet except for the hooting of a night owl somewhere in the distance.
By the time he climbed back into his car, well over an hour had gone by. He turned on the ignition to get the heater started and spent the next few minutes getting the chill out of his bones. He pulled out his big thermos and poured himself the last of his coffee. He had to decide which way to go. He didn't bother turning on the interior light. He used his flashlight instead, shining it on the roadmap.
That twinge in his gut that was something more than restlessness, that feeling that had taken root inside him back in D.C. and turned his settled life into a nomad's existence, was flaring again. It nudged him every time he had to choose which way to go, pushing him but giving him no reason why. He learned through painful experience not to ignore it anymore.
"Okay, gut, which way now?" he asked aloud. He squinted down at the map and let his finger hover near his present location. He closed his eyes and simply let his finger find its own place on the map. He opened his eyes and looked down at where his finger lay. "Heartsfield. I'll have to backtrack a little." He finished his coffee, put the map away and the car in gear. The road was almost invisible in the darkness. Lowering his window for a moment, he gazed up again at the last of the Leonids streaking by. Then he turned on the headlights and headed north again.
Sleep didn't come easy for Skinner. He knew he had to rest, but despite his fatigue and the ache in his lower back, he kept going. Just as the sky turned to a pre-dawn gray, he came to a sign by the side of the road that proclaimed a welcome to Heartsfield, population 817. As he continued up the winding, tree-lined road he began to wonder where those 817 people might be. After a fair distance, the road finally opened up into what he assumed was the town's main street, a handful of buildings dotting either side.
He spotted a hardware store that also seemed to sell clothing by the look of its window, a post office, a 'natural' grocery store and 'wine shoppe,' (only in California, he thought), a bookstore and a bank. There were several side streets that seemed to offer a few other commercial possibilities. He wondered if there was a motel nearby or if he'd have to settle for the back of his Land Cruiser. Just then, a light in one of the stores drew his eye. The sign painted across the bay window told him it was "Sonny's Bakery Cafe". It was barely 6am but the place was already opened.
Skinner parked next to a red van with the picture of a plunger and the banner, "Wayne's Plumbing" written across it and walked the few feet into the caf. The heady aroma of fresh-baked bread and cinnamon enveloped him as he entered the warm and cozy interior. His stomach growled in appreciation, reminding him that he hadn't eaten in quite a while. He gazed around the room with its soft blue walls and clean white trim. There was a bakery case on one side with a tall bread rack behind it stacked with fresh loaves of bread. There were a few round wood tables and chairs alongside the window and a few more filling up the interior.
The only other person in the place was a man with a salt and pepper beard and bushy eyebrows who was enjoying a mug of coffee and a huge cinnamon roll at one of the tables. The man gave Skinner a scrutinizing look, took another bite of his roll and called out towards the door next to the bread rack, "Hey, Sonny, ya got a customer out here." A minute later, a big man wearing a short baker's hat and thick white apron came out with a tray of round bread loaves. He slid them into the bread rack and then stepped over to the small cashier's counter that stood next to a wide glass case of fresh pastries.
"Morning, can I help you?" he asked meeting Skinner's gaze with a smile that crinkled laugh lines around his mouth.
Skinner glanced up at the menu board on the wall behind Sonny. "Sure smells good in here," he said by way of greeting.
"Best bakery in the county, just ask anybody," replied Sonny. "I use nothing but the freshest ingredients and my grandma's recipes. Can't get better than that, mister. You're not from around here, are ya?"
Skinner shook his head. "Just passing through. Watched the meteor shower."
"Hey, yeah, caught some of it myself," cut in the customer with the bushy eyebrows. "Really something. Did you see it, Sonny?"
"You should know by now, Wayne. If it wasn't happening in my ovens, I didn't see it," returned Sonny with a grin. "So, where you from?" he asked Skinner.
"That's a helluva trip. Good way to see the country though. So, what would you like?"
Skinner pointed to a plump golden cheese danish in the case. "I'll have one of those and a cup of coffee, please." He looked back at Sonny as the baker prepared his order. "Do you get a lot of people passing through here?" he asked, feeling the need to make some conversation.
"Being in the middle of wine country, we get our fair share of tourists." Sonny poured hot coffee into a big earthenware mug and put the danish on a sturdy white plate, leaving them on the counter for Skinner to bus to a table. "In the summer, we seem to get more than our fair share," he added. "Not that I mind, good for business."
Skinner paid for his order and took it to one of the little tables by the window. He sat there, leisurely enjoying the coffee and danish, half-listening to the banter between Sonny and his other customer.. The sky was slowly changing from a swirling palette of sunrise colors to a crisp clear blue. He watched as the little town began to wake. A few more early risers sauntered into the bakery, all of them greeted by name. It didn't seem that anyone was in a particular hurry. Skinner treated himself to a second pastry, opting for a warm and buttery pecan roll along with a coffee refill. Skinner chatted a bit with Sonny, asking the baker for suggestions on places that he could stay for a few days. Skinner liked the look of the town and he was feeling the fatigue catching up to him. Maybe he couldn't ever really rest again, but he could at least lie down and close his eyes.
"There's only one place around here to stay. That's Hidden Cottage. It's a bed and breakfast place that Alice Sikes runs. Ain't really hidden, except for the vines all over it. Nice old Victorian, one of the first houses built in the area, in fact. It's just down at the other end of town, and a little ways up Chalk Hill Road."
Skinner followed up on the suggestion a little while later and drove his Land Cruiser to the other end of town and parked at the base of the hill. He was about to push open the door when a late model, dark blue Ford pickup drove by, heading into town. The pickup was going slow, and Skinner happened to glance at the driver. And froze, his breath caught in his throat. The driver's face was in profile, but Skinner would know that face anywhere, from any angle. It had haunted his dreams almost nightly for the better part of a year. The face belonged to Alex Krycek. The truck had already turned and was almost out of sight before Skinner managed to move again.
Alex Krycek. Skinner gazed after the truck in stunned horror. He knew the driver of the car could not be Krycek. It was not possible. It could only mean that his nightmares had finally leapt into his waking hours. Was he losing his sanity at last? Would he start seeing Kryceks everywhere now? In every window, around each corner?
He gripped the door handle, knuckles white from the pressure. For a moment, he was seized with the urge to follow the truck, to force it to a stop, to look into that driver's face. But the shock of it held him in place, allowed his rational mind to surface again. Krycek was dead. Skinner was certain of it because he had killed Alex Krycek himself with a bullet to the middle of his forehead.
Skinner managed to loosen his hold on the handle as he slumped in his seat, head falling back against the headrest. He shut his eyes, only to be racked by a replay of that deadly scene in the darkened garage of FBI headquarters. He sensed his own calmness in that awful moment, his cool indifference as he pulled the trigger of his FBI Special for the final time, ending Krycek's life. The bile rose in his throat and he covered his face with his hands, wrenched with a guilt that had grown from nothing to a weight he could hardly bear. A thin sheen of sweat broke out over his skin despite the cold in the autumn air.
Suddenly unable to stop himself, he grabbed hold of the steering wheel, turned on the ignition and with a screech of tires, headed in the direction the blue truck had taken. His eyes searched the road ahead. He forced himself to slow down. There were only a couple of other cars on the road and they were driving towards him. He didn't see any trucks as he approached the center of the little town. He carefully surveyed all the parked cars along the way. Nothing.
He drove all the way to the other end of town but he didn't spot the truck. He had a good view of the route that led to Highway 12 and couldn't see any vehicles on it. If the truck had been going that way, he'd have seen it. The driver must have taken one of the side streets within town. For a moment, Skinner wondered if he'd really seen the truck at all. He pushed up his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose, letting himself take a good long breath at the same time. What was he doing? Chasing after a hallucination like some lunatic? He suddenly thought of Mulder and all his wild and not so wild goose chases. The brief image of a young and irritating Fox Mulder, standing before Skinner's desk, proselytizing about some X-File, flashed before his eyes. It almost made him smile. It almost made him cry.
"This is crazy," he whispered. With one last look in either direction, he turned around and headed back through Heartsfield towards the B&B. His stomach was knotting. His knuckles were white. And all he could see was the profile of Krycek's face as that blue pickup drove past him. All he could hear was the sound of that last bullet leaving his gun. How, oh how could he have felt...nothing...then?
It all gets easier with time. Time heals all wounds. Those were the old clichs. They were wrong. Pain could indeed grow with the days, pierce and cut you with a thousand tiny strokes of guilt over the weeks, months, eat away at your soul until nothing was left but emptiness. The dark thoughts roiled through his mind.
Eventually, Skinner found the B&B. Its lovely ivy-covered exterior almost hid its white gingerbread shingles. The tall old trees that surrounded it were still thick with leaves turning a rich gold and orange. It looked like a house out of a picture book, serene and peaceful. The sight of it was wholly at odds with Skinner's inner turmoil.
It turned out that Alice Sikes' B&B had quite a few guests despite the off-season, but there was still a couple of small rooms available. Skinner paid for two days in advance in cash, and found himself sinking tiredly into a comfortably firm mattress topped with a thick, powder blue quilt. He gazed around the small room. The wallpaper had tiny pale blue flowers on it. Aside from a full-sized standing mirror, a small bureau and an overstuffed armchair, there was no other furniture in the room.
Skinner glanced at the window and watched a stray trail of ivy swaying slightly with the breeze. He could see the cloud-speckled sky that looked very much the same color as his room. He pulled off his shoes and with a sigh, closed his eyes, tension and fatigue buzzing through him. At some point he must've finally drifted off to an uneasy sleep. He woke up to mid-day sunshine streaming in through the window, surprised that he apparently had been able to sleep for several hours.
While he didn't feel quite as tired, that old sense of restlessness soon gripped him again. It was as if he was being pushed to do something, go somewhere. The feeling seemed even stronger than usual. He never knew quite what to make of it, only that he shouldn't ignore it for long or else his gut would pay the price. When the feeling first began to plague him, back in D.C., he thought it might be the beginnings of an ulcer. A trip to the doctor dispelled that theory. It was probably stress-related, his physician had suggested. That had been the start of his journey across country and the end of his career. Skinner didn't regret leaving the job; there was nothing left for him there. He only hoped that one day, he'd be able to find some semblance of peace.
Obviously, that day was not at hand. With a stretch and a deep breath, he gathered his jacket and headed downstairs. With a polite nod to a couple of guests lounging in the front room, he left the B&B and got back into his car. The antsy feeling in his gut was only growing stronger, so he started the car and began to drive. He had no route in mind, simply took turns haphazardly, driving up one winding road after another until he was several miles outside of Heartsfield proper. Vineyards lined the rolling hillsides on either side, with an occasional house dotting the landscape. His hands seemed to steer of their own accord.
Then he saw the blue pickup truck. It was parked in the curve of a long driveway leading further up a sharp incline into a stand of tall trees and bushes. He was sure it was the same truck he'd seen before, same model and same shade of pearly midnight blue. He eased into the driveway and came to a stop a few feet behind the pickup. The truck was empty.
His hands gripped the steering wheel as he felt that familiar twist in his gut. Skinner got out of his SUV, looked up the curving lane and saw a house nestled behind a redwood fence and an impressive array of oak and black walnut trees. He could just see glimpses of the top half of the house, an expanse of dove gray color and large, black shutter-trimmed windows.
His legs seemed to move of their own accord, even as he told himself that what he was doing was foolish and unreasonable. He stood before the tall redwood fence, trees on either side of him, their branches fanning across each other. He lifted the little latch and went inside. A short stone path led him to the house itself. A few more steps and he was standing before the door. There was an old fashioned brass knocker set at eye-level. There was also a bell. He drew in a breath and pressed his thumb to the bell.
A minute passed and then another. He ran the bell again. He had to know. Had to find out who had driven the dark blue truck in that driveway.
The door swung open and he saw the Glock pointed at his chest. A second later he was looking into the green eyes of Alex Krycek.
Skinner scarcely took note of the gun. His own gaze was riveted on the thing with Krycek's face, for surely, it could not be the real Alex Krycek. That man was dead. Skinner had killed him with that final bullet, right between the eyes. The same cool, clear green eyes that were staring at him now.
"How the hell did you find me?" The familiar husky voice was another little jolt to Skinner's system.
Skinner ignored the question, his mind cataloging the changes. For this Krycek was definitely different. It was as if he was looking at a Krycek from ten years ago, very like the boy-faced green agent who had partnered with Mulder. It seemed light years ago. All this Krycek needed was a headful of gel and a bad suit and he would be an exact copy. Skinner's gaze darted down to the thing's left arm. Flesh and blood fingers clenched, the faint blue veins just barely visible under the very real, lightly tanned skin.
Skinner swallowed, remembering how he'd gripped Krycek's fake left arm as he'd dragged the assassin's lifeless body across that cold concrete floor. Not that he hadn't already known about the prosthetic. He'd noticed it before, when Krycek had held the palm pilot and Skinner's life within its inanimate grasp.
Yes, this was a different Krycek. Except for the eyes. The eyes were like the older Krycek, hard and guarded, enigmatic as the night and world-weary. They seemed joltingly out of place on the young, pretty-boy face.
Those dangerous eyes narrowed at his continued silence. "Get in here, Skinner."
A sudden sense of calm settled in Skinner's chest. He drew in a slow breath and walked inside. The thing backed away from him, gun momentarily pointing towards a room to Skinner's right.
"In there," the thing told him. "And keep your hands where I can see them."
Was the thing a clone or a super soldier? Not a super soldier Skinner decided as he stood in the middle of the living room. Sunlight slanted in through the large old windows, spilling over the polished wood floor and the woven burgundy rug beneath his feet. Skinner was only peripherally aware of the room, his thoughts riveted on the creature before him.
Skinner had cremated Krycek's body; no super soldier could have risen from those ashes. So, it was a clone, but why was it here? And were there others?
"Are you carrying, Skinner?"
It took a moment for the question to register. He looked into the boyish face and simply shook his head. It became clear to him then that the creature before him was undoubtedly going to kill him. The calm inside him only deepened as he considered the irony of the situation.
The green eyes carefully surveyed him. "Open your jacket and turn around. No sudden moves."
Skinner unzipped his parka and pulled it back, turning slowly so the thing could see that he had no weapon.
"How did you find me?" it asked him again.
Skinner met the creature's stare, struck by the intensity in its eyes. How had the aliens managed to manufacture it, he wondered. "I saw you, in the truck, driving by in Heartsfield. It was an accident; I wasn't looking for you. Why would I look for a dead man? I...I thought I was hallucinating. I had to find out--" He was close to babbling.
The young Krycek thing frowned back at him, but the gun in his hand never wavered, aiming steadily at the center of Skinner's chest.
"You should shoot me in the head," Skinner told him, despite the small voice in the back of his mind that insisted that he didn't really want to die, that he was being irrational, that he should to try and escape. That he should just shut up. But it was a very small voice.
"You sound like you've really lost it, Skinner." The thing cocked its head and motioned Skinner towards a sofa. "Sit down."
Skinner gazed around the room. The thing motioned him towards an overstuffed chocolate brown sofa piled with faded, burgundy pillows. He made his way over to it and sank into the cushions. The thing was staring at him as if it was trying to figure something out.
"Who else is with you?"
"Just felt like coming all the way out here to vacation in the wine country?" The thing's voice was mocking.
Skinner couldn't get over how...real...the thing seemed to be. It was the attitude, that smirk on its face that belied its youth and owed everything to the older, cynical Krycek. "Not a vacation. I'm retired."
The green eyes widened. "Retired? I thought you were a Fibbie lifer, Skinner. Stiffest white shirt in the Hoover, super-glued to your desk. Thought they'd have to get you out of there with a crowbar."
The thing's vernacular matched the attitude, not at all like the monotone and stilted speech patterns the alien creatures usually exhibited. It seemed so like the cocky and fierce punk rat that had beaten him up in the stairwell years ago.
Skinner drew a deep breath, the words once again leaving his mouth of their own accord. "I couldn't stay. It wasn't right any more. I didn't deserve the badge anymore." He wasn't even sure why he felt compelled to say it. He couldn't understand why he felt relieved by making the confession. Maybe there was some twisted justice to it after all. His fate was now in the hands of a clone of the man he had killed. Perhaps the feeling in his gut that had pushed and prodded him all the way across the country was karmic retribution playing out in his life. Skinner never believed in that sort of thing. Then again, his beliefs had taken more than a few sharp u-turrns over the last decade.
The thing looked at him with a curious frown, the faintest of lines showing briefly across the smooth bridge of his nose. "What are you talking about, Skinner?"
"I killed you. Now, you can kill me. Only this time, you won't bring me back."
Both dark eyebrows rose over the large green eyes. The creature started to say something, paused as if he was trying to puzzle something out. "Are you saying I killed you and then...resurrected you?"
"You know what that'd make me, don't you?" the thing told him with a smirk. "Man, sounds like a damn interesting story. I think I'd like to hear it."
It was Skinner's turn to frown. This wasn't going at all the way he had thought it would.
A soft beeping had the thing turning its head towards the room beyond. "Hmm, coffee's ready," it said. "Get up and walk into the kitchen. I'm not wasting a pot of Kona for you or anybody." He waved the gun towards another door.
They wound up in an old-fashioned, cream-colored kitchen with lace-curtained windows that looked out at an expansive patio and a riotous garden surrounded by tall trees. The aroma of fresh coffee filled the air. Skinner was directed to one of the four cushioned chairs around an oval oak table by the windows.
The clone kept the gun on him as it pulled a cobalt mug off of a shelf and went to the refrigerator for a carton of milk. The carton seemed to slip out of its left hand and landed with a thud on the counter. "Damn it," growled the thing. "Stupid fucking arm." It flexed its fingers several times and shook out its hand for a moment. Muttering another obscenity under its breath, the thing poured a mugful, adding a healthy dollop of milk and sugar. Throughout it all, the gun never wavered.
"Cup of coffee, Skinner?" it offered after taking a blissful mouthful.
Skinner stared at him and barely kept his mouth from dropping open. "You're offering me coffee?"
The creature actually grinned at me. "Yeah, why not? Then you can tell me all about how I killed you. Now, won't that be pleasant?"
Skinner continued to stare at him. The clone must have taken that as an affirmative because it poured a mug of coffee and plunked it down in front of him before taking a seat across the table.
"So, Skinner, you know I have to tell ya, you look lousy." The creature slouched comfortably back in its seat and began sipping from its mug, gun hand resting on the tabletop, muzzle still pointed at Skinner's chest. The green eyes gazed at him curiously from over the mug's rim. "How'd you kill me?" it asked, after another leisurely sip.
Once again, Skinner had that feeling that this bizarre encounter was some sort of surreal dream. And, in dreams, there were no rules, no boundaries, no prescribed forms of behavior.
"I shot you three times, last bullet was in the middle of your forehead." His fingers circled the mug. The scent of good coffee wafted up towards him. He could hear birds chirping outside. The Krycek thing tilted its dark head, a wave of hair dipping across its brow. No gel in it. The boyish face looked pensively back at him.
"Was I tied up or unconscious?"
Skinner swallowed and shook his head slowly.
"You mean, I just stood there and let you shoot me?" The green eyes widened slightly.
Skinner nodded. Then, to his surprise, the thing began to chuckle and then laugh out loud. It was a very human sound. He realized he had never heard Krycek laugh before. Not the real Krycek. He hadn't thought that the alien clones knew how, or would bother to integrate the action into their mannerisms. "You can laugh," he said.
The creature's chuckles subsided, leaving a smirk that was, once again, all too familiar. " 'And if I laugh at any mortal thing, 'Tis that I may not weep.' That's Lord Byron, Skinner." The Krycek thing took in his utter bemusement with a shrug. "I didn't have much reason to laugh before."
"Before what?" asked Skinner, not wanting to unravel why an alien construct would be quoting Romantic Poets at him.
"You know, 'before'...in the bad old days." The clone tilted his head, still smirking.
Skinner felt he had nothing to loose. He was probably already crazy and, if not, he'd soon be dead. Maybe he could get some answers in the interim. "Why did they make you?"
Dark eyebrows arched at him. "What?"
"The aliens. What was there purpose in creating you? How many more of you are there? Are you in contact with their ships, supplying information until they return?"
Once again, to Skinner's surprise, the thing laughed, so hard the gun shook in his hand. When it finally stopped, the green eyes gazed steadily into his. "I'm not a clone, Skinner. I'm the real deal. The genuine article. The one and only. Alex Krycek, not at your service."
"No you're not," replied Skinner, voice flinty. The thing's attitude was actually starting to irritate him. "You're not even a correct replica." He gave it a measuring stare. "You're at least ten years too young and you've got two arms."
Green eyes darted a glance at the left arm in question before meeting Skinner's stare. "True on both counts, but I'm still, as ever, Alex Krycek."
Skinner gave him a dismissive snort. "I murdered the real Alex Krycek."
The thing picked up its coffee mug and took a drink. "So you said. And if you think I'd just stand there passively and do nothing, just let you, or anybody, shoot me in the head, then you don't have the vaguest idea who the real Alex Krycek is."
"You wanted me to kill Mulder."
The clone seemed to freeze for a moment, something sparking in its eyes. "I wanted you to kill Mulder?" The moment stretched as it slowly put down the mug. "Mulder was there?"
Skinner wondered at the sudden softness in its voice. "Yes, he was there." He watched a pink tongue tip dart out for a second before the mouth thinned into a hard line.
"I could've killed Mulder a hundred times over, from the time I met him on the Augustus Cole case to the last time I saw him, over five years ago now. I never needed anyone else to do it for me. In fact, I've saved--" It stopped abruptly and gave a shrug. "Doesn't matter any more."
Skinner's confusion swept past his irritation. Was it really...hurt...he saw in the green eyes that suddenly glanced away from him? There was so much emotion there. It didn't make sense. "You say you haven't seen Mulder in five years? That would be quite a trick for a clone that was created, what, a year ago, a month ago?"
"Dammit, you're really beginning to piss me off," snapped the creature. "I shouldn't give a shit though. What do I care if you think I'm a clone or an alien or your granny's pet cat." It raised the gun, thumb slowly playing over the metal. "Think whatever the hell you want."
"Are you going to kill me now?" Skinner asked as he eyed the gun that was pointing at his heart.
"If I don't, will you kill me...again?"
Once again, Skinner was jarred by the thing's response. "If you can prove you're the real Alex Krycek, then, no, I won't try to kill you." He knew, even as he said it, that it was true. He was hoping, against all reason and common sense, that somehow, someway, the creature before him could really be Krycek. More than anything, he wanted that to be true. The possibility felt like one of those second chance at redemption scenarios found in old, sentimental movies. But, improbable as it would be, he wanted it to be true.
"How can I prove it?"
"Tell me what happened to you?"
It smiled. "You said I killed you and brought you back. How'd I do that?"
The detour in topic irritated Skinner but he played along. "You infected me with nanocytes. Controlled them with a device that looked like a Palm Pilot. You seemed to enjoy every moment of it." He realized he was saying 'you' as if he was talking to the real man. He stopped talking.
The Krycek clone grinned, then laughed out loud again. "Gets better and better." His grin faded abruptly. "You won't believe me." It shrugged and slumped a little in the chair. "Ah, what the hell, okay. The last time I saw Mulder was over five years ago. I left him sitting on the floor of his apartment, in the dark, with a gun in his hand." A faint smile touched its lips. "I thought he might shoot me, but he didn't. He let me walk out of there."
Skinner couldn't deny his curiosity. "What were you doing there?"
"Passing on a message. A Resistance fighter was being held at Weikamp Air Force Base."
Skinner just shook his head in puzzlement and the clone sighed again.
"It was important for Mulder to know, to intervene somehow. I think it worked, too, but by then I was already...taken out of the loop. The Brit thought I'd be his errand boy from then on. The Rebels begged to differ."
A maze of questions popped into Skinner's head. "The `Brit'?"
"Another one of the old men, the one with the GQ sensibilities. He had some, ah, issues with Cancerman and the rest of those old bastards, so he wanted me to get word to Mulder. Who knows what other motives he had." The thing paused. "He's dead like the others, isn't he? The Rebels told me they were all dead."
Skinner shook his head. He didn't know. Mulder hadn't mentioned anything to him. Besides he didn't want to be sidetracked again. "You look like you're barely out of college. You--you have two arms. How? What did the aliens do to you?"
Dark eyebrows rose slightly as the creature shrugged its shoulders. "I made the mistake of telling them I wanted my arm back. Thought they'd have a Healer do it. Someone like Jeremiah Smith. I found out too late that all their healers were dead or missing." The thick lashes lowered, shadowing his green eyes. "They put me into a cylinder, like one of those MRI tanks, you know, only it was completely sealed. I felt like an insect." It grimaced seemingly at the memory. "I thought they'd lied to me. I thought they were going to kill me. They filled it with some kind of blue liquid. I passed out. When I woke up, I was lying naked on some kind of slab. I looked down at myself and I had two arms."
It tilted its head, eyeing Skinner with a very familiar 'yeah, I know you won't believe this' look, but then it continued. "When I felt steady enough to get up, I knew something more had happened to me. It wasn't just my arm. Just looking down at myself, I could see that my old scars were gone, I was thinner. I finally saw my reflection, and it scared the shit out of me.
"I kept badgering them to tell me what they'd done to me. They told me I didn't have the intelligence to comprehend their science." Krycek shook his head and snorted. "All they'd tell me is that they'd re-engineered my DNA, restoring an 'earlier configuration' in order to make sure the arm was successfully restored." "I guess they had to turn back my biological clock to a time period when I had both arms. Obviously, they overcompensated. The aliens also told me I'd been in that fucking cylinder for months." The clone paused, lifted its chin and stared challengingly into Skinner's skeptical face.
"The Krycek I killed was bleeding red blood. Human blood," countered Skinner.
"Human? Really? Did you have it analyzed? Autopsied the body?"
"No. How could we, why would we? I...I had the body cremated right away."
The thing's green eyes took on a brittle gleam. "You burned a one-of-a-kind replicant, Skinner. Programmed to self-destruct, human-style. It was part of the deal; I'd be their lab rat and in exchange, they'd plant my replicant. Make sure it looked like business as usual. Programmed it to terminate, when ordered, in front of witnesses. That would give me a fresh, clean slate. A new life with no baggage, asuuming I survived their experiments, of course. I thought I was all set, too." The gun aimed at Skinner's chest bobbed for a moment. "That is, until you waltzed in on me."
"Why did they want to...experiment on you?"
"I was one of the rare ones. I'd hosted the Black Oil and survived. That seemed to be the critical component of their research. The Resistance needed a lab rat more than an assassin. They needed my blood, my genes for their tests to find a weapon to stop the Colonization. Seems that was all I was really good for by that time.
"There were two others on the ship with me. Some French guy named Gautier and his wife. I sure as hell remembered her. She's the one who passed the Black Oil to me in Hong Kong. The aliens used all three of us." The young Krycek face looked away. "Gautier and his wife died. I think their fear killed them more than anything else. They...they just didn't get it and the rebels didn't bother trying to make it easier." It drew in a deep breath and met Skinner's eyes again. "But I made it. And that's how I got here."
For several moments, the only sound was the faint chirping of birds in the trees just beyond the windows.
"I don't believe you." It was just too fantastic, despite all the fantastic things Skinner had witnessed over the past decade. It didn't matter that he wanted to believe it.
"My, my, what a surprise." The unnerving smirk returned to the creature's lips. "Good thing I have the gun then, isn't it? Though it also leaves me with a bit of a dilemma."
"Mulder said the aliens are coming back in less than ten years. They'll finish what they started. It'll be the end of mankind."
The thing slowly shook its head. "Poor Mulder. He'll be disappointed then. The aliens won't get through the Earth's atmosphere. It's poisonous to them now. The rebels saw to that before they left. They were able to create the airborne virus they needed from their research. They created their ultimate weapon to end the colonization. Launched it as they left. At least all my 'lab time' was worth something."
Skinner gaped at the young face that smiled wryly back at him. "You're telling me that the aliens are gone. Gone for good? They can't come back?"
The dark head nodded. "And any alien that was still here is very dead. The rebels felt that colonization here was polluting their species, causing mutations from the contact with us. That's why they sealed their eyes, mouths. 'Purity' meant something entirely different to the rebels, fortunately for us. The virus they implanted has been part of the atmosphere for over a year now, working like good little microbes, killing the evil aliens and leaving all us fine human folk alone. Gee, I guess we all get to live happily ever after now, don't we? Hmmm, oh yeah, all except for you maybe. Too bad about that."
A sliver of doubt crept through Skinner's mind. Or was it just hope? The memory of Mulder's beloved wall poster rose before him. //I want to believe.// Would Mulder give this...clone...this...creature with Krycek's babyface any credence? If this Krycek was the real and true Alex Krycek, it would mean much more than just a second chance for Walter Skinner to redeem his conscience. It would mean that they had beaten the Colonists, that humankind had won the secret war.
Skinner watched the young Krycek push back his chair and slowly get to his feet. 'His' chair, 'his' feet? Was he already believing this incredible tale? He continued to watch as a frown deepened across the clone's face, teeth scraping across a full lower lip as the thing gazed at him thoughtfully. A sigh that seemed tinged with regret followed.
"C'mon, Skinner, let's take a little walk out back." The gun remained leveled at the center of his chest as Skinner got up from his seat.
"You're going to kill me?"
"If it has to come to a choice between my life and yours, what do you think?"
As Skinner looked up from the gun to the boyish face, he was startled once again by the intense emotion in the green eyes that gazed back at him. They were so...human. He swallowed back his mounting confusion as Krycek waved him through the back door and out into the large, sheltered garden. They walked along a winding path towards a small grove of leafy trees that shimmered crimson and gold in the sunlight.
The path was carpeted with leaves that crunched under their feet as they walked. The garden was lush and thick everywhere, bathed in fiery autumn colors. The air was crisp and there was woodsmoke in it. Skinner felt his heart beating faster. He was going to die.
"Stop there, Skinner."
At the soft command he paused and turned. Trees enclosed them in a semi-circle, casting shadows that blocked the sun.
"I thought I could put it all behind me. I wanted a fresh start, a fresh life, Skinner. Why the fuck did you have to show up? I'm not about to let you kill me." The voice was husky and raw. There was feeling in that voice, so unlike the cold and apathetic voice of the Krycek he had killed. All of Skinner's instincts balked at what his logical mind insisted couldn't be possible. He realized that his life was hanging in the balance. Once again, Skinner decided to go with his gut.
As Krycek lowered his head for a moment, Skinner lunged forward, locking onto the gun arm and twisting it upward as they both tumbled to the ground. The gun flew from Krycek's hand and skidded across the path and out of sight beneath some squat, thick bushes. They grappled and rolled back and forth, dried leaves, branches, and small stones kicking up around them.
Using his weight advantage, Skinner blanketed the smaller body beneath him, a corner of his brain noting how much slimmer and lighter it was than the body he'd dragged from the garage that fateful day.
An angry shout cut the air as Krycek bucked beneath him, trying desperately to throw him off. He pressed down more firmly, making sure arms and legs were trapped. He yelped with surprise as Krycek head-butted him, hard. Momentarily stunned, his hold loosened and the slim body almost squirmed out from under him. He struggled to hang on to Krycek's waist as an elbow just barely missed his face. They were both scrambling to get to their feet.
"Damn you, Skinner! Son of a bitch! Fucking hell...fuck!"
The flow of expletives continued as they fell back down together, rolling over each other as Skinner used his heavier weight again to get the upper hand. As he felt the body heaving beneath him, kneecap aiming for his groin, and a "fuck you" shouted in his ear, Skinner's mind suddenly agreed with his instincts. This was Alex Krycek. The real, human, foul-mouthed, unyielding, dirty-fighting Alex Krycek. No clone, no replicant could ever have this much...passion. It was the one thing the aliens could never duplicate.
"I believe you!" he shouted back, even as Krycek tried to bite his ear off. "Damn it, Krycek, you little punk! I said I believe you!"
But Krycek only grunted with effort as he kept trying to push Skinner off. He was breathing hard, hot panting breaths brushing again Skinner's face.
Krycek was twisting like a wildcat beneath him, tensing for another effort, swearing with each breath. "Fuck, fuck!"
Not really sure what he was doing, Skinner pressed down and in the next instant, covered Krycek's mouth with his own. He sensed the immediate, sharp gasp as their lips made contact. Krycek's mouth was soft, full...surprising. The contact turned into a full-blown kiss. Krycek stopped moving.
//What the hell am I doing?// Skinner lifted his head a fraction and glimpsed the shocked look on Krycek's baby face, big eyes wide and staring. Then he covered his mouth again, kissing deeply, slowly rubbing his mouth across the warm, wet lips. It was like tasting something exotic... addictive, for the very first time. It was stunningly, unexpectedly...arousing.
He realized that Krycek wasn't kissing him back. He wasn't fighting him either. With more reluctance than he could have imagined, Skinner lifted his head and looked down at Krycek's face.
His mouth was glistening, slightly opened. A pink tongue tip was just visible. His breathing was still fast. His eyes were closed now, long dark lashes fanning out. Skinner waited until they opened. They stared at each other. Amazingly, it looked as if Krycek was blushing. He shut his mouth and swallowed, opened it again, pausing, swallowing again, before he spoke in a low rough whisper.
"W-why did you do...that?"
"Wanted you to stop moving," replied Skinner.
"I stopped. Why did you do it again?"
It was Skinner's turn to swallow. He felt his own face heating up. Since he had no idea why he'd done it, he said nothing.
"Are you gay?"
The question jolted him. It seemed...ridiculous. But he didn't know what to say, so again, he said nothing.
Krycek frowned at him. "Let me up."
"Truce, Krycek. I want us to talk," replied Skinner as he tried to blank his mind to his body's unmistakable response to the kissing.
"I'm not going to get killed after all I've been through, Skinner."
"I won't kill you if you don't kill me. How's that?"
"Why should I trust you, or expect you to trust me?"
"Because I don't want to throw away my second chance either."
Krycek turned his head a way for a moment, his hips twisting a little. Skinner shifted instinctively to keep Krycek pinned. It was then that he felt Krycek's erection. //You feel damn human to me.// was Skinner's blazing thought.
"For fuck's sake, get off of me now!"
"Truce?" he repeated, looking down at the still averted face.
"Yeah, yeah. Now let me the hell up!"
Carefully, Skinner pulled away, keeping his hands clamped over Krycek's biceps. He let go and got up. In turn, Krycek jumped to his feet and tried to dash towards the bushes where his gun had landed. Instinctively expecting it, Skinner grabbed him from behind in a bear hug. "Damn it, Krycek, you little bastard!" He clung to the twisting body, suddenly aware of Krycek's hair brushing his face. Silky soft, smelling faintly of apples. "Truce, goddamit!" he growled into Krycek's ear as he narrowly avoided a booted heel to his shin. He clamped his arms tighter until he heard Krycek's involuntary gasp of pain. "Stop moving!" he ordered.
He felt the tension draining out of the body in his arms, Krycek finally standing still and quiet except for his labored breaths. Skinner eased up his hold but didn't let go. He felt Krycek's ass against his crotch and gritted his teeth. "How about another cup of that top grade coffee of yours?"
"How about you let me get my gun and I'll let you have the whole damn pot?" Krycek countered.
"We'll both get your gun."
A snort was followed by a grudging, "Fine, now let go."
Skinner let go slowly and Krycek turned towards him, green eyes meeting his suspiciously. He stepped back cautiously, one hand rising to point toward the bushes. "My gun, Skinner."
They matched slow steps towards the heavy shrubbery, eyeing each other's moves every few seconds. When they reached the bushes, they both crouched down in unison.
"I see it," said Skinner, pointing towards a spot between a pile of dead leaves and a heavy shrub. He held up his other hand, palm open. "It's closer to me. Truce, Krycek, I mean it. I'll give you the gun after I've taken out the clip."
Krycek's eyes narrowed. "Let me get it and I'll dump out the clip."
Skinner almost smiled. The kid had to be Krycek. And it could still end with Skinner lying dead in this very garden. One of them had to take the chance. He drew in a tight breath. "Okay, you get it. Then I want another cup of coffee." He caught the flash of surprise in the young face before it was wiped away by another smirk.
Krycek shifted closer to the bush, reaching out beneath the stubby branches, feeling the ground. Leaves rustled and after a few moments, he withdrew his hand, the Glock balanced easily in his palm, pointing towards Skinner.
Both men rose carefully to their feet, Skinner watching as Krycek made no move to lower the weapon or remove the clip. The safety was still off. They faced each other silently, Krycek glancing down at the gun in his hand.
"You didn't really expect me to trust you, now did you, Skinner? I mean, c'mon, really?"
Skinner squared his shoulders and spoke past his fear. "You said the aliens are dead. Each of us can get our lives back and start again. Free. Free from the past. I need you to help me find Mulder and Scully. They deserve a second chance, too. They've given up enough for it, god knows. They can come out of hiding, get their baby back and..."
He paused at the sudden, stunned expression on Krycek's young face. His mouth had actually dropped open at Skinner's words like someone who'd just been tapped lightly on the shoulder and then slapped hard. Skinner frowned at the reaction, spoke again. "I--I don't know how to find Mulder and I don't have the Agency's resources to use anymore. Krycek, you have to help me."
The gun lowered slowly to hang limply from Krycek's hand, almost as if he'd forgotten about it. "Mulder and...Scully and...their baby?" echoed Krycek haltingly. He shook his head at Skinner like he wasn't sure he had heard correctly.
Skinner realized that Krycek wouldn't have known. He nodded. "Their son, William. They had to give him away, to keep him safe."
Krycek just stared at him for a moment, full lips tightened into a tense line. "Scully isn't able to have children. Cancerman, I heard him talking about it. The tests after her abduction. She's...sterile. And Mulder...they weren't...lovers."
Skinner wondered why Krycek seemed so taken aback by it. "After everything you've seen." He paused with a pointed glance at the kid's left arm. "After all you've been through yourself, do you really think it's impossible? Scully had a baby. Maybe she'd just call it a miracle. But William is their baby. And they need to know that he's safe now, that they're all safe now."
The green eyes lowered, Krycek's gaze seemingly fixed on a dead leaf that had caught on the toe of his boot. He was so lost in thought that Skinner could've easily overpowered him if he'd felt like it. Instead, he waited and watched the dark head slowly look up. Krycek glanced at the gun in his hand, absently flicking on the safety, his face clearing of expression while his eyes sparked with more emotion than Skinner could even interpret. He started to walk back towards the house, calling coldly over his shoulder.
"All right, Skinner, looks like we both might have a few important things to tell each other. Let's talk."
They sat in the tidy kitchen, at the round wood table by the windows, and talked through an entire pot of Krycek's choice Kona Gold. At first, Krycek kept the Glock in his lap. After an hour or so, he'd taken out the clip, emptied the barrel, and left it on the tabletop.
Skinner told him as much as he knew about what had happened since Krycek had been taken by the Rebels. He told him pretty much everything that Mulder and Scully had confided in him, too. The more Skinner tried to explain, the crazier it sounded in the telling. Krycek asked questions and Skinner found he didn't have nearly as many answers.
He watched the young face, noting the subtle range of emotions flitting across the smooth features. He could see them far more clearly in his green eyes. Windows of the soul indeed. Even in the...replicant, there was a shadow of something in its eyes, a hint of something more, but now Skinner could see that it was only a pale imitation of the real thing.
Damn. Alex Krycek. Alive. Alive and whole. That fact seemed to settle quietly in his mind even as he spoke of years of conspiracy, of battles lost and won, and of the fear and resignation that seemed to be the only legacy left to the ones that remained.
At one point, Krycek got up and began pacing back and forth. He looked like a college student in his scuffed white Reeboks, faded blue jeans, and navy wool turtleneck, but he didn't sound like one as he questioned Skinner's assumptions and gave his own caustic observations on the behavior of the major players. As the afternoon waned, Skinner realized they were having a conversation. Despite the otherworldly topic, the mere fact that they were talking like two ordinary people was almost an x-file unto itself. Skinner wasn't even quite sure how he felt about that.
He looked on with a sense of bemusement as Krycek began to hunt through cupboards and the refrigerator, pulling out a plate of sliced roast beef and some cheese, a loaf of crusty bread, and other odds and ends. He then proceeded to make sandwiches, even as they continued their conversation about aliens and betrayals, bad guys and good guys, Pyrrhic victories and quiet resurrections.
"The last time I saw Mulder, I told him that a war to end all wars was starting. I told him that there were only two choices: to resist or serve. I guess we resisted long enough for the Rebels to sabotage their own Colonization. We won the war, Skinner, because of crazies like Mulder and even stuffed shirts like you. And, yeah, even because of a rat bastard like me. We held out. Did what we had to do to keep those fuckers from taking us down. We survived. Bottom line, Skinner, it's over. Over."
He turned from the counter, knife in one hand and a slice of bread in the other. "Here's the deal. I treat you to lunch. I'll even throw in a glass of wine or a bottle of Sam Adams, if you prefer. Then you leave and forget I ever existed. We start fresh, new lives and see what it's like to be...regular guys. You're happy, I'm happy. End of story. What do you say? Oh, you want Dijon or mayo on your roast beef?"
Skinner frowned as his head took a spin. He answered the easier question. "Mustard and mayo both, thanks." And was amazed at the ease in his voice.
Krycek turned back to the cutting board, picked up the jar of mayo in his left hand. It promptly slipped through his fingers and he barely caught it in time with his right. "Shit." He shook out his left hand, flexing it into a fist. Skinner noticed that it was at least the third time that Krycek had dropped something.
"What's wrong with your hand?"
Krycek let out a frustrated sigh and scowled. "Damn Rebels had me in that DNA soup of theirs for months and I wind up with an arm that's like rubber. Can you believe it? So much for fucking alien science. They might be able to come up with alien-killing viruses, but they're less than stellar when it comes to regenerating human body parts. I would've been better off with a Healer, dammit."
"Maybe you just need to build up the muscles. Do some strength training. You look thinner than you did when you first showed up at the Hoover in your bad, junior G-man suit."
Krycek just stared at him for a moment before breaking into a grin. "Took me years to build up some muscle back then. Of course, running and hiding like a street rat for years is not a method I plan to use again." He got a bottle of red wine from the wine rack and held it up for Skinner's perusal. "Glass?" At Skinner's nod, he plunked the bottle, a corkscrew and two glasses on the table. "Pour me one, too." He went back to finishing the sandwiches. "Think I'll convert one of the upstairs rooms to a gym," he said casually.
It was then that Skinner knew that the two of them had definitely crossed into a realm that blithely juxtaposed the surreal with the mundane. Skinner opened the bottle, poured them both a glass of pinot noir, and promptly drank a healthy swallow.
Krycek brought the sandwiches to the table along with a Tupperware carton half full of coleslaw. He sat down, shoved the Glock aside to make room for his plate, and started eating.
The food was good and Krycek ate it with gusto. After several minutes, he raised a dark eyebrow as he caught Skinner's stare. "What? Don't you like the sandwich?"
Skinner glanced down at his half-eaten roast beef. "It's very good. A late lunch in the wine country with someone I killed over a year ago is not exactly a typical day for me. Maybe I just don't acclimate as fast as I used to." He managed a tight smile and raised his glass. "The wine is excellent."
Krycek finished off the rest of his sandwich and sat back in his chair. He picked up his wine glass and returned Skinner's salute. "You had to deal with Mulder every day for years. That must've forced a helluva lot of flexibility into you." He paused. "Here's to second chances." He took a leisurely sip, eyelashes lowering to hide the green eyes for a moment before adding softly, "Yeah, it's good."
Skinner sensed that Krycek was referring to more than just the pinot noir. The kid's dark eyelashes were startlingly long and thick. Skinner wondered why he never really noticed it before. He watched as the pink tongue swiped delicately at a stray drop of red wine. The remembered warmth of those lips, the soft feel of them against his mouth, the sound of Krycek's quick, panting breaths, rose like heat in Skinner's mind. He looked away quickly, focusing on a distant spot outside the window, surprised at himself. He drew in a long breath.
"So, do we have a deal, Skinner?"
The husky voice drew him back to meet Krycek's steady gaze. "Deal?" he repeated though he knew what Krycek was asking.
"You go your way, I go mine. Never the twain."
Skinner looked down at his plate. "I haven't finished eating yet and I'd like another glass of that excellent wine." Despite the lingering aftershock of the day's revelations, both on the grand and very personal scale, Skinner was already fairly certain of what he wanted...needed to do. And that meant stalling for a little more time while he tried to put his thoughts together.
Krycek huffed out a breath. "Damn, Skinner, I'm not running a country inn here." But he reluctantly reached for the wine bottle and refilled Skinner's glass. He hesitated for just a moment before topping off his own.
Slowly, Skinner picked up his sandwich and took a bite. Krycek started flexing his left hand. Tighten, release, tighten, release...
"Even if it's giving you a little trouble, it's still amazing, isn't it?" he asked, glancing from Krycek's hand to his eyes. "You've been given a miraculous gift, Krycek. They dipped you into the Fountain of Youth and gave you years to live over again."
Long fingers opened and closed tightly. "Not those years. Never want to live those years over again. Besides, I'm 40 now, Skinner, up here, where it counts." He tapped his temple with a fingertip.
"Perhaps, but no one will believe it." He hesitated, then added, "Well, except Mulder."
Krycek frowned at him and took a gulp of wine. He started to fidget as Skinner kept watching him. "Will you stop staring at me? Have I grown a third eye or something?" He looked down at his glass. A thick wave of dark hair swept down over his forehead.
Skinner realized he had indeed been staring. He couldn't seem to help himself. It was all, all so strange. He pushed his plate away, cleared his throat. "Why did you pick this place, Krycek? What are you going to do here?"
Krycek glanced up at him through his lashes. "I like it. Came across it years ago, after an...assignment up in Oregon. It's peaceful here. I foolishly thought it was far enough away from the East Coast and all the old crap. I've got some plans. I'll see how it goes." He gave a little sigh. "Anyway, seemed like a good idea at the time."
"You own this place? How did you get the money?"
Krycek's head snapped up, chin jutting out. "What's with the third degree?"
"It's none of your business."
Skinner gazed around the room, out the window, and back at the stormy young face across the table. "Real estate is very expensive around here. This is an old house, but it's in fine condition, and looks like you have a good bit of land behind there. Probably cost you plenty. Is it the Consortium's blood money that's paying for your premature retirement, Krycek?"
"May as well put it to some use. The Resistance told me most of those old bastards got fried one night. The rest are gone now, too. So, none of them is alive to care, now are they?"
Skinner raised his glass and finished off the rest of his wine. "No, no they're not."
"All right, Skinner, hospitality time is over." He glanced at the gun and the clip. "I want you to leave now. If you come back, I'll kill you."
Skinner crossed his arms across his chest. So much for stalling. "I need you to help me find Mulder and Scully."
Krycek blinked in surprise. "Find them yourself."
"It would take me a long time, a lot of wasted time. I can't use the Bureau's resources. Besides, he needs to see that you're really alive. I couldn't convince him otherwise."
Krycek picked up the gun and clip as he rose from his chair, reloading. "That's your problem." He flipped on the safety and stepped back, letting the gun dangle at his side. "C'mon, Skinner, we've had such a wonderful little get-together, let's not spoil it by dragging it out."
Skinner got up and walked up to him until they were only a few inches apart. "I need your help," he said softly.
Krycek couldn't quite hide a flinch as Skinner cupped his face gently with one hand. "What are you doing?" he asked, voice a whisper.
His skin was so soft. Skinner's thumb traced the curve of his lips. "I don't know. I can't seem to stop myself," he answered. It was the truth. Perhaps it was a part of his absolution, this growing need to look at the other man, to touch him. To make sure he was really there. At least, that was part of it.
Skinner wondered why Krycek was standing so still, allowing it. A brief flare of his old caution made him move his hand down Krycek's throat, then slowly to the back of his neck. His fingers dipped under the collar and traced the smooth skin there, touching carefully. No bumps. Not that he really expected any.
And then everything blurred and the next thing he knew, his mouth was brushing against those soft, ripe lips, his tongue was pushing inside, feeling heat and tasting red wine. Krycek's sudden gasp turned into a moan and then he seemed to melt into Skinner. The firm, warm mouth was pushing back against his, tongue slipping over and under his own.
God, it felt good. Krycek's body felt so damn good in his arms. What the hell. Had the attraction been there all along? He tightened his hold, hands slowly trailing down the lean, muscled back, feeling the rough wool of Krycek's turtleneck, feeling the worn smoothness of the tight blue jeans. God, it felt good. It startled him, the excitement surging through him as he cupped the firm, round ass in his palms. Krycek gasped again as his palms rubbed and squeezed. Skinner felt the sound in his mouth.
Skinner didn't know why he suddenly wanted to fuck Alex Krycek right down through the floor, but he did. It was unknown territory yet the desire for it seemed to hit him like a gale force.
He almost growled when he felt Krycek struggling to push him away. He wanted to drag him down to the floor, rip off his clothes. Krycek managed to break their kiss, turn his head away.
"Damn, Skinner, wha...oh, god..."
Skinner licked his neck, mouth fastening on a tender spot beneath his ear. Krycek's hair was longer than he'd ever remembered it. It fell almost down to his collar, silken strands tickling Skinner's nose and smelling of tart apples.
Skinner drew his hands upward, snaking under Krycek's sweater, feeling bare skin. He raked his fingers along the slender back, Krycek groaning as he arched against him. Krycek's cock was hard, hard as his own. He could feel it through their clothes.
Somehow, Skinner managed to speak, words rough against Krycek's ear. "Find a bed in 30 seconds or I'm going to take you on this kitchen floor." Then he kissed Krycek again, eating his mouth, sucking his tongue.
With a moan, Krycek broke away, eyes glazed. He grabbed a handful of Skinner's Henley and dragged him out of the kitchen, down the hall, to a room with a double bed covered in a faded French country quilt.
"Crazy...this...is...crazy..." Krycek murmured between panting breaths as he backed them into the room and towards the bed.
Skinner held Krycek's face between his hands and kissed him hard again. Krycek seemed surprised by every kiss, almost flinching away even as the hunger in his eyes deepened. Skinner tugged impatiently at the edge of Krycek's turtleneck. "Take it off." He took a step back, fighting the urge to throw Krycek down on the bed and waited as the kid pulled his sweater over his head in one smooth motion. He tossed it to the floor and quickly unzipped his jeans and heeled off his running shoes.
"This is fucking crazy," Krycek said again, voice smoky and low.
Yes, it was crazy. The tiny piece of what was left of Skinner's rational mind knew that well enough. As Krycek shed his clothes, Skinner threw off his own, and took of his glasses. He was being swept away in a storm of powerful new feelings, sensations. He didn't want to think anymore.
They tumbled into the bed. Incongruous pastel squares dotted with violets and butterflies filled Skinner's peripheral vision as they rolled back and forth over the quilt. Krycek's naked body felt glorious against him, satin skin and muscle and heat. Foreign and familiar and intoxicating, all at the same time. Overpowering.
He wanted to have Krycek in every way there was, yet the urgency, the sheer newness of Krycek's cock sliding hard and slick against his groin made it impossible to do anything other than press back, rub, touch. He wanted...just...wanted. He wasn't sure what to do; everything felt so...good. The thought flew by him as Krycek shimmied up and down his body, licking him, marking him. He seemed as frantic for the contact as Skinner.
With his mouth pressed against Krycek's throat, bodies thrusting together, he came as he heard Krycek's ecstatic shout. He felt the air rushing through his lungs. It was like flying through sparks. God, he'd never felt more alive.
He couldn't tell when he finally felt his heartbeat slow to normal. He was all too aware of the body lying beside him. Incredibly, he wanted to get even closer. He turned to gaze into green eyes that looked desire-drowned and a little...mystified.
"What are we doing, Skinner?" The question was a breathy whisper.
"If memory serves, I think it's called sex," replied Skinner with a deep breath and more nonchalance than he felt.
Krycek settled on his side, their bodies almost touching. A fragile peace enfolded them and Skinner wondered if the other man felt the same odd sense of comfort as he did. Krycek placed his hand on Skinner's chest, palm gently massaging through the thick chest hair. "Been a long time?" he asked softly.
"Long enough, although it's been even longer than that since I got off like a rocket." He couldn't quite keep the grin out of his voice.
"And did that happen during your last homosexual experience?" asked Krycek wryly, with a lift of one dark eyebrow.
Skinner thought for a moment, gazing up at the pale yellow ceiling, and drew up a memory cloaked in deliberate fog and time. "Well, for that, I'd have to go back about 31 years."
"So, you actually had one then?"
"I decided to forget about it for several decades, but yes, I had...a few, actually. In Vietnam. But then, everything happened in Vietnam. I thought it was an aberration. At 18, I was too scared to think of it as anything else. Then, later..." he paused, really allowing himself to examine the memories for the first time. "I think maybe I was still scared, only for different reasons. I shut it away and lived the kind of life I thought I had to live." He drew in a breath and turned back to meet thoughtful green eyes. "Until it fell apart in the Hoover garage one day."
Krycek frowned before he slowly turned his head away. They were quiet then, just lying close. Skinner wondered why it was so easy to talk to Krycek about things that he hadn't even wanted to think about in years.
After drowsing for a while, Krycek's palm began caressing his chest, fingertips delicately playing with his nipples. The touches began to arouse him, making him feel like he was twenty again. His cock was actually twitching with anticipation.
"Damn," he whispered, as Krycek bent over him and licked his left nipple. The dark head pulled back a little and he was given an unexpectedly shy smile.
Skinner touched the side of Krycek's face before tracing the length of his nose with his index finger. It was a small nose, slightly upturned at the end.
The long lashes rose and Krycek gazed into his eyes. "Guess it's been too long for both of us." He nudged Skinner's hip suggestively, his growing erection poking Skinner's hipbone. He breathed into Skinner's ear, his voice a heated whisper, "I want to suck your cock."
The words shot like a current straight to his groin. Krycek glanced down at him and smiled again, without a trace of shyness now, green eyes sultry and confident. "Looks like that big, thick dick of yours approves."
Skinner was too aroused to do more than grunt out a shaky breath.
He watched as Krycek licked a trail down the middle of his chest. One hand was already caressing his inner thigh, knuckles teasing his balls with glancing touches, the other playing with his nipples. Krycek's hair tumbled across his forehead, almost into his eyes. Skinner reached out and stroked it back, enjoying the silky heaviness of it through his fingers. He brushed the side of Krycek's face with the back of his fingers. Krycek made soft, little moaning sounds as he slowly tasted his way down Skinner's body. He wiggled a little, the sensation starting little fireworks over his skin wherever they touched.
By the time Krycek reached his cock, Skinner was convinced that he was enjoying the most talented mouth in the known galaxy. He wondered how Krycek had learned to give head like a first-class pro. What the kid could do with his tongue was amazing. It was an erotic rollercoaster ride as Krycek brought him steadily to the brink of climax only to pull him away and take him back up again. And again.
It was better than the first time, a slow steady burn that heightened into a blaze. When Krycek finally, finally let him come, he felt like he was falling through the sun.
When the oxygen flowed through his chest again, he realized his hands were still clutched in Krycek's hair. He let go and watched the kid clamber to his knees to straddle him, his young, lean body glistening, sable hair wild and tousled, a grin on his cum-smeared lips and his cock hard and jutting. He looked so beautiful, it almost took Skinner's breath away all over again.
Skinner blinked and found his voice. "Come here." He grabbed Krycek with a hand on each hip and pulled him forward until the rosy dark cock was bobbing inches from his face. Skinner smiled. Even Krycek's cock was pretty, though his own ego couldn't help but be pleased to note that it wasn't nearly as impressive as his own. With deliberate slowness, he let his eyes roam upward, mapping Krycek's rejuvenated body, his face.
Alex Krycek had played many roles in Skinner's life: baby-faced agent, spy, Consortium assassin, deadly enemy. Yet through all those poses, Krycek the man, remained a shadowy mystery. To be naked in bed with him now and to see him as this flesh and blood, sensual being, put yet another serious tilt in Skinner's new worldview. The strangest part of it all was that he was finding that world more enticing by the minute.
He wanted to unravel the mystery of Alex Krycek, this man who was now spread out before him like some hedonist's feast.
"Are you just going to lie there and stare at me or are you going to return the favor?" Krycek emphasized the question by looking pointedly at his erection. "I could use a little attention here."
Skinner smiled again. Now that he had been given a second chance to discover the man he had thought he'd murdered, he would start with what Krycek freely offered: his body.
Skinner's experiences with men might be limited and years in the past, but he prided himself on being a very quick study when the situation required. He was also a very thorough man. It was a trait that had often caused problems for him in his professional life. Ah, but here and now, it would work very much in his favor. What he wanted now was to watch Krycek's face when he came, to make that moment just as unforgettable as Krycek had made it for him.
He took his time. He was methodical. He mapped his body like an eager explorer. He learned which touches made Krycek moan, and which ones made him gasp. He found he could actually make the kid giggle if he licked the soles of his feet. He could make his breath hitch when he nibbled on his earlobes. And he could make him growl if he hummed against the base of his balls. His fading teeth marks dotted Krycek's neck, his thighs, his perfect round buttocks. He laughed when Krycek cursed him to go faster. He grinned with surprise when Krycek begged him. He discovered he could bring the virile young body to the edge over and over and over again. He delighted in it. It was almost as good as coming himself. In some ways, it was even better.
Krycek was on his back, legs spread, knees bent. He was reaching for his cock again when Skinner swiped his hand away. "Fuck it, Skinner. I need to come!" His body glistened with sweat, dark hair framing his face in long, moist tendrils.
Skinner sat on his heels between Krycek's thighs. He could feel them trembling a little against his legs. His own cock was hard but he ignored it. Keeping an eye on Krycek's face, he finally took the kid's pretty, bobbing penis in his mouth and sucked it deep. He hadn't been sure he'd be able to do it, but as soon as he felt the hard flesh pulsing against his lips, an exhilarating sense of power rushed through him.
Krycek's lush, gasping cry was...gratifying. Skinner didn't even mind the taste of precum that leaked across his tongue. And the expression on Krycek's face was exactly what he wanted. To know that he was causing that look of almost painful ecstasy was exhilarating. He could sense the tension coiling through Krycek's body, felt him begin to fly over the edge. He swirled his tongue across the spot just below his cockhead, over the thick vein. All the while, he watched Krycek's face. Then he slipped his hand underneath the taut buttocks and dared to play his finger over the tight bud of Krycek's anus.
"Uh..uhnnnn, god," moaned Krycek, hips thrusting, back arching. "G-good...more...ahhh..."
Skinner slowly pressed his finger inside Krycek's ass as he pumped his cock faster and deeper with his mouth. Krycek arched, head tossing from side to side.
"Ahh...ahh...mmm...m-Mulder!" Krycek cried, hips thrusting, as he stiffened and the semen spurted into Skinner's mouth. After several heaving breaths, Krycek sank boneless into the pillows.
Skinner tried not to gag. It wasn't just the taste of cum flooding his throat but the shock of hearing Mulder's name. He struggled to swallow, pulling away at Krycek's stunning cry. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. The taste was bittersweet. He coughed, wiped his mouth again, grabbing at the edge of the quilt to clean off his hand. He looked at Krycek's face as he lay down beside him. The kid looked as if he'd actually fainted.
Skinner reached over and lightly patted his face, resisting the sudden, irrational urge to slap him hard. He watched as the green eyes blinked open, waited the few seconds as they found focus and stared back at him.
The husky voice was an amazed whisper. "Wow. Damn. Did...did I pass out?"
Skinner stared back. Krycek didn't remember what he'd said. Didn't remember that he'd cried out Mulder's name. Skinner knew it from his eyes, from his blissful expression.
"The little death, Alex," replied Skinner, using the name deliberately. "I believe that's the quaint, old-fashioned expression." He let out a sigh, sparing a quick glance at his own now flaccid cock. "You okay?" he asked. Krycek's eyes were closed again.
"Man, that was..." Krycek paused, a smile growing over his face as he turned his head and opened his eyes. "I have to say, you surprise me, Skinner."
"Call me Walter."
Smile faltering slightly, Krycek's eyes narrowed. "Why?"
"Why not? What's in a name, after all?" returned Skinner sarcastically as he propped himself up against the headboard, repositioning the pillows with several punches. "Look, we've just been very, very intimate with each other here, Alex. I think that allows us to be on a first name basis. Unless you call everyone you have sex with by their last name, of course." As the words left his mouth, he suddenly felt annoyed with himself and took a breath.
Krycek snorted, shook his head, turned over on his stomach, and pulled a pillow under his face. "Surreal, man," he said, closing his eyes again, and tucking an arm under the pillow.
"That should be my line," returned Skinner under his breath. He gazed thoughtfully at the young face for a moment before settling on his back and staring at the ceiling instead. There was a faint light shining through the thin curtains from somewhere, perhaps a back porch light. The last lilac rays of twilight were fading into a darkening indigo sky. He could hear the wind rustling through the tree branches.
Skinner startled as Krycek inched closer, throwing an arm across his chest. They were both cooling off, lying on top of the quilt naked. Skinner glanced again at Krycek's body, at the long legs and the round, firm buttocks, the narrow waist and the lean, yet finely muscled back and shoulders.
In his mind, he could still hear the echo of Krycek calling out Mulder's name. Eventually, he dozed off still thinking about it.
When he woke, the room was chilly and he was alone in the bed. The lamp on the bedside table was on, casting a soft glow around the room. He got up and found his glasses, picked up his clothes. He smelled like sex, parts of him sticky with it. He walked out into the hallway and spotted an open door to a bathroom nearby. He glanced down the hall. The only other light on was in the kitchen. He decided to clean up a little first. His wristwatch told him he'd been asleep for almost two hours.
The bathroom was small, with pale gray and pink tiles on the floor and walls, a small opaque window at one end. There was a toilet, a shower stall and a vanity with a large sink and mirror. Except for a tidy dish of soap and a couple of plain white towels, there were no other toiletries or decorations. Skinner thought about taking a shower but decided not to take the time, instead washing up as best he could in the sink. Dressing quickly, he headed for the kitchen.
Krycek was sitting at the table, in his jeans and sweater. The shoelaces on his Reeboks were untied and his hair was damp. He must've taken a shower. At the moment, he was digging enthusiastically into a very large and dark slice of fudge cake. The rest of it, about half, sat in slab-like splendor on a cake platter in the middle of the table. A tall, nearly empty glass of milk stood beside Krycek's plate. Skinner shook his head at the image as he matched it to the somber vision of a cold-eyed killer holding a very unique Palm pilot in his hands. Of course, he reminded himself, that wasn't the real Krycek. But, was this?
"Want a piece of cake?"
Skinner shook off his musing. "I'm not that fond of chocolate."
Krycek's chocolate-smeared mouth dropped open in an almost comical expression. "You're an unusual man, Skinner."
Krycek ignored the correction. "I can't think of anyone who doesn't like chocolate. Well, the aliens, but then, they didn't eat anything. All that time on the ship, I never saw them eat one damn thing. They `absorbed' some kind of blue-green slime from these weird square bottles. I couldn't tell if they even enjoyed that. Miserable bastards." Krycek gave him a shrug. "There's beer in the fridge. You can make yourself another sandwich, if you like."
Skinner just shook his head and pulled up a chair across the table.
They were silent for a few minutes, Krycek focused on savoring every bite of his cake, though Skinner noticed that the Glock was now on the seat beside him, within easy reach. As he swallowed the last bite, Krycek put down his fork and sat back with a satisfied sigh.
"I never imagined that I could possibly enjoy meeting up with you again," he said conversationally. He picked the gun off the chair, making sure the safety was still on, and tucked it into the waistband of his jeans. "I certainly never thought it would be such a pleasure...Walter," he added with a smirk. "Guess it's just been one big surprise after the other for both of us today, huh?" He didn't wait for Skinner to answer. He just stood up, heading for the refrigerator when he stopped, glancing down at his shoelaces. Turning, he propped a foot on the chair and bent over to tie it. A remarkably school-boyish grin blossomed over his face and he looked up at Skinner. "You know what a bitch it is to try and tie your shoes with one hand? I couldn't wear running shoes. Had to wear boots all the time." He wiggled the fingers of his left hand, gazing at it with a hint of wonder, before bending over again to finish tying the laces.
Skinner realized he was staring, not at Krycek's hand, but at his nicely formed ass in its snug, blue jean casing. He realized that Krycek had noticed, too.
"You can stay here."
Krycek's velvety voice made him look up. "Stay here?" he repeated.
"Tonight. There are four bedrooms in this house. We'd only need one. Mine."
Skinner raised an eyebrow as Krycek walked over to stand in front of his chair.
"You can't deny that the sex was damn good. I want more, and so do you." Krycek smiled down at him smugly. "I bet we can make it even better. Nothing like California wine country air for making a guy horny. So, what do you say?" Krycek took a step back. "I promise I won't kill you...tonight," he added, still smiling.
"That's very gracious of you." Skinner let his eyes roam slowly over Krycek's body with undisguised appreciation. "How about that beer first?"
It was a night Skinner would always remember, though there would be moments when he'd wish he could have forgotten it.
When he woke up in Alex Krycek's bed the next morning, he'd only had a couple of hours sleep.
That in itself wasn't unusual for him. Over the past year, he was often awake for the sunrise after tossing and turning through one sleepless, guilt-ridden night after another. This time, it was very different.
Wary green eyes were staring down at his face, studying him as if he had somehow appeared out of nowhere. Krycek was sitting up in the bed, plump pillows piled behind him, naked except for the chocolate brown comforter that covered him to his waist.
As Alex had predicted, the sex had been even better though they hadn't done anything more than they'd already tried. They'd just refined it to a seemingly sublime level. Skinner was now certain that `practice makes perfect' and `you're only as old as you feel' were clichs with more than just a little truth behind them. He couldn't quite match Krycek's youthful stamina, but he came close enough to amaze himself.
He sighed and returned Krycek's stare, the silence stretching between them.
What neither of them could have predicted was how much he would enjoy just being with Alex or that they'd spend as much time talking and laughing as they did fucking. Sure, they spoke only of inconsequential, impersonal matters, everything from the NFL's game schedule, to movie trivia, to jazz versus rock and roll, but it still had felt...natural, comfortable.
Whether it was a result of some strange need to connect with the man he'd thought he'd murdered, mixed up with the unexpectedly intense sexual attraction between them or if it was something even more emotionally convoluted, Skinner was fairly certain that Krycek had felt it and been affected by it, too. And that, in the bright light of day, he wasn't at all happy about it.
Skinner stretched languidly and broke their staring contest, gazing instead around the bedroom that he'd been too distracted to really notice the night before.
The morning sun was streaming in through the open slats of the wooden blinds on the two tall windows, painting the hardwood floor and the bed with stripes of soft sunlight. The spacious room was painted a deep cream color, the walls trimmed off with oak molding that emphasized the high ceiling and the classic etched-glass light fixture. The big bed had an antique brass, four-poster frame that dominated the room. A roll top desk with the top rolled down and a sturdy carved wood swivel chair stood in one corner. A quartet of small watercolor paintings delicately depicting seasonal flowers decorated the opposite wall. An impressive maplewood six-drawer bureau stood near the closet door. A couple of squat pillar candles stood on top of the bureau next a pair of sunglasses and a glass dish filled with pocket change. There were matching gooseneck lamps on the night tables on either side of the bed that, in turn, housed a jumble of hardback and paperback books.
It struck Skinner as a most un-Krycek-like room, as did the rest of the house in general. In his mind's eye, he had pictured Krycek living in some sort of high-tech bunker, filled with state of the art electronics that were hidden behind steel and glass fixtures and minimalist black leather furniture. The vision rather amused him now. He had to remind himself again that he really didn't know Alex Krycek. Not the real Alex Krycek.
He did know that he was unaccountably pleased that Krycek hadn't called out Mulder's name again. At least, he was pretty sure he hadn't. The sex between them had been so...mind-blowing for him that he couldn't be absolutely certain.
The veiled green eyes were still gazing down at him when he turned back. "Good morning, Alex," he said calmly. "Looks like it's going to be a beautiful day." He raised himself up on an elbow and lightly brushed Krycek's mouth with a kiss.
He watched Krycek pull back, swallow, that tiny frown line forming just above the bridge of his nose, his lips tightening into a pout. A moment later, he threw back the comforter and got out of bed. He ignored the scattered clothing on the floor, marched to the bureau, pulling out clothes, and went into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
Skinner grimaced at the sound and sank back into the pillows, folding his arms behind his head. Of all things, he was suddenly acutely aware of how...young Alex was now. It was more than just the body. He wondered if those months in the aliens' DNA tank to regrow his arm had done more than just reverse his physical age. Clamping down on his train of thought, he reminded himself yet again that he was far better `acquainted' with the Replicant Krycek than the real one. In the past few years, he'd grown far too familiar with an impassive expression, matched by remote, cold eyes than with this fiery, emotional Krycek. Although, when he thought much further back, to his encounter with Krycek in the stairwell and with the wiseass hand-cuffed Krycek that he'd left out on his balcony, he had to admit that that Alex Krycek was a lot like the man who just stomped into the bathroom with a scowl on his face.
Skinner sighed. He was already learning that Krycek was not a man to be easily categorized. That had been a mistake too many others had made with him in the past, most to their own cost. In any case, given their current situation, he wasn't sure which one of them was reacting appropriately. Was his ready acceptance any stranger than Alex's confused anger?
He listened to the faint sound of the shower in the bathroom. The bed smelled of sex. His groin and belly were sticky with his dried semen...and Krycek's. Stripes of warm sunlight were inching up across the comforter towards his face. He closed his eyes and let himself doze.
"Get up, Skinner. Night's over. Time for you to go."
Skinner's eyes popped open. Alex was standing in the bathroom doorway, wearing only a worn pair of snug charcoal colored jeans and a sleeveless white t-shirt. His left arm looked slightly thinner and paler than his right, like someone who'd had his arm in a cast for a long time. His hair looked very damp, and his expression was stony. There was a mouth-sized bruise on his neck, at the juncture of his shoulder. A love bite. Hickey, Skinner mentally rephrased. He pictured the other marks he'd made: the hickey on Alex's left inner thigh, and the one near his right nipple. That one would probably take days to fade.
Krycek stepped into the room and Skinner glanced down at his bare feet. Nicely proportioned, just like the rest of him. All in all, Alex looked more like one of those male runway models than an ex-Consortium assassin.
"I said get the hell out of my bed now. Happy hour's over and the bar is closed. I want you out of here."
Well, the tough, no-nonsense voice certainly didn't fit the pretty boy image. Skinner realized he was smirking as he looked up into Krycek's indignant face. He decided it would be wiser to tread lightly. He didn't want to get into an argument now. He got up slowly, stood and rolled his shoulders to get out the kinks. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a bruise on his bicep and the faint outline of teethmarks. He had to force back his smile. "Do you mind if I take a shower first?" He saw that Krycek's eyes were taking a subtle inventory. "I've got cum all over me."
The green eyes widened for a moment, then abruptly looked away.
Standing there naked, Skinner became aware of his own body. He wasn't out of shape, he knew. His old Marine training had stayed with him through the years and kept him fit, even over the past year when he seemed to care less and less about...everything. He was still physically strong and muscular, bigger and heavier than Krycek, particularly this much younger Krycek. A tiny whisper of discomfort at their apparent age difference suddenly slithered through his mind, but he shook it off.
"Okay, but make it fast," replied Krycek brusquely as he pulled some socks from the bureau and headed for the closet.
Skinner picked up his strewn clothes and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind him, quietly.
After relieving himself, he stood in front of the large mirror at the sink and ran his hands over his face. His beard stubble was getting heavy. He found Krycek's safety razor and shaving cream in the cabinet and used them. He found a spare toothbrush and used that as well.
There was no separate shower stall, but there was a new and fancy, if incongruous, showerhead in the large clawfoot tub. Skinner wondered if Krycek had installed it himself since the deep blue tiles on the surrounding walls looked new, too. He drew the transparent shower curtain and stood under an almost too-hot spray with a sigh. The water felt good, even though it stung here and there. He noticed a bottle of green apple-scented shampoo and remembered the smell of Alex's hair against his nose. Memories of the night before drifted through his mind as he tried to sort out his own feelings.
Oddly enough, he wasn't particularly worried about his suddenly reconfigured sexual orientation. Even a few years ago, that would certainly have given him more than a little concern. Now, it just seemed like small potatoes after over a decade dealing with the X-Files and the Consortium and the penultimate Alien Invasion. It was all relative, after all. He threw back his head and closed his eyes, letting the water trail down his face. Besides, none of the rules, old or new, ever seemed to apply when it came to Alex Krycek.
For Skinner, it seemed that a whole new world of possibilities had opened up for him. While the cast iron weight of guilt was finally lifting from his shoulders, he was still the kind of man who took his responsibilities, and his friendships, very seriously.
And that made him think of Mulder and Scully, of all they'd been through and all that had been taken away from them. He couldn't walk away from that knowledge, that past, not now when there was something he could really do about it. They would always be more than just former subordinates to him. They were his friends.
But what was Krycek to him...now? He picked up the soap and began to wash himself, as the questions...and possibilities...chased each other round and round in his head.
He heard the bathroom door fling open and saw a blurry, man-sized shadow through the steamy curtain.
"Damn it, Skinner. What the hell are you doing in there? What the fuck is taking you so long?!"
Skinner wiped the soapsuds from his chin and opened the curtain. "Just rinsing off. Be out in a minute."
Krycek had put on a dark, long-sleeved shirt that matched his jeans and he was wearing hiking boots. His green eyes remained firmly fixed on some point right above Skinner's eyebrows. "Hurry the fuck up." With that, he walked out, slamming the door shut behind him.
Skinner drew in a long breath. This was not going to be easy. Quickly finishing up, he dressed in his rumpled clothes and went out to the bedroom. Krycek wasn't there. Skinner found his glasses and headed on down the stairs, glancing into rooms as he went. It was, indeed, an old house but it was well-kept and had a certain lived-in charm that appealed to him. It was a bit unsettling to consider that he and Krycek shared the same tastes in living quarters.
Downstairs, he found Krycek standing near the entryway. "About time."
"We need to talk, Alex."
Krycek took hold of the front door knob. "Thanks for a great time. Have a nice life. Consider yourself lucky to still have one."
Skinner walked towards him, stopping a few feet away. "I need your help, Alex."
Krycek flinched at the name. "Look, Skinner--"
Krycek's jaw worked, his whole body tensing, as if he was controlling himself with effort. He opened his mouth to answer, but Skinner beat him to it.
"I thank you for giving me a second chance. I'm...glad...that you have one, too. All I want now is to do the same for Mulder and Scully. They're running and hiding for nothing. They gave up the chance to bring up their child, believing that the aliens are still out there, that more are coming back to finish us off and take over."
"Then go find them and give them the good news," cut in Krycek, his voice flat.
"I have no idea where they are and I don't know how to find them. I told you before, I can't use the Bureau. I wouldn't want to involve it anyway. And I don't want to place Agent Doggett or Agent Reyes in a position that could jeopardize their careers. The aliens are dead and the Consortium with them, but Mulder will never be popular with anyone that's left there in authority. Mulder was always a maverick. An embarrassment for all his brilliance, or maybe because of it. The top floor brass was glad to see him go. They couldn't give a rat's ass if they ever see him again."
One dark eyebrow rose at his last comment. "Then have those geek friends of his find them for you. The Lone Gunmen. I saw their dossier. They could do it."
Skinner realized that Krycek had never met the Lone Gunmen. "I can't. They're dead. Killed, all three of them."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I saw their bodies." Skinner paused as Krycek tilted his head and met Skinner's look with pointed skepticism. "What, you think they were replicants, too?"
"No, I can't imagine that the aliens would bother with those nutcases. No. They're talented enough, and more than paranoid enough, to set it up themselves. Maybe they thought it was time to go underground for their own peculiar reasons."
Krycek had taken his hand off the doorknob; he was talking, not just shoving him out the door. Skinner took a step forward. "All right. So, they might still be alive. Hell, I suppose they could've pulled it off, but if that's true, then I'm still out in the cold. If I can't find them, then they can't find Mulder. Catch 22. You're my best chance, Alex. You know how to survive better than anyone. You've got the skills; you know the tricks. You've been hunter and hunted. I'm sure there's nobody better at that game than you."
Krycek brushed off the compliment with a shake of his head. "Look, Skinner, why in the fuck would I help you find Mulder and Scully?"
"It's Walter, and the last thing you did before the Aliens took you was to help Mulder get to that Air Force Base. That gave him back his faith in himself, did you know that?"
Green eyes narrowed, but Krycek remained silent.
Skinner sighed. "He'd given up, Alex. Even Scully was starting to accept the existence of the alien threat, but Mulder...Mulder had given up. Stopped believing. He was convinced his whole life had been a sham. I talked to him. I could see the bitterness in his eyes, the self-doubt. He was crumbling inside, little by little. Scully couldn't convince him to keep trying. I couldn't. But then, you went to him." Skinner watched Krycek's face closely as he continued. "Mulder didn't really tell me what happened when he saw you, except that you told him about the alien Resistance leader being held at Wiekamp." He paused as Krycek's head lowered, eyes veiled. "Whatever you said, he believed you. It gave him back his faith, Alex."
Krycek looked up, blinked. It looked as if he was going to say something but then he lowered his head again.
"The fire was back in his eyes, Alex. He was...Mulder again. I just want him to know, it wasn't a losing battle. He hadn't fought just to lose. After all that's happened, after all he's been through, Mulder deserves to know the truth, the real truth. It's the one thing he's searched for his entire life. And Scully deserves to have the family she's longed for. For them, the war's not over." Skinner reached out and touched Krycek's left hand, fingers just brushing over the warm smooth skin. "I know now what it means to find hope again. It makes everything different. You understand that, too, don't you, Alex?"
Krycek raised his head, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment before opening them and meeting Skinner's gaze. His mouth was drawn tight, shoulders tensing as he slowly pulled his hand away from Skinner's touch. He turned and walked back down the hall, leaving Skinner standing, uncertain, in the foyer.
When Krycek didn't return, he went looking for him. He found him in front of the windows in the living room, back turned. Oak and black walnut trees filled the view, with a sliver of the tall redwood fence beyond them. The sun filtered in, framing Alex like a dark silhouette against the light.
Skinner approached him carefully, knowing by the slight movement of his head that Krycek sensed his presence. He stopped close behind him. He glanced out at the scene beyond the window, at the trees awash in reds, greens and shades of gold, vibrant with the change of seasons. The autumn breeze ruffled through the leaves, making them shiver, some of them breaking off and drifting with the soft wind. It looked much warmer than it really was.
Krycek's arms were folded across his chest. After a moment's hesitation, Skinner slipped his hands around the slim waist and leaned in to rest his cheek against the dark hair, touching his lips to the warm, silky strands. Alex seemed to freeze for a second, and then he relaxed. Neither man said a word. They just stood and watched the autumn leaves falling.
Skinner placed a lingering kiss near Alex's temple. He felt a slight tremor running through him. Suddenly, he was shoved away as the other man whirled to face him.
Chin lifting, Krycek seemed angry. "What's in it for me?"
"You heard me. What do I get out of helping you find Mulder and Scully? Aside from the probability of getting shot dead the minute they lay eyes on me."
"I won't let them hurt you."
Krycek gaped at him before spitting out a laugh. "I'm deeply touched."
Despite the brittle disdain in his voice, Skinner sensed the core of insecurity in the man before him. Perhaps Alex couldn't allow himself to recognize it, but Skinner had glimpsed it in the night, in moments when he caught the vulnerability in his green eyes, in his tentative smile, in the wistful expression that slipped over his face when he thought Skinner couldn't see.
Skinner had to fight the urge to pull him back into his arms. Instead, he struggled to find the words to make him understand. "It's unfinished business, Alex. You put your life on the line to defeat the alien colonization, and you won. Mulder and Scully have given up their futures because they think we've lost. They are only existing. I believe you have the decency, the...humanity, to want it to be finished for them, too. It's the only way for you to create a truly new beginning."
Krycek shook his head with a tight smile. "You really know how to spin a nice line. The fact is, you want to find them and you're not going to leave me alone until I help you."
The simple truth of the statement startled Skinner. He needed Krycek's help and he knew deep down he wasn't going to walk away until he got it. It was true. "Yes. Yes, you're right about that. But, as for the rest, I wasn't giving you a line. I meant every word."
"You are one irritating, stubborn bastard, Skinner."
"Walter," corrected Skinner yet again.
Krycek rolled his eyes. "I could kill you, you know."
"Yes, I know." Skinner looked into the green eyes and allowed a small smile to grow over his face.
Alex scowled back at him. "You're just damn lucky you're a good lay."
"Why, thank you. I can say the same for you."
"Don't get any ideas. If I help you, I want one thing out of it, and that's the promise that all of you will leave me the hell alone once it's done. I don't want to ever see any of you again. Agreed?"
The sun was shining through the gently swaying tree branches and the shivering leaves, filtering through the windows to dapple shifting patterns over Krycek's face and body. To Skinner's eyes, it made Alex look like he was made out of shadows and light. The words stung him, but Skinner nodded his agreement. "If--if that's what you want."
Krycek slowly turned towards the windows, the shadows and light shifting with him. He blinked as the sunshine fell across his eyes. His expression was suddenly somber, a mixture of resignation and something like old pain. His voice was thick and husky when he spoke. "Then you have a deal. I'll help you find Mulder and Scully so you can give them their damned, happy ending."
As he watched Alex move silently towards the door, Skinner knew he was doing the right thing, yet that peculiar feeling in the pit of his stomach told him it might not be the best thing. He thought about the night only a few days before though it seemed a lifetime ago now, when he had gazed up at a meteor storm in the sky, wondering if he'd ever reach the end of his journey or ever find a sense of peace again. He'd found Alex Krycek instead.
Now that he had his second chance, he was starting yet another journey, this time with a young man who was, in most ways, a stranger to him. He only hoped that wherever that journey led, neither of them would live to regret it.
*Seems like I've been here before, can't remember when I get this funny feeling, we'll be together again; No straight lines make up my life, all my roads have bends; No clearcut beginnings; so far, no dead ends. --Tom Chapin ("Circles")*
Krycek looked at himself in the full-length mirror and thought of all the times over the past months when he'd stood, naked as he was now, staring at his reflection like a dazed Narcissus at the water's edge. He just hadn't been able to believe what had happened to him. Every day he'd just gaze in fascination, first at his arm, then his face, then his body. He'd search for the scars, the burns, the bullet wounds. He'd look at his hair for the streaks of gray, at his face for the lines of weariness and tension around his eyes, his mouth. He'd search vainly for those familiar marks of his forty renegade years. During those first few weeks, he'd wake up every morning with a fear that coiled around him like a snake. He'd keep his eyes closed and then move his left arm, reaching out to grip the sheets with his fingers, half certain that there would be no movement because he'd have no arm...like before. He'd be just the way he was...before.
It seemed impossible that the likes of Alex Krycek could have regained not only his left arm, but his youth as well. Bad guys weren't supposed to win. Some nights, he expected to wake up in that dingy hospital room in Vladivostok, the stump of his arm wrapped up in bandages, body drenched in sweat from fever. Other nights, he thought he'd wake to find himself slumped on his knees against the steel door of that silo, voice raw from screaming, face and clothes dripping with oil. Or he'd see himself strapped in a car, unable to move, as the dashboard clock flashed on and off, on and off, and then he'd hear the roaring sound and feel himself blowing apart in a blast of fire and metal. That's when he'd stumble out of the bed and race to the bathroom, bile rising in his throat. He'd stand in front of the mirror and simply stare, telling himself he wasn't dreaming any more. It was real. It was real. He was whole. He was young. He was free.
As the days passed, he began to finally trust the evidence of his own eyes. His nightmares eased and he began to believe he could leave the darkness of his past behind. He even began to think that, perhaps one day, a lifetime of wrong choices and lost chances could be redeemed as well. So, he meticulously assembled a new identity, chose a place to live, even bought a house and, ostensibly, a legitimate business to go with it, and slowly, cautiously, he began a new life.
He became Alex Keller. The name was very close to his own, but with Spender and the Consortium dead and gone, he didn't have to be that careful. He couldn't remain Alex Krycek when there were still records on him, including birth date, in too many government databases around the world. With the change in his appearance, it would be impossible to explain away the age discrepancy. So, he'd created Alex Keller with all the proper credentials to go with it. It'd cost him a fortune and a good deal of stealthy hacking, but the results had been worth it. From birth certificate, to school records, to social security, to every detail in between, Alex Keller was a young man with a perfectly believable and perfectly ordinary existence.
For Krycek, the name was a minor adjustment; he'd lived under enough aliases in his time. The toughest part was just trying to live a `normal' life. In that regard, his personal experience was sorely lacking and he found himself adjusting his behavior every day, in a hundred tiny ways. It had taken him months to be able to walk down the street in broad daylight and resist the urge to duck into the shadows or constantly look over his shoulder. It had taken even longer to force himself to leave his house unarmed. Still, he was starting to make progress, starting to believe he could make it.
And then a piece of his past walked up to his front door and rang the bell: Walter S. Skinner, former fucking Assistant Director of the FBI.
And now Krycek was standing in the stark white-tiled bathroom of a motel room in a hick town in northern Vermont with all his plans for a nice, quiet, anonymous life seemingly crumbling into pieces around him. He glanced at his neck, remembering the spectacular hickey that had finally faded a few days ago. He blew out a breath, ran both hands through his damp hair with a growl, and walked back out into the bedroom. He tossed on some underwear and dressed in dark cords and a charcoal colored turtleneck sweater.
He would have to contact Louie again and see if he could squeeze a few more bits of information from the avaricious little weasel.
Krycek was being dragged back into the shadows and he didn't' like it. The one thing he was certain of--he was through running. Maybe he should've killed Skinner when he showed up at his door instead of letting the whole thing spin out of his control. When Skinner had kissed him, he knew he was tumbling head-long into very bad trouble. He should've followed his instincts then and there and buried the big man out in the woods. After all, Skinner had had no qualms about putting a bullet between his eyes. Granted, it had been the replicant and the act seemed to have given Skinner an exponential shitload of guilt, but still.
What Skinner had told him of the replicant's actions had disturbed Krycek more than he cared to admit.
The Rebels had said that they'd used his DNA to construct the replicant, programming it to interpret his behavior as closely as possible, at least, until they were ready to initiate its self-destruct sequence. The details that Skinner had given him about what the replicant had actually done in the years leading up to its final moments made Krycek wonder whether it was the self-destruct component or his own DNA that made the replicant act as it did. Krycek didn't like to consider the possibility that his own DNA was just as responsible for the replicant's irrational, suicidal behavior as the Rebels' programming. Could he have grown that bitter, that desperate, that he would consider death his best option? Had that been his own inevitable future before the Rebels had changed its course for him?
Shaking away his dismal thoughts, Krycek glanced at his wristwatch, gathered his Glock and a switchblade that he tucked into the special sleeve in his right boot, pulled on his all-weather jacket and left the motel room.
Despite the bright sunlight, the cold enveloped him, his breath frosting in the air and his boots crunching over the thin layer of freshly fallen snow. Winter came early and hard in this part of the country. He paused to look up at the few, fat white clouds drifting slowly across the aqua blue sky just as the wind picked up. It ruffled his hair and he pushed it back off his forehead, wishing he'd had the time to cut it all off as it plopped back down over his eyes.
Skinner was already waiting in the Lariat rental, watching him intently through the driver's window. It seemed that Skinner simply assumed he would be doing the driving for the whole damn trip. Krycek gritted his teeth as he opened the passenger side door and slid into the seat. He could feel the other man's eyes on him as he shut the door.
"Head back out to the main road. We have to get to Route 7 South. We need to get to Bennington," said Krycek, keeping his own focus straight ahead.
The softly spoken word made him turn his head, meeting a brown-eyed stare behind steel-rimmed glasses.
When Skinner said nothing more but just stared at him, Krycek couldn't look away. "What?" he prompted irritably.
It seemed as if Skinner was considering his reply for a moment. He shifted in his seat and turned his gaze to the windshield, his mouth turning upwards ever so slightly at the corners. "The scenery around here. It's beautiful."
There it was. That subtly indulgent tone and expression on Skinner's face. As if he, Krycek, was some kind of wet-behind-the-ears virgin who couldn't figure out that the ex-AD had the near to unbridled hots for him. Who would've thought it? Walter Sergei Skinner, tight-assed paragon of heterosexuality, had a taste for walking on the other side of the street. It had certainly been a revelation to Krycek. He wouldn't have minded it at all if they could have left it at that, a pleasurable fuck (or two or three) between former enemies, especially since his libido was just as rejuvenated as he was. But, no. Instead, here they were, thrown together day after day, on a damn quest for Skinner's star-crossed pals like two sidekicks in a bad B-movie.
"Admire the scenery later. Just drive," he said.
Skinner raised his eyebrows, still smothering a smile, and instead of starting the ignition, he turned and began rooting around in the back seat. "Your contacts must still be very good to have gotten us this far so quickly."
"Not good enough. The trail is cold. They left this area months ago."
"And headed for Bennington? That's shouldn't take us very long," his voice a little muffled.
Krycek closed his eyes, leaning back against the headrest. He really hadn't slept well. "So my contact informs me. Cut the chatter and whatever the hell you're doing back there and drive."
They'd been on Mulder and Scully's trail for a little over a week and even Krycek was astonished at their progress. He couldn't use any of his old Consortium contacts, even if any of them had been alive, so he'd had to rely on the few unsavory but well-connected characters he'd dealt with during what he euphemistically referred to as his independent contractor days. Fortunately, he'd managed without having to use anyone that he'd ever met face to face. Now they were relatively close to finding the pair. What would happen when they found them was anyone's guess. Krycek figured he'd worry about that when the time came. The image of Mulder and Scully together was something he actively avoided thinking about.
The delicious aroma of fresh coffee thankfully distracted him from his dangerously wandering thoughts and he turned his head to see Skinner pouring coffee from a large plaid colored thermos into two mismatched ceramic mugs. "With a little sugar and a little cream." At Krycek's curious frown, Skinner continued. "The woman who owns the motel let me buy this from her for the road when I settled the bill. It was very nice of her, I thought, considering this was from her own kitchen. Since we may not be able to find a place to eat nearby, I thought we could both use some coffee. It doesn't taste as good as your Kona Gold, but it's not bad."
Krycek reached out and took the cup. Took a sip. It was pretty damn good actually, and it was real cream, not the fake crap. He knew Skinner preferred his coffee black. "Thanks," he muttered, feeling disconcerted as he settled back into his seat.
It was Skinner's unexpected kindnesses that bothered him the most. He wasn't used to it, not from anyone from his `old days'. He assumed it came from Skinner's residual guilt pangs. He was beginning to think that that was where his current sexual appeal sprang from, too. Skinner's way of working through his major mea culpa. That notion only made Krycek angry.
They had taken separate rooms, at Krycek's insistence. Skinner was paying their traveling expenses and Krycek was taking care of his contacts. Given Louie's parsimonious nature, he figured Skinner got the best of that deal. He also figured Skinner wouldn't have minded sharing a room, and not just to save money. Krycek wouldn't have minded it either; except he also knew they wouldn't be doing much sleeping. And he wasn't about to let his body become Skinner's method of doing penance for his sins, regardless of how much he himself might enjoy it.
"How's the coffee?" asked Skinner.
"If we're heading for Bennington, then we'll be driving right through the Green Mountains. I remember going fly-fishing there years ago. It was a great spot. In early fall, with the leaves turning, the mountain range is a spectacular sight. We missed the tail end of the season though."
Krycek just kept staring out the window, sipping his coffee. The radio reception was lousy and what they could pull in was not worth listening to, which meant that for some ungodly reason, Skinner insisted on making conversation.
"Do you fish, Alex?"
Krycek gave him a sidelong glance. "No." He couldn't help but linger on Skinner's strong hands as they lightly cradled the mug, one thumb gently brushing over the handle. His mind flashed on the feel of those hands stroking across his body, caressing his balls and cupping his ass. He swallowed hard and turned his head, grateful for his thigh length, all-weather jacket as his cock pulsed to attention. It took him another moment to realize that Skinner was still talking.
"It's very relaxing. My father used to take me fishing when I was a boy. Those are some of my best memories of him. I haven't gone fishing in years." Skinner was smiling; Krycek could hear the smile in his voice without looking at him. "I can show you sometime. There must be some fine fly-fishing spots in Northern California."
The words scarcely registered as mental images of Skinner's naked body blanketing his own, and the sound of their moans of pleasure as they rubbed against each other, all hard muscle and heat, whirled before his mind's eye. It made his breath quicken.
Surreal. It was becoming Krycek's favorite word. As he gazed fixedly, blindly, at the rolling, snow-dusted landscape, he realized that the prospect of Mulder throwing a punch at him or Scully sticking a gun in his face would be almost comfortingly familiar; although it was more likely they'd go after his neck with a stiletto. At least, that he could understand, expect. He could understand their hate, their rage. Just as he had understood Skinner's. But now, when Skinner spoke to him like that, as if he was a...friend, and when all he could think of was the exhilarating passion of their sexual fling, it made him feel as if he was in some kind of impenetrable disguise. It gave him a peculiar sensation that he'd never experienced before, not even when he was juggling multiple cover identities at once. He realized it came from the fact that he wasn't trying to be anybody else, yet Skinner was reacting to him as if he was an entirely different person, while he was reacting to Skinner in a way he would never have predicted.
And that left him feeling confused, irritated, off-balance, and horny.
"Not interested in fishing, Skinner," he replied tersely.
"Walter," came the gentle correction.
Damn, the man was going to drive him insane.
The drive to Bennington seemed to take forever as they wound their way through narrow, two-lane mountain roads before finally reaching the highway. Krycek did his best to ignore his own erection along with Skinner's attempts at establishing bonhomie. He endured conversational forays into everything from the covered bridges of New England to the chances of the Patriots making it to the Super Bowl.
He wouldn't have believed Skinner was even capable of that much social chatter if he hadn't been the target of it.
At the same time, his body was determinedly reacting to the warmth of Skinner's voice, and remembering the possessive touch of Skinner mouth on his cock, his nipples, his throat. He recalled how easy it was for him to allow it, to actually encourage it. Revel in it. He tried not to think about it, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. His libido seemed to be on overdrive.
His anxiety edged upwards as he found himself simultaneously wanting to reach their destination and wanting to delay their arrival.
"Bennington up ahead," announced Skinner. "I'd like to find a place to eat, unless you have something else you need to do first."
Krycek had to call Louie but a glance at his watch told him he wouldn't be able to get a hold of him for another couple of hours. His stomach took that moment to growl its own protest and he heard Skinner chuckle. "Go on and find a damn restaurant."
"Do you think Mulder and Scully are here?"
"No. But we're closer. I should be able to get a more exact location later today. At least, that's what a small fortune in unmarked bills tells me."
"What if your contact is lying?"
Krycek found the edges of his mouth turning upward. "My contacts only lie to me once."
The silence that followed told Krycek that Skinner understood his meaning.
Wispy snowflakes were falling, barely larger than dust motes, as they parked in front of a place called the Purple Finch Caf. Many of the buildings in the town were made of red brick and stone, none more than two or three stories high, except for the tall church steeple that stood out in the distance. Tall trees lined the neat sidewalks, their mostly bare branches reaching up to the sky. A quaint, snow-dusted town square set off the streets like the hub of a wheel. It was a picturesque New England town, had he been in a frame of mind to appreciate it.
Krycek got out of the car, shifting his jacket up around his shoulders against the chill. Fortunately, his erection had subsided. He led them into the small, cozy restaurant, his gaze automatically checking out the room setup and all visible exits. Old habits were rushing back. Since he was in Mulder and Scully territory, it was probably a good thing to have his old survival instincts re-emerging.
Krycek slid into the booth across from Skinner. The place wasn't even half-full since it was well past the lunch hour. Skinner was looking at the opalescent purple bird on the cover of the laminated menu. "Eye-catching bird. I don't think I've ever seen one with that kind of coloration."
Krycek grabbed his own menu and snorted at the picture. "And you never will. Anyway, that's not a purple finch. The female has sort of grayish-white feathers and the male has red coloration over its upper body with gray-brown tail feathers." He was looking at his menu, and didn't see Skinner's head snap up as he continued. "Besides that, the purple finch is the state bird of New Hampshire, not Vermont. I suppose they thought it sounded better than calling this place the Hermit Thrush Caf."
He became aware of the stare and glanced up to see Skinner's amazed expression. He realized he'd just rambled on as much in the past minute as he'd done during the entire ride here. "What? Did you think I could only talk about guns or aliens?" His voice had a defensive edge and he knew it.
Skinner shook his head slowly. "Nope, just didn't expect you to be interested in ornithology."
"It's nothing that serious." Krycek hemmed for a second. "I, uh, used to do some birding as a kid."
"Birding?" Skinner's expression was simply curious, without a trace of derision.
"Aficionados don't call it `bird watching' anymore."
Skinner shook his head with a smile. "Alex Krycek and...birding. It's not exactly a hobby I would've automatically associated with you."
At that moment, the waitress, a hefty woman in a neat white uniform and frilly, starched purple apron, big hair and a warm, motherly smile, came up to their booth to take their order. She introduced herself as "Edith" and scribbled down their order on a small pad. Skinner opted for the beef stew special with buttermilk biscuits and Krycek ordered the maple glazed pork chops and roasted potatoes.
"Be right back with your coffee, boys," she said brightly. "Do you want cream with it?"
Krycek nodded with a polite smile that faded as he watched her disappear into the kitchen. He looked back at Skinner. "You know what you learn from birding?" he said, not waiting for Skinner to answer. "You learn how to focus and you learn how to be patient. You learn how to move without being seen. You learn to notice and differentiate the smallest details in everything around you. You learn how to blend into the background." He tilted his head and gave Skinner a pointed look.
"I stand corrected. Sounds like an excellent foundation for your former line of work," admitted Skinner with a hint of a smile.
Krycek rolled his eyes and turned his head to gaze around the room. He realized with some surprise that he missed Heartsfield; missed his house and the olive groves. If he had had any familiarity with the feeling, he would have called it...homesickness. Skinner didn't even know about the groves.
"How was your contact able to pinpoint Mulder and Scully's location so quickly?"
Skinner's voice made him glance back just as the waitress arrived with their coffee and cream. The purple mugs were large and the hot coffee smelled good.
"Your orders should be ready in a jiffy, boys," said the waitress with a smile as she headed off to another booth.
As Krycek stirred in some sugar and cream, he met Skinner's patient look. In the past, he never would've talked about his contacts to anyone. He kept his secrets well. But that was then, and much of it didn't seem to matter anymore. "Louie's made his living, and a very fine living at that, for the past 25-odd years by finding people. His specialty is locating people that the Feds have put into Witness Protection." He tilted his head at Skinner's rising eyebrows. "Louie is very good at what he does. His nickname, which he loathes, is the Hound Dog. He's had everyone from the Hong Kong Triads to the Russian mafia paying for his...expertise."
"He finds them so the Mob can kill them?"
"Louie will find any one for any reason, if you're willing to pay him enough. He's not big on conscience. He says it just gets in the way of a successful business plan."
Skinner let out a soft sigh. Krycek glanced at the troubled brown eyes behind the wirerims and knew that Skinner was not the sort of man to ever feel comfortable in the waters of moral ambiguity. He seemed like a `personal code of honor' kind of guy. No wonder the big man's life had been such a bitch these last few years. For himself, Krycek was used to living in the murky gray areas of life. His world had never been black or white, and he really couldn't see how anyone's could be. The world just wasn't that way.
"How did you meet this Louie?"
"I was one of his `finds'. One of my disgruntled Russian contacts wanted to kill me and hired Louie to find me. Luckily for me, Grigori tried to stiff Louie on his payment. So Louie made a deal with me instead."
"And this Grigori person?"
"No longer looking for anyone or anything."
They both lapsed into silence then, Skinner dividing his pensive gaze equally between the windows across the room and Krycek. Krycek was relieved when the waitress arrived with their orders. The mouth-watering aromas reminded him that he hadn't eaten all day. The pork chops looked delicious, thick with a honey gold glaze, bordered by a mound of new potatoes sprinkled with fresh rosemary. He picked up his knife and fork and sliced off a big piece. Ever since he'd regained his arm, he seemed to make a habit of picking meals like steaks, dishes that required the use of both hands and utensils. It was a small way of exorcising memories of the endless little concessions he'd had to make as a man with only one arm.
"How's the pork chop?"
He glanced up at Skinner's question. "It's good." He swallowed another bite and watched as Skinner dipped the edge of his warm biscuit into his large bowl of stew "How's yours?"
Skinner seemed momentarily surprised at Krycek's casual question. "It's...it's not bad at all. Rich flavor, good seasonings, very tender, too." He seemed to contemplate Krycek for a second, then speared a cube of meat with his fork, along with a slice of carrot and held it out towards him. "Want a taste?"
Krycek's surprise must've shown on his face because Skinner grinned at him. "Really, go ahead and try it." The fork moved closer, Skinner extending his arm until it hovered near his lips. Did he want a taste? A taste. Yeah, a taste. Images of his mouth melting against Skinner's lips flashed across his mind, along with the remembered hint of spearmint in the kiss as his tongue had licked against Skinner's teeth and the roof of his mouth. "Go on," Skinner crooned at him. Before he knew he was doing it, Krycek had leant forward and opened his mouth. A moment later, he was slowly chewing on a savory morsel of stew. He pulled back abruptly, his eyes darting around the restaurant, to see if anyone had noticed. The handful of patrons in the restaurant was paying them no attention.
What the hell was he doing? Skinner was smiling back at him. A soft, placid smile. "Good, isn't it?"
He felt like someone shaking himself out of a trance. "Stop acting like I'm your high school date. Just shut the fuck up and eat," replied Krycek in a low growl. He was angry with himself for his lack of control, and angry with Skinner for manipulating him so easily.
"I didn't mean to upset you, Alex."
Krycek gritted his teeth, then let out a breath. "I am not upset." He wasn't sure who he was trying to convince but he knew he was sounding like an obstinate teenager. So he drew in another, long breath and let it out, then looked straight into Skinner's eyes. "I'm not your friend. I'm not your...anything. I admit the sex was great. I'll give you points for that, okay, no argument." He paused, chewed on his lip. "Just stop trying to make any of this into something...personal...between us. I said I'd help you find Mulder and Scully and I will. Then, I never want to see any of you again. How do I get that through your thick scull?"
The flash of hurt in Skinner's eyes made him drop his gaze. He focused on cutting his chop, chewing each forkful, working to keep his movements relaxed and easy. But his food just didn't taste very good any more.
They finished in silence. Krycek could feel Skinner's gaze but wouldn't meet it. He looked around the restaurant instead, noticing they were the only patrons left except for an older man in coveralls who was paying up his bill and getting ready to leave.
There was a darkened, old-fashioned jukebox in the corner and he watched as their waitress smiled a `goodbye' to Mr. Coveralls and then headed over to the jukebox. She fiddled behind it and it sprang to life, blue and pink neon tubing lighting up its face. She fished around in her purple apron, brought out a coin and dropped it into the slot. She pressed one of the selection buttons and a few seconds later, Krycek's eyes rounded as the pounding opening to "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" cracked the air. As Mick Jagger began to wail, Edith glanced over at them and yelled at them, "You don't mind, do you, boys?"
Krycek just shook his head as she began swishing her ample hips to the beat, her eyes closing.
Skinner began to chuckle and Krycek forgot to not look at him.
But Skinner was staring at Edith, their proper, starched apron waitress, as she rocked to the music. "Well, will you look at that, shows you never know about people; they can always surprise you. I had her pegged for a Barry Manilow kind of gal. Maybe classic Dean Martin or Sinatra."
"Thought she was Country and Western myself," replied Krycek.
Skinner turned back to him. "Yeah? Why so?"
"I think I picked up a faint Oklahoma twang under all that New England starch."
The object of their speculation was gyrating over to their table. "We're usually empty by this time of day," she said. "My regulars know that, come three o'clock, I've got to have my pick-me-up song. Stones re-energize me like nothing else." She paused, bestowing a motherly smile on Krycek before adding, "Probably sounds more like the Stone Age to a youngster like you, I know, but in my day, there was nothing better." Her smile turned into an almost girlish grin. "Well, maybe not quite as good as Led Zeppelin but we can't get them on the box. It's a damn shame. You just have to grab and enjoy what you can get, now don't you? So, boys, how about dessert? We still have some fresh chocolate whipped cream pie left. It's Hank's specialty. Melts in your mouth like heaven. What do you say? Live it up a little. Life is damn short and then you die." She chuckled then, like someone giving away a secret, her hips still swaying rhythmically.
Jagger was bellowing in the background. I can't get no. I can't get no. I can't get no. Sa-tis-FAC-tion. No satisfaction. No Sa-tis-FAC-tion.
Krycek suddenly found the situation strangely amusing and his wall of defensive tension began to disintegrate. Maybe it was a sign. He was having a mini epiphany right here in a comfy booth of the Purple Thrush Cafe. He'd never been a big believer in signs, but he'd learned long ago that anything was possible. "Sure, I'll have a slice." He considered for a moment, and then raised an eyebrow at Skinner. "What about you, Skinner?"
Skinner waited a beat, a slow smile lighting his eyes and said, "It's Walter and, yes, I'd love a piece."
"Two hunks of Hank's special chocolate pie, coming right up, boys. And I'll be back with some nice, fresh coffee, too," She jiggled her way back towards the kitchen, her hips punctuating each pounding beat perfectly.
They watched as she disappeared into the kitchen and the song came to an end. "I like her," said Skinner.
"Zeppelin fan, now that's classic," returned Krycek with a trace of a smile.
The pie was rich, creamy and delicious and the mood was decidedly lighter. Krycek still stubbornly refused to call him `Walter,' but the two men did manage a conversation that revolved around music and the merits of jazz versus rock with Edith adding her heartfelt comments to Krycek's tongue-in-cheek assessment of the superiority of rock and roll. They stayed a lot longer than they expected as Edith kept the coffee coming and the Stones played on the jukebox, except for Krycek's insistence on a dollop of Bruce Springsteen. Krycek also opted for a second piece of pie, and in between mouthfuls, realized he was having a good time. He hadn't bargained for that, not with Skinner. At least, not without a mattress.
They both left Edith an impressive tip.
When they left the restaurant, the wind held a hint of the coming snow and there were more clouds drifting across the late afternoon sky, but it felt somehow invigorating rather than chilling.
Krycek was in a mellow mood, a definite 180 turn from his earlier state of mind. Maybe it was Edith, or the music, or the good food, or maybe the ever-surprising ease of Skinner's company. All of the above. Whatever. He felt like his perspective had tilted just enough that he felt more relaxed than he'd been since Skinner first appeared on his doorstep.
"It's later than I thought. Seems like the afternoon just flew by," said Skinner as he glanced up at the sky. "I really enjoyed the meal," he added, turning to look at Krycek. "Best one I've had in a long time, and I don't mean just the food."
The comment mirrored Krycek's own thoughts and he couldn't keep a small smile off his face as he gave Skinner a nod. "Yeah, a lot better than I expected. Then again, I don't ever expect much." He let his grin linger to soften the comment before glancing at his watch. "I better give Louie a call soon." He headed towards their rental.
As he slid into the passenger seat and pulled out his cell, he could feel Skinner's eyes on him. He'd never called Louie in Skinner's presence before. He gave the former AD a quick glance as he punched in the number. He never put Louie's number on speed dial since the man changed his number as often as he changed his clothes.
His conversation with Louie was mainly one-sided. "I'm in Bennington. What have you got for me?" That was all he had to say. He listened for several minutes, sensing Skinner's stare throughout. Louie had traced activity on a credit card with a fake ID and
`made discreet inquiries'. The physical description of the cardholder matched Dana Scully's. Krycek listened as Louie provided a few more scraps of info that only left him wondering what the two former agents could be doing. "Is that the last location you have?" he asked after Louie stopped talking. He waited as Louie gave him a smug affirmative. "It better be right for what I'm paying you. You remember how angry I can get, now don't you, Louie?" There was a small but significant pause and then Krycek ended the call.
He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out the map they'd been using. He examined it for a minute before tapping a spot with his finger. "That's where they are."
Skinner looked at the map. "That can't be more than thirty minutes from here."
"Take or leave a few. No main roads out that way. Heartsville is the nearest so-called town. Louie said if we blink, we'd miss it. The rural route address for Mulder and Scully location shouldn't be not too far from there."
"Heartsville," repeated Skinner. "You live in Heartsfield. I call that serendipitous."
Krycek blew out a breath. "Serendipitous? Are you going to look for omens in tea leaves next?"
"I'm just taking it as a positive sign. All those years I spent supervising Mulder, something was bound to rub off."
Krycek couldn't help but smile. "Let's hope it's as good as Mulder's intuition."
"Yes, his hunches were uncanny. He used to drive me crazy with them on a regular basis."
"He wasn't called `Spooky' for nothing." Krycek's smile settled softly over his face as he suddenly recalled the few bright spots of his partnership with Mulder. Working in the bullpen with him during those days had been a revelation. The other agents would shake their heads while Mulder pulled arcane facts and seemingly non-existent clues together to form theories on their cases that, more often than not, proved true. Mulder seemed to know just how each agent would react to his `help,' too. Krycek had found himself jumping to Mulder's defense with guard-dog ferocity on several occasions as the agents would ridicule or only grudgingly accept his input. Mulder would just shrug his shoulders, grab Krycek's elbow and steer him away. Then Mulder'd have him laughing with his sardonic asides on the agents' behavior
Those were moments Krycek never forgot, little spots of time when he felt truly like Mulder's partner. They weren't moments of any importance when it came to the overarching Conspiracy in which they were both reluctant players, but they meant more to Krycek than he had ever wanted to admit. They had also added their own scars of regret to his psyche in the days and years that followed.
His smile faded to a wistful sigh.
The question pulled him back and he met Skinner's eyes, surprised at the man's discerning guess and wondering at Skinner's clearly annoyed expression. "Nothing...important," he replied quietly.
"Really? Seemed like you were remembering something...pleasant. Something to do with Mulder?"
Krycek turned his face away, feeling an incomprehensible prickle of guilt. "Now how could I have anything pleasant to remember where Mulder's concerned." He settled back in his seat. "Let's get going. We should be able to get there before dark if we step on it."
The seconds ticked away but then Skinner started the car and they began the drive out of Bennington, each man lost in his own reverie.
"How did your contact find them?" Skinner's question broke the silence several minutes later.
"Louie's `business' throws a very wide net. That's why he's so good. He's also not inclined to share his sources. He did say that Scully's started using a fake credit card recently. That was probably the tip-off. Knowing Louie, they probably got the card from one of his side-line operations."
They drove as fast as the roads allowed, the scenery making for a perfect autumn in New England postcard. As they made their way through Heartsville, the last of the fall leaves were scattering across the streets in tiny swirls of faded orange and red. The leaf-strewn ground was wet from quick melting snow. The scent of wood smoke flavored the air and dewdrops hung from the bare tree branches like strings of teardrops.
"This doesn't even seem big enough to be a town. I've been in D.C. too long; I've forgotten how much of America is made up of little towns like this, even though I grew up in one myself," commented Skinner as they drove past a few small stores and a scattering of houses before they were back on the winding country road again. He slowed down and pulled off to stop near a stand of trees. "Where to from here?"
Krycek was already looking at the map. He glanced out the window, getting his bearings. "It should be about ten miles northeast of here." He told Skinner the route number and the directions Louie had provided.
It took them longer than expected. The country roads wove and intersected, with few signs to guide a traveler. A few were little more than unpaved lanes that dead-ended into overgrown hillsides or woodlands and they had to backtrack more than once.
By the time they located the rural mailbox by the side of an overgrown path, the sun was dipping low on the horizon. They parked and walked down the path that seemed to slope downwards and then up, then curved through a small grove of trees before finally opening onto a clearing. They could see the place up ahead.
The surrounding area was hilly and heavily forested, with the panorama of the Green Mountains in the distance, but the land was level and clear around the house, allowing the inhabitants to have a unobstructed view of anyone approaching within a hundred feet from any direction. The house looked small and old with a peaked roof, the brown paint on its wooden shingles peeling and weather-worn. A detached garage with the doors shut stood beside it. The few stubby bushes and shrubs that framed the property on either side were scraggly and uncared for. There was no other house or building in sight. It seemed like a remote and solitary place to live. It seemed like an uncharacteristic choice for Mulder.
Krycek didn't know Scully at all, but he couldn't imagine Mulder living like a hermit in that house, isolating himself from everyone and reining in that boundless, restless curiosity that propelled him from one adventure to another. Maybe that was why Louie had been able to find them so quickly; they'd grown careless and stir-crazy.
Sunset was close. The clouds were tinted with shades of coral and gold and the sun looked like a vermillion ball sinking into the horizon. The sky above was turning a deep blue grey as the colors were leeched by the encroaching darkness.
Krycek considered for a moment, his own inclination to wait for full dark, then break into the house, aiming at getting the drop on Mulder and Scully and leaving the explanations for later. But this was Skinner's quest and he knew that the former AD probably understood their quarry's state of mind better than he did.
"So, here we are, Skinner. Presumably, Mulder and Scully are in there. How do you want to play this?" He watched as the older man's eyes narrowed, surveying the house thoughtfully.
"I go up to the front door and knock. You stay out of sight until I call you."
Krycek stared at him. "That's your plan?"
"Simplicity has its merits. Besides, they may have set up some kind of security system to give them a warning if anybody approaches the place, though it sure doesn't look like it. I don't want to risk a showdown before I even have a chance to talk to them. I'm fairly certain they'll give me the benefit of the doubt and allow me to explain why I'm here instead of shooting me on sight which is more than I can say for you, I'm afraid."
"What if you're wrong? They've been living like fugitives for over a year. It might've made them a lot more trigger happy than they used to be." He paused, reflecting. "Scully has a mean aim."
Skinner managed to give him a fleeting grin. "Yes, I know. In that case, I hope Mulder will be the one to come to the door. All I need is a chance to talk to them, to tell them what's happened."
Krycek merely shook his head in resignation. He didn't like it, but then he hadn't wanted anything to do with this whole journey in the first place. One thing was sure: he wasn't going to let Mulder or Scully kill him, or Skinner. Damn it, nobody had the right to kill Skinner but him. He frowned at the intensity of his reaction and the disturbing possessiveness that lay beneath it.
"It'll be fine, Alex," said Skinner, misunderstanding his disapproving expression. "It may take a little time for me to explain. Just stay out of sight until I come to the door and signal you."
Krycek blanked his face and nodded. "You didn't even bring a gun, did you?"
"No. I turned it in when I left the Bureau. I didn't want to get another. I've had enough of guns, of killing." There was a flicker of old pain in his eyes. "Listen, Alex, Mulder and Scully were my agents. They were and are my friends. I won't need a gun."
"That's assuming they believe you're really you and not some alien shapeshifter."
Skinner reached out and brushed his hand lightly, tentatively, across Krycek's shoulder. "They'll know me." Then he turned away and headed off towards the house.
Krycek kept his eyes on the big man, even as he changed his position, moving through the tall trees towards another spot that was as close as he could get to the house and still remain hidden. The sky was turning from reddish gold to purplish lavender as the sun began to sink out of sight. The small lamp over the front door of the house grew brighter with the deepening night.
He watched as Skinner reached the beaten pathway that led to the small porch and the door. Mulder and Scully would be able to see him clearly. Krycek drew out his gun, checking it quickly. As his gaze returned to the door, he could see Skinner knocking. It seemed a long time before the door opened slightly. Krycek couldn't see who answered but saw Skinner raise his hands and link them slowly behind his head. A hand pulled Skinner through the door and it shut behind him. Damn. Krycek blew out a breath and crouched down against a thick tree trunk.
To do nothing, to simply watch and wait, was something Krycek could do very well. As a child, before his life had been turned upside down, he'd been able to sit for hours in perfect stillness, waiting for just a glimpse of some particular bird. His focus was total, personal discomfort disregarded, mind and body completely under control. Ironically, that was one of the traits that had singled him out to the men who had taken his childhood so abruptly from him. But now, he found himself fidgeting. His finger itched on the trigger. He could feel his heart beating faster. He stared at the door of the house, a frown settling over his face, his jaw clenched.
The last rays of the sunset had disappeared. A few stars were peeking out from between the shadowy patches of cloud that traveled slowly across the sky. Krycek's eyes never left the house though his mind skittered through disjointed thoughts and images. He wondered what Skinner was saying to them. Could he persuade them to see the truth? He wondered if Mulder still looked the same. He remembered being in bed with Skinner and how Skinner groaned his name just before he came. He remembered how much his first few breaths hurt after the Aliens brought him out of their tank. He pictured the olive groves back in Heartsfield and the lush vibrant green of the trees just before harvesting.
As the minutes ticked slowly by, he wished he'd had binoculars. He couldn't see any movement behind the thick curtains that covered the windows. He was too far away to hear anything softer than a shout or a gunshot.
After more than a half hour had passed, Krycek was ready to try and sneak up to the house. Just as he was mapping out his approach, the front door opened. Skinner took a few steps out, his silhouette filling the doorway, and called to him. "Krycek, it's okay. Come on out." Skinner waved blindly towards the trees where he thought Krycek was hiding. He was a little off.
Krycek couldn't see Mulder or Scully anywhere. His nerves started tingling.
"I've explained it to Mulder. He's willing to talk to you. You can come in here, Alex. It's all right. I promise."
Krycek wrestled with a quick succession of conflicting emotions. This was the deal he had made with Skinner. Here he was. He could either come out in the open or turn around and run. He was risking everything either way. Despite his long ingrained suspicion, despite his unshakeable survival instincts, maybe even despite all common sense, he trusted Skinner. Yet, a tiny voice in the shadowy corner of his mind continued to scream a warning.
More than the fear, even more than the trust, there was his firm resolve to stop running. And that made his decision for him.
He surveyed the house closely as he slowly took a step and then another, leaving his hiding place and walking out into the open. Twigs and small stones crunched under his shoes. The cold night wind ruffled his hair. As he reached the path, he could just see beyond Skinner to the inside of the house.
Why hadn't Skinner mentioned Scully? He watched for any sudden movements and kept his hand on the Glock in his jacket pocket, checking with his thumb that the safety was off for the umpteenth time.
When he walked up the steps of the small porch, he caught sight of Mulder standing under an old-fashioned, milk glass ceiling light. The room around him looked beige. Krycek couldn't see his face clearly and again wondered where Scully could be. He gripped the gun in his pocket as he stopped to stand just behind Skinner in the doorway.
He glanced at Skinner, angling his head.
"Mulder's alone," Skinner told him, as if he'd read the question in Krycek's body language.
Skinner led him inside.
He was barely fifteen feet away from Mulder as he stepped into the lighted room and stopped. For the first time since he'd pointed a gun at Mulder in the dimness of 42 Hegel Place and warned him about the end of their world, the two men faced each other. Mulder's hazel eyes widened and his mouth dropped open as he took in Krycek's appearance.
Mulder's rapt expression would've brought a grin to Krycek's face had the situation not been so dangerous. In that moment, Krycek realized, just as he had on that night years ago, that he couldn't shoot Mulder even if he was provoked. With a sigh, he pulled his empty hand from his pocket. Perhaps it was that little movement that startled Mulder, or perhaps it was only inevitable given their blighted history.
In the next instant and with surprising speed, Mulder had reached behind his back, leveling a gun at Krycek's head and firing, all in one smooth movement. The first bullet would've hit him right between the eyes if instinct hadn't made him shift as soon as Mulder's arm rose. As it was, the second shot grazed his temple and sent him sailing backwards. It felt like the left side of his head was on fire. More shots, voices shouting, glass shattering, sounds of bodies slamming into furniture. Then the sounds faded into a collective hum and as he hit the floor, everything went black.
His next moment of awareness was painful. It felt as if several steel hammers were beating against the inside of his scull. His eyelids felt heavy as he struggled to open them.
"That's it, Alex. Wake up, wake up. Look at me, Alex."
The voice sounded very far away at first. Fingertips brushed against his cheek in a soothing caress.
"C'mon, Alex, look at me. That's it, that's it. Open your eyes."
He managed to slit open his eyes, the hammers in his head increasing their beat as he tried to adjust to the light. "Wh--what?' The word sounded like a croak. He focused on the face hovering over him. Skinner. He looked worried and there was dried blood on his swollen, lower lip. Krycek blinked and tried to sit up. He was lying on something soft. As he struggled to move, it felt like he'd tried to do several cartwheels in a row. The room swam around him as he moaned and fell back. Skinner's arms was holding him, guiding him back against a pile of pillows.
"Easy, take it easy. I think you have a concussion. You were out for almost an hour. I thought I'd have to take you to a hospital, wherever the hell the nearest one would be. Then I would've had to drag Mulder with us."
Krycek fought the dizziness as he listened. Concussion. Just great. That's all he needed. He tried to concentrate. Mulder. What was Mulder doing here, and where was here? He couldn't seem to remember. God, his head hurt. He suddenly felt like throwing up.
"Damn, Skinner, he's gonna puke."
Mulder. That was Mulder's voice. He tried to turn his head, felt the bile rising in his throat as his stomach began to clench.
"Shit, thar he blows."
But Krycek was too busy vomiting over the side of whatever he was lying on to hear whatever else Mulder might have said.
He felt more than saw Skinner propping him up, wiping his mouth with a wet cloth, holding a glass of water to his mouth and then a basin for him to spit it out. One part of his mind was appalled and embarrassed at his own weakness. What the hell had happened to him? He gasped and coughed. Skinner brought a wet washcloth and wiped his mouth, then held a fresh glass of water against his lips. It tasted wonderfully cool. He realized he was lying on a sofa, ugly blue and yellow plaid upholstery invaded his vision as Skinner gently hoisted him up and helped him lie back down. The colors began to swirl and swim together like a runny watercolor, but at least, the cushions were plump and comfortable. He closed his eyes and lay back with a sigh.
"You'd make a fine nursemaid." Mulder's voice sounded amused. Krycek opened his eyes slowly but couldn't see him because Skinner was blocking his view, the scowl on the older man's face making it clear that he didn't appreciate the remark.
Skinner turned towards the voice, stepping out of Krycek's way. "If you have nothing better to say, I'll stick that towel back in your mouth."
Mulder was sitting in a straight back chair, arms pulled behind him. There seemed to be two of him, both images swaying as Krycek fought to focus. He blinked and waited as the two Mulders merged into one and finally remained still. He blinked again, trying to ignore the pounding in his head and the churning in his stomach.
Mulder looked...worn. He looked older than he should have. His hair was longer, disheveled. Both men looked liked they'd been in a fight, though Mulder was definitely the worse for it. Dried blood smudged the skin under his nose. There was a long scrape across his right cheek and a cut over his eyebrow. A bruise was darkening one side of his jaw. Drops of blood stained the front of his thick gray sweatshirt. His worn blue jeans were dusted with glass shards on one knee. A fight? Why would Skinner and Mulder be fighting? Why couldn't he remember? He swallowed back a wave of nausea. Concussion? Last thing he remembered was walking up the path to the house. This house.
Mulder. They'd found Mulder and Scully. That was it. He felt the stare and looked again at the man in the chair. For all his weary appearance, the hazel eyes still shone with an intensity that was distinctly Mulder's. They held his steadily and Krycek felt the questioning brilliance and familiar curiosity behind them. Then Mulder turned away and gazed in Skinner's direction.
"I can't believe you gagged me. You fucking handcuffed and gagged me." His voice held that same bland and deceptive monotone that always meant Mulder was juggling a dozen other thoughts at the same time.
"Yes, Mulder, I gagged you. And may I say it was a dream come true," deadpanned Skinner. "You don't know how many times over the years I had wished I could do just that, but, no, I just had to sit behind my desk and listen to your inventive slight of mouth and your frequent detours into self-aggrandizement. This time, it was too damn important. I needed you to listen. And what's the first thing you do when I turn my back? You grab a gun and try to murder him. Damn it, I told you the truth, Mulder. For your sake, and Scully's, and your baby's, you have to trust me now."
"I know what I did. I thought he was taking out a weapon." Mulder's eyebrows rose and his mouth settled into a stubborn line. "Anyway, you beat the shit out of me. Now, how about taking off these cuffs? And why do you even have Bureau-issue handcuffs anyway?"
"I seem to have accumulated a few over the years. Just forgot to turn these in. Fortunately. Had a strange feeling they might come in handy one day. Damn it, you could have killed him, Mulder. I'm going to take care of him first and then I'll consider getting you out of those cuffs." He paused, giving Mulder another scowl. "Maybe."
To Krycek's surprise and probably Skinner's as well, Mulder shrugged as much as his confined arms would allow, and relaxed back in the chair, his eyes assessing them both carefully with scalpel-like sharpness.
You brought handcuffs but not a gun!? Krycek would have spit the question out if he had had the strength. Instead, he tried to hoist himself up into a sitting position and regretted it immediately as the room started spinning wildly around him.
"Lie still, Alex," Skinner's voice was stern as he eased him back down and adjusted the cushions under his head. Krycek felt something wet and warm sliding down from his temple and tried to reach up to touch it, but Skinner batted his hand away.
"We have to put another bandage on that wound. It's bleeding again," Skinner told him. "Mulder, when is Scully coming back? Where's her medical bag? She has to have more here besides what I found in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom."
Krycek's eyes were shut as he fought back yet another wave of nausea. It seemed a long time before Mulder answered. "She should be back in a couple of hours. She keeps her bag in the car, in case we have to leave in a hurry. There's a full kit in the kitchen, in the shelf above the sink."
Skinner quickly found the med kit and returned to Krycek's side. He gently redressed the wound, replacing the small blood-soaked covering with a pressure bandage. "Where did she go?" he asked Mulder as he worked.
At the lengthening silence, Krycek forced his eyes open to look in Mulder's direction. Mulder's head was down, but his jaw was working as if he was deciding what to say. Finally, he looked up at Skinner. "I believe you, Walter."
An unexpected jab of irritation hit Krycek. Since when had Mulder started calling Skinner by his first name?
"Then why the hell did you try and shoot him?!" snapped Skinner with exasperation.
Mulder turned to stare at Krycek. "Give me a break. Seeing the way he looks--it threw me off, and when he started taking his hand out of his pocket, I...overreacted."
"Overreacted? God, Mulder, are you ever going to change? I explained all that. I told you he'd been on the Rebel ship all these years. I told you what they did to him."
"You told me what he told you," returned Mulder, facing Skinner again. "You changed after what happened in the Hoover garage that night. I saw what it did to you. I might've been hip deep in everything else, but I wasn't totally oblivious." He let out a heavy sigh. "You're not a killer, Walter. You were stressed to the limit and he," Mulder jerked his head towards Krycek, "had you dancing like a puppet with that nano Palm Pilot of his."
"W-wasn't me!" croaked Krycek, the effort starting the hammers drumming in his head again.
"Yeah, I know."
Mulder's flat statement had him blinking, wondering if he'd heard right.
"What do you mean, `you know'?" Skinner was beside Mulder's chair, leaning over him.
"He wasn't...right," replied Mulder, eyeing Krycek again. "I felt it in my gut. The Krycek I knew wouldn't have stood there like that and let you kill him a piece at a time. That Krycek talked to you like a lunatic wuss who was asking to be killed. The Alex Krycek I know would never have behaved that way. The little rat'd dodge a bullet every time, no matter what, instinctively, just like he did tonight."
Skinner ran a hand over his scalp and shook his head. "Why didn't you say something to me that night in the garage? Or later?"
"I had no proof. Nothing but a feeling. That's the story of my life." He blew out a breath, shaking his head. "And you were already at the edge. Whoever or whatever he was, he'd tormented you enough. I knew I couldn't have stopped you. I figured it was no great loss. Besides, we had more than enough to deal with as it was. Time was running out. Scully's life was in the balance. And the baby's. And later, well, everything was going to hell and, it didn't seem to matter." His voice trailed off. "I didn't realize you'd take it so hard. Maybe I should have. Even so, I don't know how telling you my suspicions would've made it any better. You probably wouldn't have believed me."
"But you believe me now," stated Skinner quietly.
Mulder nodded and smirked. "Extreme Possibilities, that's my middle name. Why, like the Queen said to Alice, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,." He shifted in his seat, growing pensive. "Besides, it's more than that. I want to believe you. I want to believe we've beaten them. That it's over. This past year has been...very hard, especially for Scully. The prospect of living out the last few years of existence like this is worse than dying for her. I...I never wanted that for Scully."
"Where is she, Mulder?" Skinner asked again.
Despite the throbbing in his head and the intermittent dizziness, Krycek couldn't mistake the expression of sharp sadness that crossed over Mulder's face.
"She's watching William."
"What do you mean?"
Krycek shifted a little, feeling Skinner's palm cupping his face. It felt large and warm and strangely comforting so he let it stay as he waited with Skinner for Mulder's answer.
Mulder was gazing up at the ceiling. He seemed to be trying to compose himself. When he started talking, his voice was as neutral as ever. "At first, we just ran. I was sure we'd be caught, either by the Aliens or the supersoldiers. Or the collaborators in the Bureau or the NSA. The odds were against us. I knew that. I was just hoping for a little time...for us, or some way to keep Scully safe when they got to me. I didn't really care what happened to me. Humanity was on the clock anyway. Ten years, that's all that was left for any of us. I just couldn't see any way of stopping it."
He chewed on his lip for a moment. "The weeks went by, than months. And nothing happened. We kept moving, mainly from one city to another. There was more anonymity, lost in the crowd. I had money but it was running out. I started wondering why no one was following us. No contact, no attempts." He stopped and his lips turned up in a self-deprecating smile. "I started to get this...feeling. I made a few calls, to people I knew were involved with the Conspiracy. I couldn't reach them. No one could tell me where any of them were or when they were coming back. They were just...gone."
Mulder looked at Skinner. "The irony of it is that I was pissed no one was looking for me. I was back to being the FBI's most unwanted. The days just kept going by. Scully started talking about William, more and more each day, wondering how he was doing, if he was being taken care of properly. If they loved him." He stopped again and sighed. "She wanted to see him. It was eating her up, little by little, until nothing else mattered. So, we looked for him, found out where he was. It actually gave us something to do."
"Williams's somewhere nearby? That's why you're living here, isn't it?" asked Skinner.
Mulder nodded slowly. "About an hour away. Scully was still afraid of jeopardizing his safety, but after all the months of isolating ourselves, knowing he was growing up without us, it was starting to tear us both apart. Now she drives over there and finds a place that's out of sight. She watches for a glimpse of him. It was better in the summer. They'd bring him outside to play in the garden." His voice trailed off for a moment. "I saw him there once. I couldn't go back. Scully can't stop going back. She...she thinks they don't really care about him. They have another child and it looks like the mother is pregnant again."
He stopped and met Krycek's eyes. "You are Alex Krycek, aren't you?" The question was both a statement and a plea.
Krycek took a deep breath, wanting his voice to carry clearly. "Yeah, Mulder. It's really me, like it or not." He paused, sensing Skinner's arm going around him in support as he struggled to sit up a little. "It's over...we're free. All of us. It's true, I swear. The aliens are never coming back. I...you...we can all stop...running now." He had to swallow as he felt the room spin around him.
"Settle back, Alex, before you get sick again. Easy, easy does it."
He relaxed against the strong arms and let them ease him back. He felt suddenly exhausted, felt like he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. He could just make out Skinner's voice as he drifted off. "All right, Mulder, if you're going to persuade Scully, I better get those cuffs off..."
"Come on, Krycek, you have to wake up. Wake up, Krycek, wake up."
Someone slapped his face. He groaned, turning his face away. The hand was back, tapping none too gently against his cheek.
"Krycek, wake up. I want to look into those devious, scheming, mendacious green eyes of yours."
Damn. Scully's voice. He moaned and peered through his lashes with effort. Piercing blue eyes were staring back at him. Instinct yelled at him to get off the sofa and out the door, if he only had the energy. Then he realized he wasn't on the sofa. He was in a bed. A cream-colored blanket covered him up to his waist. He wasn't wearing his jacket, or his shoes.
"Krycek, you little rat bastard. How the hell can you be so lucky?"
Scully was still as pretty and as unpleasant as he remembered, though her tone was remarkably calm, almost conversational. His attempt at appearing cool and composed was lost in a fit of coughing. His throat felt like it was stuffed with gravel. At least, his stomach seemed steadier and his head didn't ache quite so much. He wanted to go back to sleep, Scully's formidable presence notwithstanding.
"Here, Alex, drink a little water. We can't let you sleep too much with that concussion. You can rest again in a bit." It was Skinner's voice and he turned towards it, a wave of relief flowing over him as the older man stepped into view, forcing Scully to step to one side. Skinner's expression was both concerned and kind. Once again, it was that kindness that got to Krycek the most. Maybe because he wasn't thinking properly or maybe because kindness was such a foreign commodity in his life, but he had a sudden, deplorable urge to burrow his face against that broad shoulder and feel Skinner hugging him close.
Man, he was really pathetic. He hadn't felt this vulnerable since he was a kid. He was turning into a damn pussy. That thought kept him in check. His fingers gripped the edge of the blanket stiffly as Skinner held the glass against his lips.
The water tasted cool and refreshing. He wanted to gulp it down, but managed to sip it slowly as he tried to pull himself together and figure out what the fuck was going on. He checked out the room surreptitiously over the rim of his water glass.
Mulder was standing at the foot of the bed, arms crossed over his chest. He had a bandage over one eyebrow, iodine dotting his cheek and an annoyingly familiar, smartass smirk on his lips. He looked like he was enjoying himself, the asshole.
Reality registered. Mulder wasn't handcuffed and Scully was here and she wasn't trying to stab him in the back of the neck with a nice, sharp stiletto.
His eyebrows rose up of their own accord. Shit, how long had he been asleep? He finished the water and pushed himself up on his elbows, thankful that the movement didn't make him too dizzy. Scully was now standing next to Mulder at the foot of the bed while Skinner remained next to him.
It was a strange moment for Krycek. Here he was, lying virtually helpless and within arms' reach of the Triumvirate of the X-Files, the three people who had, collectively, screwed with his life in a way the old men of the Consortium never could. And they probably never even realized it.
"Can we get our son back? Is he safe now?"
Krycek looked at Scully, noticing the shadows under her eyes, and the thin, tight lines around her mouth. Strain and worry draped over her like a veil. Her blue eyes glistened with a desperate hope, her lips pursing as if the questions had been wrenched out of her.
Krycek knew she didn't trust him, didn't like him, but he could see how much she wanted to believe him. He knew she wouldn't expect him to be sympathetic or considerate.
He drew in a breath, squeezed his eyes shut for a few seconds, then met her penetrating gaze with one of his own. "Fucking hell. I told Skinner, I told Mulder, and now I'll fucking tell you, so listen up because I'm sick of all this shit." He had to pause to catch his breath and hoped the distant drums in his head wouldn't get any louder. "The Alien Resistance won. That means, incidentally, that we won. ET's gone home or dropped dead. Either way, he ain't coming back. None of them are ever coming back. I explained it all to Skinner and I'm too fucking tired to explain it again."
"I did tell her, Alex. She just wants to hear it from you."
Krycek rolled his eyes, drawing out another heavy breath. Skinner looked somewhere between amused and apologetic. "Well, okay, so now I've told you, Scully. Go get your brat and set up house with Spooky over there and drive them both crazy and live happily ever after. I only bothered finding you because your buddy, Skinner, was turning into my personal ball and chain and this is the only way I can get rid of the whole damn bunch of you, once and for all. Now, just let me get back to sleep so I can find enough strength to get the fuck out of here and get back to my own life."
He felt like a deflating balloon as he sank back into the bed. Gratifyingly, he watched Scully's mouth drop open and then snap shut. He found the wounded expression on Skinner's face a little tougher to take, but quickly closed his eyes. If they changed their minds about blowing his brains out, there was certainly nothing he could do to stop them now.
"You're still a prick, Krycek."
Mulder's succinct comment was the last thing he heard before he fell asleep.
When he woke, he flinched almost immediately, expecting another slap in the face or another steely-eyed stare. He frowned when he realized he was alone. The frown deepened as he noticed the pale blue-gray sky that filled the two windows on one side of the room.
He touched his temple. The bandage was a different shape. He vaguely recalled being slapped awake yet again at some point in the night and Scully prodding and redressing his injury. He'd barely kept his eyes open at the time. She had worked on him without saying a word. Her touch lacked Skinner's diffident gentleness but at least she'd been quick about it.
Pushing the blanket aside, he gingerly got out of the bed. He spotted his boots close by, neatly placed to one side of a small woven rug. His jacket was folded over a wooden chair set between the windows. He decided to test his balance first and walked slowly to the nearest window. His headache was gone. Outside, it looked like it was going to snow, only a few patches of pale blue sky visible through a thick layer of grey clouds. He glanced at his watch. The numerals swirled for a moment before clearing. It was already eight in the morning. He wiped a hand over his face and touched his forehead to the window, his breath producing a tiny cloud of its own against the cold pane.
"Are you sure you're up to moving around?"
He jumped and spun at the voice, grabbing for the windowsill as he started to sway.
Skinner hurried over to him, taking hold of his arm to steady him. "Sorry, I wasn't trying to sneak up on you."
Krycek pulled his arm away. "It's...okay. Just caught me off guard, is all." He looked over at the door, realizing it must have been open all night. "Where are they?" He made his way back to the bed and started to reach down for his boots, only to be stopped by Skinner's hand.
"Just sit there, I'll get them for you."
Since the room did seem to be spinning steadily, Krycek accepted the instruction without grumbling.
Skinner knelt on the rug and began pulling up Krycek's drooping socks, cradling his feet against his crotch. Krycek could feel Skinner's cock against the ball of his foot. He swallowed quickly and darted a look towards the open door.
"They left shortly after dawn. They went to see William. Really see him," said Skinner.
Krycek gazed down into Skinner's amused brown eyes and deliberately left his feet right where they were. "Not wasting any time, are they?"
"Once Scully accepted what you told her, Mulder had all he could do to persuade her to wait until daylight before going to talk with the couple who have him."
"They're taking him back?"
"I'd hate to be the one to try and stop Scully now," replied Skinner with a smile." She's convinced that they don't really want William." He looked down at his lap and started massaging Krycek's foot, strong fingers rubbing and stroking firmly, back and forth across the arch, down to the toes and up to the heel, back and forth.
It felt wonderful. No one had ever done that for him. Krycek raked his lip with his teeth and held back a sigh. He couldn't keep from tilting his head back, closing his eyes, and savoring the sensations. After a while, the blissful rubbing stopped and in the next moment, Skinner was kissing him, a large hand slipping behind his neck to tangle in his hair and hold him still.
It was a delicate kiss at first, just a light caress of his mouth that deepened ever, ever so slowly, until it finally took his breath away. His eyes were still closed when Skinner released him. A few more seconds and he would have pulled Skinner down on top of him on the bed and to hell with everything else.
"You gave them back the whole world, Alex. Thank you." Skinner was standing, looking down at him with what seemed remarkably like affection.
Ironically, the words settled like a cold weight in the middle of Krycek's chest. Guilt and gratitude, that's all it was. To Krycek, the `Two Gs' suddenly seemed to cling to the older man like one of his button-downed, AD shirts. The sensuous touch of Skinner's lips still lingered on his mouth, but he sat up straighter. "You don't owe me anything, understand? Just hand me my boots. I wanna get out of here."
A puzzled expression replaced Skinner's smile, but he reached down and picked up the boots. Krycek held out his hand, his gaze on the wall.
"What's happened, Alex?"
Krycek grabbed the boots and put them on, patting the switchblade in its sleeve. "Nothing. You got what you wanted. Mulder and Scully are getting what they want. And, now it's time for me to get what I want. And I want to get the hell out of here."
"You're still groggy from the concussion. You need to take it slow."
"I'm fine. I've had a lot worse than this." He stood up and found his jacket, fishing in the pocket. His Glock was still there. He left it and pulled out his cellphone. The room seemed to blur around him for a second, but he ignored it. "I'm going to book the first flight back to California. I'll have to drive back up to Burlington. No, Albany is closer. I can drop the rental off at the airport there."
"I don't need to be here any longer."
"Alex, we can't leave until they get back."
Krycek turned and met the brown eyes with a scowl. "What do you mean, `we'?"
"I left my SUV at your place, remember."
Damn. He huffed out a quick breath. "Doesn't mean we still have to be travel buddies, Skinner. You can stay here with your pals. Help them set up house. Pick out curtains for the kid's room. You can get your car whenever you're ready. Hell, I'll ship the damn thing to you here, for that matter. Consider it a parting gift."
"What have I done, Alex? Was it the kiss? You didn't seem to mind it at the time." Skinner slowly walked the few steps to stand in front of him, close enough to touch. "You just looked so...so..." He paused, his voice growing softer. "I couldn't help myself."
Without his glasses, Skinner's face was unguarded, the emotions plain in his eyes.
It wasn't just his concussion that was throwing Krycek off balance. He couldn't let Skinner get to him. The man was determined to salve his conscience and he was convincing himself that Krycek meant something more to him than he really did. That's all it was. That and a big dose of sexual hots. And Krycek wasn't going to feed into Skinner's self-deception any longer. He'd had enough lies in his life.
What he needed was to put some distance between them. He wasn't running, he told himself. There was nothing left to run from. Nothing. He'd kept his end of the bargain. It was finished.
He folded his fingers around his cellphone, and willed himself to meet Skinner's eyes. "It's better for everyone, including you, if I leave now," he said, surprising himself with the slight tremor in his voice. He edged around Skinner and started to put on his jacket.
"Mulder wanted me to ask you to stay, at least until he gets back. He said he had to talk to you."
Krycek stopped, one sleeve partially up his arm. Skinner's jaw was clenched, as if he'd spoken the words only reluctantly.
"I don't know." Skinner slipped his hands into his pants pockets, his back stiffening a little. "He didn't want to wake you again and he had his hands full with Scully, but he said it was...important...to him." Skinner paused, his jaw still tight, watching Krycek's face, then added. "He said I had to tell you verbatim: `remember, things are looking up'. Whatever that means."
Krycek's breath caught in his throat.
He didn't even notice as his jacket began slipping off his arm until he felt Skinner take it and place it back on the chair. He glanced at the cellphone in his hand and tossed it on the bed. Memories rose of that fateful night in Mulder's apartment, the hours spent waiting in the dark, waiting for Mulder, and then watching as Mulder picked up that small white square of paper from the floor. Their encounter that night had been very much like all the others in their turbulent history, and yet it had been very different. There had been times over the past year and more when Krycek wasn't even sure it had really happened. So much had changed since then. That strange night seemed to belong to another lifetime, another man and, in fact, for Krycek, that was tangibly true.
Nevertheless, he was suddenly struck with a bewildering sense of being trapped. Trapped by a knot of unexpected and conflicting emotions he couldn't define.
They told him he should stay. Had to stay. He had to wait for Mulder. One more time.
His legs felt like lead as he crossed over to the window again. Snowflakes were starting to drift down from the sky, looking like tiny bits of white ash. A bird was gliding past, wide wings extended, seemingly lifted by the wind. A hawk looking for prey.
Krycek placed his palm flat against the cold glass. He was all too aware of Skinner's presence close behind him, like a smoldering fire in the room.
It was going to be a very long day.
A small bird landed on the garage roof, a brilliant splash of color against the faded brown shingles. Ruby-red head tilted at an angle, it peered down at him for a moment before taking off, black wings fluttering.
Krycek watched it as it flew towards the trees, a blur of red and black.
"What was that?" Skinner asked as he joined Krycek on the small porch.
"Scarlet tanager. Fairly common around here." Krycek didn't turn, kept his eyes on the trees even though the bird was long gone. "I'm going for a walk." He started towards the short set of steps when Skinner stopped him, arms grabbing hold of his shoulders from behind.
"Wait." Skinner stepped around him and began neatly zipping up Krycek's jacket.
"I'm not an invalid," Krycek told him with a scowl although he didn't move as Skinner finished zipping his jacket and then straightened the collar.
"You've suffered a concussion. Maybe you should stay inside."
"I'm fine now," he answered, brushing by Skinner and walking down the stairs to the overgrown path. He gritted his teeth as he heard footsteps behind him and turned to glare at Skinner. "I want to take a walk. Alone."
Skinner let out a small sigh. "Don't go too far. It's getting icy out there and it'll probably start snowing again any minute now."
Krycek's jaw almost dropped open. Skinner was talking to him like he was some snot-nosed kid asking to stay out on the playground for a few more minutes. He mentally counted to five, just resisting the urge to punch Skinner in the face. He turned without a word and walked away.
A half hour later, he was standing in the middle of a thick grove of trees, staring up through the bare branches at the steel gray sky. It had started snowing a few minutes earlier; a light dusting covered the ground. He felt the snow in his hair, on his face. The cold was seeping into his feet. He hadn't seen any more tanagers.
It amused him to think that he was waiting for Mulder like he used to wait for a sighting of some rare bird. He remembered a time when he was nine and saw a broad-winged hawk. He'd waited hours for a glimpse that had lasted about thirty seconds. He hadn't regretted it. He didn't know how he would feel where Mulder was concerned.
Mulder was unfinished business, a link in the chain of his past. He'd thought he'd broken that chain when the triumphant Resistance had altered his body and dumped him back into the world. He should have known that nothing would be simple when it came to the likes of Mulder, or Skinner.
His life was still not his own. First Skinner, now Mulder. He sighed, blinking away the snowflakes that caught on his lashes. For most of his 40 years, his life was controlled by the Consortium elders. They molded him into their acolyte, their tool, their weapon. They worked diligently at depriving him of his conscience, his heart, his soul. They thought they had succeeded when he became their consummate assassin.
For a good part of those years, Krycek believed they had succeeded, too. They'd taken away his innocence and his trust and left him with no one to believe in but himself. And that had been their fatal mistake. He learned to play their game and his goal became to survive them all. That goal sustained him even as he passed from their control to that of the Resistance. The Aliens used him, too, but his goal never changed. He would survive them all.
Thinking back to his time on the ship, he was certain that that was why the Gautiers had died. The experiments were terrifying and often painful, but survivable. But the Aliens had never explained themselves; had no capacity to appreciate their human fears. The Gautiers had been frightened...to death. For Krycek, fear had been a long time companion, one that he eventually learned to control. It was probably the only element of his life that he could control but that ability had served him well.
He thought again about his replicant and how it had used the nanos to manipulate Skinner. A brief smiled touched his lips. The former AD had always been a symbol of power to Krycek, even when he seemed to be under Spender's thumb. There was always a sense of authority, of innate strength and command about him that was impossible to ignore. To control a man like that would have been very appealing, if only as a vicarious means of ruling over the many masters in his own life. The replicant was programmed with his DNA. Once again, Krycek speculated on the likelihood that he would have done the same thing to Skinner if the Resistance hadn't led his life in another direction.
But now? Krycek turned his gaze towards the house though he couldn't see it through the trees. The soothing feel of Skinner's hands on his face and the look of concern in the deep brown eyes when Krycek lay helpless from the concussion rose in his mind. Even the way Skinner zipped his jacket for him; Krycek found he had little defense against those small acts of kindness. They did not diminish Skinner's masculinity or sense of authority. They only enhanced them.
If he was honest with himself, even Skinner's over-protective attitude didn't bother him. Much. In fact, it was enticing to have someone actually want to watch over and protect him. Again, it was an almost non-existent occurrence in his old life. The temptation to let himself believe that Skinner actually cared for him was becoming entirely too strong. Krycek had to constantly remind himself that Skinner's actions were only a means of assuaging his own guilt over Krycek's `death'. He just couldn't afford to give in to the fantasy, not now that he finally had a real chance to make a life of his own and leave all the lies behind.
So why didn't he just leave now, while he could still remain objective about Skinner's behavior towards him? What was it about Mulder that compelled him to stay? Unfinished business? Yes, but what kind?
His thoughts were running around in circles. He stomped his feet, trying to ward of the cold that was creeping up his legs. What if Mulder didn't come back today? Was he supposed to keep waiting? What if Mulder never came back, if he and Scully decided to ride off into the sunset, their kid in tow, to start their happy ending? Krycek pictured himself standing right where he was, body rooted to the ground, as the seasons changed around him and his own new life faded away like a half-formed dream.
He shuddered at the image; it chilled him more than the cold in the air. The snow was falling steadily now. He stood unmoving for another minute. "Fuck him," he said aloud, and started walking back through the trees towards the path. Fuck him. The words floated in his brain, taunting him. Admit it. Admit to yourself, at least. "Hell," he muttered.
If only Mulder hadn't mentioned that note. Things are looking up. Krycek squeezed his eyes shut at the memory of that last night before the Rebels had taken him. To this day, he wasn't sure if the Brit had set him up, had made some deal with the Resistance, using him as barter. The wily old man had been a master manipulator within a cabal of master manipulators. Krycek had gone to see Mulder that night because the Brit had ordered him. Yet, Krycek had believed in the importance of giving Mulder the information, of letting him know about the apocalyptic war they were battling.
Things are looking up. He'd meant to divert Mulder's attention only long enough to tackle the man. He didn't even know why he'd written those particular words, except maybe just for the sheer irony of the sentiment.
Mulder had always exasperated him. Navigating the Byzantine byways of Fox Mulder's mind was a daunting effort. The man was reckless, intuitive, driven, unpredictable, brilliant, and unstable. He was also incredibly attractive. Krycek had been drawn to Mulder from their first, less than auspicious, meeting. Even though he thought Mulder was an arrogant jerk from the outset, he still couldn't deny the sexual attraction that hit him like a wave whenever he was around the man. Krycek had no illusions about it; he knew it was foolish and dangerous and pointless to want Mulder and, for the most part, he kept it well under control and in the background of his mind.
Yet, Krycek had wanted to kiss Mulder on the mouth that last night. Only his instinct for survival had held him back at the last second. Still, he hadn't been able to resist brushing his lips against Mulder's cheek. Even now, he remembered the feel of the lightly stubbled skin, the warmth, the faint scent of sandalwood aftershave. It was almost as if he'd known that he might not ever see Mulder again.
He wondered if Mulder remembered, too. If that was the reason Mulder wanted him to wait for him. Was that it? Krycek puffed out a breath and stopped. Not very likely, and that would be for the best. He could see the house now, a brown outline against the gray clouds and the gentle fall of snow. Skinner was waiting for him. Out of the blue, Krycek wondered if Skinner would like to see his olive groves.
It must be the concussion, he thought a moment later. His brain was rattling around, making him stupid. Making him feel like invisible cords were pulling him in all directions.
Mulder didn't give a shit about him. Skinner didn't give a shit about him. And he didn't give a fuck about either one of them, so it was... All. Just. Fine.
Damn, why was he thinking like some hormonal adolescent all of a sudden? He rubbed around the bandage on his temple with icy fingertips. He was getting a very big headache. Perfect.
He quickened his strides and determinedly focused on the ground as he walked, counting the sticks and stones along the path. But words can never hurt me, he mumbled. Damn, he was really losing it.
He needed a drink. Needed to get out of the cold. He had to start thinking clearly.
When he was almost to the house, the door opened and Skinner's shadow loomed in the doorway. He stepped out into the little porch as Krycek climbed the short set of steps. Krycek felt an automatic and disturbing sense of pleasure sweep through him as Skinner extended an arm and draped it around his shoulders, ushering him into the warmth of the little house.
"I was about ready to come looking for you. It's really starting to come down out here. C'mon, let's get you dry."
Krycek couldn't summon the energy or the will to shrug out of Skinner's hold or tell him off. He might as well enjoy the benefits of Skinner's guilt trip, he told himself instead.
Skinner led him into the kitchen where Krycek gazed absently at the beige walls and dull green cabinets as Skinner stripped him out of his wet jacket and plunked him into a chair at the small pine table.
"Do you have another headache?"
Krycek squinted up at Skinner and nodded mutely. Skinner stepped away, returning quickly with a glass of water and two pills in his palm. "It's just extra strength aspirin, but it should help."
Krycek gave the tablets a glance before swallowing them with the water. Shutting his eyes for a moment, he settled back in his chair and then jerked slightly as he felt Skinner's hand brushing against his hair, and then the feel of a small, fluffy towel.
"Your hair is wet from the snow." Skinner rubbed the towel lightly over his hair and down around his neck, carefully avoiding his bandage and picking up the bits of melting snow that seeped under his collar. He felt a few gentle dabs against his forehead and cheeks.
Krycek bit down on his lip to keep from sighing. His eyes opened when Skinner's thumb touched the edge of his mouth. He turned his face up as Skinner bent down and brushed his lips softly in a kiss.
Skinner moved away then. "I found some soup cans in the pantry. Chicken noodle. I've been keeping it warm on the stove. I think you should try and eat a little." The brown eyes behind the wire rims met his, eyebrows lifting in question.
"I'm a little hungry," conceded Krycek truthfully.
"Good." Skinner began puttering around the kitchen, finding a bowl and utensils as Krycek looked around the room again, wondering how Mulder and Scully managed to live together here day after day in their self-imposed exile. It was easier than thinking about the kiss that Skinner had given him and its lingering tingle on his lips.
The soup proved he was hungrier than he thought, Skinner refilling his bowl a second time. When he finished the second, he noticed his headache was gone and he was more like himself. Skinner sat across from him at the table, a mug of coffee between his hands, watching him.
Krycek pushed the bowl away and rubbed at a knot in the scarred pine tabletop. "Thanks," he said quietly.
Skinner's expression was so open and...affectionate that Krycek didn't know quite what to make of it. He lowered his head and frowned at the tabletop. A moment later, he struggled to stifle a yawn.
"Why don't you lie down on the bed for a while?"
He was tired and it suddenly seemed wiser to not be in the same room as Skinner. He nodded and got up to make his escape. "Maybe just a half hour," he said, heading out of the kitchen and down the short hallway to the bedroom. He was relieved not to hear footsteps behind him.
He made a quick stop in the bathroom, noting the rust-spotted bathtub for the first time. There was a small showerhead over the tub. The fixtures were decades old. He peeked into the medicine cabinet and the little storage cabinet beneath the sink. Everything looked neat and conventional. Nothing out of the ordinary. No decorative touches of any kind to reveal its inhabitants' tastes.
That was it. The place was utilitarian. Not just the bathroom, but the whole house. All the furniture came with the place. Mulder and Scully had been hiding out, not setting up house. It was like a large motel room.
Krycek had had his fill of anonymous motel rooms. He'd lived in too many of them over the course of his dangerous life.
There were two bedrooms. The second one contained two twin beds with a nondescript lamp table between them and a small bureau against one wall and a free standing full length mirror beside it. The door to the tiny closet was open and Krycek went over to look inside. It was half empty: a few shirts, a trench coat, and a single suit, an Armani that looked liked it had seen better days. A very ugly tie hung on one of the hooks on the door. Mulder's clothes.
Krycek frowned and walked back to the other bedroom. It had a slightly larger closet, which wasn't saying much, that also contained a sparse number of clothes, all obviously Scully's. He sat down heavily on the bed and gingerly touched the bandage over his temple. Were Mulder and Scully sleeping in separate bedrooms? Or was he just keeping his clothes in the other room? Krycek bent down and slowly pulled off his boots, stretching out on the bed and pulling the blanket over himself. Was he lying in their bed? The bed where Mulder and Scully made love?
Somehow, the idea of the two of them just `having sex' seemed somehow...inappropriate. Even distasteful. Mulder and Scully were too deeply connected to have just sex or `just' anything.
The soft knock on the open door had him blinking away his thoughts and glancing up to see Skinner leaning against the doorframe. "I wanted to let you know I'm going out to get the car and drive it back up here to the house."
Krycek wondered why Skinner even bothered to tell him. Or was it only an excuse to check up on him? "Okay," he answered flatly.
Skinner approached the bed and sat on the edge beside him. He reached out carefully and touched Krycek's bandage. "I thought I saw a little blood, but I guess not," he said. "We should still change it later anyway." His hand skimmed a trail lightly down the side of Krycek's face.
Krycek caught Skinner's hand with his own, then grabbed a handful of his shirt and pulled him down for a long, deep kiss that left them both panting. "Do you want to fuck?" he asked, his voice rough.
Skinner studied him for a moment. "You're still recovering and you're tired. It's a bad idea right now."
Krycek cupped Skinner's groin, smirking at the growing erection against his palm. "Like hell. I'm fine. You've wanted to get into my pants since we started this trip. Well, this is your lucky day, big man, because I'm suddenly in the mood. C'mon." He slid his arms around Skinner's neck, feeling a shiver run through his own body at the contact, despite his fatigue. He licked the edge of Skinner's ear, bit down gently on the lobe. "I wanna suck your balls into my mouth. Wanna blow you until you shout." He heard Skinner gasp and smiled.
A moment later, Skinner grabbed hold of his wrists and pushed him back firmly on the bed. "I don't want to fuck, Alex."
"Liar," returned Krycek. He gazed pointedly at the bulge at Skinner's groin. "You're aching for it." He raised his chin as Skinner let him go and backed away. "Mulder and Scully won't be back for a while yet, assuming they come back at all, if that's what's bothering you. And even if he does walk in on us, so what? Let him get an eyeful."
Skinner was looking at him thoughtfully, his gaze traveling over Krycek's body, his lips thinning as Krycek talked. "He, Alex? Are you saying it doesn't matter if Scully finds us fucking in their bed? Only...Mulder?"
Krycek shook his head, recalling what he'd just said. "I...I meant both of them, damn it! What difference does it make anyway? It's not important."
"Oh, I think it's important to you." With that Skinner turned and headed for the door.
Krycek felt like he'd been caught at something and it made him angry. "Come back here, Skinner!" His shout made the other man stop and turn back to him.
He saw disappointment in the brown eyes that stared into his. "It's Walter, Alex. My name is Walter." The words were almost a tired sigh, wistful and yet resigned.
Krycek found he had to look away. He heard Skinner's footsteps fading down the hallway. He shifted in the bed and pulled the pillows under his head. He lay back and threw his arm over his eyes and tried hard not to think about...anything. The thoughts came anyway. Images of Mulder and Skinner seemed to float across his mind's eye. After a while, he gathered the bunched up blanket and drew it over himself.
When he woke, some sixth sense told him Mulder was in the room, and old instincts had him reaching for his gun under the pillows. It took him another moment to realize his gun was still in his jacket, somewhere else in the house.
"Don't bother. You don't need any artillery, Krycek. My beating-up-on-you days are over. Unless of course, you've developed a taste for masochism. I suppose I could always force myself to rise to the occasion."
Krycek cursed under his breath and shifted up against the headboard, propping the pillows behind him. Mulder was slouched comfortably in the chair by the window, one long leg stretched out in front of him. His folded hands rested benignly in his lap.
Krycek darted a look towards the open door.
"Scully's staying with William, making some arrangements," Mulder told him. He eyed Krycek for a moment. "And Walter is in the living room, wrestling with the Times' crossword. I think he's giving us some `talking alone' time." Mulder leaned forward casually, letting his clasped hands hang loosely between his knees. "It's amazing how you look, Krycek," he said.
Krycek ignored the comment as he glanced at his watch. "Is it really almost eight?" he murmured, more to himself than Mulder. He couldn't believe he'd actually slept the entire day away.
"Walter said you were still a little shaky from the concussion, but that he figured you were do some uninterrupted sleep. He seems to be taking very good care of you." A quick grin finished his statement.
Krycek glared at him silently. He didn't know if it was the implication behind the grin or the "Walter" that bothered him most.
"Thanks for staying until I got back," Mulder continued.
"I don't have any pressing social engagements at the moment," returned Krycek tartly.
"You're really cute now, you know? Like the first time we met only without the gel. That tousled look really suits you, by the way.""
That got Mulder another glare. "What the fuck's wrong with you?"
"I'm feeling good, Krycek, that's what's `wrong' with me. I haven't felt really good in a damn long time and I'm enjoying the sensation so just indulge me, okay?"
Krycek huffed out a breath and crossed his arms over his chest. "Fine. What did you want to tell me?"
Mulder rose from his chair and walked around the bed, pausing at the window to look outside. The snowfall was a lacy white blur moving against the night. "For the first time in years, I don't feel like I have to fight the future. It's amazing how the removal of the threat of imminent total human annihilation can make `tomorrow' downright inviting. I feel like singing that song from `Annie'--the sun'll come out tomorrow, blah, blah, blah." Mulder turned back to him with a grin. "Things really arelooking up."
Krycek felt his nerves prickling as Mulder came back to the bed and sat down facing him, far too close for his comfort. "You gave me back my faith in myself, in my quest, that night. Now, it looks like you've helped me get back everything else...Alex. We wanted to check on Will first. Scully, well, she couldn't wait. She wanted to hold him. He's...quite a kid, our kid." It looked like Mulder's eyes were glistening. "I want to thank you, and Scully...she wanted me to thank you, too. I...I hope we can all start fresh."
The expression on Krycek's face must have clearly reflected his reaction because Mulder's grin widened, making him look simultaneously boyish and irritating. Then he chuckled. Krycek had never heard Mulder chuckle before.
"You don't mind if I call you Alex, do you? You can call me Mulder."
Krycek resisted the urge to shift away on the bed, feeling decidedly baffled by this new kinder, gentler, yet still wise-cracking, Mulder. He almost thought he saw a twinkle in the hazel eyes. "Asshole," he grumbled.
Mulder only shrugged. "I suppose you can call me that instead, but it's a little on the hostile side. Not a very cordial way of addressing one's relatives."
Krycek frowned as he processed Mulder's' statement. "What?"
"You and me. We're related."
"What?!" Krycek sat up straight.
"Well, okay, we share the same Alien genetic material. How's that? Sound better?"
Krycek's jaw had dropped open as Mulder finished. Whatever he had expected, it wasn't that. Then again, it just meant that Mulder was running true to form. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Your buds in the Alien Resistance, whatever they did to you to regrow that arm and turn you back into Mama's sweet-faced, baby boy, it included the introduction of alien genes into your body. Alien enzymes, extraterrestrial cell matter, DNA restructuring, molecular re-engineering, whatever the hell you wanna call it. In other words, there's now more to you than just your arm. Welcome to the family."
"H-how do you know?" Krycek wasn't even sure he wanted to hear Mulder's answer.
"Tell you the truth, I wasn't absolutely sure until I got back here, until you woke up. That's one of the reasons I asked you to wait for me. I wanted to be certain, and I thought you should know about it." Mulder got up and walked around to the foot of the bed. "I can feel you, Alex. Just like I can feel Will." He put up a hand as Krycek's eyebrows rose towards his hairline. "Not exactly like Will, but similar. Sort of like a slightly different wavelength, you could say. I think that's because Will inherited my genes.
"When I was on that Alien ship, they ran experiments on me constantly. I realized soon enough that they didn't want to kill me, but there were times when the rack or a little Chinese water torture would've been a relief." He gazed at an invisible point on the wall and Krycek could almost see the wheels turning. "They either introduced the genetic matter during the experiments or triggered dormant Alien cells that I already had since I was a child, I'm not sure. In any case, the effect was the same as the more enjoyable Fountain of Youth dip that the Resistance gave you."
Krycek shook his head in negation. "I don't sense you."
Mulder gave him an all too familiar, wiseass smile. "You knew I was in the room when you woke up."
Krycek sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. "I've got good instincts, always have."
"Not as good as you have now." Mulder started pacing slowly back and forth from the bed to the window. "When I came in contact with the Alien artifact, it was like a dam breaking open in my brain." Mulder paused at Krycek's blank stare. "Ah, well, you wouldn't know about the artifacts, would you? Long story. I'll save it for later...maybe; doesn't matter. Anyway, I could actually hear everybody's thoughts, and I mean everybody, as if they were shouting them at me with bullhorns. I thought I was losing my mind. I couldn't turn it off. The artifact magnified my...ability out of all control. I wound up in a straightjacket for a while." He paused again. "Fortunately, now, I can only sense Will...and you, as though everyone else who's not on the same `waveband' is filtered out. There seems to be a proximity factor, too. I couldn't sense Will until we tracked him and moved here. I couldn't sense you until you were skulking around in the woods outside and Skinner came to the house."
After savoring the image of Mulder in a straightjacket for a moment, Krycek glared at him. "You knew I was here?"
Mulder nodded. "Shocked the hell out of me at first. I wasn't sure why you were here or if you'd coerced Skinner or what the hell was going on. That's why I had my gun ready."
"Trigger happy bastard. Couldn't you `sense' I wasn't here to murder you, you asshole?"
"No. I can't read your mind, Krycek; I just knew it was you. Although now, I can sense your, um, emotional state. It's as if I'm fine-tuning you. I still can't read your thoughts though, for which I am truly grateful since that would mean that you can't read mine either." He went back to the chair and plopped down again. "I really prefer Mulder to asshole, by the way. C'mon, I haven't called you rat bastard or scum sucker yet, now have I?"
Resigning himself to the fact that Mulder wasn't going to leave the room, Krycek slowly got up from the bed and looked around for his shoes.
"They're under the bed on this side." Mulder pointed with his finger.
Krycek gritted his teeth, remained where he stood, fists balled, keeping the bed a barrier between them. "What do you mean by `emotional state'?"
Mulder sighed dramatically. "I know you're pissed off."
"Anyone could tell that just by looking at me," countered Krycek.
"But you're really scared," returned Mulder.
Krycek chin went up. "I'm not scared."
"Yeah, you are." Mulder crossed one leg over the other, getting comfortable again. "It's the idea of having something alien inside you, I think. That and not being able to figure out how you really feel about me."
That was way too close to the bone but he wasn't about to admit it. "Think whatever you like."
Krycek padded around the bed, spotting one of his boots peeking out from under the middle of the bed. He bent down quickly to pick it up and felt the room do a high-speed whirl and blur out as he straightened. The boot slipped from his hand, thudding against the floor and to his horror, he felt himself keeling over.
The next thing he knew, he was wrapped in Mulder's arms, his face buried against Mulder's neck, his eyes squeezed shut. Mulder smelled faintly like spearmint. Krycek realized his own arms were clamped around the wide shoulders, his whole body leaning against and supported by the other man.
He raised his head and gazed into Mulder's careful hazel eyes. Hong Kong flashed through his mind. He never thought he'd get any closer to Mulder than being pushed up against a wall with a bleeding nose and a gun shoved into his belly. Yet, he might've imagined something like this, once upon a time. Mulder's arms were anchored around his waist. Mulder's body was warm, solid. They just stood like that, staring at each other. It couldn't have been for more than a few seconds.
But that's how Skinner found them as he stepped into the room, cellphone in his hand. "Sorry to interrupt."
Krycek pushed himself away from Mulder so fast that he fell backwards. Luckily the bed was behind him and he found himself bouncing on the mattress, half sitting, half lying. Mulder looked down at him with an amused expression that made Krycek want to punch him right in his over-developed nose.
"It's Scully. She wants to talk to you." Skinner's voice sounded flat and chilly.
"Ah, thanks, Walter," replied Mulder calmly. "First thing I'm going to do when we get to a decent-sized town is get a cellphone. It was hell giving it up when we went into hiding. I appreciate your giving Scully your number." He walked over to Skinner and took the cellphone, glancing back at Krycek and then to Skinner again, his lips twitching. Skinner's face looked like it was carved from stone. Mulder gave him a little shrug. "Hi, Scully," he began as he headed for the living room, "No, no, everything is just ducky here," he continued, a smile in his voice as it faded down the hall.
Krycek scrambled to his feet and brushed the hair out of his eyes. He had the sudden urge to blurt out, "It's not what you think. I had a dizzy spell..." He swallowed back the words and bit down on his lip. What the fuck was he thinking?! Why should he have to explain himself to Skinner? Damn it, he didn't have to explain himself to anybody.
Cautiously, he crouched down and picked up his shoes and even more slowly, he sat back on the bed to put them on.
"There's fresh coffee in the kitchen if you want some."
Krycek turned his head towards Skinner and nodded. Skinner's expression revealed as little as his tone of voice and the room's light reflected off his glasses, obscuring his eyes. "I'll be there in a minute."
"Well, it looks like you're feeling much better now," pronounced Skinner as he turned and walked away.
Krycek stared at the spot where Skinner had stood. Damn. He hadn't heard that starched AD voice in a long time. His mouth settling into a stubborn line, he finished putting on his shoes. After a trip to the bathroom, he slowly made his way into the kitchen. As he passed the living room, he caught a glance of Mulder, cellphone still pressed to his ear, pacing back and forth across the length of the room, a big goofy smile on his face.
The vibe was decidedly different in the kitchen. Skinner was standing and staring out the small window, a mug in his hand, an aura of tension radiating off of his body. There was a small gap in the faded, yellow-checked curtains and Krycek could see the pale flutter of snow outside. He went over to the coffeemaker on the counter and started looking for a cup.
"In the cabinet to your right."
He glanced over his shoulder at Skinner who was now watching him, and stepped to his right and pulled out a mug. He gazed at it with a frown. It had a picture of ET on it, holding a phone next to his large head, with the caption, "Hi, Mom!" underneath.
"Looks like Mulder didn't loose his sense of humor, even in the face of Armageddon," remarked Skinner dryly.
Krycek raised an eyebrow at the comment and put the mug back, taking out a plain white one with a crack in the handle. He poured himself some coffee, found sugar and some non-fat milk to doctor it up. He debated whether to go back to the bedroom with his coffee but decided that would look too much like he was trying to avoid Skinner. Even though that's just what he wanted to do, he pulled out a chair and sat down at the pine table. Sipping his coffee, he suddenly felt a clear, sharp sensation of...happiness, and something akin to a burst of energy. He choked and started to cough.
A few seconds later, he felt Skinner's hand patting him on his back. "You all right?"
Krycek wiped at the dribble of coffee on his lips and chin with a trembling hand. He started sputtering again as the realization hit him like a slap in the face that the emotions he was sensing were Mulder's.
"Oh...no," he whispered, dragging in breath, and clutching at his head with both hands. What was happening to him? The feelings were stretching and layering, interweaving with many others that opened and closed and hummed and zigzagged through his consciousness. Curiosity and affection, impatience and surprise and concern. Flashes of joy, anticipation, notes of anxiety and doubt, all crashing in and around each other like a symphony played out of tune, the sharp noise of it bombarding him from all sides.
"Don't fight it, Alex. Don't try and block! Concentrate on each breath, just each individual breath..."
It was Mulder's voice. Mulder was standing behind his chair.
He kept his eyes close. "Get away from me!" he shouted as Mulder touched his shoulder and the sensations spiked unbearably. He bolted up out of his chair, knocking it over as he lurched blindly away.
"What the hell is going on?!" Skinner's voice boomed through the cacophony in his head for one blissful second before the sensations swept over him again.
"It's the same thing that happened to me; it's like a door flinging wide open. But, you can control it, Alex. Don't let the panic take over. Control the fear."
Krycek knew he was panting, almost hyperventilating, but Mulder's last words sunk in. Fear. Yes, the tidal wave of Mulder's feelings pouring into his mind was scaring the hell out of him. Fear. The fear was his own. That was something he knew, something very familiar. He squeezed his eyes shut, latching on to it, pushing it down, forcing it back. He became aware of his breathing, and fought to manage each breath. In and out, in and out, slower...slower, in and out. Longer breath, slower exhale.
The emotions were muting, contracting into a softer pulse of sensation, rolling into the back of his mind.
"Mulder, you better explain what's happening right now," he heard Skinner say.
"That's it; you've got it, Alex. You can do it. You might not believe me now, but it's a helluva lot better than being assaulted by every single thought of everyone around you."
"I'll explain everything in a minute, Walter. Look, Alex, I'm going back into the bedroom. It's as far as I can go in the house, but I doubt it'll make much difference. The important thing is for you to keep control. Don't panic. It'll get easier. You can handle it."
Krycek's eyes were still closed. He knew he was leaning against the kitchen wall. He heard Mulder turning towards Skinner. "All right, Walter, c'mon, I'll try and explain. But I warn you, it's going to sound like one of those case reports you hated to get from me." Krycek could feel Mulder's immediate amusement and anticipation.
"Will you be all right, Alex?" Skinner's voice was a soothing balm.
He didn't trust himself to speak, not wanting to lose his focus, so he just nodded. After a moment, he heard their footsteps receding into the hall. He counted off his breaths until they settled into a calm, steady rhythm. It was getting better. Mulder's distance seemed to be making a difference, very slight but still a bit noticeably better.
Damn Mulder. As Krycek's brain began to function again, the muted pounding of Mulder's emotions finally contained to that back corner of his mind, his own anger grew. Bottom line, nothing good ever came from his encounters with Fox Mulder. How could he let himself be nave enough to believe this time would be different? He should've considered the possible/probable consequences of a Mulder interaction with his brain instead of his dick.
He should've done the same with Skinner, too. In fact, if he'd applied that same principle with the ex-A.D, the big man would've been pushing up daisies in a hole in his back lot and Mulder would've remained a distant and largely unhappy memory.
Instead, of all hellish nightmares, he was saddled with some kind of alien conduit into Mulder's fucked up psyche. Worse yet, Mulder had an otherworldly, highspeed line into his mind, too. As much as a part of him argued that this couldn't possibly be happening to him, the sum of his past experiences said it was just part and parcel of the bizarro existence that was his life.
He let out a heavy sigh and stood up straight, testing his mental and physical stability for a moment before squaring his shoulders and heading towards Mulder and Skinner. He'd have enough of being talked about in absentia. He needed to know what he was dealing with and that meant he had to deal with Mulder.
His fists balled at his sides as the pitch of emotions in his mind rose as he approached the bedroom. He drew in slow breaths, containing his own sparking fear of being overwhelmed again. It was extraordinary, feeling another person's emotions so clearly. The terrible part was the sense that those emotions would take over, that they would swamp him like a metaphorical tidal wave, dragging him under until there was nothing of him left.
"Are you suggesting that there's some kind of empathic bridge between you and Krycek now?"
Skinner's incredulous voice drifted out to him from the bedroom doorway, halting him where he stood, still out of sight.
"It's like old times, Walter. You sound just like Scully." The tiniest note of sadness tinged Mulder's comment. "But, yes, I think the concussion blocked his receptivity for a while."
"You mean when you tried to shoot Alex in the head?"
Skinner's brittle question raised a distinct flicker of guilt along the back of Krycek's mind. He smirked in satisfaction.
"Damn it, Alex, I know you're standing there. Come in here."
Drawing back a step in surprise, Krycek scowled, muttered an obscenity under his breath and walked into the bedroom. "How did you know I was standing there?"
"I saw it in my crystal ball," replied Mulder blandly. "What do you think, Alex? I could sense you."
Krycek jabbed a finger towards the doorway. "You knew exactly where I was standing?" he snapped.
"Like a heat sensor." Mulder shrugged. "This connection between us, or whatever you want to call it, is getting sharper by the minute. Maybe it's enhanced by our proximity and the fact that the effects of your concussion have faded. Or, it could be that I'm a lot more used to this sort of thing than you are. When I came into contact with the Alien artifact, it caused an unfocused, chaotic reaction in me. It's different with you because we both have the same alien gene matter in our bodies, which is acting like a transmitter between us, but it's being filtered by our shared humanity. Maybe that's why we're sensing only each other emotional states; emotions were the one thing those Aliens didn't seem to have. Emotions are our common denominator. The alien DNA factors are picking that up and channeling it between us."
"Don't describe it like that!" Krycek felt his skin crawl.
Mulder tilted his head, brows furrowing slightly. "It's actually quite fascinating, if you think about it. There might be a lot that we can learn from this. Maybe this is a glimpse into the next evolutionary stage for homo sapiens."
"How do we get rid of it, stop it?" cut in Krycek.
Mulder's monotone belied his indulgent amusement. "Well, let's see, if you know any practical and preferably painless method of extracting alien DNA from our bodies, then that'd probably do the trick. Or, one or both of us could be put into a coma for the rest of our lives."
Krycek raised his chin. "I like your last idea. Why don't you volunteer?"
Mulder shook his head with a grin. "Good thing I know you're only being sarcastic, Alex. Of course, with that new babyface of yours, you're not exactly pulling off the `I'm bad and dangerous' image like you used to. Or, I should say, like your replicant used to--now, he was scary."
Anger curled like steam through Krycek as he met Mulder's comment with a hard, unblinking stare.
Mulder actually took a couple of steps back, raising a hand, palm open. "Whoa, okay, okay, take it easy." He rubbed his other hand over his temple. "So, I stand corrected. You can still give off the badass vibe. You could kill me. Okay, got it. But you won't. That's the difference. You've changed, Alex. We all have, haven't we?" Mulder glanced at Skinner. "We've all been put through the cosmic meat grinder, one way or the other. You can't face the imminent extinction of your species, your world, everything and everyone you care about, and then just have it all handed back to you like a winning lotto ticket without experiencing at least a slight attitude adjustment."
Skinner placed his arms on his hips, shoulders back, reminding Krycek of the man's exasperated AD stance. "You still have a motor mouth on you, Mulder."
To Krycek's annoyance, Mulder actually laughed. The bubbling cauldron that was Mulder's emotions seemed to churn and simmer in the back of Krycek's mind. The bastard was too damn happy about this. Krycek concentrated, struggling to keep the bubbling emotions from escaping into the guarded spaces of his mind. It was like juggling plates while carrying on a conversation.
"It's getting easier, isn't it?" Mulder asked him.
"No." Krycek moved away as far as the room allowed.
"Well, I think I'm getting the knack of it. I think if we can--"
"Well, good for you," interrupted Krycek with dripping sarcasm.
Skinner moved to stand between them. "What are the two of you going to do about this?"
"I'm doing what I should've done yesterday. I'm leaving. Flying back to California." He met Mulder's suddenly somber expression. "And you better make sure there's at least a dozen states between us at any given moment," continued Krycek, his voice faltering as he felt a jab of sadness flaring in the back of his mind.
"I guess I can't blame you for that, Alex. I'm sorry about this. I know that this may sound like a first. Well, hell, I guess it is a first, but I truly don't want to cause you any more pain. Not any more. And just because I find this...development between us intriguing doesn't mean I'm thrilled about it. But I do believe we can turn it into something that might be able to help us both, turn it into a useful tool instead of just a jarring annoyance."
Krycek shook his head. It was well beyond an annoyance as far as he was concerned. He felt like he was unraveling, as if some massive delayed reaction that began back in Heartsfield with Skinner's first knock on his door was finally catching up to him. He couldn't seem to think clearly.
Mulder was absolutely right about one thing: none of them were the same. Intellectually, Krycek retained all the knowledge, the ability, the experience of his 40 hard-lived years, but when it came to his...feelings, it was almost as if he was steadily losing the edge, the confidence, the maturity that those years of experience had given him. More and more, he found himself reacting to a situation not like the 40-year-old he was, but like the 20-something man he physically appeared to be. Maybe this damned emotional umbilical cord with Mulder was compounding the problem.
He'd been fine alone, back in California, in his new life as Alex Keller. He had been doing all right, he told himself. The moment that Skinner came back into his life, it all started falling apart. And then with Mulder in the picture, it all went to hell. That part, at least, seemed consistent with their shared history. Drawing in a deep breath, he glanced from Mulder to Skinner. He felt an ache like something squeezing his heart when he looked at the former AD and a different, vague attraction towards Mulder. He had the sudden, unreasonable urge to throw his arms around Skinner and never let go. It was crazy! He felt a flare of surprise in the back of his mind. Mulder was looking at him pensively. Damn. Damndamndamn.
Mulder could feel his insecurity, his confusion, his...need. "I don't want to talk about this any more," Krycek announced. He tried to gather his control. It was like picking up confetti. He turned and marched out of the room.
"No, Walter, let him go," he heard Mulder say. "I have to talk to you first."
Oh, god, thought Krycek, as a wave of emotions, his own as well as Mulder's washed over him. Oh god, oh god, oh god.
He used to be...cool once. Stone cold, in fact, whenever he needed to be. He'd been trained very well, very early. They'd turned an often temperamental, high-spirited boy into a self-contained, self-possessed killer. Now it was as if all that training had been stripped away, leaving him...bare.
He put a hand to his temple, felt the bandage. His head was starting to throb. God, was he falling apart completely? Was this what a nervous breakdown felt like? His steps quickened. He just wanted to get away from all the noise in his head, from all the anarchic feelings. He flung open a door and found himself on the little porch.
The frigid air wrapped around him. It felt good after the smothering warmth of the house. The snow wasn't falling as heavily. A few flakes danced in the night wind, brushing against his face. He walked down the steps, looking around for the rental car. As his foot touched a patch of icy-slick ground, his boot heel slipped out from under him. In the next moment, he was falling forwards. He threw out his arms to break his fall as he landed hard on the thin layer of snow. His hands scraped against the small rocks and frozen twigs that lay beneath. His palms burned and the ice and snow seeped into his sweater and pants. He just lay there.
"Alex! God, what happened?! Alex!"
Skinner's hands were on his shoulders, lifting him. "Can you get up? Here, I've got you?"
Krycek groaned as Skinner helped him stand. Bits of ice and gravel and debris stuck to his sweater. Cold wet stains spread a darker shadow over his chest and thighs and knees. Some twigs poked him near his collar. He looked up at the front windows where Mulder's silhouette stood to one side. He could feel worry and guilt curling around the back of his mind.
"Come on back in the house, Alex."
He shifted his gaze to Skinner. The man was standing in front of him, strong hands still anchoring him. Krycek squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, but down on his lip. His breath hitched. He looked at Skinner's face. "I...I want to g-go...home." His voice wavered, rough with emotion. Too much emotion, too much everywhere.
"All right, Alex. I'll take you home. In the morning. We need to make plane reservations." Skinner kept talking to him as he led Krycek back up the steps and into the little house. "Let's just get you out of the wet clothes, check you over, okay? Did you hurt your hands?"
"I..I have to go...home."
"I know. I know. Tomorrow morning, I promise."
Krycek let out a breath, his head spinning, his heart in his throat. "O-okay," he whispered. He was leaning heavily against Skinner but he didn't realize it. His palms hurt. He held them open as he walked. He didn't notice Skinner's arm, firm around his waist, keeping him steady.
The rest of the night was a blur. Wave after wave of emotions seemed to be assaulting him. After a while, at its worst, he wasn't sure which were his and which were Mulder's. Skinner helped him change his clothes. He also cleaned and bandaged his hands, a fairly deep cut and scratches that took off some skin on his right palm, more scratches on his left. Skinner also replaced the bandage on his temple. Throughout it all, Krycek kept his eyes closed. It seemed to help a little, even though he could clearly sense Mulder moving in and out of the room.
It was only when Skinner's fingertips brushed the moisture from his cheeks that he realized he was crying, tears falling from closed eyelids. In that moment, he felt horribly, painfully...exposed and humiliated. To his credit, Skinner said nothing.
Krycek frowned, sensing Mulder's approach.
"Walter, here, they're from Scully's medkit, just a mild sedative. Maybe it'll blunt the effect of the empathic bridge between us."
Krycek opened his eyes, his vision blurry. He swiped angrily at the tears with the back of his hand. Mulder was backing away, heading for the door. Krycek didn't need to see his contrite expression; he felt it.
Skinner was handing him two white pills with a glass of water. He took them and gulped them down without hesitation.
It got even hazier after that, but that was more a relief than a concern. Apparently, Mulder had been right about the sedative. The pills didn't put him to sleep; his psyche was too hyperactive, still reeling from the new strange emotional link to Mulder. But at least, it didn't feel as intense; the sedative seemed to muffle the psychic `volume.' It also made him lethargic and fuzzy, but that was a small price to pay. Eventually, he was even able to sleep.
But before sleep had finally claimed him, near the middle of the night, Mulder had come into the room and took up residence in the chair by the window. Krycek was grateful for the emotional padding that the drugs were giving him. He was able to look Mulder in the eye without grimacing.
"I'm sorry, Alex," Mulder began, his voice as soothing as Krycek had ever heard it. "It was completely unrealistic to expect you to adapt to something like this in a matter of hours." Mulder gave him a one shoulder shrug. "You're coping reasonably well actually, all things considered. Any normal person would have run screaming out of here by now."
Krycek swallowed. In fact, he was counting the hours before he could leave. Skinner had already made arrangements for a flight out of Albany International. He caught Mulder's knowing smile and sighed.
"Hey, you're not screaming, right?"
Krycek managed a snicker. He realized they were almost able to have a normal conversation, despite the muted emotional undertow between them. So, as long as he was doped up to the gills, they could almost comfortably be in the same room together. What a deal.
"I still think this could work for us." Mulder put a placating hand as opened Krycek opened his mouth to tell him off. "I know, I know. I don't mean right now, but maybe sometime later, after we're both settled in our new lives. Look, when it comes to having paranormal experiences, I am the grand prize winner. You may be runner-up with that rejuvenating trip of yours, but I made it all the way to being dead and buried for months." Mulder snorted at Krycek's horrified expression. "Just the same old, same old for me, kid."
"I'm not a damn kid, Mulder, so don't call me that."
"Ah, hitting that tender young nerve of yours--"
"Sorry, okay? I didn't come in here to get you upset again." Mulder blew out a long breath and rubbed the back of his neck. "While the sedative gives us a chance to talk without driving you crazy, I wanted to say..." The words trailed off.
As the seconds ticked by in silence, Krycek assumed Mulder would give it up and leave. He felt the awkwardness, the indecision in Mulder's brain before it seemed to level off and fade.
"Look, Alex, I'd like us to try and become...friends."
Krycek's eyes widened as he propped himself up to a sit against the headboard. His surprise grew with the sincerity he sensed behind Mulder's words. Mulder was grinning at him. "Why?" he asked softly.
Mulder gave him a little shrug. "Because I can't hate you any more. Because I've had enough enemies to last several lifetimes and not nearly enough friends. Because we've shared experiences that few people on this planet would ever believe, let alone understand. But we have that understanding, you and I. And now we have this...link, this bridge. I...I think it'd help if we were friends. If you can survive the Fountain of Youth and I can come back from the dead, I figure we should be able to manage a friendship."
Mulder stood up, walked over to the bed, cleared his throat, and stuck his hand out towards Krycek. "Mulder, Fox Mulder."
Time spun back in Krycek's mind as he, too, remembered their first meeting. He stared at Mulder's outstretched hand, remembering how his own had been ignored. It had been the first of many slights, and the beginning of their turbulent and destructive relationship.
For an instant, he thought he might have already fallen asleep and started dreaming. He blinked groggily at the hand still held out to him and slowly raised his own. His arm felt heavy, a tremor traveling up its length. Warm fingers clasped his bandaged palm, Mulder's hand enfolding his, taking the tremor away. "Keller," he answered softly, "Alex Keller."
Mulder frowned, his expression clearing almost immediately, eyes smiling. "I'm very happy to meet you, Alex Keller."
Krycek managed to nod, his hand gently released as he sank back into the pillows, his tired eyes closing.
When he woke, it was a new day. Sunlight filled the window, streaming inside to paint the shabby room with a golden glow, making it seem almost cozy.
He felt a lot better. He sat up slowly, tilting his head, probing his own mind. His thoughts were a little wooly, but more from the vestiges of sleep than from the sedative. He wanted a cup of coffee. Turning his head, he gazed at the empty chair by the window, recalling his dream-like conversation with Mulder. He couldn't sense Mulder nearby, only a whisper of contentment and happiness in the back of his mind. It made him feel strangely wistful and he looked down at his hands, at the gauze bandages on his palms and the band-aid around two of his fingers. He thought about how carefully Skinner had wiped antiseptic over the cuts and scrapes and neatly placed the gauze over the abraded skin.
Krycek briefly touched the bandage over his temple. He let out a long sigh and got out of bed.
Skinner was sitting on the plaid couch, working that old New York Times puzzle. He looked up as Krycek stopped in the doorway. "Ah, good," he said. "I was going to have to wake you a few minutes. We have to get going soon. How are you feeling?"
Krycek glanced around the room. "I'm feeling better. Mulder left, didn't he?"
"Yes, early this morning. Scully called. She has William." Skinner smiled. "I spoke with her for a few minutes. She wanted me to tell you that she hopes your new life is as good as the one you've given her."
Krycek pushed a wave of dark hair off his forehead, a flush rising to his cheeks. "You're the one who insisted on finding them. She should be thanking you."
"She did, but she also knows I couldn't have convinced them alone. Hell, I couldn't even have found them without you."
"Enough with the gratitude, Skinner. What time is the flight leaving? I'd like to take a shower, maybe eat something." He was glad to be able to focus on ordinary and practical details again.
"You've got time. Flight's not leaving until 5:30. I was planning on getting to Albany early."
"Fine." Krycek started to turn around when Skinner called out.
"Hey, you wouldn't happen to know the state bird of Maine, would you?"
Skinner had picked up his pen again and was staring down at his crossword. "Nine letters."
Skinner filled in the letters and gave Krycek a grin. "Perfect."
"It's the state bird of Massachusetts as well," continued Krycek. "Also known as the black-cap titmouse."
"You're getting scary now, Alex. You're starting to remind me of Mulder."
Krycek snorted and headed for the bathroom, catching sight of his overnight bag. Skinner must've brought in for him at some point. He'd have a clean change of clothes.
Despite the noisy, cranky pipes and the barely tepid water, Krycek enjoyed the shower. The storm of emotions was no longer battering him. He wasn't foolish enough to think that his problems were over now that Mulder was out of his hair. With some reluctance, he even admitted to himself that Mulder's offer of friendship was very...appealing, if only for its sheer uniqueness and Mulder's sincerity. Not that he really expected Mulder to follow through on it down the road. With all the disappointments in his life, Krycek had learned long ago that it was naive to count on anything.
He still wasn't completely sure how he felt about Mulder, but the unique empathic bridge between them had given him a depth of insight into that brilliant, warped mind that he'd never had before. Of course, the reverse was also true and Krycek wasn't altogether comfortable with that. Still, the fact that Mulder and Scully were together with their child now seemed right to him. After all they'd been through, they deserved to try and build a life together. Besides, he knew it was what Mulder wanted to do. He also knew that only Scully could put up with the man. He certainly didn't have the patience for him.
Krycek wanted a stable life, a normal life, something he'd never had before. He wanted to set down roots and live in a...home, not just a house, or a succession of anonymous motel rooms or worse, like in the bad old days. That had always seemed an impossible dream, but now it was in his grasp. It was another reason he could appreciate Mulder and Scully's situation. Of course, if life could be perfect, he'd find a partner to share it with, too. Someone strong and reliable. Someone he could count on, respect, even trust.
The memory of Skinner's warm hand cupping his face suddenly rose in his mind and he shook it off.
"Forget it, Krycek," he told himself. "You don't need anybody's guilt or self-sacrifice masquerading as...as something else."
Clean and dressed, he peeled off his soggy bandages and threw them in the small trash bin. He couldn't find the first aid kit in the bathroom. The cuts on his palms were still raw, but the graze at his temple was starting to scab over. He'd have a weird hairline there for a bit, but he was just grateful Skinner's reflexes were better than Mulder's aim.
Skinner. He let out a long sigh. He had to travel back to California with Skinner. Skinner's SUV was currently parked in his driveway. Well, once they were back in Heartsfield, he could send the big man on his way, their grand adventure over and Skinner's conscience absolved. He firmly ignored the sharp sting of loss that came with the thought.
In the kitchen, Skinner was making sandwiches at the counter. The aroma of fresh coffee and toast wafted in the air and he went over to pour himself a cup.
"Is the first aid kit in here?" he asked as he took several fortifying sips of the hot brew and sat down at the pine table.
Skinner nodded and pulled the kit out from one of the shelves, coming over and taking out new bandages.
"I can do it," Krycek began.
"Oh, just give me your hand," replied Skinner gruffly taking a firm but gentle hold of his hand and quickly bandaging one palm and then the other. "There." He went back to the counter without another word.
Krycek smothered a smile and gazed around the non-descript little room. It wasn't much of a house, but he would certainly never forget it. "Are Scully and Mulder coming back here?"
Skinner put a plate with a thick sandwich down in front of him and took the chair across the table with his own plate and mug. "No, they're notifying the landlord. They don't even care about losing the several months' advance rent. Scully never wants to see this place again. Mulder left me the keys and asked me to lock it up. Now that they can stop hiding, he can claim his inheritance, which is considerable. They don't know where they'll settle yet, but I think they may stay at his mother's house on the Cape for a while."
Krycek raised an eyebrow at that and picked up his sandwich. Salami and cheese. With just enough mustard.
"Scully and William could help banish a lot of old ghosts for Mulder there. Anyway, it'd only be temporary until they got their bearings." Skinner took a bite of his sandwich, looked at Krycek out of the corner of his eye and added, "Mulder said they were thinking of settling out West actually."
Krycek stopped chewing, swallowed hard and almost choked. "Not...California?"
"He wasn't specific." Skinner already had his jacket on and he reached into an inner pocket and drew out an envelope. "Mulder left this for you."
Krycek stared at the rectangular envelope Skinner held out to him. He frowned as he took it. "Alex" was written across the front in Mulder's scrawl. He stuffed it into his pocket.
"Aren't you going to read it?" asked Skinner.
Krycek went back to eating his sandwich. "I think we should get going," he answered between bites, his thoughts already on his own place in Heartsfield.
They tidied up after themselves and locked up the house.
Skinner drove them to Albany International, and Krycek spent most of that trip dozing. They stopped once so Krycek could dispose of his weapons before they crossed into New York State. Ironically, it had been easier to procure them then to dispose of them. At the airport, Skinner bought a book of crossword puzzles for the flight.
Once their plane took off, Krycek listened to music on his headphones. He glanced over at Skinner a couple of times and wondered if the man was thinking about the end of their journey. He wondered where Skinner would go. Probably back east. He'd be close to Scully and Mulder, and he probably had friends back there, too. Skinner struck Krycek as a man who might not have an army of friends, but he probably had a few, select and loyal, life-long relationships. Skinner was that kind of friend. He proved as much with Mulder and Scully.
He imagined Skinner settling down in some D.C. suburb with a woman who looked like a slightly older version of Scully. He couldn't quite picture Skinner with a man since he considered their sexual encounters as more of an aberration on Skinner's part, resulting from extraordinary circumstances and Skinner's self-condemnation. No, if Skinner were to pick a lover, free of guilt, it would be a woman. Yes, he could see the two of them in his mind's eye. Going out to an open air concert, hand in hand; grilling steaks with friends in their backyard; making slow, easy love on a moonlit summer night. To his discomfiture, a lump formed in his throat at the images. He turned his head towards the window and deliberately focused on the darkening sky.
He didn't notice Skinner's frequent glances in his own direction. He also didn't notice that Skinner paid little attention to the book of crosswords on his lap.
They arrived at SFO a little after 9 pm. They only had their carry-ons so they didn't have to deal with the baggage pickup. Krycek's truck was in the long-term parking lot. They were on the road North to Heartsfield by 9:30 pm.
Somehow, Skinner was still doing the driving. "Your hands are cut up. You just recovered from a concussion. All that business with Mulder. I'm driving."
Krycek had momentarily considered arguing with the man on principle but he did feel lousy and, well, if Skinner was obsessed with driving, it was no big deal to him. He settled himself into the passenger seat, ignoring Skinner as he rooted around his CD collection. A moment later, Etta James was singing the blues as they began the two-hour drive up to the Wine Country.
It was close to midnight by the time they were making the turn up to Krycek's house. They hadn't spoken more than a few words to each other. Krycek had asked Skinner to turn off the music after the third rendition of "At Last." He told Skinner he just wanted some quiet, but he really couldn't bear to hear it again, especially after Skinner's pleasing baritone would softly sing along. The simple, heartfelt lyrics...taunted him. He didn't think he could ever listen to the song again.
As Skinner pulled into the driveway beside the redwood fence that bordered the house, Krycek was already out of the truck and pulling his bag out of the back.
Krycek was through the fence and almost to the door when he realized that Skinner had his keys, truck and house on the same keychain. He turned around and watched as Skinner grabbed his own bag and walked up behind him and held the keys out to him. "It's late. I'm pretty tired. Do you mind if I sleep here tonight?"
It was a cold night, but not nearly as cold as it was in Vermont. It was clear, the smell of crushed leaves in the air, the stars bright pinpoints above their heads. A slight breeze rustled the leaves on the oak and walnut trees. It was as if there was no one else in the world. Krycek drew in a breath, glanced at his house. It was a fine house. His house. He was glad to be back. Slowly, he looked into the deep brown eyes staring back at him, felt a tug somewhere in his chest. Shrugged like it didn't matter and took his keys. "What's another night? You can use one of the spare rooms."
He set the thermostat to chase away the chill in the house and headed for his own room.
After a trip to the bathroom, he went straight to bed. He was tired. He thought he'd fall asleep right away. Hoped he would. Instead, he found himself glancing at the digital clock on his nightstand almost two hours later, the past week's events playing over and over in his mind. Another half hour after that, he gave up and got out of bed. Maybe a shot of brandy would help; if not his insomnia than maybe it'd blunt the creeping emptiness inside him.
He'd be fine once Skinner left, he told himself. He was in his own territory now. He just needed to get back to his old routine. If only it wasn't the off-season at the mill. Pressing time kept everyone busy and he still had so much to learn about the olive business. But the Fazios were spending the rest of the year back in Italy with their sprawling family and they wouldn't be back until after the New Year. Before Skinner's arrival, he was looking forward to the solitude. Now...
Yeah, he needed a good stiff drink. He went to his closet for his old terrycloth robe to throw over his t-shirt and shorts. His glanced at the jacket he'd worn and with gritted teeth, reached into the pocket and pulled out Mulder's letter before heading downstairs.
It was cooler downstairs. After a quick look through his liquor cabinet, he reached for a balloon glass and poured himself a cognac. He also turned the gas fire on in the fireplace, glad for once that he didn't have to deal with building a wood fire, and stretched out on the sofa. He didn't bother turning on any of the lights, satisfied with the golden glow from the fireplace.
The cognac was fiery yet smooth, leaving a silky warm trail from his mouth to his belly. It was very good. Maybe by the time he'd drained the glass he could give sleep another try. He stared into the flames until a shadow moved in the corner of his eye.
"You couldn't sleep either?"
It was more a statement than a question as Skinner walked into the room, dressed in grey sweatpants and a t-shirt that stretched across his muscular chest.
Krycek turned his gaze back to the flames. A few moments later, he felt a slight dip as Skinner settled quietly into the opposite end of the sofa. Swirling the cognac around in his glass, Krycek lifted it to his lips for another sip. "Pour yourself a drink if you want one," he said as the silence stretched between them.
"No thanks," replied Skinner.
After several minutes, he expected Skinner to leave but he didn't. They both just sat there, staring at the fire, colors dancing and reflecting off the dark bricks, casting flickering light across the plush, oriental carpet beneath their feet.
"How are your hands?"
Krycek glanced at the bandages across one palm. "Practically forgotten," he said. He drank a little more of his cognac, shifting to slouch into the cushions. The scrunch of paper made him remember the letter in the pocket of his robe.
"Do you still...sense Mulder?" Skinner asked him.
Putting his near empty glass on the small end table beside him, Krycek pushed the letter back down into his pocket and turned to look at Skinner. "No, I don't feel him at all. It's a damn, fucking relief."
"I'd forgotten how routine the unbelievable could be whenever Mulder was around," returned Skinner with a faint, brief smile. He shook his head then and took off his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
He seemed to consider his words for a moment. "It must be an extraordinary feeling, sensing someone else's emotions so completely."
Krycek looked down at his hands and thought about it for a moment, trying to see it objectively, trying to be honest with himself. "It's...shocking. Mulder...Mulder's a maniac. He...he feels...everything like he's a...a magnifying glass. Just so much, so strong. I don't know how he stands it."
Skinner shifted towards him. "Funny, that's very much like Mulder described his sense of you."
Krycek's head went up. "What?"
"He and I talked when you were lying down, remember? I wanted Mulder to explain what was going on. He said that your feelings were so deep and so intense that it shocked the hell out of him."
"My feelings shocked him? My feelings?!"
"You sound surprised. Frankly, it sounds about right to me," returned Skinner calmly. A soft smile lit his face at Krycek's open-mouthed stare. "Well, the both of you are hotheads. Mulder was just more obvious about it. You're both very passionate men. I knew it about Mulder years ago; he was relentless about everything. I suspected you might have that same intensity, that same focus, back when you first worked with Mulder, your fresh-faced ingnue persona notwithstanding." He put his glasses back on. "You're a lot more alike than I'm sure either of you would care to admit."
"I am not a hothead."
Skinner's eyebrows climbed, his eyes lit with amusement. "Your self-control was a helluva lot better than Mulder's, I'll admit. But then, I assume that was a requirement of your former...employers."
"They had a lot of requirements." Krycek's voice grew cold as the dark memories flickered before his eyes. "But they're all dead now. And all their sick plans and schemes with them." He startled at Skinner's touch on his shoulder. He hadn't noticed him moving nearer. Suddenly, he was right beside him.
"Yes, Alex, you survived them all." Skinner's voice was soft and low as his hand traveled to Krycek's neck, lingering to play with his hair before slowly trailing upward to cup his cheek. "Your head wound is healing well. Probably won't even leave a scar. Nothing to mar that perfect profile."
He blinked as Skinner's face grew closer still, knowing Skinner was going to kiss him. Knowing he should stop him. But he knew how surprisingly tender those lips could be, how...comforting. It would be the last time, he thought, so what did it matter? He could indulge himself a little, couldn't he? He deserved if after all he'd put up with since Skinner had shown up at his door. Yeah, if Skinner wanted one more taste of the wild side, it was no big deal. The sex would be welcome. It would certainly work better than the cognac.
And so he parted his lips as Skinner closed the distance between them and pressed their mouths together.
Oh, yeah, much better than the cognac. Skinner's kiss had a primal hunger in it that set Krycek's body on fire. The kiss went on for a long time until they both broke away breathless. Skinner held Krycek's face between his palms, gazing into his eyes and whispered in a voice that caressed him. "I want to make love to you, Alex."
Something dangerous tugged at Krycek's heart. He fought it with a shake of his head and an admonition, "Don't talk! Don't say anything." And then he pulled Skinner tight and crushed their mouths together.
They wound up in Krycek's bedroom. Krycek wanted it rough and fast. He threw off his robe, t-shirt and boxers and yanked open a drawer, tossing lube and a condom on the bed. "Unless you have a big problem I should know about, you won't need the condoms. I'm clean. Up to you." With that, he practically tore off Skinner's sweatpants and t-shirt, pushing him down into the scattered pillows.
Then Skinner pushed back.
A heartbeat later, he was looking up into Skinner's face, the man's thick, muscular legs straddling his hips, holding him in place, big hands pinning his wrists above his head. "It's not going to be like that, Alex. That's not how I make love."
"Shut up, shut up!" panted Krycek. "Just...fuck me. C'mon, do it, Skinner!"
"My name is Walter, Alex. Walter."
"Damn you, if you don't want to fuck, then get the hell off me or I'll kill you!" He turned his face away and tried to buck Skinner off. He had no leverage in his position and he didn't have the weight or muscle he used to. Skinner didn't budge.
And in the next moment, a warm, wet tongue was licking his earlobe, teeth nibbling gently over his skin, moist kisses marking his jaw line.
Oh, god, oh, god, it felt so damn good.
Skinner took his own sweet time, and Krycek sank into the sensations like a starving beggar at a banquet. He didn't even notice when Skinner released his wrists, maneuvered him onto his side. He was lost in Skinner's methodical campaign to map every inch of his body with his mouth and his hands.
When he felt Skinner's tongue slide between his buttocks to tease his hole, he almost screamed. His cock was so hard it hurt and he wanted... Oh, god, he wanted...
The wet tongue flicked and swirled and probed until he couldn't helped but moan and gasp, his fingers clutching at the sheets. It had been so long since he'd let a man take him, longer still since he had desired it. He whimpered as Skinner moved away for a moment, but cried out again as a very slick finger pushed into him slowly. He reached down to grab his cock.
"I want you so much, Alex." The words were a deep whisper against his ears.
"Then shut up and do it. Fuck me," he answered, his own voice husky with arousal.
Another amply lubed finger entered him, scissoring inside him, preparing him. Krycek grimaced slightly at the movement, surprised at the discomfort. He took several deep breaths as Skinner withdrew his fingers. Skinner shifted and a few moments later, he felt the nudge of the man's considerable erection. As Skinner's cock began to penetrate him, he grunted at the pain.
It'd been a long time and Skinner was a big man, but it still shouldn't have felt this painful. Suddenly, the obvious hit him and he actually laughed, though it came out sounding like a choked-off sputter.
"Damn, fuck, damn," he cursed hoarsely. "I'm a fuckin' virgin...again!"
Skinner froze instantly. "What?" He started to withdraw.
"No! Just...just give me...a...a second." Krycek couldn't help squirming a little.
Skinner's voice was trembling with the effort at control. "Alex, I didn't...I thought... I...I don't want to hurt you."
"Stop now and I really will kill you! Just go...go slow. I w-want this. I need this!"
They were both panting with effort, cocks hard. Krycek couldn't help seeing that first time again in his mind. That awful, frightening first time, spread out under a bastard who couldn't have cared less. At 15, it had been just another disillusionment in a life that would experience far too many.
But it wasn't going to be anything like that this time. He wasn't a boy and he wasn't helpless. It was his choice this time. And Skinner...Skinner was nothing like any of the others.
He pushed back, forcing the rigid cock a little further inside him. He winced as the head stretched him abruptly.
"Alex, no, you're too damn tight." Skinner grabbed his hip, trying to hold him still. As Krycek continued to thrust backward, Skinner began murmuring quietly against his ear. "All right, all right, let me go slow, baby. Let's...go...slow. Easy, Alex, my Alex..."
Krycek felt light kisses pressed against his ear, his hair, his neck. Skinner kept whispering stupid, crazy things, calling him `baby,' telling him he was beautiful, even calling him `love'. He was wrapped around him like a human comforter, gently rubbing his shoulder, his hip. Krycek tried to tell him to stop talking, to shut up and just get on with it, but the words wouldn't make their way out of his mouth. Instead, he felt a lump in his throat and a tender fluttering in his stomach that melded with his desire, deepening it into something he'd never felt before.
When Skinner's cock began easing into him again, the pain flared, then faded as Skinner caressed him, held him, kissed him. His body began to rock slowly, then faster, needing more. He grabbed Skinner's hand and dragged it to his cock, began pumping. "I'm ready. C'mon, fuck me," he breathed as Skinner continued to hold back. "Damn it, stop treating me like a woman! Fuck me, damn you!"
Krycek rocked forward and back, impaling himself, hearing Skinner's sharp gasp even as the pain stabbed through him. He did it again, squeezing his ass around Skinner's big cock. He could feel when Skinner lost control. He began thrusting, sending sudden rippling waves of pleasure through Krycek with every deepening stroke, banishing any remaining pain and discomfort.
Soon they were both flying, trailing fire, bodies joined in a perfect, heated rhythm. Krycek came with a shout as Skinner's arms locked around him in climax. They both shook from it, Krycek feeling the world spinning around his head. The sound of their heavy breathing filled the room as their bodies slowly settled back to normal.
Skinner's cock slipped from his body as he shifted, maneuvering them both onto their backs. Then Skinner rose on one elbow, bent down and brushed a thick lock of sweat-soaked hair out of his eyes, kissed his mouth, kissed the tip of his nose. Krycek felt a wet spot near his hip and glanced down at the trail of sticky semen across his belly. His ass throbbed, but he still felt wonderful.
Skinner drew back and got off the bed, heading for the bathroom. A couple of minutes later he was back with a warm, damp facecloth. A soft smile stole over his face as he carefully cleaned Krycek up.
Krycek felt his eyes growing heavy with a serene and dreamy languor. "Feel like I could sleep for a week," he mumbled.
Sheets and blankets were tugged up around him. He turned, scooting off the wet spot, and buried his face in a plump pillow. The part of his brain that wasn't already falling asleep was expecting Skinner to go back to the guest room. Instead, he felt the bed dip and a heavy arm encircle his waist as Skinner spooned up behind him. Should tell him to leave, he thought. No need to draw it out. But it felt so...comfortable. He yawned as the warmth seemed to enfold him. He thought Skinner was saying something to him but he couldn't make out the words as he drifted into a tranquil sleep.
He snuffled into wakefulness to find himself lying on his stomach, his arm thrown across Skinner's chest, his hand draped over the top of Skinner's shoulder, their bodies pressed together. Skinner's head was turned towards him, eyes closed, mouth slightly open in a light snore. Even asleep, Skinner's face looked strong. Krycek swallowed hard, fighting the temptation to curl up against him and just sink back into sleep. It was stupid to put off the inevitable. He couldn't let himself pretend any longer.
He pulled his arm away slowly. Skinner's eyes opened, focused on his face. A smile spread from his lips to his eyes. "Good morning, Alex," he said in a voice that sent a shiver right through Krycek.
The sun was spilling in through the curtains. It was past mid-morning. No use dragging it out, he reminded himself. He looked away and sat up, making sure there was a good foot of space between them, all too aware of the mild discomfort in his ass and their nudity.
"What's the matter?" Skinner asked, sitting up as well.
"Nothing," he replied. "Look, we had a good time and a high old adventure. It's time for a reality check." He turned his head to meet Skinner's puzzled expression, schooling his own face to blankness, knowing he had to end it. "The party's over. Time for you to go home. Go home, Skinner."
"I thought," Skinner pause, jaw working for a moment. "Last night--"
Krycek waved a hand in dismissal. "Yeah, it was a lot of fun, but don't think just because I let you fuck me that it makes some sort of difference. Don't keep deluding yourself that it meant something."
Skinner was frowning at him now. "I think we need to talk--"
"No more talking. I've had enough talk. I've had enough. Period. Just get dressed, get your stuff and get the hell out. How plain do I have to make it for you?"
"You're determined not to give us a chance at a relationship, aren't you?"
Krycek forced a laugh. "Relationship? I don't need a relationship. Not with you. Not with anybody. Look, you don't owe me anything, understand? Consider all your `debts' paid in full. We're done."
"Debts? What I feel for you has nothing to do with--"
"Damn, you, Skinner, get the fuck out of my house!"
The brown eyes were boring into him. Skinner was angry. Krycek looked away towards the window, folding his arms across his chest. He felt the bed dip as Skinner flung back the covers and stood up. "You are a damn fool, Alex Krycek."
Krycek's eyes narrowed at the words but he refused to look at the man. He listened as Skinner blew out an irritated breath and gathered his clothes. "I'm taking a shower," Skinner told him. "Maybe your brains will start working by the time I'm finished. If not, I'll be packed and out of here in a half hour."
Krycek listened to the sound of Skinner's bare feet stomping off down the hall. Good riddance, he told himself. I don't need your damn penitence! He sank back against the pillows, all too aware of Skinner's scent surrounding him, and the slight twinge in his ass as he settled on his side. A curious sense of melancholy washed over him as he closed his eyes. He lay there, wondering why the bed suddenly felt so cold even with the blanket over him. Every minute seemed to tick itself away in his head. Finally, he glanced at the bedside clock. Fourteen minutes. He thought about getting up, getting a shower. By the time he'd be finished, Skinner would be gone. He squeezed his eyes shut again. Another minute passed. He shoved the blanket off and got up.
The scrunch of paper beneath his foot made him look down. Mulder's letter peeked out from the pocket of his robe. He bent down and picked it up. He looked at it for a second before taking it out of the crumpled envelope. He didn't want to think about the fact that, just a few doors away, Skinner was getting ready to leave. That all too soon, he would disappear from Krycek's life. So, he sat back down on the mussed up bed and began reading Mulder's letter.
*You fell asleep on me, Alex, so I'll have to say the rest this way.
Being happy is scary. Maybe I'm just too new at it. It gives you all these possibilities, you know? You should see Scully. She's always been beautiful but I've never seen her happy, not like this. She's never been so beautiful. I see the future in her eyes, the road home. It almost makes my heart stop just to look at her. Anyway, that's not really what I wanted to say.
I've spent most of my life searching for the Truth. When I found it, I almost lost everything. If I fuck up my life with Scully and our son now, there's no Alien Conspiracy to blame, just me. I wanted to tell you that I'm going to make the most of this second chance. I'm not fucking it up this time.
So here's my sage advice. Scully and Will and I aren't the only ones who've survived the Truth. So have you and Skinner. Yeah, Skinner, Alex. Remember, I'm a profiler, a damn brilliant one, too. Not to mention my uncanny intuitive sense.*
Krycek stopped reading long enough to roll his eyes.
*Skinner cares about you. More than cares. I could see it when he looked at you, every time he touched you. Believe me, what he feels for you ain't guilt, kid. He looks at you like I look at Scully. He really loves you, Alex.
As for you, well, when people say, `I know how you feel,' sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Oh, but I really do know how you feel, don't I? You're confused about me and even about yourself, but you're in love with Walter. I felt it in you more clearly than anything else and I know it's scaring you shitless. So, join the club.
Bertrand Russell once said that "to fear love is to fear life and those who fear life are already three parts dead." You, me and Walter have all done the dead thing, one way or another. We've also done the survival thing, you best of all. Now, it's time for us to try living. And loving. Don't throw away your chance at a relationship that could be the best thing in your life.
Think about it, okay?*
The letter was signed, *"Your friend, Spooky"*
Mouth opening in a startled breath, Krycek stared at the letter in his hand. He felt his face heat up and his breath quicken. Oh god. His eyes skimmed over the words again, stopped. He really loves you, Alex. He bit down on his lip, blinking to clear his blurring vision. The letter shook in his hand. Damn you, Spooky, he thought. One of the doors at the end of the hall slammed shut and his head jerked up. Skinner's footsteps were heading down the stairs.
What did he really want, he asked himself. To be alone? Yes, he'd lived with loneliness a long time. He could handle it. He'd survive. But did he want to...without Skinner? Mulder knew. Mulder felt it. Was Krycek's pride and stubbornness more important to him? Should he keep denying it? He'd met fear head-on all his life. Was he going to let it win this time? This time, when it meant so very much? Did he want to survive, or did he want to live?
He looked at his open bedroom door and, in the next moment, he was picking his robe up off the floor and flinging it on as he ran down the stairs.
"Skinner!" he shouted as the man closed the front door behind him. Krycek ran to the door and threw it open again, unaware of the chilly autumn air that engulfed him or the cold stone steps under his bare feet. "Skinner!" he cried.
But Skinner kept going, one steady step after another, long legs striding purposefully. He was almost to the gate in the redwood fence that bordered the house. Almost gone from Krycek's life.
Krycek swallowed hard, his palms moist and his heart beating like a wild drum. He knew he'd never see Skinner again. He drew in a quick breath and cried out. "Walter!" He bit down on his lip as Skinner paused, his back still turned away. "Walter! Walter, come back!" he repeated.
The broad shoulders straightened and, slowly, Skinner turned around. He was too far away for Krycek to read his expression, the sun behind him, casting his face in shadow. But after another long, excruciating moment, he started walking back towards Krycek.
Relief soaring through him, Krycek headed down the stairs and onto the stone path. He didn't realize he was holding his arms open until he felt Walter in them, hugging him back. He looked into the deep brown eyes and kissed him with a hunger that was instantly becoming second nature. When they broke apart, they were both smiling. "This is probably the dumbest thing either of us could possibly do; you know that, don't you?" Krycek told him.
"Possibly." But the smile remained on Walter's face. "Say my name again."
Krycek sighed. "Walter." Then he kissed him again. "This'll never work."
"That's the spirit." Walter hugged him tighter. "I've had my doubts, too. When I was taking that shower, I thought that maybe my leaving was the best thing." His arms held fast as Krycek tried to move away. "I thought why in hell would you want a balding, unemployed, middle-aged ex-Marine when you could have anyone, man or woman, that you wanted. How could I possibly make you happy?"
Krycek drew back far enough to look him in the eyes. "That's so fucking ridiculous." And Krycek kissed him again. "You're the one who deserves better. I'm the one who'll fuck it up. I know shit about relationships."
"I've never been very successful at them myself. Then again, I never had this much incentive."
Krycek stepped away, took a breath. "Mulder said you're really in love with me."
Dark eyebrows rose above Skinner's wire rims. "Mulder can sense my feelings, too?"
Eyes widening, Krycek shook his head. "I-I read his letter."
"Ah. You know, he used to drive me crazy as an agent when he'd keep sticking his nose into matters that I thought were none of his business. I'll have to thank him, next time I see him. " Walter reached out and stroked his cheek with the back of his fingers, a knowing smile tugging at his lips. "Did Mulder tell you how you feel about me?"
Krycek sighed again at the gentle caress and gazed down at a point on the ground between Walter's shoes. After a moment, he nodded.
"Good. One day, when you're ready, you can tell me."
"I'm warning you, Sk--Walter, I'll just fuck this up, whatever this is between us. You'd be better off without me. It's just that...I-I couldn't let you walk away."
"I was coming back."
"I'm a stubborn man, Alex. I don't give up easy. I thought you might've gathered that. When I love someone, I can also be a very patient man. I was going to leave, all right. I was going to find a place to stay in town, wait a few days, and come back and try and talk some sense into you. And I was going to keep coming back until I convinced you."
Krycek didn't know whether to laugh or curse. He settled on a smile instead. "Can we save the talking for later?"
"I think we can come up with something else to do," agreed Walter. "First thing is to get you back in the house and get you into some warm clothes."
"Or we can just go back to bed and you can get rid of your clothes, too."
Walter grinned. "Or we can do that."
As they walked back to the house, a bird began to chirp nearby. Alex looked up at the old walnut tree and stopped. Walter followed his gaze and saw a small black and white bird with a bright yellow bill perched on one of the branches.
"It's a magpie. The ones with the yellow beaks are only found here in California. I've never seen one in this area before." The bird kept chirping, the sound blending melodically with the soft rustle of leaves in the cool breeze. He turned to Walter. "The Chinese say that if you hear a magpie, it means you'll have happiness and good fortune in your future."
Walter pulled him into an embrace and kissed him tenderly. "Looks like our future's already here."
For the curious, here are the lyrics to Etta James' "At Last":
At last my love has come along my lonely days are over and life is like a song At last Oh, the skies above are blue my heart was wrapped up in clover the night I looked at you I found a dream that I could speak to a dream that I could call my own I found a thrill to press my cheek to a thrill that I have never known You smile Oh, you smile and then the spell was cast and here we are in heaven for you are mine... At last
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Title: Surviving the Truth
Author: Courtney Gray [email/website]
Details: Standalone | R | 264k | 07/04/13
Category: Drama, Romance
Summary: There's more than one truth out there. (This story originally linked to now-defunct website).
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