Pairing: Skinner/Krycek, K/S, m/m, slash, Skinner POV, NC-17

Summary: Krycek is being tortured and destroyed by the Consortium for giving Skinner back the palm pilot. In desperation he flees to his old enemy, who must try to find a way to save Krycek without losing himself.

Spoilers: Up through all the Skinner-nano episodes

Notes: This story was conceived the night I read Xanthe's "Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot, and picks up the storyline six months after that story ends. If you haven't read it, or it's been a while, give youself a treat and re-read.

WARNING: No graphic torture happens in the story, but there is reference to some pretty nasty stuff that the Consortium has done to Krycek.

Dedication: To Xanthe, of course, for inspiration. Special thanks to Peach and Amazon X for their wonderful work in beta-ing this monster :)

WARNING: This web page contains slash content, which is men with men. If this offends you then please don't read it.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Chris Carter and Them, yadda yadda. No copyright infringement intended, I write for love and feedback, not money. No rats or bears were harmed in the making of this fanfic.

Feedback: If you like it and want more, please tell me, about it! I have occasionally been known to adjust my writing to please those who enthuse most about it :)

Waiting For the Rain

Skinner finished signing the last of the 302’s and stacked them neatly on his "done" pile. There were two that he had marked "refused." One was some outrageous request of Mulder’s for permission to investigate three missing persons cases in New Orleans. Claimed he was certain to find evidence of the gray men in a bayou all three men had frequented. Skinner closed his eyes in exasperation. More likely Mulder was just craving gumbo and beignets and was hoping to get the bureau to finance the trip. Or, who could say, maybe Mulder did believe there were aliens in the swamp. He’d certainly chased them everywhere else.

The other refusal was…some waste of time requested by one of his newer agents. Rhodes or Bodes or…

He was suddenly overcome with weariness, staring at the emptiness of his desk. All the work he’d done that day lay in neat stacks. Pieces of paper with his signatures on them. He had a sudden, sullen desire to seize them up in his hands, to tear them up into tiny pieces and fling those pieces wildly into the air so that they would drift down and cover his bare desk. Like snow.

Firmly, he rejected the thought. It would be a senseless waste of department resources, not to mention a pain in the ass and an embarrassment trying to reconstruct the 302’s.

This isn’t like me, he thought. What is the matter with you, Walter Skinner? An involuntary answer leaped into his mind, a name, but he angrily banished it before it could take root.

The man didn’t exist. He had never existed.

He swung his chair about and leaned back, staring out the window. It was overcast, the heavy clouds making it seem much later in the day than it was. He listened intently, but no raindrops spattered against the windows. It should be raining. He rose and went to stand in front of the window, so close that he could feel the coolness radiating out against his forehead and cheeks.

The clouds were so dark and heavy. It made no sense that there was no rain. It disturbed him, made him feel as if the clouds were pressing down on him. His shoulders ached. He tilted his head back to look higher into the sky and his face brushed against the glass. Moisture from the condensation clung to his cheek, trickling down. It felt…soothing, somehow, eased a tension whose source he didn’t dare dwell on. Tilting his face the other way, he pressed his eye against the glass. When he pulled away, moisture crept down his other cheek, coming to rest on the corner of his mouth.

Enough. He straightened and gave his head a brisk shake. There was still so much to get done before he could go home tonight, and here he was, staring out the window like… he was lost, gone …like a man who didn’t have Alex …have a lot of work to do.

Flipping his chair back around, Skinner re-seated himself at his desk. I suppose I’d better have them in to tell them their 302’s have been refused. He stared at the telephone. It suddenly seemed so far away, on the corner of his desk. He couldn’t reach it from where he was sitting and his arms felt so heavy. Or maybe I’ll just send memos. They can damned well make an appointment if they want to whine at me. He retrieved a pad of paper from his desk, but couldn’t find a pen.

Dammit, I know there has to be a pen. Yellow note pads, a bright red box of staples, blue, green…the colors all swam together. Skinner slammed the drawer shut. His limbs felt heavy and there was a dull throbbing behind his eyes.

What’s wrong with me? Must be coming down with something. Hardly surprising; half the office was out with one bug or another. Flu season. How ironic to succumb now, in the spring, when he’d made it through the winter don’t think about the winter unscathed, without even a sniffle or chill, even after those longs weeks trapped in a snowbound cabin don’t think about the snow months ago, when he had held his most hated enemy in the palm of his don’t think about the way he shivered beneath your hand…it was all a lie…

Abruptly, Skinner rose. He’d put the incident behind him. Written the report, shoved it into a folder, shut the drawer of the cabinet. It was only the fever, making him maudlin. He gave an audible snort. No use trying to get any more work done this evening. Perhaps a hot bath and a few extra hours of sleep would help him lick this bug quickly.

He dragged his coat on and settled his hat down over his head, turned out the lights and left his office, locking the door behind him.

"Sir?" Kim stared inquiringly up at him. "Are you going out?" Then she flushed, as if realizing what a pointless question that was.

"I’m going home."

She looked surprised, and he couldn’t blame her. Good old Skinner, regular as a clock, the supreme example of professional dedication and workaholic pathos, is he going home early? What was the world coming to?

"You have a meeting with Agent Thompson at four-thirty, sir. Do you want me to…" she broke off uncertainly.

"Cancel it. Reschedule. Whatever." He waved his hand dismissively and strode off, aware that he was causing a stir in the office. Good old A.D., probably even pisses and shits on schedule…what’s wrong with him today?

Outside, it was just as dark as he remembered. The clouds were so thick they lacked definition, just a flat, grey mass that hung over his head, stretching off in all directions as far as the eye could see. He probably could have seen more if he weren’t in the middle of a city, surrounded by buildings. Though, even outside the city there would be trees bare of snow, stretching up to the sky like crippled, pleading fingers. He began to walk briskly toward the parking garage.

"Afternoon, Mr. Skinner." The parking attendant nodded to him as he entered the lot. Skinner caught sight of his own reflection in the window glass of the parking island.

He stared for a moment, at the nondescript man who stood before him, at the shapeless coat, the spectacles huddled beneath the brim of his battered hat. Just one man, surrounded by emptiness and behind him stretched a myriad of squares of reflected light from the windows of the building that was all that was left of his life.

"Is something wrong, sir?" The attendant looked faintly nervous, and Skinner realized that he’d been staring at nothing for far too long.

"No. Good night." He hurried to his car, trying to shake the sense of loss, the feeling that there had been something missing when he looked at his own reflection.

He unlocked the door, slid in behind the wheel, turned the key in the ignition and…nothing. Dead battery. He flipped the headlight switch off with a silent curse. Damn. That was the third time this month. What the hell was wrong with him?

Savagely he threw the door open and hauled himself to his feet. He glanced around. There was no one in sight to ask for a jump. To hell with it. I’ll take the bus. He pulled his hat down more tightly onto his head and headed for the street.

Ten minutes later and he still hadn’t seen a bus. The wind had picked up, and plastic wrappers and other pieces of garbage blew past him periodically. He had just about decided to abandon his post and go back to his car when the bus arrived.

It stopped in front of him and he stepped up to the change box, fishing in his pockets, desperately hoping he wouldn’t be embarrassed by being thrown off a bus for not having enough change.

All he had were three twenties, neatly folded together, and a quarter. Fuck this. He stuffed a twenty into the box, and the driver gaped at it indignantly.

"Hey, buddy, we don’t give change…"

Skinner pushed by him, finding an empty pair of seats near the back of the bus. He took the window seat, flinging himself angrily down into it. Of all the stupid, fucking ideas…he could have taken a taxi for less. Well, maybe not, but at least he’d have been spared the stink of gasoline and sweat, the cacophony of noise that pressed in on him from all sides, the loud music, strident arguing and the unpleasant sound of someone behind him blowing his nose.

He stared out the window, trying not to see his reflection, and the reflection of the empty seat beside him he’s gone focusing on the lights that blurred past in a regular pattern he’s gone he’s gone he’s gone and the rhythmic vibrations as the bus carried him home.

A. D. Skinner you are a fucking idiot. Alex. Never. Existed. Krycek had created him from the spare parts of his own twisted childhood memories, to manipulate his enemy, to protect himself in a moment of vulnerability. Like Frankenstein’s monster in reverse. Krycek had been the monster, and Alex…was never real.

It was the fever, making him irrational. That’s all. Skinner laid his forehead against the cool glass, and thought of snow. Bandages stained with bright red blood. A dark haired man curled up on a bed, watching him with green eyes so vulnerable and open, so trusting. Just to touch him…one last time… he hadn’t even had the chance to say goodbye, the last time he saw Alex. He’d been drinking himself into oblivion at a bar on tenth street if I had my car, that’s where I’d be headed now when Krycek had showed up, to mock him for his naivete, to make absolutely clear that it had all been a lie. And to give him a gift.

Because I promised, he had said, and Alex had looked out of his eyes, one last time.

Skinner didn’t want to think about what keeping that promise would have cost him. Had cost. Was costing. Now.

Cursing, Skinner staggered to his feet, ringing the bell. He’d missed his stop. He waded down the aisle crowded with packages and coats and legs, not bothering to apologize for the roughness of his passage it’s an aisle, you morons. He reached the door and braced himself against the hand rail as the bus pulled to a stop with a screechy whine that drilled into the back of his skull. Three steps down and he burst out into the clean, fresh air. Something loosened inside him, that he had barely been aware of clenching.

The wind had died down to a whisper as Skinner picked his way around the broken squares of sidewalk and battered garbage cans. Garbage day. Need to remember to put it out. A steady breeze blowing out from an alley stank of cheap wine and piss and rotting refuse.

Still no rain. Rain would have washed this stink out of his nostrils. A sudden gust of wind brought the electric scent of ozone, and he tilted his head back, trying to drink it in, trying to will the clouds to open, imagining the rain splashing into his eyes and rolling down his cheeks why won’t you just give in, damn you, curse you, just let it come down. Even this late in the spring, rain would have meant snow up on the mountains, white and clean, blanketing the bare branches that surrounded the cabin.

It had to have snowed many times since that day; why couldn’t he picture the branches blown away by the helicopter that had taken Alex from him with snow on them? The ground beneath the trees would be pristine by now; why couldn’t he stop seeing that single line of footprints leading away from their refuge dammit, it wasn’t a refuge, it wasn’t a home, it was a prison, an arena where they had dueled, two old enemies locked together in a primeval contest of Skinner’s own design and no tracks leading back, except his own. Much later. Frozen and nearly crazy with a loss that had blindsided him beyond all reason.

Skinner stumbled as his toe caught in a crack, caught sight of his reflection in a store window. Just an ordinary man, walking home alone from work. Like every other man in the city. There was nothing missing in this picture missing Alex, nothing a hot bath and a half bottle of scotch couldn’t supply.

There were no lights showing in his windows as he approached. Got to get one of those random timers. The porch steps creaked as he climbed them, one weary step after another. His key was easy to find but he had to locate the keyhole by touch. He fumbled a bit, scowling with impatience, when he happened to turn his head.

There was a man crouched on his porch.

Skinner cursed silently, dropping his keys and whipping the gun from his pocket. He snapped to point, the barrel of his gun targeting the man’s bowed head as he approached. "Who the hell are you and what are you doing on my porch?" he hissed, even as he knew, knew beyond any logic or doubt what the answer must be, even as the barrel of his gun came down to level against the man’s head.

He almost pulled the trigger. Afterwards, he couldn’t have said what stopped him. It wasn’t common sense, certainly. Every logical conclusion he had come to said he was better off with this man dead. Nor was it pity, or any other emotion. There was nothing inside of him in that moment, only a piece of ice you put it there, Alex Krycek where a man’s heart should be.

"Well? Give me one good reason not to put a bullet through your head, Krycek."

Krycek’s head tilted up, slowly, pressing his temple more firmly against the barrel of Skinner’s gun. The corners of his mouth lifted, barely, and then his eyes closed. Waiting.

To his horror, Skinner’s hands began to tremble. He snatched the pistol back and rose, fumbling at the door with his hastily retrieved key until he felt it slide in and turn. The door gave way before him and Skinner stepped inside, turning to slam the door and lock it behind him. He shoved the gun into his pocket and dropped into a chair as his legs gave way beneath him. He waited for a knock, or the rattle of a doorknob.

Minutes passed, measured by the ticking of the old clock that hung on his wall. Why doesn’t he do something? Finally, Skinner could stand the inactivity no longer. He staggered to his feet and went into the kitchen, to pour himself a double shot of scotch.

What kind of game was Krycek playing? How much longer was he prepared to sit out there on the porch? Assuming that he was still there…

Skinner returned to the living room. Surreptitiously, he shifted the curtain and peeked out. Krycek hadn’t moved.

This is ridiculous. He must be hurt.

Oh, no, he’s pulled that one before. Faking amnesia in the hospital…

The amnesia may have been a lie, but Krycek’s injuries had been real enough. He was doing it again, that’s all. He’d been shot or beat up, probably deserved it, the bastard, and was planning on using Skinner as his little nursemaid-shield-dupe again.

"Not this time, you son of a bitch. That only works for you once," Skinner said aloud, tossing down another slug of scotch. His glass was empty, so he went to pour himself another. Krycek could sit out on the porch until he died. That would solve Skinner’s problem.

There was the quiet patter of raindrops against the windows. When had it started?

If the wind was blowing the rain onto the windows, Krycek was probably getting soaked. Serves the bastard right. Maybe the rain will wash that piece of barely human garbage right off my porch. Take him down the storm drain, where scum like him ends up eventually.

The scotch felt sour in his stomach. Something spasmed. Goddammit, no… He barely made it to the bathroom before emptying the contents of his stomach. It hurt like the blazes. Ulcer, maybe? Skinner rinsed his mouth and spat into the sink, then stalked back into the living room. He began to pace, hoping that movement would ease the tension that was twisting him out of control.

Why was Krycek here? Was he after the nanocyte control unit? Trying to get back in the good graces of his masters? What had it cost him, to give that unit to Skinner? Well, he couldn’t have it. It was locked away in a vault, safe from discovery. Beyond Krycek’s reach, and the reach of the Consortium.

Why are you here, Alex Krycek?

Why are you here?


Rain spattered his face. I must have unlocked the door and gone outside, Skinner mused, but I don’t remember doing it. How strange. The cold rain soaked his bare head, rolling down his cheekbones. It felt good. It felt right, standing here with Alex at his feet, feeling the rain against his face.

You’re a damned fool, A. D. Skinner, he thought. You’re going to let him in again, aren’t you?

He crouched down beside his worst his best enemy. "All right, Krycek. You win. I wouldn’t even leave a dog out here tonight. You can come in."

Krycek’s eyes opened, but Skinner couldn’t read anything in them. It was too dark.

"Get up," he commanded harshly.

Feebly, Krycek tried to comply but only managed to fall over onto his side, one arm flung out over the edge of the porch. The artificial one, Skinner remembered.

Hell. He probably wasn’t faking. Skinner grasped the smaller man by the back of the belt and heaved him up onto his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. It was surprisingly easy. He’s lost all the weight I put back on him. He managed to maneuver his burden through the front door and paused to twist the deadlock. If Krycek had confederates out there they wouldn’t gain access to his house that easily.

He made his way up the stairs, trying not to bang his limp burden against walls or furniture. It was too dark to see, and he couldn’t spare a hand to grope for the switches. After bumping around in his bedroom for a moment, his leg banged against what he knew to be the bed and he laid the unresisting body down on it.

When he flipped on the lamp beside his bed, he could see that Krycek’s eyes were open.

"Well? Out with it, Krycek. What are you doing here?" Skinner asked impatiently, having assumed the man to be unconscious by this time.

Krycek didn’t answer, only watched him, eyes glistening in the dim light with a kind of sad desperation.

"Why are you here?" Skinner asked again.

"You." Krycek’s voice was raspy, barely recognizable.

A traitorous leap of gladness twisted like pain in Skinner’s heart. He shoved it away from him savagely. Oh, Krycek knew what buttons to push, all right. Fucking, manipulative bastard. "Why?"

Krycek’s face contorted, twisting as if from some internal effort almost beyond his strength. "Kill me," he whispered, finally. He lifted a hand and touched Skinner’s face, with fingers like pale ice.

It was a blatant sympathy ploy, of course. Krycek knew Skinner couldn’t kill him. Not like this. Not ever. If he didn’t get the man warmed up fairly soon, though, it wouldn’t matter. Skinner began to unbutton Krycek’s shirt. He could feel the man shivering beneath his fingers. Expertly, Skinner stripped the clothing from Krycek’s body and removed his artificial arm, trying not to let himself become aware of the feel of the smooth, cool skin, the angular curves that his hands had once known so well, trying not to notice the way every rib was clearly defined, trying not to wince at the sight of the bruises, some faintly yellow, some a fresh purple. Krycek gasped in pain as Skinner explored his injuries. Nothing obviously broken. Faint pink marks that could have been burns. Circular pattern. Electrodes, maybe. Interrogation of some sort? When he was finished, Skinner pulled several blankets over the top of the man’s naked body.

It wouldn’t be enough, though. Krycek had obviously fallen into hypothermia. He’d need more than blankets to restore his body heat.

I don’t want to do this. yes, I do Skinner stripped down to his undershorts and climbed in beneath the blankets. He rolled Krycek up on his side and gritted his teeth, forcing himself to press the skin of his belly against Krycek’s chilled back. He slipped an arm over the man’s chest and held him close, tangling their legs together, pretending that he didn’t care, pretending that he didn’t want to be there, feeling Krycek’s violent shivering gradually subside.

At some point he drifted off into a troubled sleep, filled with bloodstained snow and naked branches snapping off before the deadly rotor blades that whirled out of the darkness…

It was still dark when he awoke. A peaceful warmth enveloped him, the sense of comfort and an emptiness at last filled. Until he opened his eyes, and remembered. Krycek’s chest rose and fell against his arm, in a deep, slow rhythm.

He eased his body out into the unwelcome cold. This is where I get up to start coffee, and when I get back he’s gone, left me a note that says Dear sucker, thanks again. He dressed as quietly as he could and went out into the kitchen to start the coffee. Once the little pot was gurgling, he pulled out a mug, filled it with water, and popped it into the microwave. No telling how long it had been since Krycek had eaten. Hot soup would do him more good than coffee.

When he returned to the bedroom, Krycek hadn’t moved. There was eye movement beneath the shuttered lids, though, when Skinner bent over him.

"Don’t play possum, Krycek. It’s a waste of time. Here, drink this."

Krycek’s eyes opened reluctantly. He let Skinner help him into a sitting position and took the mug of soup without a word, draining it to the dregs without pause, even though it must have been hot enough to scald his mouth.

"Want more?" At Krycek’s nod, he took the empty cup into the kitchen to refill, this time with soup that was barely more than body temperature. He handed it to Krycek, who hesitated. "Go on. Drink it." He wondered at the curious passivity of Krycek’s actions, watching the man swallow the soup greedily. "When you’re done, lie down."

Krycek handed him the now empty cup and fell back onto the pillow. He watched Skinner patiently, with the eyes of a man in hell.

"This silent thing is starting to get on my nerves. Why aren’t you talking to me, Krycek?"

"Can’t." The word was almost a gasp of relief.


Krycek closed his eyes, but not before Skinner saw the sneering bitterness. "Conditioning."

It was as he had feared, then. Krycek was a weapon. Aimed, no doubt, at bringing Skinner back to heel.

"What kind of conditioning?"

"Cold. Hot. No sleep. Electrical shock. Clamps. Knives. Asphyxiation. Little pinchy things on my balls…"

"Enough." Skinner felt nauseous at the recitation. "I didn’t mean…that. What did they condition you to do, Krycek?"

For a long moment Krycek didn’t answer, and when it came the answer was barely audible, forced, as if against his will from between his clenched lips. "R-response."

"What sort of response?" Skinner pressed.


He was beating around the bush. Why? Because he genuinely didn’t want Skinner to know, or was it part of the conditioning? Was Krycek trying to answer, or fighting him? "Obedient to what?"


"Whose orders?"

Krycek shrugged. He turned his head away, as if trying to escape. The cords of his neck stood out, starkly shadowed against his pale throat.

"Whose orders? Answer me, Krycek."

"Nobody’s. Anybody’s. Fuck…" his voice broke off in a strangled half-sob. "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck."

"What orders have you been given?" I can’t afford to pity him. Not yet. Not until I know what they’ve put inside him. Skinner put his hand against Krycek’s chest, holding him down in case he tried to bolt. He felt Krycek’s muscles writhe, effort without direction. "What orders, Alex?" don’t call him that. There is no Alex. "You’re not making sense, Krycek. Explain it to me. Tell me something that will make me understand."

"Escaped," Krycek gasped, and his body suddenly went limp. His head lolled back onto the pillow and his eyes opened. He looked up at Skinner, his green eyes weary and vulnerable.

"You escaped? And you ran to me?" And there it was. The perfect sympathy ploy. Expertly crafted to rip his heart to shreds, by a man who knew him better than he knew himself. He was helpless against the appeal of it, and in that very helplessness Skinner recognized the unreliability of his own judgement. He forced harshness into his voice, hardened his expression. "You expected history to repeat itself, I suppose."


"What do you take me for, anyway? Never mind. I know what you think of me. Oh, why the hell am I asking you questions, anyway?" Angrily, Skinner rose to his feet. "First it was amnesia, and now obedience training. You’re a liar, Krycek."

Krycek made a sound of strangled pain.

"Always a liar. You lied to me up in the cabin, and you’re lying to me now. You want to play this game?" He retrieved the damp clothing he’d removed from Krycek the night before and tossed it onto the bed. "Fine. I’ll play. I’ll give you an order. Put your clothes back on, and get out of my house."

Krycek’s eyes widened incredulously. He stared at Skinner.

"Go on. Do it now." Cursing himself for his weakness, Skinner looked away. Even though he knew it was a ploy, knew it, dammit, he couldn’t bear to see the desperation in Krycek’s pale, strained face. "Get dressed. Get out of my house." Then he turned and strode out of the bedroom.

He’d managed to stop the trembling in his hands after two cups of coffee, when the door to his bedroom opened. Krycek walked past him. He expected the man to try for one last appeal, one last look and he steeled himself for it, but the faltering rhythm of Krycek’s steps never stopped. The damp clothing hung limply on his thin frame. He was shivering.

Skinner dropped his eyes and stared into the stained porcelain of his empty cup until he heard the front door click shut.

"This time I win," he said aloud, wishing it could be true.

After one last cup of coffee, he rinsed the cup out and stacked it on the drying rack. He checked his watch. Seven o’clock. He would be late for work. Very late, since he still didn’t have a car. He put on his coat and hat, then decided to call a cab. No more buses. Ever, he promised himself.

What would Krycek do now? Where would he go? "Not my problem," he told himself firmly. Liar. He opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch.

Krycek sat, arms hugging his knees on the lawn, staring off into space. Dammit. He’s still working me. I only told him to leave the house. He didn’t even look up as Skinner strode angrily down the stairs and towered over him.

"What does it take to get rid of you?" Skinner hissed.

"Kill me," Krycek said calmly, his face devoid of expression.

Another slash to his heart, still open and bleeding. "You’re bluffing, you duplicitous bastard. There isn’t any more truth to this than there was to your amnesia." He crouched down in the grass, feeling the dampness soaking through his trousers. Grasping Krycek’s chin, he forced the other man to look into his eyes, hoping to read the lie he knew had to be there. "Is there?"

Krycek’s eyes were empty green pools. "No."

"Then drop the act. Come clean with me, Krycek. I know you’ve got to be desperate to go to this much trouble. Be honest with me and I’ll…I’ll let you stay. Against my better judgment." Please, Alex. For just once in your life.

No response.

Something snapped inside him. "You’re so damned sure of me, aren’t you? You fucker. I offer you more than you deserve everything I have and it’s not good enough. You say you want to die? I don’t believe it. I’m calling your bluff, Krycek. Do it. Get out there and kill yourself. That’s an order. I can’t kill you and you know it, you sick fuck."

Krycek reached out carefully and took Skinner’s hand in his, leaning down to brush his lips over the knuckles. Skinner pulled his hand away, rocked back on his heels and flung himself to his feet, backing away.

Slowly, painfully, Krycek rose. The ghost of a smile dusted his pale lips, and his eyes were strangely luminescent. He made his way, step by step, toward the street.

You won’t do it, Krycek. Whatever else may happen to you, you’re a survivor. You told me so yourself. You won’t do it.

A car approached.

You won’t do this…

Krycek stood, perfectly motionless, by the side of the road, a scarecrow in silhouette against the growing dawn…

…and stepped in front of the car.

"No! Something went off in Skinner’s brain, like a white light or the sound of an explosion. Sensory details slammed into his brain like a series of gunshots. A muffled thud. A body sliding helplessly down the hood of the car. Tires screeching, squealing. Krycek’s body lying perpendicular across the broken sidewalk, limbs askew, one arm bent at an unnatural angle.

Skinner wasn’t sure when he had moved, or how, but he was suddenly on his knees, bending over Krycek’s body, lifting the man’s limp wrist. He was breathing. There was that, at least.

Behind him he heard the sound of screeching tires receding down the street.

Hit and run, he observed mechanically, counting the ragged pulse that beat against his fingers. One, two, three…never mind. He could barely detect the rise and fall of Krycek’s chest as he lifted the man carefully and carried him back to the house. Somehow he managed to get him through the front door and up the stairs. Deja fucking vu He kicked the bedroom door open, hearing wood splintering, and carried him inside.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so sorry, Alex. I didn’t believe you. The one time in your life when you told me the truth and I didn’t believe.

He laid Alex down on the bed. He unbuttoned Alex’s shirt and gently removed the prosthetic arm, which had been half torn off by the impact. By the time he had peeled the wet clothing off and replaced the blankets, Alex had begun to twitch.

Good, he thought. The car wasn’t going very fast. Probably just knocked the wind out of him. He was probably counting on that, Skinner thought cynically. I don’t care.

Alex’s eyes opened, and in them Skinner saw pain. Pity. Despair.

"Talk to me, Alex."

"About…what?" Alex gave a soft gasp, and lifted a hand to his temple, face contorted with pain.

"About…whatever’s on your mind." If Alex was lying, it didn’t matter what Skinner told him to do. If he wasn’t…if he had been conditioned to the point that he had become a prisoner in his own body, there had to be some way to unlock the door to his will, to that part of his mind that was obviously fighting what had been done to him.

"You want me to tell you what’s on my mind?" Alex gave him an incredulous look. "Is that…an order?"

"That’s an order. What’s going on in there, Alex? You are still allowed to think, aren’t you? Do it out loud."

"Think? Fuck, yes. I spend too fucking much time thinking. That’s all I have left, most of the time. You dumb fuck, Walt. You poor, dumb fuck. Get rid of me. End my fucking, pathetic life. Once they know I’m gone they’ll eventually figure out to look here." Words tumbled out of his mouth, as if frantic to escape before the breach that had freed them was re-sealed. "Don’t do this. Don’t leave me alive for them to find. They’ve decided I’m no good to them any more, not as an independent operative. They’re making me into a weapon. Or an example. I don’t know which. Fuck…" he made a sound that was half-sob, half-laugh. "For all I know they planned for…this. They want you back. Something big. I was supposed to seduce you again. I told them to fuck off…"

His breath came in sobbing gasps. Skinner took Alex’s clenched hand, began to rub the webbing between his fingers, wishing he could do more than just listen, knowing that he shouldn’t. Not yet.

"…I told them you wouldn’t buy it. They…" his eyes widened "…every night..." His voice faltered, dropped to a whisper, "I knew what they were going to do to me but there was nothing I could do to stop it…every night I read the words, over and over. On the wall, beside the bed. I scratched them where I’d see them, under the molding. You could only see them if you were lying down. After a while, I knew that I hadn’t really written them. They were someone else’s orders. His orders. The man who I…used to be. Every night. No matter how hard it was, no matter how much it terrified me, I read them…"

"What were the words, Alex?" Skinner asked, though he already had a good idea of what the answer would be. Always clever, always thinking ahead. Always the survivor, Krycek. Not the same as Alex. My Alex. He reached out to free a strand of the dark hair plastered against Alex’s brow.

"Go to Walter Skinner’s house." Alex’s hand unclenched, and his breathing began to ease. "I waited for an opportunity, until I knew I could get away long enough to get here. I ran. I came here. I had figured…either you would show up…or you wouldn’t."

"If I’d come a day later I might have found you dead on my porch." Skinner shuddered inwardly at the thought. It had been bad enough to watch Sharon die, but at least he’d been there.

"Yeah. Sorry. Best I could do on the spur of the moment."

"Don’t be sorry." He still remembered the incredulous look on Alex’s face as Skinner had ordered him to leave. Out into the rain. To sit, without goal or intent, helpless, unable to do anything but wait for death or for any passing stranger to give him an order he’d have no choice but to obey. I’m the one who should be sorry. "I’m glad you came to me for help."

"I know. Don’t you understand that, you poor, besotted, naïve, easily manipulated fuck? That’s why I did it. Don’t you get it? It was planned."

"I get it, Alex. It’s all right." A sense of peace settled into Skinner’s soul. Contentment. The harder Alex tried to warn him off, the more certain he was that there was something worth saving in Alex Krycek.

"It’s not all right! Haven’t you heard a fucking thing that I’ve said? They’ll track me down. They’ll use me to force you back in line. If that doesn’t work they’ll take me back and pick up where we left off. You can’t protect me. You can’t keep them out. If you owe me anything," Alex choked on the words, "if you owe me fucking anything Walt, you owe me this. Don’t let them take me back. It’s getting hard to even want things without their permission anymore. They’re killing all the parts they don’t need. You’ll have to kill what’s left, eventually. You’ve got to see that. Unless you fancy making love to a living corpse."

Never again. I won’t lose you again. It was a selfish thought, and at some level Skinner despised himself for being unable to make any other choice. How did Krycek get such a hold on me? "I’ll get you some kind of protection. If you turn state’s evidence…"

"Like I’d get the chance to testify. Come out of your candy-ass world, Walt. You’re infiltrated. Perforated. Your security is so leaky you could water a garden with it. Your protection isn’t worth a dead man’s ass." Alex’s arm was pulled tightly against his chest, and there was a gaunt, haunted desperation in his eyes. "Let me out, Walter. I’m dead already. You just don’t see it. Do you want me to beg? I’ll beg you. I’ll beg you in any way you want. Just let us both out. There is no happy ending here."

"I’ll find a way, Alex. I promise you."

"Fuck. You’re not listening to me any more, are you? You’re going to walk right back into the Consortium’s mouth. After what it cost me to get you free. You’re going to make it all have been for nothing. Fuck." Alex gave a half strangled bark of laughter. "If there’s a Supreme Deity out there he’s got to be laughing his ass off right now. I just did too damned good a job on you, didn’t I?"

"You did." Skinner kissed him gently on the mouth, and Alex fell silent, passively accepting the older man’s caress. He looked so young and lost, without a trace of his old cynicism.

"S’funny. Really. The irony of it. The Old Man was right. He always used to say ‘Alex, you soulless shit-eating motherfucker, you’re so sharp you’ll slit your own throat some day.’ He was so fucking right." Lips pulled back in a mirthless grin, Alex began to chuckle, then to laugh. He laughed until his voice took on a hysterical note and he began to choke.

Alarmed, Skinner grasped his face, ignoring the feeble batting of the man’s arm. "Alex. Stop. Look at me." He pitched his voice to a soothing lowness, trying to make a show of strength for Alex’s sake.

The gasping mirth fled as Alex’s eyes met Skinner’s. Obedient. Tormented. His long, dark lashes were wet with tears. Grey-purple shadows cradled the familiar green eyes that had once ruled Skinner’s nightmares.

Skinner cursed himself softly, remembering that Alex had no choice but to obey. "I’m sorry. I…I’ll try not to give you orders."

"That’ll…be bad. I can’t…do anything right now. Too deep. Can’t even…they left me alone like this once. Nobody to give me permission to…" the words faltered, but Alex’s eyes never wavered. The muscles of his jaw twitched, as if some tiny part of Alex was fighting to look away, to disobey the command he had been given. "I shit all over myself." His voice was thick with humiliation.

Skinner released him. "I’m sorry."

"You’re always apologizing for the wrong things, you know that?" There was a note of wistfulness in Alex’s tone.

"You don’t have to look at me any more. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to."

"Then I won’t do anything."

"You said…they left you alone like ‘this’. Is it…particularly bad right now, for some reason?"

"Bad. Yeah. It gets worse, the more I fight it. When I try to resist or…make decisions. Been fighting…all day."

"Okay. Okay, Alex. I’m understanding what’s going on better now. I’m going to take care of …you… everything right now. I know what you need. You don’t have to worry."

"Who are you trying to fool, Walt? Me or yourself?" Alex asked sadly. "You don’t have any solutions. You’re stabbing around in the dark hoping something will fall out of the sky."

"Just listen to me. We’re going to tackle this, one problem at a time." A thought occurred to him. "Do you need to use the bathroom?"


"Well, get up and do it, then." Skinner helped him into a sitting position. "Do you need help?"

Alex winced. "No."

That means yes but you’ll manage without it, Skinner thought wryly. He was beginning to be able to read Alex’s bizarre body language now. Answering with anything but pure truth took work, and the struggle made his shading of the truth obvious. Leave him some dignity, Walter. He watched as Alex made his way to the bathroom with slow, careful steps.

Skinner’s stomach gave a grumble, reminding him that he hadn’t had breakfast yet. He went into the kitchen and did a quick search through refrigerator and cupboards. A can of turkey noodle soup was quickly heated, and several pieces of raisin bread toasted and slathered with butter. He arranged the food on a breakfast tray, added two glasses of juice and returned to the bedroom.

The bed was still empty.

He cocked his head, listening. There were no sounds coming from the bathroom. Alarmed, he set the tray down, strode across the floor and threw open the bathroom door.

Alex knelt on the floor in the corner of the room, shoulders hunched. As Skinner approached he could see that Alex was shivering.

"Alex." He knelt down beside him. "What’s wrong?"

"Besides being freezing cold and stark naked? Oh, I don’t know."

"Why didn’t you go back to bed?"

"You didn’t tell me to." There was no flippancy in the reply, only weary reproach. Alex was merely stating a fact. If Skinner walked away and left him now he’d die, probably of dehydration or hypothermia, unable to get up and care for himself. The realization made panic rise up in Skinner’s gut. I can’t do this. I’m making too many mistakes.

One problem at a time, he reminded himself sternly. "Come on Alex. Get up. Let’s get you back in bed." He put his arm around the gaunt chest to help him stand, noting the wince, the tightening of jaw muscles, the way Alex’s breathing stopped as he struggled to rise only to start again with a small gasp when he had regained his feet.

What if he’s got internal bleeding? Oh, hell, I’ve been expecting him to tell me if something hurts. I’m still expecting him to be the Alex I used to know. He draped Alex in a thick bathrobe and belted it around his hips, then eased him back onto the bed.

"What hotel did you steal this from?"

"Someplace in Annapolis. I think. Listen, Alex, from now on if you need anything I want you to tell me. If you want something, ask. If you hurt anywhere I want to know about it. Understand?"

He broke off. Alex was staring at him in horror.

"What’s wrong?"

"Fuck." Alex’s eyes closed. "Fuck, Walt. Fucking vivisect me, why don’t you? You want to know what I want? You want to know where I hurt? You want me to bleed out loud every time you cut me? You want me to tell you what I fantasize about when I jerk off, too? Christ, even the fucking bastards who head-fucked me let me crawl off and hurt in peace. They didn’t make me bring it to show-and-tell."

"I’m not going to let you do that, Alex," Skinner said softly. "You’re not going to face this alone."

"No. You’ll be right there, won’t you? Poking through the pieces. Finding out what makes me tick. Finding out the answers to all those questions. Go ahead, Walt. You want me naked?" Alex’s eyes opened and his gaze locked with Skinner’s. His pupils were large, his expression open and vulnerable. "That’s what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it? Alex Krycek. Your enemy. The rat bastard who dragged you down into hell. Helpless. It’s a wet dream come true, isn’t it Walter?" He pulled the robe apart, exposing his throat and chest. His belly. The hint of dark pubic hair barely revealed. "Take what you want from me, Walter. There’s nothing I can do to stop you."

A flush of sexual energy sent tingling through his lower limbs. Skinner fought himself free of the almost hypnotic sight of Alex Krycek’s exposed flesh. He’s still doing it. With no place to hide and with no weapons to defend himself, he’s still managing to stay one step ahead. Deflecting bullets with his bare hands. Still fighting to keep his secrets safe.

Skinner laid a hand on Alex’s chest, applying a gentle pressure. Alex lay back without protest, his eyes half lidded. His breathing deepened, and Skinner could feel the rapid heartbeat fluttering beneath his fingers.

"Is this what you want me to do, Alex?" Skinner untied the belt and parted the folds of the robe, feeling his own groin tighten at the sight. He’s trying to seduce me to keep me from asking questions. Why am I almost tempted? He leaned over and brushed his lips across one of Alex’s nipples, hearing the breath catch in his ex-lover’s throat.

"I don’t know," Alex said with unexpected honesty. "But I’ve…missed you. I didn’t want to, but I did."

"Don’t lie to me, Alex. Not even a little bit. Not about this."

"I’m not lying. I’m not. Touch me, Walter. Please." Alex’s voice had taken on a note of desperation. "Make love to me like you used to."

The man’s desperation was not fueled by sexual desire, but by terror. His cock lay flaccid, half shriveled in a nest of dark hair.

Skinner pulled the edges of the robe shut. "You’re not going to be able to distract me by offering your body, Alex. No matter how much it tempts me. It’s time to lay our skeletons to rest. I need to know if I can trust you."

"You can’t." Alex’s expression was suddenly fierce, a panther at bay. "You should never trust me."

On impulse, Skinner asked "Don’t you want me to?"

"No." Then confusion clouded the clear eyes. "I don’t know. Maybe. I used to know what I wanted."

"What was that?"

A bleak look. "Survival."

"And that was all?"

"That’s all I could afford. I threw everything else away. Taught myself to…endure…anything. As long as I survived. No matter what I had to do, it was okay."

It made a terrible sense. How do you train away a conscience? Force your subject to concentrate everything he had, discard all other priorities just to stay alive. How many boys had Alex’s "uncle" gone through before he’d found one whose will to live was strong enough to exist in such bleakness?

Even now, was that the only thing that drove Alex Krycek? Had it all been a skillful deception? Was his Alex only a piece of armor created to protect Krycek the survivor?

"Tell me about the amnesia, Alex. How much of it was real?"

"You’re really going to do this, aren’t you? You’re really going to gut me."

Skinner steeled himself. "How much? Tell me what happened last winter."

Alex seemed to collapse in on himself. His eyes went dead. "I heard your voice. In the hospital. I knew…I knew I was fucked. Dead meat. No way to escape, and even if I did I was too fucked up to take care of myself. You told the doctor you were my brother. I thought I’d play along, buy myself a little time. At least until the doctor left." The corner of his mouth turned up, a cold smile. "I knew you’d be wondering why I was playing. You’d guess how out of options I was and take advantage of it. Then the idea just popped into my head. Desperation spawns genius, I guess."

"You decided to fake amnesia."

"Yeah. I figured that if you thought I was too fucked up to answer your questions you’d at least hold off on smacking me around until I’d healed some. Maybe even post a guard or two to keep the other scavengers at bay. I never expected…what happened."

"So it was all a lie." Skinner felt a coldness creeping into his insides. He felt brittle. Numb.

"That’s how it started out."

"Started out?"

"You were a real hard-ass. Surprised the hell out of me. Didn’t know you had it in you, Walt. I used every trick I could think of but you just weren’t falling for it. You hauled me out of the hospital and I knew you’d keep at me until I cracked. You had all the time in the world, and I…just wasn’t up to it. Not without some kind of drastic measures."

"Go on."

"So I used self hypnosis. Put myself into a trance. Regressed. Made myself forget everything that came after…after the beginning. Hid away all the bad things. Became the boy I had been, once. It’s a trick I use when I need to become someone else, when I need to go deep cover. I watch everything from the back of my own mind, just watching, not doing anything, until it’s time to make my move."

"Very clever. No wonder you’re so good at what you do."

"Yeah. Clever. That’s me." Alex’s eyes wandered listlessly about the room. "It didn’t work, though. Or, it did but not the way it was supposed to. Maybe because I was so fucked up. I lost track of what I was supposed to be doing. Or maybe because it wasn’t just a made-up role. There was too much of me in it. Maybe…maybe I just wanted to forget. So badly. To lay it all down and feel…alive again. Just for a little while. I don’t know. Anyway, I lost…control. All my memories. For real. By the time you dragged me into the cabin and tossed me on that bed I…don’t think I was faking anymore. The rest…well, you know the rest."

"Not quite. What about the palm pilot?"

"I never lied to you about that. Probably the first time in my life. In Krycek’s life. I did what I said. There’s only one left, and you’ve got it."

"But why? You say there isn’t room for anything in your life but survival. How does what you did fit in to that?"

"I told you. I gave my word." Alex’s eye movements became more agitated, darting between points on the ceiling.

"How does that fit in with survival?" Skinner demanded. The veracity of Krycek’s story hung on a single thread of logic. If he could break that thread, if he could prove the existence of just one lie he could believe that it was all lies.


"Then you’re lying to me, Krycek! You tell me you can’t lie, and yet you lie!"

"No. No." Krycek drew his legs up, curling into a fetal ball with his arm wrapped around his head as if blows were raining down on him. "I’m not lying. Please. Please. Let me go. Let me stop."

"Tell me all of it, Krycek. Everything. Then you can stop." He took hold of the man’s arm and tried to draw it away from his face, but Krycek resisted. The whipcord muscles of his arm were like a coiled spring.

"Give me the arm," Skinner growled, and it immediately went limp.

"You are such a hard-ass bastard, Walt," Krycek said hoarsely.

"I know. Don’t fight me, Krycek." He straightened the man’s unresisting arm, pulling the covers up to his shoulders. "It doesn’t have to be this painful. Just tell me the rest of it."

"All of it. Fine. You’re going to love the irony of this, Walter." Krycek’s mouth twisted cynically. "You really will. My plan backfired on me. I got my memories back, but instead of going back to being…Krycek the assassin wearing a mask it was more like…like the assassin was the mask. Like…Alex was real and he didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t give it up. Isn’t that just a fucking irony? After all that work, all the pain and the blood and the things I killed…god, the things I killed…just to make myself into something that could survive. I knew I couldn’t live like that, but Alex…the Alex part of me…wouldn’t go away. So I made a deal with myself. You got the palm pilot, and I got rid of him. That should have been the end of it."


"The Consortium found out what I’d done. I tried to pin it on some poor asshole who was due to be smoked anyway, but his hitter botched it and they hauled him in and questioned him and finally nailed me before I had the chance to hide my tracks. I tried to play like it was all part of my master plan, giving you the palm pilot so that you’d trust me, but they weren’t buying it any more. They got pissed. They started leaning on me. Interrogation. It was…bad. Something broke. I forgot which one I was supposed to be. Krycek the assassin. Alex the..nothing."

Not nothing. Not to me. "So, which one came out on top?" Unaccountably, he hoped it had been Krycek. The thought of Alex, helpless, being tortured by Consortium sadists made him feel like vomiting.

"Both. Neither. It didn’t matter," Alex/Krycek said, wearily. "We were both so fucked up that it didn’t matter. When they started bringing out the knives I tried to be clever and pull back, let ‘em condition the Alex part, but that didn’t last long. He wasn’t strong enough to keep them away from me. Just a kid. I’m all that’s left. Krycek, I guess. The kid…broke. Bled all over me. Infected me." Krycek’s limbs moved restlessly beneath the covers. A muscle twitched incessantly below his left eye. "Can’t get my edge back. He’s gone, Walt. He’s dead. The kid. Shoulda heard him scream. Like a baby." Krycek’s eyes were almost glazed, trapped in the memory. "I hated him for that. For making us weak. Then he died. It wasn’t as bad, the second time." A tiny whimper escaped his lips and he curled back up in his fetal position.

Skinner rose and stumbled to the window, head reeling with conflicting emotions. What the hell was he supposed to do? What was he supposed to be feeling? Hate. Grief. Panic. Nausea. Rage. He felt like a mirror that had been shattered beneath the barrage of Krycek’s memories, each shard an image that cut into him til his soul bled.

His enemy. His lover. Were they the same?

A man lay on his bed, shattered. Broken. Who was he? What was he?

How badly did the Consortium want him back? And what price was Skinner willing to pay to keep him?

More than I should. Less than he’s worth.

Alex, alone, was priceless. He can’t be dead. He can’t be. Krycek…subtracted. Together…

What are they worth to you, Walter? You’d better get it figured out before the auction starts.

One problem at a time. One step at a time.

Breakfast was getting cold.

Breakfast was an ordeal for both of them. Krycek was still exhausted, and at one point fell asleep in mid-bite, his piece of toast slipping to the floor. The doorbell rang as Skinner was tidying up, and Krycek’s eyes flew open in dazed panic. He lunged for the window and only managed to end up on the floor, legs tangled in the blanket, convulsing in agony as his muscles began to spasm in punishment for his unauthorized escape attempt. Skinner left him there with stern orders to hide under the bed and not come out until he was told to do so.

Krycek had better hope I don’t die down here, he thought with black humor as he snatched up his gun and went downstairs.

He’d thrown the door open and ended up glaring down the barrel of his gun at a pair of terrified Jehovah’s Witnesses. At least, that’s what they claimed to be. He’d gotten rid of them, and hurried back in to do a quick circuit of the house, making certain that they hadn’t just been a diversion to cover the real break-in.

Nothing. He got Krycek out from under the bed, got him calmed down and made him climb back into bed. This can’t be good for him. Skinner watched as Krycek turned his face to the wall and pulled the blankets up around his shoulders.

He wanted to say something to comfort Krycek, but he couldn’t think of anything. Yeah. You’re fucked. We both are, unless I can think of something. He made a call to his office, to tell Kim he was not coming in today. She seemed almost relieved.

One step at a time. What should his next step be? Should he try to contact the Consortium? It might throw them off balance if he contacted them first. Or it might just make his position seem weak.

Should he just sit siege in his house, waiting for them to contact him, or to try to take Krycek back? What if they succeed? What if they steal him away and I never see him again? How could I live with that? Never knowing what happened to him?

And then there was the problem of Krycek’s psychological disintegration. Would it heal in time? Or would it just get worse? Even if I had the leisure to devote the rest of my life to taking care of him, what kind of life would that be for him?

He took his gun out and stood staring at it for a moment. If it were me up there, in that bed, and Krycek down here, what would I want him to do? The answer was bleak. Do I have the courage to do for him what I’d ask for myself? Could I give him that mercy?

One step at a time. I need a weapon. There’s only one weapon the Consortium fears.

He picked up the phone, and dialed a number.

The day dragged on with painful slowness. Skinner took up a station in the doorway to his bedroom, keeping an eye on the window and listening for any suspicious sounds from downstairs. Frequently, he got up to prowl through the house, checking all the windows. He fixed Krycek a hearty breakfast, which Krycek toyed with but didn’t eat until Skinner made it an order. Shortly afterwards, Skinner returned to find him curled up in his own vomit, arms wrapped around himself, unable to escape the results of his bout of sickness. Privately, Skinner wondered if Krycek had deliberately made himself vomit, but could not think of a single possible motive for the action, other than Krycek’s admittedly perverse nature. He said nothing to Krycek of his suspicions, only sent the man off to shower and shave while he stripped and remade the bed, and laid out a change of clothing.

By the time he had finished, Krycek had managed to cut himself with the safety razor in several different places while shaving. One of the slashes was deep enough that blood trickled down his neck clear past his collarbone. Skinner grimly fought back the anger that followed the fear that had surged through him at the sight of Krycek’s bloody ‘accident’.

Krycek waited, passively mute, for Skinner’s reaction.

Why is he doing this? Was he trying to provoke Skinner’s anger? To what purpose? Surely he didn’t think a campaign of tiny irritations was enough to drive Skinner to committing homicide on his uninvited houseguest. Then, suddenly, in a blinding leap of intuition, it came to him.

He needs this.

He needs to know that he’s still in there somewhere. That he’s still capable of fighting. Maybe he wants me to know, as well. He tore off a couple squares of toilet paper and cleaned Krycek off with gentle, quick pats. He finished up with a stypic pencil, and a band-aid.

"You’re not angry." It was a statement, and a question. Krycek’s eyes were wary, as if he expected retaliation to come at him from an unexpected direction.

How could I be? "You wouldn’t be who you are if you didn’t at least try." His lips twitched. "For God’s sake don’t take it into your head to pee in the bed next. I don’t have any more clean sheets."

Krycek looked startled, then gave a sly smile. "Damn. You got me there." He gave a snort at Skinner’s horrified expression. "Guess I’d better get back to bed before you decide to make me sleep in the bathtub."

Suspicion immediately leaped up in Skinner, at Krycek’s uncharacteristically cocky tone. "I thought you needed my permission to do that."

Krycek’s body jerked, as if he had been struck, and he closed his eyes, but not before Skinner caught a look of what was almost like betrayal. "Sorry." Krycek apologized, his breathing rate rising, obviously on the verge of panic. "I didn’t mean to. I was trying to do what you wanted. I thought you wanted me to."

Dammit, Walter. Stop jumping to conclusions. "It’s okay. Krycek. I’m not angry. It just surprised me, that’s all."

Krycek swallowed, and his face fell into lines of bitter humiliation. "Tell me what to do, Skinner. Just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it. I can’t take much more of this."

"Just get back in bed, Krycek. I’ll be up with something to eat in about fifteen minutes." Skinner went downstairs, trying to banish the thought that he had just kicked shut a door that he and Krycek had needed to go through.

It was after five in the afternoon when the doorbell rang again. Krycek, who had been moved to the upstairs den, where he was dozing fitfully in a chair, sat bolt upright. His fingers bit into the cushion beside his right knee, eyes meeting Skinner’s in sick terror that gradually lapsed into bitterness.

"You want me to wait here." It could have been a question, but wasn’t.

…wait here for whatever comes up the stairs, his eyes said.

Skinner drew his gun, quickly checking the chamber and the safety. He needs to start feeling safe. This is as good a place to start as any. Praying that he wasn’t about to make two very bad mistakes, he knelt down and took Krycek’s hand, turned it palm up and tucked the gun into it, closing Krycek’s fingers around the cool grip.

Krycek’s expression went suddenly blank. Frozen. Waiting.

"If it’s the Consortium, and if they get past me and if you can’t pick them off before they get up the stairs," Skinner lifted Krycek’s hand until the barrel of the gun hung level with their eyes, "you put this against the roof of your mouth and you pull the trigger."

Krycek winced, pain lines creaking his face. "I…can’t," he gasped. "Not…allowed."

"Whoever told you that was wrong. It’s allowed. I’m allowing it." Skinner squeezed his hand, feeling the bones grate against each other. Use one pain to fight another, he thought as Krycek grunted. "There’s only me here now. I’m the only one giving you your orders, and this is the only order you need to obey right now. The only one. If they get up here you don’t let them take you alive. Is that clear?"

The light glittered strangely in Krycek’s eyes, and his breath came in ragged gasps. "Yeah. Clear. The only order. The only order," he repeated, clutching the words to him like a mantra. "The only one. You’re the only one."

Skinner gave him a reassuring squeeze and rose.

The doorbell rang again as he reached the bottom of the stairs. His hand felt empty without the gun. I should requisition another one. He slid the curtain aside fractionally, peering out when a face suddenly appeared before him. He bit back an expletive as he jerked back, heart hammering.

Thank God…

Mulder gave him a reproachful, quizzical look as he threw the door open. "Sorry to have startled you, sir, but you weren’t answering and…what’s going on? Is anything wrong?"

"Wrong? No. Nothing, Agent Mulder. I see you brought the goods."

"You did say it was important." There was a hint of reproach in his voice. Mulder bent down and lifted the unmarked cardboard box, handing it across to Skinner. "You seem a little jumpy. Expecting trouble?"

Denying it would have been ludicrous. "You never know who might come knocking. Thanks for bringing this."

"Is there any particular reason you couldn’t come fetch it yourself. Sir?" Mulder’s eyes flickered to a point beyond Skinner’s shoulder, then back, a question silently asked with subtle gesture and body language. Is there someone in there with you?

"No." Skinner gave a firm head shake. "Thanks for the concern, but I’ve got everything under control." He silently cursed his choice of words as a familiar gleam lit in Mulder’s eyes.

"What’s under control?"

"Nothing you need to worry about, Agent. I’m sure you must have other matters that deserve your pressing attention right now."

"Not really," Mulder denied cheerfully. "There is someone in there with you, isn’t there?"

Damn Mulder’s uncanny sensitivity. "An informant. His presence needs to remain a secret."

"Oh. That’s why you needed the…"

"Yes. Keep your voice down." He didn’t want Krycek figuring out what he was planning. Not yet.

Mulder looked puzzled. "He doesn’t know? His statement won’t be of much use officially without his permission. Unless you just need this for your own records?"

Skinner closed his eyes briefly. "It’s…complicated, Agent Mulder."

"Maybe I can be of some help. I do have an eidetic memory, and he might be more talkative without the camera. And if you’re expecting trouble, two guns are safer than one."

For a brief moment, Skinner wavered on the edge of temptation. If it had been anyone but Mulder, even Scully, he might have considered it. But there was too much history between Mulder and Krycek, all of it bad. Even more than he had with me… Krycek would never voluntarily open up around Mulder and the thought of letting Mulder anywhere near his enemy now, when Krycek was completely unable to defend himself…

Over my cold, dead body. "Thank you for the offer, Agent Mulder, but I’d prefer to handle this…privately."

Mulder’s eyebrows went up a fraction, and Skinner could practically see the wheels turning inside the man’s facile brain. He gave a reluctant nod and bit back the curiosity that Skinner could see was fairly eating him alive. "Call if you change your mind, sir."

"I will. Thank you." Skinner closed the door, locked it and hastily stuffed the box of video equipment behind the couch. Then he went back to the window for a quick check. He watched Mulder open the door of his car, hesitate, throw a speculative glance upwards, to the window of Skinner’s bedroom, then climb inside and pull the door shut.

Agent Mulder, you have no idea. Skinner grinned ruefully at the thought of Mulder’s probable reaction to finding out the sex of the informant Skinner was planning on eventually luring into his bed. He let the curtain fall back against the window as Mulder’s car pulled away.

Thank God for small miracles. Skinner shuddered at the thought of how much more complicated the situation would have gotten with Mulder added into the mix.

Better that nobody know about this but me. Safer, for now.

Shit. If Mulder knew what he was planning on doing…and what he was planning on not doing…

So many betrayals stained his conscience already. You’d think the two more he was going to add tonight would barely add to the burden. He hoped that, in the long run, he’d be able to feel that they balanced each other out.

He climbed the stairs, pausing briefly to call out "Krycek?"

No answer.

Shit. "Krycek?"

He cautiously poked his head above the top step, breathing a sigh of relief when he caught sight of Krycek huddled against the far wall.

With the end of the pistol jammed into his mouth.

Skinner froze.

Krycek’s hand was trembling violently, his finger looped through the trigger, and the sight of Skinner had not vanquished the panic in the man’s eyes.

"It’s all right, Krycek. False alarm." Skinner said, trying to keep his voice even and soothing. "Take the gun out of your mouth," he ordered firmly.

The gun was pulled out, but the look in Krycek’s eyes was that of a wild animal, wary and suspicious. "You were gone a long time."

"Sorry. It didn’t seem like that long to me," Skinner said honestly.

"Who was it?"

Skinner hesitated, cursing himself again as the wariness in Krycek’s eyes hardened into distrust. "It was…Mulder." Better to stick as close to the truth as possible. "I asked him to come by tonight. If the Consortium had tried something right away at least there would have been someone to find the bodies. I accidentally made him suspicious and it took a while to get rid of him."

To his surprise, Krycek accepted the explanation with every show of relief. He sagged back against the wall and let the pistol slip from his fingers. Managing a weak smile, he said "I always said you were nobody’s fool, Skinner."

I would have been yours, if you’d stayed… Skinner bent and retrieved his weapon. "Come on downstairs. Let’s have an early dinner. It’s been a while since I had a victim, er, guest to practice my culinary skills on." Sharon had barely let him near the kitchen, but since he’d lost her he’d become adept at foraging for himself. Fortunately, the refrigerator was reasonably well stocked. He pulled out an onion, carrots, celery, a bowl of uncooked beef which he gave a perfunctory sniff to before placing on the counter.

"Care to share the joke?"

Skinner hadn’t realized that his inner musings had been so transparent. His smile turned rueful. "Oh, Mulder asked if he could do anything to help out. I was just imagining the look on his face if I’d handed him a shopping list and sent him off to Piggly Wiggly."

They shared a moment of amusement, and then Krycek’s grin faded. "Mulder knows I’m here?"

"Well…no. He knows that somebody is here, but I didn’t tell him any more than that. I imagine he thinks it’s a woman. I was being rather secretive."

Krycek didn’t even crack a smile. He swallowed. "Thanks." He gave a short, bitter laugh. "He’ll never forgive you if he finds out. Especially if he finds out what kind of chance he missed." He balled up his fist and shoved it into his pocket. "Fuck. Next to my…to the Consortium, Mulder’s the last person I’d want to find me right now. He hates my fucking guts."

Like you used to… hung in the air between them.

"With good reason." Skinner met Krycek’s eyes, with neither rancor nor apology.

"I guess." Krycek found a spot on the table, spit on his finger and began rubbing at it.

"Did you kill his father?"

The motion of Krycek’s hand faltered, then resumed its task. "Yeah."




"Who the fuck do you think? The Consortium. Look, Skinner, we both know that Bill Mulder was as dirty as a porn theatre floor. If I hadn’t gotten to him when I did…" He stopped, arrested by the look on Skinner’s face. "You didn’t know?"

"What do you mean, dirty?"

"He was one of the original founders. Of the Consortium. Mulder never told you?"

"Mulder knew?"

"Hell, yes. The old Bastard told him, back when the whole…" He trailed off again, wincing at the effort it took.

Skinner sighed. "When what?"

"The whole Cassandra thing. The last time. He was trying to win Mulder over."

We’ll get back to that later tonight. "I don’t get it. If Bill Mulder was part of the Consortium, why did they want him dead?"

"He was about to spill to Mulder. Bill thought he could bring Mulder around," Krycek snorted. "As if all he had to do was say ‘Luke, I’m your father’ and his kid would leap at the chance to join the dark side. He was the only one who believed Mulder was that…malleable. They told him to drop it, and had him watched when it became clear that he was planning on acting against orders. They sent me in when they found out about the meeting with Mulder. If I hadn’t gotten to him in time I’d have had to do them both. Those were my orders. It was…closer than I would have liked. Mulder got there before I did. For fuck’s sake, you need to keep Mulder away from me. Especially now. He’d ask me questions and I’d have to answer them and then he’d rip my own arm off and beat me to death with it." His tone was half mocking, but his eyes were sick. "He’d suck me dry of everything I know and then kick my carcass out for the hyenas. Then he’d choke to death on his own truths, with a Consortium gun shoved down his throat. You know how he gets about the ‘truth’ His ignorance is the only thing that’s kept him alive this long."

Yeah, I know how Mulder gets. And I wish to God I was free to turn him loose on the bastards. If it was only my life at stake I wouldn’t hesitate for an instant. Krycek was right, though. Mulder would rip him apart, and then turn on himself.

"I won’t let him near you." The strength of his own ferocity took Skinner by surprise. No one touches you but me… "At least not until we get this shit scrubbed out of your brain."

The corner of Krycek’s mouth turned up, almost wistfully. "Do you think that’s going to happen?"

"It’ll happen. I’ll make it happen."

"It hasn’t been…too bad today. Sometimes I almost forget. It’s not so bad when you…" Krycek trailed off, looking almost embarrassed.

Skinner began picking at the stiff outer skin of the onion. Does he need to talk? Or does he need some space? God, I’m so in the dark when it comes to this. Give me something I can hit or arrest, but when it comes to mind fucks… Krycek’s the expert on that, and I can hardly ask him. Or can I?

"Is it getting worse, or better?"

Krycek closed his eyes, took a long, shuddering breath and said, "Better. I think."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"No. Yes. Just…be patient. It helps…when you don’t mind…the things I do. Like the shaving thing this morning. Just…I may get it wrong sometimes. Give me a little room…but not too much. You’ve got to remind me that…there’s someone in charge. That you’re in charge. And that you want me to…get better. Does that make any sense?" he asked anxiously.

"Yeah," Skinner said softly. "It does."

One step at a time.

"So." Krycek’s voice was deliberately casual. "Am I sleeping in your bed, tonight?"

Skinner’s groin tightened at the thought. "No." He hoped Krycek wouldn’t notice the sudden tightness of his jeans. Not until I know it’s what you want and not just part of your conditioning. Or your survival instincts.

"I see," Krycek said quietly.

"I don’t think you do." Skinner couldn’t quite keep the bitterness out of his voice.

"Don’t be such a drama queen, Walt," Krycek drawled. "Does this look like the anatomy of a man who’s not happy to see you?" He leaned back in the chair and stroked his long fingers over his own crotch. Skinner could see the outline of Krycek’s cock straining against the denim.

"That’s not the point," he growled, turning away to fumble in the silverwear drawer for a knife. Down, boy, he told himself firmly, trying to banish the memory of Krycek sprawling like a lazy cat, aroused and willing…

…soft lips plucking at my nipple, legs tangled together, the slickness of his sweat on my skin…

Krycek’s silky chuckle made it all too clear that he was aware of the direction of Skinner’s thoughts. "What is the point then, if not this?"

"You’re still thinking in terms of trade, Krycek. Payment. Sex for safety." He turned around, knowing that his own arousal was clearly evident. "Isn’t that true? The truth, Krycek. Don’t tell me any pretty lies."

Frustration flashed in Krycek’s green eyes. "Fuck it, Walt. I have nothing else to contribute, here. I don’t own anything. I’ve never owned anything. Not even my own body. Not until now. Don’t take this from me, Walter."

"That’s just it. It isn’t meant to be taken. It’s meant to be given. To each other."

"You give me yours and I’ll give you mine? I don’t get to decide what I'm trading it for? Even in the circles I move in, if a man says I’ll give you this and you’ll give me that and you’re damned well going to take this deal it’s called coercion."

Skinner’s emotional reaction was too raw for him to suppress. "You’re just fucking with my mind now, you manipulative bastard." He slammed the onion down on a cutting board and began whacking off slices. "Stop trying to twist my words around. You know damned well that I’m trying not to coerce you…"

Behind him, he heard Krycek give a small grunt of pain. "Okay, okay, you’re right," Krycek admitted hastily, his voice sounding strained. "I know what you’re trying to say. I’m sorry, okay? Fuck!"

Skinner turned, to see Krycek hunched in the chair, his eyes squeezed shut. "What’s wrong?"

"Fuck." Krycek toppled from his chair and began vomiting, his body racked with spasms.

"Krycek!" Skinner tossed the knife aside and threw himself down beside the helpless man, wrestling the convulsing body up against him, supporting Krycek’s head until the convulsions eased.

Krycek coughed twice and gagged briefly.

"What…happened?" Skinner asked hesitantly, not knowing whether his question would set off another round of convulsions.

"Game they used to play with me. Please," Krycek hung limply in his arms, shivering. "Don’t ask me about it. Please."

"I don’t know what I did. I don’t want to do it again."

"Not…your…fault. Mine. I just forgot, for a moment. Old habits. Hard to break. You know me. Fucking with people’s minds is second nature. Don’t be angry, anymore. Please?"

Anger is part of it, whatever this sick "game" was that they tortured him with. "I’m not angry," he said soothingly. "Easy, Krycek. I’m not angry with you."

Krycek coughed again, still hanging, limp and passive. Skinner could feel the heat of his body, smell the musky scent of Krycek’s sweat mixing with the acrid stink of vomit.

"Just relax, Krycek. It’s not a problem. I’ll take care of everything. Stand up, now."

Obediently, Krycek struggled to his feet. Skinner rose with him.

"Go on into the bathroom and rinse your mouth out, and wash your face. Get rid of that shirt and get another out of my closet and put it on. Then come back here. Are you going to have any trouble with that?"

Krycek shook his head. A slight smile tugged at his lips.

"Go on, then."

There hadn’t been much in Krycek’s stomach for him to vomit up, fortunately. Walter mopped the floor with half a dozen paper towels and finished off with an application of disinfectant spray.

Damn those fucking bastards to hell. How many other little land mines was he going to find buried in Krycek’s damaged psyche? Whoever had done this was a master at the art of mind-fuck. They’d had him, what, about six months? What would there have been left of Alex Krycek if they’d had time to finish? And what would have been left in its place?

Fear twisted in his gut at the thought. Give me a way to save him from that. Give me the strength to protect him. I’ll do anything. Please…

"Want me to finish up that onion?"

Skinner stiffened with surprise. He hadn’t even heard Krycek pad up behind him.

"Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you."

"S’okay. Damn thing’s got me half blind." Skinner wiped tears from his eyes, glad for the strong reek of onion that surrounded him. "Sure. Dice it, will you? Those things really get to me."

Krycek laid the knife atop the chopping board and carried it to the table, reseating himself. He began, awkwardly, to chop at the onion.

Even something as simple as chopping an onion becomes a functional nightmare when you’ve only got one hand.

Just then, Krycek raised his eyes and caught Skinner staring at him. His face reddened, and the muscles of his jaw clenched.

"No," Skinner said calmly. "I don’t pity you. I admire the hell out of you, in some ways. I regret what you’re missing, but that’s at least as much self-pity as anything," he remarked philosophically.

"Liar, " said Krycek, but there was no force behind the epitaph. He went back to his laborious task.

Minutes passed, in relative silence. Skinner peeled and diced carrots, unavoidably aware of how impossible each task would have been without the use of both of his hands. He tossed the meat into a pan and fried it up with a dash of butter and a generous portion of teriyaki sauce, then added the vegetables, including Krycek’s onions, which were unevenly but thoroughly mutilated. It looked a little sparse, so he added a small can of mushrooms. Genuine Walter Original Stir Fried Stew. Maybe I should have ordered pizza, he thought ruefully. I keep forgetting what an unimaginative cook I am.

He shook a quantity of minute rice into a glass bowl and added water. That looks about right. I hope. He slid it into the microwave and cranked the dial.

Krycek was sitting in the chair, the empty cutting board and knife forgotten, staring off into space.

It felt good, felt right to see him so at ease, the natural wariness of his face relaxed in to what might have been nothing more than a simple daydream. Somehow, Skinner doubted it. Krycek wasn’t the daydreaming sort. At least his thoughts didn’t seem too dark, at the moment. That would change. Skinner chased the stew around the pan pensively, and brooded. No matter how dinner turned out, what came afterwards was going to be difficult, for both of them. There is no choice, he reminded himself. His stomach rumbled as the scent of beef and teriyaki filled the kitchen.

Finally, Krycek tilted his head back slightly and spoke. "You want the moon and stars, Walter."

A warm flush of gratification filled Skinner, at the thought that Krycek’s long, introspective silence had been filled with thoughts of him. "I suppose it might seem like that. Maybe they’re closer than you think."

"And what if I’m not the one who can reach them? You’re talking to a man who doesn’t exist anymore. You think you’re fooling me, Walter? You call me Krycek with your mouth and say Alex with your eyes. You look at me and see him. How can I compete with a ghost?"

Skinner flushed. "It’s not like that. You’ve got to stop thinking in terms of separation…"

"You’re still not seeing who I am, Walter, only who you want me to be. I can’t be what you want, but I’ll do whatever you want me to, for as long as I’m able." His eyes lifted toward the ceiling, still focused on some distant point, as if he was seeing the stars glittering far beyond his reach. "I don’t think it will be enough," he said, so softly that Skinner wasn’t certain if he had been meant to hear.

He covered the pan and laid the wooden spatula down on the counter. "If you try, then you’ll have done all that can be asked of you. If you fall short…" you won’t, Alex, you won’t… He moved to stand directly behind Krycek, so close that they brushed together.

Krycek shifted back almost imperceptibly, so that the top of his head pressed into Skinner’s chest. Eyes still focused upwards, he waited for Skinner to continue.

"If you fall short…" this feels so right, so good. Can’t he feel it? Maybe he could. Maybe he was scared. Or maybe he’s right and I’m only seeing what I want to see, not what’s really there. "…then I guess we’ll just have to set up a pair of lawn chairs in the back yard and watch them from here."

Krycek’s eyes closed. "Did I mention that this is probably the dumbest fucking thing that you could possibly do to yourself, short of a jalapeno enema?"

"Not in the last ten minutes or so." Skinner winced at the image, hoping that Krycek wasn’t speaking from personal experience. "C’mon, I’ll let you set the table."

"I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. I suppose you’ll want me to wash the dishes, too," Krycek grumbled.

"Well, I did cook dinner…"

Despite the lightened atmosphere, dinner was a painful reminder to Skinner of just how little they knew about each other. Krycek didn’t seem to notice, devouring his food with a single-minded pleasure that, under other circumstances, Skinner would have found gratifying.

Apprehension rendered his food tasteless. It’s not like I’m going to be doing anything so terrible, he argued with himself. He’s a practical man. Once he gets over being pissed he’ll accept it as necessary. I’m doing this for his own good.

Hell, Skinner. Give over. Just do what you have to and move on. Like he said, you’re probably going to be apologizing for all the wrong things again. You’ll agonize over it long after he’s shrugged and moved on.

He’s also right that you’re forgetting who he is. Alex Krycek has a lot of blood on his hands. He has no conscience, and only a rudimentary morality. An accident brought him to your doorstep, not fate. Not…love. He’s a wolf with a broken back and he has no choice about accepting your aid now, but some day he’ll be healed and then…

God help me. I want to believe in him, but not even he is willing to give me somewhere to start.

He doesn’t believe in himself.

Can I afford to?

The last of the stew was just being dribbled over the last of the rice. Krycek glanced up. Froze. "Sorry. Did you want more?"

"No. I’m full. Finish it."

Krycek relaxed and went back to eating.

"Good?" Skinner couldn’t help asking.

"Hell, yes," Krycek muttered, his mouth full. "after the shit they’ve been feeding me the past six months…" he froze again. "Yeah. It’s delicious."

Skinner hid his concern. Two steps forward and one step back. "Glad to hear it. I was afraid my cooking was going to have to compete with an ultra developed palate used to only the finest dining establishments."

"Hardly," Krycek snorted. "Not even back when…when I was still worth a shit to them."

What was Krycek worth to the Consortium, now? What would it cost to buy his freedom?

What will I be willing to pay? What if it isn’t enough?

There was the squeaky sound of a chair being pulled out. Krycek picked up his plate and carried it to the sink. He cast a furtive glance in Skinner’s direction, and Skinner pretended not to notice as Krycek licked the plate clean before dropping it into the sink and running water over it.

Poor little bastard. I wonder if he's really still hungry, or if it's just an automatic reflex, trying to steal what little pleasure he can when nobody's watching. "There’s ice cream for dessert."

"Really?" Krycek’s face lit up and he headed for the refrigerator.


Krycek’s hand was arrested halfway to the freezer handle. There was a deer-in-headlights look of almost-panic in his eyes.

"It’s okay," Skinner said soothingly. "I just thought we’d enjoy it more after dinner has settled."

"Sure." Krycek snatched his hand back. "I’ll get started on the dishes."

That’s probably another game they played with him. Promise something and take it away. Hurt him for wanting. Skinner felt like shit. "Dishes can wait. Come with me into the living loom.

Something of Skinner’s tension communicated itself to Krycek. Like a wild animal sensing a trap as it closes in around him, Krycek’s eyes darted around the room, seeking escape, but he barely hesitated before falling into step behind Skinner.

"Sit there." Skinner waved Krycek into the large, comfortable armchair that occupied the center of the room.

Krycek sat. Graceful. Obedient. Wary. "What are you…what am I doing here?" His eyes darted to the door and back.

"Nobody’s coming," Skinner reassured him as he made certain all of the drapes were pulled over the windows. "We’re just going to have a talk. There are some things I’m going to need to know before I can decide what to do next."

"What sort of things?" Krycek asked warily.

"Let’s start with something simple. What is the name of the mindfuck bastard who did this to you?"

"It doesn’t matter." Krycek winced at the spasm of pain that ran through him at even this small resistance.

"Just relax and answer my questions, Krycek. You don’t have to worry about anything else right now. What is his name?"

Muscles bunched beneath Alex’s shirt and the fingers of his hand bit into the smooth, embroidered arm of the chair. "Please. Walter."

He’ll fight me every step of the way. The old Krycek had been more slippery. He’d known when to fight and when to give in. Or when to seem to give in. They had stripped that away from him, along with everything else. There was nothing left to him but these small defiances. He told me that the harder he fights the tighter the controls wrap. By the time we’re through tonight he’ll be lucky if he can still breathe on his own. God, I wish there was another way…

Forgive me. "The name, Alex." The name of the man I’m going to kill…

"My uncle. Augustus Terhune," Krycek hissed from between clenched teeth. "Are you out of your fucking mind, Walter? The more you know the more dangerous you are to them. They’ll kill you."

"Your uncle?" Skinner’s jaw fell slack with revulsion. "Your uncle did this to you?"

Krycek’s face twisted away from him in shame, and something in it changed, grew softer, more vulnerable. The features altered subtly. Haunted green eyes. Alex.

"But..why? I thought he…cared about you." In a perverted, twisted sort of way.

"I betrayed him." Alex recited the words tonelessly. "I embarrassed him. He was responsible for me so my betrayal reflected badly on him within the organization."

"Jesus, Alex…"

"He said that if I was going to take up a new profession fucking the F.B.I. he’d have to make sure I was properly trained for the job." Alex’s eyes closed and his lips clamped down hard, lines of pain etching themselves across his face. Tears welled out from tightly clenched lids. "Fuck," he said. "What the fuck is wrong with me? I’m an assassin. I kill people for a living, for fuck’s sake. I don’t. Fucking. Cry." Glistening wetness trickled down his cheeks.

"Alex." Skinner reached out to cup the curve of Alex’s cheekbone. Alex jerked away as if the touch had burned, leaving Skinner’s fingers slick with tears. "There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Your uncle is an abusive bastard." He rubbed the slick wetness off against his thumb, knowing that if he lifted it to his lips he would taste the salt.

"You like that, don’t you, Walt? It’s gotta be a real turn-on. Alex Krycek. Brought to his knees. Showing weakness. Crying like a baby. I bet you’d just love to take me in your arms and comfort me right now." Alex’s breath was coming in halting gasps. "Wouldn’t you?"

Skinner jerked back from him. Alex’s taunt cut straight into his heart, making him feel dirty, ashamed, even though he knew it was unjustified. Don’t do this, Alex. Don’t make me afraid to touch you.

Alex pressed him relentlessly. "Go ahead, Walter. You know you want to. It’ll make me feel better. It’ll relax me. It’s what I need, isn’t it? And the best thing of all is that I’m speaking nothing but honest truth, so I won’t be punished for it." Alex’s dark fringe of lashes glittered. "Do me, Walter. Make me forget everything they did to me. Fuck me til I’m spent. Fuck me until I’m screaming for you. Fuck me until your name is written all over my ass."

Krycek was a skilled manipulator. He understood human nature so well; it was what made him so much more dangerous than an ordinary killer. He knew just where to shine the light to make it hurt the most. Terhune had…taught him well. Suddenly, it all made sense. Terhune was the master mindfuck who had made Alex. Taught him everything. His brilliant apprentice, his magnum opus. Terhune’s extreme reaction to Krycek’s perceived betrayal…had it been jealousy?

"Listen, Alex, you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to let him win."

"You are such an amateur, Walter. You think you know what’s going on."

"Alex, please…" why are you doing this? Why are you tearing both of us apart like this?

Black rage boiled out of eyes turned molten green. "There. Is. No. More. Alex. Pull your head out of your ass and come back out of your fantasy world, Skinner."

"You son of a bitch!" Skinner grabbed Krycek by the shirt and yanked him to his feet. "That’s what you wanted all along, isn’t it? You hated being vulnerable. You hated the fact that someone could hold you hostage, hurt you, really hurt you deep inside where nothing else could reach. So you did what Krycek does best, didn’t you? You killed him. You could have saved him, Krycek. Use whatever excuses you want. You could have faced them on your own but you chose to throw him to those butchers to torture!" Skinner’s hands clenched so tightly that Krycek had to be half strangling, but the other man didn’t struggle, only stared at him with that deliberate, knowing smirk that Skinner loathed so much. He shook Krycek with such violence that he heard the fabric of his shirt rip. "You told me that they were killing the parts of you they didn’t want, Krycek," he hissed. "Isn’t that just ironic, because you were doing the same thing. You could have reburied those parts of yourself. The parts that we shared. You could have kept them safe. Damn you, Krycek." Skinner’s throat closed up and he couldn’t speak for a moment. An overwhelming wave of grief crashed over him. He opened his hands and Krycek slipped from them, falling to his knees, face the color of old bone. His mouth worked, but no sounds came out. Muscle spasms twitched along the length of his body.

Skinner dropped to his knees, facing Krycek. "Sometimes we do things out of fear. Things we regret for the rest of our lives. I know about that, Krycek. Believe me, I know." He met Krycek’s eyes without anger, letting him see the hurt, the weariness that felt as if it were sucking the very life from him. Let him see the pain lines that had been etched into his soul that day in the snow.

He had prayed that day, driven to his knees in a world of black and white, overseen by an endless gray horizon. On his knees, both numbed and in pain, he had prayed for the first time since Vietnam. Prayed for God to send Alex back to him.

Please, Lord, I know I don’t deserve it, but please…

Instead, he’d gotten Krycek. A scarred ruin of a man. A bound, snarling wolf whose teeth had been pulled. The cold, empty shell that had once sheltered a young man who had once looked at Walter with love in his eyes, and then gone off to his death.

He reached out a hand, brushing Krycek’s bangs gently back from his forehead, tracing across the rim of his ear and down past the barely defined jawline. "I hope there’s enough human left in you to be able to regret what you threw away. What you…what we both have lost. I don’t want to just fuck you, Krycek. It would be worse than nothing. What I really want…I can’t have."

…I know I don’t deserve it…

"You could have saved him. For both of us. You could have joined us. I knew what you were, Krycek. No matter what you claimed to have forgotten. I knew what you were and I could have loved you anyway. Because you were part of him."

…but please…

"You’re an assassin, Krycek. You’ve killed people. You killed me. Without a trace of guilt. It’s what you were trained to be. You’ve never been given a choice." Until now. He leaned forward and kissed Krycek on the forehead, a gentle, chaste kiss, then sighed and rose to his feet.

…please send him back…

Krycek remained on his knees, barely breathing, as still as if he were sheathed in ice. His expression was wiped clean, his eyes glassy.

It took everything Skinner had to prevent himself from taking the younger man into his arms, but he knew that if he did he’d never be able to go through with what he had planned. Can’t.

Once this was over, he promised, I’ll make it up to him. Give him what he needs. Time to discover what he wanted. Time to decide.

Could Krycek bring himself to accept back those parts of him that had made him vulnerable? The parts that he had amputated, like a hemorrhaging organ that, left intact, would have emptied him into the hands of his torturers?


Skinner went into the kitchen, yanked open the refrigerator door and pulled out a beer. He searched around for an opener but couldn’t find one. Hell with it… He popped the top off with his teeth and spat the lid into the sink. Sharon always hated it when I did that. The sheer familiarity of the action, after so many years of being civilized, gave him an odd sense of comfort.

He took a sip. Should I give him a little time to himself? Will that settle him, or just make things worse?

Hell. I am so out of my depth here, he thought morosely, taking several more swallows and leaning his head against the cold smoothness of the refrigerator door. Give me Mulder and his problems any day. Give me ten Mulders. Well, maybe not ten Mulders. He shuddered at the thought. Though, now that the Consortium’s most devastating hold over him had been eliminated it was almost tempting. The thought of unleashing ten simultaneous Fox Mulders on the secrets of the Consortium brought a reluctant smile to his lips.

Back in, you coward. You’ve got to finish this. Don’t drag it out.

He took a step forward, threw back his head and drained the bottle dry.

When he returned to the living room, he found Krycek still on his knees where he had been left. There was a defeated slump to his shoulders that hadn’t been there before. Fuck. He probably can’t even get up. He bent down, shoved his hands under Krycek’s armpits and hauled the man back up into the chair.

Krycek gave a quiet grunt of discomfort as his knees straightened. His eyes shied away from Skinner’s.

Let’s get this over with. Skinner retrieved the cardboard box from behind the couch, quickly setting up the video recorder and stand, running it through a short test to make sure everything was operational. When he had finished his preparations he looked up, and saw that Krycek was watching him, with a weary, naked hopelessness in his expression that was pure...


Ah, Krycek…a fighter to the bitter end. Using every weapon he can find, even the ones that cut him even as he wields them. He knows I'll do this to him; he's hoping I won't to Alex.

I wonder if he's even aware of what he has done. My Alex has returned to me. Alex Krycek. All the parts. A man at war with himself and everyone else.

"No more arguments, Alex. Just trust me. I know what I’m doing. Give me names. Tell me everything you know about the Consortium, all the dirty little secrets that they don’t want us to hear." I’m sorry for using you like this. I have to, though. I have to find a weapon somehow. He adjusted the camera height and angle, swiveling the glassy eye down into position as the blood drained from Alex’s face. Alex pressed himself back into the chair, as if he could somehow escape its impersonal regard.

He thumbed the remote’s ‘on’ button, identified himself for the record, gave the date and a brief explanation of the identity of his informant. He harshened his voice for the camera. "Start talking, Krycek. Tell me everything you know about the Consortium’s activities, structure and purpose." The incredulous betrayal in Alex’s red rimmed eyes slashed through him like broken glass. Shattered trust. If I have to use you to keep you safe, I’ll do it. Even if you hate me for it.

After a brief, halfhearted struggle, his voice a dazed, mechanical monotone, Alex began to talk. Names. Identities. Crimes. Dates. It was everything that Skinner could have hoped for.

He talked about invading aliens, animate black oil, government involvement and experimentation, a Russian vaccine. Smallpox. Mulder. Alien rebels. Alien factions.

It was incredible. Unbelievable. This is Mulder’s world, not mine.

Skinner prompted him through the interrogation, stopping him several times, to ask questions, to make clarifications for the benefit of the camera, to give him water for the growing hoarseness.

At last Alex fell silent, slumped in his chair like a deflated toy. Skinner switched off the camera.

It would be ludicrous to apologize for what he’d just done. He was a federal agent. Alex was a criminal, an assassin. Over the course of the evening he’d admitted to participating in at least half a dozen murders ordered by the Consortium, as well as a number of other illegal activities.

He’d just mind-raped a man who was helpless to defend himself.

It was an interrogation. No different from any interrogation that he’d done before. No different from using ordinary truth drugs, except that it was more effective. It was no different.

It was Alex.

"Get ready for bed. Take a shower, brush your teeth. Don’t hurt yourself. Then come back down for a cup of hot chocolate and some ice cream…if you want to," he added.

Skinner went into the kitchen and heated up a saucepan full of milk and cocoa. He drank a cup of it, and started sorting through his mail. An hour later he poured the cold cocoa out into the sink, rinsed out the pot and turned off the kitchen light, and headed up to bed.

He paused by the open door to the guest bedroom. He could barely make out the sounds of Alex’s irregular breathing, the slightest quaver that might have been the aftermath of tears. Or not. "Go to sleep, Alex," he said softly. "We’ll deal with this in the morning."

The phone was ringing.

Go away. He lifted his head and stared bleakly at the glowing red numbers on his digital clock. Five twenty four. Hell. He fumbled for the handset, dragged it to his ear. "A.D. Skinner."

Dial tone.

Wrong number or a fucking autodial? Who cares? He flopped back down onto his pillow and was just drifting off to sleep when the phone rang again.

Godammit. He yanked the handset up to his ear. "A. D. Skinner," he barked.

Silence. He could hear the faint sound of someone breathing. "Who is this?" he snarled.

"My name isn’t important. I think you know who I represent, though."

Skinner came instantly alert in a wash of adrenaline. Fucking Consortium bastards. "Yeah. I know who you are. Call back during office hours." He slammed the phone down and threw back the covers. The chill air bit into his bare skin, and he couldn’t quite suppress a shiver. Steady, old man. This is the opening hand of the hardest poker game you’ll ever play.

Without turning on any lights, he rose and retrieved the pistol from his headboard. It was unlikely that he’d be needing it at this stage but better safe than sorry. Locating his clothing by touch, he pulled fresh boxers and slacks up over his hips, and threaded a belt through the loops.

The Consortium was all about bluffing, and occasionally being called upon to back up those bluffs. Power plays. You were either a player or you weren’t. The only chance he had was to force them to accept him as a player. His position with the F.B.I. dealt him a good hand, but he needed to convince them that he knew what he held and he wouldn’t be bluffed or relegated to dealing with the lower echelons.

And he needed to buy himself time to put in place his other safeguards.

He dragged a t-shirt over his head and padded out into the hallway, the wood floor cold beneath his feet. I love this house… Moonlight cascaded down from the vaulted windows, staining the wood with pale grey radiance. He paused with his hand curled around the door to the guest bedroom. Scruples were going to have to take a back seat to practicality, at least until he and the Consortium came to an arrangement.

I’m not doing this just because I want him back in my bed, dammit. Not that he isn’t going to see it that way.

The door swung open with creak. "Krycek?" he called quietly. No matter Krycek’s current state of disability, it would be an act of pure lunacy to approach the bed of a sleeping ex-assassin in the dark, without warning him first.

No answer.

Skinner’s heart began to hammer in his chest. "Krycek!" He flipped on the light.

Bedclothes in disarray, the coverlet lay trampled on the ground. The clothing Skinner had loaned Krycek littered the floor.

Fuck, Fuck. They took him. They have him.

The phone rang.

Skinner spun and stalked back to his room, slamming the door open with a fist and snatching the headset up. "Alright you son of a bitch, you’ve got my attention. Talk."

"Your attitude leaves much to be desired, Mr. Skinner. Perhaps you need some time to consider the matter with more care. You will hear from me again, some time within the next few days."

Fuck! "No..!" The phone was dead.

Skinner gripped the handset, white knuckled, barely restraining himself from hurling it across the room. Control it, Walter. Control it now. You’ve done enough damage for one night. He replaced the handset with a hand that barely trembled.

He begged me to kill him, just so that this wouldn’t happen. I thought, in my fucking arrogance, that I could keep him safe.

Alex. Krycek. He would be terrified right now. Helpless. I was his only hope, the thing he clung to all those months. He gambled everything he had left on me, and lost. I could have ended it for him with one simple action. The only thing he ever asked me to do for him.

Skinner’s gut spasmed and he fought back the urge to vomit. Had Krycek known they would come for him tonight? Was that why he had wanted to share Skinner’s bed? His fists clenched, nails biting into his palms. Fuck. Krycek. Why didn’t you say something? Skinner fought for breath, his lungs caught in a vice. He all but begged me to stay with him and I sent him off into the darkness. Again.

Skinner slammed his fist into the wall.

Get a grip, Walter. There’s no way he could have known. And he would have said something if he had. Krycek is no fool. They caught us off guard, that’s all. Bastards. They had broken into his house, stolen something that was precious something that was mine while he lay sleeping. Skinner felt violated. Unsafe. What else had they done in his house?

Pistol gripped firmly in his hand, Skinner began a methodical search of his home, turning on lights and leaving them burning in his wake. Closing blinds, pulling drapes, checking the latches on the windows. He didn’t really expect to find anything but he had to do something or he’d go insane.

When he got to the living room, his eyes fell upon the empty floor where the video camera had been the night before.

Fuck. Skinner’s knees turned to water and he sat down heavily on the living room floor. So close. It had been so close. He’d almost decided to leave the camera out and the video tape in the camera. It was only the worry that Krycek might take it into his head to creep downstairs to wipe the tape himself that had compelled Skinner to pack up the camera and take the tape upstairs for safekeeping. It had spent the night between box springs and mattress. They couldn’t have taken it without waking him.

Could they? Panic gripped him and didn’t ease until he’d assured himself that the tape was exactly where he had left it.

Copies. He needed to make copies. He hurried downstairs and shoved the tape into a VCR and grabbed another tape at random from his collection. "Barbara and Jack wedding" the label said. Oh well. The recording had outlasted the marriage anyway. Some kind of irony in that. He popped the tape in, made sure it was rewound and set the bottom machine to record.

When the fuck were they going to call?

It must have been a bluff. They weren’t going to drag this on for days. They just wanted Skinner to sweat. Dammit. Dammitdammitdammit…

They have me by the balls. They have Alex. Krycek. Alex.

Krycek was right. You don’t know who I am, Skinner.

Focus, Walter. They’ll call and you’ll negotiate. Set up a meeting, give yourself time to get the tape to the right person before you go. They have Krycek, but you have enough info to set their nest of vipers back years. Enough to blow them wide open.

Shit. They have Krycek, and that means it won’t be long before they know what I have and what I’m likely to do with it. I need to do it now. He checked the clock. Almost seven. The morning sun stained the drapes with a muted orange glow.

Who can I give this tape to? Mulder? No, Mulder was the first person they’d suspect of having it…besides, it was entirely possible that Mulder wouldn’t be able to resist sneaking a peek at the contents and that would be a fucking disaster.

Scully? Also too obvious, and it would eventually end up in Mulder’s hands.

He mentally ran down his list of contacts within the bureau until the name of Jacob Gage came up. Agent Gage. Perfect. He knew Jacob only from a couple of minor encounters, but the man’s reputation for integrity and reliability was well known. He quickly wrote out a set of instructions and sealed them into an envelope.

I’ll need two copies, one for the immediate threat and another for a long term solution. Restlessly, he began to pace the length of the oriental rug that covered most of his living room. Back and forth. Crossing the lines. Counting the steps.

He powered on the TV screen. The session was almost finished. He could see it in the weary slump of Krycek’s shoulders, the listless movements of his hand. Skinner found he couldn’t look away. Dear God. This is the last memory he has of me, right now. Of what I did to him. And then I sent him away without explanation or apology and slept while he was dragged back through the gates of hell.

He stared unblinking until the image of Krycek crackled with distortion for a moment, then was suddenly replaced with a line of women in yellow dresses, mugging for the camera. Skinner pressed the eject button and extracted the newly recorded tape, replacing it with another and pressing rewind on the VCR which held his original. He began to pace again.

By early afternoon he had gone through a bag of Doritos, three rolls of Tums and the entire carton of ice cream. He had a total of four copies of the tape, including the original. One he hid beneath the mattress of his bed. If they search and find it there maybe they’ll assume that’s all there is.

The phone rang. Showtime. He lifted the receiver.

"Have you had time to rethink your attitude, Mr. Skinner?"

"Enough games. I know what you want. You know what I want. Let’s stop wasting each other’s time."

There was a laugh at the other end of the line. The pure malice in it sent frissions down Skinner’s spine. "Apparently you are under the mistaken impression that this is about making a deal."

"Isn’t it?"

"No. It was just a courtesy call. Alex has something he wants to say to you, Mr. Skinner. Tell him where you are, Alex."

"I’m in the box." Krycek’s voice sounded distant and breathless, as if he was hyperventilating.

"Now tell him what we are doing to you."

"You’re putting the clamps on me."

"Do you want us to put the clamps on you, Alex?"

"N…n…" A defeated whimper. "Yes."

Another laugh, like the hiss of a snake. "Why do you want the clamps, Alex?"

"S…so I won’t move. So you won’t tear me." A gasp that turned into a moan.

"Stop! You’ve made your point you son of a…" The line went dead. No! Fuck! With a strangled curse Skinner slammed the receiver down. Call back! Call back you son of a bitch!

Minutes passed. What the fuck were they doing? This wasn’t what he had come to expect from the Consortium. They were ruthless bastards but they’d always been reasonable, within the parameters of their purpose. Civilized. This was…brutal. Pointless.

Were they punishing him? Trying to drive their point across?

What if…what if this wasn’t a Consortium sanctioned action, just a vile act of sadistic vengeance? Augustus Terhune. It could only be Terhune who was driving this. Krycek said that they were throwing him away… please, no.

Be strong, Walter. Don’t let him win.

Whether it was sanctioned or not he wasn’t doing himself or Krycek any good sitting around the house, waiting for the phone to ring. That’s what they wanted. What he wanted. Skinner snatched up his coat and hat and tucked two copies of the tape into his briefcase. Got to get out of here. He was just locking his front door when the phone rang again. Bastards. They’re watching me. Trying to keep me pinned. Fuck that. He strode down the steps across the shaggy lawn to the garage, opening the door to find…nothing. "Dammit! Dammit all to hell."

On his way to the office he had the taxi driver make a stop at the main branch post office. Better to mail this from here. Better if there is nothing that could connect me to Jacob Gage. He purchased a padded mailer, addressed it and slipped tape and notes into the envelope. Short of blowing up the post office they won’t be able to stop this and they won’t know where it’s going. It was with a certain savage sense of satisfaction that he shoved open the glass doors and strode out of the building.

"Sir?" Kim looked up in surprise. "Aren’t you on vacation?"

He’d called and left a message on her machine last night. "I’m not here, officially. Just stopped by to pick something up."

"Agent Mulder was looking for you…"

"So what’s new?" Skinner muttered under his breath as he strode past her into his office.

The phone on his desk rang. Skinner snatched it up. "A.D. Skinner."

"Just checking in, Mr. Skinner. You didn’t answer your phone at home." Someone was screaming in the background, over and over, punctuated with choking gasps as if the screamer could barely draw breath. "Have you lost interest in Alex’s progress? He’ll be so disappointed."

"What’s the point of this?" Skinner asked desperately. "I’m ready to make a deal. What do you want?"

"No point. I’m just enjoying myself. Have a nice day, Mr. Skinner," Terhune said maliciously, and hung up.

Molten rage coursed through Skinner’s limbs. He lashed out with his fist; the contents of his desktop went crashing to the ground. He slammed his fist down onto the solid oak surface again and again until the pain of it swamped him with unbearable waves of agony that drowned out his rage, and he could only clutch at his wrist and force himself to draw breath. Fuckfuckfuckfuck...

The door opened. "Assistant Director?"

"Stay out!" He lashed out, his voice harsh with twin agonies. Kim slammed the door shut, and some distant, rational part of him told him that he was doing himself no good, doing Alex no good…

Shut up!

…doing Alex no good behaving like a crazy man. It was what they wanted.

…what he wanted…

Stop letting him herd you, Skinner. That’s what started this whole thing. You wanted to stop being a victim. Do it. Take control. There’s a chance, only a chance that the bastard may be acting on his own. Use that. Better to deal with the Devil than a sadistic madman. He fished out his cell phone and punched in a series of numbers that he had hoped he’d never be desperate enough to dirty himself with again.

What if they were working together, the Devil and the Madman?

If they were, then he was lost.

Who the hell was he kidding, anyway? I was lost the moment I took Alex back inside. Should have let him die on the porch. Should have shot him through the head. It would have been kinder for both of us.

There was a click as the phone was answered. "Please leave your name and number at the tone."

"This is Skinner. Your man Terhune is pulling a fucking rogue action with information he shouldn’t have. I’ll give you all the details. He has something of mine and I want it back, now. Call my cell." He gave the number and hung up, then slumped back in his chair, the last of his energies draining away. Gone. Muffled noises rose and fell outside his office. A phone rang, was answered. People going about their business. Reports being written. Papers being filed. The normalcy of it was obscene, somehow, when he knew that at this very moment, somewhere in the city, the last shreds of a man’s soul were being ripped away from him.

There was a knock at the door.

He wanted to raise his voice, to shout at them all to go away but he just couldn’t seem to summon the effort. They would either go away or they wouldn’t.

Another knock. The door opened.


Of course. Who else? Kim would have called her. ‘Scully’, she would have said ‘my boss has gone insane, for no apparent reason. It’s an x-file, all right.’

Scully’s eyes widened fractionally as she took in the naked desk, papers scattered across the room in a patchwork of white. Why can’t my heart be made of snow? "Sir, are you all…" She stopped, arrested by whatever she read in Skinner’s expression.

Am I an x-file, Scully? There aren’t really any mysteries, you know. Just things we don’t know. Don’t tell.

"Sir. Your hand is bleeding." Scully said quietly. "Will you let me look at it?"

No he wanted to tell her. I need this. The pain of it covered him like an insulating blanket, blocking out that other pain, the awful pain, the memory of his screams, the acrid scent of fear-sweat and vomit, the desperate pleading look in his eyes kill me, Skinner.

You failed him, Walter. Again. You failed them all. Because you just couldn’t pull the trigger. You couldn’t do it. You fucking coward.

"Sir? Let me help you."

"You…can’t, Agent Scully." I can’t help him. You can’t help me.

"Don’t do this again, sir. Stop…taking everything on your own shoulders. You won’t be able to protect anyone if they break you."

"That’s enough, Agent."

"No, it’s not, sir. Haven’t you learned anything since…" she broke off, her eyes flickering to the gold band he wore on his finger, had worn ever since the day Sharon died. He’d failed her, too.

"Low blow, Agent Scully."

Her jaw made a rigid line, her lips firmly unapologetic. "I’ll do whatever it takes, sir. We need you."

Never back down. Never quit. Scully would have made a good marine. I wonder if Mulder knows how lucky he is to have this woman at his back. I’m sorry, Scully. I can’t. He couldn’t afford either the time a visit to the emergency room would take or the questions that would arise. "Thank you for your concern, Agent Scully." He rose from his chair, shrugged himself into his coat, taking care not to reveal the agony that followed every movement of his hand. He’d broken some bones, he was certain. Brilliant, Walter. Just brilliant.

"Assistant Director." Scully’s voice was soft, her touch on his arm feather light. "You told me once that you were wrong. That you should have made our quest…your own. You did, sir. We know…I know…what you’ve done for us. I’m sure we’ll never know all of it."

"No." And you never will. I couldn’t bear to see the look in your eyes…

If she was surprised by his reply she gave no sign. "We trust you. We didn’t always, but we do now. You’ve proven yourself over and over. But how can we prove ourselves to you if you never give us a chance? If you never trust us."

"This isn’t…anything to do with you and Agent Mulder." Not in any way that you’re thinking. "It’s…personal."

She stood in silence, absorbing his words. "All right. I accept that. Your agents have no business poking their noses into your personal life."

It hurt, to hear her say that. It shouldn’t have, but it did. "Then, if you’ll excuse me, Agent Scully…"

"Dana. My name is Dana. As of this moment, I’m taking myself off duty as your agent and stepping in as your friend. I hope you don’t consider it presumptuous of me to call myself your friend?"

Wordlessly, he shook his head.

"Then trust me with whatever is tearing you apart right now. Even if it’s just to talk. What can I do to help?"

He stood for a moment, head bowed, struggling to regain control of his voice. "Do you really want to help me, Dana?"

"I do, sir."



"There is…something. If I trust you with it, I trust you with…something that is more important to me than my life. Can you swear to me, Dana, that you will follow my instructions exactly? No matter what your personal instincts may be?"

"I…" A moment of silence. "I swear to you, s…Walter. On the grave of my sister."

The air fled his lungs in a long, unsteady exhalation. He bent down to fumble clumsily with his briefcase, finally managing to open it and extract a tape. He handed it to her. "Hold on to this. Hide it. Don’t watch it, or tell anyone about it, not even Mulder." Especially not Mulder. "If…if I come by for it before noon tomorrow then the…crisis is past. If not…take it and yourself to safety. Make copies. See that the contents are…made public. Don’t trust anyone."

She took the tape, staring at it as if it were a bomb about to go off in her hand. "Noon. Tomorrow. What if you call me?"

"I may be acting under duress. Play along with whatever I say but disregard it unless I call you by your first name. Get to safety. Keep your gun with you."

"Yes, sir." She tucked the tape under her coat. "Good luck, sir. Walter."

"Thank you. Goodbye, Dana."

The phone rang. Once. Twice. He let it ring half a dozen more times before picking up.

"You haven’t been answering your phone, Mr. Skinner. Why is that? I know you’ve been at home, sitting beside the phone, waiting for my call."

How much did Terhune know, and how much was he guessing? All the curtains were drawn.

Not important.

"Would you like to speak to Alex? He’s been asking for you. When he can."

"Call me back when you have something to say." Skinner hung up the phone. Examined the swollen flesh of his hand, flexing fingers dusted with dried blood at the knuckles. A heady, molten wave of agony wrapped him in its embrace.

The silence was deafening.

What if this is all there is? What if the belief that they want something from me is only a delusion that I cling to as they force my head beneath the water again and again?

What would Krycek say, if he were here?

I told you so, Skinner.

Would it spoil their plans if I just stopped swimming? His left hand brushed over the hard outline of the pistol in his pocket. Maybe. Maybe not. Fucking coward.

They need me. They all do. Dana, don’t you think I already knew that? Your need tears me apart every day, makes me do things that stain my honor, my soul. If you knew it would stain you, too. Stain the purity of your purpose. Let me save you both from that, let me save myself from the look in your eyes when you hear what I’ve had to do in order to keep you free. What I have done is unforgivable. What I am about to do…

I know all their secrets, all the details of their betrayal of the human race and I would make myself a consenting partner in that betrayal if it would give me back the one thing in my life that I ever wanted badly enough to let myself be broken for…

So many betrayals.

The phone rang. So soon? One ring…two. Skinner flexed his fingers, then opened his hand, spreading the fingers until he hovered on the edge of unconsciousness. The solid frame of the door swam in his vision. An irregular aura of darkness closed in on it, edged with sparks that crackled and snapped in his brain until he could hear nothing else. Brought him to the brink of oblivion, and then receded.

The phone was still ringing. He picked it up. "Last chance, and then I’m going to bed. I have better things to do than sit by the phone." He marveled at the deceptive calmness of his voice.

"Mr. Skinner, this breakdown in communication is most unproductive. I think we should meet. One hour. There is a storage facility at fifteen twelve northeast Washington. I don’t think I need to warn you to come alone." The phone went dead.

Almost over. One way or the other.

He rose, and managed two steps before his legs gave way and he fell to his knees, vision blurring. He began to vomit.

The storage facility was on a corner, chain link fence sporting "Do Not Trespass" signs, edging an empty parking lot. He drove in through the open gate and parked. Two men met him at the door, frisked him. He let them take his gun without protest. Couldn’t shoot for shit right now anyway. He stepped inside, into darkness. The air was heavy and still, and stank of mildew and old chemicals.

His vision was suddenly dazzled in the glare of light which strafed his vision and then moved across the floor to rest on the center of the room, illuminating an irregular shape on the floor, covered with a large piece of cloth or blanket. A body, from the shape. Another light came on, and then a third, all slanting down to illuminate the center of the room. Like the spotlights at the circus, a detached part of his mind observed, but the bulk of his attention was riveted on that silent, still figure. He stood, frozen, unable to take a step forward.

A man stepped into the light and lit a cigarette. Skinner’s eyes narrowed, but the man didn’t look familiar. The madman, then, and not the Devil. Guess I get to keep my soul after all.

"Come closer, Mr. Skinner. I don’t bite."

I do, you son of a bitch. You unspeakably vile piece of barely human garbage. I do. As Skinner approached half a dozen men stepped forward to flank Terhune, making a loose half circle about what was very definitely a body beneath a thick blanket.

"That’s far enough, Mr. Skinner." There was no mistaking the bastard’s voice. "I know what you must be thinking, but you’re only half right." He gestured, and one of the men stepped forward and yanked the blanket away. "As you can see, he’s still alive."

Krycek. You poor bastard. Skinner struggled to keep the pain from his face at the sight of the man’s violated body. Don’t show weakness. They’re like jackals.

Terhune chuckled. "Why bother trying to be stoic, Mr. Skinner? We both know how much you want what I have. The only question that remains is how long it will take you to make the installment payments. Don’t come any closer," he warned as Skinner took an involuntary step forward, "or I’ll be forced to use this…" he drew a small revolver from his coat "…on him."

"You wouldn’t. You need him as a bargaining chip."

"But of course. I wouldn’t dream of killing him. I’ll start with a finger, or perhaps a toe, since he has more of them. Very little danger in that. I’m a very good shot and he won’t move without permission."

It took a moment for Skinner to master the wave of absolute helplessness and rage that threatened to drown him at the sight of Krycek’s splayed body, marked with bruises and burns and strange discolorations that had not been there yesterday. Legs spread apart, fresh blood at their juncture, single arm outstretched and long fingers spread. Raw, truncated stub of an arm naked and displayed, a pitiable mutilation. Arranged that way by someone who wanted him constantly aware of the fact that he no longer owned even his own body.

"You have been instructed repeatedly to discourage agents Mulder and Scully from interference with our operations, and you have repeatedly either failed or outright refused to do so. That will cease. Alex will be your motivation for accomplishing this task. I will keep him for as long as it takes you to accomplish the neutralization of the x-files. Then he will be returned to you. The sooner you succeed, the less he will…be damaged."

"You sick fuck. No deal. I walk away with him right now, or there’s no deal."

"Oh, no, Mr. Skinner. I rather think you’ll be even more eager to deal the longer we have him. We can send you video tapes of his progress." The man’s lips curled in a mocking smile. "Time is our ally, you see, in this little game we’re playing."

"You may think so." Skinner felt something in him grow savage. "But you’ve gone too far."

"I don’t see that there is any such thing. You are hardly in any position to threaten us."

"You’ve already fucked him up badly enough that there’s nothing left of the man I cared about. The only reason I’m here is because I owe him for what he did. If we can make a deal, fine. If not, then I’ll kill him myself. I came very close to doing it yesterday, once I figured out what you’d done with him."

"You’re bluffing." There was still a sneer in the voice, but it had lost much of its certainty. "You wouldn’t kill him."

"He’s already dead," Skinner said, echoing Alex’s words back to him. "You killed all the parts you thought you didn’t need. Stupid bastards. You destroyed all the important parts. Any fucking idiot can pull the trigger of a gun. I don’t like what he did, or what he was, but even I can see what you threw away."

"Oh, I haven’t thrown him away. And I know exactly how far I can take this without breaking him. I know him intimately in ways you can’t possibly imagine," Terhune claimed tauntingly. "I can take him to the brink and draw him back. Our little Alex is much stronger than you realize. I made him that way. I hold all the cards, Mr. Skinner. You have nothing to threaten with, and bring so little to the bargaining table that I’m afraid you just don’t have his price yet. Unless you can think of something more to add?"

The rage was so great Skinner could barely keep his hands from trembling. "It’s true that we are negotiating from an unequal balance of power, but that’s going to work against you, you fucking asshole," he hissed.

"I’d suggest you modify your tone, Mr…"

"Fuck you. Suggestion noted and ignored. You see, right now, I have very little. Almost nothing, in fact. Maybe…not even that."

"Your position with the F.B.I…"

"I don’t give a fuck about that. Maybe if I were a little saner right now, I would. Maybe if you had left me with any illusion of power or control. But you didn’t, you stupid fuck. You had to play games. You had to fuck with my head. You had to show me that I had nothing and you had everything. Reap the benefits, asshole. Fucker." Sparks were going off behind his eyes. The rage squeezed his chest so hard he had to fight for each breath. "I’m going to bring you down. Maybe I won’t get your whole organization, but I’ll make certain that it’s clear that everything that happens now is your fault. They’ll turn on you like the pack of hyenas that they are."

The man stiffened. "You're unarmed, and I'm surrounded by my men. There’s nothing you can do to me."

"Stupid fucker. I know your name. Augustus Terhune. Also an alias, John Tasker. That one has fingerprints and several federal warrants to go with it."

Terhune scowled. "Inconvenient, but identities can be replaced."

"The name of your main man in Washington is Robert Fletcher. He has an outstanding warrant out for him under the name of Joseph Campbell. Then there’s Barbara Grable and Michael Kingsley in the Senate. Dirty as a doghouse floor. Mitch Ogden, the golden boy of channel twelve. Carter Haynes. A bunch of other people whose names I can’t remember right now but who would have a lot of interesting things to say about your organization if they were brought in and questioned. A lot of key personnel that it would take years to replace. I have them all in the palm of my hand." His uninjured fist clenched so hard he thought he could feel the bones of his hand cracking. "All because you thought you were such a clever fuck, using him to snoop through the Consortium’s records."

"All right, Mr. Skinner. You’ve made your point. I can see that Alex has been rather loose with our secrets." There was a tremor in Terhune’s voice.

Skinner grinned at him, a feral baring of teeth. "Didn’t know Alex knew so much, did you? I bet your bosses won’t be happy about that. You were supposed to be keeping him under control. You were responsible for him. You used him for things you shouldn’t have, and he just did what came naturally. The more you know, the more valuable you are. We’re both valuable, now, you and I. Only difference is…I’m still much more valuable alive. Much."

"Not any longer, Mr. Skinner. You know too much. I can’t afford to let you live."

"Do you think I fucking CARE!? Do you think I’m such a stupid fuck as to walk in here without making arrangements? Tomorrow morning everything I know will be all over the fucking F.B.I. Everything! Do you have any idea how long I’ve waited for this moment? There was always a reason not to. Until now. You've removed it. I hope they take their time killing you, Terhune. You’ll make a good fucking example."

"All right, Mr. Skinner. You win." Terhune licked his lips and gave Skinner a sickly smile. "I’ll give him back to you in exchange for your silence. I will require…"

"You have nothing!" Skinner snarled. "You think you can give me what I want?! You don’t have it. That’s not Alex any more. It’s a broken shell that looks like someone I used to care about. Alex is gone! You think I came here to buy him? You pathetic little shit, I came here to kill him," Skinner’s voice cracked. A single blow to the throat.

"Walter." Alex’s eyes were open. His head lifted slightly from the floor, then fell back.

"Alex!" Terhune snapped. "Position! You have not been given permission to move."

"Only one. N…not you anymore. Walter." Alex’s voice trembled, and the look he gave Skinner was dark with terror.

"How dare you, boy? How dare you disobey? Look at me when I speak to you!" Terhune raged. "Alex. Obey me!"

Kill me, Alex’s eyes pleaded. He had revealed his true allegiance at last, and any hope of mercy that he might have had from Terhune was gone.

Skinner’s muscles bunched in readiness. He hoped only that he’d live long enough to finish the job cleanly. I won’t fail you, Alex. Not this time.

A silence fell over the room, like a shroud. Terhune’s mouth fell open, then closed. His eyes were upon something behind Skinner’s back. His eyes darted from side to side, and he swallowed nervously. Some of the men with him shifted uncomfortably.

"Mr. Skinner." A new voice slipped into the silence, like silk over polished onyx. "If you are finished with your admittedly quite convincing leave of sanity, perhaps I can offer something which will salvage the situation for both of us."

Skinner whipped around. "It’s about fucking time you showed up! You think I called you for my own…" His tirade broke off as the speaker stepped into the dim light. It was not the man he had been expecting. Instead, he found himself facing a thin man of medium height, an aquiline face beneath a neatly combed head of white hair, dressed in a conservative suit that wouldn’t have looked out of place in F.B.I. headquarters. His expression was mild, perhaps a bit introspective, and there was something in his eyes that made Skinner think of a spaniel he’d once owned as a boy.

"Sir." Augustus Terhune’s voice was laced with resentment. Respectful resentment. "I was in the middle of negotiations…"

One of the men standing directly behind the newcomer lifted his gun and fired a single shot. Terhune fell to the ground writhing, clutching at his leg. None of the men who had come in with him lifted a hand to help. Most were staring at the white haired man in terror so abject that Skinner would have laughed if he’d felt capable of it. Another shot echoed in the cavernous surroundings, reverberating all around Skinner. Terhune’s scream rose above the hollow echoes. The scream was repeated again and again until it trailed off into a series of whimpering moans.

"Feel free to finish him yourself, Mr. Skinner," the man offered. "I cannot risk giving you a gun, but knowing what I do of your background I’m certain that won’t be a problem. Consider it an apology for our lack of foresight in allowing him to…damage your property in this fashion."

A detached part of Skinner’s brain whispered you’re going to regret what’s about to happen but he couldn’t control the leap of primitive anticipation at the thought of feeling Terhune’s flesh beneath his fingers, at hearing Terhune’s screams of pain. He stalked across the room, seeing the gun which had just shot Terhune shift to Alex’s still form, the unspoken threat and command easily read.

Skinner paused for a moment, to gently turn Alex’s head. "I want you to watch, Alex. I want you to remember this. To know that he’s never coming back."

Terhune was clutching at his leg and cursing in German. He had time for only one startled cry as Skinner drove for his throat. He came down with all his weight, feeling the bones of Terhune’s throat grind beneath the heel of his hand this will just give them one more hold on you fingers like claws squeezing, knowing that no matter how much damage he did it would never be enough …this is murder… Hands pawed feebly at the sleeves of his jacket. …they’re probably recording this… Terhune’s legs kicked, smearing blood across the dirty cement. The man’s face turned florid, then darkened to purple. I don’t care. I don’t fucking care! One last convulsion, and Terhune’s arms fell away limply. Skinner hauled the body up as he staggered to his feet, and hurled it with all his strength against the wall. It hit with a satisfying crack.

He stripped off his coat and crouched down beside Alex’s body, laying the heavy material across him, daring the ring of watching jackals to deny him this. He gathered Alex’s bleeding hand into his, fighting the urge to crush the silent, still form against him, crouching over the man as if he could shield him with the fierceness of his will alone. His eyes raised to the man who had given him Terhune, no subterfuge, no lies, nothing but naked need. He knows. I can’t fool this one like I did Terhune. "Are you going to let me take him home now?"

"Of course. He’s worth nothing to us unless he’s with you."

"And what’s your part in all this?" Skinner couldn’t keep the resentment from his voice.

"An error in judgement on my part, I’m afraid. I allowed Terhune to convince me that some discipline was necessary, both to punish Alex Krycek for his destruction of the palm pilots, and to convince him of the necessity to bring you back under control. Until Krycek’s escape attempt, however, I wasn’t aware of the extent to which Terhune had taken his…discipline. Pity." There was a note of genuine regret in his voice as he gazed down at the man in Skinner’s arm. "As you said, he was a…valuable asset."

Fuck you. Fuck you all for treating him like a possession. "What happens next?"

"That’s up to you, Mr. Skinner. You know what we want. I know what you want. There’s no reason we can’t both have what we want."

"What I want is for you all to disappear."

"I could give that to you, Mr. Skinner, but I’d have to take him with me."

An involuntary leap of terror nearly choked him. "Do that and I’ll expose you all," he said hoarsely.

"Regrettable and inconvenient, but we are all expendable in the end. I make it a personal policy never to give in to blackmail, Mr. Skinner. The worst I will accept is a zero sum solution."

"So, I get him and you get me. Is that the way it works?"

"Of course. That is how the game is played, Mr. Skinner."

"I’ll go back to work as if nothing has happened. You’ll call every now and then, to give me my orders. If I don’t play nice you’ll arrange for some sort of demonstration, just to prove that you can."

"I hope that won’t be necessary." The man’s tone was gently reproving. "I’m certain that with all that young Alex has told you about our organization, you must be able to see the benefits that could be had should you choose to accept a more active and willing role in our association. Terhune’s death has left a vacancy. You could take his place."

"So I’d be right back where I started," Skinner said bitterly. "Strangling on the end of your fucking leash."

"Not quite." The man’s gaze dropped to Alex’s pale face. "I think if you’ll reflect for just a moment you’ll realize that what you have gained can be worth what you have suffered. You may find it an odd admission, Mr. Skinner, but…" For just a moment the man’s expression softened into wistfulness. "I envy you. You have far more freedom than you know, and now you have found something worth giving up some of that freedom for." His voice harshened, a bitter half smile twisting the man’s thin lips. "I hope you are capable of appreciating it."

"You care about him." The words leaped out before Skinner could think better of them.

"In our business, Mr. Skinner," the man said brusquely, "one cannot afford such luxuries. Alex knew better. As do I." He stepped backwards, his face swallowed once more into the shadows. As if responding to some unseen signal, those few men who still lingered melted away after him. Terhune’s body had been dragged away, carrion for the scavenging hordes. With one last lingering look, the man gestured to one of his subordinates, and an object was tossed it to the floor beside Skinner. It was a large, lumpy parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied up neatly with white string. "He’ll want this, eventually. Good afternoon, Mr. Skinner. I’ll be in touch. Alex should be able to instruct you in matters of protocol." He paused for a moment, then added "I’ll leave one of my men with you. There’s a clinic he’ll take you to, where you won’t be bothered by any inconvenient questions. Consider it one of the benefits made available to you in the spirit of our future cooperation."

It took both of them to transfer Krycek to the waiting car. He was in too much pain to walk so they rolled him onto the blanket and lifted it, carrying Krycek’s limp body between them and sliding him onto the back seat of the large sedan. The man who had been left with him, who introduced himself as "Smith", slipped in behind the driver’s seat and started up the engine once Skinner had seated himself on the passenger side. It was a relatively short drive, which was a good thing for the state of Skinner’s nerves. Krycek spent it alternately convulsing in silent, subdued agony and whimpering in a language Skinner recognized as Russian.

The clinic proved to be a nondescript building with dirty whitewashed sides beneath which the indistinct markings of graffiti were visible, and a parking lot that stank of old urine and garbage. To Skinner’s relief, though, the inside proved to be as stark and sterile and antiseptic as any other medical facility he’d been to. Cleaner than some of them. Krycek was efficiently loaded onto a gurney, strapped down and sedated before he could begin to panic.

"I want to stay with him." Despite the white haired man’s apparent good intentions, Skinner didn’t trust any of the Consortium or their flunkies. Especially with Krycek.

"I…this is rather irregular…" the doctor glanced nervously from Skinner to his escort.

"Give ‘im what he wants," Smith grunted.

The doctor’s hesitation disappeared into the personae of the consummate professional. "Bring him into the examination room. We’ll do a standard exam with x-rays and…you’ve injured your hand, Mr…"

"Skinner." "Brown." Skinner and Smith answered simultaneously.

"Mr. Brown, then," the doctor went on as if nothing unusual had occurred. "Is it a recent injury?"


"I think we should have it x-rayed as well, then."

"Fine. Do us both at the same time."

The xrays revealed two broken bones in Skinner’s hand, which was splinted and wrapped and a painkiller was injected. Krycek’s injuries were a bit more complex. His bones were riddled with old fractures and healed breaks, and three of his fingers had been recently broken between knuckle and second joint. Three of his ribs were cracked.

The fresh new crop of burns and abrasions were treated with an antiseptic cream and Krycek’s fingers were splinted. The doctor’s face turned grim as he performed a thorough anal examination. "This will require stitches," he said. "Liquid diet for at least a week. Are we going to be keeping him here?" He didn’t sound particularly happy at the prospect.

"No. He’s going home with me. Tonight." Skinner’s look challenged the doctor to protest, but the man only nodded.

"Here, then." He handed Skinner a tube of the white cream. "He’ll need this applied twice a day. Best after a warm saline enema, if you can manage that. The area should not be traumatized further during this time or the stitches may tear," the doctor advised. "Is that going to be a problem?"

Skinner shook his head and pocketed the tube. Hell, it isn’t like this would be the first time I had my finger up his ass, he observed practically. "Can I take him now?"

"I'll need to do the stitches, and I’d like to keep him under observation until he wakes up. Sometimes he reacts badly to the sedation. I can never be certain what else he has been given."

"So, this isn’t the first time he’s been treated here?"

"We see him here with remarkable frequency," the doctor said curtly. "Give him an hour."

Skinner checked his watch. Ten thirty. Would Scully still be in her office? "I need to make a phone call. Is there someplace private I can go?"

"Do you need a phone?"

"No. I’ll use my cell."

"You might try the restroom, then."

"That’ll do." Skinner made his way into the dingy room and shut and locked the door. He dialed Scully’s office.

No answer.

God, no. Scully, where are you? He hung up the phone and redialed, this time using Scully’s cell phone. To his great relief, Scully answered on the second ring.


"Agent…Dana. Thank God. I called your office…"

"I decided not to make myself available as a target, just in case."

Damned good thinking, Agent. "Where can I meet you?"

"Go to the Crown Plaza lobby, sir. Wait for me. I’ll find you."

"I’ll be there in twenty…no…half an hour." Skinner put away his cell phone and exited the rest room. He found Smith at the front desk, flirting with the night watch nurse. "I’d like to be taken back to my car, Mr. Smith."

"Right. Later, gorgeous."

Five minutes later, Skinner had retrieved his car and was on his way to the Crown Plaza. He took routine precautions to make certain he wasn’t being followed.

Scully tapped him on the shoulder after a short but tense wait. "Is everything…what’s the situation, sir?"

Skinner allowed himself a long, deep sigh. "Crisis averted. Thank you, Agent Scully. You have no idea…" he broke off, embarrassed.

"My pleasure, sir. Am I ever going to find out what this was all about?" Her tone was almost plaintive.

Skinner’s first impulse was to refuse, but he reminded himself that Scully had trusted him without question. It was time that he learned to do the same. "Once things settle down. I’ll…I’ll tell you as much as I can. You have my word." He slipped the tape into the inner pocket of his coat.

Scully nodded, clearly not satisfied but willing to wait. "Good night, sir."

"Good night, Agent Scully."

When Skinner walked into the clinic he was met by several pairs of relieved eyes. "He woke up a little while ago," said one of the nurses. "It was a good thing he was still restrained. He’s a little wild. The doctor didn’t think you’d want him sedated again."

Skinner strode past her with a silent curse. After all that Krycek had been through, to wake up surrounded by strangers, strapped down and helpless. He probably thought he’d been abandoned, or worse. The door to his room was slightly ajar and Skinner yanked it open to find himself face to face with the doctor who had treated Krycek’s wounds. The man’s lined, unhappy face grew suddenly relieved at the sight of Skinner.

"I told him that you’d be coming for him," he said in a low voice. "That helped, but I couldn’t risk releasing him. Last time he was here he broke an intern’s arm."

With a curt nod, Skinner brushed past him and entered the room.

Krycek’s hospital gown was damp, the exposed skin slick with sweat and his eyes darted back and forth in a frantic dance that convinced Skinner that he was on the verge of losing control. His limbs tensed and relaxed, moving restlessly against the restraints that bound him to the bed.

His eyes flickered to Skinner’s face and froze, his body suddenly still. Even his breathing seemed to have halted.

"It’s all right, Krycek," Skinner said softly. "It’s over. You’re coming home with me."

Krycek’s eyes closed and his head fell back against the pillow in a relief so great he was nearly trembling with it. "F…fuck. Walter. Please," he whispered. "Get me out of this. Please."

Skinner quickly unbuckled the straps and slid onto the bed beside him. As Krycek struggled to sit up, Skinner reached down to slip his hands behind Krycek’s thin shoulders and pulled Krycek against him. Krycek tensed in an almost instinctive reaction, then relaxed against Skinner’s chest, settling his cheek against Skinner’s shoulder. Skinner squeezed Krycek against him so tightly that Krycek gave a small grunt of discomfort, but Skinner knew that the younger man needed to feel safe more urgently than he needed gentleness. Krycek drew in a shuddering breath and let it out, his tense muscles melting beneath Skinner’s hard grip.

"I didn’t tell them," he murmured, his voice muffled against Skinner’s flesh. "About the recording. You said…the only one. I held onto that. No matter what they did, no matter what they said. I knew you’d come for me. I followed all their other commands because I thought you’d tell me to, if you were there." There was an uncertain tremor in Krycek’s voice.

"You thought exactly right. That was good, Krycek. You did just what you should have," Skinner assured him. My clever, slippery little rat.

"You’re the only one I have to obey. You told me that and I…hid it from them. They never knew. They never knew whose orders I was following. Tell me what to do, Walter. I need that right now."

"I’ll take care of it, Krycek. I’ll take care of you. I’ve got you, now. Relax." Skinner rubbed the quivering muscles of Krycek’s back in slow, reassuring circles. "Just relax. Trust me. I’ve taken care of everything. They can’t touch us now."

Krycek nuzzled him trustingly and slipped his hand beneath Skinner’s shirt, the touch so unexpected that Skinner caught his breath and heat surged into his groin in immediate response. He cleared his throat.

"If you’re feeling well enough for that you’re feeling well enough to come home. C’mon, boy. Let’s find your clothes."

Dressing Krycek was an exercise in ineptitude, since they only had one working hand between the two of them, and it was Skinner’s left. Boxers and jeans were easy enough, but Skinner decided to give up on the button down shirt after a short bout of frustration ended up with an orphaned button falling to the floor and rolling off under the bed.

"Let’s get the hell out of here," he growled.

By the time they managed to make it back to Skinner’s house, both men were too exhausted to do more than strip down and fall into bed together. Skinner was sleepily aware of Krycek’s body curled up beside him. He hooked three fingers possessively under the waistband of Krycek’s boxers, but when Krycek mistook his intent and would have turned to face him he only murmured "Go to sleep, Krycek. I just want you to feel this and know that I’m here."

Krycek gave a sleepy murmur of contentment and was soon snoring quietly.

I could get used to this, Skinner thought as he drifted off into sleep.

Skinner came awake with a start. Hands on me, watch out, get ‘em off… He lashed out, his arm connecting solidly with a thud that sent waves of pain through his hand. Shit. He opened his eyes and sat up quickly.

Krycek was curled up beside him, cradling his own hand, wincing in pain.

"Shit. Alex. Sorry." What a fucking lousy way to start our day.

"My. Fault," Krycek gasped. "Didn’t mean to. Sorry. Didn’t mean to." He curled more tightly around himself, shoulders hunched and legs drawn up as if expecting a blow.

"Easy. Easy Alex." Goddamn it Walter, you’re supposed to be protecting him, not beating him up. "It won’t happen again. I won’t hurt you. I’m so sorry, Alex."

"Not…Alex. Krycek." Krycek tensed again.

"Sorry, Krycek." Carefully, he reached out, took Krycek’s hand in his. "Give me the hand, Krycek," he commanded as Krycek resisted the pull, and the arm went obediently limp. "How badly did I hurt you?"

"I’m not fragile, Walt," Krycek said from behind a taut mask that obviously hid some deeper unhappiness. He relaxed his body completely and lay prone, his green eyes devoid of expression. Forced passivity. A relaxed stillness that Skinner knew wasn’t natural.

"What’s going on, Krycek? What’s wrong?"

"What do I do, Walter? I don’t know what to do," Krycek said, carefully passive.

"What do you want to do?"

"Please. Walter. Don’t do this to me. Please." Krycek’s voice was taking on an edge of desperation. "Don’t let me get it wrong again. Hurts." His body began shaking in tiny spasms and Skinner recognized the signs of an impending vomit.

"Not on the bed…" were the words that leaped out of his lips and Krycek responded immediately, rolling off the bed and landing on the floor with a jarring thud.

Oh sweet Jesus, Walter, you fucking asshole, is that the best you can do for him, don’t vomit on the bed? Skinner scrambled down and pulled Krycek against him. "S’okay…easy…relax," he soothed, feeling Krycek’s spasms die away. "Let’s start this over, Krycek. You’re going to answer my questions, and then you’re going to do what I tell you. Okay?"

"’Kay." Krycek settled limply in his arms, his relief obvious.

"How are you feeling?"

"Hurts. Here." Krycek indicated his right hip. "Fell on it," he complained, with blatantly manipulative reproach. "I’m hungry. Cold, now." He thought for a moment. "Horny," he added hopefully.

"Shower," said Walter firmly. "Then breakfast."

Krycek looked disappointed, but allowed himself to be led, unresisting, through the complex set of morning ablutions that Skinner took pleasure in planning for him. Mouthwash. …need to buy him a toothbrush… Shave. Skinner plugged in his electric shaver and traced the contours of Krycek’s face to velvety smoothness, enjoying the excuse it gave him to touch Krycek’s skin as he checked for rough spots. He took a guilty pleasure in the way Krycek shivered when Skinner’s fingers brushed over his lips.

Skinner wrapped Krycek’s hand with a plastic bag before sending him in for a quick shower, reaching in briefly to apply soap in as impersonal a manner as he could. If I get in there with him I won’t be able to keep my hands off and he’s in no shape for stand-up sex. He had visions of Krycek losing consciousness and braining himself against the shower wall.

If Krycek had any objections to Skinner’s ministrations he didn’t voice them, only watched wistfully as Skinner toweled him off and stepped obediently into the boxers and sweats Skinner brought him. A loose t-shirt followed the sweats, and a long sleeved sweater that Skinner found in the back of his closet. A Christmas present from Sharon’s mother, if he recalled correctly. Not something he’d have chosen to wear, and if he was correctly interpreting the carefully neutral look on Krycek’s face as he contemplated the fuzzy monstrosity they shared, at least, somewhat similar distastes in clothing.

Well, it’ll keep him warm Skinner thought as he quickly showered and dressed himself. His stomach was grumbling by the time he pulled a t-shirt over his own damp head. He raised his eyes, surprising a quickly shuttered, almost feral look of hunger in Krycek’s eyes.

Skinner turned to fumble in his dresser drawer for a comb, but the memory of that look remained in his thoughts like the burning afterimage of the sun. He wasn’t certain if he should be afraid or aroused by it. Nobody has ever looked at me that way before. He dragged the comb through his hair, feeling Krycek’s eyes on him. Jesus, I’m as nervous as a fucking debutante he realized. What am I waiting for, anyway? He wants me. I want him. All I have to do is give the word and he’ll give me anything…everything. He wants it as much as I do.

All I have to do is give the word.

That was the problem. I don’t want to take him like a fuck toy. Krycek was obedient. Pliant. Passive. He has needs and wants but is unable to express them. If we make love now, I’m afraid the memory will poison the future, our future. Assuming that we have one. I have to find a way to get him free, first.

He tossed the comb down onto his dresser with a grimace. How the hell am I going to explain it to him without making it seem like a rejection? He can’t help the way he is now. As Skinner contemplated this, his eyes brushed over the large white tube he’d placed carefully there the night before, so he’d be sure to remember to…

Oh, fuck. This is going to be awkward.

He picked it up and turned around. "Uh, Krycek. This needs to happen before breakfast. Sorry, should have thought of it before I got you dressed."

One of Krycek’s eyebrows flicked up, then a smile twitched out. His chin lifted and cocked slightly as he waited for Skinner’s next instructions.

"Go stand by the bed," Skinner ordered and Krycek complied without hesitation. He tugged Krycek’s sweats and boxers down the man’s lean thighs. God, he’s still got the most beautiful ass any man has the right to own. He felt himself growing aroused at the sight. "Lie face down on the bed," he instructed, feeling his cock leap with response at the image the words evoked in his own head.

Again, Krycek complied without hesitation. He squirmed a bit as Skinner sat down on the bed beside him, trying to rub himself against the rough quilt, watching with undisguised anticipation as Skinner squeezed a quantity of the antiseptic cream onto his finger.

Krycek went rigid the moment Skinner’s finger poked inside him. A tiny sound escaped his lips, and it was obviously not a sound of pleasure, judging from the grimace on his face. Then, abruptly, he relaxed, ass muscles unclenching and his eyes snapped shut. Skinner withdrew the finger, then carefully returned with another application of cream. Krycek remained determinedly limp, his face blank with concentration.

Is he trying to hide his pain from me? Or is this just what he was trained to do?

Skinner fought back the nausea he felt whenever he allowed himself to think about what had been done to Krycek. He could feel the sutures, running an uneven path that went as far back as he could feel pressed in to the knuckle. Fucking bastard… His finger came away smeared with a little blood. I killed you, Terhune. I killed you with my bare hands and it isn’t enough. It will never be enough.

"All done," he whispered. He slipped his hand up under the back of Krycek’s sweater and t-shirt, to the small of his back and began rubbing him in slow, comforting circles until the stark concentration on Krycek’s face relaxed.

My brave little Alex he wanted to murmur soothingly but he held back, knowing that Krycek would neither accept nor appreciate the endearment. Was there ever a moment in your life, or a person to give you comfort, Krycek?

What a fucking irony. Walter Skinner, upset because the ex-assassin he had taken in wouldn’t let himself be comforted. Oh, Sharon, love, you would have appreciated the irony.

"Roll back over."

Krycek obeyed with a wince. He had lost his erection, his cock lying flaccid against the nest of dark hair.

Thank god for that. "C’mon, Krycek, up. Breakfast." He held out his hand, and Krycek allowed himself to be pulled upright. "I can get them," he rasped as Skinner reached for the top of his boxers.

Good sign. Fight me, Krycek. Skinner waited, restraining his impatience as Krycek awkwardly tugged his clothing up into place. I want to take care of him, do everything for him, but ultimately all I would be doing was crippling him.

Krycek’s brief flare of self assertion seemed to have burned itself out. He stood, gazing at his own feet, imbued with that curious air of tension while his arm hung loosely and his muscles seemed relaxed.

Irritation lanced through Skinner. Fight, Krycek, damn you. He wanted to shake the man. Oh, yeah Walter, that’ll really do him some good. Why don’t you handcuff him out on the porch while you’re at it?

Don’t leap to conclusions. Don’t assume you know what’s going on in his head. You did that before and made a mistake you’ll be regretting for the rest of your life. "Krycek." He tried to project an air of calm reasonability. "What are you doing?"

Krycek seemed to flinch at that, though Skinner couldn’t have said what it was that gave him that impression. "Standing. Waiting for your orders."

He’s warning me off. Not playing a game. "Okay. Follow me." Skinner turned and headed for the kitchen, knowing that Krycek was shadowing him silently. "Set the table while I cook breakfast," he threw over his shoulder.

Four eggs left. No bacon. Fortunately there was a package of frozen sausages in the back of the freezer. Skinner was afraid to look at the expiration date. He cracked the eggs into a pan and began chasing them about with a wooden spatula, throwing the occasional glance at Krycek, who was searching methodically through the kitchen for plates, glasses and silverwear. Finally, Skinner gave up on subtlety and just watched Krycek as he journeyed back and forth. There was no planning to the act, no conservation of effort or motion. Krycek’s face was calm, almost serene, as if being set to trivial household tasks was somehow keeping his inner conflicts at bay.

That would make sense. As long as he has no reason to fight what he’s told to do, there’s no conflict. Skinner removed the eggs from the heat and set them aside. Sausage is microwaveable. Good. He wrapped the frosty little greyish objects up in a paper towel God, I hope they’re supposed to be that color and popped them into the microwave. He cranked the dial to the appropriate setting and punched the button.

First order of business right after breakfast, Skinner decided, was shopping.

As days go, it wasn’t a good one.

As the afternoon wore on, Skinner’s apprehension only worsened. Krycek behaved like an automaton, accepting what he was given, obeying orders without question or even the slightest resistance, refusing to initiate either conversation or action. There was something serene in him, as if he’d gone somewhere else in his own head. Somewhere all the pain and fear couldn’t touch him.

The one exception to the rule had been when Skinner had taken him shopping at a local mall department store. Krycek had responded to questions of size, but any inquiries regarding a value judgement, such as color or style, had been met with the same politely blank stare.

Then, out of sheer irritation Skinner had picked up a pair of furry bunny slippers in Krycek’s size, and started for the counter. Before he had gone two steps Krycek had plucked the slippers from his grasp. "I don’t think so, Walt," he’d said placidly, returning the slippers to their place on the table.

When they had returned home, Krycek had immediately disappeared upstairs, and remained pointedly absent for the rest of the day.

It was getting late. The afternoon light had faded from the windows, and Skinner turned on the lamp beside the couch, and wondered what he was going to do about Krycek. It wouldn’t hurt to give him a few days, just to see what developed. Certainly, having a biddable, non-violent ex-assassin hiding out in his den was a surreal experience that was unlikely to repeat itself in the future.

How will it all end? Skinner’s jaw clenched. We have to talk about this. Even if it causes him some discomfort, I need to know what’s going on in his head. Skinner rose and ascended the stairs.

The den door wasn’t locked. Skinner hesitated, then opened it without knocking.

Shreds of brown paper lay strewn about the room. The package. Krycek’s package. He was no longer wearing the sweater Skinner had given him; instead, he had donned the leather jacket that Skinner remembered so well, the darkness of it forming a clean contrast with the white t-shirt tucked into Krycek’s jeans.

"I wondered how long you could take it for. Okay, Walter. I’m ready." Krycek leaned back, his eyes drinking in Skinner’s reaction to his change in clothing. "Things are about as settled in here as they’re going to be, I think. You can cut me loose, now."

"Cut you loose? What do you mean? Don’t be an ass, Krycek. You aren’t going anywhere. The hell if I’ve gone through all this for nothing. You’re not leaving me. Ever."

"No, I’m not leaving," Krycek agreed. The corners of his mouth turned up as his head tilted and his eyes met Skinner’s. The feral look was back in them, green sparks flaring in their hungry depths. "They’d have to drag me away. I’d fight them, Walter."

"Damned right, you’d better," Skinner said gruffly. His fingers twitched, wanting to run through the dark velvety hair that fell over Krycek’s brow, aching to feel the softness of those full lips. He shook his head, trying to refocus his thoughts. "What were you talking about?"

Krycek began to laugh, laughed until a tear ran from the corner of his eye and he wiped it away, still guffawing. "You’re so distractible, Walter. Gotta watch that. I’ll take advantage, you know." He stretched out, the leather of his jacket crackling comfortably.

Something had changed dramatically. No longer passive, Krycek’s movements were graceful and controlled. God, he’s beautiful. The sight of Krycek in his leather and jeans raised the hairs on the back of Skinner’s neck. This was a familiar Krycek, one he hadn’t seen since…before. This was Krycek the assassin. Krycek the betrayer.

"You don’t have to be afraid of me, Walter." Krycek’s eyes had gone carefully neutral. "You own me. Body and soul. For as long as you want."

"I don’t want to own you." I want a lover, not a possession. "I’m not afraid of you."

"That’s not what your eyes said, just now." Krycek’s lips twisted into a bitter smile. "You forget, my life has always depended on my ability to read people, to understand what they want. To know where they’re going to be even before they do."

"Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think."

"You thought this was what you wanted. You were wrong. I’m not a good person, Skinner. I never was. You made me into one for a time because I had to be what you wanted. My survival depended on it. That time is coming to an end, and you have to decide if you’re going to let me go back to being what I was, or keep me with you. It’s still your choice."

"I’ll keep you."

Krycek’s eyes closed.

"But not like this, Krycek," Skinner said softly. "I’m sorry. It’s not going to be that easy. It’s got to be your choice."

"You’re making a mistake," Krycek said flatly.

"My mistake to make." Who the hell do you think you’re fooling, Krycek? You want to change, but you want to pretend it wasn’t your choice to make. The man with his finger on that palm pilot would never have given the choice to anyone else.

What if the man he becomes, wouldn’t? a cold little voice inside him demanded.

"Suit yourself." Krycek shrugged. "In case you were wondering, I haven’t just been playing zomble boy all day. I’ve been using the breather you gave me to do a little housecleaning. You already gave me most of what I needed. Given enough time I could break free on my own. Eventually. You can…speed things up if you want. or stop them."


Krycek took a deep breath. Swallowed. "Just tell me what you want me to be. What you really want. Don’t lie to me, Walter. I’m really good at seeing through that shit."

"And then?"

"Then I use it. Like I used what you told me yesterday. One master, one order. A lot of things that you never told me to do, but I know you would have if it had come up. Because what you want me to do is more important than what you tell me to do." Krycek shrugged, but the look in his eyes made Skinner ache. "Not a perfect solution, but it cuts through a lot of bullshit. Saves time. Now tell me what you want, Walter."

I want to make love to you. I want you to be whole. "I want you to be Alex Krycek. Whoever that is. I want you to be free." Free of him, free of them, free of everything but me. "I don’t want to lose you but I’d rather let you go than force you to be something you’re not."

"Damn you, Skinner." Krycek’s eyes closed and a tear squeezed out and crept hesitantly down the pale cheek. "Why do you always go and fuck me up like this? I offered you the chance to make things right…"

"Bullshit. You want me to solve your crisis of conscience. Do it yourself, Krycek. Don’t try to make me your keeper."

"Fuck this!" Krycek snarled and came to his feet with the grace of a feral cat. He shoved his way angrily past Skinner and out into the hall. Moments later, Skinner heard the front door slam shut.

Skinner retreated to his study. I’m not even going to pretend to get anything useful done tonight. He selected a book of poetry from his shelf, appropriate reading for a melancholy mood. I’m going to brood and I’m going to feel sorry for myself. I deserve it. He opened the book to a random page and began reading aloud.

Skinner came abruptly awake. He had dozed off, the book lying in his lap. He tensed as a slight vibration warned him that someone was climbing the stairs. He grew his gun.

There was a click, and the door swung open. Noiselessly, Krycek entered the room.

Skinner’s pulse quickened at the sight of him. The leather jacket was half unzipped, showing the expanse of damp white t-shirt clinging to well defined chest muscles. Krycek grinned and shook his head, shedding a few drops of rain from his dark hair, more glistening on cheekbones and the beard shadowed chin. "Miss me, Skinner?"

Skinner holstered his gun. His lips twitched. "I’m not going to feed your ego by answering that."

Krycek pivoted in the light, graceful on long, jeans-clad legs. His eyes were knowing, hovering on Skinner’s face with an eagerness that made Skinner catch his breath. Then Krycek stepped fully into out of the room’s shadows and his jacket fell open further. There was a gun tucked into the waistband of his jeans.

Skinner’s breath stopped. "Where'd the gun come from, Krycek? What did you do?"

Krycek’s eyes shuttered. "I’ve been prowling. A rat in the shadows. Finding myself. You wanted me to be what I am, Skinner. Good or bad, that was the implication." Krycek’s lip curled up in a sneer.

Fuck. Krycek, no. "That’s what I said. You said I’d regret it." Please, Krycek, his eyes pleaded, tell me I don’t have to…

Krycek crossed his arms and leaned up against the wall. "Rent-a-cop," he said with a shrug. "He pissed me off, pulled his gun. I took it away from him. No," the look he gave Skinner was almost petulant, "I didn’t. I kicked his ass, though," he reflected with some satisfaction.

Relief made Skinner a little lightheaded. "I can live with that."

Krycek laughed, his voice a husky promise. "Dragging you down already, babe. A few months ago you’d have wanted to haul me in for assault. You going to be walking on the wild side with me from now on?"

Skinner sobered. "You know I can’t do that."

"Yeah." Krycek’s voice held a wistful regret. "Never the twain. You should try it sometime, though. Do you good."

"No. Jumping the tracks isn’t the same for me as it is for you. It’s not just a game." How can I make you understand that? "I’ve crossed some lines I never thought I would. Your fault, Krycek. Not all of them, but a lot. Don’t push me, Krycek."

"Changing your mind already, Skinner?" Krycek shrugged upright and made his way across the room, his eyes daring Skinner to protest. "Do you regret cutting me loose?"

"No. Not yet. Is that what tonight was all about? Punishing me?"

"For a little while. I went looking for trouble. Whatever I could find. Took me half an hour to find it." Krycek snorted. "I’m out of practice. Besides, you don’t exactly have a wild night life in this neighborhood." He drifted in close enough that Skinner could smell smoke on the dark leather of his jacket, the faintest hint of alcohol on his breath. Dried blood streaked his upper lip and cheek. "Found a bar. Had a drink. Trolled for marks until I caught one. Big mouthed asshole who thought twice as many arms equaled twice as tough." Krycek’s eyes closed. "It was hard, with this," he said hoarsely, with a twitch of his bandaged hand, "but I kicked his ass, too. You have no idea, Skinner, no idea at all…" there was a tremor in his voice "..what it feels like to take your life back. To feel whole again. Fuck. You have no idea how much I needed this." His head gave a little shake and he took a half step back, as if he had suddenly awakened from a trance. His face closed down, grew guarded.

He doesn’t like admitting that he needs anything. He expects it to be used against him. Paranoid little rodent…. Skinner grinned at him. "Yeah. I can see that you did. You know…I really hate to encourage you by saying this, but you are the sexiest thing on two legs in that jacket. I like the new you."

Krycek stared at him, completely disarmed. "You do?"

"Damned straight. C’mon down to the kitchen with me. I think I need a beer."

Between them, they went through an entire six-pack and half a bottle of scotch. Skinner did most of the talking at first, drawing Krycek out on various subjects; sports, politics, current events. Krycek's reticent answers grew more enthusiastic as the bottles emptied. Skinner found himself enjoying the man’s ruthless wit and incisive grasp of current issues. As they argued, Skinner would occasionally catch Krycek watching him with a speculative look that grew more uncertain as Krycek’s blood alcohol content rose.

"I’ve been thinking," Krycek said, finally. The words were slow. Careful, but not slurred. Krycek was a man who had learned to hold his liquor. "Did you…mean it?" His voice was ragged with unguarded emotion. Halting. "What you said, that second night. About…about me joining you? You and Alex?" His shoulders drew together as he waited for Skinner’s answer, as if expecting rejection.

Skinner thought back. The details were fuzzy, but "Yeah. I meant it."

Krycek was breathing heavily, as if there was some kind of pressure being exerted on him from within. "I…would have liked that." His voice was thick.

"Alex, I…"

"Don’t call me that." Krycek snapped fiercely. "Don’t delude yourself, Skinner. See me for what I am. Don’t try to turn me into him. I’m not. I can never be what you want."

Skinner sighed. "Surely I’m not the only one who’s ever called you Alex. It’s your name."

"When anyone else calls me Alex it’s just a name," Krycek agreed. "But we both know with you it’s different. When you say Alex you mean him."

He was right, and he was wrong. Skinner frowned in frustration. Didn’t Krycek realize that he was Alex? The old Krycek wouldn’t have cared if Skinner deluded himself. He would have used it to get what he wanted.

He’s not ready. Vulnerability frightens him.

"Okay, sorry." Give him time. "Krycek. Yeah. I meant it." He waited for Krycek to take the next step, but the man only toyed with his beer in silence.

He’s too afraid of rejection, Skinner realized. He thinks I still blame him for Alex’s "death" and he’s waiting for me to bring that up, perhaps to taunt him with what he might have had. "The offer’s still open," he said softly.

Krycek stiffened. "You don’t want me," he stated flatly. "You want him."

"If I can’t have what I want I’ll just have to learn to want what I have." He regretted the words almost before they had left his mouth.

Krycek’s expression turned ugly. "That’s pretty pathetic, Skinner. Surely you could do better for yourself than this." The deflated sleeve that hung at his side gave a spasmodic flop, like the tail of a goat.

"Fuck you, Krycek." Skinner closed his eyes wearily. "I have scars, too."

"Yeah. I’ve seen them."

"My shoulder was a mess after some fucker slammed it against the wall in a stairwell a couple of years ago. It still aches in cold weather."

"I remember you favoring it a few times. I never asked."

"Probably a good thing," Skinner snorted. "Then you’d have had to pretend to be sorry."

"No. Not really."

Skinner opened his eyes and regarded Krycek curiously.

"I was still pretending I didn’t remember anything," Krycek said, a shade too evasively.

"Right. I’d forgotten." Like either of us believes that.

Silence fell across them, an uncomfortable silence that grew heavier with every breath drawn.

It was Krycek who broke first. "I can walk away," he stated. "I can disappear. I’ve got contacts overseas. New identity. U…Terhune was the only one who could have traced me. No one else knows me well enough. You probably still won’t be able to take the bastards down completely, but they won’t be giving it to you up the ass anymore."

Skinner stared morosely at the half empty bottle in his hand. What Krycek was proposing was the most reasonable solution to their problem. The most ethical one. The one he’d leap at without hesitation if he weren’t so fucking sick of losing all the time. Losing Alex. "There’s a spot, just between my shoulder blades. To the left of my spine. It tenses up and it fucking hurts and I can’t get my arm high enough to massage it. Nothing helps. I rub up against the door frame like Baloo the Bear and I feel like an idiot."

Krycek stared at him. Blinked. "Was there a point to that little outburst of sharing?" he inquired.

"There’s a club downtown, not far from the bar where…where you found me that night. Men’s club. Just…men. I was drunk one night, so I wandered over there and picked someone up." He had green eyes, like yours. Dark hair. "We went upstairs. We fucked." Afterwards, I got a little talkative."

"Spilling bureau secrets in bed? Very bad form." There was no venom behind Krycek’s words.

"I wasn’t that drunk." I could have been, though. "I told him about…’Nam. Some of the things I’d done. He…left." Skinner closed his eyes against the memory. "That was…the last time."

"I’m not Alex, Skinner." Krycek’s tone sounded almost pleading. "I can’t be what you need."

"Hell, Krycek, you don’t know what the fuck I need. Haven’t you been listening? I need someone who can reach the middle of my back. I need someone who can take care of himself if he gets caught in the crossfire of my life. I need someone who won’t fucking look at me like I’m a…" hot tears burned paths of fire down his cheeks "…a fucking monster. I need someone who knows that sometimes you have to do things…" he opened his eyes. "Alex couldn’t have done those things for me. He was too…innocent. I couldn’t have told him. I doubt there’s anything I could say that would shock you."

His remark forced a snort from Krycek. "More likely the opposite."

"Sez you," said Skinner. "Give it your best shot, boy."

"Not going there," Krycek muttered. He stared broodingly at the wall. "They’ll put pressure on me, you know. To snoop. To remember what you say when you talk in your sleep. To figure out what makes you more vulnerable to their manipulations. I don’t have your strength, Skinner."

You do. It’s just a different kind of strength. "Will you do one thing for me, then? Promise that you’ll tell me. Before you pass them something. I won’t try to stop you and I’ll try not to blame you. I just…I hate not knowing."

Krycek raised incredulous eyes to Skinner’s. "You’re serious. You’re really fucking serious." His voice was thick and the pupils of his eyes had nearly swallowed the green that ringed them. "You want me. You know what I am and what I’m willing to do, and you still want me. You can’t be for real, Skinner."

"I am."

"You’ll regret this, you know."

"Maybe. From time to time. That’s the way life is."

"There are no happy endings, Skinner."

"Walter. Say my name, Krycek," Skinner commanded softly.

"Walter." Krycek shaped the word as if it was fine chocolate melting on his lips. "Walter." He lifted his hand and carefully touched his bare thumb to Skinner’s lips. "You can call me Alex, if you like." His eyes were suddenly very green.

"Not yet, Krycek." Skinner took the hand and held it gently captive, tracing the patterns of calluses and lines, exploring the sensitive skin. "Not until I’ve convinced you that I know who I’m talking to."

Krycek shivered, and the last vestiges of wariness fled his eyes. He stared at the movements of Skinner’s hands as if hypnotized.

Skinner unbuttoned the cuff and, rolling back the sleeve, began to explore the cords and muscles, his fingers stroking across the white line of an old scar that bisected the veins of his wrist.

"I know what you are, Krycek. Maybe not all the fine details, but they’ll come in time. If you can bring yourself to trust me that much. Maybe I won’t always be able to protect you, but I’ll try my best. I won’t ever abandon you. Ever."

Krycek’s face twisted in a halfhearted sneer that was no longer adequate to protect him. "You can’t promise that. You’re as mortal as anyone else."

"I could die. Either of us could. But I’ll never abandon you. I won’t ever walk away from you, no matter what you’ve done. No matter what you do. If I have to, I’ll kill you." Skinner’s hand closed around Krycek’s wrist. "If I have to stop you and I can’t do it any other way."

"That’s fair." A sad smile teased at the corner of Krycek’s mouth. "At least I know you’ll make it quick."

"Don’t make it necessary." Skinner’s grip suddenly became crushing, and Krycek winced.

"I’ll…try. I can’t promise any more than that. This is all new to me. I’ve never had a reason even to try before."

Skinner felt a shudder run through him at the words. "Do you? Have a reason?"

"Yeah. I…think so."

A tiny stab of fear, like a paper cut across his heart. "You’re not sure?"

"Fuck." Krycek buried his hand in his hair, head pressed against the heel of his hand. "Fuck."

Skinner crouched down in front of him, not touching. Close enough that he could see the white knuckled strain beneath the tightly wrapped strands of dark hair, "Talk to me," he said. "Talk to me, Krycek."

"’Bout what?" Krycek’s voice had a slightly strangled quality.

"What’s going on in there? Tell me what’s on your mind."

Krycek gave a short, choked laugh. "Is that an order?"

Skinner had to smile. "It’s not that easy any more. Not for either of us."

"No." The word sounded almost wistful. "I almost wish…" His voice trailed off, fingers unclenching from the tangle of hair and then his hand dropped limply into his lap.

"Tell me," Skinner’s voice was soft, coaxing. He leaned in a little closer. "What do you wish?" Careful, careful. We’ve got to get used to each other all over again. Now I know what Sharon felt like. The thought made him want to laugh, and to weep.

"I kinda wish I didn’t have to rely on myself to do things right." Krycek said, finally. "That I could…" he gave an embarrassed shrug "…just…give you control. Give it back."

"You’d end up hating me, eventually," Skinner said softly.

"I know." Krycek fell silent, a bowed, weary man with his protective shadows stripped away beneath the merciless light of the overhead lamp. "I guess I’m just fated to always want what will hurt me the most. Ironic, isn’t it?"

Skinner ached, for the boy who had been, for the man who couldn’t help what he was. And for himself. "We’ll work it out, Krycek. C’mon. What I want now is shower and bed. How about you?"

"Yeah. I guess." Krycek gave him a half-drunken, wary look. "Are you gonna stick your fingers up my ass again and then leave me without even blow job to show for it?"

"Depends on how good you are tonight."

"I’m always good," Krycek grumbled. "I’m just not always appreciated."

After the initial thrill of newness had passed, Skinner decided, there was absolutely nothing erotic about brushing another man’s teeth. Nor in wiping his ass after he used the toilet. He was tempted to tell Krycek that if he was well enough to start a fist fight in a bar he was well enough to take care of his own needs but he knew left on his own Krycek would be disinclined to tend to himself properly.

At least, properly according to Skinner’s standards. I’m damned well going to take care of him whether he wants me to or not. And no matter the cost to my dignity or his. His uncomfortably veiled suggestions progressed into embarrassingly graphic demands, but Krycek adamantly refused the humiliation of the prescribed enema until Skinner, in desperation, promised him a hand job in the shower. Krycek agreed with a sly grin that told Walter he’d probably been taken advantage of; from what he knew of Krycek’s life, the man was unlikely to have retained any degree of body modesty unless it suited his purposes.

He took his revenge in a leisurely fashion, dragging the process out with great ceremony and no little satisfaction, filling and hanging the bag with cheerful anticipation, insisting on draping Krycek over his knees with a pillow beneath his hips and taking his time lubing the tip, inserting it ever so slowly and carefully, and then making Krycek wait, enduring Skinner’s single-handed caresses until Krycek was virtually squirming and whimpering beneath his hand, and then allowing the flow, keeping up what he hoped was a sufficiently humiliating flow of commentary.

"Asshole," Krycek muttered when it was done. "I ought to get an upgrade to a blow job for that."

By the time Skinner got their splinted hands wrapped in plastic and had adjusted the temperature, both he and Krycek were fully aroused, Krycek painfully so, from all appearances. Skinner had planned on taking his time with this process as well, but he had barely begun stroking Krycek’s cock with his well soaped hand before Krycek gasped and threw his head back, banging it against the shower head and nearly falling as his legs buckled. Skinner snaked his arm behind Krycek’s back, supporting him as the man’s orgasm spent itself, and then took care of his own arousal with a few expert pulls as Krycek leaned against him, boneless and sated.

"Good enough?" Skinner asked with a gasp, heart pounding in the aftermath of his orgasm.

"I think you broke something," Krycek complained, touching the back of his head with a wince.

"Next time I’ll make you wear a helmet, then," Skinner threatened, chuckling at Krycek’s grimace. He quickly soaped and rinsed himself and Krycek, and then shut off the water. After toweling them both off Skinner found two pairs of boxer shorts, which he proceeded to wrestle into place. He paused, with his hand still gripping the waistband of Krycek’s boxers, to find Krycek’s eyes on him, a strange, wistful smile curving his lips.


"Nothing. Just…remembering last night. It’s funny," Krycek shook his head and gave a little smile. "I’ve had more good memories in the past few days than I can remember ever having in my life."

His words shook Skinner; bitter and yet strangely sweet. "It’s only the beginning, Krycek. I promise you. There are so many good memories that I want to give you. So many things I want to share with you. I just hope…" I hope we’ll be given the time. Time was one thing that had never seemed lacking before. There had been too much of it. It had made him frantic, sometimes, trying to live through the long stretches of nothingness, trapped by the unalterable crawl of the hours. Waiting, with nothing to wait for. Now, suddenly there was so much he needed to do, and the thought that he might not have enough time…

"Don’t do this to yourself, Walt," Krycek murmured. "Don’t do it to me, either. Don’t waste the time we have worrying about shit that might never happen. And shit that we have no control over." He stepped in close, so close that Skinner could feel his body heat, the awareness of Krycek’s proximity dancing across his skin like electricity.

"Am I that transparent?" he asked with a rueful smile.

"I don’t know," said Krycek. "I just know what I see," an imp suddenly danced in his eyes, "and I know where I’d rather be seeing it right now."

"Your wish is my command. Let’s go to bed." Skinner turned, and Krycek fell into step behind him like a well trained puppy as he climbed the stairs. It felt good, knowing he was there. It felt right.

I have to do this right. For once in my life, I need to get it right.

Haven’t you learned anything? Scully had asked him.

I have. I have learned. Skinner sat down on the edge of the rumpled bed. It hadn’t been touched since morning, probably still smelled of sweat and Krycek. It would be so easy to just accept what Krycek was offering, to lose himself in the scent and the taste of his lover’s body, let the pleasure of it drive away his demons for the night, to tell himself that anything they had to say to each other could wait for the morning, for another day. He’d done it before, with Sharon. Over and over. Krycek could help him forget, and he, in turn, could do the same for Krycek. Isn’t that all that either of them wanted?

Haven’t you learned anything?

"Krycek…can we just talk, first?"

"’Bout what?" Krycek’s voice was carefully neutral. "Is this about the damned stitches? I’m not stupid, Walter…"

"No. Nothing like that. I just…" God, it was so hard. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to talk. I just want to fuck. He’d said that to Sharon, once. I lost Sharon because I couldn’t bring myself to give her everything she needed, everything she deserved.

Krycek isn’t like that. He’ll take what he’s given. Krycek would never demand more of him than he was willing to give. He’d never expect more of his partner than physical passion, physical pleasure. Doesn’t he deserve more than that, though? Doesn’t he need it as much as Sharon ever did? More, probably, though he may not even realize it. And how can I expect him to share himself if I won’t do the same?

"What? Why are you making this so complicated, Walter? Shit." Krycek stared sullenly at the floor. "I really hate myself for being right, sometimes. Whatever we had, back in the cabin. It’s gone, isn’t it? It was him, not me. Fuck…"

"Will you just stop jumping to conclusions?"

"Just give me a chance, Walter. Please. I can make it good for you. You have no idea what I can do. You don’t have to do anything…"

"Krycek, listen to me. I’m trying to make things right…"

"What, by letting me down easy? I’m not a fucking virgin bride, here, Walter…"

"Shut the fuck up, Krycek! I’m trying to tell you something important and you’re not making this any easier. Goddamit, I hate this fucking sharing crap…"

Krycek stared at him for a moment with his mouth slightly ajar, then shut it. "Shit," he said softly. "Sorry, Walt. I’m a fucking asshole, sometimes. You were…scaring the shit out of me, though. I’ve been wondering when the fuck you were going to wake up and realize what a big mistake you were making. I keep wondering…where I’d go." His voice tightened. "I haven’t been in all that many relationships, and most of them ended badly, really badly, but I do watch a lot of videos and I know that when someone says ‘we gotta talk’ it usually translates to "it’s over, get the hell out of my life…"

"Nothing could be farther from the truth, Krycek. I just…wanted you to know…how much I need you. I want you to understand that. Not just for the sex, although I won’t deny that the sex between us was…good. Will be good. Better than anything I had before, even with my wife."

"You…don’t have to tell me this, Walter. You don’t owe me anything."

"Yes, I do. And you owe me. I fucked up big time, with Sharon, and I lost her. It’s not going to happen again."

"I don’t understand." Krycek looked lost. "What happened? I thought she was a Consortium hit…"

"That was afterwards. I lost her twice. She was divorcing me, just before she died. The first time she mentioned it, I was completely unprepared; it was like a gut-shot in the dark. It was my fault, I can look back and see that now. Over and over she asked for…and she deserved…more than I could give. She said that I never opened up, never gave her what was inside me. Never let her in. She was right. I didn’t. I couldn’t."

Krycek gave his words a long moment of thought. "Because of Vietnam?"

"Yeah." Skinner’s shoulders ached with tension, and there was a lead weight burning in his gut. "I’ve had a lot of time to think about what she said."

"You were afraid," Krycek said softly. "You were afraid that if she could see inside you she’d be sick to her stomach. The way you feel sick when you look inside yourself, when you think about telling anyone else about the things you’ve done. Yeah. I know that feeling."

"She used to say ‘Walter, if you’d only open up a little bit’. I knew, though…" Skinner swallowed, "…that if I opened up just a little it would all come rushing out. Everything." The pain in his gut made him want to curl up and close his eyes. "I never wanted to see her look at me the way that boy looked at me."

"Like you were some kind of a soulless monster?" Krycek gave a small snort. "You get used to it. After a while, it even feels good. You know why?"

Skinner shook his head, staring at the blurred floor. The bed tilted slightly. He felt the heat of Krycek’s thighs against his buttocks.

"Because you know you deserve it. Because you know they’re right. Because… No, that’s not right. Not you, Walter. Just me." Krycek’s voice dropped to a bitter whisper. "Do you want to hear a secret? Do you want to know the truth? They were right. I am a soulless monster. A cold shell around something that isn’t even a human being any more. Every murder, every betrayal just adds to it, and the only expiation I’ll ever have, I’ll even be able to allow myself is that moment of hatred, that look in your eyes, the sound of your fists hitting my flesh. Did I ever tell you, Skinner, how much I enjoyed using that palm pilot on you?"

Krycek was shivering. Of all the things he did to you, Krycek, that’s the worst. Skinner reached back and took the man’s hand, pulled Krycek’s unresisting body against his, a warm blanket of muscle and sinew and bone against his back. You died way too easily, Terhune. I wanted to feel your blood running down my arms, wanted to watch the flies crawling across your still-living body. I wish I’d put your balls in a jar so I could take it out and remember the day I cut them off while you screamed. Deep down inside I’m a fucking savage, Terhune, and I’ll hate you forever for reminding me of that. "It’s a sad thing, Krycek, but I think we deserve each other." He wrapped Krycek’s arm around his waist, capturing the man’s flesh against his. "We need each other."

"You are so fucked up, Walt." Krycek laid his cheek against Skinner’s spine. "Do you think that anything you’ve done even comes close…" There was a puff of breath against Skinner’s shoulder blade, as if something had forced the air from Krycek’s lungs.

"I don’t know, Krycek. I honestly don’t know." Skinner’s thumb explored the sensitive skin inside Krycek’s elbow, felt an answering shudder and the movement of Krycek’s hand across his hip. "I want to know you. All of you. Body and soul. I know myself, Krycek, and I promise you I won’t pull back. Just as I know you won’t flinch back from me." Another puff of air. "You’re too strong for that."

"It’s not about strength. Not mine, anyway. You’re right…I won’t flinch." Krycek’s lips brushed, feather light. Warm breath shivered across his skin. "You’re wrong about the reason, though. I’m not strong. I never was. You…you’re like a fucking sequoia, Walter. No matter how we battered at you there was something that stood against us. I hated you for that. I hated you so much. More than anyone else, you made me feel like a weed that could be trampled under any foot. You made me feel insignificant. I hated you. I wanted to make you…look at me. Even if it was only in hatred. Like I told Mulder, once. I take what I can get."

"What if I want to give you…everything?"

"I can take anything, Walter. Anything. Just give me a chance."

"Then let me inside you, Krycek."

"Thought you’d never ask," Krycek murmured.

"Asshole," Skinner accused, fondly. "I’m not talking about sex, though that’s part of it. I’m talking about your head and your heart. I want you inside me as well. I’m so tired of being alone in here, Krycek."

"Alex. Call me Alex."

Walter’s breath stopped for a moment. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah. You’ve convinced me. I didn’t understand before, what you wanted of me." His voice dropped to a husky whisper. "I didn’t want to disappoint you, Walter."

"But you know now?"

"I know. You want…what I want." Skinner could hear the grin in his voice. "Hot sex. Cold beer." The mirth slowly faded and was replaced with something akin to wonder. "A safe place. Comfort. Refuge. Release. And maybe…maybe even absolution. For the things that you’ve done. Will you let me try to give you that? Tell me. What’s the worst thing you ever did, Walter?"

"I sent you away. You came to me for help and I threw you out in the rain."

"Hell, Walter, " Krycek murmured. "If that’s the worst thing you’ve ever done I’m so fucked. Please, Walter. Please let me in."

"I…" Skinner’s chest was suddenly gripped in a vice. A memory surfaced. he pushed it away... No. Don’t tell him... but it kept returning, battering at him until he had to speak...or scream. "I stole a man’s boots. He…" The vice squeezed. It hurt. He couldn’t catch his breath.

"Breathe for me. Breathe, Walter. Tell me."

"He…he wasn’t dead yet. He was my friend. His guts were spilling out through a hole in his belly. He…begged me not to take his boots, but I took them anyway. I didn’t need them. My boots weren’t so bad. I didn’t even need them…"

Hot tears sleuced down his face and he began to sob, hating himself even as he did so, silent spasms of mortification and guilt.

"All the way, Walter. That’s it, babe. Give it to me. Let go."

He could feel the icy dam inside him loosen and give way, spilling out into racking sobs as Krycek held him, stroking gently, murmuring encouragement. Eventually he lay, spent, feeling as if he had been washed to the edge of a cliff and stood at the lip, looking down. Waiting to fall. "Well?" Here’s where he tells me it wasn’t so bad, dead men don’t need boots, how he’s done much worse things just for fun and then he’ll expect me to feel better about what I did…

"Did you shoot him, Walter?"

"No. of course not." A strange, uneasy dread traced a path of goose bumps down his arm, like the fingers of a corpse.

"Walter…Walter…Walter…" It was a whisper of knowing reproach. "Is it me you’re trying to lie to, or yourself?"

"Fuck you!" Panic flared in his breast, though he didn’t know why. "What are you talking about? I didn’t kill him."

"I know. I know." The sympathy in Krycek’s voice cut more deeply than any accusation he could have made. "It wasn’t the boots, was it? It isn’t the boots that you see in your nightmares. Is it?"

"What the fuck do you know about my nightmares?" The intimacy of Krycek’s hand on his skin was suddenly unbearable. Skinner twisted and shoved. Krycek gave a little grunt of pain but made no move to protect himself. "Other than the fact that you’re in them."

"I’m flattered but not diverted. Teach your grandmother to suck eggs, Walter. I know all about diversions. How many bullets were left in your gun?"

"A…few." He knows. Fuck. How could he know? "Enough. Oh…god. Oh, god." …oozing pink and red and pale yellow, intestines glistening in the orange of the sunset, blood staining the dirt a darker shade of red, sweat and dust covered limbs twisting in an agony beyond bearing… "I thought he was dead, until he opened his eyes as I was taking his boots, and he started to scream. I ran. I was afraid they’d hear. I didn’t shoot because I was afraid they’d hear and they’d know I was there…" Skinner let the self-hatred he was feeling spill out into his voice. "I couldn’t even slit his throat. I couldn’t do it."

"You’re not a killer, Walt." Krycek’s hand traced slow lines across the curve of his ribs. It helped somehow, that he could still be touched. That someone still wanted to touch him. "They sent you out there without teaching you how to kill. All of you. They taught you to shoot but they didn’t teach you to be killers."

"You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. I’ve got so much blood on my hands, Krycek, if they put it in a barrel I’d drown of it. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a lot more deaths on my conscience than you do."

"In the heat of battle. When the adrenaline was pumping and you were so scared you thought you were going to shit yourself. Pull the trigger. No time to think or decide. But did you ever look someone in the eye just before you killed him? Did you ever take a long look and decide; yes, I’m going to kill this man? Did you ever kill someone you liked? Respected? Cared about?"

"I…" Skinner swallowed. "No. Not like that."

"It’s one of the first things he taught me," Krycek remarked. His voice was matter-of-fact, but Skinner could feel the sudden tension in the body that pressed against his. "He made it seem like the most natural thing in the world. The most trivial. Fucking hypocrite. He had the nerve to throw it in my face, once, that he’d never killed anyone. He said I had no soul, so it didn’t matter. If I’d had a soul it wouldn’t have been so easy to teach me to kill."

"Fucking…lying…bastard." Rage flared in Skinner, at a man who could destroy a boy’s very heart and then taunt him for its absence.

Krycek shrugged, an exaggerated motion belied by the tremor that followed it. "Maybe. I’m a killer, Walter. As soulless as they come. I don’t see their faces in my nightmares. They don’t trouble my sleep. I just pull the trigger and forget about them once the paperwork gets filed. That isn’t going to change, Walter. I don’t suddenly get my soul back just because somebody l…" The breath whuffed out of him as if he’d been kicked. He tried to pull his hand free but Skinner clamped down, flesh against flesh if I let him go now I’ll never get him back crushing Krycek’s arm against him with a strength Krycek couldn’t pretend to misunderstand, couldn’t deny, couldn’t escape.

"You’d have killed him, Krycek. You wouldn’t have left him there to die in agony. You wouldn’t have flinched back from doing what had to be done. And if I’d come to you the way you came to me you’d have put your gun to my head and pulled the trigger before you let them take me back. No matter what it cost you, how it ripped you apart inside. I couldn’t have. I can’t deny that I hate some of the things that you’ve done but I don’t hate you."

Krycek was trembling openly, though he made no further attempt to pull away.

"There’s a strength in you that I can’t help but admire and covet. You do what you believe needs to be done. Your biggest mistake is in letting the wrong people decide what needs to be done."

"Will you use me, Walter? Aim me. Tell me when to pull the trigger. Let me be of some use to you? Show me that you need what I am?" Krycek’s voice was so husky it was almost inaudible. "I need to be worth something…to you."

He can’t believe in his own value, as a human being, a lover, only in the value he can offer by his actions. If I told him I loved him it would mean nothing to him unless he could offer me something he considered of value.

One step at a time.

Skinner smiled. "I’ll have to," he said gently. "I’m dealing with the Consortium now and they’ll all know I’m not ruthless enough to swim with the sharks. Without you they’d eat me alive."

Krycek chuckled and gave a little hiccup. "That’s because they don’t fucking know you, Walter." He rubbed his face against Skinner’s shoulder blade like an affectionate cat, the smoothness of his newly shaved cheek like silk again Skinner’s skin. "You are so fucking single-mindedly ruthless. Do you have any idea what a turn-on that was? Once I was in a state to appreciate it, of course."

"What are you talking about? When?"

"The night before I left you." Krycek’s lips brushed against his neck in a silent apology. "If it makes you feel any better, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do."

Skinner tested the memory, like a sore tooth, and found that the pain of it had faded. "Yeah. It does. I always wondered." A thought struck him. "You think I’m sexy because I’m ruthless?" The notion was a little appalling. "That seems a little narcissistic. Not to mention the fact that the damned Consortium must be full of ruthless people. You must have had a permanent case of blue balls."

Krycek chuckled, his breath warm against Skinner’s back. "You’d be surprised. If the little shits had any balls they wouldn’t need people like me. Any morally bankrupt asshole can order someone’s death, or any other number of crimes, but ruthless means that you can face what you’ve done and carry it through yourself. Even if you hate yourself for doing it. Besides…the ruthless thing is…just a bonus. It’s not what really makes me…want you."

Skinner twisted about to face him.

"You care about doing what’s right. Not just right for yourself, but really right for everybody. I guess you were always a moth-to-the-flame thing for me. I was so cold…inside…and you burned so brightly. You know, I used to fantasize that someday, when I finally ran out of options and places to run and used up the last of my nine lives it would be…at your hand…" Krycek turned his head, and Skinner caught the sparkle of tears dislodged, falling to the rumpled coverlet. "Kind of a sick fantasy, I guess." His sneer twitched back into place, a desperate mask which hid nothing.

"It will be at my hand. Tonight and every night. For as long as we both have." Skinner pressed Krycek back onto the bed and followed him down, claiming his lover’s body with lips and fingers.

"No more ‘let’s torture the rat with our lofty principles?’" Krycek rasped. "Thank god. Funny that you should mention blue balls…" he gasped and twitched as Skinner’s hand’s stroked him, exploring the painful hardness of his arousal. "Walter. Shit. Do you have any idea at all how much I’ve missed this?"

"Almost as much as I have."

"At least you have one good hand to whack off with," Krycek grumbled. "I don’t even have that."

"You can have mine."

"I’d rather have your mouth."

"That, too. C’mere, you."

Krycek reached for him greedily and then there was only the feel of skin against skin and the scent of arousal and longing and…home. You are my home, Alex.

Sometime afterwards, as they lay in a exhausted, deliciously sated tangle of limbs and gauze wrapped appendages, it occurred to Skinner that he’d never made formal declaration of his intentions toward his long-time enemy, the man who had hurt him and been hurt by him more times than he had ever wanted to think about.

"Mine," he whispered, pulling Krycek against him.

"Yours," Krycek agreed, his eyes sleepily half lidded. Trusting. No reservations or conditions. No doubts.

And they both drifted off, lulled by the sound of rain against the windows.


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