Summary: Skinner has a "spirit"-ual experience
DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013, but their spirits belong to all of us.
Skinner poured himself a scotch, took a sip. He hit the "Start" button on his stereo. While Charlie Parker mourned the blues on his sax, he dropped into his favourite armchair and tried to put the day behind him.
It was proving more difficult than he would have believed. An enemy lay dying, and though he should have been relieved, he wasn't.
Turned out that Alex Krycek had been playing too many ends against each other. He had had them all thoroughly convinced that he was on the side of the Consortium. Except that he had also been amassing a wealth of evidence against them. Which he had managed to get to the FBI, specifically Mulder and himself, but too late save his own skin.
He'd been shot three times: near the heart, in the gut, and the most worrying, a bad graze along the temple. They had found him in a pool of his own blood, barely breathing, when they had gone into what had once been the Consortium's local office.
Now, he lay in Georgetown University Hospital, under guard, on life-support. He wasn't expected to make it.
Skinner was bothered by the conflicting feelings he was having about the whole thing. Here was a man whom he had dreamt, wonderfully detailed dreams, about killing, slowly, in a variety of ways. Who was actually dying. And he, Skinner, fully intended to exact full and complete vengeance on those who were responsible for the man's death.
He shook his head. Didn't make much sense.
He hadn't realized that he had said the words out loud until he heard a voice ask, "What doesn't make much sense?"
"Wanting to kill him and avenge him at the same time."
His glass stalled half-way to his mouth. He looked around. Who the hell was he talking to? He was alone in the house. Wasn't he? Slowly, careful to make no unexpected gestures, he placed his glass on the table by the chair, stood up, walked over to the stereo. Made a bit of a show looking for another CD; in reality, getting his hand on the spare revolver he kept hidden in the cabinet.
"Won't do you any good." The voice came from the couch. "It won't work on me."
Skinner turned to find Alex Krycek lounging, quite at home, feet stretched out on the couch.
Skinner stared. He slowly shook his head. He closed his eyes. He must have had too much scotch on an empty stomach. That was it. Too much booze when he hadn't eaten since morning. Only a danish and all that horrible hospital coffee. Not the stuff to coat a stomach before pouring two fingers of scotch into it.
He opened his eyes, feeling he had the situation under control.
Krycek was still there on the couch. He gave a friendly little wave with his hand, and smiled happily at Skinner.
Skinner shut his eyes quickly. Okay, he told himself. It was only two fingers, but the stuff was good and "I'm hallucinating. That's it. I've just been thinking about the ratbastard and..."
"Hey! Is that the way you talk about a dying man? What ever happened to not disparaging the dead? Besides, you're not hallucinating. I resent being relegated to something you've found in the bottom of a glass."
Skinner clumsily made his way back to his chair, sat down before his legs gave way.
"You can't be real. I left you, not an hour ago, wired to all sorts of machinery."
"Well," Krycek swung his feet onto the floor, settled back, his arms spread out on the top of the couch, "I never said I was real. Just not a hallucination. I guess, you could say I'm a...spirit. Sort of like the experience you had in Nam. Remember? Floating above your body and seeing everything from a sky perspective."
Skinner nodded. Now that he really looked, Krycek seemed there but not there.
"What are you doing here, Krycek?" Skinner decided to accept what he was seeing: it was easier than not. "Shouldn't you be in the hospital, hovering over your body?"
Krycek turned serious. "Actually, I was. Then there was this blinding light and a voice, one of those deep, basso voices, told me that they hadn't quite decided what to do with me. That my last stunt, all that data, had taken them a bit unaware and they weren't sure where I belonged. So, it said, they had decided to let me have a bit of time to redeem myself. I could attach myself to either one of two candidates and see what I could do."
"Could do?" Skinner didn't understand. "Do what?"
Krycek shook his head. "No idea. That's all it said. Other than giving me my choice of the two candidates."
"So, you picked me. To haunt?"
"Well," Krycek lounged again, feet back up on the leather.
"Take your feet off my couch," snapped Skinner. Then goggled as Krycek, smirk on his face, allowed his feet to go through the couch to the floor beneath. He stood up, walked through the couch, the coffee table to crouch in front of a white-faced Skinner.
"Cool, isn't it? Didn't you do any of this stuff when you were a spirit, Skinner?"
When he could speak, Skinner whispered, "No." He took a deep breath. "Guess I wasn't one long enough to experiment. Who was the other choice?"
"Choice? Oh, Spender." Krycek stood up. "I couldn't see myself earning redemption by shooting the black- lunged bastard. I don't think revenge qualifies for redemption. Do you?"
"Why revenge?" Skinner couldn't believe he was having this conversation.
"Oh, because that's who shot me. Well, not Spender himself. Because he doesn't dirty his hands personally. But he gave the order to that dumb thug he keeps with him. Shit, it took the jerk three tries and he still didn't do the job." Krycek shook his head in disgust. "Doesn't anyone take pride in their work these days?"
Skinner removed his glasses. He rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hands. "What the hell is going on? Why am I having this conversation with..." He looked up, but no one was there. He looked around the room. Sheepishly checked out the house.
He was alone.
He picked up the phone, called the hospital. Krycek was still alive, still on life support.
He turned off the phone. Made himself a sandwich. Went to bed.
For the offspring of a man who rarely spoke, and then only tersely, Jeffrey Spender could drone on and on and on and did.
Skinner sat at the head of the conference table, listening to Jeffrey's monthly pontification on statistics that no one besides himself found interesting. The other department heads who sat at the table could tune the bore out, but it was his job as AD to listen to all reports and to plan the next month's activities based on what he heard.
Problem was that Jeffrey's reports always took as much time as everyone else's put together. And he was always so well prepared: with his charts, transparencies, computer generated graphs. Pity no one was interested in the contents.
Skinner was having a hard enough time trying to keep his eyes open, never mind stay alert, when he noticed a hint of something happening behind Jeffrey.
He blinked. Paid a bit more attention. Realized after a moment or two that there seemed to be a ghostly echo to Spender's movements, his gestures. Rather like the double image of faulty television reception.
Except that the echo, the ghost, wasn't wearing a suit. Rather, leather. And black leather gloves.
Skinner moved his body slightly to one side so that he could see just behind Spender. And caught the profanity before it slipped out of his mouth.
Jesus! It was Krycek. All in black, from jeans to t-shirt to leather jacket. Face split with the biggest shit-eating grin he'd ever seen on any man.
Skinner checked out his colleagues. They were doodling, yawning, staring at the walls. He braced himself for a reaction of some kind when one of them actually looked at Spender who was gesturing with a laser pen at the chart he'd just put up. But the man just nodded, pretending to be listening, and went back to rolling his eyes at another colleague.
Shit! HE was the only one who saw Krycek!
Who had now stepped out far enough from Spender that Skinner could easily see him. As he copied each and every one of Spender's gestures, facial expressions as the man was doing them, all with the slightest edge of exaggeration.
Skinner had to bite his lip to keep from smiling as Krycek enthusiastically pointed an imaginary pen, pounded on his fist to make a point, gestured to the charts, played with an imaginary remote to change graphs on the screen. All in rhythm with Jeffrey Spender who was only aware that the AD was suddenly paying proper attention to his presentation.
But then, Skinner saw a wicked gleam appear in Krycek's eyes. A gleam that boded no good for the hapless Spender.
Krycek stepped away from Spender and made a couple of bows to his oblivious audience. One directly to Skinner.
It took Skinner a minute, but he finally caught on that Krycek was going to give him a magic show.
The man removed his leather jacket, showed there was nothing hiding in the body. He pulled the pockets out to show that there was nothing in them. He turned the jacket inside out, again emphasizing that there was nothing there. He put the jacket back to rights, tossed it onto Spender's empty chair.
Skinner was having a harder time keeping his smile under control. And it was threatening to become a laugh. Probably a hysterical one. A quick check and still he was the only audience for this spectacle.
Krycek was now demonstrating that he had nothing up the sleeves of his t-shirt. Nothing in the prosthesis. He knocked on it to show that it was solidly built. Had no hidden openings.
With some difficulty, because his jeans were so tight, he fit his hand into his pockets and demonstrated that they too were empty. He frisked himself down, spending just a bit too much time at his groin, looked quite astonished to find a bulge appearing at his fly.
Skinner squirmed in his chair. He was almost afraid that Krycek was going to pull down the zipper to check just what was causing that bulge.
Krycek's hand did in fact go to his fly, but he grinned raunchily, shook his finger at Skinner, and turned to bend over and wiggled to show that his jeans were too tight back there to hide anything at all.
Having now proven to his own satisfaction that he had nothing hidden on him, he stepped behind Spender, wriggled his eyebrows at Skinner over Spender's shoulder.
Skinner held his breath.
And rose with Spender's boxers waving in his hands.
Skinner went into paroxysms of coughing. The only way he could cover the hysterical laughter he felt coming out of him, not just at Krycek's trick, but also at the fact that Spender's shorts were the wide boxer type with pictures of kittens all over them.
While Krycek dramatically accepted applause and ovations only he could hear, someone handed Skinner a glass of water. "You all right, sir?"
Skinner took a couple of deep breaths, wiped the tears from his eyes, coughed. "Yes, fine. I apologize, Agent Spender, for this disruption. Please, continue."
Bravely, Skinner moved his gaze from Spender, who had picked up his report from the point he had been so rudely interrupted by the AD's coughing fit, to see Krycek examining the removed boxers with unhidden scorn.
He cocked an eyebrow at Skinner, sneered at Spender and threw the boxers into the wastepaper basket by the door.
Skinner checked that Spender hadn't noticed, but when he turned his eyes back to Krycek, the man wasn't there. He'd gone again.
But Spender suddenly seemed very uncomfortable. Squirmed a little. Skinner watched with delight as Spender realized that he was naked beneath his suit pants. As that fact began making the man very nervous, so nervous that he suddenly ended his report, sat down.
Skinner stopped himself from telling him to watch out for Krycek's jacket when he realized that it too had disappeared.
The end of Spender's report signalled the end of the meeting.
Skinner let all the others leave first: he wanted a bit of time to himself. To consider the morning's reports, he said.
Spender, with all his paraphernalia, was the last to leave. At the door, he went to toss some paper into the wastepaper basket. Froze. Looked around the room. Skinner pretended not to be watching as Spender surreptitiously pulled his boxers out of the trash, shoved them into his pocket and rushed out, closing the door behind him.
That was it.
Skinner whooped and laughed until tears ran down his face.
This was the best meeting he had ever had with Spender. Dear, God! How would he ever be able to look the man in the face ever again without thinking about those kitten shorts!
He sat back in the chair, rested his feet on the conference table and laughed till it hurt.
"Shit, Krycek,' he said to the empty room, "you are fucking nuts!"
Skinner dropped in at the hospital to see whether there had been any improvement in Krycek's condition.
There hadn't. He stood by the man's bed, surrounded by the soft beeps, hums of the machinery that was helping to keep him alive. According to the doctor, it wouldn't be long, a couple of days at the most: the patient's vital signs were gradually weakening.
Skinner found it hard to accept that the thinning husk on the bed, clothed only with bandages, housed the spirit that had haunted the meeting yesterday. He gave orders that if there was any change whatsoever, no matter how small, he was to be personally contacted. Then, with a small pat on an unresponsive hand, he left to attend yet another meeting.
This meeting was the type he hated with a passion: the latest spin doctor and his miracle cures for the problems for which no one in authority wished to assume responsibility. It left a sour taste in his mouth and he decided to walk back to Headquarters rather than go back with Jana Cassidy.
He had a lot to think about, especially what with Krycek's spirit visits and the man himself.
He wasn't aware that he had detoured from his normal route until he looked up and saw that he had unconsciously picked one of the side streets to come down, rather than the main thoroughfare.
The street with the Harley Davidson dealership.
He strolled over to the window, saw that they had changed the display since the last time he had wandered by. He looked around, wondering where they had put a particular machine when he spotted it, in the next window, proudly displayed, all by itself.
He looked at it longingly. He had always thought, as a teenager, that one day he would own a classic like this. Now, all he could do was look at it and accept that he had waited too long.
"That is one beautiful piece of machinery."
"Hmm," agreed Skinner. He turned to his left to see who had spoken. No one was there. He looked back to the bike. Did a double take. Krycek was standing next to him, at his left, a reflection in the glass of the window.
Krycek smiled. He was dressed in his usual black, head cocked at an angle, examining the bike while Skinner examined him.
"You're looking well," he said. "Much better than you were this morning."
Krycek's smile grew almost shy. "That was nice of you to come visit. It gets boring with only the nurses and the doctors." He grinned and changed the topic. "So why didn't you ever buy yourself one of these? You'd look good on one."
Skinner went back to examining the bike. "Things happened. I could have afforded one when I came back from Nam, but I was just too sick for such a long time. Then there was college and I couldn't afford it any more. I could have bought one when I joined the Bureau...they wouldn't have frowned on it, exactly... but I got married and Sharon was terrified of them."
He sighed. "Now I'm just too old for one."
Krycek considered that. "I don't see why. It's not like you've withered up to a mere shadow of your former self. True, those things take a certain strength to control but you're in pretty good shape."
"For a man my age, you mean?"
"For a man any age. You looking for a compliment, Skinner?"
Skinner gave a little laugh. "No, I guess not."
"Because I can tell you I think you would look very hot in motorcycle leathers."
Skinner met Krycek's eyes in the window. He was grinning again, that wickedly beautiful grin that moved something deep within him. He turned his "disbelieving AD" look on.
"Like a real stud," continued Krycek, only enjoying the look that could turn most agents into stammering idiots.
Skinner gave up trying to intimidate a spirit and went back to the bike. They looked at it silently, lost in their own thoughts.
"I wanted a bike like that, too." Krycek admitted wistfully.
"Why didn't you get one?"
Krycek raised his prosthesis, shrugged. "You need two good hands to control it."
Their eyes met, both men accepting that for different reasons they had been denied the same dream.
"I wanted to drive through the Alps on one," continued Krycek. "The roads there are great for that."
"The hills between Monaco and Nice," contributed Skinner, eyes seeing a particular stretch of road.
"The autobahns in Germany," Krycek smiled.
Skinner grinned. "No speed limits."
"The Po Valley. With all those wine tasting bars."
"The suicide traffic in Rome."
"Venice," said Krycek.
"Venice? There are no roads in Venice, Krycek." Skinner made a little scoff sound.
"No. But I always wanted to wander around St. Mark's Square. Have an expresso at one of those sidewalk cafes."
"Paris," corrected Skinner. "The Champs Elysses."
"So," Krycek shifted his weight to one hip, "what's stopping you? You don't have a wife. You have your twenty years at the Bureau: you could easily retire. You've got your health. I don't see what's keeping you back?"
Skinner made a slight face at himself in the window. "It's not much fun," he said softly, "alone."
Krycek had nothing to say to that.
"Still," he finally broke the silence, "I think you should buy one. Hey, why don't we test-drive one? Maybe you could lose control, maybe the bike could slip. And I could save your life. Maybe that's how I'm supposed to redeem myself!"
Skinner laughed, walked away from the window. "In your dreams, Krycek."
Krycek, of course, was gone when he looked back.
But the bike was still there. And it was big enough for two to travel comfortably.
"Agent Scully. Agent Mulder. How good of you to spare the time to attend this meeting."
At the AD's tone, Scully glanced at Mulder from under her eyelashes. Mulder ignored her. Both sat down.
This meeting had been postponed several times for several reasons. Anything, in fact, that Mulder could come up with he had used, to put off this assessment of their expenses from their last foray into the world of X-Files. He had hoped that the inundation of data that Krycek had unleashed on them would have delayed it yet again. But Skinner, never easy at the best of times to placate, was increasingly difficult these days. He had informed them that this had to be dealt with before he would release either of them to investigate Krycek's information.
Now, he sat, back to the window, his face hidden in the glare, waiting for his two recalcitrant agents to explain the whys and wherefores of this latest journey into the realm of unbelievable expenses.
Mulder was explaining just how it was that he had included the replacement costs of a Texas Ranger uniform when Skinner realized they were no longer alone.
Sitting cross-legged in a corner chair was Krycek, looking very interested in what Mulder was saying. He waited till Mulder had finished, "He's prevaricating, of course. Didn't happen that way. He thought the officer was a vampire and he sprinkled liquid garlic all over him."
"Garlic!" Skinner caught himself. Shit! Mulder and Scully didn't see Krycek. Couldn't hear Krycek. But they could hear him.
Still, Mulder thought Skinner was addressing him and volunteered that maybe he could absorb the expense himself. He and Scully drew a line through that item on their copies of their report.
Scully was next to explain why a replacement bumper had been included. Krycek kept on shaking his head all the time she was speaking. Skinner was finding it hard trying to listen to Scully while keeping an eye on Krycek.
"Mulder's fault that one, too. There was a spider in the car and he freaked out. He bumped into Scully while she was driving and she hit the fire hydrant. Oh, didn't you know: Mulder is terrified of spiders?"
"Spiders!" Damn! he'd done it again.
But again the pens came out and a line was drawn through yet another item on the expense list.
It went that way for the rest of the report. Now and then an honest expense would come along and Krycek would give his approval, seconded by Skinner. Skinner quickly grew to enjoy the stunned looks on his agents' faces as, with a word, he destroyed their oh-so- creative effort at reimbursement. The meeting which usually could take hours, what with his challenging and Mulder and Scully's rebutting, lasted a mere forty-five minutes this time.
The final expense report fell well within acceptable norms and Skinner indicated that he certainly hoped that this was a precedent-setting reference for all their future reports.
As they went out the door, Krycek stuck his tongue out at them, snickered. A bit of his own back for the times that Mulder had hit him, that Scully had believed he was so incompetent an assassin that he would mistakenly shoot her sister thinking she was Scully.
"Don't be so childish," Skinner said, just as the door closed. Scully dragged Mulder quickly away, thinking that Skinner had heard the comment Mulder had made under his breath about Assistant Directors with asses so tight they couldn't shit.
Krycek shrugged. "You look tired. It wasn't necessary for you to come and spend all that time sitting in my room. I appreciate it. But it isn't necessary."
It was Skinner's turn to shrug. "Have you found a way yet to redeem yourself? The doctor doesn't think you'll have much longer."
"What have you got planned for the next couple of days? Anything dangerous?"
Skinner shook his head. "Meetings. Just some very boring meetings. Sorry. I wish I could do something to help you."
Krycek smiled. "Thanks. Oh, well. That's life." He stood up, stretched like a cat just waking up, arms drawn above his head.
Skinner appreciated the show.
Krycek lowered his arms; with a rather satisfied nod, walked out through the wall.
Later that night
Skinner was having the most erotic dream he could ever remember having.
Except that he didn't seem to be sleeping. He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling of his bedroom. The window curtains were open, letting in the light of the nearly full moon. It gave him enough light to realize he wasn't alone in bed. He turned his head slightly.
A pair of very intense green eyes was watching him. Eyes that were accompanied by a very naked body, lying stretched out alongside him.
Neither of them said anything.
Skinner raised his hand to touch the face that wasn't really there.
Krycek pulled back just a tad. "Don't," he said.
Skinner let his hand fall. "I was dreaming just now that you were touching me."
"I was. Strange," mused Krycek, "I didn't think you could feel me." He reached out his hand and carefully placed it on Skinner's abdomen. Slowly, he began stroking the warm skin in small circular motions. He raised his eyes to Skinner's. "What do you feel now?"
A small smile appeared on Skinner's face. "It's like the very breath of a touch." The smile grew. "It's nice."
Krycek kept on with the circles, sometimes increasing their size, sometimes decreasing. He watched the dreamy look on Skinner's face deepen. "I've wondered what it would be like to touch you. To be touched by you. I know what it feels like now to have you hold my hand, but I wish..." he sighed softly. "If wishes were horses..."
Skinner reached out and lay his hand on what should have been Krycek's hand, holding it still against his skin.
"You should have trusted us to understand what you were doing, Alex."
Krycek looked from where his hand was captive: he could easily removed it, have pulled it away through Skinner's. He left it there.
"Mulder's not the only one who trusts no one. We've both learned that lesson the hard way. It's easier to depend just on yourself than on others. Less room for betrayal that way."
He bent over, brushed his lips across Skinner's cheek to his mouth. "Tell me, Walter, what does this feel like?" And he kissed him.
Skinner opened his mouth to a taste of coolness, tried to capture it with his tongue. When Krycek pulled back, his eyes were dark with arousal.
"No one told me that spirits could get turned-on." He tried to make a joke out of it.
Skinner brought his free hand into play, ignored the fact that his hand sometimes went through his ghostly lover, and pulled Krycek's head back down for his kiss. It was like trying to capture thicker air. But Krycek didn't seem to be complaining. And he certainly wasn't.
It felt as if a light current of air was stroking his body, affecting all the nerve endings that needed touching to effect an erection. Yet, at the same time, a warmth invaded him, making him aware of a hunger, a need that came from without him. From another.
He couldn't physically touch that other, not really. But he opened himself to the hunger and allowed it to feed, to the need and tried to assuage it. He felt the other's loneliness and showed him his own. Understood that Krycek had made difficult decisions, knowing full well the consequences. Acknowledged his choices, accepted them for what they were: one man's attempt to battle an evil the only way he had open to him.
When Krycek's mouth took him in, Skinner closed his eyes and concentrated on the feeling of warmth that encircled his erection, imagined the mouth on the man in the hospital bed working on him, swallowing him, sucking him into the warmth.
When he came, he had forgotten the man wasn't really there. Was reminded when his come dripped warm and wet on his chest and belly.
"Sorry, It would seem spirits can't swallow."
Skinner opened his eyes. He found himself grinning up at Krycek. Couldn't help it: Krycek looked so very pleased with himself. In spite of his having an erection. Skinner looked down at it. "So," he said, "how do we take care of that?"
Krycek shook his head.
"Can you feel yourself, Alex?"
Krycek started to make himself comfortable against the pillows.
"No." Skinner piled the pillows behind him. "Lean back against me. I'm as secure as any pillow."
Krycek's tongue slowly made its way along his lower lip as, carefully, he positioned himself between Skinner's open legs, back against Skinner's chest. He let his head rest against Skinner's shoulder. Let his hand drift down his body.
"No," whispered Skinner. "Do as I tell you."
He felt Krycek's breath catch, slowly release. With Skinner's instructions and his own hand on his body, Krycek let the voice whispering in his ear arouse his mind as well as his body into a world of sensation.
"Like having your nipples touched, Alex? Then go ahead, touch them for me, Alex. No, harder. Just to the edge of pain. Like that, do you? Now the other. Wet your fingers, soothe them.
"Skim your fingertips down to your navel. Brush them around your belly. Now use the back of your nails. Just lightly, Alex. And again. I can see the muscles twitch. Yeah, like that. That's the way.
"Your eyes are closed. Open them. I want to see your eyes darken. No, don't bite your lip that way. Keep your mouth open. I want to hear the sounds you're making. Just for me, Alex, those little throaty sounds you make.
"No, don't touch yourself yet. I'll tell you when you can touch yourself, Alex. Only then. Spread your legs open more. Rest them on top of mine. Now stroke the inside of your thighs. With just the fingertips. Back and forth. Back and forth. That feels good, doesn't it?
"Your balls look heavy. Raise them a bit, show them to me. That's the way. Roll them, one now the other.
"You're beautiful, so beautiful, Alex, when you're aroused. Anyone ever tell you that? With your head thrown back, you look like you're offering yourself to me."
Krycek writhed against Skinner's chest, "Please, Walter, now. Let me touch myself now. Please! I'm going to come. I just need to touch myself and I'll come!"
Skinner blew a light stream of air where Krycek's ear seemed to be, whispered as Krycek gasped in reaction, "Go ahead, Alex. Show me how you like to be touched. How to make you come. That's right, make it last."
But Krycek was at the edge. It took only a few strokes and he screamed, "Walter!" as the feelings that had built up in him released and he came.
They lay still for some time. Krycek's head turned to nestle in the hollow between collar bone and throat. He knew this would never have happened to him in real life: they had far too much baggage between them. Skinner wondered how the hell you hold a spirit in your arms to offer comfort.
He fell asleep still not knowing.
Krycek's prognosis wasn't any better. The doctor was a bit surprised he was still hanging in, but he had often seen that, he told Skinner; personalities that kept their bodies alive far longer than anyone would have thought possible. Was he one of those?
He waited till the doctor had left the room to touch Krycek. The side of his face under the bandage, the throat. When he was certain they wouldn't be disturbed, he bent and kissed the chapped, unresponsive lips.
The day had the usual hassles. He kept waiting for his cell phone to ring, to tell him that he should make his way back to the hospital. He checked in periodically throughout the day, was told that nothing had changed.
He was going to spend the night in Krycek's room but it was Hallowe'en and Sharon had seen to it that he was aware just how important this night was to his acceptance in the neighbourhood. She'd delivered bags of chips, candies, and instructed him that he had to answer the door at least until nine. He didn't want the reputation of being an unfriendly grouch, did he? Neighbours remembered things like that.
So Skinner found himself opening the door to a variety of spooks, witches, ogres, miniature versions of the cast of Phantom Menace, all the while meeting his neighbours who introduced themselves and checked him over at the same time.
Which is probably why he had become sloppy and not checked who was at the door when, around nine, the bell rang yet again. He opened it to find not children, but two large men, both wearing rubber Jar-Jar masks, both with guns pointing at him.
He raised his hands slowly as they entered, closing the door behind them. He didn't waste time cursing himself, just tried to move closer to the hallway table. He had stashed his gun in its drawer that night on coming home. But considering the silencers on the ends of both of the guns aimed at him, he doubted he would be allowed enough time to get to it.
One of them pulled off his mask. He recognized Spender's bodyguard, the man who had shot Krycek. "Compliments of Mr. Spender," the man grinned, aimed his weapon.
"Hey, Donny! That's not a toy! Aren't you afraid you might hurt yourself with that thing?"
Donny turned, ready to shoot.
Krycek stood by the stairs going up, leaning comfortably against the newel.
"Krycek! You're dead! I shot you!"
"Guess again, asshole!"
The second man turned to see what was going on. Because of the mask, he had to turn his entire body. The gun was now pointing away from Skinner. Who wasted no time. A couple of kicks, punches took care of the weapon, the man. He went for his weapon just as Donny realized the action behind him wasn't supposed to be happening, started to investigate.
"Donny!" Krycek's voice snapped like a whip, drawing the man's attention back to him. "Aren't you going to finish off the job? Spender hates slackards."
Donny turned back to Krycek, raised his weapon and fired. Right through Krycek.
By then, Skinner had his weapon in his hands, was ready when Donny turned to him. Fired. Right through Donny. Donny looked surprised, dropped his weapon. Followed it to the floor.
Skinner checked on the first man long enough to handcuff him: on Donny, to verify that he was indeed dead.
He looked over at the staircase to find Krycek huddled over himself, crouching at the foot of the stairs.
"Jesus! Alex!" Skinner rushed to the man who was now crumpling onto the floor. In obvious extreme pain.
"Oh, shit, Walter, it hurts!"
Skinner hurriedly checked Krycek for a wound, realized that there seemed to be three of them: by his heart, in his stomach, a graze on his right temple.
He knew then and there that Krycek here and at the hospital was dying. He tried to brush the blood off Krycek's face. "Alex! You saved my life. It's okay now. You can tell them you've redeemed yourself. You did it, Alex."
Krycek opened his eyes, tried to see through the pain. "I wish," he whispered, "I could stay with you."
"I'd like that too, Alex. Hang on long enough for me to make the call on these two and I'll be at the hospital. Wait for me, Alex. I don't want you to be alone when you go."
There was a noise at the door. One of the neighbours, a cop, had heard his gun shots and had come to investigate. Skinner knew Krycek would be gone when he looked down again.
It took longer to get to the hospital than he wanted. There were questions to answer even if he was an Assistant Director at the FBI. Finally, after an hour, he pulled rank, something he rarely did, told them all that he would be available the next day and took off for the hospital.
"We were just about to call you, Mr. Skinner," the nurse in the ICU said as he strode in.
The doctor shook his head at Skinner unasked question. "It's only a matter of minutes now."
Skinner looked down at the body of the man who had saved his life. "Do you think we could get rid of all the tubes and wires? I'd like him to die with some dignity."
It didn't take long, just five minutes and Skinner was alone in the darkened room, sitting by the bed of an enemy, holding his hand, waiting for him to die.
He didn't say anything, just held the cooling fingers in one hand as he stroked the arm with his other as if to keep what little warmth there was still in it.
Krycek didn't go easily. It was after midnight and he was still breathing, shallowly, with a small rasping sound, but still on his own.
The doctor, checking in every now and then, shook his head in disbelief: in his experience, the man should have died days ago, not still be hanging on by a thread.
The change when it came was gradual. So gradual that even Skinner, who has holding tightly onto Krycek's hand wasn't aware of it.
It was into the new day when one of the nurses realized that there was something different about the body of the man who was dying. She carefully placed the tips of her fingers on the pulse point of his throat, counted.
Skinner looked up at her. She caught her lower lip between her teeth, took Krycek's pulse again. Then she took the stethoscope from out of her pocket, and placed it on Krycek's chest, just over his heart. She met Skinner's questioning look with a bemused smile. "Mother of mercy," she said, "I think he's coming back."
She left the room, signalling for the doctor. Skinner looked down at the man on the bed. Watched as for the first time since coming here, there appeared to be a hint of...animation. The eyes behind their lids flickered slightly. His lips had parted just the tiniest bit. He seemed to be frowning.
The doctor didn't think twice about shoving Skinner away from the bed, verifying the nurse's news for himself. "Let's get that hardware back on him," he snapped at the trauma team invading the room.
Skinner found himself relegated to a corner of the room simply because no one had the time to order him out. Watched as machinery, nurses confirmed that Krycek's vital signs were slowly rallying.
"Dear God!" whispered Skinner to himself, "he's going to make it!"
Later, when the doctor cautiously confirmed what they all knew, when Skinner was allowed once more to take his place by the bed, he looked at the man who had become his lover and asked, "Where the hell does this leave us?"
Skinner left Krycek's bedside only to go to Police Headquarters and confirm his statement. He contacted Kim at the office, told her to fix him some vacation time for the next week at least. Went back to the hospital.
So he was there, the first time Krycek opened his eyes, squinting even against the low light level in the room. He woke confused until he focused on the man holding his hand. Then he smiled, just a little, said in a faint, unused voice, "Walter," and fell back asleep.
The nurse smiled at Skinner. "He recognized you. That's a good sign. His return makes for a nice miracle for All Saint's Day." She smiled more broadly at Skinner's raised eyebrows. "I'm Catholic. Today is November the first, the feast of All Saints. When souls find their way home."
Skinner smiled back at her. "I guess that holds for spirits as well."
Krycek was sleeping when Skinner came into the room late that morning.
He had been improving by leaps and bounds, but still spent most of his time sleeping. He seemed confused by the attention and time Skinner was spending with him, but accepted it, thinking it had to do with the FBI guards at his door. He figured the inquisition would begin as soon as Skinner decided he was strong enough. Still, he sensed something was different, but he didn't have the energy to work it out.
Skinner wasn't sure of himself. It was obvious Krycek had no memory of his time as a spirit. He shouldn't really even be spending this time with him: he should be accepting the fact that whatever had happened between them wasn't real.
Except that every time Krycek woke, groggy, still only partially aware, he would catch sight of Skinner, smile and call him Walter. It wasn't much to build hopes on, but Skinner had decided to take a chance on at least seeing where things would go.
He looked up from the book he was reading when the usual sounds of waking came from the bed. He stood up, dropped the book on the chair, went to take Krycek's hand like he always did when he woke up.
"Walter," Krycek's voice was thick with sleep. "I've been having the strangest dreams."
Skinner rested a hip on the side of the bed. Stroked the hair off Krycek's forehead. "Bad dreams?"
"No. Crazy ones." He seemed still caught in that state between sleep and wakefulness.
Skinner was surprised when he pulled their joined hands over to his face, rubbed his cheek on the back of Skinner's.
"Do you remember any of them?" And held his breath.
Krycek, eyes closed, nestled his cheek against the hand holding his. It felt comforting. That and the hand stroking the uninjured side of his head. "I was in your house. That's weird, because you live in an apartment."
"No," Skinner smiled. "I moved into a house just about a month ago. Go on. What were you doing in my house?"
"Nothing. Just lounging about on the couch." He snickered. "You told me to take my feet off the couch."
"Yeah, I did." He waited. Then asked, "Any other dreams?"
"Hmmm. You were chairing a meeting of some kind. Jeff the Bore was speaking."
"You were imitating him."
Krycek's eyes opened. He realized that Skinner seemed to know his dreams. "Yes."
"You pulled a really mean stunt on him while he was delivering his report." Skinner waited to see if Krycek remembered.
"I took his shorts off him. While he was talking."
"Yes, you did. Kitten shorts."
"He never noticed." Krycek was beginning to feel strange about all this. But Skinner just grinned at him, as if expecting him to see the joke.
"Yes, he did. But you took off before that. He was so incredibly stunned to find himself shortless that he actually shut up. He found his shorts where you dropped them on his way out."
"In the wastepaper basket by the door."
"Yes, in the wastepaper basket by the door. I choked I laughed so much."
Krycek relaxed into the pillows supporting him. If he were going crazy, at least he had company.
"What else did you dream?" Skinner made himself comfortable sitting on the bed, waiting to see just how much his "spirit" would remember.
"A meeting with Mulder and Scully."
"Some inventive expenses." Krycek grinned.
"Anything else?" And held his breath, wondering.
This time Krycek spoke slowly, as if cautiously feeling his way, not quite certain where he was going.
"In your bedroom?"
"Yes." Skinner's smile grew gentle.
Krycek took a breath. "We had sex."
"No," corrected Skinner, "we made love."
Eyes carefully holding Krycek's, he bent and kissed him. Krycek's mouth opened just a bit at first, allowed Skinner's tongue in to taste him.
When Skinner pulled back, Krycek's eyes were closed. There was a slight frown line between his eyebrows, as if he were concentrating on something. The tip of his tongue came out and brushed along his upper lip. "I remember this," he whispered.
"Good. We'll do it again, as soon as you're better," promised Skinner.
Krycek opened his eyes. Skinner realized that all this, considering the condition he was in, was beginning to be a bit too much. He hurried on. "Do you remember saving my life, Alex?"
"Donny. He tried to shot you." Krycek seemed more able to handle that right now.
"He's dead. If you hadn't appeared and distracted him, I'd be dead too. But you showed up, just like the calvary."
Krycek smiled. He was finding it hard to accept all this, but Skinner seemed more than willing to believe all of it. He yawned. Maybe if he slept on it, it would make more sense.
Skinner saw Krycek beginning to sink into sleep again. He wanted things settled before he did. "Alex. Do you still want to drink expresso in St. Mark's Square?"
Krycek forced his eyes open. "Yes."
"Good." Skinner caressed his face with his free hand. "I bought the bike this morning." Watched as surprise, then a hunger Krycek was too weak to subdue filled his eyes. "I thought maybe this spring. You need time to get your strength back. I need time to wrap up some work at the Bureau. We'll use the time to get used to each other."
Krycek swallowed hard, bit his lip to hold back his disbelief. He couldn't prevent the easy tears of a convalescent that slipped down.
Skinner bent and kissed one silvery wet line away. "Only problem is the Alps. There'll still be snow on the roads at that time of the year. I won't do any crazy driving through them. You got that, Alex? I'm not putting our necks in danger, not after all this. You'll just have to be satisfied with the view. Will that do?"
Krycek's throat was too full to answer. He just nodded, gripped Skinner's hand even tighter with his.
"Go to sleep, Alex. We've got all the time we need now to figure this out." Skinner placed a tender kiss on his lover's forehead. Watched as Alex slipped into healing sleep.
He stretched his leg out, dragged over the chair he had been sitting in. One hand still holding Krycek's, he settled in the chair, opened his book of maps and places to visit and began planning their spring trip to Europe.
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