Title: The Sword of Damocles

Author: Batela

Rating: R (maybe?)

Category: Skinner angst

Disclaimer: Chris did it, it's his fault.

Summery: Krycek comes to Mulder with a problem that turns into a major bombshell.

e-mail: batela@angelfire.com

The Sword of Damocles

 

Mulder walked into his apartment and didn't even blink at the figure sitting on his couch in the darkness. Might as well not bother locking my door, he thought. He shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it on the chair.

"What is it now, Krycek? I'm tired, if you're going to beat the crap out of me, let's get it over with so I can get some sleep." Mulder went into the kitchen and got a couple of beers out of the refrigerator, opened them and handed one to his own personal demon. Uncharacteristically, Krycek was quiet, without the usual sneer on his face.

"I need your help, Mulder."

Mulder turned on the light and looked at his guest,.

"What, something your smoking buddy can't help with?"

"It's personal. Look, your place is bugged, can we go for a walk?"

Somehow Mulder wasn't surprised to know he had eavesdroppers again.

"Hope they got a good earful during my last porno fest." He said as he grabbed his jacket again. Hmm, must be serious; no snide comeback.

"Won't they want to know why we're going for a walk?" Mulder asked.

"He's sleeping pretty heavily at the moment and I turned off the recording equipment. I'd rather not take chances, though."

They walked in companionable silence for a few blocks until they reached the neighborhood park. Mulder lifted an eyebrow when Krycek took out a pack of cigarettes. The man saw the look and shrugged.

"I very rarely smoke anymore, hard to smoke and fight when you only have one hand." Krycek sat down on a bench and hung his head, thinking.

"Mulder, I have a serious problem and you have to believe me when I tell you that you were my last choice and I had to fight myself even with this decision. I know that you hate me, you have a right to, but I also know that you're an honorable man. That's going to be your downfall, you know; that honor." He shook his finger at Mulder before taking a long drag and held the smoke in before releasing it.

"I'm about to give you the key to my destruction, to my life, to my brother's life. I have no choice but to trust you with the detonator. Will you promise me a fair hearing before you decide on my, our, sentence?"

Mulder was a man of instinct, he was being told to listen. Brother?

"Alright, Krycek, I promise a fair hearing, but if I think for one minute that you're playing a game, I will shoot you right here."

Krycek looked at him through the smoky haze and gestured with the cigarette, his own version of a white flag.

"Two weeks ago, my father died. Yes, Mulder, I was born not hatched. My father was not a nice man, something I think you can relate to. I was spared most of his attentions,, but only because my brother put himself in Pop's way. Vlad is ten years older than I am, Yuri, my father, was Vlad's stepfather. Vlad has spent my entire life trying to protect me, my mother died of pneumonia when I was still a baby. Vlad pretty much raised me, did the whole baby thing with me. Playing daddy at ten years old. Shit. Yuri went to work and came home expecting a clean house and dinner, usually Vlad had everything ready, when he didn't he got beat." Krycek kicked at the dirt.

"Anyway. Moi brat isn't doing well with the old man's death. I don't understand what his problem is; he hated the old man. He should be jumping for joy but instead he's holed up in our winter cabin, won't let me anywhere near him. He's about to self-destruct, Mulder. Not only do my employers not know about the cabin, they don't know about my brother. Two last names, you see. When he was sixteen, Vlad went to live with Mama's sister and her husband; they only lived down the street, so I was there all the time. I never did find out why they didn't take me, too. They Americanized his name, adopted him, gave him their last name and Vladmir was no more, he became Walter."

Mulder jumped up and drew his gun, aiming it point blank between Krycek's eyes.

"You lying piece of shit!"

Krycek didn't try to defend himself; he just looked at Mulder calmly.

"Think about it, Mulder. Where has Skinner been these past couple of weeks, huh? Not at work, has he? What did Kim tell you, personal family business? Ever wonder why his middle name is Sergei? Strange name for an Anglo." He watched as Mulder began to pace, breathing hard, muttering to himself.

"Mulder, if you care anything at all about him, you'll come up to the cabin with me and try to talk to him. You're the only person I can think of that he actually trusts. I can't lose him, he's all I have left."

"Either help him or turn us in."

 

Mulder held the phone to his ear with his shoulder as he packed a bag.

"No, Scully, I am not ditching you again. I'm calling you, aren't I? I told you, this is a personal emergency not business. No there isn't anything you can do, not at the moment. My mother is fine. I will let you know. I left a message on his voice mail, I have plenty of vacation time racked up, this shouldn't be a problem with him, I never ask for personal time. I also left a message on Kim's voice mail and e-mail. Yes, I promise, Scully, I will call you. Thank you. Bye."

"That woman is like a bloodhound." He muttered.

"On the trail of a fox?" Krycek watched from the doorway. Mulder glared at him.

"Very funny. You said winter cabin; should I pack sweaters?"

"Maybe one of two for the nights, daytime highs have been about 75-80." Mr. Weatherman, thought Mulder as he tossed a sweater on the pile, zipped up the bag and grabbed his shaving kit.

"Alright, let's go."

Krycek gave Mulder the keys to his Bronco.

"Low sports cars are more my style but not on mountain roads." Krycek explained, gave driving directions and promptly fell asleep in the back seat. Mulder avoided the turn-off he should have made to head out of town and instead headed out to Crystal City.

The engine shutting off woke up Sleeping Beauty in the back.

"Where are we?" Krycek asked, looking around.

"Skinner's condo."

"Shit, Mulder." Krycek winced, remembering the last time Mulder dragged him here. At least he wasn't wearing handcuffs this time. Mulder yanked him out of the Bronco.

On the 17th floor, Mulder took out his key chain and found the one he knew would fit the lock. He knocked and waited an appropriate amount of time before unlocking the door. He stepped in and quickly punched in the code to turn off the alarm. Krycek raised his eyebrows.

"Since when do you have access to Skinner's place?"

"None of your business. Don't touch anything." Mulder jogged up the stairs and looked into the master bedroom. He took in the signs of a hasty departure and was relieved that there was no evidence of foul play. He went back downstairs and glared at the man who had a soda can in his hand. Krycek jumped out of the way of the hand aimed at his head.

"I was thirsty." He reasoned out his filching of Skinner's refrigerator. Krycek crooked a finger at Mulder, walking toward the living room.

"While we're here, I need to get something, Mulder."

"What?" he said following Krycek with suspicion.

Alex walked into the study. It occurred to Mulder that this man knew his way around this apartment. Krycek went over to the closet and drew out a small chest. He took out his keys and found one that unlocked it. It was Mulder's turn to raise his eyebrows. Krycek rummaged around and came up with an old photo album from the bottom of the chest.

"Come on, not here. He shouldn't keep this here, his place does get searched once in a while." Krycek said, going back to the front door. Mulder turned the alarm back on and locked up.

As Krycek drove, Mulder looked through the album. He skipped over the prerequisite naked baby pictures until something caught his eye. Two dark haired boys, one about 12 the other about 2, both had familiar eyes, golden brown and glittering green. The toddler was being held by the older boy, one chubby little arm wrapped possessively around the older boy's neck, the other with a thumb stuck in his mouth, resting his head on the older boy's shoulder. Val and Sasha 1964, the caption read.

Mulder cleared his throat.

"Why does it say Val and Sasha?"

"They're nicknames; Sasha for Aleksander and Alexei. I had a problem pronouncing Vlad, it came out Val."

Mulder turned a page in the book. Walter/Vlad on his hands and knees, Alex on his back, urging his horsy to go faster, laughing with childish glee. The two boys a couple of years older, in a pool. Walter was obviously teaching Alex to swim. Alex sitting on the lap of a stern looking man. Neither looked happy. A very pregnant woman with her arm proudly around the shoulders of a 10 year old Walter. He had a mop of brown hair, but Mulder could see the man he knew in that boy's face. He had his mother's facial structure.

Krycek tapped the picture with the woman.

"Our mother. I'm told it was the end of the school year and Walter had brought home a straight A report card. Yes, Mulder, you're not the only one to graduate with a 4.0 average. His SAT's are almost as high as yours, bet you didn't know that. That, of course, is my old man. Doesn't he look like a pleasant fellow?" Krycek instructed him to turn to the last page in the album. Alex in a black robe, his dark brown hair long and wavy, almost girlish, flowing over his collar. Faces Mulder knew. Skinner as he looked in the wedding picture Mulder remembered seeing of him and Sharon. A line of dark hair over the top of his head in a desperate attempt to cover the evidence. He was standing proudly next to Krycek; their arms thrown with brotherly abandon about each other's shoulders, both of them grinning for the camera. Alex's high school graduation 1980, the caption read. Mulder would know that scrawl anywhere. He suppressed a shiver.

Mulder put the book onto the seat between them.

The six-hour trip into the mountains was uneventful. Mulder took over driving while Krycek fell asleep again in the back. It was pitch black out on the backcountry roads but Mulder could make out the building off to his right. That must be the store Krycek said to watch for.

"Krycek, wake up." It took some prodding but the man finally stirred. Mulder had to wonder about an assassin that could sleep so soundly with the enemy behind the wheel.

"Is this the store?"

Krycek sat up, blinking his eyes to adjust to the darkness.

"Yeah, um, let me out, I'll drive the rest of the way. The mountain road is tricky." He got out of the back, took a leak on the side of the road and got into the driver's seat. Mulder rolled down the passenger window, letting the cool pre-dawn breeze blow the cobwebs from his head.

"Krycek, so help me if this is a trick"

"Please, Mulder, if I wanted to mess with you, I could have done it back at your place. Again."

Mulder made a show of checking his gun while the driver pointedly ignored him.

Krycek turned the wheel and they left the main road behind. Mulder found himself holding onto anything he could as the maniac behind the wheel took hairpin turns and bottomless dips at 60 miles per hour.

"Jesus Christ, Krycek, you're going to kill us!"

"You are such a fucking whiner, do you know that? I know where I'm going so for once in your life shut up." He deliberately yanked the wheel, sending Mulder slamming against the door. It was a good thing he was wearing his seatbelt and that the door was locked. Before he could get out a few curses, the truck stopped abruptly in front of a two-story lodge. Krycek turned the engine off and looked at Mulder.

"He has spent the past two weeks in a drunken rage. I think I got all the bottles after he passed out last night, but I'm not sure. I haven't seen him like this since he got back from Nam."

Mulder thought for a moment.

"That is one strong man under normal circumstances." Mulder could testify to that, remembering Skinner's forearm around his throat. The steel muscles were a surprise under that starched white dress shirt.

"Yeah, but his balance is for shit when he's bombed. I don't see any lights on, hopefully he's still sleeping."

Mulder reached into his bag and took out his handcuffs, attaching them to his belt. He touched his gun.

"Is he suicidal?"

Krycek bit his lip, thinking.

"I don't think so, that would mean leaving me alone. He wouldn't abandon me."

Mulder took the bullet cartridge out just in case and put it in his jacket pocket.

Alex walked noiselessly up the steps, Mulder close behind. Alex opened the door, poking his head in cautiously, looking around and motioned for Mulder to follow. The front living room was a disaster area. It looked like a tornado hit; chairs and tables tossed aside and broken, books torn apart, lamps shattered obviously hurled against the walls.

"Shit." Krycek muttered under his breath seeing the destruction. He looked back at Mulder and pointed up the stairs. They cat walked up, pausing to wince at the creaks in the wood. They went to the end of the hall and Krycek took a deep breath before lightly knocking on the door.

"Walter?" he whispered. He opened the door and went in. A mound on the bed moved. "Hey, Walter, you awake?"

"Alex? I thought you left me." Mulder felt the hair on the back of his neck rise at the familiar voice.

Krycek touched the side of the wall, bringing up the dimmer lights enough so that he could see and went over to the bed, sitting on the edge. Skinner moaned at the movement and clutched his head.

Krycek whispered something in Russian, gently rubbing his brother's shoulders. Skinner looked over Alex's shoulders in shock.

"NO! Alex, how could you?" he shouted, shoving Krycek away from him.

"Well damn, Walter, you were freaking out! You said he was the only person you trusted, who else was I supposed to bring? Dr. Scully?" Krycek threw his hand up in the air in exasperation.

Mulder walked slowly closer, looking at his usually immaculate AD. His eyes were bloodshot, his hollowed cheeks supported a two-week beard, the room smelled of old sweat and alcohol, and the bedding was dingy.

"You brought the one man that could destroy us both!"

Alex couldn't take it anymore. He jumped to his feet.

"What the fuck did you want me to do?! You have spent the past two weeks in a bottle of scotch! Do you know what the living room looks like? Do you know what YOU look like? You look like shit, Vlad! That beard is covering half your face making you look like a werewolf, it doesn't suit you, you haven't bathed in several days or even dressed in a week. I'm getting tired of seeing your bare butt staggering around here barely conscious.

"You have pushed me away at every turn, you won't let me help you, you won't tell me what's wrong! What did you want me to do?" he hoarsely whispered the last as he slid to the floor, his back up against the bed frame, his head hung between his raised knees.

Mulder's brain was on hold as he watched the two men he thought he knew.

Skinner shut his eyes for a moment and slowly sat up.

"You have faced killers, sentient oil and alien bounty hunters; did I scare you so much, Sasha?" he asked softly, putting his hand over the edge of the bed to lightly touch Alex's head. The younger man sniffed, feeling six years old again.

"You're all I have left, Val. Mulder was the only person I could think of. I'd gladly trade my freedom, my life, if I knew you were safe."

Skinner squeezed his brother's shoulder.

"Go to bed, Alex. I'm sure Mulder is anxious to speak privately with me. You and I will talk later. We're both overwrought."

Krycek nodded and got to his feet, He took a couple of steps forward before turning back toward the bed. He leaned over and kissed Skinner on each bearded cheek. Alex looked at Mulder.

"Lisitsa? Whatever happens, thank you for coming." Mulder nodded and Alex left the room.

"He hasn't kissed me since my wedding." Skinner commented. "Do you mind if I take a shower before you rake me over the coals?" He got out of the bed and went over to the dresser.

Mulder tried not to wrinkle his nose.

"Please. If I wait downstairs do I have any reason to think that you'd escape out a window?"

Skinner paused in his search for clean clothes.

"I'll be down in a little while, Mulder. You're welcome to find the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. I think I need it." His head was pounding to the beat of it's own drummer and he couldn't remember the last time he ate. Skinner looked critically at a shirt. He suddenly leaned forward, putting his hands on the dresser, bowing his head.

"Are you alright?" Mulder asked stepping toward him.

"Mulder, do you understand that there is no way we will ever see the inside of a courtroom? Alex and I would be erased, before a hearing date is even set. You are the key to our lives and I have never begged anyone for anything, but I will beg you for his life."

Mulder looked at him with ice in his eyes, his jaw clenched tightly.

"Well, Sir, at this moment I'm ready to kill the two of you myself but I promised Krycek a fair hearing. I will give you that hearing." He turned and left the room, slamming the door behind him.

Skinner grabbed his head in pain.

 

Skinner emerged an hour later, scrubbed and shaved. He paused at the top of the stairs, wincing at the destruction below. He had no memory of doing that. God, no wonder Alex broke down, he thought. He walked down the stairs slowly, silently pleading with his head and stomach to forgive him. He could not believe Alex brought Mulder in. Serves you right, idiot, he told himself. You should have talked to Alex, he's a big boy, and he needs to know. You protect him too much.

He made his way around the obstacle course and into the kitchen. Mulder silently handed him a cup of coffee and a piece of dry toast. Skinner gratefully sank into a chair and sipped his coffee. Mulder's face was still stony. Skinner wasn't looking forward to the next few hours. He spotted the photo album on the table and glared at his agent. Mulder was the only person Skinner knew who wasn't intimidated by it.

"You can keep that look, it has never impressed me." He said. "I could have searched your apartment the moment Krycek came to me and with your shady history, you know I had the right. I didn't search it, yet. I did have to go in and see if you were actually missing. There was no way I was going to allow Him to drive me out of town, not without some kind of evidence. And for your information, Alex brought the book not me. He was proving his filial ties. I think I liked the horsy picture the best. Very cute. What does lisitsa, mean?" There was no emotion in Mulder's voice during his monologue.

Skinner was puzzled briefly at the nonsequitor until he remembered Alex's comment.

"It means fox,. Does Scully know about all this?" he asked staring into his coffee.

"No, but she knows that I'm out of town. I told her I'd check in."

Skinner understood; no call from Mulder and Scully would track him down. He was actually more afraid of Scully than Mulder's own quiet fury. Skinner wasn't sure what to make of his agent; he had seen Mulder in just about every mood; in tears and laughter, loving looks he unknowingly directed at his partner, pacing the hospital floors over Scully and his mother, concentrating on a file, poisoned, angry, sad, happy. He had never seen Mulder so furious that he could barely speak. Skinner didn't blame him one bit, he knew it was only a matter of time and he knew it would be Mulder or Scully that would discover the truth. He should have backed away from them years ago.

"I think there are actually two stories here," Mulder was saying, "how you got involved with the Consortium and what your problem has been lately. Krycek said you've been on a drunken binge and from the looks of the living room, I can believe that."

Skinner looked him square in the eyes.

"I won't discuss these past two weeks, it has nothing to do with the Consortium, it's personal. I will discuss the other part but only when Alex is here, he needs to hear it. There are things he needs to know, things I should have told him years ago and I'd rather not have to repeat myself."

Mulder nodded and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. Skinner tensed.

"It's me, Scully. I'm fine, I'll check back at noon." She was going to kill him, Mulder was sure of it. His check-in told her he had actually ditched her again.

 

Skinner ate his toast, downed a couple of aspirin and went into the living room. The two men spent the morning putting the room back together. Whatever Skinner wouldn't be able to fix he tossed out the front door onto the lawn to be chopped up into firewood later. They spoke of inconsequential things, the latest ball game, and gossip from the office. Skinner was surprised that Mulder was actually helping him straighten up.

"I didn't know you spoke Russian." Mulder said unexpectedly. Skinner shrugged.

"I don't remember most of it. A few words and phrases. I can usually understand Alex. He's the one that kept it up; you've noticed that he tends to slip into it when he becomes very upset."

"Did you really leave him out on your balcony when I brought him over?"

"Yes, I did." Skinner said grimly. "He had been avoiding me since Scully's abduction and I was pissed at him. He's lucky he got away with one hit, I was ready to beat the crap out of him."

Skinner paused and looked at Mulder.

"If I thought for one moment that he had anything to do with Scully's abduction, Melissa's death or your father's, I would have brought him in, please believe that. He's no angel but"

"Don't, Walter." Krycek came down the stairs wearing his jeans, a t-shirt, no shoes or prosthesis. "Don't apologize for me. I have puppet masters, Mulder, just like everyone else. He's here to help with your problem, Walter, not mine."

Skinner frowned at him.

"You're supposed to be sleeping."

Krycek headed into the kitchen.

"I slept for an hour." He called out. Skinner sat down in one of the few chairs still in one piece.

"I don't think I want to know what the two of you have seen that keeps you awake." He commented.

"You're right, you don't want to know." Mulder said. Krycek came back in with a mug of coffee and a bagel. He sat down on the rug, his back up against the wall. Mulder looked back and forth at them with the curiosity he usually reserved for an interesting case.

"There is absolutely no resemblance between you two." He sounded as though it were a personal insult.

"It happens, what's your point?" Krycek said snidely. Skinner got up and went to the bookshelf. He studied the contents for a moment, ignoring the boys,, before taking down a photo album.

"No point, Krycek, it was just a comment." Mulder sniped back. Skinner looked through it until he found the picture he wanted and handed the book to Mulder. It was a faded, yellowed acetate photo of a thin balding man.

"That's our mother's grandfather." Skinner said. Mulder could see the genetics through their great-grandfather. Skinner had the hairline and sharp cheekbones. Krycek had the eyes, mouth and chin.

Skinner put the book back and sat back down, thinking for a moment. Mulder suddenly realized by the man looked different; he wasn't wearing his glasses. His face looked more open, younger.

"Alex, I'm going to tell Mulder a story; it's one you need to hear because most of it you don't know. I should have told you a long time ago but as usual I was trying to protect you. I think I over-protected you. Maybe if you had known you wouldn't have made the choices that you did." He watched as Alex dunked a piece of his bagel in the coffee sitting on the floor. Skinner's gaze wandered up to the empty sleeve.

"Do you know I cried for three days the first time I saw that?" he whispered.

"Val."

"Yes, alright." Skinner put aside the memory of entering the lodge to find Alex with a fever. The stump had ulcerated from the first prosthesis; an infection had set in. It was the first time Skinner had heard Alex's side of the Tunguska story.

Alex finished his breakfast and took out his cigarettes. Skinner glared at him and he sighed, getting up to go open the front door.

Walter pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed his eyes. He took another couple of aspirin.

"Alex, Smokey does know about us, he always has."

Krycek's eyes went wide with shock and he dropped his cigarette.

"I know what you've been led to believe, but don't you see? You are the sword that has been held over my head."

 

July 1972

Walter had his eyes shut, trying to ignore the boy standing in front of him with a football tucked under one arm. Now that he was home, his stepfather immediately put him back in charge of babysitting his little brother.

"Come on, Vlad, I haven't seen you in two whole years. Come out and throw the ball with me."

"Alex, I told you, I'm tired. I need some time to adjust, can't you understand that? Besides, I'll pop the stitches and then I'll have to go back to the hospital." He held the cold bottle of beer up to his forehead letting the chill seep into his skin. He wanted to spend time with Sasha but he just couldn't get rid of the scenes from his mind. It wasn't helping that his gut was hurting as the incisions healed.

Alexei sighed noisily and scuffed his sneakers in the dirt, kicking up a cloud of dust and pebbles.

"Is your homework done?"

"It's July." Alexei rolled his eyes.

Walter frowned in concentration.

"Right, sorry."

The boy plopped down next to him on the porch swing and kicked his feet until Walter glared at him. Alex turned his body, his legs tucked up under him and leaned down to get a closer look at the angry ridges on Walter's lower stomach. The shorts were unbuttoned, the zipper only halfway up in deference to the stitches below his navel. Walter hadn't told his family yet, but unless he adopted, Alex was the closest thing he will ever have to a child of his own. The damage to his lower abdomen was extensive. At least he could still perform, thank heavens for small favors. The doctors were shocked that he was even alive. His body hair was prickly as it grew back after being shaved off for surgery and had been making him cursing lately, being unable to scratch due to the stitches.

Alex put out a hand, his fingers curious.

"Don't touch, Alexei. It'll hurt me and you'll infect the stitches." He didn't need to open his eyes to be aware of the boy's intentions. Alex had always been too curious for his own good. He sighed again and put his head on the backrest, picking at the weathered wood.

"Vlad?"

"Alex, you have to call me Walter now. Aunt Helga and Uncle Charles changed it, remember? What."

"Were you afraid?" Walter almost didn't hear the whispered question. He opened his eyes and looked at his baby brother.

"Yes, Sasha, I was very afraid. It was not a nice place."

"Papa says that if it doesn't stop, I'll have to go when I'm 18. I don't want to go, Val." A tear ran down his cheek, streaking the dirt.

Walter swore at the absent old man for his heartless stupidity and threw his bottle out onto the lawn. He turned, wincing as a stitch pulled, and faced the boy. Alex's image mingled with that of another boy, one with an Asian face, who had grenades wrapped around his waist.

"Listen to me, Alexei. You will never go there. I promise. You will graduate high school and college, get a good job, get married and have lots of kids with green eyes." He tugged at the boy's hair; it needed a trim again. Alexei sniffed and rubbed his nose on his arm.

"Really?"

"Really. Go get the newspaper off the table." Alex rushed into the house and returned moments later with the paper in hand. Walter glanced at the articles on the front page and pointed to a paragraph header.

"Here, read this. Out loud."

Alex took it and pronounced the words very carefully.

"Peace talks to start." He folded the paper into a sloppy bundle and laid it on the porch. Happy and relieved, he climbed back up onto the swing, humming contentedly. Walter waited to see where the active mind went next. After several minutes of companionable silence, Alex fidgeted with Walter's dogtags.

"Guess what, VWalter?"

"What?"

"You know Mary down the street?"

Walter tried to picture the various children in the neighborhood.

"Yes." No. Alex's face was red.

"I kissed her."

Walter did his best not to laugh. He remembered how strange 10 was.

"Are you old enough to be kissing girls?" he asked with a serious face.

 

 

<"No, stop, wait!" Alex pushed at Walter to get his attention. "Mulder doesn't need to know about the Talk you gave me. Forget my childhood and get on with the story."

"Alright alright, I guess I digressed a little.">

 

By the fall of 1972, his wounds had closed and were on their way to becoming scars. Walter decided he was done feeling sorry for himself and stopped spending his days in a drunken fog. Alex had entered fifth grade and was starting to pay more attention to what his big brother was doing and was picking up some of Walter's bad habits. Walter had caught the boy with a bottle of beer, sharing it with a friend, and proceeded to tan his butt. That afternoon, Walter tossed out the rest of the beer and went for a run around the block. His belly hurt from the exertion but the adrenaline rush felt good. He decided it was time to re-enter society.

He applied to the police academy and was accepted provisionally. They were concerned about his wounds; perhaps it was too soon for the stressful workout they would receive at the academy. Wait for the next session to start. Take a college course in law enforcement first, they recommended, it would put him a step ahead of the rest of the cadets. After enrolling for the winter semester at the university on a veteran's scholarship, he still had to pay the bills.

Sitting on the porch, perusing the want ads, Walter was startled to see a dark car, obviously Government Issue, stop in front of the house. Two men stepped out, both in government suits.

"Walter Skinner?" One of them asked. The other stood a couple of steps behind but Walter's instincts said that Number 2 was actually in charge.

"Yes, may I help you?" Walter asked politely, holding out his hand as he stood up.

"I'm Henry Edmonds. We understand that you're looking for work while you finish healing and attend classes. We like to keep track of our Vets, especially ones with your outstanding record."

Edmonds motioned to the swing and Walter hastily moved the papers.

"Excuse me, please sit down. May I get you something to drink?"

"No thank you, son, kind of you though. As I was saying, with your record we knew it was only a matter of time before you applied to one of the law enforcement communities. How's that gut, by the way? Healing? Good, good. Was in Korea, myself. Now, you've been accepted into the University but not until the winter semester. You still need to pay some bills, am I right? Sure. You're the kind of man we could use, Walter. Your service record says you're an excellent soldier and your college entrance exams puts you in the top ten percentile. You're brave and smart, young man."

"Thank you, Sir. I don't know about the brave part though, I was just helping my fellow servicemen." Walter had a strange feeling about this meeting, one he wasn't sure he liked, but curiosity made him remain polite and hear the man out. He knew he was not being told something but he couldn't put his finger on it.

Edmonds waved his hand, dismissing Walter's comment.

"Modesty can be a good thing, son, but no need to hide from me. I'm aware of your time with Black Ops."

Walter froze.

"I don't think I understand, Sir." He said carefully. Suit number 2 still hadn't said anything, he just stood on the lawn, smoking a cigarette.

"Sorry, son, didn't mean to step on any toes. What I was getting at was this; there are a lot of, shall we say, sensitive issues that some government personnel get involved in. Someone needs to keep an eye on these people. National security is at stake, Mr. Skinner. If you'd be willing to help us once in a while, be on-call let's say, you'd be paid very well. Well enough that two maybe three jobs a year will pay you bills clear and there will still be some left over, if you're thrifty." Edmonds stood up suddenly, patting Walter on the knee.

"Think about it. National security. Just leave a message for me at this number and I'll get back to you. Good luck with school and the academy, son." He handed Walter a business card and both men went on their way.

Several days later, Walter was accepted as a security guard in a hotel. He held onto his patience as the flower child training him tried to convince him that he could control any situation without the use of his gun or any type of physical violence. Walter resisted the urge to show the man his abdomen and ask his opinion on controlling that.

The job was generally boring but it kept food on the table and a roof over his head. His only excitement recently had revolved around Alex, as usual.

<"Hey!">

<"Shut up, Alex.">

 

This time the boy fallen out of a tree and broke his arm. A boy's rite of passage. After spending almost half a day in the emergency room, Walter took him back to his place and carried the boy, pumped full of painkillers, up to bed. He knew that the old man would insist that Walter deal with Alex anyway, so it was easier to keep him at Walter's house. Since Walter had diapered Alex as a baby, helping him bathe and dress was no big deal.

<"Never mind the diapers, Walter.">

<"If you don't stop interrupting, I'm going to show Mulder your bear-skin rug pictures. The ones you had done for your 21st birthday.">

<"You're cruel, Walter.">

A few days later, Walter received a call from the bank asking him to come in. Apparently, there was $5,000 still owed on the house. Walter immediately called his aunt and uncle in Florida. Uncle Charles apologized profusely saying that he knew he had paid off the house and that the deed was in the attic. Walter went through the attic and the cellar but was unable to find the paper and so was unable to prove to the bank his uncle's claim. Walter had 30 days to come up with the money or the house would be repossessed.

He called Henry Edmonds.

 

Present day

"What, you're ending it there?!" Alex looked ready to strangle him.

"As you have already stated, I have spent the past two weeks drunk. My head hurts, my stomach is ready to take up residence elsewhere. I need a nap, I'm an old man. I'll tell you more later." He put his coffee cup in the sink and climbed the stairs.

"You boys play nice. I don't want to have to clean up blood when I wake up." He called down to them.

Mulder was on his cell phone, pacing in front of the picture window.

"But, ScullyI promise I will explain when I get back. Yes, that was his voice. He's sick, I'm helping. I am too capable of helping. No, we are not at his place. No, Scully. I know you're a doctor, but he isn't that Scully, please" Mulder groaned as he turned to face the wall, knocking his forehead against it. Alex watched, grinning evilly as Mulder cursed and hung up the phone.

"So, Mulder, why don't you just get it over with and marry her?"

Alex ducked to avoid a book.

Mulder became bored real fast. Krycek wouldn't tell his story and Mulder refused to play chess with a Russian; he wanted some chance at winning. So instead he fall asleep in a large chair in the living room with the afternoon sun streaming through the window, birds calling to each other and insects droning.

A yell from above brought Mulder to his feet and both men went running for the stairs. They burst into Skinner's room to find him tangled in the sheets, thrashing about.

"No! Leave me alone! Don't touch me!"

Mulder's blood ran cold with a sudden suspicion.

"Walter, wake up. Come on, wake up it's only a dream." Krycek sat next to Skinner and shook him. Mulder didn't think that was a good idea. Skinner suddenly sat up and raised his hands, wrapping them around Krycek's throat. Mulder jumped onto the bed and pulled at Skinner's wrists until Alex was able to yank himself free. Just as abruptly, Skinner was awake, looking dazed at the men holding him down.

"What?" They cautiously released him.

"You had a nightmare. Kry Alex tried to wake you and you tried to strangle him." Mulder informed him.

Skinner looked with horror at the red imprints on his brother's throat.

"Oh my God, Alex, I'm sorry." He pulled Alex close, repeating his apology over and over.

"It's alright, Val. I shouldn't have tried to shake you awake."

Skinner finally noticed the way Mulder was looking at him, as though he had found the answers to the universe. Skinner had a feeling he didn't want to know what was on Mulder's mind. Alex didn't seem to notice anything as he patted the man on the shoulder and stood up.

"You haven't eaten anything today except toast. That's what probably brought the dream on. I'll go make us some lunch, or is it dinner?" Alex left the room and Mulder was still looking at him.

"Do you have something you want to say, Mulder?" Skinner asked as he went into the bathroom to splash water on his face. He shouldn't have opened up the opportunity.

"Alex doesn't know, does he?" Mulder said softly.

Skinner put on a fresh shirt.

"I don't know what you're talking about." He said in a neutral voice.

"Bullshit, Skinner. You were yelling for someone to stop touching you." Skinner blanched.

"That could have meant anything or nothing. It was a dream."

"In a child's voice? Let me profile this, A.D. Skinner. You, for all practical purposes, raised your baby brother after your mother died. Alex mentioned that he remembers you getting beat if the house wasn't clean and dinner ready when Yuri got home. He also said that you took most of his beatings by getting in Yuri's way first. You went to live with relatives and not Alex. I've seen your pictures; you looked just like your mother, spittin, image, so to speak. You were a pretty boy, Walter, with that thick dark hair and those big expressive eyes. Man's wife died, maybe he missed her. Would you like me to continue?"

Skinner thrust his face in close to the agent's, one fist gripping the front of Mulder's shirt.

"You say one more word and I will kill you and take my chances with Scully." He growled through clenched teeth. Mulder didn't back down.

"You almost killed your own brother just a few minutes ago. Walter, nothing that happened to you was your fault and I think you know that. You need to talk to someone about it; I'm a good listener. The offer remains open, no matter what happens here. I won't discuss it with Alex, but I think that you should. I'll be there with you if you want me to. Walter, you don't know what happened during those two years you were away. He may have problems of his own. He was also a very pretty boy. I pray that I'm wrong, I sincerely do." Mulder's voice remained gentle and non-threatening, placing no blame. Skinner released him and quickly left the room. Mulder was the Number 1 profiler at the FBI; it was very rare he was wrong.

Mulder followed him down at a slower pace.

"What the hell did you say to him?" Alex asked, looking out the open front door.

"Nothing he didn't need to hear." Mulder knew it wasn't his place to elaborate. He plucked a carrot out of the bowl in Alex's hand and sat on the porch, munching and thinking.

Skinner slammed the front door open, banging it against the side of the entrance and ran down the walkway. He refused to let his mind dwell on Mulder's words and instead told himself that he was just going for a swim in the old swimming hole. He walked blindly up the hill and turned onto a little used path. Skirted around a boulder, he scrapped his shin, misjudging the distance since he left without his glasses. He knew his way, though, he and Alex having taken the same route for years. After about a quarter of a mile, he came to the edge of the cliff. It was only about a ten-foot drop into the water, a familiar spot, so Skinner dove in. The cold shocked him but he surfaced leisurely and began to swim the length of the hole.

As fatigue set in, Skinner made his way over to the sunning rock and hoisted himself up. He lay on his stomach, his face turned from the sun, trembling.

Mulder fell asleep again; unusual for him since 4 hours out of 24 was his normal sleep pattern. It was Krycek's fault, he reasoned, thanks to the man's little bombshell, Mulder had been up for about 36 hours. He awoke abruptly to find Skinner sitting in front of him. The pleasant man they had been spending time with was gone, Mulder's stony-faced A.D. was back.

"As I was saying; I called Henry Edmonds."

 

Winter 1972/76

Walter spent the next two years doing odd jobs for Edmonds. Mostly it involved security work, bodyguard jobs for various people. Once in a while he was asked to gather evidence on a certain person. He asked why. National security, he was told. The answer was the same each time he asked so he soon stopped asking. A soldier obeys his superiors, he reminded himself.

He spent four years at college, skipping the police academy. He was strongly encouraged to apply to Quantico. He knew he did well on the entrance exams but was still surprised when he was accepted so quickly. He graduated at the top of his class, taking the few odd jobs during the years from Edmonds to pay the bills and to keep a growing teenage boy in food and cloths.

Something told him to keep his family life private, so with the benefit of the difference in their names and the fact that he was naturally reserved about personal information, his classmates assumed he was an only child with no family left. He received numerous invitations to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners by well-meaning people who thought he had no one to go home to. With the help of Edmonds, he had his adoption buried and any mention of a brother taken off any remaining records. The gregarious older man only asked for one free job, which Skinner did willingly. It was nothing to make Skinner think twice about, just a simple surveillance job of a Senator associating with the wrong people. Take a few pictures for evidence and turn them in to Edmonds. Nothing new, Skinner had done it before.

Looking back on them, thinking about the jobs, he could find nothing truly questionable about them. Each job was a security concern. It wasn't until after he had begun at the FBI that Smokey took over his leash personally.

Present

"Do you know what made me question a superior's order for the first time, Mulder? The Oliver North trial. That Senator that Edmonds had me gather evidence on killed himself at the same time those trials were going on. The note he left said he was being blackmailed and he couldn't take the risk to his family. The pictures they found were the ones that I took. I couldn't find Edmonds to ask him about it, Smokey denied any knowledge. He claimed to have done some digging for me and discovered that the pictures had been stolen from private files. I can't prove it one way or the other.

"I thought about the other jobs I had done and did some checking of my own. I discovered that a good percentage of those people had quit or disappeared soon after I completed that assignment." Skinner looked blank for a moment and then noticed the plate of chicken salad sandwiches next to him set there by Alex. He took a bite of one; although Alex was a surprisingly good cook, the sandwich tasted of sawdust. He finished it anyway.

"So while I sat in my apartment feeling sorry for myself, I watched ol, Ollie try to defend his actions. He was a soldier and he obeyed his superiors yet there he was. The fall guy. I saw myself standing there one day. I told Smokey I appreciated all they had done, but I didn't want to work for them anymore. He said he understood, but then he'd return every once in a while, asking about you, Alex. How were you, did I see your latest test scores, your latest ball game. Did I know about you sleeping with so and so, isn't she a pretty one, isn't he a looker. I didn't care about that, by the way, you could have told me, Alex. He never said anything overtly threatening, but I knew." Alex stood up and stared out the window.

"Mulder, I've done everything I can to help you and Scully, everything short of my brother's life."

Alex took a deep shuddering breath.

"Vlad?" he whispered hoarsely, still staring outside.

"I fucked up at Quantico and he fixed it. What isn't important now. I did a few jobs for him in payment and I thought I was done. I had heard about Mulder's X-Files, everyone had. I was one of the few who actually wanted to help you, Mulder, I told you the truth about that. I was your biggest defender at the Academy any of my yearmates can confirm that.

"Anyway, the day I made best shot on record, beating your scores, Walter, Smokey showed up again. They needed someone in the trenches; I was to find out how close Mulder was. I didn't like what they were doing, I understood the need once they showed me a few of their so-called secrets, but I didn't like how they were going about it. I thought that I could withstand their influence. I thought that I could help you from the inside. I sent information whenever I could; it had to be anonymous just in case it was intercepted. I just wanted to help.

"I did try to get out once, lost my arm for it, too. He said if I tried it again, he'd publish some interesting pictures of me. I thought you'd turn away from me if you knew about them so I built up a wall and did the work blindly. I'll tell you about the pictures later, Walter, let's just say that bearskin rug was completely innocent compared to some others. I should have told you a lot of things. You haven't been the only one keeping secrets."

Mulder thought he saw a flicker of guilt in Skinner's eyes and knew he was thinking about their earlier conversation.

Alex turned and knelt next to Skinner's chair, looking up at the older man.

"Maybe if we both come clean, he won't have anything to hold us with." Alex gripped Walter's hand tightly.

"He'll kill us, Alexei. I'm not done with my life yet, are you?" Skinner gripped the dark hair with his other hand, forcing Alex to keep looking at him.

Mulder transferred his bag to Skinner's car. Alex was tossing his duffel into the Bronco while Walter made sure the lodge was locked down and all the appliances turned off. Any perishable foods were put into an ice chest and taken back into town. Mulder sat in the car, waiting for the men to say their good-byes. Alex threw his arm around his brother, hugging him tight. Skinner responded a bit slower, never having been one for physical affection. Mulder surreptitiously wiped his cheek, remembering how affectionate Krycek could be. The men separated and headed toward their vehicles.

Walter stopped midway and bowed his head, his hands on his hips.

"Alex? Come here." He gestured toward the porch. Puzzled, Alex sat down. After about five minutes, Mulder could see that both their faces were wet with tears. He couldn't hear what Walter was saying but soon Alex nodded and started talking. Mulder waited patiently while the men talked and cried on each other. Mulder picked up his phone and called Scully.

"Hi, it's me, I should be home by midnight. Yes, he's feeling better. He's healing."

The End.