Title: OF LONG DISTANCE RUNNERS

Author: Josan

Date: June, 1999

Summary: How Krycek enters the M/Sk household Pairing: M/Sk/K

Rating: PG-13

Warning: VERY VERY angsty for all three. (I wrote this before the EATING series, in midst of major depression. It shows.)

Archive: Archive X, Gossamer, thank you. Others, please contact me just to let me know.

Comments: jmann@mondenet.com

DISCLAIMER: They "belong" to Chris Carter, Fox, and

1013; I am only dreaming about them.

NOTE: This is a series based on the premise that all three could one day be together. Kassandra started it for me, then JiM and MJ had the idea (at the same time: great minds think alike...ignore the rest). I happen to like this premise. ANSWERS TRILOGY, NIGHT OUT belong to this series. (I seem to be writing these in a backward chronology.)

*****************************************

 

OF LONG DISTANCE RUNNERS (1/2)

 

What the hell was he doing here?

Krycek leaned against the large tree trunk and tried to get his eyes to focus on the house.

He was amazed that he had made it here. He didn't remember much of the taxi ride from the airport, only the fact that the driver had warned him that if he threw up in his cab, he, Krycek, not the driver, was going to clean it up.

Except that Krycek wasn't drunk. Just deathly ill.

He had picked up some bug in Hong Kong, hadn't paid proper attention to it, and now he was beyond paying attention to it.

He'd gotten the driver to drop him off near the house. He knew where it was because, in healthier times, he had come to see where they lived. Just to be sure *he* was all right.

Now, he rested against the tree in their front yard, in the middle of the night, trying hard to remember what the hell he had been thinking of when he had decided to come here.

Did he think they would welcome him with open arms?

More with open weapons.

God! He was so tired. And so tired of being tired.

In the more than two years since the shit had hit the fan, when Mulder had used the material he had syphoned down to him to good advantage, when the Consortium big- wigs suddenly found themselves on the receiving end, when alien rebels had finally "convinced" the slimy Oilians that staying on Planet Earth might just be a little too costly, Krycek had found himself constantly on the run.

First, the rebels had used him as a front, a human weapon, in their campaign to clean out centres of Oilian activity. Then, their human allies had decided that he should pay for his part in the downfall of their plans.

In the hunt that had followed, Krycek's killing abilities had been honed to an even finer point. While the top echelons battled it out in the court-rooms, the Grand Juries, the private clubs of the world, their enforcers tried hard to be the one who counted coup on Alex Krycek.

But now, with no one to pay them for their kill, one by one, those enforcers and their crews who still lived, who were not in prisons, decided that maybe Krycek wasn't worth the effort. Not enough to hunt him down on purpose, but should he happen to wander in their path, well, that was another story.

Through it all, Krycek had managed to keep a sort of eye on Mulder and what was happening to him. He hadn't been surprised that Mulder had suddenly, without warning, quit the FBI. Supposedly for no reason.

But Krycek had known that Mulder would not tolerate the covering-up that went on in the highest ranks of the FBI, the CIA, the Military. No one wanted outright disintegration of society. The Consortium and the departmental scapegoats were offered as sacrifice but the Public never really got all the details of situation.

He had been a bit more surprised to discover that Mulder had set up house with Walter Skinner, who was still at the FBI, as Acting Deputy Director: acting, because his job was to oversee the rebuilding of the internal structure of the FBI. After which, he would have made too many enemies to remain at the FBI, let alone be one of its DD's. A sacrificial lamb -- no, not a lamb; one of those white bulls offered up to Zeus -- a sacrificial bull for the betterment of the Bureau.

A high price, thought Krycek, to pay for fucking Mulder.

So, while Mulder's life went on, for the better, his had plummeted down further into the darkness.

And now he could go no further down; he had hit rock bottom and had hit hard. He knew he wasn't going to pull out of this. Was that why he had come here? To die as close as he could get to the one person he had loved in his life?

Because he did love Mulder, as much as someone like him was capable of love. Loved the feel of him, the smell of him. Loved being touched by him. For those few times they had meshed together, he had felt warm, in light. To him, Fox Mulder was the sun in his dark world. He cherished those times they had been together, had called upon those memories to warm him when he was so cold, to bring him the semblance of light in his dark, bitter world.

Loved him enough to realize that staying with him, even near him would endanger that warmth, that light. So he had left. Not out of nobility. But because he understood that nothing would change on the path he had chosen; that if he didn't leave, Mulder would be drawn along that same destructive path and he would be responsible for the end of that warmth, that light. And that realization was hard enough to bear: he would not be responsible for the destruction of Fox Mulder.

It had been the right decision. But the pain of it sometimes slashed through his guts, cutting his breath, making him long for something he could never again have.

He was a survivor by nature. And so he survived. Not well, but survived. Had forgotten what it was like to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, let alone in a bed: to eat at a table, surrounded by conversation: to be clean, except at moments: to stay in one place for longer than a day.

Forgotten to be human rather than an animal at bay.

Until he'd gotten sick in Hong Kong and decided he wanted to be warm once more before he gave up.

So here he was, the story of his life, on the outside looking in, and knowing there was no place for him inside.

By the warmth.

And, God, he was so cold. In spite of the heat radiating off his body, the core of him was cold unto death.

The light from the front room reflected gold on the autumn lawn. Inside, he imagined Mulder and Skinner together, a masochistic image he held onto as he tried to summon up some strength to move, to leave. This had not been one of his better ideas.

His knees gave out from under him and he found it harder to breathe. He sat back on his heels, swaying.

Why bother? he thought. This was as good a place to die as anywhere. Unlike his other enemies, Skinner would at least bury him, not throw his body to the scavengers. He rather liked the idea of Skinner burying him. Maybe even providing him with a marker. The thought made him smile. What would Skinner have them put on it? Here lies a ratbastard? Maybe just a little rat picture.

And maybe Mulder would remember the times they had had together with some sentiment. Maybe even miss him for a moment. Maybe...but no, no one would shed a tear at the death of Alex Krycek.

Krycek looked at the golden grass and longed painfully for it. Each breath hurt. Now that he had given up, moving was almost impossible. But that little patch of gold seemed to call him, and so he tried to go to it. Almost made it. He was just too tired to try and move again.

He lay where he had fallen, gathered all the strength he had left, gave it one final effort. He reached out with his hand, his real hand, and pulled himself just enough so that the hand could touch the soft light.

He closed his hand on it. Sighed. Stopped fighting the darkness.

*******************************************************

The meeting in the Director's office had lasted into the wee small hours of the morning.

Unlike several of the representatives from Justice, the Director had refused to accept Walter Skinner's resignation, his retirement papers, anything else he offered in his anger at what he saw as the ultimate betrayal of the honour of the FBI.

CSG Spender was going to be offered immunity for testifying against his former colleagues, given a new identity and allowed to continue living, protected by the very government he had tried so hard to take down.

This in spite of all the documentation they had gathered on the man's dealings with the underworld, his alien ties, his connections to the many deaths that had occurred when the Consortium had begun disintegrating.

Try to see sense, they had told him: Spender knows where all the bodies are buried. Not just theirs, but ours as well. In return for this deal, he would keep quiet about that embarrassment, give them more information on the conspiracy. Surely that alone was worth his, Skinner's, acceptance -- well, if not acceptance, then silence.

Justice and the other DD's had left an enraged Skinner alone for a final meeting with the Director which had ended with his agreeing to consider Skinner's termination whether by resignation or retirement, decision to come after the weekend. He agreed to take the next day, today really, off so as to allow tempers on the upper floor to cool down.

The only cheerful spot in this entire fiasco was the fact that Mulder had left the lights on for him, a warm welcome in a rather bleak day.

But not enough light to prevent him from tripping over something and nearly landing, face first, in the shrubbery. Swearing at this perfect end of a perfect day, he turned to kick whatever it was that he had tripped over only to discover it was too large to be a rake, or one of the local kids' bikes.

He stooped and pulled the pile of cloth far enough into the light to recognize that it was a man. A man burning with fever.

"Shit!" Skinner unlocked the door with his key at the same time ringing the doorbell. He pushed open the door, tossed his briefcase onto the nearby chair and turned on the outdoor light.

"Walter? Are you okay?" A sleep-hoarsened voice came down the stairs.

"Out here, Fox. There's someone out here. Sick."

Mulder staggered out, dressed in a rumpled t-shirt and baggy sweat pants. He quickly woke up when he saw Skinner lifting someone off the lawn, came to help carry the dead weight of the man into the house.

"Here. Lay him here on the entry floor. Who the hell is he? Do you recognize him? Careful. There seems to be something wrong with his left arm...Ah, Jesus! You don't think it could be...Shit! I thought he was dead," Skinner growled.

Mulder looked up from verifying that the left arm was indeed a prosthesis. "He's going to be dead real soon if we don't get a doctor. He's burning up."

Mulder left Walter fuming but dialling the phone while he rushed into the bathroom, returned with a thermometer. One of those instant reading things. "Damn! 104.5!" He passed that information to Skinner who passed it on to his contact. Mulder stroked the flushed face of his former lover, a face honed to skin and bone. "Jesus, Alex, where the hell have you been?"

Skinner finished his call. "Joe will meet us at his clinic. He says to keep him wrapped, try and get some liquids into him. Get dressed, Fox. And bring down that comforter your mother gave us last Christmas: it's in the box in the storeroom."

Skinner got some tepid water and, raising Krycek enough so he wouldn't choke, he tried to get the man to drink. The water just ran out of his mouth, down his chin. Skinner winced at the sound of the man's breathing. Pneumonia at least, he thought.

An hour later Joe Fischer confirmed his diagnosis. "Plus, he's suffering from malnutrition, exhaustion, among other things. To be honest, I don't think he's got the resources to fight this off."

"But you'll help him." Mulder glared at him.

"I'll do my best, Mulder." Fischer was insulted by Mulder's implication that he would not do the best for any of his patients. "I've given him a massive dose of antibiotics, another of vitamins. He's on intravenous, on oxygen. I've done my part: now, it's up to him."

Skinner was grim. If Krycek *had* to show up, why was it just to die on them. On Mulder.

He knew about the relationship between the two men. Mulder hadn't tried to hide it, had told him about it just after they had gotten together. He knew that Mulder loved him. Had told and shown him often enough.

But he also knew that Mulder was still in love with Alex Krycek.

Krycek had provided Mulder with raw passion, had appealed to the impetuous Mulder. He, Skinner, provided Mulder with stability, the first in his life, and steady, dependable love. He wondered if Krycek's reappearance meant an end to their life together.

For the moment, he looked upon his rival and wished him dead.

*****************************************************

Mulder refused to leave Krycek behind. If he were going to die, he wasn't going to be alone when it happened.

Skinner held his temper back with difficulty. Temper, he acknowledged to himself, based on fear of losing Mulder mixed with a good portion of anger at the situation. He wanted to take Mulder home, to lock their front door against the outside world, to go back to what they had before Krycek had shown up.

Instead, he announced *he* was going home to catch up on some sleep. He would relieve Mulder later on. If need so.

The fact that Mulder was barely aware of his leaving cut him to the quick. He had to wait, sitting behind the wheel of his car, till the pain was bearable before he drove away. Only the gods knew whether he would have something to come back for.

Mulder spent the next three days sitting by Krycek's bedside, grasping his hand as if to pull the dying man into life.

Fischer had been right: Krycek had very few reserves left to fight off both this infection and the bug he had picked up. But that after forty-eight hours the man was still alive amazed him: he wouldn't say it out loud, but he thought maybe, just maybe his patient might survive after all. Twenty-four hours later, he dared say it to Skinner.

Skinner looked at the bed set up in one of the few private areas the clinic had. He had not yet managed to get Mulder to go home, not even for a change of clothes, not even for some sleep.

Skinner brought him clean clothes, food, even watched over him while he slept in an old armchair they had pulled up to the bed. Watched with each passing minute his relationship with Mulder tested as to its strength.

Because Mulder was certain the only thing keeping Krycek alive was the fact that *his* hand was what was refusing to let Krycek slip into death. If he let go, he feared that Krycek too would let go, would stop fighting no matter how feeble a fight it was.

Skinner had tried once, and only once, to insist that Mulder go home and sleep. Mulder had reached out for him, pulled him down with his free hand for one of the sweetest kisses he had ever given Skinner, looked him sadly in the eye, and said "No."

Nothing else. No explanation. No argument. Just a simple statement of fact. He was not going to leave Krycek.

That was when Skinner had gone home and gotten drunk. Knowing that after their time together, two years of them together in this house, the loneliness that Mulder had driven out of his life was back.

In the morning, moaning slightly under the shower at the foolishness of trying to empty a bottle of scotch by himself, Skinner decided that he was not giving up without a fight. Krycek had disappeared when the going got tough. True, he had given them the various documents which became the basis of the case against the Consortium. But then no one had heard from him.

Not Mulder. Not himself.

And now that he *was* back, and possibly not to die, there was an additional problem. His own relationship with Krycek. One which he had never mentioned to Mulder. Even after Mulder had told him about his relationship with Krycek.

He *had* meant to tell Mulder that he was not unacquainted with Krycek's talents -- not that their few encounters could by any measure be deemed a relationship -- but he had fucked the man when Krycek had first appeared on the scene.

Krycek had approached him just after the first time he and Sharon had separated. Had sat beside him in a bar sipping his vodka while he had tossed back scotch the day she had moved out, supposedly just happening to be there at that particular moment. Had stayed with him so he wouldn't be drinking alone.

"Not a good thing to do, Sir, not in the mood you're in. You don't have to talk to me. Just ignore me. But, if you need anything..."

And he had needed something. Someone to get him home. That someone who had stayed with him, had undressed him, had caressed him, had joined him in bed. Had, after seventeen years, reminded him of the particular pleasures of coming in a tight ass.

But he hadn't told Mulder. The opportunity never seemed right. And he *had* ended the situation with Krycek after a couple...alright five...encounters, when he and Sharon had decided to try again. But Krycek had never, as far as he knew, ever mentioned these to anyone. Certainly not to Spender who would have not hesitated for a moment to use that information against him.

So, it was the ultimate irony that when Krycek finally opened his eyes, found the energy to focus them, the first thing he saw was Walter Skinner glaring at him.

It took Skinner a moment to realize that this was not just another unclosing of eyes, but that the eyes were really seeing him.

The two men looked at each other. Krycek, oxygen mask and weakness preventing him from speaking, managed a small rueful smile, closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

Skinner didn't tell Mulder.

Skinner had come to the conclusion that if he had to fight for Mulder's affections, the battle had to be fought on even ground. At the moment Krycek had the unfair advantage of being too weak, too close to death. Too much still the bad boy that appealed so much to Mulder.

Monday morning, Skinner requested a private meeting with the Director and a top representative from Justice. Before leaving for it, he had a closed door session with his staff, basically preparing them for his departure.

Not one of them was really surprised: word had quickly gotten around the building that the Acting Deputy Director and the Upper Floor disagreed. No one knew about what, but they were afraid to choose sides, worried about their careers. Skinner wasn't surprised by their reactions.

The Director and Justice were a bit wary of the purpose of the meeting. Its direction was completely unexpected.

In return for being silent about his disapproval of the deal offered Spender, about the deal itself, Skinner wanted a deal of his own: total, complete immunity for Alex Krycek.

Justice laughed until he realized that neither Skinner nor the Director was laughing with him. He began enumerating the reasons this was not possible, in spite of the "small amount of information the man had passed on to them". He was too closely linked with the Alien Rebels -- which didn't officially exist anyway -- and too closely tied to the numerous deaths that occurred whenever he was around. No, no, totally impossible.

And then Skinner explained just why Justice would be very co-operative in this request of his. Spender was not the only one who knew where the bodies were buried. And why. And not just the other side's but so many of their own.

All detailed on some secured web site somewhere out on the internet. Which only he had access to. And they had better hope that he kept on having access to it because if he didn't do so once every 48 hours, the site would automatically download itself into some 658 (so far) mailing lists, all over the world. And wasn't modern technology a marvel.

Oh, and should anything happen to him, to Mulder, to Krycek, or to Scully and her family, he just might forget how to access this site himself. Justice had better hope and pray that they all died of natural causes, preferably old age.

Justice ranted, threatened, talked about treason. The Director just sat in his chair and watched as all of that had absolutely no effect on the man he had personally chosen to clean up the mess the Consortium had made of his Bureau. Chosen for his loyalty, his honesty, his sense of honour. He had known the Spender deal was not going to go over well, but he now realized that it had cost him the respect of this man.

He stood, told Justice to shut up, prepare all the papers required to provide Alex Krycek with total immunity. Moreover, he added, "See to it that word gets out on the street and in the proper clubs that should anything happen to Krycek, the consequences will be catastrophic for whomever is responsible."

Skinner waited till Justice left, looked at his superior and informed him that his retirement papers would be on his desk the moment he had Krycek's papers in his hand. Until then, he would be clearing off his desk.

He was at the door when the Director called his name. "I'm sorry about this. I was over-ruled." Skinner nodded, left the top floor for his office and began the job of putting an end to a twenty-four year career with the FBI.

Tuesday evening, he found Mulder dozing in the chair, looking less tense than he had since they'd found Krycek. "He woke up this afternoon. Actually stayed awake for a couple of minutes. Fischer said he's probably going to make it."

Skinner nodded, went over to the bed. He wanted to blame Krycek for the end of his career. His career. His relationship with Mulder. His life. But his career would have been over anyway. This way, he at least had had the pleasure of giving back some of the frustration he had had to endure over the last few weeks.

He tossed a large manilla envelope onto the bed.

"What's that?" Mulder's voice was thick with fatigue, with a sense of relief.

"Immunity for Krycek. Signed, sealed, and now delivered." He waited for Mulder's reaction.

Mulder looked at the man he loved and knew in his gut the cost of that envelope. He closed his eyes, wondered what he had done to find someone like this, who loved him enough to seek protection for the only other man he had ever loved, at what cost to himself?

"Walter..."

But he was speaking to the air: Skinner had left the room.

He looked down at the man in the bed, and wondered what that life had cost *him*?

*******************************************************

Mulder knew his refusal to leave Krycek had hurt Skinner, but he really was afraid that Krycek would die if he left him.

The first twenty-four hours had been a horror of listening to Krycek trying to breathe with lungs that were filled with fluid. Of watching Fischer bind a stump that was so raw that it resembled nothing more than a piece of meat. Of helping wash a body he had once pleasured, had once pleasured him that was now nothing but sinew and bone. Of watching a face that had once been angelic now looking as if it had been to hell and back.

He might have given up, gone home the second day, but he overheard one of the nurses commenting that Krycek's vital signs weakened whenever he was out of the room, strengthened whenever he came back. And then there was the fact that, on the second day, the fingers he held in his hand began closing on his. Holding on. Not tightly. But, gradually with more and more strength, until he knew that Krycek was aware of him.

Occasionally, Krycek's eyes would open, but no matter how many times he called his name, there was no real response. Fischer had told him not to be too optimistic about Krycek's chances of recovery, but he had known, once the fingers began gripping his, that Krycek was too much a survivor to die.

He began talking to the man, bringing him up to date on the events of the past three years. Nothing heavy. Scully's courtship by a doctor, a widower with two small daughters who had decided that Scully would do as a stepmother long before either adult had even considered the possibility. About the house, the repairs, the roof leaking. Mostly mundane things, but a thread that Krycek could weave into a lifeline.

He had veered off on a tangent, the way he always did, when he realized that Krycek's eyes were not only open, but seemed to be focusing on him.

"Alex?"

And got a hint of a smile in return.

"Alex." Relief coursed through him. "Don't try to talk. You've got tubes everywhere. You're going to be all right. " He leaned over the bed, stroked the side of Krycek's face and grinned at the sight of Krycek turning his face into that hand. "Welcome back, Alex."

Krycek savoured the feel of the hand on his face, closed his eyes and drifted back into sleep.

Certain that Krycek was on the road to recovery, Mulder had to somehow get Skinner to accept the return of Alex Krycek into their lives and to soothe the disharmony that now existed between the two of them.

*****************************************************

Krycek faintly remembered waking to see Skinner staring at him, face severe. Waking again to find Mulder hovering over him, touching him, telling him things he couldn't follow. It was just enough to have him close, to feel his hand on his face.

This time, when he woke, he found Mulder sleeping in a chair by his bed, holding onto his hand which was holding tightly onto Mulder's. He was alert enough to realize that he'd better check out where he was. Seemed to be some hospital room. Not a fancy one, so not one of the big ones. Which could be good. Could be a private hospital. Might make it harder for them to find him.

Krycek went back to looking at Mulder. He looked tired. Needed to shave. Smiled, remembering the feel of that stubble on his skin. He wanted to pass his hand over it, but that would mean letting go and he knew he couldn't do that.

Just as he knew Mulder shouldn't be here. He tried to call to him, but became aware of the mask on his face, the dryness of his throat. The fact that breathing was much easier than it had been. How long had he been here?

He took a quick inventory of his condition. Concluded with a sigh he wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon. He gripped the hand in his a bit harder and went back to his contemplation of Mulder, trying to absorb as much of him as he could before sending him away.

Skinner pushed open the door quietly, not wanting to wake Mulder up if he were sleeping. He found Krycek awake, eyes devouring Mulder as if feeding off him. He must have made some noise because the eyes tracked to him, afraid. Closed in relief when they recognized him.

Krycek tried to talk, found the mask a hindrance. He rubbed it against his left shoulder, trying to get it off his face. Skinner quickly went to his side, lifted it enough so that the man could speak. But Krycek's throat was too dry to get the sounds out.

"Hang on," whispered Skinner. He poured some of the water from the thermos into a glass and added a straw so that Krycek could drink. After a bit, Krycek tried again.

"Get...him...out of...here." It was hard to get the words out. And not just because of his throat. Skinner arched an eyebrow at him. He tried again. "They'll hurt him...if they find him here."

Skinner had had to bend down, place his ear close to Krycek's mouth to hear. He raised his head, examined the face of his rival. "Who 'they', Krycek?"

Krycek closed his eyes, gathered what little strength he had to convince Skinner to get Mulder out of the room. Why was it so hard for Skinner to understand? He opened his eyes. "When...come to kill me...hurt him. Get him out of here. Please."

He felt exhausted by the effort. Surely Skinner would want to protect Mulder. Why had he allowed the man to stay with him? He of all people knew the kind of trouble he attracted.

Skinner replaced the mask on his face, waited till Krycek had recovered a bit. "Krycek." Waited till those eyes had focused on him once more. "No one is going to show up to kill you. You've been given immunity. Immunity, Krycek. Do you understand?"

Krycek looked confused. Mouthed "Immunity?" under his mask.

"Yes. As much as it can be guaranteed. From both sides."

Now Krycek looked outright stunned. After a bit, he tried to get the mask off his face. Skinner did it for him, leaned over. Krycek had to try several times before he could breathe out "What idiot sold his soul to the devil for that?"

Skinner stood up, replaced the mask. "I'm the idiot. And if you want to thank me, convince Mulder to come home and get some sleep. He's been sleeping in that chair ever since we found you, six days ago." And he turned and left the room.

******************************************************

Mulder did go home that night, nuked and ate the meal he found waiting for him in the fridge. Showered and went to sleep on his side of the bed. No Skinner.

He woke late in the morning, found the other side of the bed had been slept in -- he had never heard or felt Skinner join him -- and a note on the pillow.

"Will be at the office till late tonight. Have to tie up loose ends. Retirement officially begins tomorrow."

Mulder spent the next while cursing, using every oath he had ever learnt. Krycek was at the clinic needing help. Walter was at the office going through what had to be the most harrowing of times. He felt the need to be with both of them, but unless he could clone himself in the next hour or so...Shit! Sometimes life sucked!

He found a way to compromise. He spent the rest of the morning at the clinic: Alex would spend the afternoon sleeping, was still far too weak to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time.

He showed up at the door of Walter's office to find his assistant in tears, trying to finish some of the paperwork that he insisted be done before his successor took over.

"Kim. I think that the Personnel Department would be the best place for these files. Tell them to archive them just in case..." He looked up to see Mulder slouching against the doorjamb.

"Kim's washing her face. I told her I'd run errands for a while." He came up to the desk, held his hand out for the stack of files.

Skinner hesitated before handing them over. Opened his mouth to say something. Closed it. Some of the hard tension left his face. "Thank you." He spoke softly.

Mulder smiled at him. "I'm the one who needs to thank you. And to apologize. And," he took a deep breath, "maybe to explain."

Skinner smiled, relieved to have Mulder here with him right now. "You only need to be here." Feeling suddenly magnanimous, he asked, "How's he doing?"

"Getting there. You said Personnel?"

Skinner nodded. Maybe this wasn't quite the day from hell he thought it was going to be.

********************************************************

Eight days later, Mulder pulled up into the driveway, Krycek sitting in the passenger seat.

Skinner, if he had to be honest, at least with himself, had expected this would happen. Didn't like it, but had "allowed" Mulder to convince him, late at night. Besides, it wasn't as if Krycek had anywhere to go. And he certainly didn't have the money to pay a convalescent hospital bill.

As Skinner watched from the front window, he realized that Krycek was as happy to be here as *he* was to have him.

Krycek refused Mulder's help getting out of the car, had to hold onto the door frame till his legs stopped trembling. So far, he had been allowed out of bed for very short spells. This trip had made him face the truth, that he needed lots more time before he could even remotely consider himself well.

He fended off Mulder's attempts to take his arm, to lend him support. If he had to spend any amount of time under Skinner's roof, he was going to get there on his own.

He'd taken just a couple of wobbly steps when a car pulled up behind Mulder's. Dana Scully: Assistant Director Scully, in charge of all forensic investigation in a new Bureau department, got out of the car, glared daggers at Krycek, slammed her door.

Skinner came out of the house to join the two men. "Fox, I think Dana wants to speak to you. Krycek." He stooped, lifted the man in his arms and carried him indoors.

Krycek wanted to curse him but realized that Scully was not someone he wanted to be near, at this particular moment. Waited till they were inside. "Okay. Put me down."

Skinner ignored him, started up the stairs.

"Jesus, Skinner, put me down. I can manage." His anger at the situation was clamped between his teeth.

"Shut up, Krycek. You can't."

"You going to drop me?"

Skinner's grin was a bit too feral for Krycek's liking. But, no, he wasn't going to drop him. Hell, he hardly weighed enough to make this more than some regular exercise.

Skinner was more aware than ever just how fragile Krycek was at this moment. It wouldn't last: he knew Mulder had restocked the cupboards, the freezer with a list of items Fischer's nutritionist had handed him. He *would* get well. But right now, a gust of wind would blow the man off his feet.

He placed Krycek on the bed that Mulder had made up in the spare bedroom.

"Skinner." Krycek's voice was stripped of all emotion. "Why are you doing this?"

Skinner straightened. "Doing what?"

"This." Krycek gestured around the room with his hand. "And the immunity thing. Why?"

Skinner rested a hip against the dresser. "This, because he asked me to. The immunity, because if they were giving it to Spender, they might as well give it to you too. Besides, he would have gone after it for you. I just had a better chance of getting it."

Krycek cocked his head, almost his old mocking self. "And of course *you* give him anything *he* wants."

"Don't you?" Skinner tossed back in the same tone. At Krycek's querying glance, he added, "Mulder wanted you to live. And *you* gave *him* that."

He moved away from the dresser, reached behind Krycek and pulled down the bedclothes. "You look like you're about to fall flat on your face. Get out of those clothes."

Krycek's hand was trembling from stress and fatigue. He was having difficulty with the buttons on his shirt.

From downstairs came the sound of two angry voices, sometimes one at a time, usually together. Skinner closed the bedroom door. After a minute, he went over to help Krycek undress. He was stripping the jeans down those long legs when Krycek broke the silence. "Been a while since you've done that."

Skinner froze.

"Oh. He doesn't know, does he? That you and I..."

Skinner went back to pulling the jeans off, stood, his back to Krycek, folded them. "No. Not yet."

Wary, not sure where to go, Krycek started "Did he..." and stopped. If Skinner hadn't mention their time together, would Mulder have done the same?

"Yes." Skinner's voice was brusque. "Yes, he told me about the two of you."

Krycek nodded. Decided this would be a good time to keep his mouth shut. Skinner finished folding his clothes while he pulled the sheet and blanket over himself.

Skinner turned to face him. "Bathroom's through there." He pointed to what Krycek had thought was a closet door. "You don't need to share. You have your own. Do you need anything?"

Krycek shook his head. Skinner nodded, turned to go out. He had his hand on the door knob when Krycek spoke. "Don't tell him." Skinner paused, looked over his shoulder. "It's not like it was anything important. Was it?"

Skinner gave a little nod of acknowledgement. Maybe of thanks. "No. It was nothing important." He closed the door behind him.

No, of course not, thought Krycek. Why would it be important? He closed his eyes. Only Mulder had ever thought him important. He passed his hand over his face. God! He was getting maudlin.

Half way down the stairs, Skinner stopped. Dana Scully was raging mad. Mad at his leaving the Bureau. Mad at the Spender deal -- he had told her even if her department hadn't any involvement in the issue. It was enough for him that *she* had. Mad at the fact that Krycek, whom she had thought safely dead, had returned to play havoc with her ex-partner's life, with his relationship with Skinner.

At the moment she was going on about fairness. Fairness to himself. "Did you even stop for one darn moment to consider how Walter was going to feel in all of this? Damn! You are so...so fucking selfish, Mulder!"

Skinner heard the door slam, heard Dana swear very nautically and knew that it was Mulder who had left.

He came to the bottom of the stairs as she entered the hallway. She went up to him, put her arms around him and squeezed. Since becoming the mother to two rambunctious youngsters, Dana had come to be a firm believer in the power of a hug. He hugged her back.

Skinner found himself consoling her. "Don't worry so much. We'll survive. That's one thing the three of us share, we're survivors." He hugged her again. "Kiss the girls for me, will you?"

***************************************************

In the bedroom, Alex Krycek rolled over to his right, curled himself around a pillow hugged hard to his chest and dealt with the situation the only way he could: he escaped into sleep.

In the driveway, Fox Mulder sat in the car, dropped his forehead onto the whitened knuckles gripping the top of the steering wheel and cursed himself for not having fully considered all the possible ramifications of bringing Alex into their household.

In the living room, Walter Skinner jammed his fists into his pants pockets and stared sightlessly out of the picture window.

*************************FIN*************************