Betas: Ratlover, RJ, Skif, Virgule
Date: September, 2000
Summary: So what really does happen after that Seventh Season finale?
Pairing: Sk/K
Rating: NC-17
Comments: jmann@mondenet.com OR, if you're getting bounced due to the anti-spam filter my server has added, try jmann@spam.mondenet.com
DISCLAIMER: The characters from the program, X-FILES, are the property of CC, Fox and 1013; the others are all mine.
NOTE: You will find an author's note on the title (Thanks, Ratlover) at the end of the story.
DEDICATION: To those new bathing suits on the Olympic male swimmers which are beautifully form-fitting, hugging and outlining every little bit of the swimmer's anatomy, and more-so when wet and televised from the bottom of the pool. (Are Virgule and I the only ones to have noticed those bubbles that attract the eye to a certain bulge??????)

Part I

For some eight months after Mulder had -- the official version was "disappeared": they preferred the term "abducted" -- after Mulder had been abducted, the three of them, Skinner, Scully and Krycek worked together in a sort of uneasy truce, trying to gather the proof necessary to convince the Adminstration of the FBI that "abducted" was the correct term.

Walter Skinner discovered that he really didn't enjoy being treated as Mulder had been for all those years he had worked out of the basement office. That no matter how much Scully and the Lone Gunmen believed and worked on, regardless of others' beliefs, no matter that he himself had seen the ship removed itself and its cargo from this part of the solar system, there was a limit to his forbearance, to his tolerance of being thought quietly -- and not so quietly -- a fool.

So, he succumbed to the pressure being placed on him from his superiors, from his colleagues, and took himself and his twenty plus years off to retirement.

He stayed around long enough to see Dana Scully settled. Watched, with some humour, as the Lone Gunmen appointed themselves honourary uncles and Scully's right-hand men, whether she wanted them or not. He made arrangements for some of his pension cheques to be deposited into a secured account, the others into a trust fund he set up for Scully's progeny.

Then he emptied his bank account of his severance buy-out and disappeared.

Krycek wasn't around right then: he'd been off tracking down some information that could, potentially, provide a clue or two as to a means of contacting the force that had taken Mulder. And, though he never told anyone, he used some old contacts of his own to the Rebel Aliens in hope of getting some information to pass on to Scully.

Actually, his was the way that worked. Between the information that the Lone Gunmen were able to put together, some strange data that Krycek had picked up in his searching of old Consortium data banks, the Rebels decided that it might be worthwhile to pay some attention to events. They were used to Krycek, having had "dealings" with him, and decided that they would use him as their contact.

And then, suddenly, as suddenly as he had disappeared, Mulder was back.

Almost four years had gone by, but to Mulder that meant nothing. For him, time had stood practically still. He was welcomed back with open arms by Scully, the Gunmen. He looked around for Skinner and often wondered aloud where he had disappeared to.

The Gunmen did try to track him down, but the trail was over three years cold. They figured Skinner must have known that *they* would be the ones looking for him: he never used plastic, might even have changed his name.

* * * * *

"Hey, Walt! This guy says he wants to talk to you."

Walt sighed at the interruption, looked up from the paperwork he was doing at his end of the bar. He glanced over his shoulder to check out the man Ted was gesturing to with his head.

And froze.

Then, with studied movements, he placed the pencil down on the invoice he had been verifying, straightened, walked down to the other end of the bar and the "guy" waiting for him there.

"Krycek."

"Skinner."

The two men said nothing more, just looked each other over, noting the changes three years had made.

"Actually," said Skinner to Krycek, "here I go by..."

"Walt Serge. Not bad. Close enough to your real name not to confuse you, different enough so that the Gunmen couldn't track you down. Sounds French enough to fit into the local colour."

Skinner rested a hip against the curve of the bar, folded his arms across his chest and looked at the man sitting with a draft in front of him. "So, how did you track me down?"

Krycek sounded nonchalant about the whole thing. "It took a while, but then I remembered something in the dossier they'd given me on you, back when, about how you'd come fishing around here after Vietnam. I thought it was worth a look."

Skinner nodded his acknowledgement: it never paid to underrate Krycek. "So what do you want, Krycek?"

Krycek shrugged. "Would you believe, nothing? I don't want anything."

Skinner smirked. "No, can't say that I do. You always want something."

"Not this time. Actually..."

Skinner laughed out loud. "Yes, Krycek, actually?" His tone was most mocking.

Krycek's expression grew almost interested as he waited a moment before slowly reaching inside his jacket -- Skinner lost his humour, straightened, ready for anything -- and pulling out a cell phone. "I have something for you." He held out the phone. Skinner merely looked at it. Krycek shrugged, set it on the bar, pushed it gently with the tip of his fingers toward the man now looking a bit confused.

"A phone. What do I want with a phone, Krycek?"

Krycek took a sip of the draft, swallowed with a grimace. He wasn't much of a beer drinker, not these days. "You might want to try punching star, 4, 2."

He met Skinner's incredulous glance with a solid one of his own. Skinner must have seen something that convinced him. He picked up the phone, punched the three buttons and held the phone to his ear.

Krycek continued sipping the beer he didn't want, watching Skinner's face, knowing the instant he recognized the voice at the other end of the connection.

"Mulder? Mulder! What..." Skinner turned his back to the bar.

Krycek paused in his drinking to listen to the one-sided conversation, noting Skinner's pleasure, his barely contained happiness at hearing Mulder's voice. After some minutes, he forced himself to take another mouthful, and to swallow.

He pretended not to see the big man use his shirt sleeve to wipe his face before turning around to face him. He handed the phone back to Krycek. It took a couple of tries for Skinner to whisper in a husky voice, "He says, he'd like for us to get together. Soon."

Krycek took back the phone, nodded as he slipped it back inside his jacket.

Skinner was trying to loosen his throat to thank Krycek when the door to the bar opened and he was struck speechless again. Fox Mulder, not looking a day older than he had that night in a Oregon woods, stood in the doorway, scanning the room looking for...

"Walter!"

Krycek didn't bother turning around to watch the reunion: he could follow it in the mirrored wall behind the bar. Two men who rushed to each other, grabbed, held on tightly. Two men who were not aware of the tears that were streaking their faces. Who pulled back to take a good look at the other, grin stupidly and then haul the other close again for an even tighter hug.

"Ted! Cover for me, will you?"

"Sure thing, Walt. Old friend, eh?"

"Very old friend. And it's been far too long."

"No prob. Take all the time you want. Probably going to be dead anyway."

And watched, apparently disinterested, as Walter Skinner, his arm around the shoulders of Fox Mulder, led the man out of the bar and, Krycek knew, to the apartment upstairs of the bar a "Walt Serge" had bought in the Vermont-Quebec border town of Newport, at the American end of Lake Memphremagog. A world away from Washington, D.C.

He signalled Ted and pointed to the half-finished beer. "I think I'd prefer something stronger. What kind of vodka do you carry?"

* * * * *

Skinner answered the knock on his door. Two a.m. Past closing time downstairs. He wondered if there was a problem.

"Sorry to bother you, Walt. But that guy at the bar, you know the one who gave you the cell phone?"

"Krycek."

"Whatever. Anyway, what am I supposed to do with him?"

Walter Skinner placed his fists on his hips and thought, what indeed was he supposed to do with Krycek?

Krycek had moved from the bar to a table in the corner, from beer to a full quart of vodka. Skinner knew that Russians were supposedly brought up to consider the drink to be mother's milk, but if Krycek had really drunk most of the bottle, and it seemed from Ted's comments that he had, there was such a thing as overdosing even on that stuff.

"Thanks, Ted. I'll take over from here. You go home. And thanks again for taking over for me tonight. I really appreciated it."

He waited until he heard the door close before he approached the table.

Krycek's head was lying on the table, his hand, his fake hand tightly clutching the glass he'd been drinking out of since Skinner and Mulder had left. He was snoring softly, but Skinner didn't assume that meant Krycek was sound asleep. He had learnt early on in their truce never to assume anything that concerned Alex Krycek.

He pulled out the chair facing the man, noisily dragging it against the wood floor. The snores became small snorts that settled back into snores.

Skinner sat back in his chair. He had never expected to see this man again: there was no reason for it. They had settled pretty much what could be settled between them when they had worked together. They'd had to, in order to keep on working together. Krycek's betrayal, Melissa Scully's death, the DAT tape, Mulder's trip to Russia, the nanocytes, Mulder's disappearance. Throughout it all, Krycek had calmly presented his version of things while Skinner had held onto his temper by the merest of margins.

No matter how tense, tired, argumentative he or Scully had gotten, Krycek had never once lost that calm demeanour.

Yet, here and now, the man lay, head on table, passed out, drunk.

The fact that Krycek had drunk all that vodka was less bothersome to Skinner than the fact that the man had drunk himself senseless in a public place. That didn't seem to be something the Krycek he knew would do. When they had worked together, he always assumed Krycek had one eye on what he was doing, one eye looking out for danger. He'd often thought that Krycek probably had a third eye somewhere at the back of his head: it was impossible in those days to come up on him unaware.

Now, all that seemed to have been thrown to the wind. If he wanted to, he could probably kill the man without the slightest resistance on his part.

Skinner leaned over and shook Krycek's shoulder. "Krycek. Come on, Krycek. You can't spend the night here. I turn the heat off at night. Come on. Wake up."

He was finally rewarded by a head slowly lifting, eyes blearily trying to focus on him. "Skinner?" The voice was laden with alcohol. "What are you doing here? You should be with him. I brought him here to be with you."

Skinner sat back in his chair, watched as Krycek tried to steady his head. Wondered just how resistant his usual walls would be to a few questions. "He's upstairs. Why did you bring him here, Krycek? He told me all about the plan you set up, to surprise me."

"And you were surprised." Krycek gave up trying to hold his head straight; he propped it up on his good hand, though the elbow did wobble a bit before it steadied.

"Yes. I was."

Krycek nodded, nearing falling off his prop. He caught sight of the glass, brought it up to his mouth.

"Don't you think you've had enough of that? According to Ted, you've had more than enough to kill you."

Krycek managed to get a mouthful down. "Big deal. If I die, they'll only bring me back." He tried to focus on Skinner. "Not a problem. We're all pretty used to dying and then coming back."

"Who's they, Krycek?"

But Krycek was more interested in trying to refill his glass. He seemed to be having a problem getting the hand to release the glass so he could use it to reach for the bottle. And when he tried to go for the bottle with his other hand, his head hit the table with a thud. Skinner watched him struggle then sighed, picked up the bottle and poured some into the glass.

"That's very kind of you," Krycek nodded, very seriously, head propped up again.

"You're welcome. If I ask you another question, Krycek, will you answer it?"

The glass stopped part way to his mouth. "Sure. If I can." It continued, fairly successfully. Only a little spilled over.

"Why did you bring Mulder here?"

"Didn't bring him here. Brought him to you."

"Why?"

"Because you've always wanted him. Thought now you should have him."

Skinner leaned over, unclasped the hand from the glass with one hand, removing it with the other. "I don't quite understand. What do you mean 'wanted him'?"

Krycek looked surprised to find that the glass wasn't where he remembered it to be. He looked around the table, trying to find it. "Fuck him."

"Fuck who, Krycek?" Skinner moved the bottle off the table.

"Mulder. You want to fuck Mulder, so I'm giving him to you."

Skinner looked up from placing the bottle on the floor by his chair. Very carefully he asked, "What makes you think I want to fuck Mulder?"

"Because you do." Krycek gave up trying to find the glass, reached out for the bottle that now too seemed to have disappeared.

"And so you're giving him to me as...what, a gift?"

Krycek nodded. "A farewell gift."

"Who's leaving, Krycek?"

"I am. I told them to pick me up here. They'll be by sometime before dawn."

"That's nice. But Krycek, what if I don't want to fuck Mulder?"

"'Course you do. I could tell. Every time you looked at him and you thought no one else was looking. And you were so upset when he went with them. I mean you even came out here to hide. I know 'bout that. It helps to go away, hide when you hurt."

Skinner got up, went behind the bar, mixed something in a glass. "And because you're going away..."

"With them."

"With them, you've decided that this is the time for Mulder and I to...what? declare our undying love for each other?"

"He missed you. He kept asking about you. Where you were. Why we hadn't found you. He yelled at the Gunmen about it. Got Scully all upset and worried."

"And you knew where I was." Skinner came back to the table, crouched so that he was face to face with the drunken triple-agent.

"Found you about a year ago. Kept an eye on you but left you alone."

"Did you, now?"

Krycek nodded, suddenly aware that Skinner was offering him a glass, was in fact holding it to his mouth. All he had to do was open wide...he grimaced at the taste, but drank it down anyway.

Skinner held the glass to Krycek's mouth until he really couldn't drink any more, placed it on the table, got to his feet, bringing Krycek with him. "Come on, let's get those feet of yours moving. We've got to make it to the sink."

There was a deep industrial sink behind the bar, used for rinsing out beer kegs. They made it there just as Krycek began heaving. Skinner held his head over the sink, grimacing at the smell, turned on a tap, but kept him there until nothing more seemed to want to come up. Then he propped Krycek's hands on the edge of the sink, went and filled a glass with water from the small bar sink and held that to Krycek's mouth. "Come on, rinse out. You'll feel better."

Skinner waited until the dry heaves had stopped before mopping up Krycek's face, making sure the sink was vomit free -- thankfully, Krycek hadn't been eating with his vodka: there had been very little by way of solids that needed washing down the drain.

He pulled Krycek's good arm over his shoulders, half carried him out of the bar, turning off the lights, locking the door behind them. Getting him up the stairs was more difficult, but they finally made it into the kitchen where Skinner gladly dropped Krycek into a chair. With an exasperated exhalation, he set about putting a pot of coffee together.

Krycek sat, head propped up on both hands, eyes blindly staring at the table top. Skinner waited against the counter. Neither said anything until Skinner placed a mug of coffee just under Krycek's nose.

Krycek held the mug between his hands, his real one trembling slightly from the after effects of puking his guts up, lowered his mouth to the mug and slurped. "Thank you."

Skinner took the chair next to Krycek, sipped his own coffee. "So, if I understand you correctly, you're going away and you've decided to give me Mulder as a going-away present because, in your mind, I've always wanted to fuck him. Is this right?"

Krycek raised his head. His eyes were still watery from the force of his vomiting, his face pasty white, sweaty, but he focused on Skinner and nodded.

"Well, that's very...generous of you, Krycek. There's only one problem. I don't want to fuck him."

Krycek carefully brought the mug up to his mouth, cautiously sipped. "Yes. You do. I've seen the way you look at him, and you do. Believe me, I know. You do."

Skinner pondered the mug in his hand, spoke, when he finally did, in a low, considered tone. "All right. I will admit to looking at him. He's a beautiful man, Krycek. And I like looking at beautiful things. But there's a difference between looking and wanting."

"He wants you, too." Krycek stared into his coffee.

"Does he?"

"You'll be good for him."

"Will I?"

Krycek nodded, not too much; his head was beginning to hurt. "You'll keep him anchored. Scully used to do that, but she's pretty busy these days."

"Yes," agreed Skinner, watching his old enemy, his reluctant ally, for any clue he could find that would explain this behaviour. "She did use to do that. And you're right that she's a bit too busy these days with other priorities. You're not the only one who's been keeping an eye on people. And leaving them alone."

Krycek met his eyes, then turned back to his coffee.

"But, Krycek, just because you like something, even if you want it, that doesn't mean it's right for you."

Krycek gave a little snort of disagreement, but continued drinking the coffee.

Then Skinner moved on to the other subject that had him curious. "Krycek, you keep on saying 'they' are coming for you. Who are these 'they'? Anyone we should be arming ourselves for?"

Krycek shook his head, regretted doing so. "No. I made a deal with the Rebel Aliens. They had a line to the ones who took Mulder. In return, they want some human contact they can deal with on a regular basis. But first they want me to understand where they're coming from. So, they want me to go with them."

Once in his life Skinner would have scoffed at such information. Now the only thing that took him by surprise was the disinterest with which Krycek had made the announcement.

"The Rebel Aliens are coming here? Tonight? For *you*?"

The two men at the table looked up to see Mulder, a rumpled sweat-suited Mulder, staring at them from the doorway.

"Did we wake you up, Mulder? Sorry, I didn't think we were making all that much noise." Skinner smiled at him.

Mulder ignored him. He came into the room and stood in front of Krycek. "Are you seriously telling me that the Rebel Aliens have chosen *you* for their contact here, on this planet?"

Some of the old Krycek reacted to Mulder's incredulous tone. "What's the matter, Mulder? You think you're the only one who's deserving of an Alien experience. I had one long before you," he sneered, "if you'd bother to remember."

Skinner sat back, eyes swivelling between the two opponents who seethed with dislike for each other.

"Why *you*?" Mulder's tone revealed his disbelief. "Why would they want to use you? You used to go around killing them?"

Krycek shrugged, as if this wasn't much of a problem. "I'm familiar to them. Besides, they're far more pragmatic about things like that than we are. They knew that was the only way to win, so they accepted the killings. No questions asked."

"No questions asked. That's you all right," snapped Mulder, taking an angry pace between the table and counter. "If you're the one to go with them, you won't even have the first idea of which questions to ask!"

"Ah, Jesus, Mulder! You and your damn questions!" Krycek sounded tired. "Haven't you gotten enough answers to your questions by now?"

Mulder passed both hands through his hair as he continued pacing back and forth. Skinner thought for a moment that Mulder was going to pull his hair out, he looked so frustrated. Krycek ignored him, concentrated on getting the coffee to his mouth.

"There are never enough answers."

Krycek stared blankly into the mug. "You just came back from getting answers. What's the matter, Mulder? Didn't your abductors answer all your questions? Just how many fucking questions do you have that need answering?"

"All of them. Every time I get an answer, there are a dozen new questions that need answering." Mulder took another impatient turn around the room. "And what are you going to do? Are you even going to think of asking any questions, Krycek?" His tone judgemental, "Or are you just going along like some zombie, waiting until someone decides to tell you something, like you always do? Jesus! Taking *you* is a wasted opportunity!"

Krycek put his mug down, slowly got to his feet. "Am I getting this right? Are you suggesting that you want to go in my place?"

Mulder took a stance in front of his old nemesis. "Well, if someone's got to go, who better than me? I've already seen one view of the universe. I know what to look for. I have an idea of which questions to ask."

"What about Scully?" Krycek sounded as though he couldn't believe what he was hearing. Skinner, less involved, could see the hunger in Mulder's eyes, a hunger that he realized could not be satisfied here on Earth.

"What about Scully? She has her own life. The Gunmen are there should she need someone. She doesn't need *me*. Financially, she's making more now as a forensic consultant than she was at the FBI."

"Then what about Walter? He loves you."

"Krycek." Skinner decided it was time to say something. Neither man paid him the slightest attention.

"And I love him," tossed back Mulder, obviously, to Skinner at least, not meaning it as Krycek had. "But this is important..."

"Fuck you, Mulder!" Krycek suddenly screamed, showing more emotion than either man had ever seen from him. "*I* cut my heart out giving him to you and all *you* want is to go back up there?"

"Krycek." Skinner focused his voice on the man trembling on his feet. Whether with rage or because of the alcohol still coursing through his body, he couldn't tell. He spoke again, using a perfected AD tone that usually penetrated even the thickest of skulls. "Alex!"

The tone worked. Krycek turned to him, ready to include him in his hostility. Skinner pointed toward the door where two faceless men stood waiting.

Mulder turned to them, the need to go with them so obvious on his face that even Krycek could see it.

One of the Rebels gestured toward Krycek. Krycek closed his eyes, stilled, then slowly nodded.

"They're communicating with you. Aren't they, Krycek?" Skinner could hear the envy in Mulder's voice.

"Alex." Skinner leaned over and placed his hand on Krycek's real arm. "Would they be willing to take him?"

There was a pause. Eyes still closed, it seemed that Krycek communicated something that set the second faceless man to gesturing. Krycek raised his hand, as though to protest, then let it drop. Slowly, almost reluctantly, he nodded.

"Then, Alex, let him go."

Krycek turned his head, opened his eyes. "I wanted," he spoke as if each word were being dragged out of him painfully, "to give you something to make up for the hurt."

"I understand. And I appreciate it. But let him go. It's what he wants. What he needs." Hand still on Krycek, Skinner turned to Mulder. "You'd better get your things."

Mulder looked from Skinner to Krycek. "I'll beg, if that's what you want."

Krycek shook his head slightly. "No. That's not what I want. But if you want to go in my place, well, they're not saying no. It seems they're as interested in your point of view as you are in theirs. You can ask each other," he couldn't hide all his incomprehension of the man who had just returned from the stars and wanted so desperately to return to them, "all the questions that you can possible think up."

Mulder nodded once, went to get his things. Krycek slowly sat down, never noticing that Skinner's hand stayed where it was.

Mulder was back in a minute, his other clothes hurriedly thrown on, his overnighter in his hand.

The Rebels turned and left as silently as they had arrived. At the door Mulder turned around. "Tell Scully..."

"I'll explain everything to Scully," Skinner said.

"She'll understand," said Mulder. "She always understands."

"Yes, she does." Skinner smiled. "Come back to us when you can."

Mulder nodded. "Krycek. Thank you."

And he was gone.

* * * * *

After a while, Skinner got up and closed the door. He poured the leftover coffee down the drain.

Krycek stood up, started stiffly for the door, turned an interesting shade of green. Skinner barely made it out of the way as Krycek was once again violently ill into the sink. Skinner had a sneaking suspicion that alcohol had very little to do with this bout of vomiting.

He waited until the dry heaves that shook Krycek to the point he was afraid Krycek was going to drop to the floor were under control. He got him to rinse his mouth again, but even that was enough to set him off once more. The worse over, Skinner managed to get Krycek into his bedroom, onto the bed already rumpled from Mulder's occupation of it. He had been making himself a place to sleep on the couch when Ted had come get him to deal with a drunken Krycek.

He got most of Krycek's clothes off, left him his shorts and t-shirt. "Alex. Come on, help me here. We've got to take that prosthesis off you. You won't be comfortable sleeping with it on. Show me how to take it off."

Instead, forcing his attention on the procedure, Krycek slipped his hand under the long-sleeved t-shirt, released whatever buckles that loosened the arm and allowed Skinner to slip it out of the sleeve, harness trailing. Skinner took it from him, carefully lay it down on a near-by armchair, then helped Krycek lie down.

Krycek lay on his left side, curled his arm about his midriff, drew his knees up slightly as if to protect himself. Skinner covered him gently. He sat on the side of the bed, tucked the blankets around the still trembling man.

"It's going to be all right, Alex. You'll see. We'll talk in the morning."

"About what?" But Krycek sounded more dispirited, more tired than really curious. He closed his eyes.

"About," said Skinner, "a young agent I once had working under me. Dressed like a geek. I often wondered if he bought his suits in the same store Mulder bought his ties."

Krycek's eyes opened. He stared away from the man talking.

"Still, they didn't help. Every time I saw him, all I wanted to do was push him against the nearest wall and fuck him silly."

They both waited.

"And now?" Krycek finally asked.

"Now I'm older." Skinner ran his fingers through the thick sable hair. "I still want to fuck him silly, but I think we'll do it in a bed. More comfortable that way." He smiled at the man lying in his bed, face frowning as if this was too much for him to absorb. "Go to sleep, Alex. We'll talk in the morning."

And stayed by Krcyek's side until he fell asleep.

* * * * *

Skinner slouched in the doorway of the bathroom, watching the steam fill the room.

He'd waited until he'd heard the water come on to make a new pot of coffee and then he'd gone to check on the condition of his unexpected visitor.

The toothbrush he had put out on the counter, ready with toothpaste, had been used. The glass with his "morning after" potion in it, a combination of meds for the headache, vitamins was gone, the glass still wet from the water used to wash them down.

He smiled. He couldn't remember anything about Krycek that indicated that drinking was a regular habit of his. He doubted that the man even rarely allowed himself to get into that condition. And, somehow, Skinner also knew that Krycek would have himself well in hand by the time he came out of the shower.

He waited as the water was shut off, a hand came out from behind the shower curtain to reach for a towel. The curtain was pushed back and Skinner watched as Krycek, one end of the towel wrapped around his stump, managed to dry his own back. Skinner felt admiration for the man who had worked out a way of taking care of himself without ever asking for help.

Krycek didn't look surprised when he stepped out of the tub and realized he was no longer alone.

The two men stared at each other, Skinner letting his eyebrows rise slightly at Krycek's stony-faced expression. He was about to ask what the matter was when Krycek allowed the towel to drop, its weight dragging it off the stump. The movement caught his eye and he forced himself not to react at the sight of heavily scarred tissue.

Krycek's chin rose as if in challenge, but his voice revealed only slight curiosity. "Still want to fuck this body silly?"

While they had been working together, Skinner had tried to find that young, green, enthusiastic agent who had stirred his libido all those years ago. He had soon given up in frustration. The Krycek who had worked with them to find Mulder had nothing in common with that intriguing man. Skinner had had to accept that Krycek was long gone. Had he even existed? Until last night, when he had found him again in the drunken man who had brought him a gift he hadn't wanted.

Skinner sighed. He felt certain that this Krycek had all his walls firmly up again. It would be, he thought almost happily, an interesting challenge to bring them down.

He straightened, pulled away from the doorway. Took the steps needed to place him just in front of the man still waiting for his reaction.

"You did brush your teeth?"

Skinner caught himself from smiling: Krycek hadn't expected that.

A bit taken aback, Krycek nodded.

"Good." And Skinner leaned over and kissed him on the mouth.

Krycek's initial reaction was to pull back. Skinner countered that with a hand that gently, but firmly, cupped the side of Krycek's head, holding it still. He deepened the kiss, taking advantage of Krycek's surprise to slip his tongue into the man's mouth, tasting mint toothpaste with a remnant of the slightly sour taste he must have had in his mouth when he'd awakened.

Krycek didn't participate, but then neither did he try to end this exploration of his mouth.

Skinner pulled back, smiled. "Coffee's ready." He caressed the cheek he held with his thumb. "I put your shaver on the counter. You might want to use it." He turned to leave, stopped at the door. "And I took the liberty of bringing in your knapsack from the car. It's on the bed."

* * * * *

Skinner swallowed his smile as he watched Krycek come into the kitchen, head held stiffly, as if trying to keep it balanced on his shoulders.

Krycek accepted the mug of coffee, shook his head -- cautiously -- at the offer of food.

Skinner waited until he had downed about half the hot liquid. "How's the head?"

Krycek looked at him as if he were wondering if this was a trick question. Then he sighed slightly, made a small grimace. "Making its presence felt," he finally admitted.

Skinner grinned. "A few more glasses of water, a nap and you'll find that it's screwed on as tightly as it used to be."

"Yeah, well..."

Skinner caught the laugh: he didn't think that Krycek was up to loud noises just yet. Krycek put the empty mug down, pushed the chair away from the table and made to stand.

"You can crash on the sofa. I've tested it out a few times and it's a good place to nap."

Krycek seemed uncomfortable. "I don't think it would be a good idea."

"The sofa? Okay, you can take the bed if you prefer."

Krycek looked up at Skinner. "No. Not the sofa. The nap. Look, I'll just get my things and I'll go."

"Go? Where do you intend going, Alex?" He went on, not really giving him the time to answer, taking advantage of Krycek's slowed reactions, probably due to the headache he must be feeling. "It seems to me that since you had already made...long-term travel plans, I doubt that you have anywhere to return to. And since you brought your knapsack with you, I'm equally certain you have all you thought you'd need for your...ah... vacation."

Something in the expression in Krycek's eyes made him put a stop to the teasing.

"Look, Alex, you asked me a question this morning that I really didn't answer. To be honest, I'd like to wait a few days to give you an answer. See how things go. Besides, right now, you're not at your best. Not really a good time to make decisions. Take a nap. Get rid of that headache. We'll take the time to see if I really have forgiven you for nanocytes. And for you to be really certain that you want to go to bed with a middle-aged, balding tavern owner. By the way, do you fish?"

The question caught Krycek off guard.

Skinner grinned. "Alex, do you fish?"

Krycek started to shake his head, decided it wasn't that good an idea. "No." From the expression on his face, it was obvious he was having trouble figuring out what fishing had to do with all this.

Skinner stood up. "You'll like it. It's a very soul-satisfying activity. Very soothing. Even when you don't catch anything. I'll take you later this week." He gestured to the living-room with his head. "Why don't you go grab that nap? That should take care of what's left of that headache. I've got some work to do downstairs."

As he passed Krycek, he placed his hand on his shoulder, squeezed gently. "Look, Alex, it's not as if there were anything urgent you have to see to. Stay. I told you we would talk. And we need to. Give it a chance, will you?"

* * * * *

Skinner stood in the archway between the kitchen and the living room and watched Krycek make jerky little movements in his sleep. He wouldn't be an easy bed-mate.

He sighed. He had questions to ask and he knew Krycek would probably not answer many, if any, of them. Mulder had been right about that: Krycek rarely asked questions. At the time they had formed an alliance, Skinner had noticed that he would listen, gather information before making a comment which would usually elicit a fair amount of activity. And probably because he didn't ask questions, he didn't answer them either.

That would have to change. It wouldn't be easy to get Krycek to talk, but Skinner thought he would, with time. As he had told Krycek, where else did he have to go?

Even in his sleep, Krycek must have sensed he was being watched. He opened his eyes, immediately focused on the man lounging in the entrance.

"You've got time to wash up," Skinner turned back into the kitchen, surreptitiously watching Krycek sit up, rub the sleep out of his face.

Supper was silent, not uncomfortably so. Krycek helped with the wash-up.

"You want to come down? I told Ted I'd close up tonight. There are a couple of pool tables, if you're interested. And a hockey game on TV."

Krycek settled at the same table he'd taken over last night but stuck to a draft which Skinner noticed he never really drank. At one point he moved over to a vacated pool table and started playing shots. Skinner grinned. He was good -- of course he would be, thought Skinner -- good enough to attract the attention of a couple of the local talent who were also very good.

The games were played with bare efficiency. The first was a sort of testing ground for ability, the second for pushing against the newcomer. The third was a real contest. One of the locals won that one, but Skinner wasn't sure whether that was just diplomacy on Krycek's part.

By the time the place had been shut and all the after-closings had been handled, Skinner thought that this might be a good time for some conversation.

Instead, when he shut the apartment door behind him, Skinner found himself pushed against the wall and his mouth taken in a way that basically put an end to that idea...or any other...besides the obvious.

He did try, once, to direct Krycek to matters other than what he had in mind, but gave up. It was hard to bring up the subject of talking when he had another's tongue in his mouth. And when his mind was blanking out in reaction to the hand that had found its way into his jeans, firmly stroking his cock into life.

He had wanted them to have a few days to get used to each other, to see if there was really anything there between them. Right now, he had to admit there was: two cocks quickly demanding attention.

He did manage finally to pull back enough to get one word out. "Bed." He hadn't been kidding when he'd said he was too old for this against-the-wall or, as they seemed to be directed, on the cold-hard-floor sex stuff. He wanted to be comfortable.

Krycek seemed to like the idea as he steered them both out of the kitchen and somehow into the bedroom.

Between them, they undressed themselves and each other, except for Krycek's t-shirt which he wouldn't allow Skinner to pull off him. They weren't particularly gentle with each other. They would both be bruised, bear suck marks, teeth marks but that seemed less important than the need to satisfy the urging of their cocks.

Krycek dropped back onto the bed, pulling Skinner on top of him. Skinner retained enough sanity to prop his weight up on his hands, allowing Krycek room to breathe. He rubbed his groin down hard as Krycek lifted his hips to meet his. Krycek's hand gripped Skinner's ass, pulling it to him: his fake was draped over Skinner's shoulder, as if to keep him from leaving. Skinner groaned, moved one of his hands to grip Krycek's hair, holding his head still and welded their mouths together.

Skinner let go the hair, shifted his weight to his other hand, slipped the freed one to between their bodies. His hand added the final touch. With a shout, Skinner came, shooting his cum over both their bodies. Krycek needed only an extra jerk or two to arch, head thrown back, and come with a low, throaty moan.

They lay, torsos on the bed, legs hanging off as their bodies cooled, their breathing returned to normal. Skinner slowly pushed himself up. Krycek was lying, arm over his eyes, mouth still slightly gasping for breath.

With a rueful grin for the muscles he knew would make themselves felt the next day, Skinner went and got a wet cloth. Krycek lay still as he cleaned their cum off his body, grunted his thanks.

He did move, with a jerk, when Skinner started to slip his hand under his t-shirt with the intention of removing the prothesis. Krycek sat up, removed it himself, placing it on the floor just under his side of the bed. Skinner took note that Krycek was not yet comfortable with his touching the arm. And that there was a small ottoman in the room he was using as his office that would be the right height and size for that side of the bed so that the arm would not spend the night on the floor.

Without a word, Krycek settled on his left side, back to Skinner. Equally silently, Skinner turned off the light, lay down, facing the back of the man he had just had sex with. This hadn't been in his plans, he sighed, but then, when had Krycek ever followed his plans? Still, there was something that had to be made clear.

"Don't think you can use sex to avoid talking to me, Alex."

From his side of the bed, Krycek gave a soft snore.

* * * * *

It didn't get any better.

Krycek stayed, helped in the bar without Skinner's having to ask him, played pool with the locals who appreciated a good game and barely allowed Skinner to make it into the bedroom every night without an erection.

Not that Skinner particularly minded at first. Hell, it had been some time since he'd done more than masturbate. Life in a small town was peaceful after D.C., but everyone knew everyone else's business. And he was horny. The feel of that expert hand on his cock, or that talented mouth closing around it literally shut his brain down so that he couldn't have put two cohesive thoughts together if his life depended on it.

But this wasn't what he wanted, not really. For one thing, it was too one-sided for him. Sure he enjoyed having the top of his head blown off, and he knew that Krycek came too, but almost as an aside to his coming.

And that made him uncomfortable. That, and the look that he caught, now and then, in Krycek's eyes, a hunger, a longing that he sometimes couldn't hide.

After ten days, Skinner had had enough.

Oh, they were adjusting well to each other in the small everyday things. Krycek put the cap back on the toothpaste, didn't leave the counter a mess, did laundry without being asked to. Skinner was getting used to finding Canadian French newspapers with his New York Times, Washington Post when he picked up things in town, having some of his customers come in looking for "his pool shark". And the wary pleasure of having a body in his bed again.

That night, he was the one who pushed Krycek against the wall as they came into the apartment, the one whose hand slipped into the other's pants. The one who brushed the other's hand away. The one who directed them into the bedroom.

Once there, he still forced his control on the situation. He didn't allow Krycek to take off his own clothes: *he* undressed him, even removing that bloody t-shirt that Krycek never removed. And doing so with the light still on.

Krycek froze as Skinner's hands undid the straps holding the prosthesis in place. His face lost what little expression it had when he removed the arm from the stump. He stood still, like a man waiting for judgement, as Skinner took off his own clothes.

"On the bed, Alex. On your back."

After a long moment, Krycek's head moved, in the slightest of nods, and he did as Skinner ordered.

Without Skinner's saying more, he took the position in the middle of the big bed, his hand reaching overhead, gripping one of the spindles in the headboard. He never looked at Skinner, focusing his eyes on something only he could see on the ceiling.

Skinner sat down next to the body stretched out for his inspection. And he did look his fill. It was still a good body, considering the man's age, the life he had led. Attractive, drawing, in spite of the stump, the scars. The shoulders were straight, the upper muscles defined. The smooth chest with the small brown nipples tempting. The waist trim, trimmer than his own which was now a little less trim than his days with the Bureau. The hips narrow, the thighs and legs strong. The body of a man who depended on his body to keep him alive and it had not failed him. Even though from the puckered scars, the long thin lines that appeared here and there, it was obvious that some had tried to put an end to that life.

That Krycek was not going to be as easy a lay as he had been didn't deter him. He had known when he invited Krycek into his bed that the man was firmly barricaded. Well, maybe not that firmly. He had seem glimpses now and then of the man he wanted in his bed. Tonight, he fully intended to pull down at least one of those walls.

He made himself comfortable next to Krycek and settled in for a long siege. None of this hard and fast business tonight. He began just by using his hand. A gentle stroke that lightly caressed the skin of the tight face, the strong throat, that played with the thick hair until, finally, those eyes moved from the ceiling to his.

Then he bent over and claimed the mouth that was far more talented than his own, playing with it until again, finally, there was an almost timid response, a hesitant participation. Skinner pulled back and smiled at the man looking up a him, a hint of confusion on his face.

Skinner said nothing through the gentle assault he conducted on the body beside him. Krycek was not a man to be moved with words. Well, not at this stage. Maybe not for some time. Skinner was more than content to let his hands speak for him. And Krycek lay accepting until Skinner's hands moved to caress the stump, then he made to pull away. Skinner stopped him just by placing a hand on his chest, softly whispering, "No." Krycek was quick to hide the flash of fear that passed over his face, then, as if resigned, he let the stump be touched. Skinner let his hands massage some of the tension out of the remaining biceps, bent and placed a kiss on the rough, keloid tissue at the end of it. Krycek jerked as though in pain, settled immediately. Skinner moved his hands onto Krycek's chest, feeling the small breath of relief as he did so.

They would have to work on that, he thought, bringing his mouth down on the nearer brown nub that seemed to be calling for his attentions.

As his hands explored Krycek's body, Skinner used his mouth to follow, further sensitizing already sensitive skin. By the time his mouth reached Krycek's hips, the man's lips were pressed tightly together, his eyes clenched. The body he was playing with was covered in a fine sheen of salty sweat, moved spastically as though beyond the man's control. Skinner wondered, in passing if it counted as sadism what he was doing, the time it was taking him to do it? Then decided if it were, it was a sadism the other had need to experience.

Those cat-green eyes opened again when he moved to between Krycek's legs. He raised his head and they were heavy, dark with arousal. Skinner realized that he had never seen them look that way in any of their previous sexual encounters.

He sat cross-legged between the spayed legs, the tips of his fingers barely skimming from knee, up the inside of thighs to just by the now rampant cock, and then back down again. Krycek whimpered. Skinner held his eyes. Did it again. And again. With each passage, coming closer to cock, but never actually touching. Krycek couldn't stop his hips from jerking, spread his legs even further apart and inched his ass closer to Skinner. Skinner rewarded him by passing a teasing fingertip over his scrotum. The whimper grew louder. Skinner wondered who had taught Krycek to be so silent during sex?

Skinner captured the velvety sac in both his hands and Krycek dropped his head back onto the bed, his body arching from the top of his head to the hips by Skinner's. Carefully keeping watch on the man's body -- he didn't want him coming until he'd gotten what he wanted -- Skinner carefully played with the testes, rolling them, gently squeezing, tugging when he thought Krycek was getting too close to release. Then he reached for the condom, the lube he had placed under the covers when he had made these plans earlier in the day.

He quickly rolled the condom on his own erection, lubed it generously. Krycek lifted his head, understood what was coming next, raised his knees to allow Skinner easier access to his anus. Skinner smiled at him, warmed the lube in his hand and rolled his fingers in it. Krycek grunted softly when the first finger teased his hole. Skinner took care when he inserted it into his ass. They hadn't had penetrative sex yet and he didn't think that Krycek had had any for some time: he was too hungry in their encounters.

When he thought Krycek was ready to accept his cock, Skinner said, "Let go of the railing, Alex." He pulled the man's hips closer, leaned over, placed the head of his cock at Krycek's anus and slowly penetrated. He waited a breath or two until he was sure that Krycek was comfortable with him in there, then he reached over, grabbed Krycek's arm and pulled him so that he was now sitting in his lap, thighs pressed to Skinner's hips, fully impaled on his cock.

Krycek groaned.

Skinner took a deep breath, smiled. "Okay, Alex. Put your arm around my shoulders. Good. Now then, don't move, but keep me hard. You can do that, can't you?"

Skinner looked into the eyes that, though heavy with their own arousal, were watching him intently. Krycek gave a small nod, clenched his ass. Skinner gasped, grinned. He wrapped his arms around the slick hips, holding them close, and concentrated his mouth on the pebbly nubs that had proven to be so very sensitive.

While Krycek's ass muscles reacted to the play of Skinner's mouth on his chest, the grip Skinner had on Krycek's hips meant that he could barely move to ease the demands of his own cock. Skinner enjoyed what they were doing to each other but he had plans. He tumbled Krycek back onto the bed, following him down. Krycek gasped as the breath was partially knocked out of him by Skinner's weight. Skinner took the time to stretch out his legs, moaning slightly as the blood recirculated properly.

"You have a decision to make here, Alex."

He raised himself off Krycek's chest, looked into eyes that were paying attention.

"Do you want me to fuck you?" He could see the yes to that beginning to form. "Or do you want me to make love to you?"

The yes in Krycek's eyes turned to surprise, then wary confusion.

"Alex, I know you're very experienced. Talented. In no time at all, you can make me forget that I'm anything other than my cock. But that's fucking. And you're very good at it. But has anyone ever made love to you, Alex?"

He got his answer in the stillness of the body beneath him. "I like fucking, Alex, but I really enjoy making love. Let me make love to you."

They were still joined. Slowly Skinner began moving, his mouth once more against Krycek's skin. But this time, between the licks, the small bites, there were words. "I love the way you taste when you're all sweaty, Alex. Do you have any idea how dark your eyes get when you're really aroused? Don't bite your lips like that. Let me hear those sounds that are trying to get out. Your skin is like silk. Your cock is so hard, Alex. I'm going to love having that up my ass next time. Easy now. I'm going to come first, then I'm going to take care of you. Oh, god! ALEX! You feel so good! So very good."

Lifting himself, Skinner slipped a hand down between them, took hold of Krycek's cock. With a couple of firm strokes brought him to completion. The loud shout made Skinner grin: Krycek usually came with a low moan.

"Beautiful. You're just so beautiful when you come, Alex."

Krycek lay panting on the bed, eyes closed.

Skinner carefully slipped out of him, removed the condom, disposed of it in the bathroom and came back with a wet cloth. He sponged the cum off Krycek's body, bent and kissed the slightly open mouth. Then, he dropped another on the top of his left shoulder.

Krycek was too boneless to protest as Skinner pushed and shoved him under the covers, settled behind him and pulled him into his arms. Krcyek fell asleep before he could find the energy to pull away.

* * * * *

Skinner woke first. He propped his head up on an elbow and examined the face of the man he had decided would be his lover. It was more relaxed than he could remember seeing it. Maybe, he thought, feeling rather pleased with himself, Krycek was good at fucking, but it seemed he was pretty good at making love.

Krycek turned onto his back, made a sleepy sort of sound. He raised his arm as if to stretch and the gesture woke him. He seemed surprised to be feeling so relaxed.

"Good morning."

Krycek opened his eyes. After a bit, he returned the greeting. "Morning."

"Ah," said Skinner, "but is it a good one?" He didn't think Krycek was going to answer that question. He was so very good at avoiding answering questions.

But he did answer, almost warily. "Yes. It is."

Skinner rewarded him with a kiss. Even with morning breath, his mouth was appealing. He pulled back, reached out with his free hand to smooth back the hair off Krycek's face. He especially wanted to see his eyes.

"So, Alex, I think it's time we worked out a deal here."

The sleepy eyes went almost blank.

"The deal is as follows. You can fuck me anywhere you want in the apartment. Even in the bar. On the condition, of course, that we're alone down there. But here, in this bed, we only make love. Is that agreeable to you?"

Skinner kept a careful watch as the eyes slowly warmed.

Krycek nodded.

"No, Alex. Not good enough. I need to hear you say the words."

The tip of Krycek's tongue made its way across his lower lip. Skinner wondered just how hard a commitment this was on Krycek's part.

But he did get his words. Hesitant, but what he wanted to hear. "I can fuck you anywhere I want but in this bed we only make...love." The last word was whispered.

Skinner smiled, nodded. His hand still stroked hair back in a soothing gesture. This time his kiss was returned. With enthusiasm.

Skinner laughed, slipped out of bed. He held out his hand. "Come on. Delivery day today. But we have time for a shower."

Skinner turned from having his back washed when Krycek suddenly dropped to his knees, went down on him. After, Krycek looked up, eyes blinking back the cooling water. "Well, Walter, you did say," he spoke almost shyly, "that I could fuck you anywhere I wanted."

Skinner groaned.

* * * * *

Skinner was at the side door, signing the delivery invoice when the van with the darkened windows pulled in. A quick glance at the license plates was all the warning he got when the driver's door opened and Dana Scully came round to look at him, fists resting on hips.

"Walter," she took off her sunglasses, glared at him haughtily.

"Scully," he nodded in return. Then, "Dana?"

She shook her head, her tone scolding. "Walter, you could have stayed in contact."

"We all needed some time to ourselves."

She sighed, forgiving him. "Well, we're here to put an end to that."

The three other doors to the van opened and Skinner was only somewhat surprised to see Byers, Langley, Frohike come out. He knew the Lone Gunmen had decided that Scully was their special responsibility after Mulder had been abducted, that she needed someone to keep an eye on her. As Byers had informed Skinner, it was something Mulder would expect of them. He was pleased to see that Mulder's return then his newest venture had not dissuaded them of that notion. And he supposed Scully still considered them a mixed blessing.

The three men nodded, smiled or waved then reached inside the van and helped down Margaret, Melissa, Domina, and Suzanne Scully. Scully's quads. Identical quads. Exact duplicates of Scully because they were, in fact, all miniature Scullys.

Her clones.

Now just over three, they had only been a couple of months old the last time he had seen them. He was pleased to see that Dana did not belong to the school of identical clothing. The girls may have been genetically identical, but personality-wise, their differences had already been marked by the time he had left.

Scully had waited before naming them. The shock of their antecedents, the fact that there were four of them when the ultrasound had only indicated three had made her name them Baby One, Baby Two, and so on until she was certain that she could cope. She had known one of them would be named for her mother, another for her sister, but which would be which she wasn't certain.

As she introduced them to "Uncle Walter" -- Skinner raised his eyebrows at that: Scully pointedly ignored him -- he matched names to personalities.

Domina was the eldest, the alpha baby, who even when she had weighed in at barely four pounds, had made her presence certainly felt in the nursery. She wore her hair in one thick braid interwoven with a purple ribbon, purple pants, purple sweat shirt with a pink butterfly on it and small purple hiking boots. She shook hands.

Maggie wore a large fake flower pinned in her short hair, what seemed to Skinner to be one of her mother's white blouses as a tunic hitched up with a child's belt, brown leggings and boots. She grinned at him.

Zanna's long hair had come out of her ponytail as the elastic had slipped almost to the end. Her Tigger print t-shirt bore signs of whatever she'd had for breakfast, her blue jeans had a rip in one knee. She barely took the time away from checking out the yard to look at him.

The fourth child had stood back from the introductions, watching. At least Skinner assumed that she was watching. It was hard to tell behind the almost black sunglasses the child wore. Under the Tilley hat, he could tell her hair was short, though not as short as Maggie's. She was dressed in unripped jeans, with a plain, regular navy sweat shirt. She carried a large book under one arm.

"And this is Melissa, better known as Lissa," said Scully.

"Hello, Lissa." Skinner smiled at her. She gave a slight nod in acknowledgement.

The end of the introductions seemed to be a signal for the girls to take off in different directions, for the Gunmen to come over to shake hands, ask him about the bar. For Scully to yell instructions at three of her daughters who were rejoicing at being out of the van.

Maggie was inspecting the flowers that Ted's wife had planted at the front to brighten up the place. "Maggie, smell, don't pick. These aren't our flowers so leave them there."

"Yes, smell, don't pick," chirped Domina.

"Thank you, dear, but I'm sure Maggie heard me. Zanna! No, Uncle Walter may not lift you into the tree so you can climb to see how high it goes. And stay out of the garbage. You're not an archaeologist yet."

Skinner couldn't help it. He burst out laughing. Scully glared at him again. He came up to her, hugged her tightly. "God, Dana. I think I missed you."

She returned his hug, rested her head on his shoulder. "I know I missed you." She looked up. "There are lots of things we have to talk about, but it'll wait until the girls take their naps this afternoon."

He nodded. "Agreed."

"Dana!" Of the Gunmen, Byers had stayed behind while the others had gone exploring the bar. He gestured with his head toward Lissa who was standing absolutely still.

"Oh, Lissa!" Scully whispered. She released Skinner, went to crouch in front of her daughter. "Lissa! There will be none of that today." She spoke calmly but sternly. "Do you understand me? I don't want any of your Kryceking today."

"Scully!" Byers' voice was oddly embarrassed.

Scully looked up at him, then turned to see what had him squirming.

Alex Krycek, hand in jeans pocket, was standing at the bottom of the stairs that went to the apartment. Slowly, Scully stood, placed her hand protectively on her daughter's shoulder. "Krycek. What are you doing here?"

Skinner stepped in quickly. "Dana, Alex lives here now. With me. Has been for the last month."

Unspoken questions passed from Scully to Skinner, unspoken because Lissa slowly walked away from her mother, went to stand in front of Krycek. She looked up at him, as if fascinated. "Are you really Krycek?"

Krcyek dropped his gaze from Scully, who looked like she was ready to defend her child from a monster -- Skinner put his hand on her shoulder -- to the child waiting for his answer. He crouched so he and the girl were at eye level. "Yes. I really am Krycek."

She took off her sunglasses, tilted her head to one side. He said nothing, did nothing, waiting through her examination of him for her reaction. Very seriously, she informed him, "My name is Lissa."

Equally seriously, Krycek nodded, said, "Mine is Alex."

Lissa nodded, turned and went back to her mother. "There really is a Krycek, moma."

Scully sighed, "Yes, baby, there is."

Lissa went to Byers who offered her his hand and they walked together into the bar, Byers wondering aloud to her if they would be able to order milk or juice in it.

"I'm going for the mail," Krycek ignored Scully. "Is there anything else I should pick up?"

Skinner turned to Scully. "Are you all staying?" Her arrival had been a pleasant surprise, but he knew Krycek's presence, though also a surprise, was not altogether a pleasant one for her. "Dana," he said softly, for her ears only, "give him a chance. Please."

Scully pulled her eyes away from Krycek, took a breath and nodded. "We've taken rooms at the motel down the road. That's where we spent last night. I didn't think you would have space for my whole circus."

Skinner smiled his thanks. "Then I guess we'll need some kid food, Alex."

"I'll go with you," Frohike who had come out of the bar, probably on Byers' suggestion, joined Krycek at Skinner's car.

Krycek shrugged, got into the driver's seat. Skinner smiled. He doubted that Frohike was going to get anything close to answers if he bothered to ask questions.

"I think maybe we should have our talk now?" Skinner offered. Scully nodded.

* * * * *

"So instead of Krycek, they took Mulder." Scully shrugged. "You already told me all that, Walter, when you called. What I never really understood is why they were both here anyway?"

Skinner handed her the tea she'd requested, joined her with a soft drink. "Krycek wanted to give me something he thought I wanted." At her raised eyebrows, he smiled. "Mulder." She still didn't understand. "As my lover."

Scully sat very still, didn't comment.

"I got him to understand that Mulder wasn't the one I wanted."

"So," she carefully made her way through the mine field of this information, "Mulder went back to the stars and Krycek..."

"Into my...into our bedroom." He waited while she closed her eyes, processed all this.

Without opening her eyes, she asked, "Is this what you really want, Walter?"

"Yes, Dana. It's what I really want. And if you think of it, the stars are what Mulder really wanted too."

She shrugged, eyes still shut. "Mulder can't be happy unless he's chasing down some unfindable grail. And he was so unhappy to be back. So restless. He'll be happier among his 'truths'." She opened her eyes, took a sip of her cooling tea.

"And what about Alex and myself? How do you feel about that?"

She grimaced. "Well, I can, I suppose, see the attraction. He does have a certain something. Still, I do have to wonder if you're going to get hurt in this. Krycek is not the warmest kind of person."

Skinner shrugged: Krycek could be warm enough under the proper conditions. But he was curious. "Dana, what's 'Kryceking'?"

Scully put her tea down and clasped her hands together, tightly. "I suppose he heard that."

Skinner nodded.

Scully sighed. "You know, when the girls were born and we discovered...what they were, I thought to myself, that if there was the slightest difference among them, I would really encourage that. I mean, it's bad enough that they're genetic copies of me, but I wanted them to be different."

"They are."

Scully's smile thanked his confirmation. "Domina reminds me that there is some of Bill in me. At least once a day. Zanna is the most like me, the tomboy part. Maggie, dear Maggie should have been the one I named Melissa. I never knew how much of her there was in me.

"And then there's Lissa. My baby. I tell myself, Walter, that she's the scientist in me, but that's not true. Of all of them, she's the most worrying. She's the one who resisted being held as a baby. She still doesn't like it. At best, I feel she tolerates my hugs, my touch. She has nightmares where she screams in terror and can't remember what they were when I wake her. That's the only time she'll willing let herself be held. And she watches. Watches and rarely participates. She speaks less than the others but has a far larger vocabulary. The only thing I know she really has of me is her love of books. She won't go anywhere without the book of the moment.

"And she sometimes behaves as though she wasn't part of the picture. As though she were viewing life through a microscope. Then there are these...these spells she has, when she seems barely aware that I'm standing next to her, touching her."

Skinner nodded: he knew what she was talking about. Krycek had been like that often when they had worked together. Especially the viewing them through a microscope part. He knew it had always make Scully uncomfortable.

And though things were different now, Krycek still had that intensity of concentration.

"At first, I thought she might be autistic, but the paediatrician assures me she isn't. It's just that when she's like that, my skin tingles just as it did when I was in the same room as Krycek."

"So 'Kryceking'." Skinner nodded. "Are they healthy?"

Scully sighed and laughed at the same time. "Yes, they are. Their paediatrician hates the sight of me, but yes. They're older than Emily."

She had told Skinner about Emily one day when he'd found her sitting in a chair, crying. It had been the first time he'd seen her upset since the hospital. It had taken a handkerchief, a hug before she had told him about the child who had been hers and whom she had never had.

"Healthy, full of energy and usually up to mischief. Except for Lissa." Scully stood up. "I'd better go and see what they're all up to. While you still want us to visit. The Gunmen let them get away with murder."

Under Byers' watchful eyes, Zanna was digging a hole with a stick and a long thin rock she had found. Maggie was gathering leaves that had fallen, making a bouquet. Domina was helping her, offering advice as to which leaves to take, which Maggie was cheerfully ignoring.

Lissa was sitting under a tree, glasses back on, reading her book.

Thinking of his nephews and nieces as children, Skinner asked, "Is she 'reading' or is she really reading?"

Scully smiled proudly. "She really reads. They're all advanced for their age in their reading skills. The others can recognize words here and there. But Lissa can actually read. She can plough her way through those simple readers. And she really loves being read to."

* * * * *

Supper was chaotic. Skinner insisted that the girls join them at the table. There were, he said, naively he admitted later, more than enough adults to handle four little girls. Scully scoffed, but decided to let him learn the lesson for himself.

Skinner thought spaghetti would be simplest for all to handle. He and Frohike made up two types of sauces, one hot and spicy, one mild for the girls. Of course when Domina insisted on having the spicier one, the two others insisted as well. Maggie loved it, the others didn't. They had to be re-served.

Skinner accidentally put cheese on Zanna's who hated cheese. Who dramatically demonstrated that she hated cheese. Domina wanted hers cut, Zanna not. Maggie tried to wind hers around her spoon and what didn't end up on her, ended up on the floor. Maggie liked the garlic bread, Domina wanted hers plain and Zanna poked holes into hers, using it as a mask.

Throughout it all, Lissa sat at her end of the table, beside Byers, and ate quietly, her eyes usually on Krycek who was sitting opposite her. And though he was keeping an eye on the comedy at Skinner's end of the table, Krycek was also very aware of the little girl's attention. Now and then he would turn his head and their eyes would hold. Not long. Maybe the space of a breath. And then Krycek would break the connection, turn his head to some new commotion among the others. But Scully noticed.

* * * * *

The next day, Scully successfully managed to get all the girls down for their afternoon nap in Skinner's bed and decided to take Skinner up on his offer of a chance for an undisturbed bath, a figment of her imagination since the girls had been born.

She was humming under her breath when she came out, towel wrapped around her head. In the living room she could hear two voices, a man's and a child's. It was impossible to tell which of her daughters she was hearing -- they sounded alike -- but the man's was Krycek.

She knew Skinner trusted him, but she was uneasy with his being around her children. Though she had long ago accepted his explanation of what had happened at Melissa's death, that didn't mean she was ready to forget what he was, even if Skinner seemed to have.

She hurried to rescue her child. And stood stock still in the doorway.

Dressed in her nightgown, Lissa was sitting on Krycek's lap, her head against his left shoulder, listening to him read the book she carried everywhere with her these days: Mercer Mayer's "There's a Nightmare in My Closet". Scully took a step backwards, observing the child who would never let anyone near, cuddling in the arms of an assassin.

She knew that Lissa seemed fascinated with him, but to this extent?

"Have you ever read this story before?" Lissa turned the page at Krycek's nod.

"No." Scully was surprised at the gentleness of his voice.

"Do you like it?"

She watched him give Lissa's question considered thought. "Yes. It's got a good plot."

Lissa smiled -- oh, dear God, she *smiled* at him. Her overly serious child had smiled. "I like the words."

Scully watched as Krycek nodded, continued reading. Lissa dropped her head back against his shoulder and listened happily.

* * * * *

Over the remaining two days of their visit, Scully carefully watched as Lissa became Krycek's shadow. Whether or not Krycek enjoyed having this shadow was not something Scully felt she could ask him. Skinner, she knew from having caught his eye now and then, was as befuddled as she was. He would smile, shrug and go back to doing whatever he was busy with while Lissa, a mulish set to her face, avoided her sisters, her mother to follow a man whom Scully didn't trust as far as she could throw him.

At the same time as Scully watched how Krycek acted around her daughter, she also watched him with Skinner. Of the two, Skinner was the first to reach out, to touch a shoulder, and arm as he passed by. Krycek didn't return the touches, but seemed to lean into them, which also seemed to be enough for Skinner. Scully had agreed to give Krycek a chance, but she still wasn't convinced that there wasn't something in this for Krycek that would leave Skinner hurt.

She did try to broach the subject, once. Skinner smiled at her, asked about her consulting business.

Lissa too appeared to see Krycek differently than her mother. She followed him about as he worked at repairing storm windows. If he asked her to do something for him, like hand him another caulking cartridge, she would carefully lay her book down, get the tube, hand it to him. He would thank her very seriously and she would smile, go back to her book.

He read to her both afternoons and once Scully even heard Lissa giggle at something he said to her.

That last morning, Scully came out onto the porch, could hear the two of them underneath where the empty beer cases were stashed, waiting for pick-up. Krycek was teaching Lissa a rhyme, in Russian she assumed as she couldn't figure out what the words were. Lissa was quick with words, had no trouble picking up the rhyme. Scully was about to go down when she heard Krycek say, "When you have those nightmares, if you say this over and over again, it'll help."

"Right away, Alex?"

Scully's heart caught at the hope in Lissa's voice.

"No. Sorry, Lissa, not right away. But if you do it every time, you'll get better at it and soon they won't be so scary. It's like a spiderweb. It starts small, but with time, it grows bigger and bigger until it's big enough to protect the spider."

"Okay." She repeated the rhyme again. Krycek corrected her pronunciation once, then complimented her when she got through it twice, perfectly.

"Alex?"

"Hmmm?" Alex lifted her off the cases, set her down in the yard.

"I love you."

It would have been hard to say who was the more shocked, Scully or Krycek. Scully had never heard Lissa say those words to anyone other than her sisters and herself. From the top of the porch, she watched Krycek crouch to her level. "Be careful, kid," he stroked her cheek with the back of a finger. "Saying things like that to me will get you booted out of the Scully tribe."

Scully watched as Lissa laughed, not really understanding, allowed Krycek to hook the side of her hair around an ear. "Remember the rhyme, Lissa."

She recited it again for him.

"Perfect."

Scully must have made a sound because Krycek looked up.

"Here's your mother. Must be time to go."

Scully herded her gang into the van, got everyone settled, and went to give Skinner a final hug.

"Dana, you'll come again?"

She smiled, "With my full circus? Are you sure? I didn't think you were that much of a glutton for punishment."

Then she surprised Krycek by going up to him. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For the time you spent with Lissa."

Krycek shrugged. "She's a good kid."

Scully smiled. "Yes, she is. Thank you just the same."

* * * * *

A week later, at three thirty in the morning, the phone rang. Skinner reached for it, grumbled "Serge here."

"Walter, it's Dana."

Skinner sat up. In the background he could hear a child crying hysterically. "Dana, what's wrong?"

"Is Krycek there?"

"Yes, why?"

"Please, Walter, pass him the phone. Lissa's had another of those nightmares and she's forgotten the rhyme Krycek taught her. I can't get her to calm down."

Skinner handed a groggy Krycek the phone, watched him come fully awake as Scully explained.

"Put her on," he pulled the pillow up behind him and propped himself up. "Lissa. Lissa! Listen to me."

Skinner listened as for an hour Krycek repeated over and over again the rhyme he had taught the child as a mantra against the terrors of the night. At one point, he got up, went and got Krycek a glass of water when his voice began hoarsening. Krycek gulped some down, started the rhyme again. At one point, Lissa's voice joined with his, but he continued until Scully finally said into the phone, "She's asleep."

"Will you remember it?" he rasped.

"Yes. I can probably chant it backwards in my sleep."

"Get her going with it as soon as she wakes up from the dream. It's the rhythm that's important."

"Krycek..."

"Do you want to speak to Walter?"

"No. I'll go put my daughter to bed and let the two of you go back to sleep. And Krycek...thanks again."

Krycek grunted into the phone, handed it to Skinner and buried his head in his pillow.

* * * * *

Six weeks later, there was another phone call. From Langley.

Lissa had disappeared.

* * * * *

Skinner got them to Scully's by paying a local with a private plane to fly them down.

"She disappeared yesterday afternoon. One minute she was there, reading her book, on the front steps, the next she was gone." Langley passed a frustrated hand through his long tangled hair. "The girls know they're not to leave the yard. I could understand it if it were Zanna, but Lissa?"

"What about the police? What's their position on this?" Skinner looked up as Frohike snorted. "What?"

"No cops. Because of what the girls are. She doesn't want to have to explain the same DNA...you know, in case anything happens. So, she's refused to call the cops in on this. She's pulled in a few favours from people at the FBI, had them searching along with us all last night, this morning. The most anyone can come up with is there was a black car with darkened windows in the area at about the time yesterday when Lissa was missed. We've searched all sorts of records trying to locate the car, who could own it, but so far nothing we've come up with has panned out."

"Where are the girls?" Skinner had finally realized that the house was too quiet.

"Byers took them to Scully's mother. He's staying there with them. Him and another of Scully's pals. The girls know something is up, but not what."

Skinner nodded, looked over to Krycek who had, since the phone call, become more and more withdrawn. Skinner was used to seeing him stand watching, but it suddenly irritated him that he had picked this time to do what Scully called 'Kryceking'.

Scully arrived from yet another round of searching the neighbourhood. It didn't take Skinner more than one glance to know she was hanging on by the skin of her teeth.

"Thank you for coming." She tried hard to sound very composed. Skinner pulled her into his arms and held her while she cried. She recovered quickly, pulled back, went into agent mode. She reported to Skinner all that she had organized in their search for her daughter. It might all have been unofficial, but it was no less professional for that.

Langley manned the phones, Frohike monitored the computer while Scully and Skinner reviewed all the possibilities they could come up with.

"None of that's going to help."

One by one the group turned to look at Krycek.

"What do you mean, not going to help?" Langley and Frohike slowly stood away from their stations.

"What the hell do you know, Krycek?" Scully challenged, her tone accusing. She hadn't trusted him and now she was going to be proven right. But at what cost? "What do you know about my daughter's disappearance?"

Skinner put his hand on her arm; she shook him off, ready to confront Krycek. "If you have anything to do with Lissa's disappearance, I will kill you. Like you should have been killed a long time ago, Krycek!"

Skinner quickly placed himself between Krycek and the others. "Alex? Why is none of this going to help?"

Krycek didn't answer him, just kept on looking at Scully. "Have you," he spoke slowly, as if the words were difficult to find, harder to get out, "wondered why Lissa and I...get along?"

"Yeah," snapped Langley. Frohike, eyes on Scully, nodded.

Scully stood up. "Tell me," she bit out.

"It's because she recognizes I am what she is."

"Which is?"

"A clone like she is. A Fourth One."

Scully turned her head slightly, as if to hear him better. "Are you telling us that you're a..."

"A clone. Clones aren't new, Scully. The Consortium has been developing them...us...for some time now. Not all the scientists involved in genetic mutations were eliminated or neutralized. There were still one or two around at the time of your impregnation."

"What has this to do with Lissa?"

"She's a Fourth One. I am, too. You yourself recognized that we have similarities. Remember, what you call 'Kryceking'."

Skinner got Scully to sit down, glared at the other two to back off. He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, calming the feelings churning inside him. Krycek was focused on Scully, ignoring him, the others in the room. The closed look on his face reminded Skinner of the man who had so unemotionally killed him. It gave him the creeps. Still, once he released the breath, the AD was firmly back in charge.

"Alex, what is this 'Fourth One' business you keep referring to?"

Krycek slouched back against the wall, rubbed his hand over his face. "The reason for cloning was originally to have human organic material to work with for hybrid experiments. What they really wanted was to create a master race of their own.

"Most of the early attempts ended in failure. The surrogate bearers aborted easily. If the fetus was carried to term, usually what was born was not really human. Once in a while, there was an element of success, but the product usually had little to no intelligence. They did have the occasional successes, but most of them did not survive the initial hybrid experiments."

"But if you are as you say a clone, then you did," Skinner pointed out.

Krycek gave a sort of laugh that had no humour in it at all. "Yeah. *We* did. It was a fluke that took them years to reproduce, but yeah, my...co-clones and I did survive. Our 'Original' was one of the genetic scientists. They separated us at birth, placed us in different environments. Ran constant tests on us and that's how they discovered that I was different from the others.

"The others were pretty much 'normal' in their responses: mine were different. I was less responsive in some areas, more so in others." He looked up at the group staring at him. "It was as if there was only so much humanity to divide among us all. I was the last born. By the time 'humanity' got to me, it was pretty much all used up. A great deal of my responses are learned ones."

"Lissa's not like that," Scully snapped.

Krycek met her glare straight on. "No. I seem to have been the prototype. Lissa is the refined model."

"Lissa is not a thing!" Scully's anger was rising.

"No, *she's* not. But she does have certain abilities that would make her very interesting to the scientists who are still around."

Skinner tried out an idea that had begun to take form in his mind. "You two can communicate."

Krycek nodded. "Faintly. I don't quite know why, but Fourth Ones seem for some reason to have a kind of link with each other."

"Like Gibson Praise, you can read minds?" Scully was trying to find a reference for this information she could grasp.

Krycek shook his head. "Praise was a different experiment. He can read anyone's mind. We can only feel each other. If we're close enough, we can hear each other."

"How much experience do you have with this...link?" Skinner was wondering just what X-File he had dropped into this time.

Krycek shrugged. "I know there were several Fourth Ones created. Seems we occur by some fluke. They've tried to replicate that 'fluke', but for some reason, it doesn't work that way. I read about that in the data I went through when we were searching for a way to find Mulder in the Consortium files. Personally, I only know of a couple of others. And they're both dead now."

"How did they die?"

For a moment, Skinner thought Krycek wouldn't answer. Then he did, and for Scully's sake, he wished he hadn't.

"One of them, a female, went berserk and when they tried to subdue her, they accidentally killed her. The other, a male, blew his brains out."

"The female, was she an Eve?" Scully never noticed when Langley placed his hands on her shoulders.

"No. The 'Eves' were a different cloning experiment. They were created one at a time, in a test tube. Each carried by different surrogates. Like Lissa, I and my co-clones were created at the same time and were carried to term in the same womb. Again, for some reason they've never been able to duplicate, all that makes a difference."

"Are the others, the ones you call 'co-clones', are they still alive?"

"I have no idea. When they proved not to have special talents, the hybrid geneticists lost all interest in them. I could find no further documentation on them. I was the one who interested them."

"The rhyme you taught her. The rhyme has something to do with this. Doesn't it?"

"It has to do with the nightmares. The boy...the male who killed himself was the clone of their leading scientist. He was brilliant. He figured out a way to control the nightmares, to lessen their effect."

Scully needed to know. "What are the nightmares?"

Krycek opened his mouth to answer. Stopped. Shrugged. "They're hard to explain. We have them, but then we don't remember them. The most I ever remember is sound and darkness. We didn't really discuss them, the few times I and another Fourth were together."

"But this ability this Fourth-ness gives you, it's what allowed you to communicate with the Rebel Aliens, isn't it?"

Krycek nodded. "A relatively new discovery."

"How new?"

Krycek managed to look disinterested. "Since the silo. Before that, all they knew was that Fourths could feel each other out if in the same area, could hear each other if they were close enough. If I had to guess about the nightmares, I would say that they're our reaction to extra-terrestrial influences. Would explain why they often occur when there are sightings reported."

Scully was not particularly interested in the sightings. "What does the rhyme have to do with all this?"

"The words aren't important, but the rhythm is. The Fourth Martin figured that it sets up a sort of electrical short-circuit to the part of the brain that produces the nightmares."

"But he killed himself," Frohike said aloud what they were thinking.

Krycek shrugged again. "That had nothing to do with the nightmares. That had to do with the experimentation they were doing on him."

"That they'll do on Lissa."

Krycek looked at Scully, said nothing.

"So, how do we find her, Alex?" Skinner finally asked.

"You don't. I do. If you'll allow?" He waited until Scully reluctantly nodded. "Will you permit me to sit in her room, where her things are? If she's still in the area, I'll have a better chance to feel her if I know what she feels like."

She brought him up to the room Lissa shared with Zanna. It was easy to tell which side of the room was hers. Zanna's things were scattered all over her side: Lissa's was in the type of order mothers only dreamed of.

"Krycek?"

He looked over his shoulder, waiting for what she had to say to him.

"I meant it. If you're in any way involved in this, I will kill you."

"Yes. I know."

"How long will you need?" Skinner suddenly realized that though Krycek met Scully's eyes, Krycek no longer met his.

"I don't know. I'll know more if I could be left alone."

Scully looked like she wanted to protest, then, at Skinner's urging, she went back downstairs. Skinner waited behind, wondering if Krycek was going to look at him, say something to him. Instead Krycek turned his back, reached for the book that Lissa had on her night table, sat on her bed, and leafed through the book. Skinner sighed, closed the door quietly behind him.

He never saw Krycek double up, as if in pain.

* * * * *

It was a long fifty minutes.

Scully spent them at the computer. Frohike had hacked into the FBI data bank, found the Consortium Folder and had rummaged through until he'd found the cloning experiments that Krycek had referred to. Then he'd given her his seat, read over her shoulder.

At his computer, Langley continued trying to find a lead on Lissa's whereabouts using more traditional means.

Skinner made coffee, called in a few favours and tried to reconcile the man he had come to know and care for over the past months with all the new information Krycek had given them.

He took them all unaware when he did come back into the room.

Skinner turned from refilling Langley's mug when he saw Krycek standing silently in the doorway. "Alex?"

Everyone turned.

"I need your help," Krycek ignored Skinner for Frohike.

"You know where she is?" Frohike took a step forward.

"I think so."

"You've got it."

Langley handed Frohike another piece of tape. Frohike carefully placed it on the padding holding the thin plastic gun in place.

"Are you sure this is going to work?" Langley asked for the fifth time.

"Shut up," Frohike told him, also for the fifth time.

* * * * *

Skinner was worried. Since coming down, Krycek had refused to look at him, talk with him. He was in the bathroom, with Frohike and Langley who suddenly were more sympathetic to Krycek than they had ever been.

Scully paced in small tight circles in the living room, arms wrapped around herself. She'd spoken to her three daughters before they'd gone to bed. To Byers, yet again to reassure herself that those of her children were safe. Skinner's few favours were two retired agents sitting inside Maggie Scully's house, two others outside. All were fully armed.

He again checked the Glock that Frohike had found for him, verified that the extra clips would be easily pulled out of his jacket pocket

All he knew of Krycek's plans so far was that Langley had asked if he'd be willing to drive the car for Krycek. Frohike had gone out on an errand, getting whatever it was Krycek had asked for, handing Skinner the gun when he'd come back.

Finally, the bathroom door opened and the men came out. Krycek had changed his sweater for the shirt he had packed into his knapsack and his leather jacket. His hair was still wet. He had shaved.

At Frohike's nod, Skinner grabbed his jacket and got out the keys to the car rental. Krycek started for the door. Scully blocked him.

"I want you to bring her back."

Krycek stood quietly under her glare of hate/fear, then, as if making his mind up about something, nodded. "If I can't get her to Skinner, I'll see that she doesn't get hurt."

Then he walked around her, out the door.

Skinner gave Scully's shoulder a reassuring squeeze and followed him.

Frohike waited until he heard the engine start before he too went out to his car.

In the car, Krycek spoke only to give directions. Skinner tried to ask him what was going on, but Krycek just closed his eyes, face set in concentration. So he said nothing, realizing that Krycek was more sensing his way to a specific location.

After some twenty minutes: "Here."

Skinner pulled into the back lot of what looked to be an old warehouse. The gate was open, a cut padlock dangling off a chain that must have once held the gates closed. He killed the engine and waited.

Krycek finally spoke to him, eyes staring out of the front windshield.

"I'm not going to try and tell you not to follow me. Just give me a few minutes to clear the way. And wait for my signal before you start anything."

Skinner nodded.

Krycek opened the car door and started out. Then he stopped, turned and finally looked at Skinner. "Walter. Thank you."

Skinner watched him walk up to the side door, open it. It was obviously not locked, and just as obviously, Krycek had not expected it to be locked. Skinner slowly counted to sixty, decided that enough time had passed, quietly got out of the car and went into the warehouse.

At the entrance, just inside the door, a man lay, his neck broken.

Krycek the Assassin was back at work.

There were cement steps leading up from the left, and Skinner climbed them to the cement walkway that led to what had probably once been an office. He carefully checked out the overhang, found that indeed he was the only one on it. Someone, he thought, was either very slack about security, or overly confident about it.

He looked down into the open warehouse and watched and listened.

* * * * *

Krycek took his time, walking slowly into the openness, heading for the area where one hanging light was shining down on the little girl strapped onto an ambulance stretcher.

He stepped into the yellowish circle of light, but only enough to see that her eyes were closed, her face calm.

Then he turned to face the people on the other side of the circle, in the shadows.

One quick glance told him that to either side there were men holding automatic weapons.

"Marita Covarrubias, we meet again."

The woman took a step forward, coming partially into the light. "Alex," she sneered. And pointed her weapon at him.

Krycek held his hands out from his side, showing he was holding nothing. At a signal from Covarrubias, one of the armed men came forward. He found the knife in the boot, the ankle holster with its small weapon, the other at the back of Krycek's belt, and tossed them into the dark beyond the light. His hands frisked efficiently, yet quickly -- this was Krycek after all, and he didn't want to be too close to him for any length of time. They all knew that guard at the door was dead or Krycek wouldn't be here, standing in front of them.

"Well," said a new voice.

Skinner on the overhang froze: he knew that voice.

"I suppose," continued the voice, "we have you to thank for the female's condition."

"Actually, the Fourth Martin. He figured out which electrical brain waves were necessary to block outside influences. And which thought patterns created such waves."

A man stepped into the light and Skinner knew he was seeing what Alex Krycek would look like in thirty years.

"Creator." Krycek bowed his head in acknowledgement.

The hair was still abundant, but grey. The body thicker, elegantly garbed in a charcoal grey suit whose cut screamed money. The face thinner, sharper. But the cold arrogance, thought Skinner, was the man's own.

"This patterning in the female is undesirable."

"Unbreakable, I think you mean, Creator." Krycek spoke quietly, his voice emotionless. "She has been in your hands for over 24 hours and she is still closed to you. I think they chose her Original for her strengths, but may not have considered just how strong Dana Scully really is."

The man Krycek called Creator began a gesture then caught himself. He slipped the hand into his pants pocket. "Not to mention that you somehow managed to include yourself in the patterning so that you are part of that strength. By herself, she is far too young to still be resisting.

"You, clone," the cold voice spoke firmly, "will do as I say. You will put an end to this...disobedience...on her part."

"Or what, Creator?" Krycek's voice was soft, tone respectful. "If I don't unblock her, you won't have a chance to do to her what you did to me. To the others. Or rather what Covarrubias will do to her on your directives. That is why she's here, isn't it?" He kept on, not really expecting answer other than Covarrubias' disdainful smirk. "And if you try to break her, you will destroy the reason you want her. Her ability...our ability...to communicate with those from beyond this world."

"An ability you used to betray us, clone."

Krycek shrugged. "I used it to betray only after Spender left me to die in the silo. Frankly, until the silo, I thought I only had that connection with other Fourth Ones. Perhaps, Creator, giving me to Spender was not such a good idea after all. I may have outgrown my usefulness to you, but your training saw to it that I never developed any feelings of loyalty towards my new master."

The Creator smiled, almost pleasantly. "True, but then he got such enjoyment out of training you for his needs." His tone became brusque. "So then, I need only remind you of your loyalty to me and you will do as I order."

"I was not aware that loyalty was something you required of me." Krycek titled his head to a side, as if considering. "Is that not an emotion, Creator? And did you not tell me often enough that as a clone emotions were something that I had to be trained to feel. Through the use of pain, the only thing you were certain I could feel."

"Perhaps I should have concentrated on training your mind more, clone. You seem to think yourself independent of me. I will remind you that you are but a thing, *clone*. A scientific experiment. And that as such I own you. Not that man who prevented you from fulfilling the plans we had determined for you. Tell me, what do you think Walter Skinner will have to say when he discovers that he has taken a clone whore to his bed?"

Krycek shrugged at the scorn. "You taught me long ago what I am, Creator."

"Well, if you will not obey me, give me what I want, then I have no reason to keep you alive. Do I?"

Krycek's hands went to his jacket: the barrels of several guns -- Skinner counted four in addition to Covarrubias's -- suddenly appeared in the light.

"You won't kill me right away, Creator." Slowly he removed his jacket, let it drop to the floor.

"You'll want to amuse yourself with me first." He toed off his boots, shoved them to one side with a stockingless foot.

The man Krycek called Creator laughed. "You think I might actually want to spend any time amusing myself with something as unappealing as yourself?" He pointed to Krycek's left arm. "When I think of all the care I took not to mar you, to leave you unblemished, whatmakes you think," his voice lashed out, "I am anything but repelled by you? It is obvious that my tastes are rather more refined than your present master's."

"But, Creator, you've trained me so very well for your particular passions." Krycek's hand went to his jeans and he slowly unbuttoned the fly.

"After all, once I am dead, you will never again be able to take enjoyment of yourself." The jeans were slowly stripped down. He stepped out of them, tossed them on top of the boots. He wore no shorts.

"And how many men are left who can say that they fucked themselves? That they were serviced by themselves." He unbuttoned the shirt, slowly shrugged it off his shoulders so that it slipped down his back to the floor.

Without any covering whatsoever, his cock stood hard, erect. From where he stood Skinner could see that Krycek had shaved his groin.

"See how well you trained me, Creator. My body still reacts to your presence. To the sound of your voice."

The Creator took a couple of steps closer, as if he couldn't prevent himself. "You prepared yourself for me properly, clone, as I trained you. Were you so certain that I would fall for your wiles?" He stood, eyes examining the body displayed, his lower lip caught between his teeth as though considering. "The lack of symmetry *could* be rectified. You really would have no need of that other arm, would you, to please me."

He smiled broadly at the wince Krycek couldn't prevent.

"Maybe even the legs. When I think about it, all I'd really need from you would be your mouth and your ass. It's not as though you would be going anywhere after you no longer amused me.

"And," he continued, more to himself, "there were certain experiments that I was prevented from doing on you. Experiments that were considered to be too dangerous considering your uniqueness at the time."

Slowly, arms outstretched as in worship, Krycek knelt. "It would be as you will. My Creator. My Lord. My Master.

"You will want to punish me first. As you used to. Eyes blindfolded, ears plugged, arms bound behind my back, ankles manacled together. As you trained my body to know you. To react to the mere smell of you, the possibility of your presence in the same room."

Krycek's voice was weaving a spell of its own. The Creator's face grew flushed, his breathing harsher from memories of games past. Even Marita Covarrubias reacted to the images Krycek was painting. She took a step closer, the barrel of her gun dipping slightly.

"What was it you made me say as you punished me? Oh, yes. 'Oh my God,'" Krycek's body began to bend forward, as if he were assuming a position of supplication, "'I am heartily sorry'" his arms made their way behind him as if they were being bound, "'for havingoffended thee'."

His hand found the plastic gun that Frohike had taped, padded, in the small of his back.

He shot Covarrubias first, then rolled out of the light, as the man on the right was shot from above. His partner turned to the direction of the shot, managed to get a couple of shots off before he too dropped.

At the same time, smoothly coming up from the roll, in rapid succession, Krycek took down the two men on the left.

The man called Creator tried for the door, dropped to floor as he reached the edge of the circle of light.

Krycek rushed to free Lissa. He fell to his knees, held her tightly in his arms, chanting the rhyme aloud, hoping he could get through to her.

 

 

Skinner walked into the light. He gave the woman and the guards only cursory inspections: he knew they were all dead.

The man who looked like Alex Krycek was not. Skinner's bullet had got him in the chest. He lay on the floor, curled upon himself, hand pressed against his wound. Blood ran between his fingers. He looked up, showed some surprise at the person who was standing there in front of him. "I have money," he gasped. "I'll make it worth your while to get me out of here."

Skinner stared down at him, at the reptilian green eyes. He listened as Krycek started the rhyme again, calling Lissa's name at the end of each line.

With no emotion, Skinner raised his gun and shot the man point blank in the face.

 

 

Frohike was the first one in. He took a quick look around, assessed the situation and pulled out his cell phone. Then, he and Skinner stood silently listening to Krycek's voice.

When Scully ran in with Langley close behind her, Skinner moved to stop her from approaching Krycek and Lissa, "No!" Then more gently, "No, Dana. Let him bring her back first."

They all stood and watched for what seemed to be an eternity as Krycek, Lissa clutched to his naked body, chanted over and over again the rhyme that had kept her from being touched by the monster who now lay dead.

His voice was beginning to rasp when faintly, occasionally, another joined his. Then with more conviction. Together they said the words that Scully mouthed from Skinner's arms.

"Lissa?" Krycek's voice was now barely audible from where they stood.

"Alex." Lissa yawned, sleepily. "I had the bad dream again."

"I know. But you said the words."

Lissa yawned again, snuggled closer to the man who held her. Krycek tightened his grip on her, rubbed his cheek on her head. Her voice was muffled against his chest: "The bad dream went away."

"Yes. And just in time. See, your moma's here. She's come for you."

Skinner let Scully go. She hurried to Krycek, knelt in front of him. He looked up at her. Carefully, almost reluctantly, he pulled Lissa away from him and passed her over to Scully. "Baby! Oh, Lissa, baby."

Lissa turned, opened her arms to her mother and snuggled. "Moma, can I have some juice?"

"Yes, baby," Scully held her tight. Over her daughter's head she smiled through her tears at Krycek. "Thank you."

Langley came to help her up: together they went out to the car.

Krycek didn't watch them leave. He stayed kneeling where he was, head lowered, shoulders raised.

Skinner scooped up his clothes, carried them over. He reached out a hand to help Krycek up but Krycek pulled back, further crouching against himself, as if to protect himself from a beating.

"Alex?"

This time when Skinner tried to touch him, Krycek made a sound, like an animal's in pain. Then, "Please, don't!"

Skinner hesitated, placed the clothes on the stretcher, then crouched in front of the man who was curled up practically into a ball.

"Alex?"

"Please," the raspy voice had barely any emotion in it, "is it permitted to know who I'll be given to?"

"Given to?" Skinner frowned, " What are you talking about, Alex?"

Head still down, Krycek shuddered. "For the experiments. For what will be done with me."

"Done with you? Alex, what makes you think you're going to be handed over to anyone for experimentation?"

"Because of what I am."

"And what are you, Alex?"

"A clone. A scientific freak. A non-human."

Skinner grabbed hold of his face, forced it up so that he could see his eyes. "Please," begged Krycek, face strained with his attempt to control his emotions, "don't hurt me. Please, leave me that."

"Leave you? Why would I leave you?"

Krycek's laugh was pain-filled. "Because he's right. I doubt that you have a place for a clone whore in your life."

"A clone whore! Alex! Oh god, love."

But Krycek shook his head frantically. "Don't call me that. It's not true."

"Why isn't it true?"

"Because I'm a clone. And a Fourth One. We aren't capable of love." On a whisper, "Or being loved. We're more automaton than human."

Skinner sat back on his heels. "Alex, what the hell are you talking about? What do you mean Fourth Ones can't be loved? Lissa, you told us, is a Fourth One. Are you trying to tell me that Dana doesn't love her daughter? Fuck that! And that Lissa doesn't love? That she doesn't love Dana? Her sisters? That she doesn't love you?"

Krycek flinched violently.

"And do you think I'm blind? That I can't see that you love her? Alex, for god's sake, tonight you put your life on the line for her. You walked into a cesspool of memories for her, to bring her out. Don't tell me you can't love!"

Skinner was unaware that his voice was rising, from his sudden fear that, in spite of finding Lissa, he was going to lose Alex.

"And don't you dare tell me you don't love me. I know you never say the words, those words, but...Damn it, Alex! You told Mulder that you cut your heart out to give me to him. If that's not a fucking declaration of love, I don't know what is!"

He suddenly heard himself, the level of his voice, the anger fear was causing. He took a deep breath and tried to get hold of himself: yelling was not going to convince Krycek that he was wrong.

He continued, more calmly. "And if you think I don't love you, then why the hell have you been staying with me?"

"All that was before," Krycek tried to explain.

"Before what? Before I saw how courageous you were for facing..."

He stopped, remembering all the so-called Creator had said, what Krycek had revealed. He put his hands on Krycek's shoulder, gently tugged. Krycek resisted: Skinner kept his hands there.

"Alex. No one is going to experiment on you. No one is going to turn you over to anyone. Not you, not Lissa. I won't let that happen. None of us will let that happen.

"Alex, love?" Krycek whimpered at the word. "He's dead. He can't hurt you any more. He'll never hurt anyone again."

Skinner pulled Krycek to him again. They waged a small, silent battle but Skinner won and Krycek came into his arms. "As for what you are. Well, you're Alex Krycek, the *man* I love, the *man* who loves me. That's all that's important, Alex."

Krycek sagged, let his head rest on the shoulder of the man who held him, tried hard to stop the sob that had lodged in his throat since he had let Lissa go, certain that all he would do is repulse now that Skinner knew the truth about him.

Skinner held Krycek tightly against him, let his head rest on that of the man sobbing painfully in his arms. He rocked him slowly in his arms, murmuring soft words of comfort only Krycek could hear.

At one point Frohike came close to them, cleared his throat noisily before approaching. Skinner continued murmuring as he looked up.

"Sorry. The guys I contacted for clean-up. They won't come in as long as you two are here. And they 're getting antsy."

Skinner nodded. "Alex? Love, we have to go. Come on. Let's get you dressed and out of here."

It took more than a few minutes: Krycek was exhausted, and Skinner basically had to dress him. Then his arm around Krycek's shoulders, they walked out, Skinner between his lover and the dead bodies waiting for removal.

* * * * *

Scully came into the kitchen to find Skinner already sitting at the table, coffee in hand.

He smiled tiredly at her, held up his mug. "It's fresh." Scully nodded, filled her own and joined him at the table. Through the closed glass doors to the den, she could see Krycek was still sleeping on the futon.

Skinner asked, "How is she?"

"Fine." Scully sounded surprised at that. "She woke once near dawn and asked for some more juice then went back to sleep. It would seem that to her, it was just another of her nightmares." She shook her head at that, sipped her coffee. "How's he?"

Skinner looked into the other room, "I think he'll be all right. Right now, he's drained. Like we both are. Like we all are. I think the only one who's going to cruise out of this is Lissa."

"Last night," Scully stared into her mug, "when Krycek said if he couldn't get Lissa out, he would see to it that she wouldn't be hurt...he meant he would kill her, didn't he?"

Skinner looked at her, watching her reaction. "Yes."

"Would he have been right? To do that?"

Skinner glanced at the sleeping man. "Yes. He would have."

A slight noise from behind Scully got his attention. He put a welcoming smile on his face. "Lissa. Did you sleep well, sweetheart?"

Lissa was carrying a book as usual. She placed it on the table, pulled herself up onto the chair. Skinner reached over to steady it for her climb. Scully went to the fridge. "Apple juice or grape, baby?"

Lissa knelt on the chair, already opening her book. "Apple, please."

Scully handed her the juice in a cup, smiled at her then shrugged at Skinner. "All seems to be normal on the Scully front this morning."

Lissa was into her cereal when she looked at the two people watching her. "I had the nightmare again last night," she announced.

"Yes," agreed Skinner.

"Is that why Alex is here?"

"Yes, baby." Scully wondered if it was really going to be this easy. "But it's all over now."

Lissa nodded, went back to her book and cereal. She finished both at the same time. She closed the book, climbed down off the chair. Skinner handed her the book. "Thank you," she smiled.

She walked to the door of the den, opened it and went in to look at Krycek, who was twitching in his sleep. She lay the book on the bed, climbed up, sat herself comfortably next to him and opened up her book. When he stirred, she lay one of her hands on his shoulder, softly chanted the words that Scully knew none of them would ever forget. Krycek sighed, settled.

In the kitchen, Skinner and Scully exchanged raised eyebrows.

Lissa had read her book through twice when Krycek finally opened his eyes.

"Hello, Alex."

"Lissa."

"You had the nightmare, too, Alex. I said the words with you and we were both safe."

"Yes, you did. Thank you."

Lissa bent and kissed his stubbled cheek. "You itch," she gave a soft giggle.

From beyond the doorway Scully called. "Lissa. We have to go pick up your sisters. Come get dressed."

Skinner waited until they had gone upstairs to go into the room. Krycek lay on his back, watching, waiting, Skinner thought, as if all the reassurance he had given last night meant nothing.

He sat on the side next to Krycek, carefully reached out to smooth back the hair off his face. "I have a suggestion to make."

Eyes darkening, Krycek merely nodded.

"I think you should go take a shower. While you're doing that, I'll set this room to rights. We'll eat something, say our goodbyes. Then we'll go home. How does that sound?"

Krycek closed his eyes, rubbed his head against the hand touching him. "Are..." His throat was closed: he cleared it, tried again. "Yes, Walter, I'd like that."

* * * * *

Scully watched as Lissa nodded a silent goodbye to Krycek who returned it. He had been very careful not to go near the little girl since he'd gotten up. Scully realized it was because of her.

She looked from her daughter to the man she had every reason to hate, to be grateful to. Sighed. Time, her mother would have said, to act like a grown-up.

She went up to him, stopping him from getting into the car. "Krycek."

He looked at her the way he always did, with eyes that seemed unemotionally assessing. Usually it made her skin crawl. Today she waited for the tingling and it didn't happen.

"I want to thank you again for what you did. For giving me back my daughter."

Krycek looked a little uncomfortable. He gave a slight nod. "You know she'll never be like the others. That she'll always be more..."

Scully smiled ruefully. "More Krycek?"

His eyes went cold again. "Yes."

Scully noticed that he had pulled his sweater over his shirt, catching the collar. She reached to release it. He stiffened, but allowed her to touch him. "Yes. Well, she has me." She finished smoothing the collar down, looked into his eyes. "And she has you. Between the two of us, she'll be fine."

And while he was still surprised she reached up and hugged him. He froze as did Lissa when she was taken unaware but, unlike Lissa, he didn't relax into the hug.

Hands still on his shoulders, she cocked her head. "No one, Alex, gets kicked out of this Scully tribe for loving you. Now," she stepped back, "go give my daughter a proper goodbye."

She watched the smile bloom on Lissa's face as Krycek neared her, her hand reaching out for him as he knelt on the top step so that they were eye to eye.

Skinner came round his side of the car and joined her.

"Is he going to be okay?" she asked him.

Skinner smiled at her. "Yes. I'm going to take him home and hold him until he accepts I'm not going to kick him out of my life because he was created in a test-tube. That he is important to me."

They watched Krycek take Lissa's hand as they walked toward them.

"You'll both come for Christmas," Scully announced.

"Are you sure?"

Scully smiled, accepted her daughter's hand from Krycek. "Yes. If it's anything like last year's circus, I'll need a couple of lion tamers. Won't we, Lissa?"

Lissa laughed.

* * * * *

Skinner had had enough.

It was time to do something.

No matter what he said, Krycek still didn't seem to believe him.

Ever since they had returned home, Krycek behaved as he had when he had first moved in. It was the same every day. He helped out in the bar, played pool with locals, did more than his fair share around the apartment. And every night, after they closed the bar, came upstairs, Krycek pushed Skinner against the wall and, by the time he allowed Skinner to move away from there, Skinner could barely concentrate enough to place one foot in front of the other on their way to the bedroom.

But worse than those days, Krycek was getting nothing at all from the act. He pushed Skinner's hands away, not letting himself be touched. After, he would pretend to be sleeping before Skinner had the breath to challenge what had just taken place.

But Skinner knew: Krycek didn't reach orgasm, didn't even get an erection.

It didn't take Skinner long to figure out that the night in the warehouse was behind Krycek's actions. But when he tried to talk about it, Krycek looked at him with that "nothing" expression that made Skinner want to hit him. Then he'd shrug, as if he didn't have the foggiest idea what Skinner was talking about, walk away.

After a week, Skinner knew they couldn't continue like this.

Scully called the bar again that evening, to reassure Skinner that all had returned to normal in the Scully circus, to let Lissa talk with Krycek. As usual, she told him about the newest book she was reading. As usual, he answered with one word, maybe two. Neither Skinner nor Scully doubted that there was more communication going on than what they were party to.

Krycek played pool with one of the old-timers, and then practised some of those fancy shots Skinner could never manage, even with two good arms. A couple of the local teenagers had begun showing up, watching Krycek's moves, trying them out when one of the other tables became free. Now and then, Krycek would look over, make a suggestion.

Skinner did some paper work, served a few late-comers, sent them home, closed up. Krycek gathered up empty bottles, glasses, mugs; Skinner washed them. Krycek placed the chairs on the tables while Skinner swept the floor.

Skinner turned off the lights, turned on the alarm system. He locked the door behind them.

He made certain that Krycek was ahead of him on the stairs going up that night by pretending that something had caught his attention.

Krycek opened the door, suddenly found himself against the wall, his body caught between it and Skinner's body, his mouth taken.

Skinner had never doubted Krycek's expertise, his greater experience in the choreography of sex. He had paid attention to the little tricks Krycek used on him to put his brain on hold. And he prided himself with being a quick learner.

He had more to work against than Krycek had with him. And, since that night in the warehouse, he now had a idea of just what it was he had to work his way through to get Krycek into the same befuddled state Krycek could so easily arouse in him.

It took longer, but when he finally pulled back, he was rather pleased with the effects of his assault.

Krycek's eyes were closed. His lower lip was already wetly swollen from Skinner's sucking, his love bites. There was a noticeable hickey developing where the throat joined the underjaw. His shirt was open, his t-shirt pushed up so that Skinner had had access to his nipples which were now hard, pushing against the soft material slowly working its way down now that no hand or mouth was keeping it up. His jeans were open, dangling on hips. A fine erect cock was nestled in the waistband of his shorts.

Skinner didn't give him any time to regroup. He captured the open mouth, filled it with his tongue. He kept that mouth where he wanted it with a hand firmly clasped to the back of Krycek's head. At the same time, he pulled the body to his, wrapped his arm around the other's waist, slowly shuffled them out of the kitchen, down the hallway and into their bedroom.

There, with first one hand, then the other, he managed to strip the clothing off Krycek's body and his own. Every time Krycek's hand came up, tried to involve itself, Skinner would capture it, firmly place it by Krycek's side and continued with whatever it was he was doing. The only time he pulled back was to remove Krycek's arm, place it safely out of the way.

He tipped Krycek back onto the bed, quickly hauled his boots off, dragging jeans and shorts off at the same time. Krycek barely had time to pull himself completely onto the bed when Skinner had removed his boots, jeans and joined Krycek.

"Wal..."

Skinner's mouth took Krycek's again, swallowing his name. This time when he pulled away, he grabbed Krycek's head between his hands and allowed him to breathe.

"Have I got your attention, Alex?" Skinner asked casually, throwing a hip over the other's to keep him from moving away.

Krycek blinked stupidly as if he had trouble understanding the question.

"Alex?" Skinner gently bit Krycek's chin. "Pay attention."

Krycek swallowed audibly. "Okay," he said, once he had caught his breath.

Skinner positioned his body on the other's so that his weight rested mainly on his elbows against the mattress but that Krycek wouldn't have an easy time if he tried to buck him off.

"I told you once, Alex, that you wouldn't be able to use sex to keep from talking. You've tried hard, but it's enough. We need to talk."

Damn, but he hated it when Alex got that blank look in his eyes. Even the colour seemed to fade.

"Let's handle this one thing at a time, Alex. The clone business first."

Krycek's head went back slightly. He paled.

"I do not care, Alex, that you are a clone. It means nothing to me. I know that...that *thing* you called Creator made a great deal out of it. Told you that it made you less than human. What was it you called yourself? Oh, yeah. An automaton."

Skinner released the tight grip he had on Krycek's head, started massaging the scalp by his fingertips.

"Bullshit, Alex. That's all it is. Bullshit."

Krycek's features began to form a denial, Skinner's mouth stopped it. "Bullshit," he spoke softly as he once more pulled back. "The only non-human in all this was that...*thing*."

He took a deep breath and continued. "As for your thinking that by the time it came to you, all humanity had been parcelled out to your *brothers*..." He stopped Krycek's protest before he could even gather the breath. "Brothers, Alex. You may all have been formed from the same cells, but you are brothers. I never want to hear the term 'co-clones' from you ever again. Do I make myself clear, Alex?"

Krycek frowned, opened his mouth then closed it. He nodded.

"Good. Now then, as I was saying. You did not get short-changed out of humanity because you were the last born. I will grant you that both you and Lissa have certain behaviours that may not be the norm, but that doesn't make either one of you less human."

He was pleased to see some wariness replace the blank expression in Krycek's eyes. Even their colour darkened.

"Now then, as to this...this so-called training you were subjected to as a child. There's a word for that. It's abuse. And even that may be too light a term for what was done to you." Krycek's eyes stopped holding Skinner's, found something to look at over his shoulder. "Alex. You were a child in the hands of a monster. Who treated you monstrously. Who tried hard to...to torture this humanity out of you that he told you you never had.

"He didn't succeed, did he? If he had, you would never have helped us, never have put your life on the line for Lissa."

Krycek's eyes found Skinner's once more.

"And while we're on the subject of humanity, there's another thing I want to clear up. You told Dana that you were the prototype while Lissa was the refined model. Alex, you are no more a prototype than Lissa is. Just as she is no more a refined model than you are. You are both people. And if you deny yourself that, then you deny it to her. Is that what you want?"

"No! But..." Krycek's discomfort with the discussion was obvious. He wriggled, trying to get out from under Skinner's body. Skinner dropped his weight down, confining him until Krycek grew still.

"No 'buts', Alex. If you're not human, neither is she. She's a clone like you are. She's a Fourth One like you are. What label you put on yourself, you put on her." Skinner knew from the expression on his face that Krcyek hadn't thought of that. And that he didn't like it.

"Alex, you know how you felt when that thing called you 'clone'. Do you want her to feel that way?"

"NO! No. She should ne...never know..." Krycek closed his eyes, but not before Skinner saw some of the pain he was hiding.

"You're right. She should never know what that feels like. And then again, neither should you. You know why you feel this way, Alex?" Skinner waited until Krycek gave a small shake of his head. "Because you love her. In spite of all that was done to you, to dehumanize you, to treat you like a thing, to turn you into a monster like they were, they didn't succeed. You are capable of love. And you are loved. By Lissa. By me."

Krycek opened his eyes again and Skinner knew the battle was not going to be that easily won. It would take time. Well, that was something they had. At least he knew Krycek wanted to believe that Skinner was right. For the first time, he saw an element of hope in Krycek's eyes.

He smiled down into the slightly worried face, bent and took possession of Krycek's mouth. "Another thing," he said as he played with it. "I thought we had agreed that fucking was for out of this bed. That in this bed, we made love. Did you think I'd forgotten that, Alex?"

Krycek shook his head. "No," his voice was thick with suppressed emotion. Skinner grinned at him: he fully intended to release all that emotion. To his benefit.

He slipped his leg between Krycek's, rubbed his thigh against the now softened cock. "Who am I, Alex?"

"Who?" Krycek blinked, confused as to where Skinner was going now.

"Yes. Who am I? What's my name?"

Krycek tilted his head to one side. It looked to Skinner that he was making a decision. "Walter."

Skinner smiled, nodded as if pleased with a student. "What am I, Alex? To you."

A frown line appeared over the bridge of Krycek's nose. Skinner bent and licked it. He pulled back up, shook his head at the expression on Krycek's face: it looked as though he needed some direction. "Am I your pal? Your friend? Your buddy? Maybe," his voice grew seductive, "your lover? What am I? Which do you want me to be?"

And he waited while Krycek found his courage.

"Please," Krycek finally whispered, "my lover."

And all the time Walter slowly caressed him, aroused him, he asked the same two questions over and over again. "Who am I, Alex? What am I?"

And all the while Alex's body made new memories of what it was like to be touched with kindness, with concern -- he was still too wary to think of it as love -- he answered, "Walter. My lover." Until he was aware only of the hands, the mouth, the body on his and the words became a litany that ran into each other. That ended in a scream of completion.

Walter kissed his sated lover, pulled him tightly into his embrace. He really should clean them both of the cum that decorated their bodies, but he didn't want to release his hold on Alex. So they would wake sticky in the morning, maybe even glued together, he thought with a dopey smile. Tonight, the holding was more important.

Alex, still dazed, snuggled close, his arm around the man who didn't think his being a clone was anything special. He rubbed his cheek against the other's throat, sighed. Decided to take a chance. "Walter," he whispered sleepily.

"Hmmmm."

"Who am I?"

Walter opened his eyes, smiled. "You're Alex."

"What am I?"

Walter tightened his hold. "My lover. You're my lover, Alex."

"Yes," said Alex, and went to sleep.

* * * * *

EPILOGUE

Dana Scully poured herself a second glass of red wine, went and sat in her favourite chair, settled her feet on the ottoman. Handel's "Messiah" was softly filling the room. She sighed, enjoying this rare moment of quiet in her home.

Her mother had come with the girls' Christmas gifts earlier in the day when they'd gone out for a drive with the Gunmen. Once, she had considered them to be more of a hindrance than help, but after the girls had been born, she had grown to respect them, to accept them, even to love them. She had no trouble readily admitting that without their help she would probably not have survived that first year.

And they took their roles as surrogate uncles very seriously, far more seriously than her brothers did. William rarely visited: he felt too uncomfortable in the presence of her clones. Charlie, well, Charlie was too often gone. Besides, he had a family of his own. He accepted the girls, but she often caught him, the few times he and his family did visit, looking at them as if he expected them to suddenly grow another head.

Her mother, on the other hand, was more than happy to spend time with her grand-daughters, delighting in pointing out to their mother the little quirks and foibles of her own behaviour as a child. What was it the nuns had once told her? What you do to your parents, your children will do to you.

Especially true when said children were you.

She took a sip of wine, listened for any noise that would force her to leave the comfort of her armchair. None.

Well, none that she need investigate. The back door opened and Walter came in with the last minute groceries she had sent him out to get for her. The girls ran through juice, milk faster than she could put it on the shelf. And since tomorrow was Christmas, she really did need extra supplies. Really, she did. Really.

She wondered, in passing, not actually worried, if Walter would see it that way.

He came into the living room, bringing with him the cold of the winter night.

"Brandy on the sideboard," she offered.

Walter grinned, poured himself a good portion. Warming the glass in his hands, he settled on the couch, slouching.

Walter, she decided, was looking far more relaxed, happier than she had ever seen him. She supposed Alex was in great part responsible for that. He raised his glass and saluted her. She smiled, raised hers in turn.

Walter took a sip, enjoying the warm fire the brandy lit in him. "Dana," he smiled at her, "where's Alex?"

The smile Dana sent him was far too innocent. He braced himself.

"In the upstairs bathroom. Giving the girls their bath."

Walter closed his eyes, rested his head back on the couch. "Dana. That's cruel. You know Alex has no experience with children and baths."

She shrugged, seemingly unconcerned. "He'll learn. And it'll be good for him. Consider it a rite of initiation into the Scully tribe. Besides, he needs to develop a relationship with all the girls, not just Lissa."

There was a loud surprised squeal from the upstairs bathroom. Neither listener moved, waiting to hear what the follow-up would be.

Silence.

Walter took a larger sip of brandy. Watched as Dana settled more comfortably in her chair.

They both quietly sat with their drinks, listening for other sounds from above. He thought Dana was going to go investigate a loud "Oh, oh!" but she didn't. He decided that she was better at this than he was. He wondered how Alex was holding out.

It had taken Alex a lot of convincing that Walter wasn't repulsed by him. Lots of love-making in their bed. He still needed that. Walter hoped he would always need that.

And Lissa had shown him the way to treat those nightmares Alex had. He would hold him, repeating the words Alex had taught Lissa until he calmed, slipped into quiet sleep.

But Alex hadn't really been certain that his joining what Dana called her 'circus' at Christmas was a good idea. Dana must have realized: Lissa had been the one to issue the invitation to him. And, Walter knew, Alex would not refuse Lissa anything.

Still, he was wary around Dana. It was obvious that she, who had always been the one to be uncomfortable around him, got a kick out of the fact that Alex kept his eyes on her whenever they were in a room together. But his tension affected Lissa who had also become wary so Dana must have decided to put an end to the situation. Walter just wished she had chosen a different way.

There was the sound of a door opening, loudly hushed whispers, bare feet running to what Dana knew was the linen closet, a return to the bathroom and the door shutting loudly.

Still, Dana didn't move. She hummed the "Hallelujah" chorus along with the CD.

"Dana?"

"Hmmmm."

"Is your insurance up to date?"

"Don't worry, it includes flooding."

Walter put down his glass, rose. "If the ceiling in the den comes down, I'm the one who's going to be sleeping under it. I'm going up to check."

"Spoilsport." But Dana went up with him.

In typical mother fashion, she pushed open the bathroom door and managed to take all the occupants by surprise. Five faces turned around, all with the same guilty expression. Walter coughed to swallow his amazement at the sight that greeted them.

The bathroom was completely wet. Not just the floors, but the walls as well. The tub was still partially filled with suds. Sink, toilet were dripping onto the piles of towels that were sopping up the water on the floor.

Four little girls stood gleaming, slippery wet. Zanna still had shampoo in her hair. Domina had a glass in hand, filled with water, about to pour it over her hair. Unfortunately, Domina was the only one in the tub. Maggie wore a suds beard on her face. Lissa was standing next to Alex who was trying, one-handedly, to dry her off with one of the still relatively dry towels.

Dana had thoughtfully suggested he take off the prosthesis before giving the girls their bath.

Which proved to be a good idea as Alex was soaking wet.

"Well," Dana had that mother tone down pat. She crossed her arms, rested a shoulder against the door jamb. Four little girls suddenly looked very remorseful. Alex draped the towel around Lissa, got to his feet.

Walter hid his smile behind his hand. Alex's jeans fairly ran with water. A puddle quickly formed at his stocking feet.

"Walter," Dana spoke over her shoulder, "would you get a couple of *dry* towels from the linen closet, please."

"Look," said Alex, "this is my fault."

Dana merely responded to that with a raised eyebrow. She moved the look to her daughters. "Is it?"

For a moment there, she thought Domina was going to accept Alex's offer to be scapegoat. She held her daughter's eyes, watched as the idea of responsibility took hold. "No."

Zanna and Maggie sighed, muttered "No," in turn. Lissa, eyes very serious, put her arm around Alex's hip and shook her head.

"It was very good of Alex to try and take the blame for this, but we all know the bath-time rules, don't we, girls?" She accepted the towels that Walter handed her. She noticed that he'd kept a couple, dropping one onto the hallway floor. She smiled at him.

"Alex, why don't you step out into the hall and let Walter dry you off. I'll handle the situation here."

Lissa patted Alex's wet hip to get his attention. They exchanged looks -- Dana was convinced that her daughter was reassuring the ex-assassin -- and without saying a word to his fellow culprits, he left the bathroom. Dana closed the door behind him, giving him the privacy to strip off his sodden clothes without an audience.

"Girls," she rested her fists on her hips, "really. How much water did you pour over that poor man?"

* * * * *

She found him in the laundry area. He and Walter had wrung out the towels, dried the bathroom as best they could while she'd tucked the girls into bed, read them a story.

She slouched against the doorway watching him.

"Alex."

He looked up from moving the towels from the washer to the dryer.

"Next time..."

"Next time?"

Dana nodded. "Next time, only one capful of bubble bath, not the half bottle Zanna convinced you to use."

Alex rested a hip against the washer. "How did you know it was Zanna?"

"Because there are *never* enough bubbles for her. And don't let Maggie draw on the walls with them. And watch out for Domina: never let her play with a glass. Funny how water always ends up on the floor when she has a glass in her hand. And now that you know that Lissa loves splashing, you should be able to pull back before she gets you. Mind you, if you keep the water level down, it won't be so much of a problem."

"Scully, you knew this was going to happen."

She gave him her innocent smile. "Yes."

"Why..." Alex stopped.

"Why didn't I warn you? Frankly, Alex, because I thought you'd have fun. Are you going to tell me you didn't?"

She watched as Alex caught his lower lip between his teeth. He took a breath, sighed. "No."

"Good. And I did it so that it would be a lesson to you."

His eyebrow asked the question.

"Not to believe everything that comes out of their mouths. My daughters are a delight. But as a gang, well, you need to be prepared for anything from them. Now you know. And with any brains on your part, they shouldn't be able to manipulate you too much."

She turned to go when he said, "You do know I would never do anything to hurt them?"

Dana came up to him, looked him straight in the eyes. "Alex. I would trust you with their lives."

And caught her astonishment when his face slowly flushed. He looked, she thought, shy. She smiled, took advantage of this moment to kiss him on the cheek. He reddened even more but met her eyes. This time she laughed aloud, slipped her arm under his and drew him away from the machines.

"Brandy," she said. "Then you can tell us all about bath-time. I really would like to know how the ceiling got wet."

NIF

 

 

Author's Note:

I have a horrible time getting titles for my stories: I often depend on the kindness of my betas to find me one.

Ratlover came through with it this time. She wrote:

Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind
No, it's not a take off on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's a classification of UFO/alien interactions with observers. According to http://www.maxpages.com/mapit/UFO_PHENOMENA they are defined as follows -

CE4-1 : Close encounter of the fourth kind : Catergory One.
These are events which are generally called abductions, but which more specifically crates severe reality distortion for the witness such as memory lapse, physiological effects, paralysis, time and space disorientation and post abduction trauma, such as inexpressible fear, anxiety and vexation.

CE4-2 : Close encounter of the fourth kind : Catergory Two.
These are events that use to be categorized as an abduction, however we believe that not all witnesses are taken forcefully against their will, thus not really being abducted. These types of experiences are those where a witnesses may voluntary assist or follow an entity to an awaiting craft of some sort, or those cases when witnesses claim to have communicated, (usually be forms of telepathy). These are those case that are simply forms of communication or interaction."

It's perfect! It has an oblique reference to the Fourth Ones, as well as Mulder's leaving with the Aliens, and Lissa's abduction (although by humans, not aliens).

All I have to add to that is: thank the gods for betas with varying interests.

Josan