Title: CHANCE ENCOUNTERS I
Story of 6 encounters
Author: Josan
Date: Written July, 1999
Posted October, 1999
Summary: A series of chance encounters can have
personal consequences.
Pairing: Sk/K
Rating: PG-13 for the first encounter.
Archive: Ratlover, CJK, Basement.
Comments: jmann@mondenet.com


DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013. But, by chance, I too encountered them.

NOTE: If there are inaccuracies in the medical details and in the behaviour of OPC, chalk it up to the fact that I never made it to the end of a St. John's Ambulance first aid film and that I have absolutely no idea how OPC actually behaves.

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

CHANCE ENCOUNTERS: This being the First (1/3)

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

Skinner did a double-take.

The man who was crossing the street ahead of him was the Third Man. That's what he had named the third of his assailants from the hospital stairwell. The other two had names: Krycek and Cardinale. The first had disappeared somewhere in Russia, the second had died in a prison cell waiting arraignment. The third had just disappeared into thin air. But now, more than two years later, had suddenly reappeared in front of him.

Carefully, Skinner followed the man. Old techniques of surveillance quickly came back. He didn't think the man had spotted him following him into building with the sign on the door: Rehearsal and Recording Studios for Rent or Lease.

There was no one in the lobby. The door to the stairwell was just closing. Skinner drew his weapon, cautiously opened the door, heard another shut below him.

He started down the stairs on cat's feet. Wouldn't it be ironic if there was a repeat of the last stairwell incident? he thought.

He got to the door, slowly pushed it open, listened for any sound before stepping out into the basement hallway.

Skinner had a glimpse of a man out of the corner of his eye before the lights went out.

He was aware of the headache, first. His stupidity at being caught without back-up, second. The fact that the room he was in had a high overhead light, but no windows, third. That his glasses lay next to his legs fourth. He put them on and came to his fifth realization.

Alex Krycek was hanging by one arm in front of him.

He got slowly to his feet. Krycek was naked, had been beaten. His body from groin up to face was a wealth of freshly administered bruises.

The fact that it was Krycek, that he was naked, that he seemed to be unconscious was diminished by the fact that his left arm ended in a stump. And that the right shoulder was hanging in such a way that indicated it was probably dislocated.

Skinner staggered up, went to Krycek and lifted his body enough so that the weight of it no longer pulled on his shoulder.

The hand was tied to a hook on the ceiling by a cord the thickness of a mooring line. With some difficulty, Skinner shifted Krycek's dead weight to his left side, and rising on tip-toe, managed to reach the knots that held the man up. It took a lot of patience, a great many tries before the last knot gave way and Krycek's arm flopped down.

Skinner dropped onto his knees at the sudden release of weight, just managing to keep Krycek's head from hitting the cement floor. He let the man down, rolled his head to ease the tension in his neck and shoulders.

He took off his coat, used it to cover Krycek. A quick inspection of the room told him it was one of those sound-proof studios he had seen advertised on the lobby door. The door was locked from the outside. Apart from a pile of clothing and a prosthetic arm, there was nothing in the room. No chairs, no tables, nothing to use as a weapon.

He checked Krycek's clothes, boots, even the arm -- reluctantly -- as a hiding place for a possible weapon. It was obvious the Third Man had had the same idea. Krycek's leather jacket had its lining ripped loose. His boots were cut: if there had been a weapon in them, it wasn't there now.

And the arm. It gave Skinner the chills to think that this was part of Krycek. What the hell had happened to him? The last he'd heard, Krycek had gotten away from Mulder in Tunguska Forest, with two good arms.

He went to check on Krycek himself.

Apart from the possibility of some cracked ribs, the main problem would be internal bleeding. So far Skinner could find no sign of that, but he wasn't a doctor. He moved from the body to the right arm. His wrist had been torn by the rope, by the struggles of Krycek's movements and weight.

The shoulder was a straight dislocation. Skinner felt carefully, but Krycek made a gasping sound. He wouldn't be unconscious much longer. Skinner acted quickly: it would be easier to reset the shoulder while Krycek was still out. It took almost no time to snap the bone back into realignment. Still, Krycek felt it: this time he moaned loudly.

There wasn't much else Skinner could do for the man. He wrapped the torn wrist in his clean handkerchief, used Krycek's sweater to make a sort of sling for his right arm, wrapping it close to his chest at the same time trying to avoid putting pressure on those ribs.

While Krycek slowly regained consciousness, Skinner finally made himself examine the mangled stump. There were burn scars, shiny in the light. Signs of a knife, of a scalpel. Of at least one operation, maybe two. Neither a success by the looks of it. Skinner had seen cleaner amputations on the battlefields of Nam.

Krycek's eyes opened and had trouble focusing. Even when they had focused, he didn't quite believe what they saw. "Skinner?" His voice was raspy, faint.

Skinner crouched by the man. "Krycek. Thought you were in Mother Russia."

Krycek tried to moisten his lips.

"Sorry. There's no water or anything liquid here."

"What time?"

Skinner looked at his watch. "Nearly five."

"Anyone missing you?"

"No. The meeting was a waste of time. I was making an early day of it."

"Back-up?"

Skinner looked a bit angry. "No." His tone indicated that no additional comment from Krycek would be welcomed. "You?"

Krycek made a sort of laughing sound, winced suddenly in pain. His eyes opened wide. "My arm!" Panic.

Skinner reached over, put his hands on Krycek's shoulders. "Krycek. Your right arm was dislocated. I set it. It's wrapped around your chest. Try not to move: you may have some cracked ribs."

But Krycek wasn't listening. Was trying to move his left arm to feel his right. Couldn't, of course. That didn't help the panic. Skinner finally had to give him a shake which sent pain cursing through his body.

"Krycek! Listen to me! Look at me! Damn it, will you look at me!"

Krycek's panicky breathing was aggravating the pain in his chest. That, combined with Skinner's tone, got through to him. He tried to control his breathing, make it shallow so as not to put too much pressure on his ribs. Finally succeeded.

"Krycek. Are you listening to me?"

"Yeah." Whispered.

"Listen. Your right shoulder was dislocated. I set it. I wrapped your sweater around you to keep the arm immobile and to keep you from hurting your ribs more. Got that? That's why you can't move it."

"But it's still there?"

"Yes. It is still there. Feel my hand on yours? Your right arm is still there. Just immobilized. Until I can get you to a doctor." He waited till he was certain Krycek understood.

"Krycek? Do you have a weapon hidden in the prosthesis? Krycek! Do you?"

Krycek opened his eyes. Now that he had been reassured about his right arm, he was having trouble focusing on anything. "Weapon?"

"Yes, Krycek. A weapon. Look, they got mine. Both of them. Even took the cell phone. Do you have anything in the prosthesis? A knife? A gun? Anything?"

Krycek had to think. "Knife. In boots."

Skinner grunted. "No. Not any more. They've been ripped apart. And so's your jacket." He tried again. "Do you have a weapon hidden in your prosthesis?"

Krycek shook his head slightly. "No."

"Shit!" Skinner gave the room another look, trying to see if there had been anything he'd overlooked. Krycek said something. Skinner looked back at him. "What? I missed that." Short. Irritated.

"I said the thing's a weapon. Heavy. Metal."

Skinner went over to the pile of clothes and picked up the fake arm. Krycek was right: the damn thing was heavy. Shit! No wonder the stump looked the way it did. He swung it a couple of times. By the straps. By the hand. Either way, it would pack a good wallop.

He picked up Krycek's clothes, brought them over to the man. "Let's get you dressed. That'll keep you warm. And when we get out of here, no one will notice the condition you're in. We don't want to attract too much attention."

It took longer than he would have liked, simply because he didn't want Krycek to lose consciousness. Finally he had gotten Krycek dressed in shorts, jeans, socks, leather jacket zipped closed to keep his arm stable. His boots were useless.

Krycek lay on the floor, Skinner's coat covering him for extra warmth. He was beginning to shiver from shock. He kept moving his fingers against his collarbone where Skinner had isolated his hand, just to reassure himself that it was still there.

Matherson had promised to cut it off before he finally killed him.

He was having enough trouble adjusting to life with only one hand: he had no intention of living with none.

"Skinner." His voice was dry, making it hard to be heard. He had to try again before Skinner heard him.

"What?"

"Help me sit up. By the door. Maybe trip one of them...when they come back."

"Shit, Krycek. There are two of them! Why didn't you..." Skinner cursed under his breath. Christ, Krycek was barely conscious. Don't take it out on him. He wasn't the fucking idiot who followed a suspect without back-up.

"You sure?" At Krycek's nod, he helped the man up, slowly got him over to just that side of the door and helped him sit down, back against the wall. He wrapped his coat around Krycek's shoulders. The move had made him realize the condition the man was in.

Krycek tried to find a position that would help lessen the pressure on his ribs. He didn't give their chances a high percentage of success. But sitting here, with luck, he might get one of the men to shoot him while he still had an arm.

He dozed a bit, waking every time his head fell forward because of the sudden pull of the muscles on his shoulders. The right one was especially painful with what had to be strained ligaments.

It was after seven when they heard noise at the door. Krycek looked to Skinner, who stood, the prosthesis harness wrapped tightly around his hand. Like Krycek, he knew they didn't have much of a chance. It would all depend on timing and luck.

The two men concentrated on the door. Krycek had pulled up the leg closest to the door opening and put all the anger, all the strength he had left into a kick that caught the first man just above the ankle, snapping it. He screamed just as Skinner hit him with the arm.

Matherson, who was behind him, tried to slam the door shut, but his partner, now unconscious, lay partially in the doorway. Skinner had picked up the man's gun in his left hand, not his best shooting hand, but good enough to fire a couple of times and convince Matherson to get out as quickly as possible.

Skinner pursued him to the stairwell, realized that he would never catch him as he heard the upper door close and decided to get Krycek out instead.

Krycek was not conscious. Lay on his more injured side. Skinner barely spared a glance for the other man. He dragged Krycek out to the hallway and shut the door on their assailant. He stowed the prosthesis in the arm of his coat, wrapped the coat around Krycek, buttoned it.

Taking a chance that his ribs were only bruised, that there was no internal bleeding, Skinner hoisted Krycek over his shoulder, in a fireman's hold, and, gun in his right hand, he got both of them out of the building.

He kept to the shadows, thankful that at this time of the year, darkness came early. And that in this part of town, the few people they passed believed in minding their own business.

Actually made it back to his car without attracting the attention of anybody.

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

"How is he?"

Joe Fischer looked up from washing his hands. He had been a doctor in Marines for twenty years, a poker buddy of Skinner's off and on for almost thirty, and now worked at a free clinic in the DC war zone.

"A couple of bruised ribs. Best left alone. Abrasions and contusions. I've bandaged the wrist; change it as you see fit, then leave it to the air. The rest don't need any special attention. I'll leave some antibiotic cream for all those."

"Right shoulder, strained and torn ligaments. Keep him bound up like I've done. That'll hurt like hell. You got codeine around? Good. Give him some of that."

"Left stump. Severely traumatized. Whoever did that to him was a butcher. And so was the asshole who tried to clean it up. Fairly recent. In the last year. That prosthesis thing is too heavy, too ill-fitting to be of much use. He should have one of those new ones with electrodes and computer chips, but he'll need surgery for that."

"Apart from that, he needs feeding up: he's underweight."

Joe had wiped his hands, come out of the bathroom off Skinner's bedroom, was looking again at his patient. He had sedated Krycek as soon as he had ascertained there was no chance of concussion. "He'll sleep till morning at least, probably longer. That's what he needs the most: sleep."

He looked at his poker buddy. "I just want to point out to you, in passing, that I haven't asked why you haven't taken him to a hospital. Why you've asked me to keep his presence here a secret. I'm assuming that you have good reason for him to be here. You being an FBI assistant director and all.

"And I don't want to know what his name is. But I will tell you that his body tells me he's living hard. And those calluses he has on his hand and feet tell me you'd better be on his good side.

"So, I will be checking in on my patient...and you...over the next few days."

Skinner grinned. "I like the way you mind your own business, Joe. And thanks. I do appreciate all this."

"Enough to let me win a couple of hands?"

Skinner laughed.

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

Krycek woke stupid.

He was wrapped in a cocoon of warmth and beyond that his mind didn't want to know.

Eventually some things made their way into awareness. The smell of clean sheets. The softness of the pillow. The comforting heaviness of blankets.

So he was in a bed. When was the last time he actually lay in a bed? he asked himself. A clean one. He found himself pondering over that as if it were a question whose answer might solve the problems of the world.

He fell asleep still pondering.

The next time he woke, he tried to move just to make himself a bit more comfortable. Pain flared from his right shoulder and he forgot to be stupid.

He kept still, waiting for the pain to subside. Remembered Matherson and his partner stumbling across him by merest bad fortune down at the Circle. The guns in his back, the car drive to the studio. Matherson's delight with his prosthesis.

Panic waved through him. His arm! Shit! He couldn't feel his arm!

Hadn't felt the left in some time: he was beginning to accept that, still not quite used to that.

But the right! Matherson had promised he'd have a matching set of arms by the time he got through with him. He tried to move his right arm and couldn't.

Panic was making him breathe hard, made his ribs hurt, his stomach.

But the only thing he was aware of was the fact that he couldn't move, couldn't feel his right arm or hand.

Jesus! He was barely surviving with the left one gone. How would he with no arms? You couldn't kill yourself with no arms.

Panic, fear, terror overwhelmed him. The warm cocoon had become a prison, a place of torment.

He was trying to pull out of it when hands forced him back, held him down. A voice he knew in the back of his mind but couldn't place was speaking over his terror.

Finally, Skinner gave up trying to get through to the wild animal struggling beyond sense in the bed. He raised his hand and slapped him hard on the side of his face that was less battered.

And again.

"Krycek! Stop it! You're only hurting yourself!"

Even then Krycek was beyond reason. Finally Skinner could make out words in the sounds coming out of the man's mouth. My arm. Over and over again. Barely coherent.

Skinner hauled Krycek up to a sitting position, captured the flailing head between his two hands and held it still. "Krycek!" He enunciated every syllable carefully, forcefully, hoping the tactic would penetrate the nightmare. "Krycek! Your arm is all right. Nobody has cut it off. Listen to me. You still have an arm!"

Krycek stopped struggling, tried to focus on the face speaking the words. A part of him told him the words were important, that he should listen to them. A larger part of him just wanted to scream. Slowly the balance of power shifted and he listened.

Recognized the words. Recognized the voice.

Skinner.

What was ... The studio. At the studio. Skinner was there with him. Was with him now. This was a bed, not the studio. There hadn't been a bed at the studio. So where were they?

And the words were beginning to make sense. He tried to get past the fear to listen to the sense of the words Skinner was giving him.

Skinner saw Krycek begin to understand, saw the panic be pushed down, heard the breathing become less stressed. He continued repeating the words that Krycek seemed to need most: "You still have an arm."

The body between his hands slowly lost its rigidity, the head became almost too heavy for the neck to hold upright.

Skinner moved closer so that Krycek could rest against him. He used one hand to brace the man against him, the other to stroke, in calming motion, the back of the head, the neck, the top of the hunched shoulder. The drugs must have made him forget yesterday's conversation.

"Krycek. Are you listening?"

Krycek nodded his head against the large shoulder that supported him. "Yes." More of a croak than a whisper.

"Your right arm is still there. Got that?" Another slight head movement. "It's bound up because your shoulder was dislocated. The ligaments need time to heal and the doctor doesn't want you moving them around. So he bound up your arm." He shifted Krycek a bit in his arms. "Feel that? That's my hand. I'm touching your hand. Krycek?"

Krycek swallowed against the pain that was gradually making itself felt. He realized that he could feel Skinner's hand. And that it was touching his hand. He released some of the residual panic and fear in a sigh. Nodded his head. "Yes. I can feel it. Your hand. My hand." A deep breath that hitched as soon as ribs protested. "Sorry."

Skinner carefully lay the man back down on the bed. Krycek's eyes were closed, his face white against the bruises of yesterday's beating, his torso damp with the sweat of fear. He could see the pulse in his throat still jumping.

"There's nothing to be sorry about." He kept his hands on Krycek's shoulders until the pulse settled.

Krycek felt the mattress shift as Skinner got up. A moment later he heard water running nearby. Then Skinner was back, hand under his head, raising it for the glass he held at his lips.

"Slowly. Your ribs don't need any more action. No coughing, Krycek."

The water was cold, wet. His mouth was parched, foul with the after effects of his panic. He drank slowly, letting the coolness wash some sanity into him.

Then the hand released his head on the pillow and seconds later a blessedly cool cloth passed over his face, neck, upper chest removing the smell of his fear.

He opened his eyes to find Skinner's watching him, waiting to see if there was going to be a repeat of his panic. Krycek's eyes tracked beyond Skinner to case out the room. Survival instincts were finally back in the forefront. He didn't recognize the place.

"You're in my bedroom."

Krycek's eyes came back to his, wary, but panic and fear gone back to whatever place he stashed them in. "Your bedroom? Well, at least it's warmer than your balcony."

Skinner quirked an eyebrow at the reference.

"What am I doing in your bedroom, Skinner?"

Well, thought Skinner, the boy recovers quick. "Your ex-partner is still on the loose. He'll have a harder time getting to you here than in a hospital."

Krycek moved a bit, trying to find a position that might be easier on his shoulder. "He was working on his own. He knows I owe him for the car bomb. He wants to get me before I get him." Krycek closed his eyes. "Because I will get him."

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

The next time Krycek woke, he remembered where he was, how he'd come to be here, that he still had one arm. Skinner was not around.

There was daylight in the bedroom, making its way past the curtains in the window. Slowly moving his head as to avoid any pain, he checked out the room, figured out that the bathroom was behind the partially shut door.

And right now that was an important piece of information. Because he needed to piss badly. It took him some time and a nearly bitten lip to move his body up the bed to the headboard. Which gave his spine the backing it needed to push himself into a sitting position. From there to swinging his legs out from under the sheets and to the floor.

He sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for the worse of the pain to recede before he tried standing. If he fell, he had no guarantee that he would be able to get himself back onto his feet. He really didn't want Skinner to come back from wherever he was -- probably work -- and find him lying in a pool of piss on the bedroom floor.

At which point he heard someone make a noise.

There, standing in the doorway of the bedroom, was a large black man, shoulder leaning against the jamb, arms crossed on a Skinner-type chest. He was watching Krycek with a bit of a smile on his heavy-featured face. There was a thick moustache under his large nose. A clean-shaven head over it.

"Don't panic, boy, I'm your doctor." The man didn't move from his place. He waited till the other man had accepted that information. "Skinner was right about you."

Krycek didn't react to that goad. Just waited, like his "doctor".

"He said that you were a ratbastard with guts." Fischer straightened and strolled into the room. He shook his head, his glare somewhat intimidating. "All you had to do, boy, was call out."

He helped Krycek to his feet. Supported him into the bathroom. Used one hand to keep him on his feet, the other to direct his penis into the toilet. Krycek silently cursed to himself the whole time his bladder emptied itself: this is what his life would be like if Matherson got to him first.

Fischer was very aware of the "boy's" feelings. He had helped enough double amputees in his career to interpret the signs. Still, this one would recover the use of his arm quickly enough, so he had no intention of wasting sympathy on him. Before returning him to bed, Fischer helped Krycek brush his teeth, gave him a very quick sponge bath.

"Those bruises of yours would make Picasso proud," he commented. "You're lucky Skinner came across you when he did. Apart from the shoulder and bruised ribs, you're doing fine."

Krycek said nothing. Had pushed deep within himself when he realized just how helpless he was in his present state. He didn't respond to the other's teasing tone, just waited for whatever was going to happen.

Fischer took a good look at his patient as he got him back into bed. The boy looked to be in the preliminary stages of shock: eyes almost black, no expression at all on his face, body doing as he asked of it. Mind hidden somewhere.

Fischer propped him up on the pillows, taking care not to aggravate the ribs, the shoulder. He went and got the tray he had left on the landing when he'd heard the irregular breathing of a man doing something he wasn't supposed to be doing.

Krycek slowly became aware of the mug of soup held to his mouth. "Come on, boy, snap out of it!" His eyes began to focus more. "That's better. You've only got a disabled shoulder. You haven't lost the arm. Give it a week, and you'll be able to put it to all sorts of uses."

He watched as some colour came back into Krycek's face. "Drink, boy. It's soup and it'll help chase the chills away."

Krycek had almost finished the large mug when it finally struck him that his doctor kept referring to him as "boy" in a Skinner tone. He raised his head and really looked at the man. "You're a Marine."

Fischer quirked an eyebrow at the comment. "What makes you say that?"

Krycek forced himself to relax. This was nothing more than a client who had to be humoured. "You've got the same barber as Skinner."

Fischer surprised him with a chuckle. "Not bad, boy. You'll live."

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

The fact that he would live didn't balance the humiliations of daily living.

By the second day of his stay, he wanted nothing more than to tear off the bandages that immobilized his arm. Both Fischer and Skinner had taken turns helping him to the bathroom, cleaning him. Helping him eat, wiping his face when he accidentally slobbered. And, in spite of the continual reassurance from both men that it was just a matter of time before he got the use of his arm back, Krycek was beginning to drop into severe depression.

"It's not just this episode," Fischer said to Skinner Friday evening as he got ready to leave. "I'm willing to bet that he still hasn't adjusted to losing the other arm. It's normal to be depressed at this stage of acceptance. Besides, he's got nothing else to do but stew about it. He'll get out of it when he's got the arm back and he's not dependant on anyone to wipe his ass for him."

That hadn't stopped the nightmares. He'd often had dreams, most of which he didn't remember when he woke up. Usually, he would find himself sitting up in bed, gasping for breath, not sure what it was that had awakened him.

Now and then, it would be worse: he would remember, near to screaming, heart pounding, covered in sweat. Those were the nights he didn't go back to sleep. That he used either to move on to another place, or to go for a long walk till he had shoved his ghosts back into the compartment in his brain where they stayed till their next sortie.

That night, his nightmares mixed themselves.

He was back in Tunguska, on the ground by the fire. They were holding him down, sitting on his legs, his chest, his right arm. The old man had wrapped a rope around his left wrist, was pulling it taut all the while pushing against his ribs, his armpit with booted feet.

In his dream, Krycek turned his head to see the butcher approach him with the white-hot blade. Yelling curses, he tried to push the men off him, to pull away. But they were very experienced at holding people down.

The butcher knelt at his shoulder. Someone tore his shirt sleeve down. The old man tightened his grip and pulled back even harder.

The blade cut and seared at the same time. Krycek couldn't believe the pain. His curses changed to screams.

The blade hit bone, but the butcher was prepared for that. At his signal, someone with a hammer hit the wide top of the blade with just the right amount of force to slice through the bone and continue its cutting.

The old man fell backwards.

Someone took the bloodied knife from the butcher and handed him another one, also white-hot. He was going to go over the cut to make sure it was thoroughly seared.

In Tunguska, Krycek had finally fainted at this point, but in his dream the butcher became Matherson who, laughing, was pointing with a white-hot blade at his other shoulder.

Krycek screamed and screamed again.

At the first scream, Skinner had run up from the living room couch where he was sleeping. He turned on the light to the bedroom as he entered, barely stopping on his way to the screaming man.

Krycek was thrashing on the bed, entangled in the bedclothes, out of his head with images only he could see. Skinner grabbed the man, tried to keep him from hurting himself, all the while calling out his name.

Krycek's eyes had rolled back into his head. The scream diminished only because Krycek had run out of breath. And he wasn't inhaling.

Skinner slapped him hard, forehand and backhand. "Come on, damn you, breathe!" And again. "Breathe, Krycek, breathe."

And finally Krycek did breathe. A hitching, raspy breath, but an inhalation nevertheless. Then an exhalation.

"That's it, boy. Do it again. And again. Good. You've got it."

But with breath came terror and Skinner watched as Krycek went from shock to hysteria.

He tried hard to fight him off, used his upper body as a battering ram until Skinner just dropped his own body on top of Krycek's to keep him still. All the time talking, trying to get through to him. To get him out of that nightmare world that was doing its damnest to suck him back in.

He held the younger man tightly in his arms, stroking the trembling body, calling his name, reassuring him that he was awake.

Krycek just kept on trying to escape, to pull away from the men who had hurt him, from the man who was threatening to maim him forever. Not understanding the voice that spoke to him.

Eventually Skinner's patience wore out. He sat up, pulled Krycek up with him and shook him hard. "Krycek! Where are you? Krycek!" He sharpened his tone to one he used when he had been ready to ream, in Nam, one of those fucking West Point idiots they had sent over as officers who, instead of leading them, were putting their lives in danger.

The tone got through to Krycek. He knew the voice had nothing to do with Tunguska, nothing to do with Matherson. He tried hard to concentrate on it.

"That's it, Krycek. Don't let it control you. Get a handle on it. Come on, boy, don't let it get to you."

Skinner watched as Krycek's eyes began to green again, to focus. To push the nightmare aside, to hold onto his eyes as a lifeline out of the nightmare.

"Skinner?" His throat was raw from his screams.

"That's right. Skinner." He pulled the shivering man close to him, pulled the blanket around so that he could cover Krycek's back, hoping the extra warmth would help soothe the man.

Krycek dropped his head to rest against Skinner's collarbone. The residual nightmare threatened to overcome him again. He tried to swallow his fear, tried to remind himself that he was safe -- as safe as he could ever be -- here in Skinner's arms, not by some fire or hanging by some rope in a sound-proof studio.

Skinner could feel Krycek trying to control his breathing, his memories. He pulled the head close to his chest, one big hand just holding it there, the other gently massaging the tight neck and shoulder muscles.

Krycek made a small noise.

"Hey, it's all right. You're safe here." Skinner repeated the words over and over.

And because he wanted to believe it, had to, Krycek let the terror, the fears not only of the nightmare, but of the past year, flow out.

Skinner heard the first sob breaking from the man echo in the trembling of his body. He wrapped his arms around the weeping man, holding him even tighter, yet always aware of his physical condition.

He held Krycek, gently rocking him in his arms, making soothing sounds that weren't words. Rested his own head on Krycek's, just letting the man get through his pain.

It took a long time for the sounds of weeping to soften, become exhaustion, to fade into sleep.

All that time Walter Skinner held Alex Krycek until he too, just before dawn, fell asleep.

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

The morning wasn't much better.

Krycek lay like a rag doll doing whatever Skinner told him to, but other than that, nothing.

Fischer looked at his patient differently this morning. His face still bore the signs of last night's nightmare and weeping. He'd bitten his lip at some point. His eyes were almost black: Fischer was certain that in bright light, Krycek would be blind.

"Krycek." He tried to keep his voice even yet sharp, a way of penetrating the fog the man was in. "Krycek. I'm going to unwrap your arm. I need to see just where those ligaments are.

"Skinner here is going to help me. He's going to prop you up."

Skinner moved behind Krycek, sat so he could hold the man up. Fischer started unwrapping the bandages that confined Krycek's arm, talking all the while he was doing it, basically describing every action of his hands.

"There, that's the last of the binding. Now, I've got your hand and I'm placing my other hand on your shoulder. Okay, Krycek, this is where I need you. I need you to bend your elbow. Nothing else. Just bend the elbow. Pull up your hand. Krycek! Do it!"

Krycek turned his head to the order. What did the voice want him to do? Oh, yeah, pull up his hand. Could he do that?

"Alex. Pull up your hand."

Skinner's voice he recognized. And did as he had been told.

"Good. That's real good. Okay, now look at me, Krycek. Really look at me."

Krycek focused on the voice, felt it pull him out of the fog.

"That's it. You're doing fine. Look at me." Fischer was happier with the way Krycek was holding his head, was beginning to squint with his eyes, even the way he swallowed. "Welcome back, boy."

"Now listen, because if you don't, this is going to hurt like hell. I want to see just how far healed those ligaments are. I don't want any heroics from you, understand? I need to know the moment there's any pain. And I need to know just how severe it is. Got that?"

Krycek nodded slightly. "No heroics," he rasped.

The next minute or so lasted forever. He had some movement in the shoulder but nowhere near enough for Fischer to leave the shoulder unbound.

"Okay. Here's what we're going to do. Krycek, are you listening to me? The shoulder still needs to be kept immobile, so I need to wrap it again. But this time I'll just bind you above the elbow. You'll need to keep the arm in a sling, but you should be able to use the lower half of your arm. On the condition that you use it only to the point of pain. More than that, the ligaments will take longer to heal. You got that?"

Fischer talked him through the binding, watching carefully as Krycek fought off the panic that was never far away. When he had finished, he helped Skinner prop Krycek up on pillows. Gave him some water to drink.

"Now, I'm going to examine the other shoulder. And I want you to tell me how that happened."

Krycek lay on the pillows, eyes closed, waiting for the pain in his shoulder to diminish to a throb. His hand, freed against his stomach, played with the waistband of the sweats they'd put on him. The fingers felt stiff, but they were there, feeling and being felt on his skin.

"Mulder told me about Tunguska," Skinner was speaking now. He found it easier to focus when Skinner was the one speaking. "I know what happened to you until you dropped out of the back of the truck. What happened next, Krycek?"

It took a couple of tries before he could get the words out. The two men listened, Fischer wincing when he heard how the arm had been amputated and again when Krycek answered his questions about follow-up care, the attempt by an improperly equipped rural physician to clean up the mess. No anaesthetic for the first, barely any for the second. No wonder the man had nightmares.

Skinner was the one who got him talking about Matherson's threats.

Krycek hadn't moved at all during the telling, voice barely changing in tone. Now, his voice began revealing the fear he was dealing with, with varying success.

"Matherson said he was going to cut off my arm. Use a blow torch to cauterize it." He took a breath to get the fear back down. Continued after a moment. "Ham- string me. He said he'd keep me around to entertain him and his pals. When I bored them, he might kill me. Or just pass me on to someone else."

"Jesus Christ!" Fischer glared at the unseeing man. "Nice bunch of people you hang around with!" But he filled a syringe and with a gentle touch, injected the drug into Krycek's hip.

"It's just a light dose," he explained to Skinner. "He'll sleep for three, maybe four hours. Then, even though his ribs and shoulder need the rest, get him out of bed. Move him downstairs, onto the couch. Get him to watch TV, listen to music, anything.

"And though I'd rather he not use the hand, get him to do a few easy things with it. Maybe if he feels less constricted, he'll be able to fight that depression off faster."

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

Which is how Krycek found himself, late Saturday afternoon, propped up on Skinner's couch, watching a football game. It wasn't a sport that interested him much. But the fact that for Skinner it was more than a spectator sport was beginning to penetrate even his foggy brain.

Skinner graphically commented on the action, the play selections, the players, the coaches, the referees. Even argued with the commentators. Krycek found himself watching the game so he could understand Skinner's reactions.

At one point, Skinner went into the kitchen and came back with a couple of drinks; beer for himself, a soft drink with a straw for Krycek. It wasn't that easy for him to get the straw to his mouth, but the fact that he could do so had the desired effect: he relaxed into the pillows that were stacked behind him.

Skinner tried to keep supper to things Krycek could manage on his own. Soup with a straw. Sandwich cut up small enough for him to manoeuvre with a long fork without making a mess.

He'd gone out and rented some stupid comedy Fischer had recommended just so the evening would be more relaxed. The movie was so bad that for a few minutes Skinner was afraid that the idea would backfire. Then, suddenly, Krycek came out with the next line of dialogue before the actors did, and it became a bit of a game between them as to who could guess the next scene, the next bit of dialogue before the film itself.

So that getting Krycek ready for bed was less stressful for the man than it had been up till then. There had been, for Krycek, a sudden rise in tension when he realized that Skinner would be sleeping in the bed with him.

"Sorry, Krycek, even for you I can't stand another night on that couch." Skinner turned off the light, stripped to his shorts, and casually got into bed. He pounded his pillow into the shape he preferred, yawned, turned his back to Krycek. " 'Night."

Krycek wondered just how real all that was, fought off sleep until he heard Skinner's soft snore. He hated to admit it to himself, but the time downstairs had tired him out. He made himself just a bit more comfortable on the pillows, and went to sleep.

When the nightmare grabbed hold of him, Skinner was there to wake him up before he got to the screaming stage. Skinner moved so that he could hold Krycek back against him, arm around the man's waist, anchoring him against his chest. "Go back to sleep, Krycek. I'll keep the nightmares away."

On thinking about it, Krycek found he believed Skinner and slept through the rest of the night.

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

The next morning, Skinner carefully unbound Krycek's shoulder and got him into the shower. He didn't leave him alone; Fischer didn't want him falling and re- injuring that shoulder.

For Krycek, the pleasure of just standing in the water far outweighed the fact that Skinner had to wash him down. Still, when he was covered in shampoo and soap, Skinner moved him under the spray so at least he got to rinse himself off.

Instead of the sweats he'd been wearing, Skinner helped him don his own jeans, now freshly laundered. One of Skinner's old sweaters went on, leaving him with enough space to move his hand.

"You want that beard to stay on or come off?"

Krycek looked at his reflection in the bedroom mirror. "Off."

Between the shave, the shower, the clothes, Krycek thought that maybe he might just survive after all.

The discovery that they both played chess helped put Krycek's brain back into gear. The first couple of games were basically time fillers, a way of getting through the morning until Skinner's football game started on TV.

The third game, played during lunch, gave each glimpses of the other's strategies. Skinner spent the afternoon looking up for replays and trying to figure out just where Krycek was going with his queen. Krycek discovered that though Skinner was a traditionalist in his moves, he had more than enough military experience to manipulate those traditions.

When the football game was over, Skinner filled his CD player with jazz, ordered in Chinese, and settled down to warfare with Krycek.

They went to bed late, still arguing a couple of moves from the last game. And when the nightmare came, Skinner pulled the still sleeping Krycek into his arms, who, once aware who was holding him, settled back into a dreamless sleep.

Skinner got him up early the next morning. Helped him wash, dress, showed him where things were in the kitchen. "Try to keep the place passably clean, will you? And don't set any fires."

Krycek smiled. "Can I throw anyone off the balcony?"

Skinner glared at him as he was checking his briefcase. "Don't even think about it. Fischer said he'll drop in on his way to the clinic, around one. He's got a key to the place, but he'll buzz before he opens the door."

Fischer was far better pleased with Krycek than he expected to be. He was proving to be sensible about using his hand. And he had to agree, Krycek did indeed seem to be a fast healer. The shoulder was much better, he had far more mobility than his last examination. This time, when he bound up the upper arm, he left the bandage much looser so that Krycek would have still more manoeuvrability.

"How's the other shoulder?"

"Twitches now and then."

"How bad is the phantom pain? And don't tell me you don't have any."

Krycek grimaced. "Sometimes bad. Starts for no reason. Goes away for no reason. I get the feeling that if I could just rub my hand, the pain would go away."

"Another operation might help with the pain level. And the frequency. But from what I've read, the phantom pain thing will probably be with you till they bury you."

Krycek grunted. Made no comment about the operation. Fischer didn't let it go. "You should do some serious thinking about that, Krycek. You need some clean-up to be able to wear one of those new prosthesis. The old ones all require harnesses and straps, and they're cumbersome.

"And you might like to remember over here I can guarantee you'd be out completely for the operation. And the recovery couldn't be any worse than what you're feeling now."

Skinner came home to find a fairly clean kitchen, Krycek watching CNN, and the chess board set up for a game. He changed into jeans and a sweater, threw a store-made lasagna into the microwave, made a salad. They ate over the chess board, Skinner challenging Krycek to explain "Just where the fuck are you going with that move?"

Over the next couple of days, Krycek's ribs tolerated more pressure, his shoulder more mobility. Fischer added some gentle exercises to Krycek's routine: he had returned to his daily regime of stretching and kicking, a sort of self-adapted form of Tai Chi.

Thursday, Skinner came home with a foul headache, stinking of cigarette smoke. He vented off to Krycek about that "cigarette-smoking bastard" who had spent most of the day, sitting in his office, polluting the air with his endless smokes, "Looking at me all day long like he knew something, like a cat who knows the canary is his."

He didn't notice Krycek's reaction to that.

Krycek sat on the couch, listening to Skinner grouch, slowly exercising his arm all the while.

He knew his time here was at an end. That he should have in fact left a couple of days ago. But it was a rarity in his life, this feeling of safeness, the pleasure of taking time for a chess game, playing it, analyzing it. Of sharing a bed, of being held, with no mention of payment, with no expectations of performance on his part.

Skinner had bought him another pair of boots to replace the ones Matherson had sliced up. Had had his jacket repaired. Krycek knew where Skinner kept his spare revolver, his real spare, not the Bureau issued one. The ammo to go with it.

He was very quiet that evening. Skinner had files to read, so Krycek lay on the couch, eyes shut, just listening to the soft jazz playing in the background.

When Skinner took his shower, Krycek hid the gun and ammo in his jacket, left his boots by the door. He took some money out of Skinner's wallet, added it to his jacket. Made sure his prosthesis was in the closet by the door.

Upstairs, when he undressed, he folded his clothes, added a sweater of Skinner's to the pile, got into bed. He wanted some more time between clean sheets.

Skinner went through his bedtime routine before settling down. Krycek waited till Skinner's snores were deep and regular before he slipped out. With careful moves so as to not alert the sleeping man, he straightened his side of the bed so that it looked as though no one had used it. Checked out the bathroom.

Downstairs, he dressed quickly, looked around so that nothing that could be identified as his was lying around. He did one last thing he hoped Skinner would understand, and then left.

A finger leaning on his doorbell woke Skinner up. It was barely five o'clock. He turned to see if Krycek...the bed was smoothed down. He grabbed his robe and went to see who was on the bell.

"Ah, Mr. Skinner. We seem to have gotten you out of bed."

Jesus! Shit!, thought Skinner, what the fuck is that bastard doing here?

"What do you want?" Skinner blocked the Smoker's way into his apartment: he may have to endure him at the office, but this was his home and it was off-hours.

One of the two men behind the Smoker pulled out a badge identifying him as an agent with OPC. "We would like to speak to you about a matter that has come to our attention. Assistant Director Skinner."

Skinner sighed deeply, drawing out the moment. This explained the smoothed half of the bed. He stepped back, silently allowing the men in.

While one of them checked out the downstairs, the other went upstairs. The Smoker took out a cigarette, was about to light it when Skinner took it out of his mouth. "Not in my home you don't." And held the Smoker's eyes till he put the lighter back in his pocket.

"Who are you playing chess with, AD Skinner?"

Skinner moved into the living room, looked down at the chess board that last night had been lined up for a new game. He raised an eyebrow at the OPC agent who till now had not found anything he was looking for. "It's a problem move that I'm working out. Sort of like the problem you seem to be posing me. Just what is it that you're looking for here, in my apartment?"

The agent looked over Skinner's shoulder to the other man now standing by the Smoker. "Sorry, Assistant Director. We were given some information that we might find a known felon hiding here. I'm sure you understand that we had to check it out."

Skinner got that look that made so many of his agents under him fidget. This man, as the silence grew, was no exception. "Well," Skinner spoke very softly, "maybe next time you'll double check your information before waking me up before the crack of dawn. Are you leaving now?"

The man nodded once, stepped around Skinner who didn't move out of his way. He and the other agent quickly left the apartment. Skinner and the Smoker exchanged glacial glares.

The Smoker took out a cigarette, put it in his mouth. "Next time, Skinner." He paused just outside the still open door to light his cigarette.

Skinner waited till he heard the sound of elevator doors closing before he went to shut the door.

He returned to the chess board. He had no trouble recognizing the set up. Krycek was warning him to protect himself.

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

About a month later, Skinner came home to find a message from Fischer on his answering machine, telling him to put on the news.

The phone rang again as the hourly newscast began.

"You watching the news, Walt?"

"I just got in, Joe. Give me time to listen to it."

The lead feature was about a car bombing in which two men had died. One of the men had a long list of arrests to his credit, a man who had often used the name David Matherson as an alias. The other dead man was as yet unidentified.

"Hold on, it gets better." Fischer said.

"In an unrelated incident, there was a second car bombing in which a known drug dealer was killed."

"How is this better?" Skinner muttered into the phone, still mulling over the details of the first bombing.

"Remember the night I was telling you how some new guy was whipping up a war in the zone by the clinic. A guy who didn't see the clinic as being a neutral part of the zone. The guy whose goons had threatened a couple of my nurses. Your boy was paying much more attention than we thought."

Skinner was happy that he had had the phone line checked out for wire taps that morning. "What makes you say it was my boy?"

"The guy and his goons were all in that limo when it went up. Rumour has it they had just bought themselves a briefcase full of crack. Paid for it in cash.

"Well, a case full of cash was dropped off here this evening, just as I was closing up. I counted it. $327,635. And there was a note in the case, addressed to me. Said 'Payment for services'." His voice registered his appreciation. "Your boy is good."

Skinner rubbed his eyes. "You going to keep it?"

"Shit, Walt, the clinic doesn't get any funding whatsoever, not even a nominal amount from the city since cut-backs. What the hell do you think?"

The next week, a parcel arrived for Skinner in the Bureau's daily mail. There was a tape in it with a note: "Keep in a safe place. Use as needed."

Skinner waited until he was home before listening to the tape. It was a telephone conversation between the Smoker and a voice that was often in the news these days, a man recently acquitted of racketeering charges in Maryland.

Their conversation dealt with money laundrying, making it very obvious that the Smoker was setting up a deal for the racketeer, for a percentage. And part of the tape also made it clear that this conversation had occurred after the man's acquittal.

Skinner tossed the tape in the air and caught it.

Fischer was right: his boy was good.

*******************************************************
End of Part 1
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