Beta: RJ, aka The Wicked Beta of the West Thanks also to LShan who "alpha-ed"
Date: Posted August, 2000
Pairing: Sk/K
Summary: An event on a plane has consequences
Rating: NC17
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: WSS and AK are the property of CC, Fox and 1013: please, use them in Season 8.
DEDICATION: to RJ. Who made me re-write, who did not budge when she thought something needed more work than I was at first willing to give it, who maintained her sense of humour through it all. Who was right far too many times than I would like to admit.
Thanks RJ.


11 p.m. Wednesday

Just as the last plane out of Montreal for D.C. landed, five young men leaped out of their seats, screaming at the stewardesses: two rushed the cockpit and suddenly, the DC9, half-filled with tired people, was the focus of a law enforcement frenzy and a nation-wide media circus.

 

It was, thought Skinner, the perfect ending to a perfect day.

That morning, his opposite number at the RCMP had suffered a heart attack and had been carried out of the meeting room. Skinner had later learnt that the man who was a year younger than himself had died on the way to the hospital.

The other members of the team hadn't wanted to continue discussions after that so, two days early, Skinner had changed his reservations for the first available seat and now found himself in the middle of a hijacking.

Worse still was the fact that no one knew he was on board, wouldn't when they got the passenger list because the secretary who had made the changes for him had gotten his name wrong: for this flight he was Val Tersk Innaire. She had been upset by the medical situation and had lost all her English. Fortunately, no one had asked him to confirm who he was since the tickets had been delivered to his hotel room. She'd gotten that right.

The hijackers had the captain taxi the plane to a little used area under threat of killing the co-pilot. Skinner figured the captain had been persuasive enough to get permission. Probably, he had recognized the killing potential of what had to be those new space-age plastic guns the Idiots -- as he thought of them -- were carrying.

In the main cabin, he could make out the sound of several people crying, at least two babies, someone praying out loud. He closed his eyes for a minute, rested his head against the seat. Wouldn't it be ironic, after all the bullshit he'd been through this past year -- what with in-camera meetings dealing with the list of traitors, the resolution of the situation with the Consortium (of which none in high authority seemed to have survived), the Aliens and the Rebels -- having come through that with most of his reputation intact, he should die in a fucking hijacking pulled off by boys with "toys".

The Idiot who seemed to be the leader was, from the little he could see of the man around the seat in front of him, in his early twenties, outfitted in the kind of grunge look that Upper Class preppies seemed to think lower class people wore, but that, in reality, they never could dream of affording.

The three others that he could see with him were younger, probably from 17 to 20, all with that smooth look, language that belied their costumes. They were high, excited, gesturing wildly with their weapons.

He found himself wondering where the hell their parents were? Probably at some meeting where they were getting in touch with their inner selves while their kids were off somewhere raising havoc. Someone should have spanked these kids when they had needed it.

But the Idiots weren't as stupid as they acted. First, the leader demanded that all window screens be pulled down so that no one inside the plane could see out and no one outside could see in. Then he insisted that all cell phones, laptops, notebooks were to be handed over to the stewardess who would come down the aisle with a garbage bag. After this, anyone caught with any of these items would be shot.

For a moment there, Skinner thought of not handing over his cell phone, but then decided the Idiots were such obvious rank amateurs that they just *might* carry out their threat. So, when the white-faced stewardess came by, he reluctantly dropped his phone and laptop into the bag with the others.

"You okay?" he asked her softly, ignoring the rushed tones of the Idiot accompanying her.

She nodded, not saying anything, moved on to the seat behind him.

About an hour later a shrill whistle got everyone's attention.

"Everyone! Shut up! Lady, get that kid quiet or I'll take care of the problem myself. Good. Now everybody, listen up. We are here to strike a blow for the Homeless, the Poor ignored by you Worshippers of Material Gain, you Idolaters of Mammon. As you assholes probably *don't* know there is a bill up for Congress's approval that will allow the Homeless to be even more oppressed than they are at the moment. They'll be dealing with it on Friday. We will all stay here in this location until Congress votes on it. If it passes, we intend to start killing you, one by one. If the bill is killed, completely, we may let you go. And for those of you who think we will be chivalrous enough to let women and children off the plane, I would just like to remind you that women and children are usually the first to die among the Homeless.

"Let's hope, for the sake of all your rich asses, Congress decides to review their stand on the plight of the Homeless.

"Now I'm sure the Oppressors of the Poor won't want to oppress you. I mean, you all have the power of your wealth, your positions, your connections. So, I'm sure that the Authorities will want to feed and water you. I would like to point out that we may allow this *only* if food and drink are made also available to the Homeless. Oh, and I should warn you all, we are not alone in this endeavour: we have associates on the outside who are in touch with us so we will know whether or not the Authorities keep their word.

"In other words, the Homeless don't get fed, neither do you. Thank you for flying the friendly skies with us. We hope you enjoy the rest of your trip."

The rest of the Idiots thought their leader very witty. No one else laughed. One of the children started crying again, as did one of the women.

"I don't see what any of us have to do with your fool crusade!" One of the front passengers, a man who was obviously very used to giving orders, started standing up, belligerently ready to take them on. The leader merely used the stock of his gun to whip him across the face. The man gasped, fell back into his seat, his face bleeding. The leader hit him again several times.

Skinner groaned to himself: the last thing they needed right now was a righteous hero.

"Anyone else have a comment to make? No? Good. Now sit there like the good little assholes you all are, and nobody will get hurt. Well, not right now anyway."

 

3 a.m. Thursday

Skinner had dozed off in the light: the Idiots had ordered all overhead lights turned on so they could see everyone. Another shrill whistle got his complete attention almost immediately.

"Okay, assholes. We're going to let you use the toilets. We'll allow this twice a day. So if you don't go now, you'd better be able to hold it in for another 12 hours.

"You go one at a time, hands on head and you will be accompanied by one of my very able co-conspirators. The toilet door stays open. We'll start up here at the front. I hope there will be no questions because I don't intend answering them."

Waiting for his turn, Skinner discovered he knew one of the other passengers.

"Hey, the boss man said hands on head. That means both of them, asshole."

"I only have one real hand. The other one is artificial. This is as high as I can raise it."

Skinner's attention was caught at the sound of that voice.

"Hey! Donny! We've got ourselves a gimp, here."

So Skinner was prepared to see Alex Krycek coming carefully down the aisle-way, but Krycek was clearly stunned at seeing him. He hesitated and got shoved for it.

"Hey, Gimp, if you want to miss your turn in the john..."

Krycek moved on, face expressionless. Only Skinner among them all recognized the quickly controlled reaction on Krycek's face to his being called "Gimp". Both men ignored each other as Krycek made his way back up to his seat at the front of the plane.

Krycek must have boarded earlier than he had for them to miss seeing each other. Skinner wondered what the hell Krycek was up to these days. He too had appeared at some of the in-camera sessions. They had, after all, gotten a great deal of information because of Krycek. Some of it of special interest to him: that the nanocytes self-destructed if not re-activated in a certain amount of time. Exactly how long was not known.

And some of it was the sort that Mulder had wanted to get: he'd gotten his answers -- well, *some* of them - - and hadn't like many of them.

He tried to remember the last time he'd seen Krycek. Concluded it had been at least ten months ago. Probably in the hallway in the Old Senate Building, when he had been coming out and Krycek going in for that last round of questioning. He had quickly put Krycek out of his mind what with his having to deal with the fall-out for the FBI and the last of its traitors going through the motions.

He had assumed the man had disappeared into the Witness Protection Program.

 

6 a.m. Thursday

One of the children was crying almost continuously. Even a threat by one of the Idiots hadn't put an end to it. The nanny she was sitting with was no help: all the woman did was say her rosary, praying under her breath. The child's mother was also almost hysterical. She had a younger child with her, could barely keep that one quiet.

"May I make a suggestion?" Krycek dared.

"Hey, Donny! The Gimp has something to say. You feel like listening to him talk?"

Donny raised his gun as if he were going to do a repeat performance on Krycek's face. "You've got 30 seconds. If I don't like your suggestion, I'll let you know."

"Bring the kid up here. I'll change seats. Always assuming," Krycek sneered, "Lady Bountiful here knows how to deal with her own kid without the help of a nanny."

It was obvious Donny liked that last part. One of the Idiots grabbed the girl by the arm and dragged her up front. Donny indicated Krycek was to stand up and walk out into the aisle. Krycek stood, one hand on his head, the second raised to about ear level.

Skinner wondered if Krycek was up to something. It crossed his mind that no one had yet tested how trigger happy Donny might be: he hoped Krycek wasn't going to try being the next hero.

But no, Krycek calmly started down the aisle, making for the girl's seat when, as he got to Skinner, he tripped, ended up sideways on top of Skinner. The Idiot cursed, "Fucking Gimp!" and kicked him in the legs. Without thinking, Skinner pulled Krycek over him, into the vacant seat by the window, the seat previously occupied by his laptop.

The Idiot seemed more than satisfied with the situation, muttered a few more curses at them both, in which the words "asshole" and "gimp" dominated and went back to his position at the front of the plane. Donny disappeared into the front cabin.

Krycek grimaced as he straightened himself into a sitting position. He rested his head against the back of the seat, closed his eyes. "Fancy meeting you here." He spoke softly, his lips barely moving.

Skinner grunted, equally softly in turn. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Figured you'd be easier to put up with than that stupid twit next to me. All she keeps muttering on about is a hair appointment she's going to miss if this continues."

Skinner closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.

 

9 a.m. Thursday

"Skinner?"

"Yeah."

"Where's Mulder?"

Mulder? Why the hell did Krycek want to know that? "L.A."

"Fuck. Too far away."

"For what?"

"Contact. Palm pilot doesn't have that range."

Fucking shit! He had a palm pilot and he hadn't dropped the fucking thing into the bag! "What kind of range?"

"About 50 miles. City range."

"Quantico?"

"Maybe. Who...Scully?"

"Yeah."

"E-mail?"

"Yeah. New toys."

"Carrying?"

"Scully?"

"Sorry, dumb question."

"Tell her I'm on board."

"They don't know?"

"I left early. My name's not on the manifest. I'll keep watch."

Which is why Special Agent Dana Scully, beginning a class on Forensic Investigations, interrupted her lecture to check her vibrating cell phone, read her e- mail message, excused herself to her class as she ran out, already punching in the numbers to Skinner's office.

 

1 p.m. Thursday

"Okay, assholes. You'll be happy to know that as per our instructions the Homeless in several designated areas are eating the first decent meal they've had in a long time. Our beautiful stewardesses will be passing among you. You'll each be given one sandwich and one bottle of water. Take care of those, that's all the food and water you're getting until this time tomorrow. And remember toilet patrol is in a couple of hours. The next is 12 hours after that. Enjoy your meals, folks."

The bottles contained 500 ml of water: one sandwich was chicken, the other, roast beef. No one had a choice, they just took what was given them. Skinner ate a quarter of his, re-wrapped it and stuck it in the magazine pouch on the seat in front of him. Krycek took one bite, did the same. Both took a couple of sips of water, stashed that as well. A few others were wise enough to do as they had done. Several gulped down their water, ate their sandwiches. Skinner figured they thought this was going to be soon over. He didn't think so.

"Look out." Krycek nodded to the front of the plane. He had angled his body so that he had a sort of view of the back. He pulled the tiny palm pilot out of his jacket pocket. Both men had shed those some time in the early morning. The air recycling worked only sporadically and the interior of the plane was heating up.

"Scully. Wants to know what info we can pass onto them. Wants to know who is sending." He slid the palm pilot back into the pocket. "Do I tell her?"

"Why not?" Donny and one of the Idiots were holding a conference of some kind at the doorway to the front cabin. The Idiot seemed unhappy.

"She'll assume I'm part of this."

Skinner took his eyes off the argument, gave Krycek one of those incredulous looks that had agents volunteering to rewrite their expense account. "Don't be an asshole."

"What makes you sure I'm not?"

"If you had any hand in it, at all, this wouldn't smell amateur the way it does."

Krycek gave as many particulars as he could, signed his name. If anything, that should light a fire under Scully.

 

7 p.m. Thursday

"Skinner?"

"Hmm."

"There may be a way to get you off the plane."

"How?"

"The nanocytes. The program is still in the palm pilot. Though, I don't know if it would work. It's been a while. Could scare them enough that they would let you off."

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! "I'll think about it."

 

8 p.m. Thursday

"Help me! Please, help me! My father's ill. Please!"

"Eddie! What the hell's going on in your sector?"

Eddie made his way clumsily to the front and Donny. "Some old guy is having a heart attack. Woman says his pills are in his suitcase. He needs medical help. She says immediately, or he'll die."

"Bring him here."

Skinner and Krycek watched as Eddie literally dragged an elderly man by the arm up the aisle to Donny. The man was obviously seriously ill.

"So, you need medical aid. Do you have any idea how many of the Homeless are denied medical help in our society?"

"Please!" the old man wheezed. "I beg you."

"They beg too. No one comes to their help. But I'm a decent guy. I'll help you with your pain."

Skinner leaned over very carefully, saw Donny drag the old man to the forward door of the plane. He pushed it open, helped the old man stand at the top of the ramp that had been pulled up when the food and water had been delivered.

Then he stepped back and shot the man in the back of the head.

The only sound was that of the gun shot re-echoing inside the plane. Then a sharp keening took up from the seat where the man had been sitting with his daughter.

One of the Idiots who had stayed at the back came up and slapped her hard. The noise stopped.

Skinner looked at Krycek, his life once more in the hands of this man. Krycek met his look, knew what Skinner was thinking. "Guess not," he said softly. He leaned back into the corner, closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.

 

3 a.m. Friday

Skinner was escorted back from his turn to the toilet. Krycek had already been. Donny had decided to change the routine. They took whomever they wanted rather than in seating order.

He waited until the Idiot went past with the next passenger, surreptitiously checked for the whereabouts of the others.

"What?" Krycek was alert to Skinner's tension.

"They're snorting."

"You sure?"

"Eddie's got white under his nose."

"Jesus. They're going to be totally unpredictable. We'll have to wait until the toilet tours are over to contact Scully."

 

5 a.m. Friday

One of the babies had been crying non-stop for the past three hours. It was joined on and off by the four others who were under the age of five. Parents tried hard to keep them quiet. One of the mothers had given up, was crying softly along with her baby.

Donny was irritated by the noise.

"SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

Which didn't help: several more people began crying.

Krycek rubbed his shoulder with his hand. He'd had the prosthesis on for over two days and the nerves in his arm weren't happy with the situation.

He wondered just how much longer Donny and his boys were going to hang in before someone else died. The fact that none of the Idiots, as Skinner insisted on calling them, had protested or even reacted in shock to Donny's killing of the old man did not bode well for their chances of coming out of this alive.

Shit! If he hadn't been entering the States from Canada, he would have been carrying some sort of protection. True, he had a knife, safely tucked away in his boot, made of the same space-age plastic as the guns Donny and his boys had snuck on board, but that wasn't much of a chance against bullets. Even rubber ones could kill when fired at point blank range.

He should have known better. He was getting old, that was it. Now that there was no one left who was out to get him -- this last trip had seen to that -- he was getting sloppy. He should have travelled in via Mexico. Shit! a few hundred dollars and he could have carried a bazooka on board.

After brokering the deal that hopefully would get the Russians off his case, he had grabbed the first flight out of Moscow, Aeroflot for Montreal. He didn't think the men who had replaced his old masters would change their minds, but he wasn't taking chances.

The deal hadn't been all that costly. Considering that the gold, bonds, jewels he had used as payment weren't even his. They had come from several safety deposit boxes in an underground vault in a Geneva bank. All told, about $180 millions worth. Which had belonged to some of the members of the Consortium who had been crisped in a Virginia hanger.

And he hadn't had to use it all.

He moved stiffly, trying to find a more comfortable position in his seat. He glanced at Skinner who seemed to be sleeping. All things considered, there had been a few surprises -- other than the hijacking -- on this trip.

Skinner's being on board was one. His believing he had nothing to do with this fiasco, another. That had been a bit of a start. Might explain why Skinner never once checked that he was really sending messages to Scully and that she was answering. That Skinner trusted his word was the biggest surprise, and for some reason, one of the most pleasant.

On the other hand, Skinner wasn't so sure about his rejection of the use of the nanocytes.

Shit! The fucking shoulder would pick now for a bout of phantom pain. The muscles in his stump were twitching, the nerves spasming. He rummaged around in his pants pockets, finding the small container of pills he used when the pain was too much. He wouldn't take the full dosage: that would send him to sleep and he didn't think that was wise right now. Fuck! He'd dropped the damn thing trying to open it one-handed.

Skinner bent and scooped the small plastic bottle off the floor. He read the label on it.

Krycek sat back in the corner, waiting for what Skinner was going to do. If he pocketed the bottle, there wasn't much he could do to get it back. He certainly couldn't fight Skinner for it. That would attract Eddie at least, and God knows what would happen then.

Skinner opened the bottle and shook out a couple of the small white pills. With the other hand he reached for Krycek's water bottle, opened it.

Krycek didn't move, just waited.

Skinner offered him the pills first. He took one, popped it into his mouth, and washed it down with a couple of gulps of the remaining water.

Skinner re-capped the bottle, handed it to Krycek who slid it back into his pants pocket.

 

9:30 a.m. Friday

"Krycek."

"Hmm."

"Why the nanocytes?"

The noise in the plane had dropped off in the last few hours. The babies and the woman seemed to have cried themselves to sleep. The nanny was still softly reciting her rosary. There were the sound of snores coming from a few of the seats.

Krycek had turned his body so that it was resting against the side of the plane: Skinner had done the same, as well as he could with only the edge of the seat to lean back on. Their legs were stretched out as much as possible, in what little space they had.

"Some of them wanted you dead. Others, under control. It was a compromise scenario."

Skinner thought about that a while, slowly nodded. Yeah, it made sense. He had certainly been under control for a while. The threat alone...but then again, the threats alone were all that had followed.

"Did you have to drag it out as long as you did?"

Krycek said nothing, but something passed over his face that made Skinner look at him more carefully. "You enjoyed doing that to me."

Skinner saw the expression that Krycek had worn whenever he had shown up with Skinner's latest orders from the Consortium. Skinner wanted desperately now, as then, to wipe the arrogant sneer off that face. Now, as then, Krycek recognized Skinner's desire and knew he wouldn't act on it.

"Yeah."

Their staring match might have continued longer except that the cockpit door opened and Eddie came up the aisle to join the conference. It was short. He didn't look pleased when he went back.

"Why?"

"Hmm?"

"Why did you enjoy it? We were pretty even by then. The balcony for the stairwell."

Krycek stared at the floor a few minutes. Skinner figured that was the end of that conversation.

"Toronto."

Skinner had to think a moment. Toronto? What the fuck did Toronto have to do with the nanocytes? And when had he been in Toronto? Oh, yeah, the conference with the RCMP and CSIS about cross-border terrorism.

"I don't understand."

Krycek wriggled, trying to find a more comfortable position. His body was beginning to cramp up from limited movement in an increasingly uncomfortable environment.

"One night you went out to a bar and picked up a guy."

Skinner froze.

"How do you know that?" he asked, when he finally could trust his voice wouldn't betray him.

"They had pictures. You were under constant scrutiny at that point. A loose canon, in some minds."

"So?"

"Up until then, I thought you were straight." Skinner still didn't get it. Krycek took a deep breath, then made a soft mocking sound. "I wanted you. But I didn't think you swung both ways. I was angry."

Skinner watched Krycek shrug as though the confession was of no importance. He sat back as much as he could and took a good look at the man who had tortured him because he hadn't known he...how had Krycek put it? swung both ways.

Hell! He hadn't been sure himself until that night when he'd drunk enough to blunt his self-control and brought back the beautiful Italian with the soulful eyes to his hotel room.

The eyes meeting his right now were anything but soulful: Krycek had full barriers up.

Skinner checked that the Idiots were all where they were supposed to be.

"You wanted me." Skinner kept his voice even, carefully neutral. "When did that happen?"

He was wondering if Krycek was ever going to answer him when, suddenly the face cracked a bit of a smile. Which of the two of them was Krycek laughing at?

"I had just been partnered with Mulder. We were going to some meeting or other and we passed your office. Your door was open. You were reaming out some jerk about something he'd done and Mulder stopped to listen. He smiled like a gargoyle through it all. All I wanted to do was push you against a wall and fuck you."

They both fell silent again.

 

1 a.m. Friday

The sandwiches this time were thicker, probably due to the message Krycek had sent out to Scully. The water bottles were larger too. Not so large as to attract Donny's attention, but about double the previous amount. Skinner guessed the negotiations weren't going well.

He knew they weren't when Donny, higher than a kite, grabbed the woman and baby who had been almost continuously crying since early morning and brutally kicked them down the ramp, slammed the door shut on the woman's screams.

"Well, that's one way of shutting rich bitches up."

Eddie cackled.

 

10 p.m. Friday

"Skinner. Seems the vote isn't going to happen tonight. Postponed until tomorrow due to the situation. They've decided to try a rescue."

"Fucking shit. When?"

"Around three. They figure they'll be busy with toilet patrol."

"There'll be casualties."

"They know, but I guess they figure the odds are better than if Donny gets trigger happy. Seems he's pretty pissed off that Congress has only postponed the vote, not voted it down."

"What do they expect us to do?"

"Scully says to stay low."

"Fuck."

"Yeah."

 

Midnight Saturday

"Krycek? You awake, Krycek?"

"I'm awake."

"You carrying anything at all useful?"

"Knife. In my boot. You?"

Skinner scoffed. "Laser pointer in my jacket inside pocket."

"We'll be more help if we stay out of the way, Skinner."

"Yeah, I know. But it stinks."

 

1:30 a.m. Saturday

The sound of engines turning on woke up anyone who was asleep.

"What the fuck?"

Krycek raised the screen a little and scooted down to the floor to see outside. "They've got the plane lit up with flood lights. What asshole..." Krycek sighed. "We're heading for a dark area away from the flood lights."

"Maybe it's part of a plan." Skinner was trying to see where all three of their constant guards were. Donny and the fifth member were with the captain.

"Hope it's not the cause of someone's death," snarled Krycek, over his shoulder. Damn! Had the jerks not learnt anything from Waco? Where the fuck were the Israelis when you needed them?

Skinner intercepted the look. For a moment, he felt an overwhelming urge to slug Krycek, crouched on the floor as he was. Then he took a deep breath and held it for a moment. They were both stressed out by their inability to act. Plus Krycek's arm must be killing him by now. The dosage on the bottle had read two pills every four hours. Krycek was taking one every three. And he doubted he was getting much relief with that amount.

Three a.m. came and went and Donny didn't order toilet parade.

It was obvious to all in the plane that something was not right. For the first time since the hijacking, everyone, including the children, was silent.

Also for the first time, Eddie's partner came up to the front for a conference with Donny. There was much yelling and screaming. Krycek figured there had to be three of them actively participating in the argument. Which meant that only one was in the back, Eddie.

"Change places with me."

Skinner opened his mouth to ask why but, realizing that Krycek was the only one of them with a weapon, and knowing that this would be the only opportunity for them to do so without attracting attention, he raised the dividing arm, slipped under while Krycek somehow slipped over and they had exchanged seats.

Krycek handed the palm pilot over to Skinner. "Type the message and then hit 'Re'. Tell them that if they've got a plan, they'd better put it into action now." His right hand dropped down to his boot and a thin-bladed knife appeared in his hand. He hid the knife against his body.

 

4:17 a.m. Saturday

Someone did have a plan. A few minutes after Skinner's message reached Scully, the order for attack was given.

The black garbed commandos caught the men at the front by surprise.

As the forward door blew up, Eddie started up the aisle. Krycek stood up, threw his knife, caught Eddie in the throat. The sound of his final gurgles was drowned out by the screams and cries of the people around him.

No sooner had Krycek thrown the knife then Skinner grabbed him by the back of his pants and pulled him down. He didn't want anyone mistaking him for one of the hijackers. Still holding onto Krycek, Skinner dropped onto the floor.

Which is how Special Forces found them: Krycek cursing away in three languages because his sore shoulder had hit the edge of the seat, Skinner with an arm still gripping Krycek to him, scrunched into the corner of the floor and seats.

Evacuation took only a few minutes.

Skinner went down the emergency chute first, waited for Krycek at the bottom. There would be questions to answer and he knew Krycek would be the focus of many of them before he would be allowed to go home. Wherever that was.

While he waited for the soldier to help Krycek up at the bottom of the chute, Skinner took a deep breath of fresh air. He hadn't realized how rancid the air in the plane had gotten until he didn't have to breathe it any more. Krycek, he noted as they walked slowly to the transportation that was waiting to take them to the debriefing area, did the same.

The two men looked at each other. Skinner grinned first. Krycek held off a moment longer then gave in at the sheer pleasure of being off the plane.

As they came up to the bus, Skinner put his hand on Krycek's good shoulder, holding him back for a moment.

"The knife. We found it. Taped under one of the seats. And we have no idea how it got there. We found it while searching for something we could use to protect ourselves.

"That's our story and we both stick to it."

 

4:45 a.m. Saturday

Agent Scully was waiting at the door of one of the rooms that had been set aside for the quick medical examination of the passengers before they would be allowed to leave. The crew, Skinner and at least one other would be detained longer for debriefing.

"Sir."

"Agent Scully. Nice to see you again."

"Thank you, Sir. May I say the same to you." She smiled at him. The smile disappeared quickly at the sight of the man with AD Skinner. "Krycek."

Krycek mocked her tone. "Scully."

"Enough!" Skinner snapped. He stepped in: he wasn't in the mood to tolerate problems between Krycek and his people. "Agent Scully, who's here from my department?"

"Agents Sobol, Peters, MacGregor..."

"Good. Get MacGregor for me, right away, could you?"

Scully raised her cell phone, watched as Skinner waved away the men waiting to debrief him. He hailed coffee and sandwiches for himself and Krycek.

Agent MacGregor strode into the room to find a sulky Scully glaring at the dark, sullen man eating sandwiches, drinking coffee with the Assistant Director.

Skinner tiredly smiled his greeting. Gordon MacGregor was an agent of the old school, about his age. Skinner trusted him to keep his cool, in any situation. "Ah, Agent MacGregor."

"AD Skinner. Pleased to see you in one piece, Walter."

"Thank you, Gordon. Gordon, this is Alex Krycek. Alex is the one they'll discover is responsible for the knife sticking into the throat of one of the hijackers." There was reaction to that around him. MacGregor only raised an eyebrow. "I'd appreciate it if you stayed with him during his debriefing. Alex has a bit of a past with us. I wouldn't like it to get in the way of this situation."

"I've heard about you, Mr. Krycek. This should prove interesting."

"I'm glad you think so," Krycek grouched under his breath.

"Agent Peters. Would you see to it that when the luggage is taken off the plane that mine and Mr. Krycek's are brought here? Alex, do you still have your boarding pass? Good. Give it to Agent Peters, will you?

"Alex. I'll meet you here when they're done with us. If you finish before me, I'd appreciate it if you waited for me. In fact, Gordon, perhaps you could have someone look at Alex's shoulder. I'm responsible for the arm taking quite a hit back there."

Skinner moved into the room, knowing that MacGregor would ignore Krycek's grouching, protests and see to it that the arm received the care it needed. He would also see to it that Krycek would be handled properly by those agents questioning him.

 

9:20 a.m. Saturday

Krycek was sprawled in a chair waiting for him when Skinner was finally finished with his debriefing and a personal call from the Director herself. Agent MacGregor was leaning against a filing cabinet, wearing one of those grins that told him that he had missed some hot action somewhere. Scully was sitting stiffly in a chair, a medical bag he recognized as being her emergency kit by her feet.

Skinner rubbed his eyes. He was too tired to deal with this. Seeing the murderous glare Krycek was sending her way, he gathered she had decided that she should be the one to check Krycek's arm. Skinner doubted that Scully had gotten within six feet of the prosthesis, let alone close enough to examine the shoulder.

MacGregor looked from one to the other, obviously relishing the thought of the next round.

They all turned to him when he loudly cleared his throat.

"Can I go now?" Krycek's bad mood was hard to ignore.

"You going home?"

"No. To a hotel with limitless hot water."

Skinner found the energy to smile, a bit ruefully. "I know what you mean. I can smell myself and it isn't pretty. Agent Peters, did you have any trouble getting our bags?"

"No, sir. They're at the door. We have a car waiting to take you home, sir."

"Thank you. Come on, Alex. The hot water may not be limitless, but there's a hot tub and a spare bed at my place."

Krycek shook his head, refusing the offer. Skinner didn't care what Krycek wanted. He leaned over, grabbed him by the jacket and hauled him to his feet. "They'll need to find you for more questions; me, too. It will make things easier all round if we're both in the same place." He pulled a protesting Krycek along with him to the waiting car.

Scully frowned all the way out with them. "Sir. Are you sure about this? I'm certain that we can provide Alex Krycek with a bed somewhere else."

"Agent Scully," Skinner replied quickly, cutting her off from any further lecturing, "we're going to be just fine."

She sighed, not pleased with the situation. Still, "Sir, he says he has some medicated ointment in his bag. See to it that he uses it."

 

11:20 a.m. Saturday

Skinner came into his spare bedroom to find Alex Krycek sprawled, fast asleep, on top of the double bed. It was as if having spent so much time cramped into a small space, he needed to stretch his body out completely.

Skinner doubted Krycek had spent more than fifteen minutes in the shower. He had shaved. His hair was still wet, a couple of lines of water trailing down his back. The towel he had wrapped around his hips was clinging damply to his ass.

As Skinner carefully covered his "guest" with a blanket, he saw that Krycek had smoothed something on the heavily scarred stump that, he wasn't surprised, was rubbed raw and bruised. He moved quietly around the room as to not disturb the sleeping man, closed the curtains, thoughtfully turned on a small lamp that sat on the desk in the far corner of the room.

Then he, too, went to bed.

 

4 a.m. Sunday

It was obvious that at some time during the night Krycek had awakened. The towel now hung on the doorknob, the lamp had been turned off, the curtains were open, letting in the pre-dawn light. On the night table there was a glass that had some juice left in it, the bottle of medication next to it. Krycek was under the sheets, lying on his stomach, body still stretched out as though spread-eagled.

Skinner smiled. He'd awakened to find himself in a similar position. Their bodies telling them they needed the space.

He was pleasantly surprised that Krycek hadn't tried to sneak out while he had slept. Maybe Krycek was more tired than he'd thought. Or maybe he'd realized that Scully would have insisted on a couple of agents keeping an eye on the exits.

MacGregor had unapologetically wakened him Saturday evening around supper time, to inform him that the next round of questioning for Krycek would take place Monday morning at FBI Headquarters.

"They're quite willing to accept his version of the killing, especially since a couple of the passengers have corroborated it. But they're still worrying over the fact that there was a weapon on board a plane which is a federal offense. I get the feeling there's more than just a bit of antagonism over your Mr. Krycek. Is he going to want to play hero to the Media?"

"Doubt that. It's in his best interests to lie low. Let's just play down his presence."

"And hope," sighed MacGregor, "that the passengers who saw him kill the hijacker either forget to mention seeing him or assume he was with you and this whole thing was part of the plan."

Skinner took a sip of the coffee he held in his hand and then set it down on top of the dresser. The second mug he took over to the bed and held it near Krycek's nose. And waited.

"That had better not be a dream."

Skinner grinned: he hadn't been able to tell when Krycek had slipped from sleep to consciousness. "Nope. And it's the real stuff."

Krycek slowly turned over, pulled over the second pillow and propped himself partially up. He reached out for the coffee and took a sip. He sighed, a deep, heartfelt sigh. "Good stuff." Only then did he open his eyes.

Skinner grabbed his coffee and made himself comfortable on a chair, propped his feet up on the side of the bed.

"Hawaiian. I keep it around for special occasions."

Krycek swallowed another mouthful, made a small appreciative sound. He looked out the window. "That dawn or sun-set."

"Dawn. We seem to have slept Saturday away." Whatever else he would have said remained unsaid. A grimace of pain closed Krycek's eyes again. He held his mouth tight. Skinner checked out the left arm. He could see the biceps, what was left of it, twitching under the scars.

"I've got the hot tub going. Bring your coffee to my bedroom. The tub's off the bathroom." Skinner rummaged around in the closet, pulled out a bathrobe that had been a present from someone or other and tossed it onto the bed. "I'll bring you up to date after I get more coffee."

Skinner's bedroom was huge, even for a condo. The last owner had torn down a wall, joined the master and a smaller bedroom to make room for an extra-large bed, a double-sized bathroom that screamed sex. The black and glass shower would easily hold two, as would the raised black bathtub. In the far corner, partially walled off with glass cubes, was a hot tub that looked out over seventeen floors. The window there was not curtained off: rather, someone -- Skinner? -- had decorated it and the niche with plants that provided a screen of privacy.

Krycek raised an eyebrow at the look of the room. If he had seen this side of Skinner before...well, it would be better not to go there, not this morning. He dropped the bathrobe onto the bench and slowly slid into the hot water. Damn! But that felt good! He closed his eyes in sheer bliss.

Which is how Skinner found him, head resting against the rim of the tub, body submerged in water to his chin. Skinner slouched against the entrance, looking at the man who appeared almost boneless. Like a cat. A beautiful, sexy, damaged tom. Especially with those eyes now almost struggling to open.

Skinner settled the tray on the small shelf attached to the tub then dropped his well-worn robe onto the bench. He caught the flash of desire that Krycek hadn't been able to prevent as he stepped into the tub. So, the wanting was still there. Nice to know. He couldn't resist a leisurely stretch before sitting, knowing full well that those eyes were watching him.

He didn't say anything, just poured them both more of the coffee, handed Krycek his and enjoyed the silence that to his surprise was quite comfortable. They drank their coffees, letting the heat of the water drench the last of their discomfort from them.

Krycek set down his emptied mug, carefully began massaging his shoulder. With any luck, he might be able to get the arm to stop hurting.

"Come over here." Skinner set his mug next to Krycek's. He looked to see Krycek hadn't moved. "Alex. That shoulder of yours needs more than you can give it. There must be spots you can't reach. Get over here."

A bit warily, Krycek moved so that his back was to Skinner. He didn't see Skinner's grin as he was pulled against the man's chest. Before he could pull away, two large hands settled on his shoulders and began working the last of the knots out. He sat stiffly at first, but the magic of those hands was overpowering. He sagged back, Skinner's arms around him.

Shit! This was probably all he was ever going to get. He knew from the stretching act that Skinner realized he still wanted him. Hell! He would probably still want him the day he died. Unfulfilled gratification. And that was all it was ever going to be. He sighed, let himself float, absorbing the heat of the water and the pleasure of having Skinner's hands on him.

"They want to talk to you again tomorrow. At Headquarters."

Krycek grunted: he'd figured they weren't through with him.

"Mainly about the knife."

Krycek tried to shrug: his muscles were too loose to respond.

"What did you tell them about the knife?"

"What you told me to say. They skipped around the issue a lot and I didn't offer." He would deal with that when the time came.

"Good. We keep to the story that we found it on the plane."

Krycek opened his eyes, turned his head enough to see Skinner's face. "Out of curiosity, just how is the knife supposed to have gotten on the plane?"

"I suppose one of the Idiots could have stashed it there thinking one of the others was going to sit there. Instead I took the seat. You found it when we were looking for something that could be of use. And you used it." Skinner went back to massaging Krycek's shoulders.

Krycek thought about it. "My prints are the only ones they'll find on the knife."

Skinner snorted. "Alex. Get real. Even the most rank of amateurs knows to wipe fingerprints off a weapon. That's our story. Who's going to challenge it?"

"How about one of the Idiots?"

"No. Only one survived the attack and he died in hospital without regaining consciousness."

It took Krycek a few moments to realize that the hands that were bringing him such comfort had moved away from his shoulders and were wandering over his body. One was playing with a nipple, the other, stroking along his abdomen.

"Skinner, what are you doing?"

"What do you think?"

Krycek grew very still. The centre of him suddenly felt very cold. This was it: the real reason Skinner had insisted on his coming back to the apartment with him.

He doubted that Skinner had been grabbed by an overwhelming urge to have sex with him. He'd have picked something up before now if he had. On the plane he had handed Skinner a weapon, a way of getting his own back for the nanocytes: now, he guessed, was pay- back time.

Well, he had wanted to know what it would be like to be fucked by this man. Now he would find out.

He stood up, water running off his body, the heat of his skin drying what little remained. He stepped out of the tub and went into Skinner's bedroom without looking back.

Skinner hadn't seen Krycek's face: he'd been examining the body that rose in front of him. He found lube and condoms in the medicine cabinet and went out to join Krycek.

What he found made him hesitate and have second thoughts. Krycek was lying face down on his bed, a couple of pillows already under his hips, his legs spread apart. He couldn't see his face: it was turned away from him, but he could see his hand, clenched around a handful of duvet.

Then, it struck him, that Krycek was waiting to be used. Maybe even hurt. Why the hell...Oh, fuck! the nanocytes.

Revenge.

Oh, hell! This wasn't what he wanted at all.

Skinner placed the condoms and lube on the night table and sat down on the bed. He lay his hand between Krycek's shoulder blades and felt his body tense slightly. The hand tightened on the material and then slowly loosened. Skinner leaned over and dropped a kiss on the bony knob at the top of the spine. "There's been enough pain, Alex. I have no intention of hurting you. No, don't move. Stay like this. I think I like you this way. For now."

Skinner moved closer to the body laid out for his pleasure. He used his hands to reacquaint himself with the shoulders, the back he had felt under the water in the hot tub. Then he brought his mouth into play. Nibbling the shoulder line while one hand traced the structure of the extended right arm, down to the hand. His other hand played along the rib cage, gently stroked the truncated arm. His mouth moved down the spine, biting softly the ridge of muscle that rose on either side. His fingertips ruffled the tufts of hair under each arm, playing, teasing the sensitive skin.

Krycek's body relaxed slightly, a small sound passed his lips.

Skinner smiled and lightly skimmed the sides from arm to hip, using the callused pads of his fingers, the tips of his nails.

This time the sound was more of a sigh. The hips shifted, as if seeking a more comfortable position on the pillows.

Skinner moved to between the splayed legs, his hands never leaving Krycek's body. He kept his hands busy, small circular motions soothing whatever tensions he could find. He used his mouth to suck, his teeth to bite, always gently, carefully avoiding the ass that twitched, occasionally jerked, demanding his attention.

Instead he concentrated on the thighs: using his mouth, tongue, teeth on the inner V, his hands, fingertips, nails on the outer.

Krycek made a sound of protest. His restless hips raised and he began rubbing himself against the pillows. Skinner put a stop to that. He grabbed him by the hips and raised him enough so that he couldn't finish. "No. Not yet. I'll let you know when." And bit down hard on one of the ass cheeks in his hands.

"God, you've got a great ass, Alex. And I'm going to enjoy fucking this lovely ass of yours into the mattress. But not right now. Now we're just going to even things up. And I want it higher, Alex. Scoot up. Yeah, like that."

Krycek's knees were under his ass, his weight resting on his shoulders. The hand was bunched up, hidden in the duvet. Skinner still couldn't see most of his face; his hair partially covered it, hiding his eyes, but his mouth was open and his breathing was rough.

Krycek's ass was at mouth level. With a smile that would not have made Krycek easy had he seen it, Skinner descended on the balls hanging there, just crying for his attentions. He took one into his mouth, sucked hard, used his tongue to flick, to stroke, carefully scraped his teeth over the skin as he released it and took the other.

Krycek cursed. In Russian.

Skinner laughed to himself: he knew that one.

While his mouth was tormenting, his hands kneaded the hard ass muscles, pulling the cheeks apart so that when he felt he had played enough with Krycek's balls, he moved his mouth, tongue wetly trailing, up the path to Krycek's anus.

"Jesus! Skinner!"

Skinner bit the tender mound of flesh that rested against his cheek, and began concentrating on tormenting the sensitive muscle.

"Oh, God! Skinner, *please*, fuck me!"

But Skinner had other plans. As his tongue teased, one of his hands slipped under Krycek's hips, found his erect cock and began jerking him off.

Between hand and tongue, it didn't take long. With a loud moan, Krycek came over Skinner's hand and onto the pillow beneath him.

Broadly smiling, Skinner wiped his hand on the soiled pillow. Gently pushing on Krycek's hip, he turned him onto his back, stripped the case off the pillow and used it to clean up whatever come still slicked Krycek's body.

Then he stretched out alongside, propped his head up on an elbow and waited as Krycek's breathing dropped to normal, as the slight flush left his skin. He amused himself, tracing the features of the face with the closed eyes with a finger.

Krycek took a deep breath, exhaled. Swallowed. Eyes still closed. "There wasn't much in that for you."

Skinner smiled. "True. But the payoff comes later."

Krycek opened his eyes. "How so?" His voice only revealed slight curiosity.

"Well, you...youngsters," Skinner grinned, "are quick off the handle. Quick to shoot, quick to recover. Now us oldtimers," Krycek's expression challenged that, "it takes us longer to heat up, and we've usually only got one good shot in us. So," Skinner's finger stroked up and down the child-nose on the man-face, "when we finally get around to the next round, you won't be so quick off the draw. We'll have time to enjoy ourselves."

"The next time?"

Skinner nodded. "Hmm. First though, we're going to make ourselves one of those breakfasts that send anti- cholesterol fanatics screaming for the hills. While we're waiting for that to settle, we're going to read the Sunday papers. You'll grouch about basketball. I'll grouch about hockey. We'll both bemoan the state of the nation. And then I'll fuck your ass into the mattress."

Chuckling, Skinner slid off the bed, reached down, grabbed Krycek's hand and hauled him off the bed into his arms. "That sound okay to you?"

He got a surprisingly shy smile. "Yeah."

"Good." And then, he placed one of his hands on the back of Krycek's head holding it firmly while they kissed for the first time.

It started out a bit timidly. As if they weren't very sure exactly where they were going. Then Krycek deepened the kiss, used his tongue to invade Skinner's mouth, and Skinner responded in like. Their bodies moved closer, resting skin on skin. Their hands gripped at one another, hanging on as their mouths devoured.

The need to breathe finally separated them. They waited, foreheads resting against each other. Krycek made a little rubbing gesture with his hips against Skinner's. "I thought you said you were too old to be quick off the draw. Seems to me that's something here that would disagree with you."

Skinner laughed. "It can wait. Besides, I'm hungry. I'll last longer if I've been fed. But go put some clothes on, just in case you should prove too tempting."

They worked amiably together preparing a meal that Skinner would never have fixed for himself. It would certainly have set Skinner's doctor to ranting: bacon, sausages, eggs, hash browns, rolls with butter, juice. More coffee.

Krycek found a mound of Sunday papers at the door, the New York Times among the Washington ones. He was the one who grouched about hockey as he sat at his end of the couch. Skinner wondered just what the hell the Lakers were up to from his end. Both ignored the front page, apart from a quick look to verify neither featured. When one of them found something worth sharing, he would nudge the legs that lay on top of each other in the middle of the couch.

At one point Krycek looked over the edge of the section he held to find Skinner sitting, arms crossed over his chest, just watching him. He raised his eyebrows in query.

"You about finished with that?" Skinner asked, conversationally.

Krycek looked at the paper, dropped it onto the pile on the coffee table. "Is this when you fuck my ass into the mattress?" His tone matched Skinner's.

Skinner nodded very seriously. "I do believe it is."

Krycek untangled his legs, stood up. Stretched. He was wearing a baggy sweatsuit but Skinner had no trouble picturing the body under it. He waited until the little seduction routine was over before he stood up. "Nice. But I want to see you do that, naked, stretched out on my bed."

It was different this time.

They went into the bedroom together, slowly undressed each other. Everything they did, they did slowly. The kissing. The stroking. The arousing.

Touches were gentle, exploratory. Skinner's mouth played with Krycek's nipples while Krycek's hand caressed Skinner's back.

It was times like this that he really regretted the loss of his arm. Of his hand especially. He wanted to draw the man arousing his body deep within him, holding him close enough to merge.

Skinner quickly realized there were positions that would be hard for Krycek to maintain. He moved them so they lay facing, side to side. Krycek had no trouble that way rubbing his hips against Skinner's groin. The erection that resulted certainly belied Skinner's contention that he was slow off the handle.

But Skinner wanted it slow. He figured Krycek was used to quick: this should be a novelty for him. He drew out his seduction of the body next to him. They didn't talk much. Now and then, an instruction: "Harder." "More to the right. Yeah, like that."

Unlike the first time when all Krycek had done was accept, now he made up for it. Skinner thought that for a man with one hand, that hand was everywhere, knowledgeably arousing him. Then Krycek's mouth dropped to his cock and he stopped thinking.

Krycek pushed him back, lay between his legs and practically swallowed him. But when he thought he couldn't hold off any longer, Krycek pulled away. He dropped the lube and a condom Skinner's chest. "You promised to fuck my ass. Do it now." He grabbed the pillows and set himself up as he had before.

Skinner bent down and kissed then bit that lovely ass being offered up for his pleasure. But then he slapped Krycek on the hip. "On your back. I want to see your face when you come."

He took his time preparing Krycek, teasing his hole open until Krycek whimpered then finger-fucked him until his breath came in gasps, until his hips bucked. Skinner rolled the condom on himself and then slipped his hands under Krycek's ass, raised him a bit. Krycek dug his heels into the bed, gripped the headboard for leverage and rose to meet Skinner's cock.

Skinner took his time again. Krycek cursed him for it, wanted to have all of him in him as soon as possible. But Skinner controlled the penetration, and once in, pretty much the rhythm he set up. Krycek did his best to speed things up, his hips pushing in counterpoint, his ass muscles clenching, releasing. Skinner groaned but didn't break rhythm.

Finally, Krycek couldn't take it any more: he reached down, grabbed his cock and stroked himself furiously. Skinner's hand closed on top of his and slowed him down so that their hands moved at the same speed as his hips pumped into Krycek's ass. Krycek moaned sharply, his sweat-slicked head rocking back and forth. Skinner kept up the solid rhythm but added more force, driving into Krycek's prostate.

Krycek's frustrated groans quickly turned into loud cries of completion. Moments later Skinner spiralled into his own orgasm.

For several minutes the only sound in the room was rough, shaky breathing. Skinner lay partially on top of Krycek, still in him. He slid his hand down to his cock and held the rim of the condom as he pulled out. Krycek made a small grunting sound then sighed.

Skinner stripped the condom off, knotted it and dropped in the waste basket by the bed. Krycek's arm tightened around him and he decided to wait to clean them up.

Krycek woke up first. Usually he woke quickly: asleep one moment, awake the next. This time, by the time he realized he was awake, he'd been coasting in the after-effects for several minutes. Skinner was snoring lightly, his head on Krycek's chest.

Krycek's hand lazily caressed the man who had given him such pleasure. He had wondered what it would be like to have sex with Skinner: now he knew. He rubbed his cheek on the top of Skinner's bald head, silly smile on his face. Skinner had promised to fuck his ass into the mattress and he had.

He had fantasized about this. One of his few jerk-off fantasies. Allowed only at the rarest of times.

Except now he knew the reality. Far better than anything his imagination had been able to conjure up. Far different.

His smile wavered at the thought that he had exchanged a fantasy for a memory. But at least he would have the memory. He knew better than to think this would go somewhere. He could hear Mulder lecturing Skinner about Stockholm Syndrome, about how the fact that they had come through the hijacking in one piece was a temporary link between the two of them. That the link was not real. Krycek accepted that. But, for once, he had something he could keep.

The second time he woke, Skinner was staring at him, face serious.

Krycek figured he'd better forestall the excuses that Skinner was about to make. "It's okay. I know this is a momentary abberation on your part. You don't usually fuck rat-bastards. Pity, 'cause you do it so well. For an oldtimer like yourself."

Skinner ignored the first part, growled at the second. "This oldtimer needs a shower. Why don't you join me and we'll see just who the oldtimer is."

Krycek grinned, allowed himself to be pulled into the sybaritic shower that was more than big enough for some fooling around, even if it led nowhere.

They lazed the rest of the day away. When time came for bed, Krycek assumed he'd be sleeping in the spare room. He carefully repacked his knapsack, all he ever travelled with, leaving out only the clothes he would wear the next day. Skinner watched him from the doorway.

"You got anywhere special to go?"

Krycek looked over his shoulder then went back to folding the clothes Skinner had included in the laundry he'd done. "No. Not really."

"Job?"

Krycek scoffed. "No bosses. None left any more. So, no job."

"What are you going to do for a living?"

Krycek turned around, leaned a shoulder against the wall. "No need to. I took care of me."

"Feathered your nest?"

Krycek nodded.

"Deep enough so you'll never have to worry?"

Again he nodded, waiting for Skinner's disgust.

Skinner shook his head. "You'll be bored stiff."

Krycek shrugged. "Not your problem."

"No." Skinner straightened, went to turn away, looked back at the man who had gotten quieter, more contained as the evening had progressed. "You sleeping here?"

"Thought you might prefer that."

Skinner stepped into the room, stood right in front of Krycek. "No. I don't." And kissed him.

Krycek didn't move. He opened his mouth enough to encourage Skinner's invasion and savoured the feel of Skinner's lips on his, his tongue in his mouth, tasting him.

Skinner pulled away, waited until Krycek's eyes opened from his assault. The green had darkened to a ring around the iris, testament to his arousal. But the man didn't move, just stood waiting. What the fuck for? thought Skinner. "I think," he said, "I'm about to prove that I'm not so old after all."

A slow grin animated Krycek's face, the tip of his tongue traced the upper part of his lower lip. Skinner's eyes watched as it moved purposefully across the lush flesh. "Oh, yeah," he grinned. "Not so very old after all."

Krycek finally moved, rubbing his groin against Skinner's, against the proof that Skinner was definitely not too old and laughed softly. He led the way back to Skinner's bed.

This time, he was the one who controlled the pace. He wanted it hard. He wanted it rough. And he wanted it fast.

Clothes were disposed of quickly, flying around the room. When Skinner was naked, Krycek pushed him down onto the bed, plastered himself on top of him, and ground his hips hard against the other's. Their hands bruised, grabbing whatever flesh they wanted. Mouths bit, not gently. Their bodies arched into each other, aware only of feeling, seeking their own satiation.

Skinner, taken aback by the ferocity of the attack at first, shed his veneer of controlled civilization and met Krycek's released sexuality with his own. The only sounds were those of animal rutting.

Krycek surfaced enough to grab one of the condoms from the night table, roll it on. Skinner dabbed lube on the condom, took advantage of Krycek's occupation to bite him on the stomach. Krycek shoved him to the side, pushed against him so his ass rose. He spent less time preparing Skinner than Skinner had him, but was no less thorough for that. Skinner had time to protest before Krycek gave him what he wanted.

Skinner began moving, grunting with the frustration of not having Krycek's cock in just the right position. Krycek re-angled his hips, meeting Skinner's moves and suddenly Skinner growled, "Yes!"

That "yes" became a litany that rose to a crescendo as Krycek pumped faster and faster, adding his voice, his grunts of mating.

Skinner reached under himself, using his hand to add to the pressure building within him. He came with a shout. Krycek pumped into clenching ass then, with a keening cry, he shuddered, collapsed onto Skinner's back.

They tipped sideways onto the bedding in a tangle of arms and legs.

At some point Krycek found the energy to clean them off, move them both under the bedclothes. Skinner murmured his thanks, drew Krycek into his arms. Krycek thought it might be wiser to move into the spare bedroom. He was still thinking that when, his ass nestled against Skinner's groin, Skinner's cock tucked between his ass cheeks, he fell asleep.

 

6:30 a.m. Monday

The morning began well.

They slept through the alarm, not that much, but enough to make them rush in order to get to Headquarters on time.

"Wouldn't do to get there late," said Skinner. "They'll think you've killed me and skipped out."

At the door, Skinner turned around and cocked an eyebrow at the knapsack in Krycek's hand. He'd gotten Krycek's message loud and clear yesterday, about not hanging around. He wasn't quite sure himself where he stood, but he did know he wanted more time to deal with this new development in his life, preferably when the consequences of the hijacking had been dealt with.

"Wouldn't it be easier for you if you left that thing in the spare room?"

Krycek hesitated. "You sure?"

Skinner shrugged. "Yes."

When Krycek came back from dropping the knapsack onto the bed, Skinner handed him a set of keys. "Lobby and condo keys. You'll probably be free before I am today."

Krycek took the keys, held them in his hand as he shoved them into his jacket pocket. He wasn't quite sure how he felt about this display of trust. And then, just before he opened the front door, Skinner turned around, pulled Krycek to him and kissed the breath out of him. "There. That should hold both of us until I get home tonight."

Krycek laughed.

He wasn't laughing during his session with the two agents who had been assigned to interrogate him. It was obvious they didn't believe the story about the knife, even after it had been confirmed by the agent who had questioned Skinner about it. They spent the morning trying to trip him up. Krycek caught the undercurrent fairly quickly when he heard himself referred to as "the traitor" in the not-so-quiet conversation between one of his questioners and the agent reporting from Skinner.

Throughout it all, Gordon MacGregor sat in the corner behind him, occasionally stepping in when he thought the agents were crossing the line of tolerance, even for Krycek. Finally, the agents had to admit defeat: Krycek had told his story and stuck with it.

As they gathered their files and papers to leave, one of the agents, his opinion of Krycek no longer veiled, told him it would be better for him if he crawled back under the rock he'd come from just in case they "found something" to use against him. His partner smirked in agreement.

"So much for truth and justice," Krycek muttered sarcastically.

"At least they know what truth is." Gordon MacGregor left his chair to stand close to Krycek, looking like he'd like to spit in his face. "That word is dirtied coming out of your mouth. The mouth of a man who betrayed his oath as a member of the FBI. The mouth of a man who did his best to destroy the reputation of the FBI with a pile of so-called evidence that were allegations at best." MacGregor's anger was barely contained. "Good men were destroyed by your actions."

Krycek's self-preservation kicked in, the killer shimmered behind his eyes. MacGregor took a step backwards. "Every one of those 'allegations'" he sneered, "had solid evidence to back them. As for the good men...surely you mean traitors. That word's been bandied about a fair amount this morning. I came into this game bought. I'm not the one who swore allegiance and then went off and sold himself."

For a moment Krycek thought MacGregor was going to take a swing at him. Instead, face white, eyes cold, MacGregor visibly got control over himself. "Because of you a friend of mine killed himself. The evidence against him was circumstantial at best. He might have gotten a reprimand in his file, if that. But he couldn't bear the dishonour of being associated with the garbage you'd slung. They're right. If I were you, I'd get out of D.C., in case others who have seen their friends, their colleagues go down don't show the self-restraint I have."

There was a loud clearing of a throat. Both men turned to the door where Agent Peters nervously fingered his tie. "Director Cassidy would like to see Mr. Krycek, if you've finished?"

MacGregor walked stiffly away. In the doorway, he paused, hostility aimed with laser accuracy, "Have someone open the windows in here, to get the stink out."

It wasn't any better in the Director's office where he wasn't even offered a chair. By now, Krycek was wearing an in-your-face attitude. The conversation was cold but polite. He knew what was coming; he just waited for her to spit it out. He was quickly thanked for his part in ending the hijacking then Cassidy immediately launched into the Skinner issue.

"I understand that you've been staying with Assistant Director Skinner since the rescue. I'm sure you have other places to go to now that we've concluded your debriefing."

Krycek said nothing. Let a cocky eyebrow and a small smirk answer that.

With a suddenly steely tone, Cassidy dove in. "Assistant Director Skinner could easily have been one of those who was allowed to retire due to his involvement with you and this so-called Consortium. Your continued association with him could put that into jeopardy. Walter Skinner is a good man. A man I and this agency need. I would not like to lose him because of a friendship that seems to have developed under the most stressful of circumstances. Considering your history with AD Skinner, I think you owe him that, at the very least."

"And if I decide I don't?"

Jana Cassidy's face revealed the personality that had taken her to the top office in the FBI. "I will remind you that immunities can be overridden, especially if a team of efficient investigators is allowed to dig deep enough. Did you enjoy your flight back with Aeroflot?"

Krycek's smile was no less cold than Cassidy's. "Yes, as much as one can enjoy a flight with them. And while you're thinking about digging into my past, I will just remind *you* that not all of the documentation that made its way to you was complete. There's plenty more where that came from, and I wonder just how well this organization, as well as others we won't mention, could sustain another round of scrutiny? From the Media this time."

Stalemate.

He had her. Even though Jana Cassidy had fought her way to the top position of the FBI, she didn't stand a chance against somone who had actually been to hell and back. Alex Krycek had learnt from the best at grabbing an opponent up by the short hairs.

Exasperated, Cassidy nodded her dismissal. Krycek smirked confidently and left.

Only to find Special Agents Mulder and Scully waiting for him in the hallway.

"Let me guess: a formal escort to the door. The back door, I assume?"

His tone immediately got a reaction from Mulder. "You fucking rat-bastard..."

By now Krycek had decided to throw restraint to the wind. "Uh, un. I'm the legitimate one, Mulder. Remember? My mother was *married* to my father."

Scully stepped between them, quickly averting a fight. She knew Mulder had been looking for a chance to take on Krycek since the first of the information that Krycek had passed on to him had revealed secrets that she personally felt would have been better left hidden. But Mulder had wanted answers and Krycek had provided them, more than anyone really had expected. Or wanted.

She managed to get Krycek to the elevator, leaving Mulder behind, got Krycek out one of the side doors.

"Let me guess, Scully. You think I should be on the first plane out of here."

"Yes. Look, Krycek, I know we wouldn't have been able to take down the Consortium without your help."

"Gees, thanks, Scully," Krycek interrupted at his most sarcastic.

She ignored his tone. "And I realize too that your help from the plane was invaluable. And done in spite of personal risk. But you've hurt too many people, Krycek. Too many of us bear scars because of you, because of something you've done. And," she looked him straight in the eyes, "some of those scars go down too deep to have healed completely. You were given immunity as part of the deal you worked through us. Don't ask for more. We don't have it to give."

 

8 p.m. Monday

Skinner unlocked the front door to a dark apartment.

No lights on anywhere.

He knew Krycek had left the Bureau around lunchtime, figured he'd be here by now.

He dropped his briefcase by the closet door, removed and stored his weapon in the locking drawer of the table where he dropped his keys.

"Krycek?"

He went up the stairs, thinking maybe the man had fallen asleep. No one in his bedroom. Not in the spare one either. No knapsack anywhere in that room: he knew, he'd looked.

He found the keys on the kitchen table.

 

11 p.m. Monday

Considering the amount of cheap vodka he had ingested, he should be stinking drunk. Instead he was maudlin.

Krycek sat back in the corner booth of a bar in a part of D.C. that he used to frequent in the bad old days, when his masters had kept him on low funds, when he had been hiding from someone. It was not a friendly part of town, more dangerous the darker it grew.

The perfect haven for a rat, he thought.

He'd spent the afternoon walking around, thinking things through. True, he hadn't expected the FBI to pat him on the back and tell him what a good job he had done. What had caught him off guard was the all out hostility...the absolute hatred that everyone had shown him.

He'd also been surprised by Cassidy's revelations about how close Skinner had come to being a casualty. He'd thought that Skinner of all people would be the one least affected by any of the information he had passed onto Mulder and the few in other organizations. He'd thought he'd pretty much destroyed anything that threatened to be misconstrued in regards to Skinner. Hell, he *had* owed him that much.

It was late afternoon when he'd finally forced himself to accept that the last few days had not been real. A moment out of time. A good moment that would make a good memory.

So, he'd hailed a cab, gotten his knapsack, left behind the keys and closed the door on some stupid asshole delusion he'd convinced himself was real.

Without thinking, he headed for this part of town, for the bar whose upstairs rooms had provided him with a safe bolt-hole when he'd needed one. He made it as far as the corner booth, ordered one of those bottles of piss that passed for beer in America and forced himself to accept that there was no place here for him now. Not now, not ever.

He switched to vodka, another American version that was more rotgut than potato-based.

The bartenders changed at one point, the second one remembered him well enough to keep an eye on him, on the level of vodka in the bottle. Once in a while he'd bring over a new bowl of ice, a bowl of peanuts. Krycek should have been stinking drunk, even on stuff this bad. Instead he found himself thinking of all the other times there had been no place for him.

His father had died when he was six. If he tried hard, he could remember him. Sort of. His mother had worked as a waitress to support them. Even then, at that age, he had known she hated the work. Hated having no husband. That there had been times she hated him, for having to be responsible for him. He'd tried hard to make it up to her: he never made trouble, helped keep their small apartment clean, worked hard at school. The teachers told them their parents would be so proud of them if they worked hard. If his mother had ever felt that way, she had certainly never told him.

He was ten when she remarried. He never doubted George's love for his mother, or hers for him. Just as he never doubted he came along only as part of the package. His mother reminded him often enough that he had to be thankful to George: "For the food in your stomach, the clothes on your back, the roof over your head." As soon as he could, he'd found himself jobs so he wouldn't be so owing to George.

At first, he had had a bedroom all to himself, but soon the babies had come, three of them in four years. George converted a part of the attic area in their small house for his use. It wasn't big, under the eaves, just large enough for a narrow bed, a desk and chair. The closet had shelves and drawers in it to serve also as a dresser.

As soon as his brothers came along, his mother stopped working. She had always hated it, and George wanted her at home for his children. They were always short of money. He was fifteen when he'd found himself a decent part-time job, two evenings a week, Sundays, pumping gas.

He waited until he'd cashed his first pay check to talk to George. It was after supper and his mother was giving his brothers their bath. George was sitting in the living room, beer in hand, feet up on the coffee table, watching some sports report. He placed his pay on the table by George's feet.

"What's that?"

"My pay. I've kept twenty for myself."

George said nothing for a while, just looked at the money, about sixty dollars and some change. Took a gulp of beer. "What for?"

He wasn't able to stop the bitterness: "For the food in my stomach, the clothes on my back, the roof over my head."

George looked from the money to him. They stared at each other until he had dropped his eyes, knowing something had happened, but not what. George pushed the money back to him with his stockinged foot. "Keep it. That was part of the deal your...Margit and I made. Until you're eighteen."

He'd taken back his money, message received and understood. He banked as much of it away as he could, concentrated on his studies as his way out.

There'd been another time George had surprisingly shown some sympathy for him.

His mother wasn't any more interested in housekeeping than she had been work. It didn't bother George in the least. His brothers, in the way of small boys, were tornadoes in action. He himself liked things ordered. Which is why his room was his sanity in this household. He wasn't fanatical about it, but his room was so small that any clutter immediately irritated him.

So when he came home from work one night, his last year of high school, to find his brothers had been through his room, everything pulled off shelves, strewn on the floor, even his clothes pulled off their hangers, he freaked. Went downstairs and yelled, in a mixture of English and Russian, at his mother, among other things, that even if she didn't mind living in a pig-sty, he did.

George had gone upstairs to look at his room. From the doorway, he'd called his sons and demanded an explanation.

"I want my own room." David, aged almost seven, screamed. "Why should I have to share when he doesn't? He's not even your kid. Tommy's mother says he's probably some commie's bastard."

George had hauled David over his bent knee and had spanked him for the very first time in his life. "I won't have you saying things like that about your mother."

"I hate you!" David had screamed at his father. Then he'd turned, spat at Krycek, "I fucking hate *you*!"

Margit had stood at the bottom of the stairs, sobbing. George had merely said, "Keep your door locked from now on."

The day of his graduation, the principal had announced to all parents present the list of students with scholarships. Alex Krycek's name had been among them. His mother hadn't bothered to come, she was busy with the birthday party of his youngest brother. He'd turned in his cap and gown, picked up his knapsack, and taken a bus to the city where he would be attending university. He had been four months shy of his eighteenth birthday. He had never seen any of his "family" again.

He got a job almost right away, in construction. He found another for during the school year. The scholarship was for tuition and books only. He rented from an older couple, a room that was easily three times larger than his bedroom at home, with breakfast included, kitchen privileges: basically what he'd had at home. He concentrated on his studies, computers and political science, added courses in the Russian he and his mother had spoken before her marriage to George.

In his second year, he fell in love. With Robert Stevens.

He'd always wondered about that part of himself. Hadn't paid much attention to it before. But then he met Robert and knew. Like all things he hadn't any control over, he accepted.

Robert returned his affection. They went out together, to movies, buffet lunches where they gorged themselves for $5, all the while discussing in great depth the discoveries they were making of the world. Krycek lost his virginity in the back of Robert's 1965 Chevy. It was obvious, even to him, that Robert had far more experience.

The love affair lasted the rest of the school year. Then Robert went home to work in his father's business for the summer, came back engaged to some girl, whose brother attended the same university.

Krycek snorted into his vodka, thinking back on how naive he'd been then, stupidly remaining faithful while his so-called lover was off sleeping with his bride-to- bed. The marriage was hurried along when she proved pregnant.

He had focused on his studies, not even the slightest bit aware that he had come to someone's attention.

"Hey! I'm closing. You got a place to go to, or do you want one of the rooms upstairs?"

Krycek looked up from the glass he'd been staring into: the bartender picked up the bottle of vodka, shook it to see that maybe one or two drops were left.

"One thing, you're certainly not driving. And no cab's going to come out here to pick you up." He sighed, very put upon. "If you want, I'll drop you off at a cab stand. I pass one on the way home."

Home, thought Krycek. Yeah, that would be good. He staggered to his feet, nearly pitched forward picking up his knapsack. The bartender caught him. "S'okay. I'm not that drunk. I can stand by myself."

The bartender smirked. "Yeah, I can see that. Just so long as you're not sick in my car."

Yeah, that was what he was going to do. Go home. Except, as he sat in the car, the window open just in case, he really didn't have a home to go to, did he? For a moment, he had had something, but...

 

4 a.m. Tuesday

The doorbell kept on ringing.

Skinner looked at the clock by his bed, cursed soundly as he grabbed his pants. Just what the hell..."I'm coming. Hold your horses." He pulled the zipper up as he ran down the stairs, cursing to himself.

He looked through the peephole and froze.

The man on the other side had his finger on the doorbell, not letting up in the least.

Skinner pulled open the door, not in the best of moods.

"Krycek." His voice was hard.

Alex Krycek tried hard not to weave on his feet. Somewhere he had lost his knees and was having trouble finding them.

"They told me to get away from you," he announced, carefully enunciating every word.

Skinner leaned against the door. "They? Who they?"

"All of them. The guys with the rubber hoses. MacGregor. Cassidy. Mulder. Even Scully."

Skinner raised an eyebrow at the litany of names.

"They're right. I know they're right."

Skinner watched as Krycek took a stance, legs apart, braced, hands at side, the knapsack straps wrapped around the prosthetic hand.

He raised his chin. "But I need to hear it from you."

Skinner shook his head. "You're drunk."

With a very serious expression, Krycek agreed. "Yeah, I'd have to be, wouldn't I?"

Skinner looked down at the floor, reached out and pulled Krycek into the room, into his arms as he closed the door with his foot. Krycek melted against him, face tucked in the hollow between shoulder and neck.

After a minute or so: "You going to be sick?" Skinner tightened his arms around the man who smelt of bad booze, stale cigarette smoke.

Krycek gulped at the idea. "God, I hope not. The stuff was foul enough going down."

Skinner chuckled, rubbed his cheek against Krycek's hair. "Go take a shower. I'll put some coffee on. Then we'll talk."

Krycek raised his head. For a moment he looked incredibly sober. "Skinner, I..."

"Alex. Go shower. It'll clear your head. And then we'll talk. Go on."

Skinner looked up from the coffee he had made to see Krcyek come into the kitchen, towel drying his hair with his one hand. He and the pale grey sweats he wore made a good match. Skinner filled a mug, handed it over. Krycek nodded his thanks, took a sip.

"Not the Hawaiian."

Skinner shook his head. "Not a special occasion. I still don't know whether or not I should just kick your ass."

Krycek smiled at that, took another sip. He'd been sick in the bathroom -- and the stuff had indeed been much fouler coming back up -- but it had helped clear his head, that and the shower. He hoped the hot liquid would help settle his stomach.

Skinner let him finish the first mug in silence, then he refilled both of theirs. "Now then, starting from when I left you with...the guys with the rubber hoses, fill me in on your day. It sounds to have been far more interesting than mine."

He listened as Krycek summed it all up in a few sentences. For all the expression Krycek showed, he'd have believed none of it had bothered him if he hadn't seem him brace himself at the door. He wondered if this was the time to ask for those explanations of things that still bothered him and decided there really was no good time, so why not?

"Alex. Why did you betray us? I mean, what did Spender have on you that made you side with him and not us?"

"Have on me?" Krycek's smile was not particularly pretty. "Nothing. He bought me. With words."

"With words? I don't understand, Alex."

Krycek stared into the mug he was holding. "You went off to war."

Skinner nodded. "Yes, I did."

"How old were you, when you decided to go?" Krycek looked up.

"Decided? I was about seventeen, my last year of high school. I went I was eighteen." He sat back in his chair and wondered what all this had to do with Krycek and his betrayal.

"Why did you go?"

"What?" Skinner looked puzzled.

"Why? For what reason did you agree to go fight a war that was already lost? You were off to university. You could have gotten a deferment."

Skinner didn't hesitate. "I went because of the way I'd been brought up: that it was my duty, my honour to serve my country."

"Well, that explains the Marines. Did you think you could make a difference?"

Skinner thought a moment. "Yeah. I did."

Krycek nodded his head. "And what did you do when you discovered you couldn't?"

Skinner snorted: "I went out and got drunk. But I stayed and did my duty."

"When I discovered that not only I couldn't, but that I had been lied to, it was too late. I was in so deeply that the only way out was with a bullet. And I didn't want to die."

Skinner held those cat-eyes and realized that Krycek was waiting for his reaction. "Words. You said you'd been bought with words. What words, Alex?"

Words like: Congratulations, I hear your project work is very impressive. You're doing well, Alex. You shouldn't be spending your summers working construction. I know it pays well, but here, go see this man: he'll give you a job worthy of your talents. And in computers as well.

Words of approval.

He'd been a cheap buy.

He'd been introduced to Spender by one of his profs who'd merely said: "This is the young man I've been telling you about." Very casually. As if they'd run into him by chance, on the grounds of the university.

It had been just after the Robert fiasco, and he'd been particularly vulnerable, in spite of having sworn never to be taken in again.

And hell, it had been so flattering, the compliments of a man who barely knew him. And what had he cost Spender, apart from the words: a few hundred bucks in meals? Paid out as part of the campaign to entice him, to recruit him.

"I'm always on the lookout for young men with brains and good sense," Spender had told him, over one of those fancy meals.

In his last semester, there had been a meal that had included questioning him on his future plans. Surely he wanted something more than a desk job, behind some computer. He had intelligence. He was quick. He had abilities that could be used.

That who could use?

Spender had lit another cigarette, taking his time to answer. "There are," he said, "enemies of this country in places that are difficult to get to. Men who need special supervision. I represent an organization that seeks to protect our people, our country from those who would harm it. I can't tell you who we are: you don't have the security clearance level. But in time, with training, you could have."

Krycek had listened to Spender's plans for him, had been attracted, but knew there was something he wouldn't be able to hide that would probably put an end to Spender's offer.

"Sir. I'm honoured that you think I could be of service in such a manner, but I think you need to know. I'm gay."

Spender had lit another of his interminable cigarettes, looked at the tip, then up at him. "That's not a problem."

And he'd swallowed; hook, line and sinker.

After university, he'd been sent to a survival training camp where he'd had the shit beaten out of him often enough to learn how to do it himself. He had been surprised at how easy it was to do: he'd never realized how much anger he'd packed down over his life. His instructors had known.

He learnt quickly. Discovered he had a natural ability with a gun, with most weaponry. Had excellent hand-eye co-ordination. They discovered his high tolerance for pain during a POW exercise, and they trained him to endure even more.

As for his sexual preferences, they showed him how to use his body with women, should that be necessary, and sent him off for a special training session in a brothel that catered to men, whose tastes ran from vanilla to deepest dark.

And all the time he was encouraged by Spender who seemed to drop in, coincidentally, on a whim, to check up on him whenever he was showing signs of doubting his decision.

"How much of your background did he invent to get you into Quantico?"

"Most of it. Except for my training, I had no real experience of police work or anything similar. I looked young and green because I was young and green."

"When did you start doubting what they'd told you?"

"Almost right away. When I was assigned to Mulder, I was told he was one of the enemies I had been trained to keep an eye on. Except that I started asking questions, and Spender didn't like that. That thing with Cole got me asking even more. Even though I got Spender the information he wanted, he wasn't happy with my attitude. Guess he decided I needed a bit more training. First thing I knew, I was told I'd been made, to get out of the place they had rented for me, meet Spender at a certain location. He handed me over to Peskow, who took me to Mother Russia, polished off my skills."

"In killing?"

Krycek didn't answer right away. "Among other things."

"Such as?"

Krycek sighed, rubbed his hand over his eyes. God! He was tired! "Such as unquestioning obedience. Except it didn't take very well."

Skinner looked at the stove clock. It was almost time for him to go to work. He stood, Krycek's head came up.

"I've got to get ready. There's a meeting this morning I can't miss. Why don't you go to bed, get some sleep." He cocked his head, seriously considering the man in front of him. "And Krycek, two favours?"

Krycek nodded. "If I can."

"One, be here when I get home tonight."

Krycek, face expressionless, took a breath, then slowly nodded.

"Two. Don't go out. For any reason. There's the television, videos. My computer's in the office. I would consider it an additional favour if you stay out of my personal files. If you need to get hold of me for any reason, use my cell number. I'll leave it on the desk."

Krycek stood up, nodded. "Okay."

Skinner wasn't so trusting this time. "Say it."

Very seriously, Krycek intoned, "I will be here when you get back tonight. I will not go out for any reason, until you come home. I will stay out of your personal files."

Skinner smiled. "Go get some sleep. And, Alex, in my bed."

 

7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Skinner hesitated a moment before unlocking his front door. He opened it to light and, even more amazingly, the most delightful of smells. He was hanging up his coat when Krycek came out of the den he used as his office.

"What smells so good?"

"Chicken paprika. The noodles still have to be done. You have time for a shower if you want."

While eating, Skinner checked Krycek out. He'd lost the grey look of the morning, had obviously caught up on his sleep, something he himself was badly beginning to need. Krycek wasn't all that hungry, playing with his food more than eating. Skinner on the other hand had worked through lunch and was starved. He'd thought of maybe ordering in for supper, but... "What?" He'd looked up to find Krycek sitting back in his chair grinning at him.

"Leave the pattern. There's dessert."

Skinner looked at the plates on the table and realized there was nothing left on any of them. "Well," he was slightly embarrassed, "it's good. And," he added defensively, "I missed lunch."

Krycek said nothing, but his smile even reached his eyes. He got up, went to the counter and brought over a cake.

"You made a cake?"

Now it was Krycek's turn to be defensive. "It's only a mix. It was in your cupboard, so I figured you intended using it some time or other."

Skinner took a mouthful. Smiled in appreciation. "Okay, maybe it started as a mix, but that's not how it ended up."

He was surprised to see Krycek redden slightly, then remembered what he had said that morning about having been bought with words.

"George and my mother liked going out. I often made supper. The kids hated plain cake, so I got used to throwing other things in. It's no big deal. Just some canned fruit."

But Skinner could tell he was pleased. And his stomach certainly was. He insisted on doing clean-up. "My mother's rule: the cook doesn't wash up."

Krycek slouched in an armchair watching a hockey game while Skinner worked on some files he had brought home with him rather than finish them at the office. At around eleven o'clock, he stood up, stretched. "Think I'm ready for bed." On his way out of the room, he let his hand stroke along the back of Krycek's shoulder.

He came out of his bathroom to find Krycek on the bed, naked. He said nothing, took off his clothes, hung them up and, after placing his glasses on the dresser, turned off the light. He didn't draw the curtains, remembering how Krycek had opened the ones in the spare bedroom the one night he had slept in it.

"Just how tired are you?" Krycek's tone was curious more than anything.

"Why don't we find out?" Skinner reached for him.

Krycek intended going slowly, but his hunger got the better of him. Skinner tried, once, to slow him down, but then gave in to the assault on his senses. Krycek wasted no time, his mouth travelled from Skinner's, down his throat, across his chest, down his stomach to the erection that belied Skinner's so-called age problem.

God! Skinner couldn't believe what Krycek's mouth was doing to him. All he could do was grip Krycek's hair and hang on for the ride.

He cursed when that hot wet mouth pulled away from him. But Krycek only moved from cock to balls. At this rate, Skinner knew it wouldn't take much longer for him to come. And he wanted more. He managed to get a grip on Krycek's shoulders, push him back.

With a quick turn, he settled himself so that Krycek could continue playing with him, but now he too would have something to play with.

As seemed to be his style, Krycek went efficiently back to work on his cock and balls. Skinner took his time, kneading Krycek's ass, teasing the soft skin of his groin with the stubble that darkened his chin and cheeks. He knew he was going to come first, had decided that Krycek was just going to have to wait his turn. He grunted his release into Krycek's bush. When he'd caught his breath, he looked up, grinned wickedly at the man waiting for him to do something, and with exaggerated slowness, gave the twitching cock a long slow lick, from base to crown, teasing the leaking glans with little cat-licks.

Krycek's hips protested so much that Skinner had to grip them to hold him still. He continued teasing the man's cock until Krycek twisted his body, wiggling himself across Skinner, trying to get him to suck on his throbbing erection. Skinner laughed, his mouth tormenting cock and balls, then quickly pulled his head back as Krycek's come streaked both of their bodies and the sheets.

They lay together, heads resting on each other's thighs, when with a breathy laugh, Krycek tossed out, "I guess we found out."

Skinner kissed the skin closest to his mouth, "I guess we did."

With a sigh, he moved off the bed, came back with a wet face cloth to clean Krycek off. He sponged Krycek's come off the sheet. "Laundry tomorrow. I'll do it when I come home if you change the bed."

"Do you want me to make the same promises again?" Krycek yawned.

Skinner pulled him into his arms, carefully avoiding the wet spot. "Yes, I do. Until the weekend, if you feel you can do that."

Krycek rubbed his head against Skinner's shoulder, sighed deeply. "Yeah, I can do that."

 

7 a.m. Saturday

Skinner nudged Krycek out of bed. "Come on. I've got plans and we've only got today and tomorrow."

Skinner finished his coffee, leaning against the doorjamb of the spare bedroom. He'd noticed Krycek never unpacked the knapsack, just took out what he needed at the time, put everything else back in.

"Bring the knapsack with you."

Krycek had his back to him. Skinner never saw the flash of pain that crossed Krycek's face. Krycek stilled, blanked his mind and his feelings, then nodded.

"And find room for this, would you? It's all I need to bring." Skinner tossed his travelling kit onto the bed next to the knapsack. Krycek didn't catch his reaction in time; he turned and Skinner caught the surprise. "I keep clothes where we're going," he explained.

They were in the car before Krycek asked, "Where are we going?"

Skinner moved the big car into the fast lane, passed a couple of semis before he answered. "West Virginia. Near Charles Town. Wait, you'll see."

About two and a half hours after leaving the condo, Skinner drove down a road that was dotted with houses. Most of them seemed to be farm houses, obviously a good century or more in age. After a few minutes, he turned into a driveway of one of the older ones, parked under a huge oak that shaded most of the front yard.

The two-storey house was made of brick whose red had softened with time. There was a white wooden porch with sloping roof that wrapped around to the left side of the house. The front of the porch and either side of the steps were trimmed with bushes of dark green. Skinner dug around in his jeans pockets and found the key to the front door. He had to use his shoulder to push the door open. Krycek followed him carrying his knapsack.

The house had a closed-up dusty smell. Skinner went into the large room immediately on the left and opened one of the windows, as he did in every room they entered. "Parlour. As you can easily tell, not the most inviting room in the house. I doubt either one of us could sit with any comfort in any of these chairs. But then, that's why it's the parlour."

He opened another door across the hallway, a dark room filled with heavy dark furniture. "Dining room."

Further down, on the same side, "Sitting room. The chairs in here are marginally more acceptable." Actually, thought Krycek, they looked a hell of a lot more comfortable, but all that flowery chintz would be hard to take for any length of time.

On the other side, "Office and the men's smoking room." This room, again dark, was more masculine in flavour. The chairs were well-used leather. The room did have the odour of old cigars.

"And kitchen."

The room at the end of the hallway was the full width of the house, with fairly modern appliances at one end, a large table in the middle, with six wooden kitchen chairs. Skinner checked out the fridge. "Good, she got the order in. We won't have to go into town for supplies."

He unlocked a back door, gestured to Krycek with his head. Krycek dropped the knapsack on the table, followed out onto the side porch.

There were a couple of outbuildings, in fairly good repair. "The old coach house, now garage. What's left of the barn. The roof on it is solid so they used it for storage. God knows what's in it."

Krycek slouched against one of the porch roof supports, stuck his hand into his jacket pocket. "This yours?"

Skinner laughed, sat on the arm of one of the adirondack chairs that had greyed in the sunlight. "Yeah. Actually I inherited it. From a grand-aunt of Sharon's who died recently. She'd originally left it to Sharon, but never changed her will. I was Sharon's main heir, apart from some specified charities, friends. She'd never changed hers either. So, in the long run I ended up with this. There were some problems with the will. Seems Grand-Aunt Estelle didn't think much of lawyers. But it's all cleared up now, so it's mine, lock, stock and barrel."

"How much land?"

"Not much. Family sold most of the farm off over the years. About five acres in all. From the road to the other side of the creek which we can't see from here; it's down the gully, runs dry most of the year. And from the tree line to the left to the stone fence at the right. Working farms to either side.

"We're about ten minutes to Charles Town, maybe thirty to Winchester." He stood up. "Come on, there's something I want you to see."

They went upstairs, using the wide front staircase. "There's one off the kitchen, but the stairway is narrow and the steps need repair."

There was a beautiful bedroom at the front, over the parlour, windowed on two sides. The double bed was used but firm. Krycek tested it to be sure. The room was feminine, but not overpoweringly so, not like the sitting room downstairs.

"The second bathroom. There's another off the kitchen." Krycek was almost disappointed. It was nothing like Skinner's bathroom in D.C. Just a plain, regular bathroom.

"Sewing room. Nursery with maid's room at the back. Another storage room that was once probably some kid's room. And this is what I want you to see." Skinner had worked his way back to the front of the house, to the side over the dining room. "If that," he nodded toward the feminine room, "was the lady's boudoir, this was the master's bedroom."

The room, longer than wide, probably took up most of the right side of the house. It needed to. The furniture, again all dark, was massive. From the armoire, to the high dresser, to the roll-top desk.

To the massive carved four poster bed.

"I measured it," said Skinner. "It could take a king- sized mattress and bedsprings. The mattress that's there right now was made for it, but I have no idea when. No one's used it in years, and it needs replacing. Still, it *is* useable."

Skinner moved until he was directly behind Krycek. Put his arms around him, pulled him close.

"Take a good look at that bed, Alex. Check out the posts. The wood is ebony. So old it's like steel. The rings hanging out of the mouth of the lions, it would take a diamond chip saw to cut them out of that wood."

Skinner lightly bit the side of Krycek's jaw. Licked the small pain away.

"Tonight, when I tell you, you're going to take a shower. And you'll use the enema kit I'll put in the bathroom. Then you'll come stretch yourself out, naked, on the bed and wait for me."

Krycek made a small sound. Skinner held him more firmly.

"I'll give you twenty minutes. When I come up here, I'll tie you to those posts." His hands slipped lower, caressing Krycek through his clothes. Krycek said nothing though his breathing roughened.

"No neighbours, Alex. No one to hear you. You can scream all you want and you won't have to worry about anyone hearing." His hands slipped even lower, lightly passing over the responding cock. "I want you to think about this, all day, while we're cleaning up the place, sorting out the junk from the good stuff. I want you to think about what I'm going to do to you."

He gave Krycek's hardening cock a final squeeze. As he left the room, he continued as if nothing had happened, "I more or less took care of the kitchen last time. It's such a nice day, I think we should do some yard work today, don't you?"

Krycek stood staring at the bed with its garish carvings of wild animals, pictured himself tied down for Skinner's pleasure and wondered if this was where Skinner was going to take his revenge.

Things had, in spite of the beginning of the week, been going fairly well. He never liked having to stay in, but there'd been enough in Skinner's condo to keep him interested. Besides, he had often holed up in places for days that hadn't even had a working television.

He had no idea where any of this was going. He didn't have to stay, could easily leave. He didn't think Skinner would do anything to stop him.

At the door of the room, he stopped and looked again at that bed. Felt himself get just a bit hard at the image Skinner had drawn for him.

They spent the day cleaning up the back yard which had once had flower beds and even a vegetable garden. There was a small gazebo, badly in need of repair. A recent storm had damaged it further. "You'll need to replace this completely," Krycek announced, out of the blue: he had barely spoken since he'd joined Skinner outside.

Skinner was raking up some of the smaller branches that had come down in the same storm. He looked around. He hadn't been very sure what he was going to do with the place. The area was appealing: close enough to D.C. to get to it if he really wanted, far enough away to make a break from the office and work.

"The whole place is going to need a lot of work. Structurally, it's solid, but the wiring all has to go. The rooms are large, but far too dark for my taste. The flooring is oak, but needs repairs, sanding. The plumbing..." here Skinner grinned at Krycek, "well, you'll see. It needs attention, and right now, that's not something I can give it."

"You intend doing all the work yourself?"

Skinner laughed. "No way. No, all I want to do is supervise while experts take care of the problems. I like the place. In a couple of years when I retire, I may want to move out here. I hired the local real estate agent to come out once a week, check out the place. I let her know when I'm coming down and she stocks the fridge for me. She's told me that some of the stuff, the furniture, the knick-knacks are valuable, but the furniture's too dark for me, too short and uncomfortable. Well, most of it is. I might keep one or two pieces, but I'd want my own from the condo."

Lunch was sandwiches; supper, steaks. The bottle of red wine was courtesy the real estate agent who wanted to market the house should he decide to sell, or first crack at the furniture if he didn't.

The chairs in the sitting room were a bit too soft for Krycek's taste, and the couch not long enough for either of them to stretch out, so they sat, each in a corner, feet propped up on the ottomen they'd brought in from the parlour, watching staticky basketball on the small television.

"The place needs a satellite dish," commented Skinner as he played with the rabbit ears on top of the set.

"One of the pizza ones," said Krycek. "A big one would ruin the look of the place."

Skinner smiled as he finally found a position for the antenna that at least brought in colour.

It was a particularly lacklustre game. Skinner was aware that Krycek was growing quieter and quieter, not that he was ever noisy or fidgety, but almost as if he were pulling within himself. He glanced at his watch. 9:30.

"Alex."

Krycek looked away from the game that he hadn't been watching: he didn't even know which teams were playing.

"Go shower."

Skinner had time to wonder if Krycek were going to do as he'd asked -- no, ordered -- when, face expressionless, silent, Krycek rose and went upstairs. A couple of minutes later, Skinner heard the clanging of the pipes that rang whenever anyone used water in the house. He smiled, watched as the "winning" team tripped over its feet.

 

9:50 p.m. Saturday

Krycek was waiting for Skinner, lying naked in the centre of the bed, on top of the bedclothes. Eyes on the ceiling, he asked himself just what the hell he was doing here? Did he really trust Skinner wouldn't suddenly decide to take some kind of revenge? Did he still want the man so much now having had a taste of him that he would allow himself to be used to fulfill what was so obviously a fantasy on Skinner's part?

He silently mocked himself: yeah, well, he was here, wasn't he?

Skinner slouched against the bottom bedpost. He wondered what thoughts had caused the look of disgust that had flashed over the man's face as he had come into the room. When Skinner finally moved, he went over to the dresser and opened the top drawer, took something out. Krycek didn't look.

Skinner dropped most of what he was carrying on the bed as he came around to the right where Krycek's hand lay extended. He leaned over, slipped a loop over his wrist and gently pulled the arm so that it reached over and up, pointing to the front right post. He knotted the long silk scarf in the ring, leaving enough play so that Krycek could bend his elbow, just a bit.

Skinner played with the closed fist until the fingers opened, then he dropped a kiss onto the palm.

Krycek's head turned slightly. Skinner smiled at him.

He used another of the silk scarves to tie Krycek's right ankle to the right bottom post. Again there was enough slack so that Krycek could bend his knee enough so the leg wouldn't cramp. With a slightly wider smile, Skinner passed the tip of a finger under the sole, nodded as the foot jerked. Then he cupped his hand under the foot, dropped a kiss on the top of it.

Krycek's eyes followed him as he walked around the high baseboard of the bed, to do the same to his left foot. And again the kiss.

Skinner nodded to himself at seeing a small reaction grow to identifiable confusion in Krycek's eyes. He sat on the right side of the bed, carefully tied another of the scarves around the stump and then its end to the last post. He surprised Krycek when he dropped a kiss onto the badly scarred end.

Skinner stretched out next to Krycek, propped his head up on an elbow and examined the man watching him.

"Thank you."

Krycek spoke warily. "For what?"

"For trusting me enough to do as I asked, even if you aren't sure what I'm going to do to you." He reached out with a finger and traced Krycek's jawline. "This morning, I told you I was going to make you scream. And I am, Alex. But not with pain. I've told you already there's been enough of that. That it's time to put that part of our past behind us. And I meant it.

"But you are going to scream. With frustration. Maybe even with anger. But never with pain. If I do anything at all that hurts you, you have to tell me, right away. I'll stop. I promise. And if your arm hurts at all, you have to tell me that too. The scarf is just there for balance. For your body's feeling of balance. The knot on it will release easily enough if you pull your arm up."

Skinner's finger moved, slowly tracing Krycek's features. "We're going to take things very slowly, Alex. I know you like things fast, hard, even rough. I'm not complaining: that can be very hot. But tonight we're doing it my way. Tonight, I'm going to teach you to go slow."

Over the next few hours, Krycek did indeed scream. In frustration. Once or twice, in anger. Never because of pain.

Skinner started with Krycek's face. Playing over it with a finger, then a hand, soothing caressing, sensitizing the skin so that when he brought his lips, tongue, mouth into the game, Krycek was already wriggling.

And Skinner hadn't been kidding about going slowly. He took his time, then sat back, hand stilled somewhere on Krycek's body and watched as Krycek calmed down from his ministrations only to begin winding him up all over again. Krycek was certain he spent hours on his nipples, stroking them, soothing them, playing around them. Biting, licking, avoiding. Until Krycek was certain he was going to come without Skinner going any further. It was then that Skinner pulled completely away.

"Now then, wouldn't do for you to get off before I want you to, Alex. You're only going to come once tonight. That's all. And you're just going to have to wait for it."

Then the fucker went for a walk. Krycek growled from the back of this throat.

Skinner wasn't gone long, came back with a jug of ice water and two glasses. "I don't know about you, but I find this is thirsty work."

Krycek's head went back as he gave a sort of laugh. "Jesus, Skinner, just hurry the fuck up!"

Skinner sat by the side of the bed, reached over and helped Krycek raise his head. He held the glass of cold water to his mouth and grinned as Krycek emptied the glass, some of the water running down his chin, dripping onto his chest. Skinner let Krycek down, placed the glass on the night table and, with little flicks of his tongue, licked the water off Krycek's skin.

Krycek groaned.

"You taste so sweet, Alex." Skinner grinned up at the man who just shook his head.

"Fuck you, Skinner."

"Walter. I think it's time you called me by my name."

Krycek looked him straight in the eyes. "Okay. Fuck you. Walter."

"Better." Skinner's grin was appreciative. "But I'm the one who's going to fuck you. And not right away." He used a bit of the water to trace decreasing concentric circles around the brown areolas, ending with a light flick at over-sensitized nubs.

Krycek gritted his teeth against a moan of pleasure. Skinner held true to his word: he wasn't in pain. Not *pain* pain, but damn, sometimes what he felt came plenty close to it.

Skinner placed a sucky kiss by Krycek's navel, felt the muscles twitch under his mouth. He got off the bed, slowly flexing his henley over his head. Krycek closed his eyes. He was not going to encourage Skinner...no, Walter...in this teasing game he'd set up. Skinner just grinned, thoroughly enjoying himself.

While he'd been working his way back and forth, from one side of the bed to the other, Skinner had discovered Krycek was ticklish. Not in a lot of places, but in enough. Under his right arm. Along the lower left ribcage. And now he'd realized that Krycek's navel was another of these hot spots.

This time he concentrated on the skin between diaphragm and bush: Krycek became very vocal. There were curses, mostly in English, though the ones in Russian were beginning to gain dominance. Skinner figured this was because Russian was Krycek's first language and he was finding it hard to curse, let alone think, in a second one. Here and there, he recognized some that his maternal grandfather had used, even had an idea what they meant. "Tsk, tsk, Alex. Language. So shocking. I think this does require punishment of some kind." And he sat back, leaning against one of the bedposts, watching Krycek's hips rise, frustrated, off the bedclothes.

Skinner waited until Krycek's breathing calmed then began playing with the foot next to him. Krycek tried to kick him away, pull his foot away from Skinner's tormenting finger. A finger that stroked lines along the sole of his foot, played silly little games up his leg, past his knee to lightly zig-zag its way up the sensitive skin of his inner thigh. Only to stop at the crease where thigh joined body, circle around his aching groin and descend in the same manner. Then he did it again. And again.

Skinner's enjoyment filled the room. Krycek breathlessly cursed him.

When he thought Krycek could use a change, Skinner got off the bed, made his way around to the other side. Krycek knew what to expect: his glare only made Skinner laugh. By the time Skinner pulled away, Krycek could barely grunt sounds.

"I think we should take a break here. What do you think, Alex? Hmm. You sound a little out of breath. Maybe some more water? Here, sips only, Alex. Wouldn't want you to choke."

Skinner took his time removing his jeans, made a show of folding them along the crease, smoothed the material over the back of a chair. Krycek refused to watch, even if Skinner was giving a running commentary. "By the way, have I told you how much I like seeing you in those jeans you wear, Alex. Tight but not sluttish. Makes me want to grab that lovely ass of yours, squeeze hard." He smiled at the man purposefully not looking at him.

He moved to stand at the foot of the bed, rested his crossed arms on the top of the high baseboard. "You're all sweaty, Alex. Gives your skin a nice glow. Do you know you're flushed, from just below your navel to the top of your throat. Your cock looks a little red, your balls darker. I wonder just how dark I can get them?"

Skinner came round to climb onto the bed, make his way to between Krycek's legs. He placed his hands on either side of his thighs for balance and then blew on the reddened cock with the shiny wet glans, the tightened, dark scrotum. Krycek's hips jerked up: he found enough voice again for his curses. Skinner laughed.

He sat back, took Krycek's balls in hand, rolling them, gently playing with them. Once in a while, he tugged on the silky skin, not so gently, bringing the level of intensity down a notch. This time when he pulled away, Krycek's moans were loud in their protest.

Skinner sat down in the chair. While stretching his legs out, he tugged on his own balls, attempting to keep his hard-on under control. He didn't yet have Krycek where he wanted him: totally unaware of everything except for Skinner's cock.

"Please," whispered Krycek.

"Please what, Alex?"

Krycek wet his lips. His face was streaked with rivulets of perspiration, his hair soaked with it. "Please, I need to piss."

Skinner thought about that. Not surprising really considering all the water he'd been giving him to avoid dehydration. The covers under Krycek's body were soaked. "Okay. Obviously we'll have to let you come down a bit. Tell you what. All this work has made me hungry. I'll go downstairs, rustle up some food and that should give you time. Though then, of course, we may have to start over again from the beginning," Krycek groaned loudly, "but the night is still young. We've got plenty of time."

Skinner cheerfully went down the stairs to the accompaniment of curses.

He gave Krycek about ten minutes, went back up and grinned at man from the doorway. "We'll give it a bit more time, shall we? Do you want mustard or mayo on your ham sandwich?" He was actually glad he didn't have any of the Russian Krycek threw at him then. "Hmm. Guess that must mean you aren't hungry."

Before he came back into the bedroom, he took advantage of the down time to urinate himself. He found Krycek had softened some and would be able to use the bottle that he'd found.

"Come on. Let me up, Walter. I want to piss into a toilet, not an old milk bottle."

Skinner slipped the mouth of the bottle over Krycek's cock. "This is it, Alex. You have no choice. And I have no intention of freeing you. I like you right where you are."

Skinner watched as Krycek worked on relaxing himself enough to piss into the bottle. He didn't make any noise, did nothing to distract the man: he was having a hard enough time as was.

Finally a golden stream began filling up the bottle, until Skinner thought some of it might just end up on the bed.

"That's it," muttered Krycek, annoyed by the situation. Skinner carefully removed the bottle, used a tissue to mop up the little he did spill, went and emptied the warm liquid into the toilet.

When he re-entered the room, Krycek eyed him tiredly. Yeah, Skinner thought, it was time to end the game.

He straddled Krycek's body, his knees on either side of the man's hips. He placed condoms and lube near at hand, pulled a couple of pillows by Krycek's hips. And smiled at him.

Krycek thought he had never seen anyone smile such an evil smile.

Skinner did nothing new to him: it was just that his body remembered so very well, all he had done to arouse it. In minutes, Krycek was nothing but sensation.

Skinner found himself aroused just from seeing Krycek rapidly flush again, from the sounds that he no longer tried to hold back. There were no curses this time, only sounds that were barely human.

Skinner worked his way down Krycek's body, a body that writhed, twisted, jerked under his touch. By the time he had found his way back to Krycek's balls, he was using his hand as a substitute cock ring. Quickly, because he was close to his own limit, Skinner tugged at the release knots on the leg scarves, shoved a pillow under Krycek's bucking hips, unrolled a condom that made his stiff cock throb painfully and, with very little finesse, lubed Krycek's ass.

Grunting, he slowly pushed his way in.

Krycek responded with incoherent sounds.

Neither of them was far from completion. Skinner quickened his thrusts as Krycek arched his back up hard, ass muscles spasming, his screams filling the house, his come shooting over his body. Skinner's grin was feral as he howled "Yes!" and frantically pumped his release deep into the heat of Krycek's body.

Rolling to one side, Skinner lay back, arm thrown over his eyes, listening to Krycek's gasping breaths and his own blood pounding throughout his body.

He dozed a bit while his heart rate dropped back to normal. Feeling chilled, Skinner roused himself to take care of the still sweat-soaked man next to him. Krycek lay loose, his body trembled slightly and even twitched now and then though he was obviously asleep. As he gently cleaned and dried his unconscious lover, Skinner couldn't stop the stupid self-satisfied grin from spreading on his face.

It was still there as he found a dry portion of the bed, pulled the limp man into his arms then drifted asleep.

 

8:10 a.m. Sunday

Skinner woke with Krycek still in his arms.

It was raining outside and he really didn't feel like moving. Except his bladder had other ideas. Slowly, careful not to disturb the sleeping man, he slipped out from under him and got out of bed. Krycek barely moved, though he made a small protesting sound. Skinner quietly left the room, used the toilet but didn't flush: the noise the pipes made when used was enough to wake the dead. And for some reason, he didn't want Krycek to wake. Not just yet.

He went back to the bedroom, stood by the side of the bed and examined the man who had wrapped his one arm around his midriff, tucked his knees up a bit, was frowning in his sleep.

Skinner looked out the window and decided, all things considered, he preferred to be in bed. Just as carefully he slipped under the covers, pulled Krycek back into his arms. Krycek never roused. He just snuggled a bit more comfortably. Gave a deep sigh of satisfaction.

Skinner rubbed his chin lightly over the head tucked under it. Why this man? What the hell was it that attracted him to a...what was it Mulder called him, a rat-bastard? An assassin. A man who had tortured him out of jealousy. A man who had, after all, killed him.

Back on the plane, he had felt strangely comforted when Krycek had manipulated the Idiots into letting him join Skinner. Not so alone. And even if the actual physical space that they had shared had been cramped, Krycek had never really gotten on his nerves. He had wanted to smack him a few times, but he had never felt the slightest urge to kill him. Off hand, he didn't think there were many people he could say that about in those circumstances.

When he'd come home and found the keys on the table, his first reaction had been that of anger. Krycek and the others had certainly thought he would feel relief at having the man gone, his life back to normal. But he hadn't. And it hadn't been annoyance that he had walked out without a thank you: he had been genuinely angry. Then surprised when Krycek had shown up at the door; relieved at the explanation.

Now that he knew more about the man's background, he wondered at the courage it had taken for Krycek to show up. True, he had had to get drunk to do it, but he had taken a chance. A chance he had fully expected to lose.

Skinner shook his head, his cheek stroking the dark head.

The rest of the week had been rather comfortable. The sex was good. Shit! The sex was fucking great! You would have thought that out of bed they'd have nothing in common. Their jobs were different: hell, an understatement there if anything! Their preferences in sports: him with his basketball, Krycek and his soccer. Though, they *did* sort of agree on hockey: but there again, Skinner was loyal to Washington, Krycek to the Canadiens. To the best of his knowledge, Krycek had respected his privacy, though he had confessed to rummaging through his bookcases.

So, when he thought about it, they actually did have things in common: hockey, books, music. Sex.

And that was another thing. Thursday had been the day from hell at work. It had begun with an early breakfast meeting, ended late. He hadn't gotten home until after eleven. Sharon would have been in bed already, her way of handling his schedule. Krycek was slouched on the couch, listening to soft jazz, reading. He'd said nothing while Skinner had hung his coat, tossed his suit jacket and tie onto an ottoman on his way to his favourite armchair. He'd waited until Skinner had toed off his shoes, partially unbuttoned his shirt, slouched back before casually offering, "So, who would you like me to kill?"

Skinner had laughed, tiredly. "Henshaw would do nicely for starters."

"Is that jerk still around? I can't believe someone hasn't used him for target practice yet. Okay, that one will be a pleasure. Who else?"

And Skinner had suddenly heard himself moaning and groaning about the mole hills that had built themselves into Mount Everest throughout the day. And had found himself laughing more than once at the comments Krycek had made. Some of the personnel had changed since he'd been there, but he still had an understanding of the inner workings of the place. And, Skinner had realized, a wicked, almost malicious sense of the ridiculous about the place as well.

He'd been getting ready for bed when he'd realized that Krycek was in the spare room.

"What's the matter, Krycek? My snoring getting to you?"

Krycek looked up from turning down the bedcovers. "No, you're obviously tired."

"And?"

"And I thought you'd prefer a night alone."

"You mean without sex."

Krycek had shrugged. "Same thing."

Skinner had gone up to him, taken his face in his hand and made Krycek look at him. "You ever spend a night in a bed with someone, just to sleep?"

Krycek hadn't answered, just cocked an eyebrow.

Skinner had shaken his head, playfully pushed the man out of the spare room, back into his bedroom. After a kiss, he'd spooned himself behind Krycek, gone to sleep.

Skinner looked at the man still sleeping in his arms. He had realized over the past few days how much he had missed the intimacy of sharing a bed with another person. Even when things hadn't been good between Sharon and himself, they had usually slept close to each other. He had missed the warmth and the night sounds of another person.

By day, Krycek was respectful of personal space. But by night, once he was asleep -- and only once he was asleep -- he tended to move closer. And he made a soft breathy sound, not really a snore, but something that would probably become one as he aged.

Skinner was surprised to find that little pre-snore very soothing.

Friday hadn't been as busy, so last night they had begun with cuddling, a bit more playful this time, which had resulted in some casual jerking off.

He'd seen the surprise in Krycek's eyes, the fact that he was more than happy with something less intense. He'd wanted to ask the man had he never necked or petted in the back of some movie theatre when he was a teenager, but then remembered that, from what he had told Skinner, he probably hadn't.

And that was something else they had in common. Loneliness. He knew it was one of the reasons he was so centred on his work. And he recognized it in Krycek, something in the eyes, when he thought Skinner wasn't watching.

Maybe there was something more than just sex in all this.

He yawned. God, what the hell was he going to do about Alex Krycek?

 

Noon Sunday

Krycek woke to the sound of a snore in his ear, and the feeling that nothing would be the same again.

He didn't have to check in whose arms he lay: he would carry the scent of this man to his grave. And if this time was all he was ever going to have, it was far more than he had dreamed of having.

He kept his eyes closed and allowed his body to coast, something he remembered doing, in his bed under the eaves, pretending he belonged to someone who wanted him. Opening the door to his bedroom always put an end to that dream, but now he held it close to him again, pretending to himself that Skinner actually wanted him. Time would come soon enough to face reality but not right now. He knew this wouldn't last, any more than it had in his other life, but for the moment, he hugged the feeling to himself.

Skinner rubbed his cheek against the sticky hair. Krycek snuggled closer, trying to absorb all the warmth he could before he went back to his cold life.

"Alex? You awake?"

Krycek had to try a couple of times to get his throat to work: the real world was back.

"Yeah."

Skinner stroked the back he hadn't touched last night. Krycek was bracing himself again: damn! didn't the man ever relax? Probably not. Probably why he was still alive while so many of the others associated with the Consortium weren't.

"You hungry?"

Krycek smiled against the skin by his mouth. He thought about the question while giving that spot a soft kiss. "Yeah, I am."

Skinner didn't move. "We'll need a shower first."

Krycek nodded slightly. "Pity it's not the one at your condo."

Skinner grunted. "When the bathroom here is redone, I think I'll want another one like that one."

Krycek's hand moved up to rest on Skinner's shoulder. "You'll have to knock a wall down somewhere to fit it all in."

"Don't have much need for a sewing room. And the window in the sewing room looks over the side garden. Would make a nice view from the hot tub."

Krycek thought about that. "Floor's probably not strong enough to support that kind of weight. Build an extension over the summer kitchen. The plumbing from the kitchen bathroom is already in place. Just a matter of extending it. You can open up to the storage room from here and make that the ensuite bathroom. And the hot tub area could be all glass. No neighbours to see in from that direction, even if they have telescopes."

Skinner merely grunted again but looked down on the dark head on his chest and started thinking.

Eventually they had to move. Krycek showered first while Skinner made coffee. Then Krycek dressed, stripped the big bed while Skinner took his. Breakfast was a silent but not uncomfortable meal.

After they cleaned up, Skinner walked through the house, talking about each of the rooms, asking Krycek what he thought should be done to them. He listened while Krycek agreed with lightening the colours of the place, discussed whether or not the floors should be sanded, varathaned or just buffed with floor wax. What furniture was worth while keeping.

At one point, Skinner was surprised to find himself with paper and pen in hand, making notes. But he had noticed that whenever they left a room, Krycek would turn in the doorway, look around as if committing it to memory and close the door softly behind himself.

They ate the leftovers for lunch, still discussing plans for the property and the house. "You should have a swimming pool," Krycek commented at one point. "Maybe one of those above the ground ones, but with a deck around it. Something that would look like an extension of the porch. It's obvious from the markings on the brick that the porch once went round the back as well. You'd lose part of the back hedge, but it's been badly maintained: you'll probably need to get rid of it anyway."

Skinner leaned back in his chair and took a good look at his companion. For the first time since they'd been together, Krycek's face was animated by something other than sex. He suddenly realized that Skinner was watching him and the animation was turned off like a light.

"Alex." Skinner went softly, not sure where he was treading. "Do you have any plans for what you're going to do with all this free time you now have?"

Krycek shrugged. "Take a long holiday. I told you, I don't need to work. Like you said, I feathered my nest. Took care of myself. I may just find a beach somewhere and never move."

Skinner laughed. "You'll be bored out of your mind within a month. No, seriously, what plans have you made?"

Krycek played with the crumbs on his plate. "No plans. I learnt a long time ago not to make plans. Things happen."

Skinner nodded. "You're not kidding. See, Alex," he made himself comfortable, stretched his legs out, "I hadn't planned on doing anything with this house for some time. The work needs to be supervised and I can't be here and at the office at the same time. I can make it down on weekends, most of them, if I bring work with me, but that's not good enough. I could hire someone, but then there's always the problem of vision. Would that person see what I see in these rooms?"

He could see Krycek had no idea where he was going. Hell, not surprising: he didn't know himself.

"Alex. It seems to me there are two decisions that need to be taken, one dependent on the other. The first one is where are we going with this... relationship of ours? I mean, are you interested enough to hang around or is this basically a one-night stand for you?"

Krycek took his time answering. "No, it's not a one- night stand. But it's also not in your best interests if I hang around. You've got a life and I can't be part of it. I know that."

Skinner acknowledged that with a grimace. People's reaction to the mere presence of Krycek made that fully obvious. "What if it's not in D.C.? What if you're in my life, just not my D.C. life? Say...this place for instance. Would it be enough for you if I came up weekends?"

Krycek stomped hard on the hope that rose in him. He'd learnt not to make plans because they were usually torn apart on him. This past week since the hijacking had been an anomaly. Some bad, but mostly fantastic: he should be happy with that and leave while he still could.

Yet he heard himself ask, "What do you call weekends?"

Skinner thought. "Friday nights to Sunday evening."

"And what do I do during the week, while I'm waiting for Friday night?"

"Find the people to work on the house. Supervise the repairs. Draw up the plans for the addition and the bathroom. We can decide together what we want, what furniture to keep. I want to the roll top desk moved into the smoking room. As my office. You could use the sitting room for yours, if you want."

A slow smile spread across Krycek's face. His eyelashes hid his eyes as he asked, "Do we keep the bed?"

Skinner felt himself harden as Krycek lowered his head, looked through his eyelashes at him, waiting his answer. "I think," he said slowly, "that's a given."

"And can I tie you to the bed some time?"

Skinner saw the heat rise in those cat eyes. Some time in the future he was going to regret having thought up that little game. "I think that could be arranged."

The tip of Krycek's tongue slowly swept across his lower lip.

"Alex, stop that, right now, or this discussion will never get anywhere. And it has to."

Krycek laughed. The first time Skinner had heard him really laugh. Low, soft, sensual.

When Krycek raised his eyes, the shadows were no longer there. "Okay. I agree to stay here, to oversee the repairs, on two conditions. That you come up every weekend without fail. No excuses. I'll need you to approve what's been done, to discuss the problems that no matter how well prepared we are will pop up."

"Shoot, I thought you'd want me up for the sex."

"That, too." The heat went up as Krycek banked it. "Two: that I pay half the costs."

"Alex, there's no need for that."

Krycek lost the heat quickly. "Why? Am I only here as foreman? Or is it going to be a joint effort? I thought I heard you mean 'we'."

"Alex. I have more than enough..." and Skinner stopped himself. Krycek's eyes were blank again. Fuck! What..."Look, Alex. We have no idea where this is going. It's only been about a week. Maybe after a while you'll discover that living in the middle of nowhere just isn't for you. Maybe you'll wake up one morning and decide that beach you mentioned is calling to you. You say you have enough, but what if you pay half the costs and then you find that I really am too old for you. It may take me a while to be able to pay you back."

Krycek thought about the account in Geneva with over six million dollars in it and shook his head. "You don't need to worry. I wouldn't ask for the money back. But I would like to contribute. If I'm allowed to stay."

That 'allowed' hit Skinner in the gut. Allowed. Like Krycek had been allowed to stay with his mother.

"I want you to think about this, Alex. I'm fussy. I like the best that's available. I'll drive you crazy enough with my specs for the final product. Enduring my weekend comments while you're the one putting up with all the mess, the contractors...well, that's more than your share. But," he held up a hand, "if you want to do it that way, I agree. On the condition that you should you decide to leave, I pay you back."

Krycek's eyes softened. Skinner took note that he really had to watch those eyes if he wanted to understand the man.

There were some things to deal with right away. One of them dealt with transportation. "No problem. I have a truck I keep in storage. I'll go get it, bring it back. All you have to do is drop me off at the bus station. There should be one in Winchester."

"Where's the truck?"

"New York City, in one of the boroughs. I need to do some business," he answered Skinner's expression. "I can be back by Wednesday."

Skinner contacted the real estate agent, told her that a friend was moving in, that the house wouldn't be going on the market, but when they had decided what to do about the furniture, she would be the first to know. He also told her that Alex Krycek would be coming to see her about hiring people to work on the house, so if she could prepare a list?

 

5 p.m. Sunday

The knapsack was waiting by the front door, ready to be picked up on the way out. Skinner was going through the house, making sure that all the windows were closed, locked. Krycek was in the kitchen, jotting down a list of things he was going to have to pick up on his way back.

He was checking out one of the cupboards when Skinner came back, stood behind him. Krycek smiled at him over his shoulder.

Skinner returned the smile. "Alex, put your hand on the counter."

Krycek laughed. "Is this another of your games?" But he did as Skinner asked.

Skinner's hands came around his waist, busied themselves with his fly.

"Wha.."

"Eyes on your hand, Alex. And keep still."

Skinner quickly lowered Krycek's jeans and shorts. There was a momentary pause during which Krycek wondered if he were always going to fall in with Skinner's orders so easily. Then a lubed finger entered him and all he could do was push back with his hips.

Unlike the night before, Skinner didn't draw it out. He pulled out his finger, pushed in his cock. His hand set the same rhythm on Krycek's cock as his cock did in his ass. Krycek dropped his head on his arm and grunted. Shit! For an *old* man, Skinner never seemed to have any trouble getting it up whenever he wanted.

But then Skinner stopped and Krycek groaned.

"Alex, listen to me."

Krycek cursed, "Fuck you, Walter, if you don't finish this off..."

"I'll finish, but I want you to listen to me first. You listening, Alex?"

"Yeah."

"Ground rule. My cock is the only one that goes up your ass or down your throat. You got that?"

Krycek nodded against his arm. "Yeah. Got that."

"Good." Skinner held him tighter, not letting him move. "And yours only goes up my ass or down my throat. Got that, too?"

"Does that mean that yours only goes up my ass and down my throat as well?"

Skinner laughed, pumped his hips and Krycek's cock at the same time. "You're really over estimating my staying powers. But yes."

Krycek tightened his ass muscles, capturing Skinner's cock deep within him. "I agree."

"Good." And his hand tightened around Krycek's cock.

At the bus station in Winchester, Krycek tossed his knapsack over his shoulder and bent to look at Skinner still in the car. They grinned at each other.

"I'll call you Wednesday night."

"I should be back by late afternoon." Krycek's eyes glowed in the lights of the bus station. "Drive carefully."

"You, too."

Krycek shut the door and went off to buy his ticket. Skinner waited a minute before pulling the car back into the traffic and heading for the highway back to D.C.

 

10:15 p.m. Wednesday

Skinner listened to the phone ringing. This was the fifth time he'd called since seven o'clock. Still no answer. He was about to hang up when...

"Walter!"

"Alex? Where the hell..."

"Hang on, Walter, I've got to shut the door. It's pouring buckets and the rain is coming in."

Skinner could hear the door being slammed shut, footsteps coming back.

"Okay."

"Alex, are you just getting in? What the hell happened? Are you all right?"

"Yes. Accident. Fine." Krycek, telephone at ear, reached over and dragged one of the kitchen chairs over. He hung his dripping leather jacket over the back, sat and toed off his boots.

"You had an accident?" Skinner's voice was worried.

Even though he was soaking wet from the cold rain, for some reason, Krycek felt himself warm at hearing that worried tone in Skinner's voice.

"No, not me. Some rig jack-knifed then overturned on 81. There were all sorts of problems because of the rain. We were stalled there about five hours before the highway patrol got the traffic going again. I tried the palm pilot to get hold of you, but I'd forgotten to re-charge the damn thing. I was trying to open the door when I heard the phone. That fucking door gets planed down first thing. I swear I almost broke my shoulder trying to get the damn thing open."

"But you're okay?"

Krycek slid down the wall to sit on the floor. "Yeah. Just tired. It's been raining like crazy since I hit Pennsylvania."

"You should have stopped. Called me."

"No, I just took it slow. Apart from the rig, everyone else behaved themselves on the road. Besides I wanted to get here. You said you'd call. You're calling from your office, aren't you?"

"What makes you say that?" Sitting back in his chair, he frowned at the pile of work on his desk.

Krycek's soft laugh came over the line. "You're wearing your suit voice."

Skinner smiled, relieved to be having this conversation. "I wasn't aware I had a 'suit' voice." Then grew concerned when he heard Krycek sneeze. "Alex. Go take a hot shower. I just wanted to know you'd arrived safely. I'll call you tomorrow."

"From your place, not the office." Krycek rubbed his nose with the back of his hand: water from his hair was dripping down it.

"Okay. From home."

"And from the bedroom. And maybe it would be easier if you were naked."

"Naked? Why would I want to be naked to talk to you?"

Krycek laughed again. "Gees, Walter, you may be getting old like you keep saying you are. Haven't you ever heard of phone sex?"

 

2 p.m. Friday:
Five months later

The PA put the phone down and nodded. "The Director can see you now, Assistant Director."

He got up from his desk, opened the door to the inner office and announced, "Assistant Director Skinner to see you, Madame Director. I cleared the fifteen minutes you asked for."

Skinner raised an eyebrow at the woman standing behind her desk. "Your new PA seems very formal."

Jana Cassidy laughed. "He informed me that formality is necessary for the dignity of the office. Sit down, Walter. What can I do for you?"

Skinner placed a plain, unmarked folder on her desk but didn't sit. Instead he went to rest a hip against the conference table to the left of her desk, crossed his arms. "You can sign those papers for me."

Cassidy raised an eyebrow at him, but didn't touch the folder. "What are they?"

"The first is a request for vacation time."

Cassidy smiled, opened the folder. "I can't believe you're actually asking for time off. Usually we have to force it on you."

Then she saw the dates requested. She looked up. "That's almost three months' worth."

"Eleven weeks. What I've accumulated. I'm using it all. The rest are my retirement papers."

Cassidy sat down, leafed through the papers in front of her. She looked up. "Ill sign the first, Walter, but not the second." She continued before Skinner had a chance to react. "Look, Walter, I know you're tired. Take the three months off. Go do something different. By the time you've used that up, you'll be ready to come back."

Skinner smiled at her and Cassidy knew she was going to have a battle on her hands.

"I won't be coming back."

Cassidy sat back in her chair, playing with the pen in her hands. "This has something to do with the fact that you've been leaving early Fridays and coming in late on Mondays."

Skinner laughed. "In a way. We've been working on repairing a property I have in West Virginia."

"That 'we' is part of this."

Skinner nodded, still smiling.

"Someone, I would guess, not suitable as a companion to an Assistant Director of the FBI?"

"No," Skinner's smile grew to a grin, "not 'suitable' in the least."

"Is she that young?"

Skinner bent his head slightly to one side. "No, not young. Just not a she."

"A man." Cassidy was taken aback, but quickly recovered. She considered the situation. "Look, Walter, surely this has been going on for some time. If no one here knows about this person you're involved with -- and I'm assuming no one does because I certainly haven't heard anything, and you know what the rumour mill in this place is like -- well, surely you two can keep on the way you have been.

"Take your vacation time off, finish doing whatever work you're doing on the property and just come back. As long as you don't flaunt your relationship," she was looking at the paper she was signing, missed the look of irritation that appeared on Skinner's face.

He waited until she closed the folder, held it in her hand to hand to him, smiling at having so easily taken care of the matter. "Jana. The work on the house is done. I have other plans that I want to put into effect. True, some of them have to do with the days. The others concern the nights.

"Jana, I want to spend my nights making love to Alex Krycek."

The folder came down on the desk. "Jesus, Walter! Alex Krycek!" The mixture of confusion and disgust on Jana Cassidy's face would be something Skinner knew he'd see often if he stayed here. "Krycek! Walter, why...of all the people, why Krycek? I mean, he tried to kill you! He *did* kill you."

Skinner laughed. The thought crossed his mind that Alex still tried to kill him. The game they played with the bed was endurance for Alex. For him, Alex kept a running count of the number of times he could make him come in a night. Right now, he was more than pleased, actually downright cocky, about his latest score: four. Skinner was of the opinion he was going to need a long time to recover from that experience.

"This isn't a laughing matter, Walter."

"No, it isn't." Skinner moved away from the table, came to the desk. He opened the folder to the retirement papers, pushed them towards Cassidy.

"Taking all my vacation time at once gives you the excuse to install someone in my office in an acting capacity. Someone say...like Mary Robinson."

Cassidy put on her Director face. How the hell had he known she had plans for the very efficient Ms. Robinson?

"Now then, that'll give her time to see if the work suits her, for you to see if she suits the position. A good trial run. And since she probably will suit, after three months, it won't surprise anyone if she just stays in the office. A smooth transition with no fuss. I would recommend that Kim continue in her position as PA until that time. I've already spoken to her about it, and she's agreeable."

Actually she had been more than agreeable. He'd taken her out to supper last night, told her of his plans. Like Alex had predicted, she wasn't surprised, not by his plans, not by who his partner was.

"Get real, Walter. Of course she knows. Why else would you rarely have meetings scheduled for Friday afternoons or early Monday mornings?"

Because, their definition of weekends had quickly changed. At first Sinner had left the office around seven on Friday nights, waiting until rush hour was over to make his way out of the city. Until the day he had had his afternoon meetings cancelled for some reason and he'd left right after lunch. To discover that the way out of D.C. was even faster at that time of the day.

As for Mondays, that had begun one Sunday when they'd had a storm and Alex wouldn't let him leave until it was over. He got in late, well, late for him, Monday morning. Gradually, he found other excuses to stay Sunday night: now he was getting in around nine, sometimes ten on Monday mornings.

Kim had covered for him from the beginning.

"Okay, so answer me two questions," he'd said, over dessert. "How did you know I was thinking of retiring?"

"Easy," she'd smiled at him, "You come in like a bear on Mondays, spend Friday mornings humming. I knew it was just a matter of time."

"And how did you know it was Alex?"

Her smile was rather condescending. "PA's are part of the woodwork. There were times you answered your private cell phone while I was still in the office. *That* only began after the hijacking. And Alex Krycek was the only Alex I could think of that had come into your life since then."

"You don't sound disapproving."

She had shrugged. "Your private life is just that, private."

"And if you and your family were invited to come out to join us for a weekend, would you come?"

"That would depend. Do you get all the sports channels? My husband is a soccer fanatic. He watches games in the middle of the night."

Skinner had laughed. "What team?"

Kim had looked at him like he was stupid. "He's Italian."

"Alex supports Brazil. They can watch together."

Cassidy looked rather cold at being informed his PA had known of his plans before she had. "Who else knows about this?"

"Jackson in Personnel."

"Discretion himself."

Skinner sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk. "Jana, sign the retirement papers. I slip out, no fuss, no mess, no bother. Probably no one will even notice."

"Why are you so insistent on having it this way? Surely you don't want to miss your retirement supper, the accolades, the gold watch."

"The stirring up of all the Consortium mess, the renewing of all the bad feelings *that* engendered, the fact that I was allowed to stay on when others weren't. Things may have died down, Jana, but there's still a lot of bitterness around. Sign them and let me leave quietly. I don't need the accolades, the gold watch. I certainly don't want the supper. I just want to go home. To Alex."

Jana Cassidy signed.

 

Epilogue

"We're here, Ma'am."

Jana Cassidy looked up from the file she was working on to see her driver turn into a driveway leading to a red brick house. The white gingerbread that decorated the porch shone in the sunlight as if newly painted.

He parked the car under the oak, next to a lovingly tended older black pickup that had recently been washed. He came around to open her door.

"I shouldn't be too long."

"No problem, Ma'am. I brought something to read."

She was ready to knock on the front door when she heard the sound of laughter coming from the back of the house. She followed the porch around and stopped to watch as the two men who were washing down a dark green Mercedes sports coupe were also engaged in a water fight. Krcyek, not wearing his prosthesis, had the hose in his hand; Skinner, a water bucket. Both were sopping wet, grinning, circling the car looking for the next hit.

Krycek saw her first, the grin on his face dying. He pointed the hose down. Skinner turned at Alex's reaction.

"Madame Director."

Cassidy noticed that Skinner immediately went to place himself in front of Krycek. Krycek took a step so that they faced her, side by side. A united front.

Krycek was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, Skinner just shorts. Both were barefoot. She'd noticed that while they were playing. Now she noted that Skinner looked more relaxed than she had ever seen him.

"You have a beautiful place here, Walter." She looked at the other man. "Krycek."

Skinner raised an eyebrow at the neutral way she had addressed his partner. The last time he'd heard Alex's name from her, she had barely been able to contain her disgust. He wondered what she wanted.

"Thank you. We think so," setting the bucket down. "What brings you to our neck of the woods? Just passing by?"

"No. I need to discuss something with you." She glanced at Krycek.

Krycek shrugged, dropped the hose on the ground, turned the water off.

Skinner smiled. "As you can see, we're both a little damp. Why don't you come in and let us get changed. We'll talk then."

He had gotten Cassidy's message, but that didn't mean he was going to play her game. This was their home, and she was the one who had come without an invitation.

While the men went upstairs, Jana Cassidy waited for them in the kitchen. She was surprised at the open feeling of the room, with its modern black appliances, the old-fashion wooden furniture. The cupboard doors, the floor were golden oak, the braided carpet under the table a riot of colours. The room was obviously much used.

Krycek came down first, wearing jeans, t-shirt and his arm. "Walter will be down in a minute. Would you like something to drink?" He was polite though not welcoming. "We can offer you iced tea, lemonade, a beer?"

"Iced tea would be nice, thank you." She was equally polite.

Krycek got some ice out of the freezer section of the huge fridge, a jug of tea from the windowsill. Sun tea, thought Cassidy: it had been years since she'd had some.

A large black cat jumped up onto the table and walked over to where she was sitting. "Oh, what an interesting..." she reached over to pat the battered, scarred tom.

"*Don't!*"

But it was too late. The cat's paw struck and a couple of red lines appeared on the top of her hand. Cassidy pulled her hand back, stung by the animal's behaviour and the suddenly burning pain.

Krycek muttered at the complacent animal in Russian as he grabbed Cassidy's hand and examined it. He nodded toward the sink. "Here, keep it under the water. That'll help the burn. I'll get the first aid kit."

Cassidy held her hand under the cold running water as she glared at the cat now calmly cleaning the claws he'd used on her.

"Sorry," Krycek dried her hand, took out a tube of ointment. "Bastard doesn't allowed people to pet him."

Skinner came down the back stairway and grinned at the situation. "I see you've met Alex's alter ego."

Krycek glared up at him. "Would you stop calling him that!"

Skinner came up to the cat, reached for it. Cassidy held her breath and watched as Skinner picked up the animal who was loudly purring, rubbing his head up against the man's chin.

Skinner grinned at Cassidy. "I'm the only one he allows to touch him," he explained.

Cassidy looked from the cat to the man putting the first aid kit away. Same green eyes, same dark "fur", same battered body. And she was sure that Skinner was the only one the man allowed to touch him as well.

Skinner put the cat down on one of the chairs. The cat jumped down and disappeared up the stairs.

"So, Jana, you have something you'd like to discuss."

It was obvious to her that Krycek was going to be part of this conversation no matter her feeling on the subject. Skinner comfirmed it.

"I'll only tell him anyway."

But Krycek took pity on her. "You can tell me later. We need some bread and dessert for tonight." He grabbed his keys from a bowl on the counter, whistled shrilly. A dark streak shot down the stairs, dashed out the door just as it was closing behind Krycek. Cassidy watched as it entered the truck just before Krycek did.

"The cat likes to go for rides?"

Skinner laughed. "Only in the truck, and only if Alex is driving." He poured himself some tea. "The cat showed up one day, out of the blue, and decided he liked the place. Alex called him 'Bastard' after their first encounter. The name seems to have stuck. The cat likes it: he usually comes when we call him."

Skinner sat down. "So what's so important that you came all the way out here to see me?"

She wanted him to come back, to work for them. As a consultant. In a certain area that he had particular knowledge about: an investigation -- a delicate, sensitive investigation -- that had developed out of the Consortium information.

Until she had seen him with Krycek, Cassidy had thought she could talk Skinner into coming back. It had been over a year: surely by now he would be bored by his early retirement. She didn't need to see the laughter in Skinner's eyes, the way he'd touched Krycek on his way out, the cat to know that she was probably out of luck.

She gave it a good try. Skinner listened to her presentation and then just shook his head. "No, thank you. Besides, I'm as busy as I care to be with my law practice. I really have no time to give to you."

Because that's what he'd done. Hung out his shingle, literally, at the end of the driveway, by the road: "Walter S. Skinner, Attorney". He was finally putting that law degree to use.

"I can't imagine you feeling satisfied doing divorces."

They were standing by Cassidy's car.

"Divorces? I practice criminal law. Don't do divorces. What made you think I do divorces?"

"The sign under Attorney reads 'Discreet Investigations'."

Skinner laughed. "No, that's Alex. He does security checks for business computer systems."

Cassidy was surprised. "How did he get clearance?"

Skinner shook his head, grinning. "Jana. There *are* businesses other than government. Alex doesn't need clearances. Just a reputation for finding weak spots. He's busier than I am, especially after that so-called sabotage business on the Net last year."

"So I can't convince you to come back to D.C. Not even on a part-time basis? Walter, we do need you."

Skinner shook his head. "No, you don't. Not really. Robinson's put a good team together. Let them do their job. But I'm honoured you thought of me."

"How...you're still in contact with people at Headquarters."

Skinner held the door open for her. Kim and her family had been down recently. She brought him up to date on Bureau doings while Alex and Dominic argued about soccer. The kids just ran wild for a couple of days, doing what they wanted. The only rule was that an adult had to be around when they played in the swimming pool.

As she got into the car, Cassidy felt she had to try one last time. "Do you ever come up to Washington?"

Skinner shook his head. "Since I sold the condo, we have no reason to." He could see where she was headed. "Whenever we feel a need for a big city, we head up to New York."

He closed the door behind her, waved her out of the driveway. Humming to himself, he sat on the front steps, waiting for Alex's return.

NIF