Title: THE LODGE (1/3)
Author: Josan
Beta: Solan
Date: October, 1999
Summary: Escape to God's Country
Pairing: Sk/K
Rating: R, maybe
Archive: Ratlover, CJK, and Yes to Basement. Comments: jmann@mondenet.com

DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013; I am but borrowing them in this very lengthy off- season...and besides rumour has it that Krycek won't be appearing until after Christmas, so what does it matter if I keep him a bit longer than planned, eh?

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


The pink-tinged mist was rising off the lake, like ghosts on their morning flight back to the heavens.

This was a daily event for him, these days. Standing in the early dawn, at his end of the huge wrap-around porch, coffee mug in hand, watching the sun rise over his lake.

Well, not really *his* lake. It hadn't come with the lodge. It was considered to be Crown Property, but the land at this end of it belonged to him.

All because of an ad in the back of the New York Review of Books. "Lodge for sale by auction. Northern Ontario. Temiskaming region. Good hunting, fishing. Established business. Serious inquiries only, contact..."

He still wasn't sure just how serious his inquiry had been. But the way things had turned out, serious enough so that the bid he had put in, a rather low one in his opinion, had brought him here to a land that had nothing to do with bureaucracy, double-dealings, cover- ups, lies.

Here, the Temiskaming had its own problems, human ones as everywhere else. But unlike the so-called civilized urban areas, the Temiskaming was strong enough, uncaring enough to ignore human frailties.

Strange that in a place that only emphasized the insignificance of man, he should have found such peace.

It had cost him.

He'd sold the condo, taken the "golden-handshake" -- shove, really -- they'd offered him, made arrangements for his pension and investment cheques to be deposited to a Canadian account in Toronto. He'd cut all ties, not that he had many. Flown back up in the weekly mail plane, an Otter, to take possession that August 1.

The ad hadn't lied, exactly. There had been "an established business", but that was a couple of years back. And though someone had lived on the site, no repairs had been done in all that time.

The lodge was a large log structure with a lobby, dining area, kitchen on the ground floor. The top floor consisted of two bathrooms, eight fairly large bedrooms, two larger ones at each end, with their own bathrooms. He had appropriated one of these as his, the one with the forest view. He had no trouble realizing that paying customers got the one with the lake view.

There were also six cabins that dotted the area. These could be used for overflow, but were there mainly for the staff that he hoped would come back when they realized that the lodge was going to re-open in the spring.

He'd already had a meeting with the local Ojibway council about hiring staff, labour to help with the repairs that needed to be done to the buildings, the equipment. They'd looked a bit taken aback when they'd asked him for his credentials for running this type of business. He'd caught the careful eye exchanges, the resigned sighs indicating their confidence in yet another of these stupid white men from the city who was coming up here to hug a tree. Still, he had money to pay for supplies and help: they would be even more stupid not to take it. Besides, it wouldn't do their business in guiding much good if a "tourist" died up here in the winter-time. They'd be keeping an eye on him.

He knew he'd surprised them. He had no trouble admitting he knew very little and not only asked questions, but listened to their answers. He was courteous. Worked harder and longer hours than any of them. Appreciated the beauty of the land while not underestimating its uncaring nature.

He gained the elders' approval when he sat down with them with the list of past clientele and asked for their advice on which of them was worthwhile contacting, to let them know the lodge would be back in business.

And through it all, he began to find the peace that he so badly needed.

Now, this morning, as he watched the rising sun paint the small snow-dusted valley with light, he realized that some of his ghosts had been laid to rest.

He smiled. The lodge was ready for winter and whatever the winds threw at him. The roof had been shingled where it needed it, the solar panels that provided hot water checked out, the windows caulked. Supplies brought in. He had bought and installed two new generators, a new skidoo, short-wave radio as well as enough batteries necessary for the cell phone that he would only occasionally be able to use. He had a list of things to keep him more than occupied throughout the winter. The RCMP knew he was here, had come to check him out personally.

He took a sip of his cooling coffee. He had even been prepared for the first blast of winter that had arrived September 28th. Just a few inches, but enough to make him appreciate the snugness of his bedroom and the warmth of the wood fire.

So, he'd been surprised to get a call on the radio telling him that the mail plane would be landing today with a package for him. The lake was still open so that the plane would land, but it would have to wait till it froze over before coming again. And then only if the weather allowed.

Package, he had learnt, was the pilot's code for a passenger.

Just who the hell would be coming up here at this time of the year to see him? Whoever it was, it would be a short visit: they'd have to go back with the pilot and the short daylight meant Terry might stay for an hour, max.

Well, he had things to do. And his partner was waiting for him to get a move on. He looked down at the large malamute mixture that was sitting at the foot of the stairs, head cocked, not so patiently waiting for him to finish his coffee.

"Okay, Boy, I'm coming." He went back in, exchanged his mug for a thermos and went to work on one of the cabins.

It was noon when he heard the plane buzzing overhead. Terry always did a once-over to let him know he was landing, then dropped the plane like a gliding loon onto the silvery water.

The plane pulled over to the landing dock, a man jumped out, two pieces of luggage followed and the plane backed out onto the lake for take-off.

Not normal procedure.

He went into the mud room, unlocked a closet, grabbed his rifle from the gun cabinet and went out onto the porch to greet his "package".

The man was carrying a bag in each hand, dropped them when he saw the weapon, slowly raised his hands. Carefully approached. About twenty feet from the porch he stopped.

"Gee, Skinner, fancy meeting you here."

"Krycek! What the fuck are you doing here?"

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

They were in the kitchen.

Skinner had placed the rifle on the counter, close enough at hand if he should happen to need it. He warmed up soup on the cooking stove that provided the heat for the kitchen, made cheese sandwiches. He cut an extra piece off the block for Boy who was keeping his eyes on Krycek, sitting, hands flat on the table. Skinner didn't doubt for a moment that Krycek was armed.

He was hungry, so he ate. Krycek had just nodded his thanks when he'd placed the bowl of soup in front of him. He played with the contents more than he ate. Skinner took the time between bites to look him over.

Krycek looked older. For someone who had passed for years younger, he now looked his age. Which had to be mid-thirties. And he didn't look particularly well. Not ill, but just not well. Worn out was maybe a better way of expressing it.

His eating habits might explain the wiriness of his body. He seemed to be more honed down than when Skinner had last seen him: explaining to an in camera meeting of select senators his role as a double agent with the rebels forces. They hadn't disbelieved him: just not especially believed. Or hadn't wanted to.

That was a couple of weeks before he had been forced into retirement. Of course, they hadn't believed he was involved with the Consortium: hadn't disbelieved it either. It was easier for them to move out of sight those with information they hadn't wanted to deal with, been forced to deal with.

He wondered where Krycek had been moved to. Didn't care enough to ask. Not that, at least.

"What are you doing here, Krycek?"

Krycek stopped pretending he was eating, carefully aligned the spoon beside the bowl.

"I hear you're looking for help. Thought since you knew me, I wouldn't need to send a resume."

Skinner snorted. "I doubt that your skills would be of much use up here, Krycek. Besides, I'm not hiring till spring."

He got up, went to the radio.

"Terry said to tell you there's a storm on the way. That's why he couldn't stay. He said to contact him once it was over: he'd have to see how the weather was before coming in."

Skinner turned, expecting to see Krycek gloating: instead he found himself looking at a man who didn't seem to have the energy to do anything but sit there. He looked out toward the lake, saw the sky filling with heavy black-gray clouds.

Shit! He was stuck with the man, at least until Terry could get back in. Well, it didn't mean he had to have him under his roof. One of the cabins was fairly liveable: he'd move him there. Out of sight. He went to get some bedding.

"Come on."

He grabbed his jacket, tossed Krycek his along with his bag -- the second had been stuff for him -- and led the way out. Boy followed them.

The cabin was one of the smaller ones. It had a double bed in one corner, a small wood stove in another, a table, a couple of chairs. Its only light source was the lantern that sat on the table.

Skinner dropped the bedding on the bed, opened a closet-like area. "Chemical toilet. Showers in the main house, off the mud room. Wood for the stove is stacked to the left of the lodge. I'd bring in a few more loads if I were you before the snow hits." He did light the stove himself, to made sure it was drawing properly.

"Breakfast is at seven, lunch at twelve, supper at six."

He shut the door behind him.

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

The storm, when it hit, was his first experience with a weather front that left snow drifts of over six feet. Now he understood why the doors opened inward, why the cabins faced leeward. He didn't see Krycek until late the next morning, in a lull between fronts, making his way to the lodge, following the lower wind-scooped valleys between the drifts.

Damn, thought Skinner, apart from the jacket, he didn't have the proper clothes. By the time Krycek came up the back stairs, his jeans were wet to the thighs.

"I know," Krycek said. "I'm too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. I was wondering if I could get a cup of coffee?"

Skinner had the impression that if he said no, Krycek wouldn't argue, would just re-trace his steps back to the cabin. He nodded toward the door, followed Krycek in after he'd dusted whatever snow he had on him off at the door.

Skinner stripped off his waterproof skidoo suit, went and poured himself a cup. Krycek was sitting at the table, eyes closed, just inhaling the steam that rose from the cup he held in his hand.

Skinner shook his head, went into the pantry and came out with last night's leftover stew. He put some in one of the big cast iron pans that were hanging from the wall by the stove, heated it up and placed it in front of Krycek.

Krycek looked surprised, thanked him and began eating. For a couple of minutes he ate with appetite, and then, as if a switch had been flipped off, he stopped. For the next few minutes, he played at eating, then even stopped that.

Skinner caught himself from asking what was wrong: because there was something certainly wrong with the man. But that would mean he was concerned, and he didn't want to be. Still, he couldn't have the man falling sick on him. Trekking back and forth to the lodge in wet jeans, underdressed would do that. He went into the store room came back with an older skidoo suit, one that he'd found here. It hadn't been big enough for him but it would do for Krycek.

"Here, wear this. It'll keep you dry. Put the dishes in the sink when you're through."

Skinner put his suit back on, went back to shovelling snow off the porch. About a half hour later, as he rounded the corner of the porch, he found the snow there had been cleared off, that Krycek was now clearing a path to the wood pile at the back of the lodge.

He watched for a minute, anger warring with gratitude. This was *his* porch and he wanted to be the one to clear it off. But then he realized that he would have more than enough opportunity to do over the winter. Besides, he wasn't going to charge Krycek, didn't want his money, but if the man wanted to clear snow as a way of paying for this enforced stay, he was going to be smart enough to accept. There were other things he could be doing. He went and did them.

He didn't see Krycek again until supper time. And, as with lunch, Krycek ate hungrily for a bit, then played at eating. Boy had no objections to cleaning off his plate. He stayed to help clean up, put the suit back on and made his way back to the cabin. It was snowing again, heavily. Skinner told himself that was the only reason he stayed at the kitchen window, watching until he saw the light appear in the cabin window.

He managed to get hold of Terry the next day, only to be told that until the lake froze up solid with a sheet of ice a good six inches thick, he was stuck with his visitor.

"Guy told me you were expecting him. That he hadn't known exactly when so it was going to be a surprise. I told him it might be a while before I could come and pick him up. He said it would be okay."

"Thanks, Terry. Just let me know when you think you could manage a landing."

Skinner got up next morning to find coffee already made, and Krycek working on snow removal. He made breakfast, called the man in. This time when Krycek began playing with his food, Skinner asked, "Is there something wrong with the food?"

Krycek looked up from his plate, shook his head. "No."

"Then just what the hell is the matter with you? You start eating and then you just stop."

Krycek shrugged. "It's not the food." He got up, scrapped his plate into Boy's food dish, much to the dog's delight. He went to wash the plate when Skinner rose, caught him by the shoulder.

"Okay. I can't say it thrilled me to see you landing on my doorstep. Especially since I'm going to be stuck with you for some time. But because I *am* going to be stuck with you, why don't you tell me what the hell's wrong with you?"

Krycek looked at the plate, reached over and placed it on the table. "Remember the senate hearing?"

"Yes." Skinner took his hand off Krycek, went and leaned back against the counter, arms crossed over his chest.

"They decided for my own security that I should be channelled into their witness protection program."

Skinner waited.

"Except it wasn't so secure. And I think, though I can't really prove it, the only ones they were looking to protect were themselves."

"What happened?"

"One of the agents assigned to move me through the program tried to kill me."

Skinner had to admit he really wasn't surprised. He still had family who could raise difficult questions: Krycek...well, who would care if Krycek just disappeared?

"He wanted it to look like an execution. Had me kneel in front of him. He was going to cuff my hands behind my back when I surprised him."

Oh, yeah, thought Skinner, I'll just bet you did.

"Still, he managed to get me in the gut before he died. Not badly. But it was some time before I covered up both our traces and got to someone who could stitch me up. Between blood loss and infection, I was sick for a couple of weeks. I still have trouble eating. But I've eaten more here in the last two days than I have in a week." He gave a tired smile. "Must be something in the air."

"Should you be shovelling?"

Krycek gave a small one-shouldered shrug. "Doesn't seem to be killing me. Besides, if we don't keep up with it, the snow will just harden and it'll be impossible to clear."

"You've got so much snow experience, have you?" Skinner challenged lightly.

"I spent a winter in Russia, Skinner. You ain't seen nothing yet. Believe me."

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

The weather didn't co-operate. It warmed up, enough to melt some of the snow, to keep the lake from freezing hard. The thin crust of ice that covered the water wouldn't take Boy's weight, let alone that of a plane.

Strangely enough, *they* managed to co-operate. Krycek kept the porch, the pathways to cabins, wood-piles cleared while Skinner did whatever work he had planned for the day. He made the meals and Krycek helped with clean-up.

If it was snowing outside, Krycek found things to clean inside the lodge. Skinner noticed that he tired easily, disappeared for an afternoon nap, went to bed almost right after supper. At least the light in the cabin was doused soon after he returned to it. Skinner got the feeling that the "not bad" shot to the gut had been worse than Krycek had admitted.

Terry needed a good secure day of light before he would even attempt to come up to the lodge. So far, between snows, winds, relatively warm weather, he hadn't made it.

Skinner was surprised to find that Krycek didn't grate on his nerves. He was quiet, worked at things without being asked, came to help if he saw Skinner needed it. In spite of having only one really useful hand, Skinner was impressed with the way Krycek had learnt to improvise, to accommodate for the prosthesis.

Before he knew it, Krycek had been at the lodge a month. He noticed it the night Krycek actually cleaned off his plate himself. Even Krycek seemed surprised to find there were nothing to scrape into Boy's dish.

Terry contacted the lodge the next morning while they were at breakfast to tell Skinner he was coming in.

Krycek stopped eating, bent his head, seemingly looking at the food on his plate. Skinner said nothing, refilled his coffee mug, took his seat at the table.

Krycek pushed the plate away from the edge of the table, placed both his hands on the table. Head bowed, he spoke so softly that Skinner had trouble hearing him at first.

There had been a time in his life he'd have given anything to hear Alex Krycek beg. He used to dream of it after the incident with the nanocytes. Used to imagine in great detail what he would like to do to Krycek to make him beg. The pleasure it would give him to ignore the begging. Even after he found out how many sides Krycek had been playing on, how much information he had passed on to Mulder, he still had the dreams.

But that was then.

This was now.

And Krycek had already escaped one attempted execution.

He'd needed a place to hide out. Had come here, into avowed enemy territory to do it. Because. What? Why the hell had he thought he could come up here and not be made to pay any less?

But he hadn't been, had he? Skinner hadn't taken any revenge other than send him to sleep in a cabin that, though it was winterized, was really not made to house anyone in this weather. His big bit of revenge.

Now here was Krycek, begging...God, yes! He'd begged. Had said "I beg you, please. Let me stay." In that soft voice. Not really expecting Skinner to let him.

Skinner said nothing. After a minute, Krycek pushed his chair away from the table, went into the mud room. He put on his boots, pulled his jacket on, went out to the cabin. He left the skidoo suit behind.

Boy followed him to the door, whimpered when it was closed in his face. He came back to Skinner, sat watching him. Finally, Skinner reached out and patted the animal on the head.

He got up, pulled on his boots, grabbed his jacket and went out to the porch. He moved quickly. If he slowed down, he would think about what he was doing and stop himself.

He didn't bother knocking at the door of the cabin, just opened it.

Krycek wasn't packing.

He was sitting in one of the chairs, jacket still on, holding a gun in his hand. He looked up, surprised at the interruption.

Skinner stopped breathing for a moment. Then, slowly, he closed the door behind him.

The two men stared at each other. Neither of them moved.

Then, carefully, Skinner made his way over to Krycek. He reached and took the gun out of his hand. Pocketed it.

At the door, he spoke over his shoulder. "Until spring. Then we'll see."

Terry dropped off fresh supplies, a month's worth of mail, gossip and left without a "package".

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

They didn't speak about the incident.

Krycek's appetite dropped for a couple of days and Boy enjoyed the fact. Not that they'd been talkative before, but now Krycek was positively silent. He thanked Skinner for the food with a nod, waited for instructions if there were any forthcoming and generally found things to do that took him out of Skinner's sight and hearing.

Skinner finally took a good look at his enemy and realized that Krycek was a man with no future to look forward to. He knew too much, had no one to offer him protection, no real place to hide out. He'd made too many enemies. Even the information he'd passed on to Mulder hadn't really gained him anything: the men he'd brought down with it had allies even in the new administration.

He was exhausted, not just physically. Maybe a bullet to the brain would be a quicker death than anything that would be done to him if he were caught.

But, Skinner thought, if Krycek said he'd covered his traces after being shot, he was certain the job would have been well done. If everyone thought the man was dead, he at least would have a chance at getting his health back, making plans.

Come spring, Skinner reasoned, people would believe Alex Krycek was dead and he could get rid of him with a clear conscience.

The weather stayed unseasonably warm until Christmas. Not that it was warm by Skinner and Washington standards: it snowed, it was cold, it was often gray. But for Temiskaming, the fact that they hadn't yet had nights of -40C, well, according to Terry, it was practically balmy.

While Skinner worked on the cabins outside, he put Krycek to work on the bedrooms upstairs, all but his own. Each room was cleaned, every repair needed was noted. Each room had a small wood stove that had to be taken apart, cleaned, checked out. Skinner had no intention of ever taking winter customers, but even in summer, Temiskaming nights could be cool.

The first really bad blizzard struck in mid January: over a metre of snow, winds of 110 kph, wind-chill factor of -42C.

For the first time since the "incident", Skinner worried about Krycek out in the cabin. He dressed quickly in the coolness of his bedroom, added some wood to the stove. It wouldn't do to let it go out today, not with this wind. And if his room was this cool, Krycek's cabin must be frigid. He hurried down the stairs, wondering how the hell he was going to get to the cabin in this storm.

He was on his way to the mud room when he realized that there was something on the floor at the side of the kitchen stove. Krycek was sleeping, huddled under Boy's blanket, as close to the heat as possible. In the mud room, Skinner found the skidoo suit in a puddle of melting snow on the floor. He picked it up, shook it only to discover that the side that had been folded in on itself was frozen together. It was less than a hundred feet from cabin to lodge. Skinner wondered how long it had taken Krycek to find his way in the dark with the storm raging around him.

He hung up the suit to dry, added wood to the fire box and tried to wake Krycek up. He was barely alert when Skinner got him to his feet, more or less carried him to the stairs and up into his bedroom. There he stripped the damp clothes, the prosthesis off the man, got him dressed in a pair of his sweats, thick socks on his feet and tucked the bedclothes around him. He built up the fire and waited until the wood in the stove was solidly burning.

In the kitchen he put together the fixings for some soup, placed the kettle at the back of the stove where it would simmer until ready. He called Boy in from his kennel: the malamute might be bred for northern temperatures, but Skinner was enough of a southerner to feel this weather was too harsh for even the canine member of his household.

He checked in on Krycek a couple of times that morning, to replenish the fire, to make certain he was just sleeping, not fevered.

The storm was still going strong when Krycek made his way down to the kitchen in time for lunch.

"You all right?" Skinner asked as the man sat in the chair closest to the heat. He handed him a mug of coffee, watched him hold it carefully in his one hand. He waited until he drank some before asking, "How long did it take you to find the door?"

Krycek shrugged.

Whether that meant he didn't know or didn't care to answer, Skinner couldn't tell.

"You're moving into the lodge. The bedroom next to mine. It'll be the easiest to keep warm what with the two stoves in the same area."

"Might not be a good idea," offered Krycek. His voice was husky, as if he were coming down with a cold.

"Why the hell not?" Skinner was angry at himself: he should have moved Krycek into the lodge with the first storm. What if he'd lost his way, hadn't found the door? The man could have died out there.

Krycek took a sip of coffee. "I have nightmares. That close to you, I'll wake you up."

"I'll chance that," Skinner growled. And made Krycek eat something. Krycek's appetite was low again. It was becoming a barometer Skinner could use to judge how the man was feeling.

He pulled in one of the sofas from the lobby, placed it near the heat, went and got some bedding. When they were warm enough to suit him, he made Krycek lie down and get some rest.

The wind made Skinner aware of just what a good chance this was to check for drafts in the rest of the lodge. He was pleased to note that except for one or two places, all his work of the fall was holding true. He checked the fire in his room, started the one in the room next to his for Krycek. When the room was warm enough, he made up the bed.

That done, he dragged one of the overstuffed armchairs into the kitchen, stoked the fire, and settled to read the rest of the afternoon away.

Boy slept soundly on his blanket in the corner. Krycek twitched on and off in his sleep, occasionally making little sounds of protest that grew louder. Skinner watched to see if the man would calm down. Usually, Krycek would open his eyes, as though forcing himself awake, look around the room and, obviously relieved, he would drop back down into sleep.

If that was the way he slept, no wonder it was taking him so long to regain his strength, his appetite. Skinner shrugged, told himself it was Krycek's problem, not his.

It became his the second night Krycek slept in the lodge. He was awakened out of a sound sleep by the screams coming from the man's bedroom.

Skinner lay in bed, not moving, waiting for the sound to stop. It did, only to be followed by steps rushing to the bathroom across the hall. Then he did move, opened the door to hear Krycek being violently ill.

"Jesus!" Skinner watched as Krycek barely had the time to breathe before yet another onslaught of vomiting gripped him. Even when he had emptied his stomach, his body still continued heaving until Skinner wondered if the stomach lining was going to come up.

He knelt next to Krycek, tried to get him to swallow some warm water to help ease the pain of voiding nothing. Grabbed the bath sheet and draped it around his shoulders. Finally placed his arm around his shoulders, rubbed his back trying to find a way to soothe him.

Krycek lay his cheek on the toilet seat, too drained to move. He finally managed to rinse his mouth, drink some of the water. He needed help to get to his feet.

Skinner closed the lid, directed Krycek to sit down. He wet a cloth, passed it over his face. Went and got a fresh sweat top to replace the one spattered with vomit. He got Krycek back into his room and back into the bed.

"Sorry." Krycek's voice was rawer than usual. "I'll move back to the cabin in the morning."

Skinner sat on the side of the bed. Krycek's face had no colour. His body shook with occasional tremors. "Is it always like this?" He tucked the blankets around him closer.

"Usually." There was only acceptance in Krycek's voice.

"How often? Once a week? Once a month?"

Krycek moved his head so he could nestle a bit further into the comfort of the blankets. "Every couple of nights."

Skinner sat by Krycek's side until the man fell asleep again. Out of exhaustion, he supposed. He couldn't see how anyone could have a nightmare like that and go back to sleep voluntarily.

He reached out with a hand, and stroked the hair off Krycek's forehead.

In the morning, he refused to let Krycek move back to the cabin. "You'll freeze. And it's not like moving back will help the nightmares. You'll stay in that room. It's not open to discussion, Krycek."

The next time Skinner was awakened by noises coming from Krycek's room, he went to wake the man. It wasn't easy: the nightmare had him firmly in its grip, but it released him before it got to the point where he was sick. Krycek kept on saying "Sorry" as though he expected to be punished for having wakened him. Skinner made him lie on his side, rubbed his back through his clothes, until he'd calmed down enough to sleep again.

The earlier Skinner caught the nightmare, the easier it was to wake Krycek. After eight nights of sleeping with an ear open for sounds, Skinner decided that neither of them was getting the sleep they needed. There had to be another solution to the problem.

That night he didn't hear Krycek until he was in the bathroom puking his guts up. By the time it was over and he'd gotten him cleaned up, Krycek was shaking like a leaf. Instead of putting Krycek back into his bed, Skinner brought him into his bedroom, put him into his bed. He threw an extra blanket onto the bed, got in and pulled the trembling man into his arms. He spooned himself behind Krycek, letting his body heat help ease the tremors.

He woke in the morning, Krycek wrapped around him, sound asleep. Skinner slipped out of Krycek's embrace and did some thinking throughout the day. That night, when they went upstairs to bed, Skinner stopped Krycek at the door of his room. "Get changed and then come into my room."

Krycek looked at him for a minute, slowly nodded and went and did as he had been told.

Skinner was coming out of his bathroom when Krycek knocked on the door and came in. He was wearing a sweat suit, thick wool socks. He'd taken off the prosthesis. There was no expression on his face. He stood there quietly while Skinner examined him.

"In the bed."

Skinner thought he'd have to say it again when Krycek moved. He stopped at the side of the bed, hesitated and then got in. Skinner turned off the lantern, got into bed. Made himself comfortable, his back to the man lying on his back, eyes staring blankly at the ceiling.

"Go to sleep, Krycek. This way, I'll be able to hear you faster. Maybe you'll be able to keep your supper down where it'll do more good."

When the faint mewling sound began, Skinner turned, pulled the man into his arms and went back to sleep. Krycek slept that night through. And even if the nightmare gripped him suddenly other nights, Skinner was right there to wake him, to hold him, to chase the demons away.

Krycek slept better, ate better, put on weight. Gradually the aura of 'un-well-ness" that had surrounded him since his arrival was dispersed. He began to show more interest in what Skinner was doing. Even offered some suggestions of his own. Skinner never realized how depressed Krycek had been until he started getting better.

He discovered that Krycek had a variety of skills he could use. He knew weapons, expertly cleaned all the rifles that hung around the lodge, even the old ones that were used only as decorations. He actually had a few plumbing skills which came in handy when some of the pipes froze. When Skinner got fed up with eating his own cooking, Krycek took over with the few dishes he knew how to put together.

And, to Skinner's delight, he played chess.

After supper, when the dishes were done, they sat at the kitchen table and challenged each other to display skills almost forgotten. Games could and did last for days. They had nowhere to go, no schedules to attend to, so if one wanted to take a half hour or more to determine a move, well, what did it matter.

And, every night, Krycek got into Skinner's bed and slept, Skinner either close by or with an arm around him, keeping him safe from night terrors.

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

Terry landed the plane, skied to a close stop by the dock. Skinner was waiting for him, ready to stack the supplies on the sled for easy carrying to the lodge.

"Molly at the Post Office says you'd better answer some of that mail right away. Seems you got some replies to those brochures you mailed out."

It still took Skinner aback that the Postmistress knew more about his business than he did.

"Coffee's fresh. Do you have the time?"

There were three responses, all from previous visitors who were pleased the lodge was re-opening. Two were coming for the fishing, and would he see to it that they had a guide. One was coming just to get away from phones: he wanted a written guarantee that apart from satellite and his cell phone, no one would be able to contact him for the week he was reserving.

Suddenly, Walter Sergei Skinner, ex-Assistant Director of the FBI, found that he was an innkeeper. For a moment there, he was swamped with an incredible sense of fear. Jesus Christ! Just what was he doing here, up in the middle of nowhere?

Then he took a deep breath, realized that Terry was grinning at him, released it.

It took him just a few minutes to write out three letters confirming booking dates, costs.

Terry was reading over his shoulder as he worked on the laptop.

"Don't forget to request a deposit. Twenty percent is what old Davison used to ask. They're used to that."

So he added that.

"Why don't you give Molly the right to open your business mail until air service is regular again. She can contact you if anything comes in. Wouldn't want to miss a customer because I couldn't get in."

So he did that too.

Krycek waited until Terry had left to come out of wherever he was hiding. Skinner had agreed to let him stay only till spring and it was coming up close to that time. Every time Terry made it in, he expected Skinner to tell him to pack his things. Not that he could blame him: having a haunted man in his bed hadn't been part of the deal.

Skinner had other things on his mind. He looked up at him with a sappy grin that made him look like a kid. "Look, Krycek, we've got reservations. We're in business."

For a moment, Krycek let himself be part of the "we", then pulled sharply away. No sense going somewhere he would never be welcomed. He nodded at Skinner's enthusiasm. "Congratulations," he offered softly, his voice never really having recovered from the nights of screaming, vomiting. "Isn't there a bottle of wine somewhere in the pantry?"

There was.

By the end of the week, Molly had contacted him with two more reservations.

Skinner never noticed that as his spirits rose, Krycek's went back down. That the nightmares were coming back and Krycek was eating less again.

He was in the lobby, adding another reservation to the book when Krycek came in from cleaning up some of the winter debris from the yard.

"We've got another reservation for a week in July." He looked up in time to see Krycek flinch. "What's wrong? Krycek," he came out from behind the registration desk, "what's the problem?"

When Krycek went to turn away, Skinner grabbed him by the shoulders. "There's something wrong. Why don't you tell me what it is?"

"It's March 19th." Krycek waited.

"Yes. So?" Skinner hadn't a clue.

"It's spring in two days."

But it was more than that, so Skinner pushed. "Yes, and?"

"You keep on saying 'we'. 'We' have another reservation. You told me I could stay until spring. Terry's flying in the next day."

Skinner released Krycek, took a turn around the lobby. He'd forgotten, he'd actually forgotten his plan of getting rid of Krycek when spring arrived. In his mind, he'd assigned Krycek all sorts of things to do before the first customer arrived in late May. Without being aware of it, he'd included Krycek in his plans.

He stopped pacing and gave Krycek a good look-over.

No one other than himself had been part of his plans at the beginning. He had seen himself running the lodge by himself, not with a partner. He would have help, of course, but they would be around only for the season.

A short four-month season.

If he were being honest, he doubted he could have gotten through the past winter by himself, alone with Boy.

And not that even now, even during the season, there wouldn't be more than enough work to keep Krycek as busy as he wanted to be.

Then there was the problem of the nightmares. Sure, now they were under control. Because they slept together. That might be a problem when the visitors arrived. Especially with the type of men who were coming up.

Skinner crossed his arms over his chest, began drumming the fingers of one hand against his shoulder.

"The cabin behind the lodge, just what repairs are needed to finish it?"

Krycek forced himself to think. "Some floor boards need replacing. There's a leak somewhere on the left side of the roof. The fireplace in the bedroom is stuffed with straw. It needs a thorough cleaning."

"Okay. Leave all the other stuff and make that cabin a priority."

Krycek was confused. "I thought you wanted that one done last. For the cook and her husband."

"No. I changed my mind. They can have the bedroom upstairs. It's right above the kitchen and the stairs by the room come right down to it." He went back to the paper work that waited for him on the desk. "*We* will move into the back cabin. It has two rooms, unlike all the others. People will just assume we use both of them to sleep in. There's a sofa bed we can move in, from the front bedroom. And besides, it may be a good thing to have a bit of distance between us and the paying customers."

He picked up his pen, made a notation on a calendar he was working on. He didn't bother looking up. "You'd better measure the doorways and the room. We might have some trouble moving our bed into there."

Krycek didn't move right away. "Skinner. Are you sure?"

Skinner looked up. "I'm sure."

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

The season was a mixture of fiascos, successes, fun and disasters.

Skinner learnt that being as he called himself "an innkeeper" required more patience, more tolerance, much more diplomacy, negotiating skills, humility than he had ever needed at the Bureau.

Fishing trips could be a huge success or a devastating failure depending on the client, the guide, the weather, the mosquitoes, the fish. Some of the staff the council had told him would come back, didn't. If he had had illusions of standing behind the registration desk, serving meals, making witty conversation with his guests, the first week quickly took care of that.

He stripped beds, did laundry, listened to dumb corporate jokes that quickly grew stale. He discovered that there weren't enough hours in a day and he thanked God, often, that Alex was around. And that they had moved into the back cabin. If he needed to vent his frustrations, Alex was there to listen to him, to sympathize. To fill in whenever, wherever he was needed. To help.

There were nights they fell into bed, barely able to find the energy to undress.

A freak snowstorm at the beginning of September meant that the season ended early, and Walter thanked whatever god was responsible for the storm with great sincerity. It meant that he had to refund the reservation money, but he didn't care.

Terry made it in a week after the storm, when the sun had returned in full force, melting all the snow.

He opened a bag and pulled out a bottle of champagne. Got three glasses out of the kitchen cupboard. Popped the bottle open and poured. "From everyone in the village. Congratulations. We didn't think you'd stick it out, but you proved us wrong." He handed each of the men a glass. Raised his. "To the next successful season. And to many more."

Walter looked at his glass. "This was a success?"

Terry looked surprised. "Of course. No one died, you didn't lose anyone, and no one killed anyone. What more could you ask for?"

"Sanity?" Alex picked up his glass.

"Sanity? Jesus, man, if it was sanity you wanted, what the hell are you doing up here, eh?"

Walter stood up, raised his glass and touched it to Terry's. Alex shrugged and joined them.

"You're sure this was a successful season?" Walter asked Terry. "I mean, I'll take it if that's what you say it was, but it sure didn't feel like that to me."

"Take it from me, you had a good season. One year, you'll look back on this season with nostalgia."

"Oh, God!" Alex moaned.

To the surprise of only Walter and Alex, almost half of the first season's clients wrote to reserve for the next one.

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

They moved back into the lodge for the winter.

Boy had gone off wandering in the fall, returned with a female who was promptly named Madonna for her long eyelashes, obviously bulging body.

Repairs were done, cabins closed off. Equipment repaired and stored.

Terry brought in a TV, a VCR and a box load of videos.

Madonna gave birth to three large pups, in the mud room, with Walter and Alex looking on, terrified to be called upon as mid-wives.

And then, just after Christmas, Walter and Alex became lovers.

After almost a year of sharing a bed.

Because of a nightmare Walter had, one of the ones he had now and then about Vietnam.

After so many nights of being consoled, Alex had a chance to return the favour.

He held Walter tightly against him, trying to absorb the trembling aftermath of his nightmare. Rubbed his check against Walter's head, murmuring in the soft tones that Walter used to soothe him. Pressed a kiss on the side of Walter's head, was beginning another when Walter turned his head and caught the kiss on his mouth.

The next kiss was tentative. The next less so.

They slowly stripped each other under the layers of blankets, taking the time to explore with their hands what they couldn't see in the dark. Alex used his t-shirt to wipe the come from their mutual masturbation session off their bodies.

They touched in silence except for the sounds of their completions, held each other after and went to sleep.

In the morning, Walter got up, stoked up the fire, used the toilet and went back to bed. He watched Alex wake up, waited until he was certain Alex was wide awake before he bent down and kissed him.

Alex slipped out of bed, took his turn in the bathroom came out with the container of hand lotion Molly had sent them when Terry had commented on the state of their hands before the season had begun.

In the pale light of a December morning, Walter had his wicked way, as Alex later teased him, with him. And then later in the morning, Alex with him.

Walter lay propped up on the pillows, Alex's head on his shoulder, arms around each other. He dropped a kiss on Alex's head. "I wonder just when the hell I fell in love with you."

Alex made a little sound of contentment. "When I stepped between you and Tom Gallagher just as he threw up."

Walter laughed. "Probably." He waited a bit. "Alex?"

"Hmm?"

"When did you fall in love with me?"

Alex looked up. "The first time I saw you in the hallway at Headquarters. You were growling at some wimpy agent about a report."

Walter looked unbelieving.

"You were wearing a dark navy suit, a white shirt and a Marine tie. You looked down the hall at me, nodded a greeting, said," and he did a fair imitation of Walter's AD voice, "'You look lost, agent. Is there anyway I can help you?' And I've wanted you ever since."

"Jesus, Alex!" Walter was stunned.

Alex smiled dreamily, resettled his head against Walter's shoulder.

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

The second season was more under control. They had an idea of what to expect, or so they thought.

They lined up a couple of extra guides, in case of emergencies. Made sure that they had an overabundance of bug repellant on hand. Lots of books, videos for rainy days. Made sure the cook had lots of provisions on hand for emergency feedings.

Like for the group of six that came up for a week and it rained every day. A couple of them managed to get in some fishing, but the rest just lazed around the lobby, playing poker, smoking cigars and eating anything that Marie whipped up to keep them sated. Three of them reserved another week for the next season before they left. Walter gave Marie a bonus for the work she'd put in that week.

Alex found himself followed around by three little girls who had come up with their parents who were fishing fanatics. While their parents went out, the trio, aged 8 to 12, attached themselves to Alex, absolutely delighted to do anything he asked them to. So he had them name the pups who still hadn't been named six months after their birth.

Which is how the males came to be called Sylvester, Pepe, and the female, Mismew.

When the second season drew to a close, Walter and Alex shared another bottle of champagne with Terry, took advantage of the good weather to go spend a week in Toronto where they gorged themselves on fresh fruit, theatre, book and music stores.

Walter made an appointment with a lawyer, had the paper work drawn up making Alex part owner of the lodge, wrote out his last will and testament. Alex was upset by both.

"For god's sake, Alex. You work just as hard as I do, put in just as many hours. I'm just putting on paper what everybody knows to be true. And as for my will, that's just in case. If anything happens to me, I want the lodge in good hands. Yours. That's all this is."

It took a long, careful session of loving for Alex to accept both.

He had some money of his own. Cash and jewels that he had brought with him when he had been sent off on the witness protection program. That had spent most of the time in the fake bottom of his luggage. Even though he had made very certain that there would be no way to trace him using the money, he carefully took his time exchanging his American money for Canadian throughout the city. When Walter was off somewhere on his own, Alex went to Walter's bank, deposited the money that he hoped would equal about what Walter had spent on supplies for repairs since he'd arrived. If he was going to be a partner, he was going to be a real one.

It took a long, careful session of loving for Walter to accept that.

They enjoyed their week in the city but were happier than they would have thought to return to the quiet, the soothing beauty of their lake.

The third season brought with it a couple of surprises.

One of their regular guests, a man who had come both seasons, wanted to reserve the lodge and all places possible for a group of business colleagues. They were working on a possible mega-million dollar merger and wanted a nice, quiet place to meet to wheel and deal. Would it be possible for them to helicopter in and out a week before the lodge's season officially began? He realized the lodge had no helideck, but his corporation would be more than willing to pay for its construction.

They consulted with Terry who supervised the whole project.

Three days before the meeting was to begin, the helideck was completed. The next day, the first helicopter landed, filled with security people coming to check out the site. Two days later, two ceos of multi-national companies and their teams arrived for the negotiations being chaired by their guest.

The helideck was used twice more that season. Terry signed up for helicopter flying lessons in North Bay.

The second big surprise was the arrival in mid-August by a figure from their past.

Walter went down as usual to the dock to help the new visitors off the plane. He was handing one down when he looked up and came face to face with Dana Scully.

"Jesus!"

Scully grinned at the unexpected reaction of her former AD.

Walter mentally reviewed the list of people reserved for this week: there was no Dana Scully listed. He'd have remembered something like that. And, shit! he had to get word to Alex to lie low. In Scully's world, Alex Krycek was dead.

"Well, I'll take that to indicate surprise, sir."

Walter realized he was still holding her hand. He let go, smiled what he hoped was a sincere smile.

"You certainly are unexpected, Agent Scully."

"Doctor, not agent. I left the Bureau some time ago, sir."

"Walter, please."

So ex-Agent, now Doctor Dana Scully explained how a friend's mother had had a heart attack and how she had taken his reservation. She'd heard, of course, through the grapevine, that he'd moved to the outer reaches of civilization. But she had to admit she was surprised at just how remote the lodge was.

Just then, Alex came around the corner of the porch to help and came face to face with Dana Scully.

Alex was even more surprised than Walter had been. Scully was speechless.

She looked from him to Walter.

"Scully, I'm sure you remember Alex. My partner."

"Sir! He's dead." She looked back at Alex. "You're dead."

"Alex, why don't you take *Doctor* Scully to our cabin and I'll join you there after I finish assigning rooms." Walter took Scully's hand in his, put on his best AD voice, "Please, Dana. This is important. Too important to discuss out here. I promise I'll join you as soon as I can."

A half hour later he opened the door to their cabin and found Scully sitting in an armchair, a coffee in hand, with Alex sprawled at one end of the couch. Madonna and her new pups were vying for Scully's attention, which she was parcelling out, a wary eye on Alex. Boy was sitting next to Alex, big head resting on Alex's knee, keeping a careful eye on Scully.

Walter joined Alex on the couch. One of the pups abandonned Scully and came to claim his attention.

"So, Scully, what do you want to know?" Walter scratched the pup's head.

Dana Scully wanted to know lots of things, but took a deep breath and got straight to the point. "Who knows Krycek is alive and here?"

"You."

"Sir, you know he killed the agent assigned to him."

Walter looked at Alex. "No, Scully. I know the man is dead. Alex was badly wounded at the same time. We can only guess at those responsible, but that's all."

Scully squinted her eyes at the look that passed between the two men. She'd already noticed through the bedroom's open door that there was only one bed.

"Is Krycek why you've buried yourself in the wilds, sir?"

Walter looked at her. "Buried? I'll have you know that this is a thriving enterprise, Dana. And no, not because of Alex, though he did join me here as soon as he could."

"Sir?..."

"Dana, do you think you could call me Walter."

Scully got up, placed her mug down on the table, took a nervous turn around the room. All eyes, human and canine, watched her.

She stopped in front of the two men. "Would it be better if I left? I understand that the plane will be leaving after lunch. I give you my word that I won't mention Krycek's being alive to anyone."

Alex stood up. "Scully, whatever made you come up here?"

Scully sighed. "I needed a holiday."

"So, is my being here going to interfer much with all that?"

She looked at him. Thought before answering. "I don't know. I must admit I'm not happy to see you. I came up here to see how AD...how Walter was doing."

"What if I stay out of your way as much as I can? Would that make your stay easier?"

Walter made a small noise of protest but they ignored him.

"Maybe. Probably. I don't know! I wasn't expecting to see a ghost."

A knock on the door interrupted them. Alex opened to Terry who smiled, "Sorry to butt in, but Alex, your fan club is looking for you."

Alex smiled, called Madonna to him. "Okay, pups, let's hope they're not into cats this year."

Walter was laughing as the door closed.

"Fan club?"

"The family with the three girls that arrived with you. They were up here last year. They'll drive Alex crazy. Follow him everywhere." He stood up, came over to hug her.

Scully was flabbergasted: the AD Skinner she knew had never been a hugger.

"Dana, thank you. Not just for staying but for understanding. Up here, away from all the brouhaha of Washington, Alex and *I* are both safe. Because, let's be honest, none of us who had anything to do with the Consortium's downfall are going to be awarded medals for our part in it. Alex, in their minds, was just more expendable. I know you have no reason to like him, but he's rather important to me. And if they try to take him out now, they'll have to take me out as well. I really appreciate your offer of silence and I am taking you up on it."

He hugged her again. "Come on, I'll show you to your room. It's got a great view of the lake. And lunch will be ready by the time you unpack." He escorted her out of the cabin, up the path. Was giving her the tour guide speech when they saw Alex with his fan club, the dogs and pups.

Scully watched him laugh at something the smallest of the girls said. Walter grinned at hearing him.

She looked around at what to her was stark beauty surrounded by trees.

"So, Walter, what are winters like, up here at the edge of the universe?"

*************************NIF***********************