\Title: THE LODGE II: THE VISITOR
Author: Josan
Beta: LaurieCF
Date: November, 1999
Summary: You've guessed it: Mulder finds his way to
the Lodge
Pairing: Sk/K with M. NOTE: I write Sk/K, *NOT* Sk/M
or M/K. If this pairing annoys you, please delete. If you still go ahead and read it, don't complain about the pairing.
Rating: PG-13
Archive: With thanks to CJK at:
http://adult.dencity.com/CJK/index.html
Yes to Basement
Comments: jmann@mondenet.com

DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013. I know that. But nothing says that I have to like it.

NOTE: This is for all of you who wrote to say that you would have liked to see Mulder show up at the Lodge.

Thanks to BlueMohairBear who gave me the germ of the idea, to LaurieCF who helped me find the angle on Mulder and then stay on track.

 

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

 

They'd said goodbye to the last guest, to the staff, closed up the cabins, drained pipes and were getting ready for the winter when the letter arrived.

It came from one of the big publishing companies in the States, wondering if it would be possible for one of their writers to come up for a month. He needed seclusion, no distractions to finish a manuscript. They understood that he could get that at their lodge.

They were also aware that the lodge didn't take guests in the off-season, so that the writer was more than willing to pay double the going summer rate for the inconvenience.

Would they be so kind as to contact Mary Jane MacIsaac as to the particulars?

Walter tossed the letter onto the kitchen table. "What do you think?"

Alex reached over, picked up the letter. Looked at it.

"They're Mulder's publishers."

Walter tipped back the chair he was sitting on, rested the heels of his boots on an edge of the table. If their cook, Marie, had been around, he wouldn't have dared do such a thing: she would have smacked him, hard.

"That went through my mind, too. Dana was bound to speak to him. Still, maybe we're jumping the gun here. They do represent other writers."

Alex just raised an eyebrow.

"Well, let's think on it. We don't need to answer right away."

But they did have a time limit. If they wanted to talk to Mary Jane MacIsaac in person, they needed to co- ordinate with the Anik satellite to get a phone line into the States. And then there was transportation. Terry wouldn't chance his new helicopter, the one that the Council had purchased for him. In the winter he would only use the Otter, so the lake had to be frozen and the weather clear for him to deliver the package.

Then Molly, the Postmistress, contacted them on the radio.

"You have a letter here from New York. Do you want me to open it?"

Alex looked at Walter who shrugged. "Sure. Go ahead, Molly."

Another request, this time with the ante upped to three times their usual charge. Molly gave a low whistle. "With that, you could put real bathrooms in all the cabins!"

As usual, everyone in Latchford, known locally as LA, knew as much about their business as they did.

Alex thanked her, asked if there was any other business.

That night over their chess game, Walter brought it up.

"Well?"

Alex picked up his knight, played with it in his hand. Said nothing.

"Alex, if you don't want him up here, if you think we can't trust him, we just say no. That's all there is to it."

Alex looked up, met Walter's eyes. "I always thought you'd end up with him."

Walter was stunned for a moment, then gave a hoot of laughter. "Jesus, Alex! He drove me crazy when all I had to do was supervise him. I can't for one minute think he would have driven me less crazy if I had been attracted to him. And I doubt very much that he's changed."

He reached out, laid his hand on Alex's.

"No, love. I've got what I want. And you're everything I'll ever want, or need." His voice softened. "Don't ever doubt that, Alex."

Alex gave a shy nod. Turned his hand so that their fingers laced. Took a deep breath.

"Okay. Let's do it. The money's nice. And besides, we're not certain it is Mulder."

Walter grinned. "There is a way to find out if they won't tell us."

Alex thought about it, grinned back.

They got a line through to New York the next day. And no, Mary Jane MacIsaac wouldn't give them the name of the writer involved.

"It's not that we don't trust you, Mr. Skinner, but this is not a secure line. And our writer is very popular with the public and doesn't want anyone following him up there. I'm sure you understand."

Yes, he did. Now did their writer understand that there was no electricity up here? They did have a generator, but they only ran it for the septic system when the holding tank needed emptying.

Ms. MacIsaac seemed to be rather taken aback. What exactly did that mean?

Well, it meant that the lighting was kerosene lanterns; the heat, wood; *no* television. Just short wave radio, possibility of telephone communication only one hour a day. And was the writer aware that the only way in or out was by plane, and that was weather dependent?

Oh, dear, said Ms. MacIsaac. And then there was another slight problem, from her end. Her writer, when he was on a roll, wouldn't consider such factors as heat and light: he forgot to eat unless someone placed the food next to him.

No problem at this end, Mr. Skinner assured her. They could keep an eye on all that. For what he was going to pay, they had no objection to seeing to it that the room and writer were kept functional. Would their coming in to attend to such things bother him?

No, indeed, Ms. MacIsaac assured them. When he was like that, a bomb could go off next to him and he wouldn't hear it.

Well, then, as long as he had ample batteries for his laptop...she had to remember, there was no corner store around here.

Yes, of course. She would make sure that he had a case full of the things just to make sure.

"And you'd better make sure he has a couple of cases of sunflower seeds. We don't have any of those up here."

"Oh, dear! How did you...?" She sighed loudly. "Yes, well. You're right. He'll go crazy if he runs out of those before the work is finished. I'll see to it."

Walter turned to Alex and nodded.

"And, Ms. MacIsaac, it gets very cold even at this time of the year. Make very sure he has the appropriate clothes. We don't want him freezing to death, do we?"

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

Terry skied the plane to the dock, on a beautiful late November afternoon.

Walter was waiting at the landing with the sled and the dogs.

A man jumped out, dressed in an arctic parka, coveralls and heavy arctic boots. Behind him, Terry shared a smirk with Walter: these southerners and their "thin" blood.

"Hello, Mulder."

Mulder pushed the hood off his face. "I figured you knew it was me when Mary Jane mentioned the sunflower seeds."

They checked each other out for changes as they shook hands.

Walter was wearing a thick sweater, jeans. After three years, his blood had "thickened" enough that he didn't find a windless, sunny day that cold, even if the lake had frozen over.

Mulder was pleased to find his ex-boss looking pretty much as he remembered him. Minus the strained tension that had permeated all their lives in those last days of hearings, revelations.

In fact, Skinner looked as if nothing much bothered him. He and Terry were unloading the plane, catching up on local gossip. The lead dog of the sled was calmly watching Skinner while the others were all straining for attention from the guest.

Terry refused an offer for coffee: he was leaving for Toronto, for a week's worth of extra lessons on a helicopter. Yep, he had their list of the things they wanted. He'd see them in a couple of weeks.

Both men waited until Terry had taken off to make their way up to the lodge. Mulder was impressed with the way the dogs all snapped to attention when Skinner ordered them to "Go!"

Mulder stopped in the yard to look over the site. He smiled at Skinner. "Just like Scully described it. She said it was beautiful, and it is."

Walter looked around his home and smiled, "It is that. Come on. I'll show you where we set you up."

They'd given Mulder their room. It would be easier to keep warm, being right above the kitchen, had its own bathroom. They'd moved their things into the bedroom Alex had used when he'd first moved into the lodge.

Mulder looked around the room, at the four poster bed, large matching dresser, the glass-fronted wood stove emitting a gentle heat, the colourful braided carpet on the honey gold wood floor. They had brought up a large table, set it by the window for light. There were three lanterns in the room, all ready to be lit.

"Bathroom's through here. Closet. Why don't you start unpacking while I bring the rest of your things up."

Mulder tossed his parka unto the bed.

"Skinner."

Walter had his hand on the knob, ready to close the door behind him.

"Where's Krycek?"

Walter turned around to face his ex-subordinate.

"My *partner*," Walter wanted the ground rules firmly established, "is working at his chores. Since I am the official host, it is my pleasure to greet *guests*. If you care to join us downstairs for supper this evening, we'll be happy to have you. I understand that once you begin working, we will be bringing your meals up here to you."

Mulder was not surprised that Skinner could still put on that AD tone of his. He nodded. "Yes, thank you. I would like to join you two for supper. If it's no bother."

"No bother at all, Mulder."

And with that Walter closed the door behind him.

Shit! thought Mulder. Well, Scully had warned him that Skinner was very protective of Krycek. Still, he was willing to bet that she had been more warmly received than he had been. That the lines between them hadn't been so firmly drawn.

To be fair, the last time he'd seen Skinner he hadn't been very friendly.

Hell, he had found it hard to be polite, never mind diplomatic at that stage of the proceedings. All that information -- answers to questions that had haunted him for years -- all that to be covered up, to be deep- sixed, all for the good of the Nation. The average man on the street, he'd been told, wouldn't know how to handle the information that had been uncovered. Translation: the average honourable member of the Senate didn't know what to do with it.

After the fact, he could understand -- still not accept but he did understand -- why the in camera Senate investigations were necessary. He knew that to Skinner they were the lesser of two evils: in camera or none at all.

And his support for the conspiracy of silence still hadn't protected Skinner when the clean-out began. He'd been the first of them to "retire" from the scene. Then Scully, who went off to Baltimore. To Johns Hopkins, who were bloody glad to get her.

Even Krycek had disappeared. Being the source of so much crucial information hadn't, in the end, given him the immunity he thought he had bargained for. Until Scully's visit after her summer vacation, Mulder had often consoled himself with the image of Krycek lying dead in a ditch somewhere, an unmourned-for casualty of their *victory* over the Consortium.

Only he had hung around, making himself very visible. Only he, or so he had felt for some time, had cared enough about the truth to fight their cover-up. Until he had been confronted by his own mother and told to face facts: Samantha was dead and never coming back.

No matter how much noise he made, how much attention he got, nothing was going to change that. Or change the fact that his father had given Sam to the Consortium. That he had deserved to die.

That, in her opinion, it was a pity that Alex Krycek had been so good at his job that William Mulder had died quickly. That he should have died as slowly as she, Teena, had been dying all these years without her child.

After that, when OPR had demanded his badge, it had almost been a relief.

Mulder spent the rest of the afternoon in his room, unpacking, putting things away, setting up his work area. Storing the large box of batteries his laptop would need under the table; the two boxes of sunflower seeds to the side. All close at hand for when he would need them.

It had taken only a glance at Terry at the airport in North Bay to know that he was overdressed for the season, but he'd nearly frozen to death once and he wasn't going to chance it again. He'd brought up a fair supply of silk and thermal longjohns for any occasion, thick sweats, heavy socks, lined moccasins.

The room was pleasantly warm with its wood heat and he hoped he would remember to keep it going even if he were on a roll. Hell, he was the one who had arranged to come up here at this time of the year. Mary Jane had assured him that the lodge owner had promised to take care of these disturbances for him, but he wondered if Skinner would remember just how obsessed he was when he was working.

The sun was already low when he went exploring the top floor. He discovered that the room next to his was being used. He hesitated at the doorway, wanting to snoop, but realizing that it would be an invasion of privacy. He carefully closed the door. Didn't check out any of the others.

The lobby downstairs was closed up, as was the dining room. Mulder wondered what they were like in the summer, filled, according to Scully, with people, some children, dogs. He still had a hard time imagining Skinner in the hotel business. Couldn't even begin to see Krycek in it.

He found his way to the kitchen, attracted by the smells and the warmth.

"Nice set up you got here," he said on entering.

The man at the stove turned around. "We like it." Alex leaned a hip against the counter. "Hello, Mulder. You're looking good."

"Krycek."

For a long minute, the two of them just stared at each other.

Alex saw a man who had more silver in his hair than the last time he'd seen him. A few more lines on his face. Still the rangy runner's body. Looking less driven. He'd gotten some answers with the downfall of the Consortium: he hadn't necessarily liked them, but he'd gotten them.

Mulder was surprised. Krycek looked a little older, as they all did, but apart from that, the man hadn't really changed that much. He looked as though he had put on some weight, as if he were eating on a regular basis.

Shit, you would think that considering the havoc the man had wrought in all their lives, it would show on him somehow.

And maybe his mother could accept -- hell rejoice -- that Krycek had killed her ex-husband, but Mulder wasn't sure that he was that forgiving, even if the information that had come out had indicated that William Mulder was a bigger bastard than anyone had thought him to be.

Krycek didn't look any more pleased to see him than he was to see Krycek.

"Hear you arrived dressed for the arctic."

Mulder shrugged. "Well, I believe proper winter clothing was specified." By now, he supposed everyone in the area knew he was overdressed by their standards. "You're looking well for a dead man."

Alex gave a bit of a nod, turned back to the stove. "Supper won't be ready for an hour or so." He moved something in the oven. Reached for a pie on the counter, put it beside the roasting pan.

"Make yourself at home. You'll find books over on those shelves," he nodded towards a back corner, "some magazines. Newspapers, if you like week-old news." Alex left the kitchen, pulled on his boots, a Gore-tex jacket over his sweater. Went back outdoors.

From the back room window, Mulder could see the dogs jumping up around Krycek, vying for attention as he made his way down the shovelled path to the wood stacked just behind the lodge.

For a while, Mulder watched Krycek load a large box on runners with wood, then whistle for the dogs. He attached leads to three of the larger ones, and with Krycek pushing, the dogs pulling, the box made its way to the bottom of the porch steps. There, the dogs were released, and Krycek began unloading and adding the wood to the stack already on the porch.

Mulder thought about it for a minute, pulled on a pair of boots he found by the door, grabbed one of the coats hanging there and went out to help.

"What are you doing, Mulder?" Krycek didn't sound pleased.

"Helping out. And before you tell me paying guests don't help out, tell me you didn't let Scully help when she offered. Because she told me all about the fun she had playing dining room hostess."

They stacked two more loads of wood before Krycek stored the box in an overhang, unharnessed the dogs, called the others, and settled them in for the night in their kennel. Mulder stood watching as Krycek gave each dog its share of attention, compliments for the work they'd done that day. The largest of the dogs followed them inside, went and joined another in the corner

Walter was waiting for them, supper ready. There was chicken and all that went with it, apple pie for dessert. Very little conversation with the meal.

Mulder doubted that this was the normal pattern of things between the two men. It was as if Skinner and Krycek were waiting for him to do something, say something. So he did.

"Okay. So this was a bad idea."

Walter and Alex shared a look. Neither of them, he noticed, disagreed with him.

"But I do need a place to work without distractions and this really does satisfy that need. I'll probably start working on the final draft tomorrow morning, so you won't have to deal with me beyond what has been arranged. And I promise to leave as soon as I'm finished.

"And, in case you're worried, Scully made me promise not to tell anyone about Krycek. I don't break promises I've made to her. Thank you for supper. It was very good."

He stood up, ready to make a dramatic exit when Skinner growled, "Jesus, Mulder, sit down." And waited until he did. "Look, Alex and I aren't the chattiest of people at the best of times. We've just finished a long season of being nice and polite to people. At this time of year, we really need a lot of quiet to make up for that.

"Now I don't know what you were expecting from us. The last time Alex saw you, you tried to beat him to a pulp in the Senate hallway after he admitted to killing your father. The last time you saw me, you came close to spitting in my face for agreeing that the Senate hearings should be held in camera.

"Your coming up here may be putting both our lives on the line. Fortunately, this is our territory, and if anyone tries to get to us, they've got a lot of territory to cover and very few ways of making it in without garnering attention."

Mulder was taken aback. "You think I'm putting your lives at stake? Then why the hell did you agree to my coming up here?"

Walter stood up, started gathering the dishes. "Because we both know you, Mulder. If we'd said no, you would have found a way of coming up here anyway. And probably a lot less quietly.

"This way, you have a reason that anyone can confirm. And you've got enough things to do to keep yourself busy. Moreover," he added with a grin, "a good innkeeper never turns down a guest willing to pay triple, for any reason.

"And before you take offense, let me also tell you, we start our days early and we finish them early. Especially by city standards. You're welcome to join us at any time, as would be any other guest we'd have staying.

"But, Mulder, we do have things to do outside, and very limited daylight to do them in. And we do try to get as much done as possible in this warmer weather.

"If you come looking for us, you may not find us. There is always coffee on: the fridge in the pantry always has food in it. Serve yourself. We'll see to it that the fire in your room doesn't go out, that the lanterns are always filled, that your room is kept passably clean. We would both appreciate it if you used the wastepaper basket by the table for your sunflower shells, but we understand that in the course of things, this may not always happen.

"We spend our evenings in the kitchen, after supper. If you need anything, that may be the best time to come to us with your request.

"And one more thing, don't leave the lodge or the yard without telling one of us. You're not in the city here, and it's easy to get lost in the forest around here. And that rule is not just for you, but one of the house rules." Walter pulled out his most severe AD tone. "Is *that* understood, Mulder?"

"Yes, sir, it is." He sat, waiting to be dismissed. Caught himself. Shit, old habits died hard.

"Good. So, Mulder," Walter's voice was that of the innkeeper again, "what's it like being a best selling author?"

Mulder looked at the two men watching him. He knew he was overreacting but the situation was beginning to make him wish he had been less determined to come up here. It flashed through his head that he would like to just make some snarky remark, to answer that oh-so- polite inquiry of Skinner's with a go-to-hell kind of answer.

After all, he *was* a best-selling author. He had any number of important people clamouring for an interview with him. He had two books on the New York Times Bestseller list, in hard cover, no less. His first was still hovering in the #9 spot: his second was #2, alternating with Stephen King for first place.

What had they done, these two, since they'd left D.C.?

Oh, Mulder! (He could hear Scully now.) Don't be a bigger ass than you have to be.

He sighed, took hold of what he hoped was an olive branch that Skinner was offering.

He even got a smile out of Krycek with his stories of the groupies he had attracted, some of whom had tried to seduce him by showing up in his hotel room when he was doing his last book tour.

By the time they went up to bed, Mulder first while they tended to the night fires, some of the tension had been defused.

And, by morning, Mulder wasn't aware of anything other than the computer screen in front of him and the discs he was working on.

Walter and Alex kept up their part of the deal. The fire in his room never went out. They kept the lanterns not only filled, but came round to light them when the light level fell. They saw to it that the food was always there when he felt the need to eat: something that wouldn't go bad if it didn't get eaten right away. They left the room pretty much alone.

Most of the time, he never even noticed that they'd been there. He knew that they took turns: some days, Walter, others, Alex. They never interrupted, never tried to speak to him. Didn't nag him about sleeping, eating, showering.

It was perfect. Just what he needed.

He finished what he hoped was the final draft two weeks, five days after he'd started. He collapsed on the bed, slept for a straight 30 hours. Woke to find the room clean, himself in a clean set of sweats, tucked under the bedclothes.

He staggered into the bathroom, took a real shower, not just something cold to keep him awake. Shaved the beard off his face. Examined the face that appeared. The effect of his eating habits stared back at him. And, as if on cue, his stomach growled loudly.

He dressed in real clothes, not sweats. Noticed that the ones he'd stripped off during his work frenzy had been washed, put back in their drawer.

He'd never gotten this kind of attention when he'd worked on those other books. Maybe, in spite of the initial discomfort of being here, he had finally found the right place to do his serious writing. He knew Mary Jane would be pleased with the results. He certainly was.

It was hard to tell what time it was: a snow storm was raging out the window. He stood and stared, wondering what else he'd missed while working. Lazily wondered where he'd taken off his watch.

Still, it must be daytime: there was enough light for him to find his way down the stairs and into the kitchen.

And into something he hadn't even considered for an instant.

Skinner and Krycek were in the kitchen. On the couch that was set up to take advantage of the heat coming from the stove.

Asleep.

Both of them.

Krycek lying on his back.

Skinner on his side.

Skinner in Krycek's arms.

Skinner's arms around Krycek.

Skinner's head tucked under Krycek's chin.

Krycek's eyes opened.

Looked over to Mulder.

Met Mulder's eyes.

And Mulder finally understood what Scully had been hinting at when she'd commented about how protective Skinner was of Krycek.

Alex nudged Walter's head with his chin. "Walt. We've got company."

Walter made a grumbling sound.

Alex rubbed his hand up and down Walter's back, eyes still holding Mulder's. "Come on, Walter. I think we've managed to take Mulder here by surprise."

Walter rubbed his cheek against Alex's shoulder. Sighed. Opened his eyes. Looked over to the stairway and saw that Mulder was looking a little stunned.

"Caught up on your sleep?" Walter yawned, moved a bit so that Alex could drop his feet to the floor, shift to sit up. Walter followed suit.

Mulder felt embarrassed, like he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't have. Krycek noticed, hid his smile behind a yawn. Walter stretched a little: afternoon naps were not the norm for them. Well, not at this time of the year.

The loud gurgle coming from Mulder's stomach broke the silence and some of the tension.

Walter smiled. "Sounds like your body is protesting your abuse of it, Mulder. I can fix a sandwich or I can heat up some stew. Which do you think it would prefer?"

"Whatever's quickest." Mulder came into the room, sat at the table. Walter got up, went into the pantry to get the makings for a roast beef sandwich. Alex rested his head on the back of the couch, stretched his legs out.

"Has it been snowing long?" Mulder found himself trying to find a subject of discussion that would keep him away from what he really wanted to ask: how long have the two of you been fucking each other?

"Since this morning. According to the weather report, it should stop sometime overnight." Walter placed the thick sandwich in front of Mulder. Poured them each a cup of coffee. Joined Alex on the couch, watching Mulder wolf down the food like a starving man, which considering the amount of leftovers they'd dumped into Boy's and Madonna's dishes, he probably was.

He waited until Mulder finished before saying, very casually, "You didn't know."

Mulder looked at him, face expressionless.

"That Alex and I are lovers."

"No."

"We thought maybe Dana would have mentioned it."

"No. She...ah...she didn't. Did she know? For certain, that is."

"She spent a lot of time with us at the cabin." Alex said. "We didn't make love in front of her, but I have no doubt she picked up enough clues."

"Cabin?" Shit, why the hell hadn't Scully said anything? It certainly sounded as though she'd gotten rather closer to the two of them than she had let on.

"We live in the cabin behind the lodge for the season," Walter explained. "Paying guests get the lodge. We move back in for the rest of the year. It's warmer and we have more space to move about in."

Walter grinned at Alex. "We'd probably go stir crazy and kill each other if we spent the winters in the cabin."

Alex smiled back.

Mulder was taken aback by the intense anger that suddenly overwhelmed him. He wanted to go over there and beat that smile off Krycek's face! He had to grip the edge of the table.

Jesus! What was the matter with him?

He took a deep breath and got himself under control. Shit! He hadn't felt like this since the day he'd handed in his resignation to the FBI disciplinary board: in spite of being proved right, they had wanted his badge for his "irrational" behaviour during the Senate hearings.

By then he was all alone. Skinner and Scully were gone. He'd thrown it at them. Stomped out. Written his first book, a barely fictional description of the Consortium, its history and its downfall. Wrote it in two months. Sold it right away. It hit the bookstores four months later. Was number 1 three weeks later.

He was still riding high. Had sold the movie rights for the first, and then his second book for an obscene amount of money. The advance for writing his third was in the high six figures.

He could buy and sell these two men thousands of times over and not even feel it in his bank account.

So why was he so angry?

He was back in his bedroom, supposedly reading over his revisions, actually looking out at the snow falling in heavy large flakes, making even the grey light of the outside world look peaceful.

The door to his room opened and someone came to stand behind him.

The hair on the nape of his neck rose so he knew it was Krycek.

Neither man said anything for a long time, just stood there looking out the window.

"It's beautiful up here. No matter the season, there's always something that makes you stop and just look for a while. Makes you take stock. Maybe it's because the hills here are some of the oldest on the planet. They've been here millions of years, will be here millions more. They force us to put things into perspective."

Mulder said nothing.

"Did you have any idea how much you wanted him?"

Oh, God! Mulder closed his eyes.

"I told him before we contacted MacIsaac that I always thought you two would end up together. Not him and me. I figured the reason you were so angry at him back in D.C. had more in it than simple disagreement."

Mulder suddenly remembered that one of the people who had seen him screaming at Skinner in the halls of the Dirksen Senate Office Building was Alex Krycek.

"That it had its basis in some lover's spat. Imagine my surprise when I learnt that Walter had packed up and moved and that you were still in D.C.

"I came here to hide out. Walter didn't invite me. He let me stay because he caught me about to blow my brains out. And my staying got to be a habit."

Krycek was silent for a bit, then took a deep breath and continued.

"I know you think I should be punished for killing your father."

Mulder started to move, caught himself. Alex waited. Mulder's jaw clenched tight. He would make some dentist happy if this continued.

"Jesus, Mulder. I have paid. Paid with my nightmares. Paid with my arm. Paid with being so expendable they couldn't even be bothered to send a half-way decent killer to eliminate me.

"But the one thing I will not pay with is Walter. You had your chance in D.C. The fact that you didn't act on it is not my fault."

Mulder didn't hear Krycek move away, only heard the door close softly behind the man.

Supper was a very quiet affair. Mulder excused himself as quickly as it was polite to do so, returned to his unlit room to stare out the window.

Skinner was the one who knocked softly at the door, to see if he needed anything. Mulder watched him light a couple of the lanterns, add wood to the fire, change the towels in the bathroom for clean ones. Act like the innkeeper he had become.

"Do you miss it?"

Skinner cocked his head. "Miss what?"

"The Bureau. D.C." Mulder made a gesture that revealed a certain sense of frustration. "Everything you had before you came here."

Skinner leaned back against the foot of the bed. Gave a sort of half smile. "Civilization?"

"Yeah, that too." Mulder pulled the chair away from the table, sat on it.

"First couple of months after I was pushed out, I resented what they had taken away from me. I won't deny that. But then I came up here. After that, I didn't have the time to think much about it. There was so much to do before the winter and so little time to do it in."

"Did you ever think about...us? About Scully and me, I mean."

Skinner crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, I knew that Scully had resigned. She did that just as I left. We found out what happened to you when we went to Toronto after our second season. Your book and your picture were in every bookstore we went to."

"Did you buy it?" Mulder asked more out of curiosity than anything else.

"No. Not because we didn't think it would make a good read, but because we didn't want to relive it. Alex still has nightmares. Nowhere near as bad as they were when he first arrived here, but still too often for us to go there.

"I did buy your second one for Terry. Gave it to him for his birthday." He went back to the original subject. "But to answer your question; no, I don't miss it. I have everything here that I need. We both do. And we find that a week or ten days in Toronto is all the 'civilization' that we need or can put up with these days."

"You keep on saying 'we'." Mulder's tone turned challenging. "Are you sure that it's how *you*, Walter Sergei Skinner, feel or how *Krycek* feels?"

Skinner smiled kindly. "Mulder. I am not being kept here against my will. I am not in a relationship with Alex because he's coerced me. I love it here. And I love Alex."

He moved away from the bed, went to check the fire one last time. "If you stay up to work, you might want to put another log on before going to bed."

He stopped at the door. "You know, Alex once told me that he thought you and I might end up together."

Mulder looked up at him, carefully paying attention.

"I told him the two of us would have driven each other crazy. I would have tried to control you: you would have bucked me all the way. We would have repeated the same pattern that we'd established at the Bureau. Ended up hating each other. *Really* hating each other.

"Good night, Mulder."

It was a long time before Mulder went to bed. He remembered to put another log in. Lay staring at the reflections of the firelight on the ceiling.

The sun was reflecting brilliantly against all that new snow. Mulder put on several layers of clothes, went downstairs to the kitchen. He finished a cup of coffee, pulled on the rest of his outdoor clothes, his sunglasses and went to find his hosts.

The porch had already been cleared indicating that the two had been working out here for some time. He found Skinner shovelling out the path to the wood behind the lodge; Krycek had made his way to the dogs, had fed them and was now letting them out to roll in the yard.

Mulder picked up a shovel and went to help. The pups pretty much stayed underfoot all the time he was clearing the path to their kennel.

They got him a telephone link to Mary Jane and he downloaded his manuscript to her. She called back the next day. The downloading hadn't been a total success, but she'd gotten enough to know that it was the best thing he'd written so far. When was he coming back down? They had to get a good copy so that she could really go over it with him.

Terry checked the Canadian Meterological Report, told them that the next four, five days looked good. Did the package want immediate pick-up or did it want to wait and enjoy the nice weather for a couple of days?

Mulder shook his head: -20C was not his idea of nice weather even if the sun were shining. He thought that the next morning would be good. With luck he'd be in New York that evening, in time for the Sci-Fi channel's marathon running of Kolchak.

Krycek stayed behind in the lodge. Skinner and Mulder watched Terry ski the Otter to where they stood waiting on the dock. It didn't take long to pack his stuff onto the plane. Terry got in, leaving the two men to say their goodbyes in private.

Skinner removed his glove, offered his bare hand to Mulder.

Mulder looked at him, took off his mitts. Shook his hand. Held it. Krycek had been right: he had had all that time in D.C. and hadn't even been aware of it. And now the two of them had gone off in widely different directions.

"Take care," said Skinner.

Mulder nodded. Released Skinner's hand. Turned to get into the plane. Hesitated. Over his shoulder, "Could I come up here to do the next book?"

Skinner smiled. "Sure. Just remember to bring up your own bird seed."

The dedication to Mulder's third book read: To the Temiskaming.

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