Finally finished my Rape challenge entry... sequel to 'Dreaming
TITLE: Dreamer of Dreams
DATE: 21st June 2000
E-MAIL ADDRESS: TarlanX@aol.com
DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: YES to Chaelyndra, Rat, Gossamer,
Archive/X, WWOMB, Spooky and Basement.
Elsewhere please ask first.
WEB SITE: <http://chaelyndra.com/nicklea/fiction> or on my page
at Rat <http://www.squidge.org/terma/tarlan/tarlan.htm>
SPOILER WARNING: Anything up to and including Amor Fati.
CONTENT WARNING: m/m sex, rape and some swearing. If this isn't
your scene then don't bother reading on - you know where the
DELETE key is. You have been warned.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: SkinnerKrycek list April 2000 Rape Challenge.
Many, *many* thanks to Aqualegia for all the beta, advice and
SERIES: Part of the Dreamers Series:
Sequel to 'Dreaming Is For Dreamers'.
COMMENTS: Any and all comments gratefully received - as long as
they're constructive. Note: Flames will be circulated around and
posted to several lists so we can *all* have a good laugh at
your expense... I mean, why should I have all the fun!
DISCLAIMER: Alex Krycek, Walter Skinner and all other X-Files
regulars belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and FOX
Television. No copyright infringement intended. Any characters
you haven't heard of before, are copyrighted to me.
SUMMARY: When Krycek defies CSM by refusing to kill Skinner, he
pays a heavy price.
Dreamers 2: Dreamer of Dreams
Dreamer of Dreams, born out of my due time
Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?
William Morris, 'The Earthly Paradise'
Walter Skinner turned the bulky envelope over in his hands
several times, his lips a tight line of annoyance. Kimberley, his
secretary, always waited until he had finished that first coffee
of the day before bringing in any new post, allowing him the
chance to unwind after a hectic journey through the early morning
commuter traffic. Today was different, she had handed the package
to him as soon as he had walked in, saying that it had come down
through the Director's office and needed his immediate attention.
He placed it on his desk, removed his coat and then reached for
the coffee. Whatever it was, it had waited this long so another
few minutes was not going to matter that much.
Sitting at his desk, Skinner sipped the hot, black liquid,
savouring the smooth, mellow taste; deeply inhaling the rich
aroma that slowly filled the room, bringing a touch of homeliness
to the sterile surroundings - and smiled. Chasing away the musty,
paper smell of 'office' was always his first task of the day.
After all, he spent a lot of his time in this room.
"Hell, Walt, you spend most of your life in here."
He grumbled to himself as usual, keeping his voice low so if
secretary *did* overhear him talking away, then she would assume
he was on the phone.
It was true though. Apart from the twice-weekly visit to the
he seemed to spend most of his waking life at work: more so than
ever since the divorce. It was no wonder Sharon had moved on and
had found herself another man. Perhaps if they had been able to
have kids? But the joys of parenthood had been denied to them. At
first they had talked of adopting but, for one reason or another
he had procrastinated, putting it off until it was too late. In
hindsight, he knew why. Having children was *her* dream, not his.
For no matter how much he cared for her, he couldn't cope with
the idea of taking responsibility for another life, especially
within their sham of a marriage. Oh, he had played the dutiful
husband to perfection, never allowing Sharon to see how hard it
was for him to share her bed; putting the blame for his lack of
sexual drive on the pressures of work. Marrying her had been a
grave mistake but, when he returned from Vietnam, confused by so
many aspects of his life, still shell-shocked from his near-death
experience, she had seemed an anchor that he could hold on to. By
the time he realised his mistake it was far too late and, if
nothing else, he was an honourable man, taking his vows
After Sharon had left him he had felt an incredible loneliness,
but had still shied away from accepting the truth of his
orientation. He had preferred to assuage that loneliness, for a
few short hours, with some nameless woman, rather than take the
risk of picking up a stranger in one of the many Gay bars that
littered downtown Washington DC. After all, he had a reputation
to uphold and being caught with a female Hooker was far less
damaging than being caught with a 'rent boy'.
Skinner closed his eyes and breathed in more of the coffee
then grimaced. The worst side effect of loneliness was this
penchant for deep introspection that seemed to go nowhere. He
eyed the thickly padded envelope again as a means of distracting
himself from the thoughts that were circling around in his head.
"Aaahh, to hell with it."
Curiosity finally got the better of him and he put down the
and picked up the slim paper knife, slicing through the brown
tape that sealed the envelope. He peered inside, eyebrows
knitting together in puzzlement. Finally, he gave up trying to
make sense of the contents and tipped the package up. Pieces of
metal and plastic bounced across the desktop. He sighed. Whatever
it was, some heavy-handed clerk had managed to break it.
A small piece of paper fluttered down amongst the debris. Skinner
reached for it, noting the handwritten words on one side. He
repeated the words aloud, trying to make sense of them.
"Sorry doesn't always make it right, but I hope this is a start."
He laid the piece of paper on the desk in front of him and
back in his seat, the frown still creasing his forehead. There
was something strangely familiar about the writing. He felt he
had seen it many times before but... Skinner removed his glasses
to rub a hand, wearily, across his eyes. He couldn't begin to
list all the people he felt owed him some sort of an apology,
from the ignorant cab driver who had cut him up on the way in...
to that duplicitous rat bastard who had made his life a living
That last thought gave him a start.
// No. It couldn't be. //
He leant forward and depressed the button that connected him
"Kimberley. Would you ask Records to send up one of Agent
Krycek's reports. One with handwritten notation."
He barely noticed the query in her voice, his own thoughts
already travelling, uneasily, along a new path. With a tight
grimace, Skinner pushed the thoughts aside. Until he could make a
comparison there was nothing to be gained by idle speculation. He
shoved the mess of broken plastic, metal, and wire to one side,
and reached into his in-tray for the first of the many reports
that he needed to attend to today. Some time later, he looked up
briefly to acknowledge the arrival of today's new post as
Kimberley placed a small pile onto the corner of his desk, then
he returned to the report he was reading.
Almost an hour passed before she returned carrying a single file.
"Sir, this is the report you requested."
Marking his place, he put aside the document he was reading
took the file, dismissing his secretary with a courteous 'Thank
Skinner grimaced, his mouth a tight line of barely controlled
anger as he matched the two sets of handwriting. All he had to do
now was figure out what nefarious deed that double-crossing, rat
bastard, was apologising for.
He reached over and picked up two of the larger pieces of
plastic, fitting them together until he could make out what
looked like a small logo; Palm Pilot. His eyebrows raised in
surprise as another thought made it's way through.
"No. It couldn't be."
He dropped the pieces back onto the desktop and picked up the
paper, rereading the words.
For one paralysing moment he almost believed it could be true.
That Krycek really had sent him the palm pilot that controlled
the nanocytes in his blood, but then paranoia brought him
crashing back to Earth. He sneered. Just because it looked like
the small black box Krycek had wielded during all their recent
encounters didn't mean it *was* the real thing... or the only
control device. He wouldn't put it past that rat bastard to send
him this as some sort of game to soften him up before another
pile of dung dropped on him from a great height.
With a sweep of his hand he pushed all the pieces into the
wastebasket by the side of his desk. Staring at them for a while,
his thoughts turning to all the ways he would make Krycek pay for
the suffering and humiliation he had been forced to endure over
this past year, if ever he had the opportunity.
Krycek checked over his shoulder for the umpteenth time that
and then checked his watch. Time was running out. He had managed
to make most of the necessary arrangements but this last task was
taking far longer than he had anticipated. His thoughts travelled
back to the night before when, with several neat vodkas warming
his belly, he had allowed his heart to overrule his head and made
a decision that would have far-reaching consequences. Rather than
kill Skinner as ordered, he had, instead, destroyed the palm
pilot. Packaging up the broken pieces and, in a moment of sheer
lunacy, personally taking the package to FBI Headquarters. He
gave a sardonic smile as he imagined Skinner opening the package.
He had added the note as an afterthought, realising how
inadequate it was and yet needing to 'say' the words 'I'm sorry',
though he doubted Skinner would accept his apology so easily.
// Probably thinks it's just another game. //
His second task of the day had been harder to arrange but,
set upon this road, he knew it was the most important. He had to
ensure no-one else was given the task of killing Skinner once
Spender realised he had no intention of following the elimination
order. To this end he had called in every marker owed, leaving
himself open and vulnerable. He had few illusions. With no one to
protect him his chances of survival were slim, but he'd lived
with those odds before. All he could do for himself was lie low
until an opportunity to save himself arose. He barked out a
short, derogatory laugh at his own optimism, then glanced at his
watch once more.
With growing fear and frustration Krycek paced back and forth
across the narrow room, halting suddenly, mid-stride when the
Real Estate agent finally resurfaced.
"Mr Zeitman? I have the necessary papers, if you don't
signing on this line here... and here."
Krycek forged the signature in both places indicated and then
accepted the keys.
"Enjoy your stay."
He gathered up his copies of the contract and made his way
to his car, giving a final check around before climbing into the
driver's seat. Moments later he was pulling out into the traffic,
heading towards the Appalachians, where hopefully, he would be
able to lie low for a few weeks.
A slight figure detached itself from the shadows of a nearby
alley and stared at the fast receding car. Krycek had been
ordered to eliminate AD Walter Skinner and *he* had been ordered
to tail Krycek to ensure he carried out his appointed task. At
first he had assumed the package Krycek had taken into FBI
Headquarters was a bomb, but his associate within the FBI had
reported no explosions, and no call to the bomb squad to deal
with any suspicious packages.
As the morning progressed Krycek's movements had become highly
suspicious. The man was calling in markers from many sources, and
he had looked around more anxiously than usual as he placed a
holdall into the trunk of his car - like a man who was about to
The man decided to take a gamble and, rather than follow Krycek,
he strode across the street to the Real Estate office. He pulled
out a very convincing ID and held it close to the manager's face.
"Excuse me, Sir. Special Agent Harris, FBI. The man who
in here... what was he doing?"
Spender placed the handset back onto the cradle and took a
drag from the ever-present Morley. There were few people higher
than him in the Consortium these days, and these high-placed
individuals rarely revealed their presence, let alone contacted
him directly, so the phone call he had just received from one of
them was totally unexpected.
He took another deep lungful of nicotine and tar, savouring
taste and the heady sensation as the drug swept through his blood
and into his brain, using the time to consider this phone call
and its implications.
Most of the Elders had been killed, along with their families,
the El Rico Air base massacre; a massacre Spender was convinced
Krycek had played a vital part in, but he had not been able to
prove anything. Instead he had been forced to keep Krycek in his
employ, preferring to keep the younger man in plain sight. He had
been playing the waiting game ever since, wondering how long it
would take before Krycek gave him all the reason he needed to
give a final termination order on the young man.
Krycek's recent dealings with Walter Skinner gave him the first
clue to where the younger man's loyalties might lie. He had been
ordered to test out the full effects of the nanocyte technology
and, technically speaking, Krycek had performed this task to the
letter. Skinner *had* died, but Krycek had allowed the man to be
brought back. Why? That was the question Spender asked himself.
Apart from a few murmurings, *no-one* had questioned this strange
decision to kill the important designer of the technology, Dr
Orgel and yet, allow the relatively unimportant AD Skinner to
live... no-one except for him.
When he thought back over the past few years, a pattern started
to emerge. There had been so many occasions when it would have
been more expedient to eliminate Skinner but, instead, Krycek had
merely incapacitated the man either physically, by injuring him
in some fashion, or psychologically, by blackmailing him.
He inhaled another lungful of cigarette smoke, quietly reflecting
on his decision to play out his theory by giving Krycek explicit
orders to kill Skinner. He had justified his position by saying
it was a necessary means of testing the younger man's loyalty,
but had not expected to be *ordered* to leave Skinner alone.
He reached for the phone and started a series of phone calls,
it did not take too many to discover that Krycek was at the
bottom of it, calling in favours from all sources.
When the telephone rang once more, Spender picked it up and
listened patiently as Harris outlined Krycek's activities;
everything gradually falling into place. He gave a single order,
disconnected that call and then redialled a new number.
Replacing the phone in its cradle once more, Spender sat back
wait for the leader of a special team of operatives to arrive.
Harris replaced his cellphone in his jacket pocket and pursed
lips in thought. Spender had seemed totally unsurprised to hear
of Krycek's strange movements. It occurred to Harris that maybe
Spender had some ulterior motive for ordering Skinner's death at
Krycek's hand. The fact that AD Walter Skinner was still walking
and talking certainly showed a lack of concern on Spender's part.
If he truly wanted the AD dead then Skinner *would* be dead. No.
It had to have something to do with Alex Krycek.
He already suspected that Spender had been testing Krycek's
loyalty... and finding it wanting. Why else would he set a tail
on the man if that were not the case? However, if his suspicions
were correct then why had he been given no kill order for Krycek?
Why was he still expected to shadow the one-armed Consortium
Harris gunned the engine and headed out of the city, on the
assumption that Krycek was now on the run to his *secret*
hideaway. If that were the case then Krycek was less than ten
minutes ahead of him and, if he were lucky, he would catch up
with him on the interstate.
He smiled, enjoying the challenge of tailing someone who was
more astute and observant that the normal run-of-the-mill target,
but Harris had many years of covert surveillance under his belt;
far more than the young man he had followed about DC. It had not
been easy, and there had been one moment when he thought he *had*
been spotted. He sighed. With a little training, Krycek would
have made a good surveillance operative. Such a shame that he
probably wouldn't be alive much longer.
One Hour Later
Spender took a thoughtful drag, watching the exhaled smoke
up towards the ceiling in a twisting blue column, an enigmatic
smile playing about his seamed lips. He could not believe his
good fortune but, at the same time, he was impressed with his
Renting an off-season holiday home was a little dangerous but
less likely to draw attention than breaking and entering on the
off chance that nobody would notice the illegal presence for a
few weeks. Most of those small communities kept a lookout for
each other, and on the slightest suspicion, the local cops would
have been called in to check the place over.
His smile widened as Marcus pointed out the cabin's location.
was in a fairly remote area; tucked away just above the tree
line. The chances of anyone else being close by at that time of
year was also pretty unlikely. Spender ground out the butt end in
the ashtray. He could not have planned this any better himself.
All he needed to do now was set the wheels in motion, and then he
would have his revenge on the man who had forced him to kill his
The phone rang. It was Harris confirming that Krycek had taken
the small track up towards the cabin he had rented. Spender told
Harris to return to DC, his presence no longer required, then he
glanced into the eager face opposite, and nodded his head.
Leroy Marcus gave a wide grin; brilliant white teeth dazzling
against his dark skin as Spender, silently, gave the elimination
order. He bounced out of the room like a child who had been
promised the most treasured toy in the world, and Spender
wondered whether that metaphor was more appropriate than anyone
could suspect. Marcus seemed to approach his work with a great
deal of zeal, more so than he would have expected from a
Spender sat back and lit another cigarette with a strange feeling
of unease burning inside, his mind drifting back through his long
association with one Alexei Krycek.
He remembered the first time he had ordered Krycek's execution;
remembered the remorse he had felt at the time, for Krycek had
been a good operative. But, Cardinal had insisted that Alex had
been the weak link in the debacle surrounding the stolen MJ-12
tape. If he had not been so tied up trying to save his own
reputation within the Consortium then he might have seen through
The attempt on Alexei Krycek was one of the many foul-ups that
had come back to haunt him time and time again. He had turned an
amenable, eager, intelligent boy into an adaptable, desperate,
dangerous but still highly intelligent man. Opportunities to
correct his mistake and dispose of Krycek permanently had
presented themselves at intervals but there was always someone,
or something, either protecting the boy or swaying his decision.
He thought about all the occasions when Krycek *should* have
He had listened to Alex begging to be released; had stood just
along the corridor as the thumps and frantic cries filled the
dead air, but his hands had been tied. His orders had been to
seal the Oilien inside. Krycek was just unfortunate that he had
been sealed in with it. When he returned to Silo 1013 two weeks
later he had expected to find the ship gone and was not
disappointed. However, he had also expected to find the
decomposing body of Alexei Krycek. Instead, the silo had been
empty. If Mulder's reports were to be believed then Krycek had
been saved by a terrorist group who had been on a 'weapons hunt',
but Spender knew that *no-one* had entered the Silo facility let
alone released Krycek. The only possible explanation was a source
of concern in its own right; the Colonist had released him.
His thoughts moved on a few years....
When Krycek returned from Russia, minus an arm, with the
intention of forcing the Consortium to pay for information
regarding the Rebel aliens, he had been betrayed by Spender's
other disloyal protégé; Marita Covarrubias. If the Englishman had
not taken Krycek under his protection then, there was no doubt
that Krycek would have been executed by the Russians on his
arrival back at Vladivostok. Spender grimaced. If he had not been
in hiding at the time then he might have been the one to be
tipped off... and, at the time, he would not have hesitated to
kill Krycek... boy witness or not; vaccine or no vaccine. The
younger man had become a thorn in his side, his involvement with
Krycek causing him untold loss of face leading, eventually, to
his own near-death experience.
Spender took another lungful of nicotine and exhaled slowly.
He was not the only one who assumed Krycek would follow his
employer, the Englishman, to the grave but, for some unknown
reason, Alex had not been chauffeuring on that particular night.
If he had not set the bomb himself then he would have been highly
suspicious of the double-crossing assassin. However, he *had*
expected the First Elder to make this wrong connection and give
orders to have Krycek removed - permanently. Instead Krycek had
been elevated in status within the Consortium, and Spender had
been forced to take Krycek back under his own wing.
To be truthful, Spender was secretly pleased by that turn of
events and, if he had not been one of the intended victims at El
Rico then he would reinstated Alex as his protégé. Instead he had
been left with his doubts and fears that Krycek was playing a
role in a far more complicated and dangerous game. Removing
Krycek from the game had become paramount, but those small
twinges of remorse had kept him from carrying it through - until
Spender felt that strange feeling come over him again but
savagely pushed it aside, bringing memories of Jeffrey to the
forefront of his mind. Jeffrey: his son. Jeffrey should have been
the heir to his empire, but had proved to be weak and
// Unlike Alex. //
Alex. Alex had been the catalyst in Jeffrey's betrayal. Alex,
with his quicksilver mind and honeyed tongue, toying with Jeffrey
like a cat with a mouse. On reflection, Spender knew he should
have kept them apart but he had hoped some of Krycek's prowess
would have rubbed of on the boy. He sneered. In truth, it had,
and it had almost been a shame to kill Jeffrey. At the end he had
proved he had far more courage than Spender had anticipated.
Unfortunately, it had not been to Spender's benefit... and the
blame for that lay with Alexei Krycek.
He dropped the butt of the cigarette into the ashtray, fumbling
in the pack for a replacement. Sleep would be elusive tonight and
he would have to be ready to leave just before dawn. That strange
feeling was clawing at his chest again, demanding that he see
Alex one more time... to say goodbye.
Krycek dropped his holdall onto the floor and stared around
small, but comfortable looking, living room. It was a little more
spartan that he had imagined it would be, and yet, at the same
time, far more modern in appearance. He had half-expected a more
rough and hewn interior to match the location. Not that it really
concerned him as it was certainly better than the seamy motel
room he had left behind, with its peeling wallpaper and dubious
stains and smells. He made a quick pass through the cabin to
orientate himself with all the facilities, and then he returned
to the car to bring in the provisions. He had stopped off at a
small store about ten miles back and picked up enough to keep him
well-stocked for the duration of his stay; mainly dried
foodstuffs and a couple of bottles of vodka for spiritual
comfort. By the time he had packed the last few items away the
sun had set. He shivered as the temperature dropped suddenly and
made his way back into the living room in search of the heating
It didn't take long before the whole cabin was warm and, after
fixing a quick meal, Krycek settled himself down on one of the
comfy armchairs and opened a battered paperback. Feeling at peace
with himself for the first time in years, Krycek relaxed, taking
small sips of the fiery vodka every so often. When he realised he
had read the same paragraph three times he bent over the corner
of the page and placed the book on the table beside him. He
sighed, closed his eyes and listened to the silence.
Eventually his thoughts returned to Walter Skinner but, unlike
other times, he allowed those images to flow across his mind's
eye, reliving the look and feel of the other man.
He had only ever touched Skinner once before, during the fight
the stairwell, but his hands remembered the solid feel of the
man, the hard muscle beneath layers of clothing.
His eyes remembered, from that night when Mulder had dragged
handcuffed to Skinner's apartment, salt and pepper hair spattered
across the strong pectorals. He had been so enthralled to be in
Skinner's home, looking around as if he could gain new insight on
the man from the possessions on show, that the sucker-punch to
the gut had taken him completely by surprise, but even now, he
felt no resentment towards the other man. After all, he had not
held back when he had attacked him at the hospital, so Skinner
was quite within his rights to exact a little revenge.
He remembered spending the night on that cold balcony, and
wondered if he would ever tell Skinner about the 'warm thoughts'
he had dwelt upon, as he imagined that powerful figure, lying
naked, only a few rooms away from where he sat fully clothed but
Those thoughts returned and he imagined his fingers trailing
through the short chest hairs, finding and teasing a small nipple
until it puckered with desire.
.....He pulled off his T-shirt, dropping it over the arm of
chair, his fingers mimicking his fantasy upon his own hairless
His mouth would close upon the sensitive bud, nipping and
sucking, and he could almost hear the deep, guttural moan, and
feel the strong, blunt fingers holding his head in place, as
Skinner demanded more. Eventually, Skinner would release him,
pulling his face up for a kiss and his own moans would mingle
with Skinner's as they devoured each other.
Alex knew what he wanted to do next to the other man. He wanted
to unzip those pants and free the burgeoning erection. He wanted
to lick the precome from the flared head, to nuzzle into the
thick, curling hair at its base and inhale the strong masculine
scent that was uniquely Skinner.
.....His fingers pulled down the zip on jeans that had become
too tight for comfort, his erection springing free from
captivity, a single pearl of precome beading on the circumcised
His mouth would swallow the length of swollen flesh while his
hand pumped from the base, until Skinner pushed him away with a
deep-throated growl of need. He would be flipped onto his
stomach, his ass raised, begging to be fucked and Skinner would
not disappoint him. Those thick fingers, smeared in oil would
pierce the centre of his being, stroking in and out of him until
he was ready to take something far larger.
.....He forced one saliva-slicked finger passed the tight ring
muscle, gently massaging the soft inner wall before bringing his
hand back to fist his hardened flesh, almost spoiling the fantasy
with a useless wish that he still had two hands.....
He would cry out in pleasure and pain as the silken steel shaft
penetrated his body, would push himself back until Skinner was
fully sheathed and then rock back and forth to the rhythm their
straining bodies desired, the movements becoming erratic as they
strived for that ultimate release.
.....Krycek's fingers moved faster on his own heated flesh,
pumping himself in time to the imagined thrusts. He shuddered as
he reached the pinnacle, mouth gaping, breath gasping as he fell
headlong over the edge with a strangled cry.....
It took a while before his racing heart slowed. He opened his
eyes to find no rich chocolate eyes holding his own, no gentle
smile playing about sensuous lips... no warm breath sighing his
name, or strong arms reaching out to enfold him.
He threw back his head and tried to ignore the stinging of
tears as they formed behind tightly screwed-shut eyelids.
Eventually, Krycek pulled himself together and grabbed the
discarded T-shirt. He wiped the spilt semen from his belly and
thighs then stood up to remove the remainder of his clothes
before making his way to the shower where he could wash away the
evidence of his solo performance.
Eventually he made his way to the bedroom, pulled on a fresh
shirt and a pair of shorts and burrowed down beneath the warm
blankets to sleep.
Just before Dawn the Following Morning
He had been asleep when they came for him, lulled into a false
sense of security within the silent reaches of this remote cabin.
They had executed their entry like a finely tuned machine...
smooth, well oiled. Now, as he sat in the small lounge on the
overstuffed couch, handcuffed to one of the thick wooden arm
rests, he was grateful for the coldness of the night air that
had, fortunately, convinced him to sleep in shorts and T-shirt,
rather than naked as he preferred.
Despite his demands, no one spoke to him. Instead, the four-man
team ranged around him in various states of repose, playing a
waiting game. They snapped to attention as the sound of a vehicle
approaching reached the cabin. Minutes later, the door opened,
and Krycek was not surprised to see the Smoker.
Spender reached into his pocket and withdrew a packet of
cigarettes. He shook one from the pack and lit it, taking a deep,
slow drag as if deliberately prolonging Krycek's wait. The
tension in the air mounted considerably as his eyes raked across
the partially clad frame.
"I gave you one last chance, Alex. A simple order. Kill
Director Skinner." His eyes narrowed and the silence lengthened.
"What, nothing to say in your defence? No excuses to offer?"
"Would it do any good if I did?"
Spender smiled, and Krycek could almost believe that he had
paternal look of pride for *him* on his face, before the
expression on the seamed face hardened again.
"No. Both you and I know this is about far more than AD
This is about Jeffrey. My son. The man you turned against his own
Krycek snorted and turned his head away, missing Spender's
approach. The force of Spender's palm against his cheek snapped
his head sideways.
"Fuck." Breathing heavily, Krycek glared back at
eyes blazing with hatred. "Don't give me that paternal shit. You
didn't give a damn about 'poor Jeffrey'..."
A backhand across his face split open his lip and Krycek groaned,
his tongue darting out to catch at the red droplets that welled
from the cut before trickling down his chin.
Spender watched in fascination, his eyes narrowing as he surveyed
the now dishevelled appearance, but that strange feeling was
coiling in his stomach again. Standing here, looking at Alex
Krycek, was weakening his resolve to put an end to this thorn in
his side. He choked out the words that would doom Alex before
Krycek frowned at the finality in Spender's voice, then came
"Wait. You can still use me. I know things..." Krycek
after Spender had closed the door firmly behind him, addressing
the four men instead. "I have contacts. They can get anything you
A malicious smile curled up the corners of the man nearest
just before he interrupted Krycek.
"The man said 'waste him' but I hate to waste a good thing."
"He never said we couldn't have a little fun first."
"What are you going to do to me?"
Krycek's eyes widened in fear as the dark-skinned man pulled
palm-sized object from his pocket. With the press of a button the
blade flicked upwards, the late afternoon sun glinting off the
highly polished surface, highlighting the razor sharp cutting
Krycek was dragged to his feet and held immobile as the man
towards him, his eyes never leaving the face of the madly
grinning knife-man with his brilliant white smile. The flat edge
of the blade was pressed against his cheek, the wicked tip
piercing the skin just beneath his left eye. A single droplet of
blood welled up and then slid down the smooth metal. The knife
eased downwards, the point dragging down the length of his
throat, lightly scoring his flesh and leaving a thin red line in
Krycek closed his eyes, waiting for the blade to slice open
throat. He gasped as, instead, he felt his T-shirt being pulled.
The sharp blade sliced though the neckline before ripping through
the thin cotton until the T-shirt flapped open from top to
bottom. He sobbed quietly as the blade went back up to trail over
his chest, the point digging into the puckered skin of one
nipple, drawing another bead of blood.
"He's quite the pretty one, isn't he?"
The vicious sniggers to either side suddenly gave the words
He shook his head as he realised what sort of fun they intended
Another pull of cloth and, suddenly, his shorts were falling
the ground around his ankles. The cool mountain air against his
flesh, and the knowledge of what was to come, sent uncontrollable
shivers through his body.
The rest was a haze of pain and humiliation as each of his
captors took turns to abuse his body. He clearly remembered the
first; the incredible pain of penetration as the knife-man forced
his way into the tight, barely lubricated channel. The man had
thrust hard into his unwilling flesh and Krycek had screamed out
in pain and rage until his throat was hoarse. It seemed as if an
eternity had passed but, in reality, it didn't take long before
the man's thrusts had become erratic, and then, with a groan, the
man had emptied himself into his human sheath.
Krycek remembered his head being pulled back, viciously, by
hair and a slobbering kiss placed on his bruised and bloodied
mouth. The words reverberated around his head.
"Thank you. That was great."
Semen and blood did little to ease the pain as the man's flaccid
cock was pulled from him only to be replaced by the engorged
flesh of another as the next man stepped up behind him.
By the time the fourth man took his turn Krycek was too deeply
shock to care. He watched, as if from a great distance, as his
body jerked with each snap of the man's hips while the large cock
rammed in and out of him. Once the man had finished he was
dropped, without ceremony, to the hard, cold floor. Laughter
rippled over him as his shocked mind observed the man wiping the
blood from his flaccid cock before pushing it back inside his
pants. The man gave one of the others a 'high five' of victory.
// Some victory. Fucking a defenceless, one-armed man. //
Krycek felt the hysteria start to bubble up inside him, and
fought to contain it as the knife-man knelt down beside him,
pulling his head up by the hair to reveal the white column of his
vulnerable throat; the most inane comments floating through his
// Should have kept that stupid-ass haircut. //
He expected the knife to be drawn across his throat from ear
ear but the man smiled, almost benevolently, into his ashen,
"Your innards are ripped up good, boy. In this remote
one is gonna find you and I don't believe you're gonna be going
anywhere - though I kinda like the idea of seeing you crawling,
leaving a trail of blood and cum behind you like a human snail."
The man sneered. "Nah. I'm not gonna kill you outright. I'm just
gonna leave you here. Might take a little longer 'til you bleed
to death. You can spend the time thinking about what you done to
piss off the boss... and to think about *me*, all hot and thick,
reaming your pretty white ass."
"If you're still alive when we get back then I may just
you*... again." He grinned. "Hell, I may just fuck you even if
The man hawked and then spat directly into Krycek's face,
watching with pleasure as the glob of saliva slid down the side
of the bloodied nose. He let go of Krycek's hair, letting his
head drop to the ground with a thud. Another of his assailants
dropped down onto his haunches beside him.
"Well, we'll be off now. Good sex always leaves me with
appetite. Now don't you worry your pretty ass about getting a
decent burial. We'll find you a nice secluded spot. Be back
Krycek hardly noticed as the man grabbed his face and planted
obscene parody of a lover's kiss full on his mouth. His vision
was tunnelling, his mind retreating beyond the pain, beyond the
shame, and he watched with strange detachment as the men filed
out leaving him alone, hopefully to die before they returned.
"What do we do?"
"Telephone's disconnected... can't find a radio or cellphone."
"I could stay here; take care of him. You could take his
to that small store we passed ten miles back..."
"Not leaving you here alone... They might come back..."
"Can't leave him... He'll die."
"Take him with us. Get a sheet or something... a blanket...
you get into the back seat with him, hold him..."
"So much blood... think he's been raped!"
"Where's the goddamn keys?"
"Forget the keys, John. Just hotwire the motherfucker."
Alex moaned as he felt himself lifted, the dull ache in his
back sharpening with each jarring movement. He cried out,
hoarsely, as they manhandled him into the back seat. A blanket
was tucked around him but did little to ease the chill that was
spreading through his body. The voices continued, seeming to come
from a great distance.
"Fuck. There's blood all over me now..."
"Shove a towel between his legs... can't do much else."
"He's gonna bleed to death at this rate."
"Probably not as bad as it looks... What if they think
// What are they talking about? Done what? //
"Don't be stupid, Mikey. Forensics'll show that cum ain't
// Cum...? Oh God... No. It's just a nightmare. Can't be real.
Can't be real. No. NO. // "No. No..."
"Jesus, he's coming round... Hey, man, you're safe...
the fucking bumps."
"This ain't suburbia you know. They don't maintain these
Krycek cried out as he was jarred once more. The voices were
getting closer. He was already starting to form a mental picture
of two young men; could feel the warmth of a body beneath his
head. He tried to pull himself away.
"Keep still, Man... We ain't gonna hurt you..."
Krycek cried out as the car jolted, throwing him sideways but,
fortunately, Mikey stopped him from falling into the footwell
between the front and rear seats.
"Shit, John, just try to avoid a few of the damn potholes,
all I ask."
"Don't worry, the highway's just ahead. It'll be smooth
from here on in."
"Where're... you taking... me?"
"Hey, man. Keep still. You're hurt real bad. You need a Doc..."
"No... hospitals. They'll find me... kill me."
"Those men lit out..."
"NO. They're coming back... finish the job off."
"You *need* a Doc, Man. You don't get to a hospital and
won't need to finish you off."
"No... No hospital."
He watched the one who held him look forward; a 'what the hell
we do with him' look on his face.
"A number. I'll give you a number. Call it. Tell... what
AD Skinner's Office
There was a time when he had harboured sweet fantasies about
Krycek. They had started the day that oh so young and
enthusiastic, fresh-out-of-Quantico kid had breezed into his
office with the case notes on Dr Grissom. To most people, the
cheap suit and slicked back hair would have fooled them into
believing this was some green kid, but Skinner had a far more
discerning eye. His eyes had caught the subtle body language of a
man who had spent time in a more disciplined environment,
certainly more disciplined than Quantico. The body itself was the
stuff of dreams; long legs, broad shoulders, firm fuckable ass.
The lean, muscular figure of a man that worked out regularly, but
not necessarily in a Gym. It was an athlete's body, built for
action, held in readiness despite the relaxed stance, but there
was more than just a good body beneath those clothes. The figure
was complimented by a beautiful face. Green eyes shone between a
thick curtain of dark lashes, the pert nose with its slight
upturn and those delicately shaped ears. As to the mouth...
Skinner sighed. He still had fantasies about that mouth; the
cupid's bow and fleshy lower lip stretched around his engorged
flesh while those eyes, darkened in lust, gazed up at him. Yes.
He would have Alex on his knees before him. His fingers would
card through the soft, sable hair; would drift down the column of
exposed neck as Krycek deep-throated him, and, all the while,
those eyes would be begging for more. Skinner closed his own eyes
to shut out all but this image of Alex Krycek kneeling before
him. He smiled in satisfaction at the thought of having this man
at his mercy: so tempted to allow his thoughts to travel down a
darker path where he would use Krycek brutally; pay him back for
every agonising moment inflicted upon him by the nanocytes. But,
despite all he had endured, he could not find it within him to be
so violent no matter how much he felt Krycek deserved such
His fantasy continued, domination steering his thoughts rather
than sadism. He would pull out of that luscious mouth and push
those broad shoulders to the floor, pausing momentarily to admire
the curve of the beautiful ass, raised and waiting for his
hardened flesh to plunge deep between those firm cheeks.
The phone on his desk brought him back, and he shifted
uncomfortably as the tightness in his pants made itself known,
his eyes widening in realisation of how close he had come to...
to... coming, in his office, in broad daylight, with his
Secretary next door, barely ten feet away.
He bit back a groan as the dull ache of unsatisfied lust spread
through his body, gathered his thoughts and reached for the phone
before the end of the fourth ring, speaking brusquely.
When he replaced the phone in it's cradle a few minutes later
had almost forgotten the fantasy. He balled up a used piece of
paper and dropped it into the waste, his eyes catching sight of
the broken pieces of plastic and electronics. Skinner reached
down and picked up the two larger pieces of casing, fitting them
together once more.
"Why, Alex? Why this... and why now?"
Several Hours Later
Downtown, Washington DC
A car rolled to a stop outside the front entrance and Skinner
could make out the forms of two youths, probably only in their
late teens, early twenties. The voice on the phone had sounded
young and frightened. He strode forward to meet the car, relaxing
the severity of his expression when he caught the look of fear
that passed between the two boys.
"I'm Assistant Director Skinner, FBI."
Skinner opened the rear door and glanced into the back seat,
mouth falling open in shock. They had said he was hurt bad but he
had written that off as youthful panic. The blanket had slipped
aside revealing Krycek's naked, blood streaked body lying curled
up with his battered face upon one of the boy's lap. Sweat-soaked
hair hung limply against the fevered forehead, massive purple
bruises and angry red bite marks marred the ivory skin of both
face and body.
"Stay there. I'll get help."
Skinner raced back into the clinic and, moments later, was
followed out by a burly man with wavy salt and pepper hair.
Another man, an orderly, followed close behind. The older man
reached in and touched Krycek's face.
"You still with us? We're going to have to move you. Get
the clinic where I can take a good look at those injuries..."
"NO. No... hospital... Skinner... want Skinner..."
Walter Skinner opened the other rear door, the one closest
Krycek's face. He eased the boy out and then reached in to touch
the sable hair, pushing the damp locks from the man's forehead.
"It's okay, Alex. I'm here. You're safe here. Gordon Maine
friend of mine... and he's a doctor..."
"Skinner?" Green eyes, heavy with pain, with unevenly
pupils tried to focus on him. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry."
Skinner swallowed angrily, unsure what Krycek was apologising
for. Was he sorry for the nanocytes? For the agony he had caused,
for nearly killing him? Was he sorry for betraying Mulder, for
Scully? Or was he sorry for himself? Sorry for dragging him here
just in time to see him die. That last thought angered Skinner
most of all for a reason he wasn't willing to fathom.
"Don't you dare die on me, Krycek."
A smile curled up the thickened, bloodied lips. "Didn't...
Skinner bit hard on his tongue to prevent himself from lashing
out at the injured man. His face reddened as an unbidden thought
entered, shattering some of the stone wall he had built around
// But you do care. //
Krycek cried out softly, as if he had no energy left to scream,
when Maine and Skinner eased him from the car with the help of
the others. He was placed onto the gurney that appeared behind
Maine as they struggled with the heavy, unresisting man. Skinner
stilled his first impulse to chase after the gurney, and turned
towards the two boys instead.
"We need to talk."
They glanced at each other uneasily and then nodded their
agreement, following the AD into the clinic. Skinner pointed them
to some seats, the message clear that he expected them to sit
there and wait for his return. He stopped and spoke quietly to
the receptionist, asking her if she wouldn't mind getting them
something to drink. He glanced back at the two boys once before
disappearing through a set of double doors, hoping they wouldn't
skip out on him the moment his back was turned, for, as soon as
he had spoken to Gordon he intended to question them on what they
Gordon Maine looked up from the where he was attaching a drip.
His face was set into a hard, almost expressionless mask. He
stepped aside as one of his assistants began working over the
"The bastards that did this tore him up bad inside. I'm
him prepped... expect to be operating within a few minutes... so
make it fast."
Skinner stared across at the gurney, wondering how the Alex
Krycek he knew could look so small and fragile. A stab of fear
made his chest feel tight but he raised his eyes back to his
"I'll be waiting outside."
Maine nodded, realising how close Skinner had come to telling
to 'do his best'... as if he did not expect *anyone* to put
themselves out for the brutally raped man lying before him. He
turned back to the task of preparing himself, his mind focusing
so completely on this that he had forgotten Skinner existed
before the man had even made it to the door.
New York City
"What do you mean 'He's gone'?"
Spender's face darkened in anger as his employee explained
they had returned to bury the body but Krycek had gone.
"How can a dead man vanish?"
The gentleness with which Spender placed the phone onto its
cradle belied the anger that shook his body. With outer calmness
he took out and lit a Morley, sucking the nicotine and tar deep
into his lungs then exhaled slowly, watching the blue-tinged
plume of smoke curl up towards the ceiling. He leant back in his
chair and turned his thoughts inward.
"Incompetence. I'm surrounded by incompetent fools."
Spender picked up the phone and depressed a series of buttons.
"Send for Mr Harris."
Several Hours Later
Skinner could hardly believe that the pale figure lying
unconscious on the bed was the same man who had caused such havoc
in his life, both emotional and physical. Bruises and swelling
marred the perfection of the beautiful face but, underneath it
all, Skinner could still see echoes of the enthusiastic, fresh-
faced kid that had come into his office that first day. He
reached out to touch the soft hair, carefully avoiding the tubes
and wires that seemed to run everywhere; feeding drugs, removing
waste, monitoring life-signs. The steady beep was strangely
comforting and he drew the seat closer to the bed, reaching out
to hold Krycek's right hand... his *only* hand. He turned the
hand over in his own, careful not to disturb the tube taped to
the soft inner arm just below the elbow. The fingers were long
and slender compared to his own; the knuckles, bruised and
Skinner grimaced. At least Krycek hadn't gone down without
fight. He traced the outline of the lips that had fuelled so many
of his fantasies - another bruised, split and swollen feature
but, like all of his injuries, it would heal in time. Spender
spoke softly to the sleeping man.
"I ought to hate you." He sighed deeply. "But I don't."
In truth, seeing Krycek so vulnerable and broken had stripped
away the final barrier, allowing him to acknowledge that what he
felt for Alex Krycek went far beyond lust and the need to avenge
himself by slaking his carnal desires on that body.
The soft sound of a door opening behind him drew Skinner back
from his thoughts, and he carefully replaced the limp hand upon
the coverlet before half-turning in his seat to face the
newcomer, expecting it to be his friend, Maine.
Skinner jumped to his feet, the chair crashing backwards as
smell of cigarette smoke drifted across the room, the bluey-grey
cloud wafting in the gentle breeze from the open window. He
watched, warily, as Spender approached the bed, keeping himself
between the Smoker and his former employee.
Spender smiled, enigmatically; a half-smile that curved up
single corner of the seamed mouth.
"Do not concern yourself, Mr Skinner. I have no intention
harming Mr Krycek."
Skinner sneered. He knew what had happened up in the
Appalachians. The boys had been camped close by and had been
awakened just before dawn by the sudden activity surrounding the
cabin. From a nearby vantage point they had watched a man who
fitted the Smoker's description leave the area - and then they
had heard the muffled screams from within. Morbid curiosity had
overridden common sense and they had gradually drawn near,
entering the cabin as soon as the four mens' vehicle had driven
out of sight.
Spender leaned over to afford himself a better view of the
unconscious man, silently cataloguing the visible damage even as
his mind dwelt on the other more serious injuries.
When he first learnt that Alex was still alive he had been
The man was like a cat with nine lives. His first impulse was to
send in another team to finish the job, but then he had
discovered the abuse meted out by the incompetent, would-be
assassins after he had left the cabin... and the thought was so
completely abhorrent to him. It was as if they had brutally raped
his *own* son.
He had dealt, personally, with the offenders. Unlike Alex Krycek,
there was no possibility of any of them turning up alive. They
had found their own secluded burial spot in the mountains.
As he had waited to hear from Harris, he had reflected on this,
and it seemed strangely fitting that Krycek should be allowed to
live with the knowledge of what had been done to him. Perhaps
this would be a far greater form of revenge on the spirited
younger man than death itself.
Locating Krycek had been far too easy but then, whom else could
Alex turn to other than AD Walter Skinner? Mulder? No. Mulder
would not lift a finger to help Krycek, would, probably, just sit
and watch him die. Dana Scully perhaps? Again, no. Her loyalty to
her partner had been proven beyond question. There would be
little benefit getting Scully to patch him up only so Mulder
could injure him again... or place him in the sort of unenviable
position where death would be a blessing. In the end, Krycek had
only one place left to turn... to the man he loved.
So, by the time Harris had narrowed the search down to this
mans' clinic, run by an ex-Marine buddy of AD Skinner, he had
decided that Alex Krycek had paid a high enough price already in
his short life.
"Alex has survived several... accidents over the past
but I wonder just how many more lives he has left. Perhaps it's
time he retired from the game."
"And if he does retire?"
"Then there would be no need for any more... accidents
Skinner recognised the implied threat but, looking down at
vulnerable, abused figure, he realised this could be the one
chance Alex had left to him.
"And the conditions?"
"It seems Alex has formed a very unhealthy attachment
to you, Mr
Skinner. I'm certain you will be able to persuade him to choose a
new career. Something very different from his current line of
Skinner barely heard past the first sentence, his mind reeling
from the possibility that Krycek might actually reciprocate his
Spender dropped the butt of his cigarette into the cup of water
by the side of the bed, turned on his heel and started to walk
Spender paused, glancing back over his shoulder. He knew what
Skinner was asking. Why was he going to allow Alex to live when
he had made so many attempts on the younger man's life?
"Perhaps I, too, have a certain attachment to the boy."
He smiled, enigmatically, then walked away without looking
his smile broadening in remembrance of the look of bewilderment
crossing Skinner's often stony face.
Pain. His last memory was of pain; excruciating pain... and
Walter Skinner. The deep baritone voice had offered gentle
assurances, the soft touch a physical reinforcement of those
words. He had been offered up to strangers, felt cool damp cloth
on his heated skin, endured the sharp sensations of needles
pricking his sensitised flesh... then blackness had followed the
iciness that flowed up his arm as the anaesthetic took hold.
He opened his eyes to mere slivers, cautiously flicking his
around the room until he came to a figure slumped into an easy
chair a few feet from the bed. He allowed his lids to open wider
so he could study the sleeping form - and smiled.
Walter Skinner had removed his suit jacket and loosened his
The rolled up shirt sleeves emphasised the muscular arms and
shoulders. For once, the AD did not look as if his own clothes
were slowly strangling him. He was the type of build that never
looked comfortable in a suit, unlike Mulder who looked like he
had just stepped off the cover of GQ. Skinner's frame was too
powerful; too muscular; too stocky, but it was the type of build
that had always interested Alex. He knew the man worked out,
mainly with weights but, from experience he knew Skinner liked to
box too. He could understand the attraction of Boxing. It was
like a dance; skilfully turning around your opponent, probing for
and exploiting weaknesses with short, sharp jabs. Waiting for
that moment of distraction when the guard would go down and
taking advantage with forceful body blows. It was a lot like his
own life, except, in the real world, it was not a game; not a
sport, but a necessary means of survival.
With infinite care he started to catalogue the damage to his
body, but groaned as his attempt to move sent agony through his
abdomen. When the pain finally let go it's tight grip he reopened
his eyes to find velvet brown ones looking down into his. He
froze. It hadn't been his intention to draw any attention to
"How're you feeling?"
Alex stared up into the caring eyes for a moment longer before
flicking his eyes away in fear and embarrassment.
"If it's any consolation, Krycek, you look like shit."
"Gee, thanks. I'd hate to feel... this bad and... look
nothing happened." Krycek saw Skinner withdraw as the sarcasm
reached him. "Hey, I'm - I'm sorry. Can't help being a bit of
"No, Alex. You don't need to apologise."
It was an uneasy silence that descended, neither realising
reason for this, being too wrapped up in their own fears and
needs. Eventually, it was Alex who spoke.
"It was touch and go for awhile."
"They... raped me."
Skinner's eyes seemed to narrow slightly under Krycek's watchful
gaze. Surreptitiously, he searched the AD's face but was relieved
when he found nothing but concern flood those warm, brown eyes.
The response was soft, almost like the distant rumble of a
storm, full of hidden meaning but Alex could detect nothing that
made him seem less of a man in the AD's eyes. He didn't want the
man's pity and was grateful to see none. He watched as Skinner
appeared to make several attempts to say something and smiled,
"It's okay, you know. About the rape, I mean. Wasn't the
Alex frowned, wondering why he had volunteered that information,
afraid it had made him seem even more of a victim knowing that he
had been abused before. He knew he hadn't deserved it - then and
now... or had he? Why did it seem as if everyone wanted a piece
of him; his arm, his knowledge, his dignity, his life... his ass.
His introspection was cut short by gentle words.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"I'm tired." His eyes widened in the knowledge that
telling the truth. He *was* tired; tired in body, tired in
"Then get some more rest. We can always talk later. You're
"No. They'll be back for me..."
"No, they won't. Local Police made a sweep of the area
were attacked. Found four bodies in a shallow grave. Killed,
execution style, with a single bullet to the back of the head..."
Puzzlement crossed the battered face for a moment, and then
Krycek decided those men had paid for their incompetence. He
grimaced. At least it saved him the job of hunting them down and
killing them himself, but...
"He'll just send someone else..."
"No, Alex. He's already been here, while you were out.
has decided to give you a reprieve."
// Not 'a reprieve'... *another* reprieve. Why? When? //
"Just how long *have* I been here?"
Krycek coughed as the talking irritated his dry throat. He
in gratitude when Skinner lifted his head and placed a straw into
his mouth. He sipped at the cool liquid then motioned to be let
Skinner nodded. He pressed the call button and then sat back
on the easy chair. An easier silence descended as they stared
across the room at each other, lost in their own thoughts. From
his obvious familiarity with the room Krycek could guess that the
AD had been here on a more than a few occasions. Some small
childlike part of him wanted to know if it were true, wanted to
be reassured that someone might actually care about him. He was
about to ask when the door opened to reveal a man who seemed
strangely familiar to him.
Dr Maine smiled at his patient.
"You had us all pretty scared there for a while, son.
hardly left your side, except to put in minimal hours at the
Krycek's eyes moved back in time to see the heat rise in
Skinner's face before the man turned away in embarrassment,
grateful that the doctor had volunteered that information, but
even more pleased by Skinner's reaction. Had Skinner sought only
to ensure Krycek could not slip away before he had a chance of
exacting some form of revenge, then those eyes would have
remained as hard as flint. No. This was the reaction of someone
who might actually care what happened to him.
He waited, patiently, until those dark eyes turned to him once
more, then held them with his own. For a split second he thought
he could see something he had often dreamed about.
Krycek gave a soft smile. He had *always* been a dreamer, never
truly belonging in a world of death, lies, secrets and betrayal.
He had walked along a crooked path, often falling over the cracks
of his remaining conscience, only the pain and loneliness of his
chosen life keeping him moving along; any remorse, sorrow and
dreams of happiness buried deep. There had been no reason, and no
willingness to find another path; a straighter path... not until
he recognised the depth of feeling he had for Walter Skinner.
Skinner looked away as his friend, Maine, called his attention,
but, as Krycek gazed through still blackened eyes at the strong
profile of a man who ought to hate him, he felt a glimmer of
something that he had thought was lost to him... a dream of a
brighter future. He wasn't certain, and the future was by no
means a clear-cut path laid out before him. But, for the first
time in many years, he felt the beginnings of hope swell within.