Title: SORRY Author: Josan
Beta: With thanks, Anika
Date: Begun October, 1999 Posted May, 2000
Summary: It's all over and now there's time to deal with the past.
Pairing: Sk/K
Rating: Not quite NC-17 Archive:
Yes to Basement, Ratlover, SKSA. Anyone else,please ask.
Comments: jmann@mondenet.com OR, if you're getting bounced due to the anti-spam filter my server has added, try jmann@spam.mondenet.com


DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013. I am just borrowing them.

WARNING: For those of you who did not like the way I treated Mulder in the second of THE LODGE series, please, do us both a favour and *don't* read this one. If you do and don't like it, well....you were warned!!!!

ALSO: Please note that RCMP means "The Royal Canadian Mounted Police". This organization in Canada not only polices a great part of the country, they are also our equivalent to the FBI. The Red Serge uniforms are just for show these days: they wear the usual police blue or regular street clothes. Oh, and for those of you into trivia: Charles Dickens' nephew was one of the early members of the force -- officer, of course.


Walter Skinner, recently retired Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, cast his line into the shadows at the edge of the stream.

He was enjoying himself, finally relaxing.

The decision to take retirement had been a difficult one, but even he had to admit that it was time. He was 53, had weathered a great many upheavals, and survived the great organizational restructuring that had begun five years earlier, due to the revelations (mostly covered-up) engendered by the downfall of the so-called Consortium.

More than a few people had been surprised that he had stuck it out so long. So many hadn't.

Special Agent Dana Scully had left suddenly one day. Just upped and handed in her resignation. No real warning. She was now working in a clinic on the Ivory Coast. Skinner heard from her on a regular basis via e-mail. She sounded more at peace with herself than she had in those final days at the Bureau.

Special Agent Fox Mulder was gone, too. To a think tank dealing with the repercussions of alien-human genetic experimentation. Only people at the highest levels of security clearance knew of the existence of the organization -- fewer that Mulder headed it -- financed by people who wished to establish mutually advantageous links with the Resistance. Whose existence was known by even fewer people.

Skinner had retired seven months earlier. Jana Cassidy, the Director, had come to offer him the Deputy Director's office. She wanted him beside her while she dealt, with increasing frustration, with a new Administration that felt what it hadn't been around to see had never happened.

He had taken the weekend to consider it. A weekend sitting alone on his balcony, just staring at the skyline of Washington, D.C., not really thinking about anything. It finally dawned on him that he was tired. Not just of the Bureau and its politics, but of the apartment, of Washington. He wanted to go somewhere quiet, somewhere...different.

He e-mailed Dana Scully: "Thinking of retiring, moving out."

She e-mailed him back: "About time!"

So he had. To Vermont. Sold the condo and bought himself a couple of acres near Middlebury, with a nice, fairly well maintained old farmhouse, complete with furniture -- well-worn, comfortable. The man who was selling had once been as big as Skinner. Now in his late eighties, arthritis was forcing him to move in with his "baby", a retired teacher who was older than Skinner. The fancy car had been traded in for a Chevy pick-up; his suits, ties, white shirts for L.L. Bean.

He'd taken possession January 1, a day with the sun reflecting off the slicked snow banks, icicles dripping from eaves. The birth of a new year, the birth of a new life.

His neighbours, typical Vermonters, looked him over carefully, nodding their greetings but waiting to see what he would have to say for himself. He didn't say much. It wasn't in his nature, and he certainly wasn't going to change now. Still, the fact that old Talmidge Stone had sold the place to him, spoke of him approvingly in town meant that when he'd asked one of his neighbours about a spot to try out his new fly fishing equipment, the man had allowed himself to admit that the best stream, a town secret, could be found at the far back of his property.

So Skinner had followed the man's directions, found the stream and now always made sure to drop off a couple of trout at his neighbour's door on his way home.

He flicked the fly out of the water, cast and dropped it again in the ripple by the big rock, a good place for a trout to be waiting for breakfast this fine May morning. He'd been fishing for about an hour, enjoying the activity when he was suddenly aware that he was not alone.

Probably the neighbour.

He reeled in his line, turned, about to offer the man the pick of his catch when he realized that the man sitting under a tree, legs stretched out in front of him was someone from the past. Someone he'd thought long gone.

Neither man spoke.

After a good minute or two, Skinner moved, took his time wading ashore. He carefully removed the reel, dismantled the rod, stashed both into their proper compartments in the carrying case.

Still not addressing the visitor, he stripped the waders off, folded them. Then and only then did he acknowledge: "Krycek."

"Skinner." Krycek sat unmoving under the tree. He was armed, didn't for one moment doubt that Skinner was, too. You didn't spend over twenty-five years packing a weapon to suddenly put it aside. Well, maybe eventually, but not this soon after retiring. He made very sure that both his hands were very much in the open where Skinner could see them.

In the last days of the Consortium, of the threat of an alien invasion, Krycek had joined his skills, his information to Mulder's, and indirectly to Skinner's and Scully's, and fed them the last bits of data needed to take the Consortium down. He'd stood with them for the final confrontation, for the secret debriefings that followed and then had just disappeared. No one knew what had happened to him.

Now, four years later, here he was, sitting calmly under a tree by the best trout stream in Vermont.

He looked, Skinner thought, well. A bit heavier than he had been while on the run, juggling loyalties. Richer looking: the clothes were quality, obviously much worn, comfortable. A bit of grey lightened the dark tones of his hair. Well, that was to be expected. His own fringe was a steel grey in colour.

Skinner wondered what he'd been up to these past years.

Krycek endured the examination without comment. He too took his time looking over his old "enemy". One of them had to break the silence, he thought: might as well be him.

"You're looking much more relaxed than the last time I saw you."

Skinner quirked an eyebrow at that.

The last time they'd met, he and Krycek had had a screaming match over the best way to handle the information the Resistance was giving them through Krycek. The last thing Skinner had yelled at Krycek was that if Krycek didn't like the decision he'd made, he could always reactivate the nanocytes and eliminate him that way. Krycek had shut up in mid rant, looked at him, turned and left.

After that any communication from Krycek was channelled through Dana Scully, who had never understood why she had been so blessed.

Skinner shrugged. He held back asking Krycek why he was here, having decided that if Krycek had wanted him to know, he would have said something by now. Instead, he picked up his creel, his equipment and, with a gesture of his head, walked over to his truck. There, parked beside it, was an obvious rental. Krycek waited until Skinner had started the engine to rise, go over to the car. He waited in it while Skinner dropped off a couple of the trout at the neighbour's, kept on following him back to what would forever be known in the area as the Stone Farm.

Krycek waited at the screen door, until Skinner understood he would not come in without an invitation. "You still take your coffee black?" was as close to one as the man was going to get from him.

Krycek opened the door, came into the kitchen. "Yes."

Skinner poured him a mug, set it down at the table. Brought his with him to the sink where he preceded to clean the trout. He wrapped the guts and heads in a newspaper. On the stove was a large thick cast iron frying pan. He turned on the heat under it, poured some oil in. From the cupboard he pulled out a canister of prepared corn meal, flour and seasonings. He dredged the fish, set it aside on a plate. From the fridge he took out a bowl of cooked potatoes. In no time at all, he set a plate of fried trout and potatoes in front of Krycek, rummaged around in a drawer for additional cutlery, served himself.

Krycek waited for him to begin eating. Skinner noticed the prosthesis that Krycek used to wear had been replaced with something far more dexterous. He hung in until they had both finished breakfast, refilled their mugs and gave up waiting for Krycek to tell him why he was here.

"I'm sure you didn't come here just for breakfast, Krycek. What do you want?"

Krycek looked from the mug he was playing with on the table to the Assistant Director waiting for him to report. That expression had already been good when Krycek had been an agent: it was now refined and polished. He supposed Skinner put it on like he did his clothes when he dressed in the morning. Always assuming he actually ever took it off.

He sat back in the hard wooden chair, met Skinner's eyes. "Why isn't Mulder here with you?"

Skinner was surprised by the question. "Should he be?"

Krycek stretched his legs out, "I thought he might be joining you, once you got the place settled."

"No. Look, Krycek, I don't understand..."

Krycek interrupted. "You're not lovers?"

Skinner's face hardened. As did his voice. "No. We are *not* lovers. Whatever..." He stopped. Took a moment to check the temper he could feel beginning to stir -- that Krycek always seemed able to arouse in him. "Whatever made you think that Mulder and I were lovers? Just because you and I had a one night stand?"

"Two nights," corrected Krycek.

"Two," Skinner said in that irritated AD voice. "How many did you have with Mulder?"


Skinner gave him another of those perfected AD looks, the who-do-you-think-you're-kidding? one.

"Not one. The Smoker ordered me to make a play for him but he wasn't interested. He turned me down rather nicely when we were partners. After that, all he wanted to do was beat the shit out of me."

"Can't blame him. You did, after all, kill his father."

"No. But it was more than that. He wasn't interested in sex with me. Not because I was a man. I think he just wasn't much interested in sex. Too driven. They tried again with Diana Fowley, but that didn't go anywhere either."

Skinner pushed his chair back from the table, also stretched out his legs. Seemed that Krycek was in a mood to reveal a few more of the secrets that had never been cleared, at least in his mind.

"So they ordered you to make a play for me instead. They must have been happier with those results." Except that those encounters had never been used against him. He would have thought Spender wouldn't have hesitated for one moment to do so.

"They never knew about them."

"Why not? I would have thought they'd have earned you a great number of brownie points."

Krycek's mouth tightened at a memory. "Probably. But Mulder was for them. You were for me."

Skinner glared at him. "Then I guess I must have been a major disappointment. Sorry," he could still pour the sarcasm on, "but I *was* seventeen years out of practice."

"And I was only an interlude until you and your wife decided to try again. I'm sorry she was killed."

"Did you have something to do with that?" Not that he believed Krycek did. The man had no trouble admitting to his deeds. Hadn't denied his killing of Mulder's father, his part in Scully's abduction, his presence when Melissa Scully had been shot.

Still, Krycek reacted to the stab. His head went back. He whitened. His face grew a thicker mask. "No. I had nothing to do with that." His voice was so faint as to almost be a whisper. Skinner realized that his accusation had hurt.

"No, sorry. I know you didn't."

The silence grew awkward. Skinner was relieved when the phone rang. He answered the kitchen extension, expecting his neighbour thanking him for the fish. Instead it was someone identifying herself as Mulder's Personal Assistant.

She was calling, she emphasized, on behalf of Mr. Mulder who wished Mr. Skinner to know that a Mr. Krycek -- here Skinner turned to look at the man who seemed to know he was the subject of the call -- had been in Washington, asking questions of a rather personal nature -- obviously the PA was very displeased with the nature of those questions -- concerning Mr. Mulder and Mr. Skinner.

Mr. Mulder felt that Mr. Skinner should be made aware of this. And, she hoped, that he would in turn make the situation very clear to Mr. Krycek...

"Should I see him." Skinner snapped, finding himself very irritated by the tone the woman was using.

...*should* he see him, that such questions would not be tolerated. There were laws against defamation of character in this country. Even if Mr. Mulder couldn't be bothered with this infringement on his good name -- her voice squeaked with indignation -- he did have friends who did and...

Skinner hung up the phone.

He leaned against the wall, looked at Krycek.

"Your visit to Washington seems to have upset Mulder's people."

Krycek grimaced. "Mulder's people are easily upset. They think he walks on water."

Remembering the trouble he'd had getting hold of Mulder whenever he'd wanted to speak to him, Skinner had to agree somewhat. "They're very protective of him. Of his reputation. Seems you've been indiscreet."

Krycek scoffed. "Since when have I ever been indiscreet? No, I assume that was the old biddy who guards his door. She must have overheard a discussion we had. Probably had her ear at the keyhole. We weren't that loud. And the door to his office was closed."

Skinner pushed off the wall. "Krycek. What the hell ever made you think that Mulder and I were lovers? I mean, we were under scrutiny almost constantly from the time Mulder started playing around with the X-Files and I was put in charge of them. If there had been anything there, you, of all people, know just what the Consortium would have done with that information. Shit! Isn't that why you infected me with the nanocytes? Killed me? So that they could control me? Control the X-Files?"

Skinner found he was pacing the floor. He forced himself to stop. "Seems to me it would have been a lot easier for them to do that if you'd told them that we had had sex. You probably wouldn't have had to kill me then. Why didn't they know?"

"I told you, they wanted Mulder."

"Yes. And you wanted me." Skinner scoffed.

Krycek looked at him. "Yes," he spoke softly, "I wanted you. You didn't want me."

"So, because I went back to my wife, what...? You decided that there would be other ways of getting back at me? And I still don't understand. Why would you think that Mulder and I ... " "You called his name."

"I called his name? When did I call his name?"

"When you came. When you were with me. You cried out Fox. Not Alex."

Skinner lost his AD look, stunned by what Krycek was saying. He opened his mouth to respond. Nothing came out.

"Not just the first time. The second time as well. You were pumping away in my body but you were calling his name."

Skinner sat down, incredulous. Speechless.

"I wanted you. Badly. But twice was more than enough. There are limits even to my masochism. That's why I thought you and Mulder might get together. Maybe not while he was at the Bureau, but he hasn't been with the Bureau for three years. And no one is keeping an eye on either of you, not that I know of."

And he would know, thought Skinner.

"I was surprised when you moved out here. By yourself. I thought maybe it had something to do with me. That you might have told him about our...encounters. Mulder still hates my guts. And not just because I killed his father. I thought something like that might cause a riff between the two of you. I figured I should find out, see if I could clear the air on the situation."

"Why?" Skinner finally found his voice.

"Because, looking back, I realized that you put your neck on the line for me during the debriefings. If Mulder and some of the others had had their way, I would have disappeared into the penal system, probably that high security place the Administration swears doesn't exist."

"Instead you just plain disappeared. Where to? Sorry," Skinner gestured with his hand. "None of my business." He was still digesting what Krycek had told him. It explained so much, and so little.

Krycek shrugged. "Canada. I live in Toronto." He smiled shyly. "You ever hear of the Jack Tyler books?"

Skinner nodded. "Adventure things."

"Three a year. Snack food for the brain. Great for the airplane or the toilet. I write them."

Skinner leaned back in the chair. "I've read a few. Once or twice I thought I recognized an event, but I never connected..."

"Never connected the Consortium whore with the writer Don Stafford."

"I never thought of you as the Consortium whore. Assassin, yes. Whore, never."

Krycek shrugged. "Anyway, I figured if I had had anything to do with your and Mulder's breakup...I thought if I explained to Mulder that...Well, it doesn't matter, does it?"

He stood up. "Thanks for breakfast. It's been a while since I've had fresh trout."

Krycek was at the door when Skinner spoke. "Krycek. What would have happened if I had called your name?"

Krycek took his time answering, his back to Skinner. "I learnt long ago never to look back on what-if's."

"How are you at looking forward?"


Skinner was surprised that Krycek decided to stay. More so that he had made the offer. It had slipped out of his mouth before he had had time to even think about it, let alone think it through.

Krycek turned around to face him. Must have realized that Skinner was as surprised with saying the words as he was hearing them.

They both waited for Skinner to retract, but after a minute or so, he stood up. "I'll see to the guest bedroom if you want to bring your things in." He climbed the stairs from the kitchen without looking to see if Krycek had even agreed.

Krycek brought in a smallish leather case, brand-new looking. Skinner thought it didn't look like Krycek did much travelling these days.

And a top of the line laptop.

Funny how he believed, without question, that Krycek was the Don Stafford whose books lined row after row of mass market shelf space. He hadn't been lying when he'd said he'd read a few. They were the perfect companion for a long plane flight when he'd been too tired to do Bureau paper work and too wound up to sleep. He had wondered if the writer had ties to the Bureau as some of the story lines were a bit too familiar to be coincidence. But it had never crossed his mind that Krycek...

He was sitting out on his back porch, in the dark, on the bench swing he had spent a good week de-rusting, repainting. It creaked softly as he pushed back and forth with the heel of his boot, trying to figure out just what had happened over the day. It had been awkward. No denying that.

Skinner still wasn't sure why he wanted Krycek to stick around. Or why Krycek had.

They had spent the morning going around the place, with Skinner pointing out the parts of the house that needed fixing. They had done the yard tour. Then the outbuildings. The barn was still weatherproof if in need of a good paint job. Krycek had offered that he would have to build scaffolding to reach the top. About the longest speech Krycek had made after deciding to stay.

Lunch had been ham and cheese sandwiches. Krycek had helped clear up then announced he had to get in some writing time. He had a deadline and his agent was already panicking because he had taken some time off to...to visit D.C.

The time apart had forced Skinner to wonder just what the hell he was doing. He had chores to do around the property and he went about doing them. All the time trying hard to remember what things had been like eleven years before when he had fucked Alex Krycek and cried out another man's name.

Shit! No wonder there had been so much conviction behind those punches in the stairwell.

Supper was in the oven. Chicken and all the fixings wafting aroma all through the house. He would have to call Krycek down in a few minutes or it would all be overcooked.

The door swung open and booted feet found him.

"I turned the oven off." Krycek leaned against the roof support. "Now that you've had time to think, would you like me to go?"

Skinner found the other's face in the dark. He had no way of knowing Krycek's expression. Not that he would have had one anyway.

"No. Do you want to talk about this before or after we eat?"

"Do we have to talk about it?"

Skinner nodded, knowing that Krycek could see his face in the light from the kitchen.

"Then I guess it depends."


"On whether or not you have any hard stuff in the house."

Skinner stood up. "After supper. Talmidge left some applejack. We'll need the food to line our stomachs." He went in, held the door open until Krycek followed.

While he dished up the meal, Krycek set the table. The meal was silent: more tense, in a way, than lunch; more at ease too, in a weird way.

Skinner stacked the dishes on the counter, pulled out a tray. He set the carafe of coffee on it, two mugs. Added a couple of small juice glasses. From the pantry he dug out a bottle without a label. Placed it on the tray.

"We might as well be comfortable." Skinner led the way to the room he had converted into his office. It was as large as his condo living room, easily accepting the long leather couch, the big leather chair. Talmidge's old rolltop desk took up the corner by the couch. Skinner set the tray down there, poured the coffee, the applejack. He placed Krycek's on the small table next to the couch; his, on the desk within reach of the armchair.

The two men raised their glasses, saluted each other and Skinner took a sip while he watched Krycek toss down the contents of the glass. He really should have warned the man about Talmidge's applejack. He took another sip while Krycek remembered to breathe, wiped the tears from his eyes. Skinner picked up the bottle, refilled Krycek's glass. "I guess I forgot to tell you this is sipping stuff."

"I..." Krycek took a deep breath, cleared his throat, tried again. "I guess you did." He looked at the glass in his hand with respect.

"You handled that better than I did." Skinner felt he had pulled a fast one on the man, owed him some sort of apology. "Talmidge had to pound my back to get me to breathe again."

Krycek placed the glass down, took his coffee. No wonder Skinner had made that comment about lining their stomachs: the stuff had to be 150% proof. He wouldn't be driving anywhere tonight, that's for sure.

"I guess," continued Skinner, "I also owe you an apology. I've been thinking about it all day. About what you said. No matter what the reason, it was crass of me to call out someone else's name when I was with you."

Krycek just shrugged, as if it weren't important. Skinner didn't believe that. Not for a moment.

"I had sex with you, Krycek, because I wanted to. I never for one minute thought of you as a substitute for Mulder. At least I didn't think I had."

Krycek moved in his corner, as if embarrassed. "Doesn't matter."

"It does. Look, I don't know what to say to you. I've been working on this all day, trying to remember what things were like then, between Sharon and me. Things weren't good. She'd just asked me for a divorce and we'd compromised on a trial separation. I know the first night she moved out, I decided to get drunk rather than go back to an empty house. Somehow you found me?"

Skinner sat back and waited. Krycek understood it was his turn to explain.

"Mulder had come to their attention by then. He was making some of them nervous, others didn't think he'd be a bother. The Smoker already had some doubts about how co-operative you were going to be. He decided to slip someone else in. And double security."


Krycek nodded. "Me. My parents were somewhat involved with the Consortium. I only found out to what extent years later. My father and I didn't get along from the word go. My mother couldn't be bothered. Her life centred on her lab and neither my father nor I were of any importance to her. He eventually left her, took off with another woman. One who didn't place work ahead of her man.

"At Spender's suggestion, I was sent to a special school. He could see I had talents to be developed but he told her he didn't think it was fair for her to be distracted from her work. It was much more important than I was. My mother was in charge of the lab working on the Consortium's version of the vaccine. She considered it a slap in the face that I was the one who brought back the vaccine from Russia. In her opinion, I had made a mockery of her life's work."

Krycek took a sip from the glass. This time it went down much more smoothly.

"So, Spender had plans for me. He's the one who signed me up for Quantico. I was a good student. Had all the required marks, courses. He'd seen to that. They'd trained me well. Caught on early on that I preferred men to women and made use of that.

"For some reason, their research fell down when it came to Mulder. I was supposed to team up with him, in more ways than the approved FBI sense. Except that Mulder wasn't interested. While they were deciding on the next course of action, I was sent to report to the new AD."


"You. Five minutes into the meeting, I decided that if they didn't need me for Mulder, I wanted a go at you. You were distracted often throughout the meeting. I figured you were under some tension of some kind. I kept my ears open. Flirted a bit with the secretary you had then. She's the one who told me you were having marital problems."

"How the hell did she know?" Skinner snapped. "I never discussed my private life with anyone at the Bureau?"

"Skinner! Do you really think a man can keep anything secret from his secretary? Shit. The type of day she has depends on the mood he's in. A good secretary can read her boss's mood from hearing his footstep down the hall."

"So you're an expert on secretaries."

"No, but do you think it was any different working for Spender?" He didn't let Skinner answer. "After I realized that things were not good on the home front, I started following you whenever I could. It wasn't difficult. You went to the same bar every night. Same routine. One scotch and then home. Except for that night when you stayed for a second. I knew something was up."

"You joined me at the bar."

Krycek nodded. "Good thing too. By the time you were ready to leave, you weren't in any shape to drive. I drove you home. Got you in the house, upstairs to the bedroom. I wasn't planning anything for that night. I thought you were too drunk. I wanted you to appreciate my...talents and for that I wanted you relatively sober at least."

"So what happened, Krycek? Because as I remember it, you didn't wait."

Krycek slouched back in the corner of the couch until his head rested against the back of the seat, face neutral as he answered. "You kissed me."

Skinner didn't scoff. Didn't indicate he didn't believe Krycek. Didn't react.

"You told me I was too beautiful for my own good. That someday I would get into a lot of trouble because I was so hot. You asked me if I knew I was hot. And then you kissed me. You weren't as...unable as you should have been, considering the amount of scotch you had in you."

He smiled faintly at a memory. "You were clumsy, but it was obvious that you'd done this before. Not recently, but you knew what you were doing. I didn't even bother with token resistance. It was what I wanted too. Until..."

"Until I called you Fox."

Neither of them said anything for a time. Krycek sipped on the applejack. Skinner sat in his chair staring at the wall.

"The last time we separated, Sharon and I had a fight. About how closed I was. How I didn't let her in. She yelled at me that I was more involved with my agents than with her. Mulder's name came up."

Skinner shifted his eyes to Krycek. He spoke slowly as if trying to find his way through an unknown land.

"If I wanted him, I wasn't aware of it. Not consciously. Maybe I repressed that along with my desire for men. I thought it was something that happened to me in Nam because we never knew if we were going to survive the day. Because we were so scared that holding on to another human being, regardless of gender, was the only way to make it through the night."

He shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you. The only emotions Mulder raised in me that I acknowledge freely were anger, frustration and respect. Awe at his single mindedness. I admired him for his dedication to a goal even when that dedication caused all sorts of ripples I had to deal with."

He fell silent again. Krycek didn't move, let him work out whatever revelation about himself he was dealing with.

"I looked at him, at his body in the gym. Hell, which one of us doesn't check out the other guy. Maybe I *was* attracted to him. But, hell, I was his boss. Even if I had admitted it, if only to myself, I still wouldn't have been able to act on that attraction."

He looked over to the man sitting in front of him. "On the other hand, I *knew* I was attracted to you. After all, you weren't in my department and I did make a play for you. That second time wasn't because I was drunk. It was because I wanted you."

"I admit that it took me by surprise when you were the one that sat next to me in the bar," said Krycek.

"You were the one tossing them back that night. Vodka, if I remember well."

Krycek nodded. "Wasn't a good night for me. I figured Spender wasn't happy with the way things were going. Mulder wasn't following his plan. And he was beginning to think that I liked being in the Bureau too much for his good. We'd had a meeting that night and he had implied that I seemed to have forgotten it was all a game I was playing."

Skinner reached over with the bottle and refilled the glasses again. The coffee was forgotten. It wasn't a night for coffee anyway.

"If it was a game you were playing, you were good at it."

"I was, wasn't I?" Krycek smiled into the glass. "And he was right. I was beginning to think about it seriously. I liked having a problem set in front of me, of being told to solve it. Anyway I wanted to. Within the rules, of course."

Skinner smiled at the irony of that. If there was anyone who could have worked *around* the rules, it was Krycek. And he would have been better at it than anyone he knew. Including Mulder.

Mulder didn't care about the rules; he ignored them. Krycek would have manipulated them into working for him.

"By the end of that week, it was all moot point anyway. I guess I sensed the end was near. I was trying to convince myself it didn't matter when you showed up. I told myself not to be an idiot. That jerking off was better for my ego than having sex with you and hearing you call for someone else. But I guess my ego didn't care.

"When you offered me a drive home, I went with you. I didn't even wait until we were there before throwing myself at you. Maybe I was drunk when we got to your place but I sobered up plenty quick when you called me Fox again."

"Krycek, I..." Skinner shrugged uncomfortably. In spite of all his nonchalance about the subject, he knew Krycek must have been -- he surprised himself with the thought -- hurt.

"Actually," Krycek continued, ignoring Skinner's discomfort, "in a way, it made things easier when Spender pulled me out. He was very disappointed in me. I was no longer his rising star. I was just some stupid errand boy who couldn't follow the simplest of orders. How did you catch on to me? I never knew."

"The cigarette butts in your ashtray. They were Morleys. Mulder knew you didn't smoke. He knew someone who did. And that brand in particular."

It was Krycek's turn to stare at the wall. "I always emptied the ashtray after he left. I hated the smell of those butts. He must have...Oh, well. On such small things do futures crumble." He finished the contents of his glass.

Skinner thought the last sounded familiar. "Voltaire?"

Krycek smiled. "Jack Tyler. Book seven: The Black Rock."

Skinner grinned. He lifted the bottle. Krycek held out his glass.

They finished the bottle.


Skinner made it part way down the kitchen stairs the next morning to find Krycek up and pouring him a mug of coffee. He sat on the steps and gratefully sipped the hot brew, hoping it, the tablets and the shower he'd taken would get the pounding in his head down to a manageable level.

"I can't remember," he spoke softly, not wanting the vibrations to set off another drum solo between his ears, "the last time I was this hung over." He glared at Krycek. "You drank as much as I did. How come you're not feeling it?"

"More practice than you. Besides, I got up earlier. The aspirin's had time to kick in."

Krycek finished his cup, set it down by the sink. He picked up the jacket from the back of a chair, put it on. It was then that Skinner noticed the overnight bag and the laptop were by the back door.

"You're going."

Krycek shrugged. "Thought I'd wait until you were up."

Skinner looked down at the mug he held in both hands. "There's a question I'd like to ask you. One that's been nagging at me since I got up this morning. Can I ask it?"

"You can ask," Krycek rested his hip against the edge of the table. "I might not answer, but you can ask."

"Why did you come here, Krycek?" He looked up. "I mean, it must have been clear after your meeting with Mulder that he and I weren't lovers. If the only reason you contacted us again was to make sure you weren't a problem between us, well, there really wasn't a reason for you to come here. So why did you?"

Krycek didn't say anything. He seemed to have found something very interesting on the floor to study.

"In the shower, a few things dawned on me. Nothing like trying to ignore a pounding headache to make you think of all sorts of things.

"Like how whenever we've gotten together for some reason, there's more than just a little tension. You hit me. I hit you. I cuff you to my balcony. You kill me. You bring me back. We scream at each other. Not exactly an impartial relationship. On either side."

The silence echoed in the room.

"Let me try another question since you don't seem to want to answer the first. Do *you* have a lover?"

Krycek raised his head. The two men looked at each other awaiting his answer. He shook his head. "No. No lover."

Skinner stood up, slowly came down the remaining steps. He set his mug down at his end of the table.

"Is it necessary for you to leave today? I mean, are you on a deadline or something?"

Krycek cocked his head, uncertain at the situation. He had thought he'd stay long enough to make certain Skinner was all right and then he'd be on his way. Back to his life.

"I have some writing left to finish. They're expecting this book by the end of the month."

"Could you do it here?"

Krycek's mask was coming back on. Skinner plowed ahead. "Look. I've only had about twenty-four hours to think about this. And I've been drunk or asleep for half of that. I'm not sure where the hell I'm going. But I think one of the reasons you came here was to check out the situation. Like, if not Mulder, maybe there was someone else hanging around."

Krycek's mask was fully in place.

"Well, now you know there isn't. So what do we do?"


"You're going to have to help me out here, Krycek. This is new to me. I can give you that I think I *am* attracted to you. Even now. And, God knows, enough sparks fly whenever we're in the same room together. But beyond that I don't know. I do know that if you can, I'd like you to stay a while longer. There's a room upstairs you can use for writing."

Krycek's gaze went back to the floor. "I still sleep in the guest bedroom. And I'll need to let my agent know where I am otherwise she panics."

"Yes to both those conditions. Anything else?"

Krycek straightened. He carefully took the steps that brought him in front of Skinner. The closest he'd been to the man since he'd arrived.

"Be very sure, if it turns out that you're certain you *are* attracted to me, that you know who I am."

Skinner nodded. He watched as Krycek picked up his things, went back up the stairs to his room.




Both men tried to keep to their personal schedules, as if the fact that an ex-Consortium assassin and an ex-AD of the FBI sharing a house was normal practice.

Skinner got up early, went fishing. Came home to coffee freshly made; Krycek sitting at the table reading the papers he'd driven into town to pick up.

Skinner prepared breakfast while Krycek set the table. Conversation was held to the weather, the quality of the fishing, what the headlines were. They cleaned up together, then Krycek disappeared into the finished attic room that Talmidge had converted into a bedroom for his granddaughter, now a woman with children of her own. It had a small bathroom of its own, a rolltop desk smaller than the one in Skinner's office, a large window overlooking the overgrown orchard in the back.

They'd decided that lunch was each man's responsibility. So that way, if Skinner wanted to spend the day fishing or in town, he could. If Krycek wanted to work till late afternoon, he could. Which considering he still had about a good third of a book left to produce in less than two weeks and an agent who checked up on him regularly, he did.

Krycek didn't write much after four o'clock. He'd come down, make himself some tea which he drank overly sweet. They would pussyfoot around each other making supper, cleaning up afterwards.

Skinner's retirement gift to himself had been one of those wide-screen TV sets. That and one of the smaller satellite dishes. Great for pulling in football games from all over.

Except that Krycek wasn't too fond of what he called "American" football. He preferred soccer, "real" football as he called it. They had a few amiable squabbles about the pros and cons of each game, settled on schedules to feed both their addictions.

There were accommodations too in regards to movies. Strangely enough, even though he wrote action-adventure books, Krycek preferred foreign films. What Skinner teasingly referred to as "artsy-fartsy films". Skinner liked cop films: not that he missed his days at the FBI, but because he liked to add up all the technical errors of such films.

They both liked similar music: jazz, rock -- though Skinner liked the early 70's sound while Krycek considered the early 80's far superior.

There were no arguments over chess. And books. Skinner discovered that Krycek took his writing seriously though he didn't consider himself a serious writer. He researched heavily, verifying every piece of information that appeared in his books. He not only used the internet, but happily disappeared into the stacks at Middlebury College Library for a morning of thumbing through the History section, digging up the bit of information he wanted to use.

They carefully felt each other out on beliefs, dislikes, preferences. Yet still very wary not to intrude into the other's personal space.

For two men who had never been able to share space in the same room for ten minutes without sniping at each other, they discovered there were a great many things they agreed on.

Krycek had been at the farm for a week when he came down and found Skinner sitting in the living room, reading the afternoon away while it was pouring down outside.

He slouched against the jamb, quietly waiting until Skinner noticed him. Skinner lay down his book, a procedural manual he was reviewing for one of the instructors at Quantico, and waited for Krycek to speak.

"Before I download to the 'Slavedriver', would you like to read it?"

"You've finished?" Skinner smiled.

Krycek nodded.

"And you want me to read it?"

"Only if you'd like to." Krycek looked as it he really didn't care.

Skinner put on a worried face. "*Before* the Slavedriver gets it? Isn't that against your contract?"

He'd answered the phone one day to Krycek's agent. The voice at the other end sounded like the owner smoked three packs a day and drank at least a fifth of whisky. All mixed in with a French accent. Rejanne de Beaubien -- the Slavedriver -- had a no nonsense way to her. When Skinner had told her Krycek was writing, she'd answered, "Good." And hung up.

"I mean," his voice took on a teasing aspect, "I wouldn't want to get her mad at you. Wouldn't she make your life miserable or something if she knew someone other than herself had read it first?"

Krycek nodded, ruefully. "Or something. But if we're both smart, she won't find out."

Skinner grinned. "I'd love to." He watched as Krycek set the laptop up for him in his office, touched at the offer.

"You know this isn't literature." Krycek was suddenly nervous. He knew what he wrote, had never really cared for anyone's opinion other than Rejanne's. If she didn't like something, she didn't hesitate to tell him. Whatever she liked sold well.

"Krycek. There must be a soccer game somewhere on the planet. Go find it and let me read."

The Jack Tyler books averaged in the norm about 250 printed pages packed with international intrigue, fights, a few tense chapters for the hero, an interlude with a token female or two, a solution to the case or a last minute rescue and then the hero liked to wind down with a game of poker with some old friends.

Skinner had enjoyed the ones he'd read. There was always humour, irony in each and he'd gotten a kick over the fact that the hero, Jack Tyler, had miraculous recovery powers. Yes, indeed. Beatings, knifings, shootings, whippings didn't keep our hero down. By the next chapter, he was up and at 'em again.

He read quickly, a talent honed from years of reading reports. This time Krycek had Tyler snowed in at some Alpine ski resort where people were mysteriously dropping dead from a variety of causes. Only because he had read Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" as a child did Tyler stumble upon the identity of the killer.

When the plows arrived at the small hotel, the police found the murderer tied up, hanging upside down in a closet, the dead bodies buried in snow banks to preserve them and Jack Tyler playing poker with two of his fellow guests, the cook, the maid, and a mysterious exotic beauty after having spent a couple of chapters playing musical beds with the last two.

Skinner pulled out two of the kitchen chairs, sat on one, settled his feet on the other. Krycek served the spaghetti he'd put together when he couldn't drum up any interest for what was on TV. Skinner poured the wine, waited until Krycek sat down. He raised his glass.

"To this Jack Tyler and to many more."

Krycek clicked his glass against Skinner's. "So it's okay?"

Skinner wanted to tease but caught himself when he saw the seriousness of Krycek's expression. Like the man said, it wasn't literature, but it *was* what he did and it was important to him.

"Better than okay." And saw Krycek visibly relax. "Lots more humour in it. I like it."

Krycek looked shy at the compliment. "Hope the Slavedriver feels the same way."

She did. And then reminded him that the next manuscript was due in fifteen weeks. And hung up on him.

They went out to a local restaurant, The Dog Team, to celebrate. For May the night was cool: there was a warming fire in the hearth by their table. They ate well, talked about what Skinner was going to do with himself once he had become accustomed to retirement. He admitted to Krycek that he had been approached by a university press about producing a book on methodology for their post-graduate course in criminology.

"You going to do it?"

"They keep on telling me it's not any more difficult than writing a series of reports. That I could probably take a lot from what I've already written and presented. Some of the material would need to be updated but with the internet, I could probably do most of it on-line. Maybe go spend a few days in D.C. for the rest. They say that if they like it, it could lead to other contracts." He looked up from his brandy. Krycek was grinning at him. "What?"

"If it doesn't work out, I could always approach the Slavedriver. I'm sure she could sell a series based on the exploits of an intrepid FBI agent."

Skinner laughed. "I haven't got your imagination. Let's leave the intrepid adventurer to you. I'll furnish the textbook whose rules he breaks."

Back at the house, Krycek set up the chessboard while Skinner found some jazz. Jack Tyler wasn't the only one who broke rules: Krycek played chess ignoring all the conventions. Skinner felt like celebrating when the game ended in a draw.

He waited until Krycek had finished putting the pieces back in their case. He got up, went over to stand next to his chair, leaned over and kissed him.

Krycek sat very still. He kept his eyes shut even after the kiss ended and Skinner took a step back. When he opened them, Skinner saw something close to fear in them.

"Your name is Alex," he said quietly, "and I would like to take you to bed."

Krycek closed his eyes, his head dipped forward a bit as if in prayer. "Are you sure?" His voice was barely a whisper.

"I'm sure that you're Alex. And yes, I'm sure that I want you in my bed. To touch you. Alex. If you'll allow me."

When he took Krycek's mouth again, he felt the lips hesitate beneath his. He pulled Krycek out of the chair, into his arms, arms which he lightly wrapped around the man.

There was no great hurry. This kiss was a shared exploration, a slow discovery of first one mouth then the other. An examination of textures and tastes. Skinner pulled Krycek even closer, his hips, stomach, chest flattened against the man he wanted, arms holding him tighter.

Krycek's arm snaked around ribs to the back of a shoulder, hand strongly gripping.

Their mouths roughened. Grew more demanding. More than hunger now, almost a battle. As if Krycek felt he had to imprint himself into Skinner's psyche. Overcoming a ghost that had been there before.

When they broke off the kiss, Skinner rested his cheek against Krycek's. Waited until both of them had cooled down a bit.

"Will you come upstairs with me, Alex?"

They went up silently, barely touching. In Skinner's bedroom, Krycek stood still while Skinner's hands undressed him. It took him only a heartbeat or two to realize Krycek was afraid.


"I've wanted you for so long. Even after...I left the Bureau," -- Skinner understood he meant even after he had called him by another man's name -- "I wanted you. I used to look for men like you. Pretend it was you coming in me. That it was your cock down my throat or up my ass. That it wasn't..."

Skinner took Krycek's face between his hands, stroked his thumbs across the bony ridge under his eyes. "Alex. I can't promise you it'll be any good tonight. I haven't been with another man since you. But I have given this serious thought since you arrived. Because I know it would hurt you if I called you by someone else's name again.

"Look. Maybe, then, I did want him. But tonight, here and now, I want you."

It was strange that, though he was the less experienced of the two, he was the more certain. Krycek let him take the lead, finish undressing him, pull him to the bed. It was only when he said, "Alex? Am I doing this right?" that Krycek finally smiled, murmured "Oh, yes!" and began participating.

Skinner kept his eyes open even when all he wanted was to close them and savour the things Krycek's mouth and hand were doing to him. He'd realized over the past days that there was something that attracted him to this man. But he was afraid that if he closed his eyes, he might repeat his mistake. And by now he also realized how devastating that would be to the man in his bed.

But Krycek was too knowledgeable and soon all he could do was close his eyes as the intensity building up in his body demanded all his senses.

So he missed the pleasure that lit darkened green eyes when he repeatedly chanted his lover's name as sensation grew to be too much for both of them and demanded release.

Krycek rested against him, listening to Skinner's heart rate, his breathing slowly descending to normal levels. A large hand came up to stroke his side, hip to shoulder and he turned his head into his lover's shoulder.

"Well," Skinner rubbed his cheek against the dark head nestled against him, "that was rather nice."

The head lifted. "Rather *nice*?" Krycek rested his chin on Skinner's collarbone.

"For a first run." He moved suddenly so that Krycek found himself on his back, looking up. "There are other things I need to remember about you. Other than your name. Alex."

And he lowered his mouth to his lover and set about relearning what pleasured him.

Apart from the use of his name.



At the other end of the line, Krycek hung on to the phone, wondering if this would be the last time he'd hear that voice.

"Walter. It's me."

"Alex? Is something wrong? I was just going to leave for the airport. Where are you?"

"At the airport in Toronto. Look, something's come up. I won't be making it down this weekend." He rested his head against the top edge of the public phone. He wouldn't be making it down any time soon. If ever.

By now Skinner realized that something was more than wrong.

"Alex." He automatically went into AD mode. "What is going on?"


"Alex! Talk to me!"

Krycek made a sound that could have meant anything.

"Alex." Skinner softened his tone. Krycek wasn't one of his agents. The AD tone wasn't going to get him anything from Krycek. Entreaty might. "Please, Alex, what is it?"

"It seems that I have been declared an 'Undesirable Alien'."


"I got stopped at the Customs desk and taken away for an 'interview'. The RCMP have a list of persons that are not to be permitted entry in the United States and my name is on it."

Skinner was incredulous. "What the fuck for? Did they give you a reason?"

Krycek gave a sort of laugh. "No reason. The list comes from American sources. They gave me a phone number to call for more information. But the upshot is that I'm denied entry."

"But that's..."

"Look. I'm going home and calling that number. I'll let you know what I find out." And hung up the phone.

In Middlebury, Skinner listened to the dial tone and wondered just what the hell was going on. Krycek had been given full and complete immunity by the government for his aid and co-operation. He'd kept his part of the bargain: what the hell was going on?

By Saturday, Skinner had left message after message on Krycek's answering machine: to the point that it wasn't taping them any more. He had even tried to get hold of his agent, Rejanne de Beaubien, but all he had was her office number. He'd left several messages there as well. Hell, he knew it was the weekend, but surely she checked once in a while. By Sunday morning, he had had enough of being patient. He made reservations on the flight from Burlington to Toronto, was packing when the phone rang.


"No, M. Skinner. It is Rejanne de Beaubien."

"Madame de Beaubien, where the hell is Alex? I've been trying to get hold of him for the past two days. What the hell is going on?"

"If you will let me speak?" Rejanne de Beaubien's English was heavily accented with her native Quebec French. "Merci. M. Krycek has been at the offices of the RCMP since Friday evening. He was brought in for questioning when he arrived home from the airport."

"What the hell for?"

"If I may be permitted to continue?"

Skinner took a deep breath. "Sorry. Please, Madame de Beaubien, continue. I won't interrupt."

"The questioning is at the request of the FBI." She waited. Even at her end of the phone, she could feel the self-control being enforced so that Skinner wouldn't interrupt.

She continued. "It would seem that M. Krycek has used what they consider to be classified information in some of his books. Highly classified information, in their opinion. They appeared at his door soon after he arrived back from Pearson. Two American agents along with a couple of RCMP officers. With a search warrant that it turns out was granted for security reasons."

She took a long inhale of the cigarette in her hand.

Skinner waited.

"I have a friend who is an excellent lawyer. Andrew Greenspawn. He is representing M. Krycek in this. M. Krycek has broken no Canadian laws and it seems that the basis of the search warrant is circumstantial at best. Much to the chagrin of the American agents, he is being allowed to return home this afternoon. Unfortunately, his designation as an "Undesirable Alien", we can do nothing about that."

"Madame. Thank you. I was packing when you called. Tell Alex I should be at his place by five."

"M. Skinner. M. Krycek has sent a message through Andrew. That is why I am calling. He said that if you offered to come to Toronto, I was to tell you that he preferred that you didn't." She took another pull at her cigarette and wondered how the man was going to react to that message.

"Madame, should you see or talk to Alex before I get there, tell him to think again. I'm on my way."

Madame de Beaubien smiled as she pushed the off button on her cell phone. She was interested in meeting this man who had affected one of her favourite writers to the point that he had produced two novels in the time he usually took to produce one. She liked high productivity from those she represented.

She made a little moue of distaste. The American publishers of the Jack Tyler books had called her earlier that morning with the news that they would be dropping "Don Stafford" from their list of writers. The FBI had visited their offices last evening and confiscated all the documentation they had vis-a-vis this author, and they were not happy. They wanted nothing to do with an author who garnered this type of attention from the FBI.

Well, Andrew was taking care of this. He was expensive but well worth every cent. And he had a personal dislike for the FBI. Something to do with a sting operation that had involved one of his colleagues. The colleague had not been guilty of anything, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, by the time he had proven it to the satisfaction of the American justice system, he had lost his wife and family, been bankrupted, tried to kill himself.

She crushed out the cigarette and picked up her phone. Just because one publisher was too cowardly to publish Don Stafford, it didn't follow that others would be. There were publishers in countries other than the United States.

And besides, he had polished his writing skills with the Jack Tyler books: it was time for him to move onto other things.

She hit the speed dial for a fellow agent in England.



Krycek stood unmoving, looking at the door to his apartment, listening to the persistent bell ringing.

"Alex. I'm not going away. You'd better open the door because the neighbours are beginning to peer out from behind their curtains."

An exaggeration. But there was already an unmarked car stationed in front of the house.

He opened the door, blocking entry with his body.

"I don't think this is a good idea, Skinner."

Skinner bent and picked up his luggage. He'd had time to switch from an overnighter to a larger suitcase before he left.

"You look like hell, Alex. Too tired to make any decisions. Let me in."

Krycek resisted a few seconds more. Hell, why not? One last time. Before Skinner took a good look around and realized that this was no place for him.

He moved back, allowing Skinner enough space to slip in.

"Jesus! Alex! What the hell..."

Krycek turned around to rest back against the closed door. It was probably the only thing keeping him upright. He looked at the room.

They'd been very thorough in their search. Nothing left untouched, unturned. His bookshelves were decimated. Anything remotely connected to his writing had been taken away for examination. They'd pulled furniture away from the wall, just in case he had a safe hidden somewhere. They'd even looked under the furniture.

Of course, nothing had been returned to its original position.

His home looked as though a tornado had gone though it.

He watched Skinner's reaction. He figured Skinner had often been on the right side of a search warrant: now he knew what it was like on the wrong side.

"My office is even worse." He pushed himself off the door. He assumed Skinner would make some noises, then leave. No sense barring the door, making it hard for him.

Skinner turned and looked at his lover. He'd seen Krycek in lots of moods: he'd never before seen him dispirited. He'd moved off the door, but had left his hand on the knob, as if expecting to open the door. Skinner set his suitcase down, went back to examining the room.

He walked over to an armchair whose bottom had been ripped out, turned it right side up. Pointed to it. "Sit down." He didn't wait to see if Krycek obeyed. He strode down the hallway to where he assumed the kitchen would be. It was as torn apart as the other rooms. It took him a few minutes, but he found the kettle, some tea bags. The teapot was chipped but usable. The mugs had survived.

When the water had boiled, he made a pot of strong tea, scooped enough sugar off the counter to refill the sugar bowl. For some reason the inside of the fridge hadn't been tossed. He sniffed the milk to make sure it was still good.

Krycek was sitting when he came back in, eyes closed, head resting against the back of the chair. He looked, thought Skinner, exhausted.

Skinner had composed a list of questions on his flight over, but put them aside for right now. First he had to make sure that Krycek was all right, then they would go on to the next step.

He handed Krycek a mug of the overly sweet tea he liked to drink. Drank his in silence, watching the heat and sweetness of the drink kick in.


Krycek nodded. Managed to produce a smile from somewhere. "Yeah. Thanks."

"Okay. First things first." Skinner sat forward on the chair he had righted for himself. He made sure Krycek was watching him. "I am not leaving. Whatever this is about, we'll get to the bottom and find a way of righting this. Understood, Alex?"



Skinner held Krycek's searching glance. He knew that for some reason Krycek expected him to pick up and go. He had to make him understand and accept that he had no intention of leaving him to face this alone.

Slowly Krycek nodded. "Okay."

"Okay. Now fill me in from the moment you left home Friday to fly down." He took Krycek's mug and filled it again.

Since they'd become lovers, Krycek had visited the Farm three times. It was easier for him to work from home, where he had all his research, his references. Besides, he admitted, he preferred being alone to work: he often got onto a streak and wrote until it was over.

Skinner understood since he too felt rather wary about the situation. This was too new for them to jump into domestic bliss: if that ever happened. Right now, they were more than content with the occasional few days together. Feeling each other out. Krycek preferred coming down to the Farm since it meant it took him away from his computer, the Slavedriver's phone calls and the next book.

He'd finished the latest instalment in the adventures of Jack Tyler and was coming down for three, four days. At the airport, was going through Customs when he was asked to please accompany the officer. Just a small formality.

Except it wasn't. The Customs officer passed him on to the RCMP officer who informed him that, due to the presence of his name on a certain list, he was being denied entry into the United States. He couldn't tell him why, merely that the name Alex Krycek, accompanied by several aliases he was known to use, had been listed as an "Undesirable Alien".

"Why Alien? You're an American citizen."

Krycek shrugged. "I'm also a Canadian citizen. My mother was born in Canada, lived in Winnipeg until she went to university in the States. She kept both citizenships, so that automatically made me one too. Besides, I was born here while she was up in Vancouver reading a paper at some conference. I took out the official papers when I moved up here, just in case."

Skinner nodded. "Go on."

"Then I called you. And came home to try and find out what was going on. The number they'd given me was for an office in Buffalo. They were giving me the run- around when someone came to the door. Two RCMP officers with a search warrant. Looking for confidential material that supposedly was stolen from FBI secret documents."

He looked up at Skinner. "I laughed."

He looked back down at the mug in his hands. "There were two other guys with them. Men in black. They introduced themselves as Agents Mitchell and Hill. They weren't laughing.

"They also didn't like the way the Mounties were conducting their search. Canadian search warrants indicate all the items that can or may be taken. They can't take anything else. Agent Mitchell took particular exception to that. He and one of the Mounties had an argument about it and then Mitchell told Hill to do a proper search. In spite of the protests of the two Mounties, Mitchell and Hill ... Well," he gestured, "you can see what they did.

"I called Rejanne and told her what was happening. They'd taken my computer, the discs, almost everything out of the office. She told me to sit still, she would have someone on it right away.

"I started cleaning up when the bell rang again. More RCMP. This time they wanted me to accompany them to their offices, to answer some questions. They didn't have an arrest warrant, they said. They would prefer not to get one. They understood that if I accompanied them, I was doing so voluntarily, to help in their investigation, and not therefore subject to arrest unless a judge could be convinced that my arrest was necessary for security reasons or to be held for extradition. That no charges had been formally registered.

"In other words, I could go voluntarily or wait for an arrest warrant. So I went. I really didn't have much choice. They allowed me to leave a message on Rejanne's machine."

He put the mug down on the floor and settled back in the chair. He had an overwhelming urge to sleep.

"Basically, they spent the next two days playing interference between me and the two FBI agents. Greenspawn showed up about an hour after we got to the offices. He had no trouble pointing out to the RCMP that there were no grounds to hold me. That unless the FBI was specific as to the information I was supposed to have in my possession -- and a search of my possessions had so far not revealed any such information -- they had to let me go.

"The FBI guys held firm. They wanted me arrested and held for extradition. Greenspawn went to a judge, got an opinion that went against the FBI. Mitchell, Greenspawn and the lawyer for the RCMP spent a good twelve hours fighting over that. The lawyer said they needed specifics: Mitchell that he couldn't give them specifics, that such information was against National Security regulations. The lawyer finally pointed out that they were in Canada not in the States and that the laws here were different.

"Greenspawn drove me home and then you showed up."

Skinner watched Krycek close his eyes, rub his left shoulder with his hand. He probably hadn't had the prosthesis off in all that time. Not just the shoulder must be sore.

"Okay," he said. "I assume the bedroom looks like the rest of the place?"

Krycek nodded, eyes still closed.

"We start in on the bedroom. Get it in order. You take off the prosthesis. You look like you could use a good night's sleep. Did you get any sleep over the last couple of days?

"Some. There was a couch in the room they held me in. A short one."

"What about food?"

Krycek smiled tiredly. "Yeah, that too. Bad coffee and sandwiches out of a machine." He opened his eyes. "They didn't actually pay that much attention to me. Mostly it was between the Mounties, Greenspawn and the FBI."

The bedroom was a mess. They righted the bed, and then, while Skinner remade it with fresh sheets, Krycek went and took a shower. That and the fact that Skinner was in his bedroom, not on his way back to Vermont, revived him enough so that in no time they had the bedroom pretty much back the way it had been before Mitchell and Hill.

The kitchen took longer: the floor and counters had to be washed down, but soon it too looked like it should. A little barer -- there were things that had to be thrown out. Skinner had Krycek call out for supper.

The living room took longer. Skinner tackled it by himself while Krycek tried to set his office to rights. All things considered, thought Skinner, Krycek was handling this pretty well: he didn't think he'd be this calm if his house had been trashed. Except that he had noticed that, quiet as Krycek usually was, he had barely spoken as they cleaned up. Skinner knew he was tired, but he had to admit that this quietness worried him.

More when he found Krycek sitting in a chair in his office, looking at the place his computer had been. He'd seen that expression on Krycek's face before: when they'd begun working together for the downfall of the Consortium. The air would be tight with tension, Mulder and/or himself on edge, bitter and angry at having to deal with Krycek for the information they so badly needed. And Krycek would just sit there, that remote mask on his face, not reacting to any of the comments, the tones. Walls up, protecting himself.

"Alex." Skinner spoke softly, not wanting to startle the man. "Alex?"

Krycek raised his head, spoke over his shoulder. "Yes?"

"Come on, Alex. It's been a long day. Let's go to bed."

He thought Krycek was going to argue. It looked there for a moment like he wanted to. But, instead, he stood up, went out of the room. Skinner turned off the light and closed the door.


Krycek slowly stripped off his clothes, not looking anywhere near Skinner who was doing the same.

He was trying to think of all the things he needed to do before he could slip out. Someone was after him and he needed to know who it was so he could plan a way out of this trouble.

It surprised him that Skinner was still here. He hadn't thought of him as Skinner since that first night, but now he had to. No more Walter. Walter went with Alex. But he wasn't Alex any more: he was back to being Krycek. And he would have to find the assassin and his skills within him again if he intended surviving.

He'd wait until Skinner was asleep then he'd gather the things he'd need. For all their searching, Mitchell and Hill hadn't found the safe he'd built himself in the office. He had a couple of handguns in it, cash, some gold, several new identities.

He looked up from folding his clothes. Skinner had stripped to his briefs, was hanging up his slacks in the closet. He must have sensed he was being watched. He turned and Krycek wondered at the gentleness of the smile on Skinner's face. God! Considering everything that had passed between them, he still couldn't believe that this man wanted him.

He would allow himself one last time, he thought. Something to take with him.

He lifted the covers on his side of the bed and slipped in.

Skinner turned off the lamp on the night table, joined him.

Without saying a word, Krycek moved so that he was lying close next to Skinner. Skinner moved the rest of the way, slipped his arm under Krycek's neck and, hand on shoulder, tugged gently until Krycek lay, head on his shoulder, chest to chest, in his arms.

Krycek felt the arms tighten around him. Knew that Skinner was rubbing his cheek against the top of his head. He moved his hand down Skinner's body across his stomach to his genitals. Skinner's hand closed over his.

"Not tonight, Alex. Tonight I just want to hold you. Is that all right?"

Krycek nodded. Let Skinner bring his hand back up to his shoulder. Skinner's hand massaged his sore shoulder, skimmed the line of his spine, rubbed small circles over his back. Doing things to comfort him. Touching him.

God! He was going to miss that. The touch of Skinner's hand on his skin. The smell of him after they'd had sex. The taste of him.

Krycek concentrated on absorbing as much of Skinner as he could in the time left to him.

He shouldn't be too surprised this was happening to him now. Every time something had gone well for him, he had lost it. Either through his stupidity or someone else's plans.

He had liked it at the FBI, but Spender had seen that and reminded him that he didn't belong in that world. He'd wanted Skinner, had gotten him only to have him want someone else. The DAT tape should have been his ticket out of a world he hated: instead he had ended up in a silo. He had followed Mulder to Tunguska, hoping to redeem himself, only to lose his arm. Marita had taken the boy and the only way he could prevent his feeding the fish was to hand over the vaccine. Which had given him the dubious pleasure of an interview with the woman who had birthed him, and who hated him for his handing over of the vaccine. She would have preferred his being killed.

He'd taken his life in his hands when he'd approached Mulder with the information he'd gathered, with the promise of more. Mulder who hated him for killing his father, for exposing him to the black oil, for having the proof he so badly wanted. He'd accepted only, Krycek thought, because he hated the Consortium even more.

It hadn't been easy working with Mulder and Scully who could barely bring herself to look at him for his part in her sister's death. Then Skinner had joined them: they'd needed someone higher up with contacts in the proper places for the information to be effective. That had been harder than he'd thought possible. Enduring the anger and rage directed at him by the man he had killed to keep alive. By a man he still wanted.

He'd told himself that it was because of his ego. That he wanted Skinner only to show him what good stuff he had missed out all those years before when he had called out another man's name. Except that Skinner had never seen him that way. The day he had screamed at him to reactivate the nanocytes was the day that he realized no matter what he did, he would never have a place in this life ever again. He had had his chance once and lost it. He would never get it back.

After that he had given whatever information he had managed to gather to Scully, who, of the three of them, at least listened when he said something. She was honest enough, truthful enough that he knew anything he sent to her would be examined as objectively as she could, emotions set aside as much as humanly possible.

Skinner's hand was hypnotic on his back. He had to be careful: he couldn't afford to fall asleep. He nestled a bit more into Skinner's embrace.

God! He was tired.

He was almost forty. He never thought he'd ever be this old. Or that he would live long enough to get attached to a place. He'd been so careful when he'd first come to Toronto not to find a regular place to live in. He'd been on the move for so long that changing apartments every couple of months was second nature to him.

Then, three years ago, Rejanne had put her foot down. She wanted him stable. So she could find him whenever she wanted. She knew a bit about his background, not much, just enough to understand why he didn't want his photo on the back cover of his books, couldn't give interviews, do publicity. She accepted all that and created the persona of Don Stafford. But she wanted him where she could find him. She found him this condo, a two bedroom apartment, one of three in what once had been single family Victorian house.

She had insisted that it was an investment for his money. Alex Krycek, the Consortium assassin who had lived off whatever he could scrounge up, whatever he could travel with now had a bank account, investments. He had waited for almost six months before adding to the bed, the couch, tv. The office had been pretty bare too, with only the computer, the table it sat on, an old kitchen chair for him to sit on.

He had begun adding first one item, then another. Picking out things that actually appealed to him. Buying more than one book at a time, and in hard cover if he wanted, because now he had a place to put them.


He should have known better.

Just as he should have known better than to keep track of Skinner. In spite of the hatred he had felt from the man during their alliance, he knew the reason he had been given immunity to the degree he had was because Skinner had gone to bat for him. So, when he retired and had moved to Vermont alone, he felt he owed him something for that and for the nanocytes. If Mulder was what Skinner wanted, then Mulder he would have.

Mulder hadn't wanted to speak to him, had just wanted to beat him up like old times. Except that now he would have an audience. The old biddy that guarded his door had taken an instant dislike to him and no matter what Mulder said, wouldn't leave the office. He got her to stay at her desk, but they both knew she would probably have her ear to the door as soon as it closed.

Their meeting didn't last long. He'd asked Mulder why he and Skinner weren't together. Mulder hadn't understood at first. Had gotten angry when he had. How dare he impugn the name and reputation of two members of the FBI? A piece of shit like him. It had deteriorated from there.

He should have just gone back to Toronto at that point.

He sighed; Skinner's arms tightened around him.

Oh, God! Well, at least he had gotten a taste of what he'd once wanted, of what he could have had this time. It would make things harder, but it was a price he was willing to pay.

There were nothing but cold nights ahead. This time he would have a few warm memories to take with him.

Skinner's hand stilled on the small of his back.

Krycek decided he'd give it a couple of minutes more before he moved. A couple of minutes of pretending he was wanted before he moved on into a life of a different "wanted".



He was alone in the bed when he woke.

He couldn't believe that he had fallen asleep. He shook his head, almost in a panic when he realized the sun was shining around the blinds. He looked over at the clock Skinner had reset before going to bed. Nine o'clock!

He quickly slipped out of bed, grabbed his jeans and pulled them on. He was looking for his other boot when it struck him: he could hear nothing, no noise, no talking, nothing in the apartment.

He was alone.

He closed his eyes for a minute, absorbing the pain he couldn't believe he was feeling. Hell! He was the one who had been planning to slip out and get away. Why should it surprise him that Skinner had beaten him to it?

He finished dressing, boots, jeans, t-shirt, heavy cotton sweater. Leather jacket. This season's appropriate wear for on the run, he thought. He would get a few more things from the bathroom, what he needed from the office safe and then he'd have to figure out where the FBI guard dog or dogs were so he could get away without their being alerted.

He opened the bedroom door and was hit by the aroma of fresh coffee. Coming from the living room. He moved carefully in that direction. He was certain Skinner was gone, so who the hell...

He glided, his back to the wall until he passed the office door. There, as silently as possible, he opened the door, slipped in, got what he needed out of the safe. Including his knife, a small handgun which he slid under the back of his waistband, extra ammunition that went into the right hand pocket of the jacket. The Smith & Wesson fit into his hand like an old friend.

Maybe, he thought, he wouldn't have to worry about hitting the road at his age. Maybe someone was waiting to take care of that for him. Still, he had no intention of going without taking someone along with him.

He slowly made his way down the rest of the hallway, gun at ready, until he was at the entrance of the living room.

Besides the coffee he could now smell cigarettes. Shit! He hated that. The only one whom he allowed to smoke in his home was Rejanne. He brought the gun up to his chin, turned the corner and aimed.

Rejanne de Beaubien glared at him. Cigarette in one hand, coffee in the other.

"You are not happy to see me, mon cher?"

Krycek closed his eyes for a breath and lowered the gun. "Sorry. I wasn't expecting you."

"Yes. I can see that." She looked him over, quickly understood that he was dressed the way he had when she had first met him.

"Alexandre," she always used the French form of his name when she spoke to him, "put that thing" she pointed to the gun with her cigarette "away and come serve me some more of this coffee. Your M. Skinner has gone out for some croissants for breakfast..."

"Skinner is still here?" Krycek slipped the gun under the front of his waistband.

"Yes. Of course. Alexandre, is that thing safe where you've put it? It isn't going to accidentally go off or something like that?"

"No. The safety's back on." He looked at the coffee table and realized that there were three cups. And someone unlocking the front door. He went for the gun but Rejanne leaned over and placed her hand on top of his.

"I gave M. Skinner my key."

And it was Skinner, carrying a bag in one arm, taking the key out of the lock with the other. He looked at the tableau in front of him and understood even more quickly than Rejanne de Beaubien.

"Going somewhere?"

Krycek didn't answer, just stared at the man closing the door behind him, his face a mask.

"He thought you had gone." Rejanne felt the tension in the room rise and settled back in her chair. Skinner moved his gaze from Krycek to her. "Not just for breakfast," she added. She smiled at the way the two men were looking at each other. Yes, well, she thought.

"Alexandre, go rid yourself of your armament, and then come join us. M. Skinner, did you get the croissants?"

Still, neither of them moved. She made a little sound of impatience. Heavens, these men. "Alexandre!" She put a bit more force into her voice. This time she got his attention. "Before you accidentally shoot an important part of your anatomy." She gestured toward the hallway. "Vas-y! I'm hungry and would like my breakfast. M. Skinner, perhaps you could pour me another cup of coffee and we could get around to eating the croissants while they are still warm?"

She allowed herself to relax when Krycek moved to do as she had asked and Skinner set the bag down. He took off his jacket and tossed it onto one of the chairs. She waited until he had served her coffee to place a slim, long-fingered hand on his. "He is used to being alone."

Skinner sighed. Nodded. He pulled up another of the chairs and served Mme de Beaubien her croissant. Krycek joined them after having taken the time to brush his teeth, shave the stubble off his face.

"I have," she announced when the silence had gone on long enough, "bad news and good news."

The two men looked at her.

"The bad news is the your American publishers have decided you are too much trouble, mon cher Alexandre. They will pay you for the last book in your contract but will not renew the contract."

Krycek shrugged. Perfect: went with everything else.

Skinner turned to her. "Can they do this?"

She looked at him as if incredulous. "Of course. But I told them that since they have no intention of publishing the last book, which you were about to send them, that we would be happy to end the contract with the preceding book and that way they would owe us no money. They were delighted to agree."

"Shit!" Skinner bit out.

Rejanne raised a very haughty eyebrow at him and waited until he apologized before she continued.

Krycek just sat back in his chair, nursing his coffee. Well, he thought, that's another thing over. Damn, he'd liked writing those stupid books.

"Rejanne, the agent who sold me this place, would he be willing to take it on to sell?"

Rejanne turned in her chair to look at her writer, really look at him. She knew what this apartment meant to him. "Why would he do that?"

Krycek smiled at her. "The books sold well, Rejanne, but we both know that without that income I can't really afford to stay here." He placed his cup on the table, stood up. "Thanks for everything you've done for me. I never would have been published if it hadn't been for you. It was fun while it lasted."

Rejanne raised a haughty eyebrow at him. "Do you not want to hear the good news?"

Krycek's laugh was bitter. "Good news? Yeah, sure. Let's hear the good news."

Skinner looked from Krycek to Rejanne de Beaubien. He found himself hoping to God that the news was indeed good. Krycek needed something to snap him out of the mood he was in.

She pulled her briefcase up onto her lap, opened it and pulled out a folder.

"The good news is your new contract."

"My *new* contract?" Krycek's eyes narrowed a bit.

"Yes. For one book."

"For *one* book?"

Rejanne de Beaubien looked from the papers in her hand to Krycek. "Yes. *One* book. They would like anywhere from one hundred thousand to one hundred twenty words. Around 400 pages."

Krycek sat down. He was stunned. "Rejanne." He interrupted her before she could go further. "A hundred thousand words? 400 pages?"

"Yes, well," she brushed off his reaction, "you are used to producing 250. This is only about 150 pages more. Shouldn't be a problem."

"Shouldn't be a problem? Rejanne. I'm on the verge of being extradited to the United States on charges of treason and you think it shouldn't be problem to produce a novel...'cause that's what we're talking here, isn't it...a full length novel, not just a Jack Tyler thing..." He looked to Skinner for help.

Skinner cocked an eyebrow, shrugged. This wasn't his sphere of expertise. Both men looked at the woman who was smiling.

"This little thing with the States, Andrew will take care of it. N'inquiete-toi s'en pas. Now, the publisher would like..."

"Rejanne," Krycek interrupted her, "who the hell do you think is going to take me on with this 'little thing' hanging over my head?"

"Oh, didn't I say?" Knowing full well she hadn't. "I have a friend who is an editor for Headline. British Publishers," she answered Skinner's raised eyebrow. "He's already familiar with your writing. I have been sending him your last few Jack Tylers. Just to show how much you've improved over the last couple of years."

She turned to Skinner. "Of course, he is insisting on an outline and the first five chapters before he agrees to a multi-book contract. But that is only fair."

"I'm sure," agreed Skinner, because he felt she was expecting something from him.

"Now, as I was saying, he would like something like the Tylers, but with a new central character, more intrigue, a sub-plot or two. Sex can be either with a female or a male or both as long as it moves the plot. How much is up to you. Alexandre, are you listening to me?"

Krycek shook his head. "I can't do this."

"Of course you can. Alexandre, I wouldn't have negotiated this contract if I didn't think you could produce a perfectly good piece of work."

"Rejanne! It has nothing to do with the writing. This thing with the FBI isn't going to go away. No matter what Greenspawn has told you. No matter what you believe." He couldn't hide his frustration any more. Another carrot dangled in front of him, only to be taken away when he hungered for it. He looked to Skinner. "Explain it to her. That it doesn't work that way. Not in this universe. Not in this life."

"Alex!" Skinner stood up. "I told you, we'll get to the bottom of this." He went to touch Krycek but he pulled away. The disbelief was written hard on Krycek's face.

"It doesn't work that way. Not for me. The only thing that surprises me is that I was allowed this much time before they took it away from me." He looked at both of them. Took a deep breath and visibly controlled himself.

"Thank you both. But I think it would be wiser for both of you to leave now. Before I drag you down with me. I don't think either of you would like my world very much."

Neither of them moved.

Krycek tried again. "Rejanne, please. People who are around me have a tendency to get killed. Ask Skinner here. He has personal experience of that. I thank you for what you've done. In a different life, I would be overjoyed that you think I could produce that kind of work. But this is my reality and I don't want you hurt because of it. Please. Go."


"You, too, Skinner. You need to go before someone wonders if you're involved in this somehow. Thank you for coming up and helping me clean up. But I really would prefer that you leave. Please, Skinner, while you can. Before your name gets dragged in the mud. Rejanne doesn't know what they can do, but you do."

Krycek passed his hand through his hair. They were looking at him as if he didn't know what he was talking about. What would it take to get them to understand that he didn't want to be the cause of someone else's pain? That every time he tried to pull himself out of the slime, he pulled someone back in with him?

He was trying to find the words to get them to leave when the doorbell rang.

And he knew it was too late.


Skinner went to answer the door.

Krycek beat him to it.

He wasn't surprised to find Mitchell and Hill standing on the stoop.

Mitchell held up a folded sheet of paper in his hand. "Another search warrant. We're sure we missed something with the first one." He pushed his way in, turning to look at Krycek and not noticing the other two people in the room. "And we've brought back some of the stuff we took."

Hill entered the room, carrying a large box with what looked to be pieces of a computer. He set it down on the floor with a smirk which he put on hold when he realized that there were other people present.

An elegantly dressed older woman who was looking at him as if he were some bug that had crawled out from under a rock.

And a man who was obviously holding onto his temper. Who looked sort of familiar.

Hill moved back until he had his back to the wall.

Which allowed the two other men to come in.

"May I see that?" Skinner moved into centre stage. Held out his hand to Mitchell.

"Who are you? I thought the traitor here already had a lawyer." And kept the paper.

"Agent Mitchell." One of the last group spoke as if he were exasperated. "Give the paper to Mr. Krycek. You can't begin searching until you do."

Mitchell threw the paper at Krycek. "God! No wonder this country is a haven for criminals. You spoonfeed them."

Skinner watched as the second man bent and picked up the paper and, with a shrug, handed it to Krycek. Krycek scanned it, handed it to Skinner. "It's the same as the first one. Different judge signed it."

Skinner looked it over. "It says here that you are looking for documents that might relate to National Security classified information."

"Yeah." Mitchell went to walk around Skinner. Not taking his eyes off the paper, Skinner blocked him.

"Which information specifically do you think Mr. Krycek has in his possession, Agent Mitchell?"

"Look," Mitchell took another step and again Skinner moved in his direction, "I don't know who the hell you are but if I were you I would get the hell out of here before I get another warrant to search your stuff."

"You'll need a name then, won't you?" Skinner was back in full AD mode. Something clicked in Hill's mind.

"So who the hell are you?"

"Walter S. Skinner."

Hill closed his eyes and swore under his breath. The closest of the RCMP officers heard him, nudged his partner.

"Until a year ago, Agent Mitchell, I was Assistant Director at the FBI."

Mitchell took a half step closer to Skinner. "Yeah? Prove it."

Even Krycek couldn't believe what he had heard coming out of Mitchell's mouth. Hill groaned, "Mitchell..."

"Shut up, Hill. For all we know this may be Krycek's source on the inside."

"Jesus, Mitchell." Hill groaned.

"Under whose orders were you sent here, Agent Mitchell?"

"I can't tell you that."

"Can't?" Skinner's tone exuded danger.

"Even if you are who you say you are, how the hell do I know if your security clearance is high enough for me to tell you? Even if I felt like telling you."

"Agent Mitchell. *My* security clearance as a retired Assistant Director is a lot higher than *yours* will ever be."

Out of the corner of his eye, Skinner caught the smile the two RCMP officers exchanged. One settled himself against the door; the other, against the wall by the door.

"Alex. Where's your phone?" Skinner was pleased to see he could still produce the glare necessary to discomfort a cocky agent.

Krycek looked around the room trying to remember where they had placed the phone. Before he could find it, the closer of the RCMP officers reached into his jacket, pulled out his and offered it to Skinner.

"Please. Use mine, Assistant Director Skinner." He gave Mitchell a very insincere smile as he took his place back against the wall.

Holding Mitchell's eyes, which were beginning to lose confidence, Skinner punched in a series of numbers.

They all waited in silence.

Krycek sat down on the arm of the chair Skinner had been using before the bell rang. Rejanne de Beaubien smiled, like the cat who has seen a mouse. The two RCMP officers were looking from one man to the other, obviously waiting for some fun. Hill tried to make himself invisible.

"Good morning, Mrs. Dundas. Walter Skinner here. Yes, very well, thank you. And yourself? Yes, I was wondering if Director Cassidy would happen to have a minute free. There's a bit of a problem at this end and I would need some information. Not at all, Mrs. Dundas: I don't mind holding."

Rejanne took a cigarette out and lit it. A cigarette and an execution seemed to go together.

Krycek was focused completely on Skinner. He didn't dare hope. But he did watch.

Skinner ignored his audience to concentrate on Agent Mitchell. He had to give him credit: the man was holding his ground.

"Yes. Thank you, Mrs Dundas. Good morning, Director. Thank you for taking this call. I'm sorry to disturb you. No, perfectly fine, Jana. Yes, I am enjoying retirement. Jana, do you remember Alex Krycek? Yes, that's him. And the immunity deal that was set up for him? Yes, that's pretty much as I remember it, too. Well, there seems to be a problem.

"Krycek moved to Canada. Toronto. He's been writing under the name of Don Stafford." Skinner stopped and listened, a smile growing on his face. "That's right, the Jack Tyler novels." He looked at Krycek, grinned. "Yes, I did read that one. I always thought it was Marita Covarrubias he was using as a model for....Oh. Not with that dialogue. You're sure? I see."

Krycek closed his eyes. Shit! Didn't the FBI have better things to read than his books?

"Actually, that's what the problem seems to stem from. Krycek is being accused of using classified and secret information in his books. By us. Yes, I do mean the Bureau. No idea. Agent Mitchell doesn't feel that my security clearance would be high enough for him to tell me. Assuming I am who I say I am.

"No. Krycek found out Friday when he was flying down to Vermont to join me for a camping trip. He was barred at Customs as an Undesirable Alien. No, he has dual citizenship. His mother. No idea. He was trying to find out when Agents Mitchell and Hill served him with a search warrant gotten through our colleagues here in Canada. Oh, by the way, they trashed the place. Yes. No, I don't believe the search warrant they had allowed them to do that. I would hesitate to say, but I think a fair amount of damage. He'll need a new computer at the very least.

"Yes, he's right here. You may have to prove to him who you are."

Skinner handed the phone to Agent Mitchell. "Director Cassidy would like to speak to you, Agent Mitchell."

With bravado, Mitchell grabbed the phone, held it to his ear. He barely got a word in edgewise. He tried. Several times. Finally he gave up and just listened. By the time he handed back the phone to Skinner he was white.

"Yes. Yes, I understand. No, I'll be here in Toronto until this thing is cleared up." He gave Krycek's phone number. "No, we still have some cleaning up to do. What about this latest search warrant? Yes, I'll be happy to do that. I'll wait to hear from you. Yes. Yes, I'll tell him. Oh, and you might want to send a letter of explanation along to our RCMP colleagues. Yes. I think Mitchell ruffled a few feathers there. So good for international co-operation. Yes." Skinner laughed. "I'll pass that message on. Thanks, Jana. I'll wait to hear from you."

Skinner thumbed the phone off and handed it back to the RCMP officer. "Thank you."

"My pleasure. I'm sure." The officer smiled as he took it back.

Skinner took the search warrant and tore it in half. He handed the pieces to the same officer. "Director Cassidy wishes me to pass on her thanks for all your help. And her apologies if necessary."

The officer waved those away. "I assume we will not be needed any more?"

"I doubt it. Unless you care to drive both these agents to the airport. I believe they have an urgent meeting with the Director before the day is up."

"We'd be delighted." The second officer moved away from the door, opened it. "Gentlemen?"

As he was closing the door, he stuck his head back in. "May I say what a pleasure it has been meeting you, Assistant Director Skinner. And Mr. Krycek, I quite enjoyed your last book. Madame."



"Well," Rejanne leaned over and crushed out her cigarette. "That went well."

"Alex, did you really use Jana Cassidy as the model for the dominatrix leader of that terrorist organization Tyler is always battling?"

Krycek sat in the armchair, grimaced. "Rejanne kept on me to write what I knew, to use personalities I knew. How was I to know the Director of the FBI would actually be reading this stuff?" His voice had taken on a bit of a whiny tone. Even he was surprised to hear it.

Skinner grinned. "Thankfully you described her as having the best legs Tyler had ever seen. She liked that." He lost the grin. "She's investigating from her end and will call as soon as she knows anything. According to her, nothing that you've used in your books is worthy of this reaction. And she's looking into the Undesirable Alien designation as well. She also said to add up the cost for replacing anything that's been broken. I think whoever ordered this is going to be presented with the bill."

"Now that's all settle," Rejanne began packing up her briefcase, getting ready to leave, "I'll expect you'll want to get to work on the new book."

Krycek closed his eyes and groaned. Skinner grinned. No wonder Krycek referred to her as the Slavedriver.

"First, Walter," she pronounced it Waltaire, "will take you out to buy a new computer. Then perhaps he can help you with some ideas. You must have lots of experiences you could share with Alexandre that he could use in his new book." She smiled at him.

From his chair Krycek couldn't resist tossing out. "He writes, too, you know."

That feline look passed over Rejanne's face. "No. I didn't know."

Skinner found he didn't like that look when it was directed at him.

"What do you write, Walter?"

"He's working on a textbook." Krycek intoned, "Method in Criminology: Principles and Practices." He settled back. Rejanne on the prowl for a new book was much more enjoyable when he wasn't on the receiving end.

"Tsk. A textbook. There's no money in that, Walter. It's more of an ego thing. Well, finish your little textbook and send me the proofs. I'll see what we can do with it to make it more marketable."

Skinner glared at Krycek who tried hard to look innocent. "Thanks, but I don't think..."

"Non, non, mon cher. You just write. I'll do the thinking."

She had gathered all her things, went and kissed Krycek on both cheeks. "I would like an outline..."

Krycek groaned, "Rejanne!"

"Well, an idea then, by next week. Walter will make a good sounding board. I'm sure that between the two of you, you will produce a marvellously devious idea."

She went to stand in front of Skinner.

"Madame." He offered her his hand.

She looked down at it, quirked a very expressive eyebrow at him. "A little friendlier than that." He stooped a bit and she kissed him on both cheeks as she had Krycek. "Now then," she smiled, wiping away her lipstick from one cheek, "you're certain that this Jana Cassidy is going to clear this matter up?"

"Yes, I'm certain." Skinner nodded.

"Even should she find out that you two are lovers?"

The tension that had left the room with the visitors was back.

"What makes you think that we're lovers, Rejanne?" Krycek's voice was dangerously calm.

Skinner was no longer smiling at her.

Rejanne de Beaubien shook her head. "Vraiment, Alexandre, it wasn't difficult. Since I've known you, you never go far out of town. All of a sudden, these regular visits to Vermont. And then there's the undeniable fact."

"Which is?" Skinner relaxed his tone slightly.

At the door, she turned at looked at the both of them with a large smile. "Mais, voyons, it's that for the first time since I've known him, he is happy."

And closed the door behind her.

Skinner stared at the door then turned to look at Krycek. He had his head back against the back of the chair, eyes closed. Face masked over again.

Skinner felt the grin begin in his stomach. He went to sit on the arm of the chair, facing Krycek. With the back of his fingers he stroked Krycek's cheek.

"So," he spoke softly, "I make you happy."

Krycek turned his head a bit into the caress, opened his eyes. They were darker than normal. More tired than happy. He seemed to be waiting for something.

It suddenly struck Skinner how all of this must have affected Krycek. He had expected to go through all this stupidity alone, to have to leave the life he'd made for himself for a return to the shadows.

It crossed his mind to wonder if Krycek had ever had any backing through any of the horrors he had endured: the invasion of his body by an alien, the imprisonment in the silo, the losing of his arm.

Yet he never sounded bitter. He accepted what had been done to him and moved on. And he had never tried to hide the things he had done. Whenever he, Skinner, or Mulder, even Scully, had accused him of his misdeeds, he had never denied, never excused himself. He had tried to explain. Once. And then, as if he had recognized that doing so was useless, he had never bothered again.

He kept expecting Skinner to go. He'd been surprised to see him when he'd returned with Rejanne's croissants. He certainly hadn't expected him to confront Mitchell, to call Cassidy and set those wheels in motion.

And now, what the hell was going through his mind? That Rejanne's parting comment was going to be used against him somehow? Did he still think that he was nothing more than a substitute for Mulder?

Skinner smiled at the man so seriously watching him. He bent down and placed his mouth against his, stroked the closed lips with his own. Eyes holding, Skinner licked the bottom lip of his lover. Used his tongue to nudge the upper lip. Krycek's mouth opened slightly. Just enough for him to slip his tongue in. Skinner leaned over a bit more, deepened the penetration of his tongue. His hand gently clasped the side of Krycek's face, holding it still so he could deepen the kiss.

Krycek allowed him all the leeway he wanted, opened his mouth for easier access, but apart from that, didn't participate.

Skinner pulled back a bit. "I think you need to understand that it's not a one-way street. That you make me happy too, Alex." He held Krycek's face in both his hands. "I find myself thinking of you a lot when you're not around. Missing your comments. Missing you in my bed. And not just for the sex, Alex. Of being able to roll over and know that you're there. Missing the presence of you. You haven't come all that often, but I miss you when you're not with me."

Krycek's face slowly lost its mask as he spoke. His hand came up and rested on top of Skinner's: he rubbed his cheek into the embrace, whispered feelingly, "Yeah."

No more, but Skinner got the message.

This time, the kiss involved both of them. Krycek let loose some of the hunger he had for this man, allowing himself the gift of maybe believing what Skinner had told him.

Skinner tugged on his hand, stood up and pulled him up into an embrace that made it almost impossible for Krycek to think of anything.

Skinner didn't wait for him to catch his breath: he just dragged him down to the bedroom, pushed him onto the bed and lay next to him. The problem was, he had concluded, that Krycek thought too much. It was time only for feeling.

Between kissing, groping, Skinner managed to undress both of them. To unarm Krycek: not only getting the prosthesis off him, but also the knives, the small gun that he had hidden about his body. Skinner thanked the powers that be that Mitchell hadn't tried to take Krycek into custody.

He was all over Krycek, using the knowledge he had garnered over their encounters to make Krycek capable of nothing more than a gasp, a moan. His mouth toyed with one nipple, while his hand teased the other. His hands stroked, his fingers skimmed over skin that grew more and more sensitized. His teeth scrapped, bit: his mouth tasted, his tongue licked.

Every time Krycek tried to participate, Skinner pushed him back down on the bed, until finally all he did was lie back and allow Skinner to whip him into a frenzy of feeling. To overwhelm him to the point that he existed only where Skinner's hands, mouth, body touched him. His hand dug into the covers of the bed, twisting them as his body arched into Skinner's. And when Skinner's mouth closed around his cock, he became nothing more than reaction.

And Skinner teased, taunted, made him wait for release until he thought he'd forget how to breathe. His body remembered for him as it pumped his orgasm down Skinner's throat.

He lost all sense of time. It could have been minutes, hours before he opened his eyes to find Skinner propped up on an elbow next to him, eyes and face lit with a very self-satisfied expression. A gentle hand smoothed back the sweat drenched hair off his face. Skinner grinned. "So, Alex, do I make you happy?"

Krycek found the strength to answer. "Yes."


Skinner lay down and pulled Krycek into his arms, the covers over both of them. Krycek nestled into the embrace. Lay his head on Skinner's shoulder. Wrapped his arm around his lover. And accepted that, for the moment, he wasn't alone.


The phone woke them.

Krycek reached over Skinner's body to answer it.

"Yes. Yes, this is Alex Krycek. Yes, I'll hold."

He sat up, pulling away from the warmth and comfort of Skinner's body. "Cassidy," he explained.

Skinner piled the pillows behind him and watched Krycek's face as he sat on the side of the bed.

"Yes. Good afternoon, Mrs. Cassidy. No, I use Don Stafford only for the writing. Yes, well," he smiled a bit shyly, "I wasn't aware that Jack Tyler was so popular with the FBI. Thank you."

Skinner grinned then lost it as Krycek's face took on that neutral look he recognized as Krycek's walls. Apart from one or two "Yes", Krycek said nothing. He stood up, went to look out of the bedroom window, his back to Skinner.

"Yes. I see. Thank you for all this, Mrs. Cassidy. I realize it wasn't part of the original bargain. No. No more Tylers. My agent has me doing something new. I'm glad you enjoyed them. Yes. He's right here. Thank you again."

Krycek came to the bed and handed Skinner the phone. "She wants to speak to you." And went into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.


"Walter. I think it would be a good idea for you to come see me the next time you're in D.C."

"Is this about Alex and his books?"

"No, not his writing. He's all cleared there. The UA designation is a different problem and one that may not go away. I've told him to add up all the replacement and repair costs to Mitchell's search and send me the bill. Agents Mitchell and Hill will be spending some time cooling their heels in the outer office. But I think we need to meet. The UA designation was at the requests of Senators Matheson and Hendricks. You've had dealings with Matheson before, so you know him. Hendricks is on the board of directors for the Geno Think Tank."

"Mulder's think tank."

"Mulder's name has popped up in several conversations I've had today."

Skinner got out of bed. "Are you working late tonight?"

"Is tonight different from other nights? Call Mrs. Dundas as soon as you know when you're getting in. I'll be waiting."



Krycek took his leaving far too calmly. Skinner reassured him he would be back as soon as he could. He even left some of his clothes behind in Krycek's closet, just to make his point.

He didn't tell him that Mulder seemed to have something to do with the situation.

It was nearly eleven that night before he and Cassidy met. She'd had Agents Mitchell and Hill wait for his arrival, to offer their apologies. Written ones were on their way to Krycek and the RCMP.

All she could tell him about the UA designation was that Senator Matheson had merely pointed out that since Krycek had left the country voluntarily, had Canadian citizenship, there was no reason to allow him back in. Senator Hendricks had politely listened to her, told her he had nothing to say on the matter.

It took Skinner several days to get an appointment with both senators. He'd tried to get one with Mulder but, according to his PA, he was not available at the moment. She took his name, the name of the hotel he was staying at, promised to get back to him as soon as she could with an appointment, *should* Mr. Mulder wish to grant him one.

Senator Matheson was quite explicit in his explanation for his support of Krycek's expulsion: "The man is an assassin, a traitor. Do we really need creatures like that in our country? Yes, he did help us, but frankly he did it to save his own skin. You do know, of course," said in the Senator's patented condescension, "that there was a contract out on him. He knew he couldn't talk himself out of that one, so he came to us. This country is better off without him."

Senator Hendricks was even less co-operative. He allowed Skinner five minutes, only said one word, "No," four times, then left for a vote.

It took eight days for the PA to call and leave a message: Mr. Mulder will see you at 10:15 tomorrow morning. Please be on time.

Skinner hadn't had to deal with this PA before. Krycek had referred to her as "the old biddy" and he expected to see some older woman, thin, bird-like. Instead he was greeted coldly by a tall, slim, elegant woman in her early thirties, whose voice bordered on the shrill.

She made him wait until exactly 10:15 by her watch before knocking on the door to Mulder's office. A coded knock, Skinner realized. She opened the door. "Mr. Mulder will see you now."

Skinner ignored her as he walked into the office.

Not only had the PA changed since the last time he'd been here a couple of years ago, so had the office. The room was perfectly ordered, reflecting, Skinner thought, the PA's personality far more than the Mulder he had known in his basement office. The desk was also bigger. Bigger than the one he had had.

He looked at the man standing up behind the monster desk and realized things were different there as well. Oh, Armani was still the suit of preference but there was more grey in the hair. The eyes still dominated the face. And they had changed the most.

It took Skinner a moment to grasp the change, to realize where he had seen that kind of gaze. And knew that if Mulder was indeed behind Krycek's UA designation, there would be no moving him.

That he, in turn, was being examined by the bright eyes of a fanatic.

The meeting did not last very long. Mulder's opinion of Krycek was made very clear. Yes, he was the one who had pulled the necessary strings to have Krycek declared Undesirable -- his voice relished the word.

Did Skinner know what Krycek has suggested about them? Just because *he* enjoyed wallowing in shit, did he have to drag good, respectable people in with him? He was scum. He had whored his way into the heart of the Consortium. Well, let him try and whore his way out of this.

And it went on and on. His voice rising until he was screaming. The PA opened the door and quickly ordered Skinner out. As he went out the door, Skinner looked back to see the PA put her arms around Mulder, comforting him, reassuring him that Skinner would never again be allowed to see him.

Skinner tried to get hold of Krycek. He called every evening around supper time. Their conversations the first couple of days had been a bit strained, but then Krycek had announced that he'd had an idea for the novel and he would probably be harder to get hold of. There were some things he wanted to research, some information he needed. Not to worry if he were hard to get.

So Skinner didn't worry when Krycek didn't answer his phone. He left messages and tried again the next night.

He did have another meeting with Jana Cassidy before he left D.C., to inform her of what had transpired with his meeting with Mulder. She shrugged, said she wasn't really surprised. She had often wondered if Mulder would ever react to the information that had come out of Consortium files. They'd keep an eye on him.

Skinner got home to find raccoons had made themselves *at home* in the house while he was gone. Mitchell and Hill could have taken lessons from them.

He tried to get hold of Krycek, left yet again another message. Left one on Rejanne de Beaubien's machine, asking her to contact him at home.

He spent two days evicting his "visitors", cleaning up the messes they'd made. He left yet another message on Krycek's machine, a second on Rejanne de Beaubien's.

The morning of his third day home, a car pulled into the driveway. The man who got out was tall, balding, looked slightly familiar. He introduced himself as Brandon Stone, Talmidge's grandson.



Two weeks after leaving Toronto, Skinner finally got a phone call from Rejanne de Beaubien.

"Madame, thank you for returning my call. I've been trying to get hold of Alex...."

"Why?" Rejanne de Beaubien's voice was ice cold.

Skinner took a breath, "What's happened?"

"Do you care?" He could hear her lighter click.

"Rejanne, I've been trying to get hold of Alex every night since I went down to Washington to try and get to the bottom of this mess. I haven't spoken to him personally since the fourth day. He told me he was working on the book. I've left messages every night since then on his machine. I've left three messages on your machine. Now tell me what the hell's going on?"

He could hear her inhale then slowly exhale what he now knew would be a long plume of smoke.

"I apologize, Walter. It's just, I have never seen him this way. He's been drunk for at least a week. He goes out only to buy more vodka. He hasn't cleaned up more than what you and he had done. He hasn't replaced his computer. I doubt that he has eaten. If it was not for the fact that I had some papers I needed him to sign, I would not have known."

Skinner sighed, rubbed his eyes. He could hear the concern in her voice.

"He told me that he had an idea for the new novel, so of course I did not want to disturb him. Walter, he looks like his world has come to an end. I managed to get some coffee into him. I asked him why. He just muttered something about a Mulder. That Mulder would have his revenge after all."

"Jesus!" Skinner whispered.

"Walter, who is this Mulder and why does he hate Alexandre so?"

"Rejanne, it's a long story. Too long for over the telephone. How is Alex now?"

"Sober. I brought him home with me and fed him. I had a professional service go in and clean up the apartment. Tomorrow I am taking him shopping to replace what needs to be replaced. And a computer. Walter, I take it that the news from Washington is not good."

"No. It isn't. Rejanne, I have some business to take care of. I can't come up right away."

"I see." Her voice was Arctic.

"Rejanne. It really is business. I will be there in about a week or so. Trust me, will you? I know he's hurting, but if you could get him to talk to me. Make him understand that I have no intention of..." Of what? What the hell message could he send that would have Krycek pick up the phone and talk to him?

She understood. "Of abandoning him."

"Yes. Of abandoning him."

"I will do my best. But, please, do not hesitate to contact me if he does not." She gave him her home number, her cell phone number, her personal e-mail address. And he understood that she trusted him to keep his word.



The finger on the doorbell wouldn't let up.

Nothing else. Just the continuous sound of the doorbell ringing.

No hammering on the door.

No yelling through the door.

Just that damned fucking never-ending buzz!

Thank god it was the middle of the day and his neighbours were both at work.

Krycek finally rolled off the bed and went to answer its imperious summons.



The door was suddenly pulled open and before Krycek even appeared in the doorway, Skinner was tossing in suitcases and boxes.

Krycek was denied his opportunity to tell Skinner whatever he had been preparing to tell him as he dodged what seemed to be a never-ending line of variously- sized suitcases, boxes.

"There are more in the truck," Skinner told him. "Make yourself useful and get these out of the way so I can bring those in. And where can I park the truck so I won't get a ticket? Alex?" Skinner sighed very dramatically, entered the room, gently pushing a stunned Krycek out of the way. He took a good look at his lover, filing away the image of him with his mouth open, shaking his head as though he didn't believe what he was seeing. He doubted that he would ever see a befuddled-looking Krycek ever again so he smiled at this one.

Even had an idea on how to deal with this one.

In full view of the open doorway and whatever neighbours might have been watching, Skinner pulled Krycek into his arms and let him know just how much he had missed him.

"I'll have to remember," he said, when he had caught his breath and Krycek was still working on catching his, "that there are times when you can be a complete idiot."

From the shoulder his head was resting on Krycek asked, "How was Mulder?"

Skinner pulled back enough so that Krycek had to raise his head. He met those cat-green eyes full on. "Insane?"

Krycek was surprised. He had thought Mulder pretty close to the edge that time in his office: he hadn't thought anyone else would see him that way.

Skinner took time to look around the room. Rejanne may have intended taking Krycek shopping but it was obvious he hadn't co-operated.

"Alex, move this stuff back from the door, will you, while I finish emptying the truck. Then we'll talk."

An hour later, the truck was empty, safely tucked in behind Krycek's sedan in the parking area of the property. The boxes and cases were stacked in a corner of the living room. Skinner and Krycek were sitting at the kitchen table, eating sandwiches and drinking tea. Not talking.

Skinner finished, watched Krycek pretend to be eating the second half of his sandwich. He reached over and placed his hand on Krycek's real one and squeezed gently.

"Besides the fact that you killed William Mulder, why else does Mulder hate you to the extent he does?"

Krycek turned his hand so that he could grip Skinner's then tugged so that it would be released. He knew what the boxes meant: that Skinner hadn't been successful in having his name removed from the UA list. He wasn't quite sure why the boxes were here, but he had stacked them close to the door for their return trip to the States.

"There are lots of reasons. Let's just start with my role in Scully's abduction. Her cancer. The death of her sister."

"Yes, let us indeed start with Scully. She and Mulder were partners. Close partners. No, I'm not suggesting sexual partners. But they were close. Up until the time she upped and resigned. Their relationship was pretty tense, cold at the end. Did you have something to do with that as well?"

Krycek looked into his mug of tea. Nodded.

"At the end, you were using her as your sole contact to us. Why?"

"Because she would listen when I told her something. By then, you and Mulder were less than receptive whenever I showed up with more information."

"Shit, Alex. It's just that there was so much of it. And so much of it tore down ideals, beliefs. Men I respected, trusted turned out to have been easily bought, to have turned their backs on something I thought was...was sacred, just for money or advancement. It was not a good time."

"And Mulder wasn't pleased with the answers he got. I know that."

"No. He kept on hoping to find his sister. Only to find that she had been a more than willing participant in her disappearance. That even at eight, she had wanted to better him and thought going over to her father's side was the way to do it. That she had been part of the team that worked on creating alien-human hybrids."

"Didn't help that the information I gave you led to that site being blown up and her along with it."

"So what happened between you and Scully?"

Krycek shook his head. There had been an undertone of jealously there if he wasn't mistaken. "Nothing like that. Dana Scully can just about tolerate me. Nothing else."

He took a deep breath and plowed on. "It was during the in-camera hearings when we all realized that nothing was going to be allowed out. That all we'd accomplished was another series of cover-ups. Scully was not pleased."

"Yeah, I remember. I had never seen her lose her temper that way. I didn't think she had it in her."

Krycek smiled. "That hair really is red, you know."

"Yeah, well, the panel sure learnt that, *that* day. God, did she ever tear a strip off them! I was surprised when she walked out that the floor wasn't covered in blood." Skinner shook his head ruefully. No, indeed, Dana Scully had *not* been pleased on learning that the panel was using their oath of loyalty against them to ensure their silence in the cover-up.

"I went to see her that night." Krycek shrugged at Skinner raised eyebrows. "I knew she was upset and I wanted to thank her for having listened to me. She was still pretty mad. She let me in. I didn't expect that from her. We usually met somewhere else when I had information to hand over. Neutral ground.

"I guess we both vented a lot that night. About the panel, the cover-up. We finally got around to the other stuff. I...I tried to explain to her where I was when all that had happened. About the abduction. About how I never knew about the experiments my mother helped perform on her. The cancer. About how her sister came to die. She listened to me. She didn't forgive me," Krycek's tone mocked himself, "but she *did* listen.

"Mulder and Scully had keys to each other's apartments. He came in quietly -- I guess he thought she might be sleeping, it was that late -- and found us sitting together on her couch. He freaked."

There was more and Skinner waited for it.

"He...misconstrued what he saw. He thought...God knows why...that we were lovers. He called her every name in the book. Screamed that she had betrayed not only her country but her family, Melissa, her faith. Him. She was as stunned as I was. We just sat there looking at him. I tried to get him to listen but he reacted in typical Mulder fashion: he threw a punch at me. I ducked. Then he turned around and hit her."

Krycek looked up at Skinner's gasp. "You could have heard a pin drop. She had her hand on the cheek he had hit. She was white. Mulder looked as surprised as she was. Then she got up, walked with this dignity she has to the door, opened it. She was very calm when she told him to leave. He tried to excuse himself, sputtered his apologies, but she said nothing, just held the door open. As he was on the way out, he glared at me, told me this was all *my* fault.

"Scully wouldn't let me leave right away. She went to the window and waited until his car pulled away. There was a large bruise on her face where he'd hit her. I haven't seen her since. The next time I saw Mulder was when I went to see him about you."



"Walter. Why all the baggage?"

They had moved into the living room with brandies. Alex sat in the ripped armchair, feet up on the coffee table. Walter had taken over the couch, slouching in one corner, feet propped on the other armrest.

"Couple of reasons. Since you won't be able to visit me, I thought I'd come visit you."

"You intend staying a while?" But Alex said that with a hint of a smile in his voice.

"Depends. You might get bored with me."

Alex scoffed.

"Well, you never know. Besides, you may have me for longer than you care. I don't have a home any more."

"Why? What the hell.." Alex started sitting up straight. Walter hurried to correct the impression he'd inadvertently given.

"No, nothing like that. Brandon Stone came to see me. He's accepted a position at Middlebury College. Was wondering if there might be a chance that he could be given first refusal on his grandfather's property should I ever decide to sell.

"I told him to give me 24 hours to think about it. Then I told him I would be interested in selling."

"Jesus, Walter, you love that place."

Walter looked at the man he had decided in the middle of the night was more important to him than a property he'd just bought.

"Yeah, well, I loved it a bit less after the raccoons got into it." And made Alex grin with his description of the house, his efforts to convince his unwanted tenants to leave. "Besides, the way I see it, the things I liked most about the place were its size and the fish stream. Seems to me I should be able to find both around here. Maybe even convince you to let go this place and join me. Of course, it would have to be within an easy drive for Rejanne."

Alex smiled. "Of course." Then his face grew serious. "Are you sure about this, Walter?"

Walter held out his hand and waited until Alex left his chair to place his hand in Walter's. Alex joined him on the couch, snuggled into his welcoming embrace. "Yeah, I'm sure. I know there are all sorts of legalities, but I'm pretty sure Rejanne will know someone to help us with them."

Alex raised his mouth for Walter's kiss.

"You know, she'll be after you to write for her."

"Yeah." Walter shook his head in disgust. "She's already begun nagging to see my last draft."

Alex roared with laughter.

+++++++++++++++++++++The End...Maybe+++++++++++++++++++