Skinner sat at his desk early on Monday morning, thinking carefully back over the preceding weeks. There wasn't any one thing that he could put a finger on. He'd just started noticing some oddities in his life recently. Nothing major, just some little things that niggled. The bath mat that he stepped out on from the shower each morning used to be dry when he got home, but now it wasn't. The bath towel that he put in the washer didn't seem to be any different, it always had been wet anyway after having been left to wash while he was at work, but he seemed to be using more detergent than usual and more electricity, too. The level of coffee in the jar seemed to sink faster, but... maybe he was having more cups of coffee. And then there was the Whisky... normally he bought a bottle of Glenfiddich Special Reserve every three weeks. However, in the last three weeks he had bought two bottles of his favourite tipple. He could, of course, have put it down to pressure of work or Mulder's creative reports driving him to drink more, but he didn't think he had really been drinking that much more than usual.
Then there were one or two odd little stains, as though he'd been a bit careless when eating, sitting on the couch, watching a game. It was just that he didn't really *remember* leaving them behind. He usually noticed when he dropped things, and made sure to tidy up after himself.
He wasn't really sure what to do about it either. If he stayed in, took a vacation day, the bath mat dried as normal. So what was different while he was away from home, did he have the heating set differently? He didn't think so.
Perhaps he needed to try something different, keep watch somehow without being there. CCTV cameras were his first thought, but they were much too bulky, too easily spotted. What else was there that he could use? After giving the matter some deep thought, he decided to take a walk to the local Mall. He knew there was a large do-it-yourself and electrical store there, he'd have a look around and see what was available. In these days of miniaturisation there ought to be something inconspicuous that he could use, maybe a small video camera even. One thing was for sure, he was not going to look for a solution with any preconceived ideas.
After telling Kim, his secretary, he was going out, 'to stretch his legs and think about a case', he took himself off to The Mall and started mooching round some of the shops.
As he walked past an electronics shop something did catch his eye. There was a computer sitting in the window and as he'd walked past it, he'd seen his own image appear on the PC's screen.
<Hmmm, now what is that? > Looking around the window there didn't seem to be a camera in view, nothing intrusive anyway, although there *was* a little round ball sitting on top of the monitor. He concentrated on it. Was that the camera? Hmmm... could well be.
Going into the shop he started look to around. After a few minutes an assistant came up to him, and asked, "Can I help you?"
Skinner looked around, then said, "Well... I was curious about the image you've got showing on that screen in the window. How is it done? What makes it work?"
"That Sir," the assistant replied, "Is A WebCam."
"Yes Sir, a WebCam. It's so that people can broadcast images over the World Wide Web, or, if you want to, onto the PC's screen, as we have done in the window."
Skinner's ears picked up. "Hmmm, now that is interesting... so, the computer does not have to be that close."
"Oh no, you can put the camera in another room, in fact if the lead is long enough you can take the camera all over the house, it just sends images back to the computer which can be watched anywhere. Just on the computer itself, save it to the hard disk for future viewing, or broadcast it. I mean, there are people who decorate their house and show other people how it's getting on, and demonstrate how to solve problems."
"Oh yes Sir, there are lots of applications where you can use a WebCam. Of course there are some that are rather - um - how should I put it - rather adult in nature..."
Ignoring the innuendo, Skinner thought about it for a moment. He'd always been meaning to replace his old computer, but he just hadn't got around to it. In fact it was so old that most of the modern programs wouldn't run on it. It wouldn't look out of place actually, because he could put the new one where the old one had been, and no-one would give it more than a passing thought of 'he's replaced the old PC at last'. He thought about it some more, trying to see any flaws in his logic, then said. "Okay, yes. I need to upgrade my computer, the one I've got at home is really much too old. It's got an old 286 processor."
The assistant grimaced. "Erm, yes, just a trifle out of date, Sir."
Skinner had to chuckle. "Yes, just a trifle. I think I'll take one of those like you have in the window, with the WebCam as well, so long as I can get some help on setting it up."
"We include installation and some tuition in the price. Was there any particular use you had in mind?"
"Not really, but I would like to know how to make it broadcast. I mean you know, there's not much point in having one if I don't know how to use it. I sometimes use a laptop when I'm away from home and if I could set it up so that whoever's at home could talk to me, that would be fine."
"Wouldn't you want to talk back?"
"Well, I..." Skinner thought fast. "Seeing as it's a company laptop I'm not sure that it would be allowed." He looked around the store, at his feet, then back at the assistant. "Could I send sound back if I wanted to?" he added as an afterthought, not wanting the man to realize that what he really wanted to do was keep an eye on his apartment while he was at work.
The upshot of it was that Skinner paid for a new computer to be delivered to him the very next morning.
When he got home that evening, the bath mat was wet again. He looked at it, and shook his head. Still, he'd booked the next morning off so he would be there when the new computer arrived, and maybe, by the afternoon, he would know what the hell was going on.
True to their word, the computer installers arrived very early Tuesday morning, just after Skinner had finished his breakfast, which really surprised him; for in his experience 'early' to most delivery people meant just before noon.
They dismantled the old PC and expressed no surprise that he was replacing such an antiquated piece of equipment with a new one, assuring him that he had made a good choice.
He set up his laptop and got Bob, the younger of the two installers, to show him how to access the WebCam from the portable, and protect the WebCam signal with a password, so that only he could view its output. Bob advised him that it wasn't totally secure, but unless you knew the Cam was there, strangers were unlikely to see it.
When they'd finished, Skinner thanked them for their help and let them out of the apartment.
He looked at his watch, it wasn't much before noon now, so he contacted Kim and told her he would be there about two-thirty, then made himself some lunch.
Before leaving for the office, he made sure the modem lead was plugged securely into the double telephone jack, switched off the monitor, and left the machine quietly humming in the corner.
In a much better mood than he had been for a long time, he greeted Kim and asked if he had any appointments for the afternoon, quite pleased when she said no.
He set the laptop up on the corner of his desk, opened a little window and put in his password so he could see the living room of his apartment. All was quiet. For the rest of the day he kept an eye on the little picture, but nothing happened.
Not at all disheartened, he went home. He checked the bath mat and found it was dry, so whatever or whomever was the cause, had obviously not come today.
Maybe his change of routine, and his being there for all the morning had put them off. Them, or it? It was very difficult to know how to classify the cause of these strange occurrences.
Next morning, he left the apartment at the same time as usual and, as soon as he arrived in his office, set up the laptop to monitor the living room.
His first appointment was with Agents Mulder and Scully, and throughout their meeting the little picture remained unchanged.
By the time the two agents had left his office, after going through their expenses, he had a bit of a headache. Sometimes he hated these meetings; Mulder's creative accounting was startling and it always led to long discussions about what was, and what was not, a justifiable expense.
Kim brought him a cup of coffee, a muffin, and a couple of aspirins. Thanking her, he gratefully consumed them, and sat back with a sigh to give the painkillers time to take effect.
Although they always gave him a headache, he was going to miss these budget meetings. With some closure on his sister's disappearance and with the alien invasion thwarted, ending their secret war, neither his partner, nor his boss, were surprised when Mulder had decided to take all his accumulated vacation to think about his future and whether he wanted to continue his career within the FBI.
Scully would also be taking a vacation, visiting her brother in California for a couple of weeks, then spending some time with Julian Garnham who had come into her life during their fight against the aliens.
He wouldn't admit it to anyone else at this point, but it wouldn't surprise him if both of his agents decided to resign from the FBI to pursue other careers.
Almost inevitably, his thoughts drifted from Mulder and Scully to the one other person who had played a part, perhaps the largest part, in defeating the aliens' invasion plans... Alex Krycek.
He remembered, vividly, the day that temptation in the form of Alex Krycek had crossed his path, just after Sharon had walked out on him. Of course he had resisted at first, telling himself that it wasn't smart to get involved with a junior agent, even if said junior agent was the epitome of sex on two legs.
It hadn't taken long to find out that the attraction was mutual and, during the months they'd spent together, the stolen days and nights they had shared had been treasured during the times they were apart, and had kept him going when things seemed to be falling apart. When supervising Mulder and Scully's activities took up a disproportionate amount of his time, he had been able to call the latest assignation with Alex to mind and put his world back to rights.
Then, without warning, Sharon had moved back into their house, and like a dutiful husband he had abruptly ended his extramarital affair; willing for the sake of convention to give their marriage another chance.
It hadn't lasted, and he'd found himself completly alone and regretting ever having agreed to try to salvage what had never been a happy marriage.
He had sunk into a depression nearly as deep as one he'd been in on his return from Vietnam, grieving for his dead comrades... It wasn't his wife he grieved for, though, it was Alex. It was for the young man who had brought sunshine and laughter into his sombre life, who had encouraged, aided and abetted in some of the crazy ideas for meeting places, like in the middle of the Magic Kingdom wearing Mickey Mouse ears, or in the Mardi Gras parade dressed as Regency bucks....
He had always wondered if it was his rejection of Alex's love that had sent the young man into Spender's clutches... or whether the connection had already been there... either way he had expected Cancerman to know of their liaison, to use it against him, but it had never happened. Alex Krycek, apparently, didn't kiss and tell.
Between then, and the moment when Alex had turned up on his doorstep asking for help against the aliens, they had met only once since the boy had left the FBI, when Mulder had brought Krycek to his apartment for 'safety' before dragging him off to Russia.
Looking back, he couldn't believe that it was only just over a year ago that Alex had knocked on his door, a bulging satchel of information in his hand. Before their discussion had become alien specific, he and Krycek had hashed out their differences, and Alex had finally explained to him, and later to Mulder and Scully, why he'd done the things he had, making them see the logic behind his choices. They had talked for hours then, but somehow the subject of the months they had spent together when Alex had first been assigned to the bureau hadn't been mentioned.
The choices he had made had led him to a wealth of documentation and, by giving them the satchel, Krycek had presented them with irrefutable proof of an imminent alien invasion, proof of the Consortium collaboration in the planned genocide and how, if they joined forces with the resistance, they could defeat the colonists' plans.
Well they had defeated them; but the price had been very high. They had all lost relatives, friends... members of their resistance cell had been lost on missions... some they knew were dead, others were just missing....
Krycek had proved himself to be a resourceful and courageous leader, bringing his team back, almost unscathed, time after time. Skinner smiled wryly, he had, grudgingly, learned to respect the man, and, much as he had tried not to, had worried about him when his team was late returning. They had got drunk together, just once, when the last of the colonists had fled, their secret war officially over.
He could remember as if it were yesterday, Krycek looking straight into his eyes and saying, "M'sorry Walter, I never meant to hurt you." Then the other man had lurched to his feet and walked away to seek his bed.
Two days later Krycek had disappeared.
They had searched for him, of course, but to no avail.
Not wanting to believe that he was gone for good, Skinner and Mulder had put their heads together and consulted with the Lone Gunmen, who had subtly altered Krycek's records so that there would be no possibility of anyone trying to arrest him should he ever surface again. Not that there had been much to do. There had never been any concrete evidence against the former FBI Agent; only Mulder's report of his suspicions, which had been easily removed, as no formal charges had ever been laid.
They had gone back to their desks and tried to carry on as if nothing had happened, but he was now beginning to realize that nothing could ever be the same again.
Kim interrupted his thoughts, bringing him letters and memos to sign, and another batch of post she'd opened. By the time he'd read the post, mostly agent's reports, and dictated answers to those that needed replies, it was getting towards lunch time. He sneaked a look at the screen and frowned; there was something different.... Damn, there was a brown paper bag sitting on his coffee table that certainly hadn't been there the last time he had looked.
The frown deepened to a scowl when Kim came back and said that Agents Mulder and Scully were back with their revised expenses. Much as he wanted to send them away, he knew he had to sign them off as soon as possible. "Send them in, Kim, and would you bring me another coffee, please."
Moments later, Kim reappeared with the coffee and the two agents in tow. Waving them to take a seat he handed back another of the files he had completed, and thanked Kim for the coffee. Mulder leaned forward and handed him a fresh copy of their expenses.
He ran his eyes down the list, making sure that all the amendments that had been 'agreed' had actually been made and that Mulder was not going to try sneaking anything else past him. He turned the page and reached out to pick up his coffee. While taking a sip he glanced at the screen, then spewed the mouthful of hot liquid all over the desk - for walking in his unmistakable sensual glide towards the camera, was Alex Krycek... naked.
Quickly closing the laptop, ignoring its beeps of protest, he moved it away from the spreading pool of coffee, having managed to knock the cup over as well in his agitated state. He called out to Kim to bring something in to mop up as he, and the two agents, quickly moved all his papers out of harm's way too.
When order was restored, the claim form signed, and the two amused agents had departed, Skinner opened up the laptop, to check on his unexpected guest. His living room, however, looked just as he had left it that morning. There was no sign of Alex Krycek and the brown paper bag which had been on his coffee table.
He checked his watch. Would it be worth going home on the off chance that Krycek was still there? Shaking his head he decided to go get some lunch and see if the pictures from home were any different during the afternoon. After all, he had stood the expense of 'housing' Alex Krycek this long, so a few more days was not going to make any difference. Also, if he was being honest with himself, he wanted to find out more about his 'guest' before they met face to face.
He had been so shocked to recognize his one-time lover, sometime enemy, and most recently, resistance comrade, that he couldn't now recall any other details of his appearance.
As soon as he returned to his desk after lunch, Skinner logged on to his PC, and immediately found himself wishing that he had gone home to lunch. Krycek, now wearing his habitual black clothes, was sitting on the sofa, his feet up on the coffee table, watching television. On the table beside his feet was a mug of what was probably coffee and a plate with a sandwich on it.
Almost as soon as he had finished eating and drinking, Krycek switched off the TV and took the plate and mug away with him, presumably to wash them and put them back where he had found them. When he came back into view, he lay down on the sofa and appeared to go to sleep. He was still lying in the same position when Skinner left the office to return home.
Skinner approached his home with caution, trying very hard not to make any more noise than was necessary opening the apartment's door. He found he needn't have bothered, however, for not only was there was no sign of Krycek, nothing was out of place either - unless he counted the still wet bath mat of course.
Throughout the next day the AD had quite a few meetings and was only able to take the occasional glance at the pictures from home. Once he was free, he quickly checked to make sure that Krycek was still in his apartment, then told Kim he was taking some reports home to read. He arrived home over two hours earlier than the night before, but Krycek was gone.
After searching the apartment, he went out on the balcony and placed both hands on the rails, staring contemplatively out over the city.
< At this time yesterday Krycek was asleep on my couch.... today he's nowhere to be seen.... why? There must be something on either myself.... no, it's unlikely to be on me because there would be no way of predicting what I would be wearing or carrying... so it, whatever it is, has to be on my car which sets off an alarm somehow... somewhere.... So, what next? I've tried staying home, and he doesn't show. I've tried coming home extra early and he's not here by the time I arrive. I suppose I could take my car to work and come home by taxi, but how will I know if he's still here? >
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
< I get the feeling that it's time to visit the computer store again. >
Going back inside, he changed into more casual clothes and left the apartment. Just as he closed the door behind him, he had a sudden thought and went back to fetch his laptop.
At the store he spoke to Richard, the same assistant who had sold him the PC.
Talking in a confidential tone, he said, "I have a need to be able to access my mail, and various web sites, while away from the office. A friend has warned me that on some occasions he has been unable to unplug the phone in his motel room. Is there a way to connect my laptop to my mobile phone?"
Richard nodded, then asked if he could look at both pieces of equipment. Looking at the laptop first, he extracted the modem card and muttered, "That's okay," before pushing the card back into the slot. Then he looked at the phone, noting down its make and model number.
"I'll be back in a couple of minutes," he told Skinner. "I need to check with our database to see whether an upgrade kit is available and if we have one in stock." He disappeared through a door behind the counter, leaving the AD to stand guard over his laptop and phone.
A short while later, Richard returned with a small box in his hand. "This is the upgrade kit you require, sir."
Skinner silently handed over his credit card, thinking wryly to himself that he'd spent more on the equipment to catch Krycek, than the man would have cost him in food and electricity for the next ten to fifteen years.
Once the monetary part of the transaction had been completed, the ever helpful assistant installed the software, showed him how to connect the cable to the phone, then tested the service to make sure everything was working, including his WebCam broadcast.
Skinner thanked Richard profusely, and returned to his apartment. On the way he stopped off at an ATM to get some ready cash, then at a grocery store and delicatessen, to pick up a few things to stock his cupboards and fridge. If his plan worked out he could be feeding Krycek more than just coffee and a few slices of bread. He stopped again at a liquor store when he suddenly remembered Alex's likes and dislikes, and bought some imported beer and a bottle of Stoli.
Back at Viva Towers, Skinner put the groceries away, then focussed his mind on the next problem; from where in the building was he going to observe Krycek's departure from his apartment.
The lobby was the obvious place, but would leave him a bit exposed, unless.... He picked up the phone and dialed the number for Paul White, the building's supervisor, and arranged to go to see him.
A few minutes later he entered White's apartment and accepted a cup of coffee from his sometime sparring partner at the gym.
Once they were both seated, Paul said, "What can I do for you Walter?"
"Paul, I have a big favour to ask you. I would like to do a trial of some surveillance equipment in the building tomorrow. The sending apparatus would be in my apartment, and I'd like to put the receiving equipment in the lobby. So as not to alarm them, and to minimize any disruption for other residents, I would appreciate it if I could borrow some screens from you and set them up in the lobby, and if possible, I'd like to put them in place this evening, so that people can get used to them, and leave them there until tomorrow evening."
The supervisor thought about it for a couple of minutes. He'd known Walter Skinner for a long time, and knew where he worked. If he promised that none of the other residents would be inconvenienced, then he was willing to take a chance. "I don't see why not," he finally replied, then drained his coffee cup. "C'mon, I'll get them out now and you can place them where you want."
Half an hour later, a chair and a small table were surrounded by screens in a corner of the lobby.
Skinner thanked Paul for his help and returned to his apartment.
Just before he went to bed, he packed a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt in one of the paper sacks in which he'd brought the groceries home, and put his phone on to charge.
The next morning, Skinner went through his normal routine. He left home at the usual time, parked in the usual place, and arrived at his desk at the normal time.
As on the previous two days, his first job was to set up the laptop to monitor his apartment. That done, he got on with some essential work, pausing only to thank Kim when she came in with coffee and the early post.
While he was drinking his coffee he watched Krycek cross his living room, place a brown bag on his coffee table and disappear in the direction of the kitchen.
Putting his plan into action, he buzzed the intercom, and when Kim answered, he said. "Please find out if Agent Harper is in the building, if so please ask her to come to my office. If not, find out who is in today."
Krycek reappeared as Kim acknowledged his request.
Skinner watched closely as the younger man carried a large plate, on which was a mug and a sandwich, and placed it on the coffee table. With such a small picture is was impossible to tell what filling he had, but it certainly looked as if he might have found the ham, sliced off the bone, he had picked up from the deli. He felt strangely pleased that Krycek had investigated the contents of his fridge and found something he liked.
He continued watching until Kim announced that Agent Harper had arrived, then minimized the window so he would not be sidetracked, and asked Kim to send her in.
Agent Heather Harper was a tall, willowy, dark-haired woman in her mid-thirties, dressed in a dark grey pant-suit with a maroon top showing in the 'V' of the jacket.
"Please take a seat, Agent Harper," he said, then waited until she was seated before continuing. "I am going to meet with an undercover agent and I need to be able to leave the building undetected. Do you have a car here?"
"Good. When you leave this office, please go down to your car and wait for me. I'll give you further instructions once we're on our way."
"Yes, sir." Harper got to her feet, "I can be downstairs in about 10 minutes."
Skinner nodded and started collecting papers together, tidying his desk preparatory to leaving. Once Harper had left the room, he checked on the WebCam. The brown paper bag was still there, but there was no sign of Krycek. He shut down the PC, packed it and the other equipment he would need into the pilot case he usually used for carrying papers to meetings, and on his way out he told Kim that if anyone enquired, he was in a meeting.
He slipped into the car park and waited in the shadows until Agent Harper appeared. Still keeping out of range of the cameras, he followed her to her car. Speaking just loud enough to be heard, he asked her to open the rear door. When she had complied, he crawled into the space between the front and back seats, and remained hidden there until they were well away from the Hoover building.
"Where to, sir?" Harper asked when they were a couple of blocks away.
"Union Station Mall, please. I want you to drop me off close to an entrance, then go back to your desk. If everything goes to plan, I shall need you to do another little job for me later." He sat up on the back seat, then took an envelope out of his pocket and placed it on the front seat beside her. "There's two hundred dollars in small bills in there. Just put any receipts in the envelope and I'll collect it from you when the operation is over."
Skinner took off his tie, stuffed it in his jacket pocket, opening the top two buttons of his shirt with the other hand, then sat back in his seat, silently going over his plan. He'd had a twinge of guilt involving the Bureau in his campaign, but then realized that Krycek probably did indeed know much more about the Consortium and the aliens than the information he had passed on to them to foil the alien invasion. In fact, the more he thought about it, there were quite a few questions he wanted to ask Alex Krycek should he get the chance. His conscience assuaged for the time being, he threw a set of car keys onto the front seat.
"I may need you to move my car later," he said when her eyes met his in the rear view mirror. "Probably to my home address, which is also in the envelope, otherwise I'll tell you where when I contact you. I'm sorry to sound so vague, especially as this is probably going to be one of these operations you won't be allowed to talk about for years... if ever."
"I understand sir," Harper assured him.
They didn't speak again until they reached the mall. Harper drew into one of the pick-up zones. Skinner got out, saying 'thank you' as he did so, and disappeared into the mall as the Agent's car drew away.
His first port of call was the washroom, where he changed clothes and transferred the contents of his suit pockets into the jeans, or the pilot case. From there he went to the dry cleaners and checked his suit in for cleaning to save him having to carrying it around. From there he walked briskly outside to hail a taxi and was soon on his way home.
After paying off the cab, he went into the lobby and squeezed his large frame into the screened off area. Working with practised ease, he set up his laptop on the table, connected it to his mobile phone and checked on the WebCam's signal.
Krycek was sitting on the sofa, the brown bag in one hand, and a half eaten doughnut in the other. Skinner watched and waited, but Krycek showed no sign of departing.
Disconnecting from his Internet Service Provider, the AD phoned Agent Harper and instructed her to start his car at exactly 15 minutes past the hour, and drive it to his apartment.
Connecting up again, he watched the on-screen clock tick away the minutes until Harper was due to move his car. If, as he suspected, there was a tag in the car, he wondered how soon after it left the bureau parking garage Krycek would know his car was on the move. The digital numbers changed from fourteen to fifteen, then sixteen... seventeen... Krycek, who had been slouching, sat up straight and pulled a pager out of his jeans pocket and depressed the button. Skinner watched, fascinated for a moment as the man systematically checked to make sure he hadn't left any signs of his occupation of the apartment, then picked up the paper bag and walked out of sight towards the front door.
Peering through the screens, he watched the indicator above the elevator ticking off the numbers on its climb to the 17th floor. It hovered there for a minute, then started downward again. As the car neared the first floor, Skinner readied himself to follow wherever Krycek might lead and was amazed when the elevator didn't stop, but descended to the basement, instead.
Shaking off the shock of the unexpected move, he ran for the stairs and pounded down them reaching the fire door in the basement at the same time as the elevator doors opened to let Krycek out. Grateful for the noise of the machinery down on this level which covered his harsh breathing, Skinner watched through the small, reinforced glass window as the man started to walk away from him.
Praying that the fire door wouldn't squeak, he opened it cautiously as soon as Krycek disappeared round the first corner, and trailed after him through the maze of corridors which serviced the storage rooms. One of the selling points for the tenants on the top floors, was that each of the apartments had its own 'junk' room in the basement.
Krycek soon stopped in front of one of the rooms and let himself in. Skinner waited a while to see if he emerged again. After standing at the corner for 15 minutes, he decided to walk past to see to which apartment the storeroom belonged; although, from its position, he had his suspicions already.
He walked along the corridor to the next corner and kept an eye on the door from there, glad that he was no longer between the room and the elevator. As he had suspected, the storeroom was the one which belonged to his own apartment and he found himself grinning at the audacity of the man, despite wondering what on earth he was doing down here in the basement.
As he stood there, he found himself trying to recall what he had actually had stored in the room and eventually came to the conclusion that it was probably empty boxes from things he'd bought. There were also quite a few boxes of books which he'd kept in the garage of his previous home, and he hadn't had room for in the apartment when he'd first moved in.
His stomach growled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten for some hours. He looked at his watch and was surprised how much time he had spent just standing here looking at a closed door. He frowned as he considered that surveillance was really a two-person job at the very least, and he was going to have to take some decisions. Especially as there was no telling how long Krycek would be staying in the area; therefore, he might miss the chance of ever finding out what had been going on.
Deciding that Krycek was probably going to stay put for a while, and that he would have to do some serious thinking about his next move, Skinner returned to the lobby and dismantled his equipment.
While he was doing that, Paul White came along and asked how everything was going. Skinner thanked him for his help and said he thought the operation was going very well, but that he'd like to leave the screens in place for a while yet.
White shrugged, and replied, "Sure, it's no problem for the next couple of days. I need to have them out of the way by next Wednesday; that's the day they polish the lobby floor."
"Thanks, Paul, I appreciate it. We should be finished today, or Monday, but I'll let you know for sure."
"Thanks." He looked at his watch, then said, "I must be off, I'm meeting a friend for lunch, I'll see you around Walter. Bye!"
"Enjoy your lunch," Skinner called after the retreating figure. When he'd finished packing up, he took the equipment back to his apartment, then called Agent Harper on her cell phone, and confirmed that she should deliver his car to his home address.
That done, he made himself some lunch and did some heavy thinking, trying to decide what his next move should be.
Would Krycek stay where he was, or would he go out, and if he did, at what time?
He tried to look at the problem objectively, if he were Krycek, what would he do? Why was he there?
Was he hiding from anyone? That was a possibility, as he wouldn't be aware of Skinner's meddling with his records. So, would he wait until after dark before going out, or would he only go out in the morning when there were quite a few people using the entrance.
Again he tried to put himself in Krycek's place and decided that early evening would be best if he was leaving the building at all today.
Bearing that in mind, he made himself a substantial lunch and made sure he was settled in position, behind the screens, by late afternoon.
Just before 6pm, the fire door from the stairwell opened. After a short pause, a black-dressed figure drifted along the side of the lobby, and after checking the street, out through the main doors.
Skinner moved nearer the window and watched which direction Krycek took before he also left the building.
The trail didn't lead very far, as soon as they reached a metro station Krycek gave him the slip. Not that it was deliberate, it was simply because he already had a charged farecard and Skinner didn't.
Cursing his luck, the AD retraced his steps at a brisk walk. At least with Krycek out of the building he could take a look in the storeroom.
Having retrieved the key from his apartment, Skinner went down to the basement, let himself into his storeroom and looked around. There wasn't anything obviously out of place, just a haphazard pile of boxes, and as he'd never taken any notice of where he'd put them in the first place, he couldn't tell if they'd been moved or not.
Going further inside, and peering around the boxes, he could see there was actually a small open area behind the boxes, maybe seven foot by four foot, with one fairly large box in the far corner. Curbing his impulse to squeeze through a gap in the 'wall' and take a look inside the lone box, he returned to the apartment.
Finding it easier to think on the move, he prowled around the apartment looking for an excuse to move things into the storeroom.
When he reached the guest room, he saw the answer to his prayers, the mound of boxes which had housed all the bits and pieces for his new computer. A delighted grin lit his face. Perfect. It would make sense to move all of them downstairs out of the way.
Working as quickly as he could, he moved his fishing stool and all the boxes into the store. He put the stool in a corner by the door and piled boxes around it, but when he stood back he wasn't really satisfied; it looked too artificial.
A sudden thought sent him back to his bedroom to look in the spare closets for the old suitcases he'd used to move his clothes and personal papers. He'd always meant to move them out, but had never got around to it. There were also some more boxes which he could move.
Once he was satisfied with the hiding place, he took a shower and changed into all black clothing. Opening a drawer, he took out a hood and gloves that he'd used in a previous night operation and stuffed them in a pocket.
Back in the basement, he donned the hood and gloves, then made himself comfortable in the corner, and settled down to wait.
Skinner was almost asleep by the time he heard a key turn in the lock. The door opened and Krycek paused before crossing the threshold, obviously startled by the sudden change in the contents of the storeroom.
Looking closely at the pile of boxes and other junk which was now piled in the corner, Krycek recognized the boxes from the new computer which had been piled up on the spare bed and surmised that Skinner had been inspired to do some late spring-cleaning. He remembered seeing some of the items in the bedroom closets when he'd gone exploring.
Smiling wryly at his own jumpiness, he switched on a small flashlight, and closed the door, hearing the deadbolt snapping back into place, then threaded his way through the boxes which concealed his hidey-hole.
Krycek made straight for the lone box in the corner. Opening it, he took out a night light and plugged it into a wall socket and turned off his flashlight. Next, he took out a camping mattress and a couple of blankets and made himself a comfy nest. Taking off his jacket, he folded it up to make a pillow and settled down to sleep.
Skinner was by now very puzzled. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but it certainly wasn't this. He waited until he was sure the younger man was asleep, then very slowly rose from his seat and made his way across the room to where Krycek was lying.
Krycek startled awake, but it was too late. Skinner launched himself at the prone figure and held him still by virtue of his superior weight.
"Keep still," the AD growled at him.
Krycek, recognizing Skinner's voice, kept still.
Skinner, for his part, knelt up and removed his hood, then grabbed Alex and his leather jacket and hustled the man upstairs to his apartment.
Seeing him close up and personal in the harsh light of the kitchen, it was obvious to Skinner that Krycek wasn't well. The man's face was positively gaunt. Sitting him down at the kitchen table, he poured two mugs of coffee and set a large box of cookies on the table between them.
Then, fixing him with his best AD stare, Skinner demanded, "Okay, Krycek, tell me why you are camped out in my storeroom and apartment."
When Krycek remained silent, Skinner relaxed his stance somewhat, took a cookie and bit into it, chewing thoughtfully. "C'mon Alex, have some cookies and talk to me. What has happened to you between the last time we met and now? Quite frankly, you don't look well."
Krycek grinned slightly, selected a chocolate chip cookie from the tin and started nibbling on it.
"I went to Russia with some of the resistance as I can speak the language, as well as some others. When our job there was done, the rebel aliens brought me back to the US... except it seems they didn't bring me straight back. There are three months missing between when they picked me up in Russia and when they dropped me off at the safe house in Virginia." He moved his left arm which up till then had been hidden by the table. "And when I got off, I found that I had a new arm."
Trying very hard to remain unruffled by the new appendage, Skinner commented, "Well, that must be better than having only one."
"Oh, it is. But my body hasn't got accustomed to it yet. I'm so weak I can't defend myself, I find it difficult to keep my balance, and some people won't believe it's really me. "When I got back my landlord gave me a week to vacate the apartment. He took one look at me and refused to renew the tenancy."
"Why didn't you avoid him?"
Krycek gave a bark of laughter which turned into a wracking cough. When he could speak again, he said, "He lives on the premises, so I couldn't avoid him. He must have seen me going in, because he was ringing the doorbell before I'd got my jacket off.
"Anyway, for a couple of days I tried to find somewhere else, but no one would take me. So I arranged for my things to be put in a mini storage unit. I tried living in it for a couple of days, but I found it too claustrophobic, as well as too cold." He shivered slightly at the memory. "No motel or hotel I would want to live in would let me stay, in case I died on them in the night...."
Skinner felt he could sympathize with them in a way; Krycek did look very ill. He had sunken cheeks, an unhealthy flush, and an obviously painful cough.
"Why didn't you come to us rather than trying to deal with this on your own?"
Krycek shrugged a little selfconsciously. "I wasn't sure if you would help. Whether you'd still want to have anything to do with me now that the invasion is over."
Skinner sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I know we haven't always seen eye to eye, but we are grateful for your help. If it hadn't been for you and the inside information you provided, I doubt we would have been able to foil the colonist's plans." He paused when Krycek unsuccessfully tried to smother a yawn. "We're both tired. I'll make up a bed for you in the guest room and we'll talk more in the morning."
He saw Krycek look sideways at him and went on, "I'm trusting you not to run out on me, Alex. You're not well and, until you're better, you can live here while I'm in the apartment, as well as when I'm not."
Krycek smiled shyly and ducked his head. "Thanks."
They went upstairs together and Skinner found him a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants he could use as pyjamas. While Alex changed, the AD made up the bed and left his guest to get some sleep. He left the hall light on, went to his own room and slid beneath the covers.
The next morning Krycek woke to the smell of bacon cooking and his stomach growled hungrily. Getting out of bed, he saw that Skinner had retrieved his box of things from the storeroom. Trying not to think about how he could possibly have slept through Skinner coming into the room, he opened the box, took out some clean clothes and went into the bathroom to take a shower.
Skinner heard the shower start and smiled. He'd always thought the smell of frying bacon was enough to rouse the dead... or the dead asleep. He had been surprised when the other man hadn't woken up when he'd taken his box into the bedroom. He'd taken the opportunity to examine his guest. The thin left arm with its wasted muscles must have been more of a liability than a help... especially after the mechanical marvel he had been using. Overall, he was a lot thinner, and last night his face had been grey and pinched with fatigue, but it was the cough that had Skinner worried, nearly shaking the man apart each time a fit overtook him... and still, after everything he had been through, he looked so childishly innocent asleep. Those long lashes making a dark crescent on his cheek and the small tip-tilted nose with the cute wrinkle on he bridge when he frowned.
<Cute? You still think Krycek is cute? Get out of here Walter, I thought you'd got over that infatuation a long time ago.>
The toaster popping up brought him back from his thoughts and he concentrated on cooking them breakfast.
He was breaking the eggs into the pan when Krycek appeared in the doorway. Looking up momentarily, he said, "Help yourself to coffee, breakfast is almost ready."
Krycek nodded his thanks. He poured coffee into both the mugs standing by the percolator and took them to the table. Sitting down in the same chair he'd occupied a few hours earlier, he sipped his coffee and watched his host dish up their meal.
Skinner put a pile of toast in the middle of the table and gave them each a plate full of eggs, bacon and beans.
"Thanks," Krycek said, and started eating.
While he was eating his own breakfast, Skinner kept a surreptitious eye on his guest. Having seen his dexterous use of the prosthetic during the past years, he was upset by the clumsiness and the weakness of the new arm.
The first thing would be to persuade Alex to see a doctor. Stuart Crawford, the medic whose services, and clinic, they'd used during their operations against the aliens, would be the best person for that job, as Alex already knew and trusted him. Then if there were nothing seriously wrong, the gauntness could be cured by nutritious and plentiful food, relaxation and sleep. For the arm it would probably be best to consult a physiotherapist, but Stuart would advise them on that when he came.
Stuart would be happy to see Alex again too, for Krycek had syphoned off Syndicate funds to provide the centre with the latest in medical equipment, then set up a fund to cover medical expenses for some years to come. When pressed he'd said that since the previous owners' of the accounts were no longer alive, they wouldn't miss it.
When they'd finished eating, Skinner gave Krycek another mug of coffee and shooed him into the lounge, where he joined him once he'd set the dishwasher going.
After a few moments of unnerving silence, Skinner decided to take the bull by the horns. Clearing his throat to get the other man's attention, he asked. "Alex, I'd like to ask Stuart Crawford to come over to give you a check up. Maybe do some tests on you to see if there any way we can boost the healing process."
Krycek nodded, that was a sensible suggestion and wondered why he hadn't thought of that himself. If he was honest with himself, then he had to admit he was not feeling all that well.
"After that, and it's not a condition of your staying here, if you say 'no' I won't push it... but we really need some more information on the consortium, otherwise a lot of them are going to get away with what they tried to do."
Krycek raised his eyebrows. "What makes you think that I know any more than I've already told you?"
"I wasn't born yesterday, Alex. I know how you think by now. You always keep something in reserve to trade." He held up his hand as Krycek drew breath to interrupt. "As I said, I'm not asking you to trade for my help, I'll give that anyway. Just think about it... please."
"I'll think about what you've said." Krycek promised him after a few moments of thoughtful silence.
"Thank you." Skinner wasn't going to push him on the subject. He drew a deep breath, then went on, "I've also got some other news for you. After you had disappeared, Mulder, the Gunmen and I had a meeting of minds, and decided to amend a few records. We've made sure that you're not on anybody's wanted list any more." Leaving the startled man still staring at him in amazement, he went over to the phone and dialled the medic's private number.
When Crawford answered the call, he said, "Stuart. It's Walter Skinner. Alex is here and is not very well. Would you come over to give him a check up?" He listened for a moment, then said, "Thank you."
After replacing the receiver, he turned to Alex saying, "Stuart will be here in about fifteen to twenty minutes." Then, to give Krycek some space, he went upstairs and made the beds, not coming down until he had to answer the doorbell's summons.
Crawford greeted them both, then took a good look at the younger man. Walter hadn't exaggerated when he'd said Alex wasn't well. Keeping his thoughts to himself, he said, "Can we go somewhere so I can check Alex over?"
"He's staying in my guest room," Skinner replied.
The doctor grinned, "Okay, Alex, lead the way."
Krycek pushed himself to his feet, and slowly led the way to his bedroom.
For the next quarter of an hour Crawford prodded and poked, listened intently to Alex's heart, chest and back through his stethoscope, and took some blood to get tested it in the labs. All the while he asked various questions, some of which he got direct answers to and others of which were almost ignored. When he was finished he looked deeply into the green eyes of his patient and said, "Your body has been living on its reserves and there's nothing left to fight even the mildest the infection. It's a good thing I saw you today. If you'd left consulting me for another couple of days, you'd be in hospital with pneumonia. As it is, you're still going to have to be careful that you don't develop it. You must get a lot of rest, and eat nourishing food. I'll give you a prescription for some strong antibiotics, and a list of foods which you should include in your diet. Now, I'll go talk to Walter while you get dressed."
Stuart went downstairs and sought out Skinner.
"How is he, Stuart?"
"He's very weak, Walter, and his body had been feeding on it's reserves. Most worrying, though, is the fact that he has incipient pneumonia - we must do everything possible to prevent it from developing, even if it means tying him down to make him rest." he thought for a moment, then asked, "Have you any idea how long Alex has been like this - I mean how long since the aliens dropped him off?"
"By what he said, I'd say about a couple of months."
"Why didn't he come to us for help when he knew he was ill?"
"I've been thinking about that too. As far as I know, he has no family, and we are about the closest friends he has. You have to remember that he lived undercover for years. I get the feeling that until he came to us with incontrovertible proof that not only did the aliens really exist, but that they could be beaten, did he have allies he felt he could rely on." He paused for a moment, his mind turning back to the past. "It's difficult to be close with someone who may be dead tomorrow. Allies, comrades-in-arms, but getting too close is asking for trouble. You risk making an emotional decision rather than a tactical one."
Crawford nodded, recognizing the voice of experience and acknowledging the points that Walter was making. "In other words, he's a lonely man; an unsung hero in an unacknowledged war."
Crawford sighed and sadly shook his head. Picking up his case, he took out a pad and wrote out a prescription for the antibiotics, then rummaged around until he found the diet sheet and a bottle of pills.
When Krycek joined them again, Crawford gave him two of the pills and a glass of water, insisting that he took them straight away. Then he handed over the diet sheet, and said, "Here's the list of foods that you need to include in your diet to help build up your strength. I want you to drink lots of whole milk. Frankly, you need the calcium and the calories. Once you've finished the antibiotics I've prescribed, you may have the occasional glass of wine. Cut down on the amount of coffee, it's better for you to drink fruit juices at the moment. Once I'm satisfied with the weight gain, and your general health, we'll see about getting an exercise program mapped out for you to tone up the wasted muscles.
"I'll call back next week and see how you're doing.... Take care of yourself, Alex." Crawford got up and walked towards the door.
Feeling rather overwhelmed by the care and attention he was receiving, Krycek eventually found his voice, and called after him, "Thanks for coming."
Walter saw the doctor out and he too thanked him for coming at short notice. Crawford grinned, "Take care of him, and yourself, Walter. I'll see you both next week."
When he returned to the living room, a very tired looking Krycek was reading the paper, having made no effort to do anything about the prescription that Crawford had left for him. Not wanting to push, or presume, Skinner settled down to read some reports. He read for a while and the next time he looked up Krycek was asleep, the paper he'd been reading lying scattered around him.
Quietly, so as not to disturb the sleeper, Skinner picked up the prescription, and the diet sheet, then let himself out of the apartment.
He first called in at the pharmacy to get the prescription filled, then took a grocery cart around the local supermarket to stock up on milk and fruit juices. He also selected enough of the other foods that Stuart had recommended to tide them over for a few days.
When he returned to the apartment, loaded down with shopping, the paper was lying neatly folded on the coffee table, and a pair of sleepy green eyes studied him from the couch. Skinner nodded to him and went through to the kitchen where he made some rounds of beef sandwiches. Putting them onto a tray, he added two plates, two glasses of the juice he'd just purchased, and the bottle of pills. Taking their lunch into the lounge he put it on the coffee table in front of his guest.
Krycek eyed the glass and the bottle for a moment, then heaved himself into a sitting position with a deep sigh. Picking up the bottle, he read the directions then struggled with the child-proof top.
When he heard the first growl of frustration, Skinner went over and plucked the bottle from Krycek's unresisting fingers.
"I don't know about being child-proof, but they are certainly weak-adult proof," Alex joked as he watched Skinner's large hands make short work of the recalcitrant top. He took the two tablets that the AD held out to him, and washed them down with some of the juice. He swallowed and eyed the pink liquid suspiciously.
"It's pink grapefruit juice. Rich in Vitamin C and iron, both of which will do you good." Skinner told him, then took a swig out of his own glass. Ignoring the incredulous look that Krycek was giving him, he picked up a sandwich and started eating. After watching for a few moments, Krycek shrugged and followed suit.
After they'd eaten their fill, Skinner took the remains out to the kitchen. He covered up the uneaten sandwiches in plastic wrap, in case either of them felt peckish later, then did the washing up.
While he was working he heard Krycek use the bathroom, but by the time he returned to the lounge, the younger man was stretched out on the couch, asleep again.
The AD returned to his seat and tried to concentrate on the reports he was supposed to be reading but more and more he found his eyes straying across the room.
Looking at Krycek now, reduced to skin and bone, Walter wouldn't help comparing him to the fresh-faced kid who'd worked for him for those few months and was saddened by the pain he'd heard in that husky voice when he'd said, 'I didn't think you'd want to know me any more...,' just a few hours previously.
He'd never told anyone about those few months that he and Alex had been lovers, and he'd never forgotten the devastated look, quickly concealed, on Alex's face when he'd told him that their affair was over; that he was going back to his wife.
After the boy had disappeared, and his connections to the Smoker revealed, he had lived in dread of the Smoking Man coming to him with pictures or tapes of their liaison. Much later he had felt both anger and sadness. When Alex had punched him in the hospital stairwell, there had been deep-seated anger in the boy's eyes when he'd taken the DAT tape, combined with a kind of anguish, as if he were hating himself as well as his victim.
He snorted softly. When Mulder had brought Krycek here just before dragging him off to Tunguska, he'd taken his "revenge". He'd not only punched him in the gut, but also left him out on the balcony, then tossed and turned in his bed until morning, aching for him, wanting to bring him in and ravish him, but not daring to go near him again. He hadn't wanted to know whether his advances would be welcomed, tolerated in exchange for warmth, or rejected. In either of the latter two scenarios he might have been tempted to do something really rash and seriously hurt the boy.
Shaking his head at his errant thoughts, and wondering why he should suddenly be thinking about the past, he put down the file he was holding, looked at his one-time nemesis, and sighed. It was probably because there was that one, still unresolved issue of their affair, between them.
Realizing that he wasn't going to get anything done, he went out to the kitchen and brought them back another glass of juice each, and the cookie tin in case Alex fancied a snack.
Predictably, Krycek was awake by the time the tray had been put on the table in front of the sofa. He stretched and yawned.
"I don't seem to be able to stay awake today," he said apologetically.
Skinner waved the apology aside. "It's only to be expected, Alex. Your body is trying to heal itsel. Rather like an injured animal will find a safe place to hide and heal, your mind has accepted this apartment as your 'safe place' where you can heal."
Krycek cocked his head to one side, considering the other man's words, then smiled. "Thanks," he said.
The smile went straight to Skinner's heart, and he smiled back recognizing that he was being thanked for the safe place, not the explanation.
When no further conversation developed, Skinner picked up the report to start reading again, after while Krycek put the TV on quietly and flipped through the channels until he found a program he wanted to watch.
Later Walter went to get them some dinner and while he was cooking, Alex laid the dining table in readiness.
After they had eaten and done the dishes, they sat watching a movie together. About two-thirds of the way through Alex started yawning, and at the next commercial break, he got to his feet and said, "I'll have to see the end another time. Good night."
Walter said 'good night', then watched silently as the younger man dragged himself up the stairs and out of sight.
He didn't want to seem to be hovering, but he listened carefully for any sounds that might indicate that Alex was having any difficulties. Finally, unable to concentrate on the movie, he crept up the stairs, and waited until the strip of light under the door was extinguished, before going back to switch off the television and get ready for bed himself.
On Sunday, Alex woke again to the smell of bacon cooking and smiled sleepily to himself. Walter seemed to be going to great lengths to make sure he ate Stuart's idea of nourishing food. he still felt like shit, but at least he wouldn't have to leave this nice, comfortable apartment to get a meal.
Without making any sudden moves which might trigger another coughing fit, he got out of bed and padded into the bathroom, shedding his T-Shirt and shorts as he went.
Walter heard the shower start and grinned; the smell of bacon was working its usual magic. He'd found in the past that cooking the bacon first always seemed to get people to the table in time to eat when the meal was ready.
Sure enough, just as he was cooking the eggs, Alex made his appearance.
"Morning," Alex murmured, standing awkwardly on the threshold.
"Good morning, Alex. Pour yourself some coffee and take a seat, breakfast is almost ready.
Alex offered a slight smile, and did as he was told.
Walter removed two heaped plates from the oven, where they had been keeping warm, added the scrambled eggs, and placed them on the table.
After they'd eaten and the dirty dishes were in the dishwasher, Alex brought up the subject of money. Skinner tried to brush the subject aside, but Alex stuck to his guns, and although Skinner got him to admit that currently he was unable to lay his hands on much ready cash, he was adamant that the AD keep an accounting of the extra expenditure so that he could pay him back.
Having cleared the air, the rest of the day was spent in much the same way as Saturday, Skinner cooked and read reports, Krycek slept, watched some television, then slept some more. The only exception being that after dinner, Alex managed to stay awake until the end of the movie.
On Monday they breakfasted early on eggs, bacon, sausages and hash browns. Skinner promised that would be back about 7 p.m. so that they could have dinner together, making Krycek promise in return to take plenty of rest, eat a proper lunch, take his pills, and drink only milk or fruit juice.
After Alex had said, "Yes, Walter," for the fourth time, Skinner grinned, picked up his briefcase, and left the apartment calling out a cheery, "See you tonight," just before he closed the outer door.
Alex took his first set of pills, then tiredly scrubbed his right hand across his eyes. Putting his plate and glass into the dishwasher he pressed the button to start the cycle, and wandered over to the couch, glad to lie down and rest. He felt tired just from getting out of bed and getting himself showered and dressed.
He was drifting, almost asleep, when the pager let him know that Skinner's car has arrived at the Hover Building. He smiled sleepily... promising himself that he would deal with removing the tag as soon as he felt better.
At noon he dutifully made himself a substantial lunch from Stuart's suggestions. Then, towards evening, he slowly started to put dinner together, making salad and scrubbing a couple of large Idahos and putting them in the oven to bake, so that when Skinner got home just after seven that evening he found dinner waiting for him.
Alex always had been a good listener and during the meal Walter found himself telling the younger man about the frustrations of the day. They tried playing a game of chess, but Alex wasn't really well enough to concentrate and went to bed early.
That set the pattern for the week, and Walter found a sense of peace talking about his day as he never had before. They talked of Scully's budding romance, and the bunches of roses which arrived on her desk at regular intervals; of the possibility of Mulder leaving the FBI, and what he might do with his time. One subject Skinner studiously avoided was whether Krycek did have any more information on the Consortium, and if he did, whether he would part with it. He hoped that by giving Alex space, and time to think, the younger man would accede to his request.
By Thursday, the combination of medication, nutritious food and, lots of rest began to work and Alex coughed less at night and spent less time asleep during the day. The only trouble was, it gave him more time to think... to remember... he got to his feet, and went up the stairs aiming to make the beds, to save Skinner having to do it when he came home from work. He straightened the sheet, and fluffed up the bedspread on the bed he was using, then went into the master bedroom and found himself ambushed by his memories. The bed must have been one of the few things that Walter had brought with him from the house. The brass bedstead gleamed brightly in the afternoon sun, and he could see himself spreadeagled on his back, with Walter kneeling between his legs, smiling down at him, and readying himself to plunge his cock deep into the waiting body. Alex found himself weak at the knees, an erection pressing against his jeans, wanting Walter so much that it hurt.
Fleeing the bedroom and it's memories, he returned to the living room and forced his mind away from his recovering libido, by thinking about alien abductions and the Consortium records. He started to think about the proposal Walter had put to him, and his lips twitched wryly when his thoughts strayed to the older man's comment about not being born yesterday. He hadn't really thought he had, it was just that he didn't realize how well Skinner had come to know him... it was a sobering thought.
While they ate breakfast on Saturday Walter looked at his 'guest'. Alex had put on some weight and his skin was beginning to get a healthier look; but most importantly, he reported that hadn't coughed once during the night before.
Towards the end of the meal, Krycek suddenly said, "You were right, you know, I did keep some information back. Now that I've started feeling better, and had a chance to think about it, I've decided to give you the rest of the files I have on the Consortium. It will take me a while to get access to it all, but I'd hate to see them get away with anything."
"Thank you, Alex." Skinner knew instinctively that making any big deal out of the gift would not be welcome. Time to think of rewards when the whole thing was over and done with.
When he arrived, Crawford professed himself very pleased with Alex's progress. After giving him another check up, he paid special attention to the new arm. He recommended a few gentle exercises which could be performed with household objects, and told Alex he'd made an appointment with Greta, the physio at the clinic, for next Wednesday, by which time he judged that Alex would be fit enough for some gentle exercises.
Alex thanked him and promised that he would finish the pills and attend the physio session.
While Alex got dressed again, Crawford told Skinner of his findings, and about the appointment he had made for Alex to start physiotherapy, as he was making his way to the door, excusing his inability to stay for coffee as he had another patient to visit before going back to the clinic.
When Alex came back downstairs, the AD was, as usual, reading one of the pile of files he'd brought home with him. Sitting down on the couch opposite the older man, he said, "I expect Stuart's already told you that he's pleased with my progress...." He paused and Walter nodded, wondering what was coming next. "And he wants me to go to the clinic next Wednesday to see Greta." Walter nodded again. "I was wondering if, next weekend, you would help me look for a new apartment," Krycek finished diffidently.
Walter's heart missed a beat, and he knew without doubt that in just these few days Alex had reclaimed his place in his heart. Swallowing hard, he tried to think of something, anything, to say, that would make him change his mind.
"If that's what you really want, then, of course, I'll help you. I'll be sorry to see you leave, though, I've enjoyed your company."
Krycek studied the hands in his lap, endlessly running the thumb of his right hand over the pads of the fingers on his left. "I just thought it was time..." he murmured.
The uneasiness, and the softness of the reply, gave Walter cause to hope that Alex might still care a little for him too.
"Alex, there is something I want say to you... if, when I've had my say, you still want to go looking for an apartment next weekend, then I will still help you. Okay?"
Krycek raised his head, looking puzzled, then nodded, agreeing to listen, before dropping his eyes again.
Skinner leaned back in his chair, took off his glasses and rubbed his hand over his face before replacing them. "My father was a strict man. He pounded his values into his sons, making us believe that to uphold an oath taken, or keep a promise made, was the honourable thing to do, no matter what the circumstances."
He saw the furrow at the top of Krycek's nose deepen. "I've been doing a lot of thinking these last few days, not only while you and I have been talking, but also after you've gone to bed in the evening. Looking back on my life and wondering if there was anything I could, or should, have done differently. There are always things in one's life that you can look back on and wish that you'd done something different, sometimes just simple things like going out on a particular day instead of staying at home, or turning left instead of right. Thinking back, I came to the conclusion that I've made a few errors in judgement, and one really, really big mistake...."
He paused, trying to find the right words to tell the man sitting across from him what he was feeling, hoping to persuade him to stay; to give him another chance... "My marriage to Sharon was my first major error of judgement, we drifted together; thought we were in love, and stayed together because of the vows we'd taken, then drifted apart again."
Krycek blinked, and looked up at Skinner, wondering where the sudden changes of subject were leading.
"That really big mistake I mentioned earlier, was ever letting you go, Alex. The trouble was I still felt that my marriage vows were the important things to keep, and when Sharon begged me to go back to her.... well, I won't go into that, but it didn't work out. We parted again not long afterwards, but you had disappeared by then, and I felt I had lost my one chance of true happiness by trying to be faithful to someone I hadn't really loved in the first place."
As Walter paused again, Krycek felt a long held back surge of longing rush through him. Admittedly during their time together they had never discussed any previous relationships, so it had come as a complete surprise to find that the man he loved was going back to a wife he didn't even know existed. Until that day he had thought he had found his life-partner, someone to whom he could turn in times of stress, and be comforted, and he had been absolutely devastated when Walter had ended their relationship.
Walter, who'd been watching Krycek's hands repetitively moving, saw them still as the other man's body froze, waiting for him to continue.
"I have enjoyed having you here. Our conversations over dinner have become the highlight of my day, something to look forward to during interminable meetings. I know I have no right to ask, Alex, but I would like it if you would stay here, to see if I can correct that big mistake... in these last few days I've come to realize that I've never stopped wanting you... loving you...."
The fingers suddenly clenched, and Walter watched in silence as they moved out of his range of visions when their owner stood up. His heart sank as Krycek walked over to the balcony window and stood staring out over he the city. Skinner watched him for a minute or so, then stared down at the floor between his feet.
His mind in a turmoil, Krycek stared at the spot where he'd been cuffed to the railings. He had been going to leave because, after everything that had happened between them, he still wanted the man.... Now he was being offered a fresh start. He glanced down at his hands, and smiled slightly. Hands, plural. He had been given a new arm that he had to learn to use again... a fresh start... an omen maybe. Perhaps it was also time for a new honesty.
His decision made, he crossed the room to stand beside Skinner who was still studying the carpet.
"You asked me why did I come here... it was because I wanted to share your life, if only vicariously. I could touch the things that belonged to you... wrap you around me."
He took the last step that placed him directly in front of the older man. He dropped to one knee, wrapped his arms around the other's neck and gave him a gentle kiss. "I never stopped loving you, you know. After you sent me away I was so confused by my feelings, wanting to hurt... hate... love... You have always been the one thing I've craved... I've tried to deny it... had to when the survival of our species was at stake... but it was never easy...."
Walter brought the broken ramblings to a halt by kissing Alex into silence.
A few minutes later Skinner stood up, bringing the younger man up with him. Without saying a word, he grabbed Alex's left hand, kissed the fingers, then led him upstairs to the master bedroom. Pausing at the foot of the bed, he pulled the young man into his arms again.
Alex gave him a watery smile, blinking rapidly, trying to prevent the brimming tears from spilling down his cheeks.
Walter leaned forward and kissed the incipient tears away whilst helping Alex to remove his clothes. When they were both naked, he maneuvred them both on to the bed all the while dropping light kisses over Alex's body.
Not that Alex wasn't reciprocating in full measure.
Skinner laid them down, side by side, and took their erections in hand, working them gently to completion.
Alex looked up at him, a quizzical look in his eyes. Walter smiled broadly, wiping their bodies with his discarded undershirt. After cleaning them up, he took Alex into his arms, stifling his protests.
"When you're better it will be my pleasure to fuck you through the mattress, until then just having you beside me, to be able to hold you when you're asleep, is a slice of heaven I never thought I would have."
Alex smiled dreamily, more tired than he would ever admit to being, and rolled over so that his head was cushioned on Walter's shoulder.
With a deeply satisfied expression on his face, Walter held on to his lover as the younger man drifted towards sleep.
"I love you, Walter..." Alex murmured, his eyes fluttering closed.
Walter dropped a light kiss on the sable head. "I love you too, Alex." he replied, knowing that he would be more than content to simply hold him like this for the rest of their lives.