People seldom took him by surprise. Once he'd figured them out, they acted pretty much as he expected they would.
Mulder, he knew, always hit first, and asked questions later. And Scully, the few times he was unfortunate enough to cross her path, always regarded him as though he were something she'd found stuck to the bottom of her shoe.
It was a universal law; people were prisoners of their own temperament. A mysterious combination of DNA and upbringing, nature and nurture, biology and psychology. Most people were weak, unable to break free of whatever time and genetics had wrought. So they continued to act in predictable ways, despite their most determined efforts or heartfelt wishes.
But Skinner, Walter Sergei Skinner, Assistant Director of the FBI managed what 99.99% of the population could not.
Skinner had surprised him - Alex Krycek. Surprised him into speechlessness.
Krycek crouched down in front the man, wrinkling his nose in distaste as he smelled the stench of spilled scotch and unwashed male.
He'd let himself into the Crystal City apartment a few minutes earlier, after an absence of some six months. He immediately spied Skinner, in his favorite chair, which faced away from the rest of the room, toward the windows. It hadn't been long after they started seeing each other that Skinner had rearranged his living room furniture. He liked to watch the sunset, he said.
Skinner had to be aware that he was there, but he hadn't stirred, hadn't spoken. While Krycek was unsure of just what his welcome might be after such a long absence, this clearly was not what he was expecting. The hairs on the back of his neck stood. He drew his gun, moved carefully around the AD, then kicked at the man's feet. When Skinner still didn't move, Krycek cautiously searched the rest of the apartment. It was not until he was sure that the AD was a quite alone that he allowed his guard to relax slightly, and examined the man more closely.
This was not the fastidious, well-kept man he knew. He was still wearing his work suit, but it was wrinkled, his tie askew, and his linen soiled. His fringe of hair was shaggy, and he hadn't shaved for a couple of days. Clearly, something had gone very, very wrong in the man's life.
Skinner's moan caught his attention. "Hey. Walter." Alex shook the man gently. "Anyone alive in there?" Skinner mumbled something, then turned his head and began to snore loudly. Krycek thought about feeding him coffee, but realized that contending with a dead-drunk was better than contending with a wide-awake drunk, at least until he understood what it was he was up against.
If there was one thing Alex Krycek was good at, it was fitting together puzzles with pieces that most people never knew existed. He would get to the bottom of Skinner's unusual behavior. But first, he wanted to make the man more comfortable.
In Skinner's bedroom, he found an unmade bed, with dirty clothing strewn about. He shook his head in disbelief, quickly striping the bed and remaking it with fresh linen. He collected clothing and dumped it into a laundry basket. Then he picked up the trash - empty cans, bottles, and tumblers, carted them to the kitchen and sorted them appropriately.
Next he approached the big man, eyeing him speculatively. He leaned down, close to the man's ear, then yelled. "Skinner" as loud as he dared without disturbing the neighbors.
Skinner sat bolt upright. "Jesus Christ!"
Alex grinned. "Nope. Sorry, just me."
Skinner looked around, confused. He had the wide-eyed look of someone completely inebriated. He glanced at Alex three times before finally seeing him. "Ah ha!" He slurred. "It's the pretty boy, is it? Come back from the dead to haunt me again, ya little bastard." He took a swing in Krycek's general direction, but he lacked both coordination and strength to inflict any damage. The effort was too much, and man's head fell back on his chest.
"Come on Skinner, wake up." Alex shook him. Skinner moaned, twitching his head, as though he were shooing away a troublesome gnat. Alex grabbed a shoulder and shook hard. Skinner opened one eye. "You again? Ya little fucker." Krycek didn't know whether to laugh, or hit the man. "Come on, Skinner, work with me. You can't sleep here."
"Why the hell not?" he bellowed. "I sleep here every night."
Alex frowned over that bit of information, but it was a clue he'd worry over later. He couldn't concentrate with Skinner sprawled here, uncomfortable and smelling. He roused him again, and this time was able to lead him up the stairs, pushing and pulling and cajoling the whole way. In the bathroom, he stripped the man expertly, scowling at the way his clothes hung on him, and at the ribs he could count. The man wasn't eating. More clues.
He then striped himself, and pulled the older man into the shower with him. Skinner protested loudly, peed all over the younger man's feet and legs, and tried several times to lay down in the shower. Dealing with a drunk Skinner was like trying to take a dozen kangaroos for a walk. Finally, they were both scrubbed clean, smelling sweetly of sandalwood and aloe.
Drying Skinner the best he could with one hand, he leaned the man against the bathroom door, turning him as needed. Then he led him to the freshly made bed, and covered him gently as the older man rolled onto his side and curled up.
Alex sat on the edge of the bed. He watched him for several minutes, then reached out and gently stroked Skinner's cheek. "What the hell happened to you?"
A cardiologist will automatically check the nail beds and lips of anyone they meet. A dentist will scope out a person's teeth and bite. Krycek, professional spook that he was, automatically snooped through a person's life. He could tell a great deal about a person by what they had in their medicine cabinet, how old the milk was in their refrigerator, and how they handled the piles of paper the US mail delivered to them each day.
The first thing Krycek did after getting Skinner settled was a quick walk-though of the apartment. Dirty dishes and carry-out containers littered the kitchen. A stack of unread newspapers covered a table by the door.
He ignored the urge to clean, and instead, booted up Skinner's home computer. Krycek, who knew as much about hacking as the Lone Gunman, was able to quickly break into Skinner's FBI and personal Yahoo account. He skimmed through the in and out boxes, frowning over Mulder's annoyingly whiny messages, cringing at Scully's surgically succinct correspondence.
Next, he broke into the e-mail account of Skinner's assistant. Kim, he reckoned, would know more than anyone what was going on with Skinner. He read through her recent correspondence quickly, frowning over Kim's obvious concern for Skinner's well-being, but giving no clues as to the possible cause of his present state.
He scrolled back to several months earlier. What he read made him feel as though he had belly-flopped into a swimming pool; breathless and nauseated.
"Fuck!" Skinner, it seemed, had fallen in love.
Krycek forced himself to reread what Kim had written to someone named Judi, "I think my boss, the surly one, has fallen in love. I know what you're thinking, but don't laugh. I'm completely serious. He's smiled at me several times this week. Not that polite little smile he gives after asking me to perform some impossible task, but an honest-to-goodness smile that reaches his eyes. And, I've caught him day-dreaming at least twice. In all the year's I've known him, the man has been nothing but a machine, reading and churning out reports regardless of what was going on in his personal life. It's quite touching to see him mooning over this woman, who ever she is - the lucky bitch. And the one time I came in to remind him we needed to get to a meeting, he told me to go on ahead - even though it would make him late! Why? I'm sure it's because he was thinking of *her* and wanted to get little Wally under control before standing up! *LOL* Damn, and here I was hoping we might be able to pay out the "how big is it" pool once and for all."
Alex sat motionless for several minutes. Skinner in love? Christ. In all the months they'd been - what? Lovers? It never occurred to him that Walter might be seeing someone else. They'd never talked about exclusivity - they didn't have that kind of relationship. But the intense physical joining they shared left the thought of all other lovers stale and tasteless to Krycek. He assumed it was the same for Skinner.
He remembered the first night he'd broken into Skinner's apartment. He'd come back from Russia, maimed and broken, no longer sure of his appeal. But he had remembered that night, weeks earlier when he'd spent the night on Skinner's balcony. He remembered the way Skinner observed him, wondered if he had imagined the heat in his stare, as he watched him like a cat at a rat hole, waiting to pounce.
So when he found himself back in the states, he'd come calling on the AD. He let the bigger man swing at him, dodging his blows, watching his eyes. But all he saw there was cold contempt, which left him feeling hopeless and foolish. He was turning to leave when the AD caught him by surprise with a hard tackle. The man followed him to the floor, sprawling across his former subordinate. Alex couldn't help the way his body betrayed him, and knew the instant Skinner felt his hard-on, cringing at the thought of how the man would use it against him. When he finally looked up, defiant and defensive, he was stunned to see the heat there, and even more stunned when the man ground against him, kissing him breathless.
They pulled at each other's clothing, kissing and groaning and stroking. Krycek suddenly felt the other man still, opened his eyes to find Skinner staring at his arm. He tried to pull away, but the bigger man wouldn't let him. He struggled, half-heartedly, while the man pulled off his shirt, then carefully removed the straps from his prosthesis.
Alex lay on the carpet, breathing hard, his face turned away. Whatever emotion graced Skinner's face, pity or horror, he didn't want to know - not just yet. He was steeling his resolve, searching for the strength to leave, when he felt Skinner's hand grasp his jaw, and turn his face. Skinner stared down at the him for several moments, as though he could read the thoughts behind the shuttered expression. When he finally spoke, his words left Alex dazed and breathless.
"Look, Krycek, I'm sorry this happened. Mulder told me...well, never mind." He leaned down and stroked his cheek. His voice was rough as he continued. "Whatever I think you deserve for what you've done, it wasn't this." Then Skinner kissed him thoroughly, grinding his erection against Krycek, letting his body speak for him. But Alex just lay there, unresponsive. Finally he growled, "Damn it Alex, I don't care about your arm. I just want to fuck you."
Alex stared at him for the length of two heartbeats, before he reached up and grabbed Skinner, pulling him down for a long, breathless kiss.
When they had each come twice, he fumbled back into his clothes, and looked down at Skinner, lying on the couch, looking satiated and debauched. Skinner leaned over and found his pants, and pulled out a quarter, which he flipped to Krycek. "Next time call. I'm tired of fixing my locks every few weeks." he growled.
Krycek fled quickly, while he was still able. He knew there wouldn't be a next time. It was too dangerous. He'd never come so hard in his life. Hours later, he still found it hard to think straight. No, this encounter had to be a one-off, never to be repeated.
But ten days later, he found himself pacing in front of the phone booth at the little mom and pop grocery across from Skinner's building. "Fuck, fuck, fuck," he muttered to himself, worrying a quarter between his thumb and forefinger. He spooked more than one pedestrian as he waited for the lights to go on in Skinner's front window. And when they did, he dialed quickly, before he lost his nerve, before he could think about what he was doing.
Skinner answered, "Hello?" Krycek remembered that deep voice in his ear, urging him to come, telling him how tight and hot he was, while Skinner fucked him hard from behind. He heard that voice again and his mouth went dry.
The line was quiet, then Skinner spoke again. "Is that you?" Krycek shivered. If anything, the man's voice was even deeper, huskier, sexier.
"Yeah," he croaked. "Yes, it's me."
"Where are you?"
"Across the street." Alex looked up and saw a movement in the window.
Skinner asked, "What are you waiting for?"
"Hell if I know." Alex snapped.
Skinner chuckled then, a deep rumble that shot straight to Krycek's cock. "I'll open the door. Lock it up, will you, before you come upstairs."
And he did. Followed Skinner's directions to a "T", cursing himself as a fool the whole way. He found Skinner in his bedroom. Naked. Lying on his bed. Stroking his cock, staring at Alex through heavy lids. "You going to watch me? Or join me?"
He pulled off his clothes, then swatted at Skinner's hand. "I'll do that," he said.
And he did.
Every few weeks after that, Krycek found himself back at that phone booth, waiting for the lights to go on in the Crystal City apartment. Each time he was unsure of his welcome, even though it never varied. He finally figured that Skinner had become as addicted to their mind-blowing sex as he had.
Addicted. Such a mild world for such a compelling need. He skipped meals, went hungry, just to get back here to this dangerous city and the man who held him enthralled. He knew about addictions. This thing between he and Skinner - he wasn't sure what to call it, but it was much more than an addiction.
He'd been gone so long this time. When the old men of the consortium had been fried to a crisp, Krycek had found that he had some fires of his own to put out. He had thought about calling Skinner, but figured it would only torment them both with what they couldn't have, thinking it would only be a few more days until he could get away. But the days had turned into weeks, and the weeks into months.
And Skinner? Skinner, it seemed, had gotten tired of waiting. He'd fallen in love.
He paced back and forth in Skinner's living room. His first thought, after reading Kim's note, was to storm out. Disappear - for good this time. But the idea of never speaking to the man again left an odd little ache in chest.
His next thought was to stay and seduce the man back into his bed - make him forget this other person, this interloper who had captured the other man's heart. That thought made him feel better.
He climbed the stairs quietly, slipped into Skinner's room and studied the man. He frowned at the streaks of gray in his fringe, the new lines on his face. Somewhere, in a far corner of his heart, something melted. And suddenly, beyond all reason, his only thought was to see the man happy. Even if it meant losing him.
What ever had happened between Skinner and this woman, Alex knew it was nothing that couldn't be made right somehow. Hell, if Skinner could forgive *him*, he could forgive anything.
And that would be his gift to Skinner. He would find out who this woman was, and find a way to bring them back together. The ache was back in his chest, worse than before. But he knew, he knew, this was the right thing to do.
Skinner murmured in his sleep, frowning. Alex leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Hush now." he said. "I'll take care of this."
The first thing he did was clean up the kitchen. He couldn't think when the place was such a mess. Couldn't strategize while his chest ached so. So he scrubbed and tossed and washed and dried, and put things away. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
His stomach rumbled, but the thought of eating anything made his throat close. But he knew Skinner would need fluids when he woke, and winced in sympathy at the thought of the man's hangover. A quick check of the refrigerator found it mostly empty. He checked the freezer, but all he found was ice, two bottles of Stolichnaya Vodka, and three pints of Ben & Jerry's Triple Fudge Meltdown. The ice cream made Krycek frown - Skinner didn't even like chocolate. Curiouser and Curiouser.
He made a list, then walked to the little grocery across the street. It was hellishly expensive, but he didn't want to be gone long. He bought bread and milk, fresh produce, and protein.
Back at the apartment, he unpacked and put away the groceries, then checked on Skinner. The man had kicked his blankets off, so Alex covered him gently, sighing heavily.
Back in the kitchen, he fixed himself a bowl of the ice cream. It was the one thing he could think to eat that he was least likely to gag on. Besides, Triple Fudge Meltdown was his favorite flavor.
He settled himself in Skinner's favorite chair, looking out over the southern skyline.
He grinned, remembering the first time he and Skinner had watched the sunset together from this very spot. It must have been his third or fourth visit. He called first, then came up. He was surprised to find the furniture moved around. Skinner, he knew, wasn't the rearranging type. Stranger still, Skinner wasn't in his bedroom waiting for Alex. No, he was here, in the living room. In this chair, which he had turned to face the window. Stark naked.
Before Alex could gather his senses, he was naked too. His hole lubed and open, sitting on Skinner's lap, facing the window, while he slowly lowered himself onto the older man's cock. Skinner had tortured him that night, tortured them both, not letting them come for the longest time. Not until the sun had set. Sitting back to belly, with Skinner's cock up his ass, Skinner's fist wrapped around his own cock. And Skinner's deep, sexy voice in his ear, alternately describing the beauty of the changing colors in the western sky, mixed in with a description of Alex's ass - how tight and hot and sweet it felt around his cock.
They never even made it to the bedroom that night. Skinner washed them with damp paper towels from the kitchen. They fell asleep on the couch, wrapped in each other's arms. It was the first time Alex spent the entire night.
Alex sighed, realizing they'd never share a sunset again. The ache in his chest was back, stronger than before. Then he realized that he was so caught up in memories, that he'd been mouthing a spoon of ice cream as though it were Skinner's cock. His zipper was undone and his cock was hard and dripping. He shoved the spoon back into the heap of melting ice cream. He stared out at the street below, ignoring his erection. Then he frowned, tilting his head. He never realized it before, but from this window, Skinner could see the grocery across the street. And the phone booth that Alex always called him from.
Something was wrong. Something didn't add up. He stood, tucked away his softening cock and zipped up. 'Think, Krycek, think.' He paced the livingroom, ticking through the evidence he'd found, and more importantly, what he hadn't found.
When he'd gone through Skinner's apartment earlier, he'd found no sign of a woman's presence in his life. No letters, no cards - even though he knew that women loved to send men stuff like that. No perfume, or woman's razor or deodorant in the bathroom. No diet soda in the kitchen or pantry.
Yet Kim had been sure that Skinner had fallen in love, then had his heart broken. And she couldn't be wrong. What kind of day Kim had depended on what kind of day Skinner had. She knew him better than anyone. But something wasn't adding up.
Some instinct he didn't understand, but knew better than to question, led him up the stairs. He found the suit jacket he'd stripped off Skinner. There had been something not right about it. He patted it down, and felt something - something in the inside pocket. He turned it upside down, spilling the contents onto the corner of Skinner's bed. He knelt down next to the bed, frowning over what he'd found.
A small packet of Vaseline. A memory teased as he turned it in his fingers. Then he remembered. He had surprised Skinner at a conference in Seattle, and this was the closest thing to lubricant the hotel gift shop carried. Why had Skinner kept it? It was almost empty, and, as he recalled, it wasn't that great as a lubricant.
But there was more. A little plastic turtle. Why the hell was Skinner carrying around a toy? Then he remembered, snorting in disbelief. It was Franklin the Turtle, the prize at the bottom of a box of Captain Crunch. Skinner was always teasing him about his morning sugar habit, always buying the boxes of Captain Crunch that had the most juvenile toys in them, when he could have just as easily bought the extra-large boxes that didn't have toys. He grinned to himself, shaking his head at the memory.
He picked up a small glass vial, already knowing what it was. A two-dram bottle of essential oil - Malaysian Sandalwood. Alex liked to mix it with unscented shower gel and massage oil. Skinner, he knew, loved the way it smelled. He had this bottle delivered to Skinner at his office, in a small brown box. He drizzled a bit of the oil onto the packing paper, so the whole box would be fragranced. Skinner told him later that he'd gotten hard the instant he smelled it. And, in fact, that everyone who came to his office that day had smelled it. For weeks after, Kim had teased him about his secret admirer.
And last, but not least, a tiny stuffed animal. Alex had found it in Hong Kong, and brought it back for Skinner, knowing the man would appreciate the humor. A two inch high mouse, wearing a tiny, black leather jacket. Skinner had growled that he'd like to see Alex like that some time - wearing his leather jacket and nothing else. Alex, of course, obliged. Another memorable evening.
Krycek frowned again, the pieces were coming together, but he didn't dare believe.
Keepsakes. Skinner had a collection of keepsakes he carried around with him. But not just any keepsakes - Alex Krycek keepsakes. Alex shook his head in disbelief, then stopped. A Russian always believes his eyes. The evidence could not be denied.
The pain in his chest eased, then disappeared completely.
He found a white linen handkerchief in Skinner's dresser, and carefully wrapped the intriguing little collection, placing it on the bedside table.
He hummed as he shucked his clothing, his eyes dreamy and unfocused. Kim, he realized, had gotten it mostly right. He lifted the covers and slide in next to Skinner. Skinner *had* fallen in love, that was true, he mused. He reached over and turned off the light. And yes, he then had his heart broken. Alex curled up next to the big man, laying his head his shoulder, silently asking for forgiveness for his long absence. But she'd gotten one thing wrong, he thought, combing his fingers through the hair on Skinner's chest - one tiny but significant detail. He sighed, then pressed a kiss to the other man's cheek. The "lucky bitch" that Skinner had fallen in love was not a woman - it was him - Alex Krycek. Rat-bastard. Triple agent.
Skinner, it seemed, was full of surprises.