Analgesic
by Kira


Cold.

Quiet, don't let them hear you.  Shhhh.  Gnaw at your bones, bite and scratch.

Cold.

Dark.

*^*^*^*^*^*




Walter Skinner never thought he'd feel relaxed.  Work had been piling up, stacks of paper rising like miniature high rises on his desk.  The Director had been hounding him all week to clue up an investigation which Mulder insisted on pursuing, far beyond the dictates of reason.  Scully had merely shrugged her shoulders, grimacing a bit as Mulder talked of strange sightings.  Business as usual in the X-Files now that the conspiracy had been unveiled and destroyed.

The fight against the..whatever the hell they had been fighting...had culminated in a huge explosion at a top secret hanger that decimated the Consortium and their alien allies Support for the inner government scattered.  The men who had been pulling at Skinner's strings like masters of a marionette were gone.  Now, Mulder was back to hunting down strange phenomenon, monsters in the sewers and kids that teleport from their beds.  Scully still stayed by his side.  Alex Krycek, the man who had fed them the last vital bits of information needed before the showdown, had disappeared into the night.  He was presumed either dead at the hands of those he betrayed who were still alive, or living the shady life he had adopted, assassin for hire

And to top it off, his neighbour Maxwell Donaldson, had decided that a five and half foot fence was necessary to separate their properties, cutting off Skinner's view of the forest.  To add insult to injury, Donaldson had painted it a vibrant orange.

Skinner had bought the two-story house, way out in an isolated suburb, on a whim.  It had gone on the market, needing to be sold fast.  He had been in the right spot at the right time, and within days had found himself with a nice little mortgage.  The house had three bedrooms, two baths, and an outdoor Jacuzzi in the back, which he was now soaking luxuriously in, ignoring the fence across the yard.

Every muscle was slowly relaxing.  Even the mosquitos had taken the day off.  Nothing to do, and Kim had been instructed not to call unless it was a matter of life or death, literally.  So when the phone rang, he was surprised, and the anxiety and stress returned to his body.

"Hello?"  Skinner tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder while grasping the edges of the towel he wrapped around his waist.

"Assistant Director Skinner?"

"Yes.  Who is this?"

"My name is unimportant, and this line is not secure.  Our paths have crossed in the past.  I have something you might very well want.  Meet me at the corner of Tildon Road and Pine Hill Drive.  Come alone."

Skinner stared at the receiver as the dial tone sounded.  This reeked of the Consortium; anonymous calls, secret meetings.  But damn it, he was hooked.  What was so important that they thought he would want to have it?

There was only one way to find out.

*^*^*^*^*^*




Silent like a mouse.  Rat.

Don't move, don't breathe

Dark.  Hate the Dark.

Shhhh.

*^*^*^*^*^*




Skinner arrived at the meeting place, an abandoned warehouse. Why, why was it always a warehouse? he wondered.  For once, he'd love one of these secret meetings to occur in a nice, bright airy, condominium, with drinks on the bar, and airconditioning.  In the meantime, however, he would stand on the tarred asphalt of the parking space, and soak up the intense heat of the summer.

The scuffing of hard soles against the pavement caught his attention, so he turned before the approaching stranger had a chance to surprise him.

Except he wasn't a stranger.  One of the members in the highest echelons of the Consortium and the only man Skinner would be prepared to trust, if that was even the right word.

"Why did you bring me here?"

The well-dressed man gestured with a gentle motion for Skinner to follow him and moved towards the building.  They picked their way through fallen boards, crumbling mortar, until they reached the only solid part of the building, a concrete square with an iron door.  Skinner felt his unease slowly climb.

"What's in there?" Skinner turned to the man beside him, who was observing his reactions with interest.

"A gift.  After this, you will never hear from me again, or any of the other members still alive."  The man held out a key in an immaculate hand.  Purity amidst the grime that surrounded them.  "Giving it to you was my idea.  The rest was out of my control.  Remember that."

Skinner looked down at the key and at the door.  When he looked back at the man, there was no one there.

The key fit tightly in to the lock on the door.  It hadn't been opened recently given the amount of rust that had accumulated in the keyhole.  But with a little bit of elbow grease Walter was able to push the key in and twist it.

With a horrible screech, the door opened, revealing an inky darkness beyond.  A rat ran over his foot as it escaped into the daylight, and Skinner jumped back and screwed up his face in distaste.
He coughed as the stench of urine, faeces and human sweat roiled over him.  A soft scuffing noise came from inside the dark room.

He allowed his eyes time to adjust as he moved forward.  The room was no more than ten feet in either direction, windowless and only small vents near the top of one wall allowed air to enter into the chamber.

Walter squinted and forced his stomach not to react as more rats made a break for freedom, squeaking lustily as they darted through the square of light.  Garbage littered the floor and Skinner kept from looking too close.

The scratching sound came again, and Skinner knew it wasn't from a rat.  He moved a little more into the room.

And was confronted with a huddled creature, crouching naked by the wall, a hand covering its eyes from the glare.  The other hand...Walter's breath left his chest in an explosive rush.  There was no other hand.  The left arm ended above the elbow.

"Alex." The surprised whisper fell from shocked lips.

He moved forward, only to stop as the filthy man before him tried to move backwards away from the sounds of Walter's feet against the floor.

"Krycek?  Can you hear me?" Walter slowly crouched down.  "Alex?  It's me, Walter."

The hand didn't move from where it protected the face beneath it.  Walter could see that Alex's hair was longer than he had ever seen it, matted and dirty.  His skin was blotched with bruises and bloody scrapes marred his knees, which where drawn up to his chest.  The ex-assassin had been there some time, Walter concluded.  He winced at the lack of flesh on Alex's body.  The last, and only,  time he had seen Alex naked was a discreet encounter after Alex had first come to his department.  They had been like fire and ice together, searing passion and a one night stand that would forever be etched in Skinner's memory.  Alex had been lithe, tanned, and despite the rather horrible haircut, had been the most beautiful man to grace Walter's bed.

A far cry from the creature that cringed from the light without so much as a murmur.

Skinner heaved a resigned sigh.  It would be so simple to leave him there, turn around, get back in his car and go back to suburbia and his hot tub.

But where Alex was concerned, nothing was ever simple.

Fairly certain that he wouldn't make a break for it, Skinner backed out of the room and went to his car.  First things first.   He opened the trunk and took out the wool blanket he stashed there during the winter when storms threatened to maroon him on his commute to the office.  He had forgotten to take it out, but it would suffice as a covering for Alex.  While it was deserted around here, Walter wasn't sure his neighbours would take too kindly to his escorting a naked man into his house.

When he got back inside the warehouse, Alex still hadn't moved.

"All right.  Let's get you out of here."

There was no response.  Until Walter came close enough to try to put the blanket over Alex's shoulders.  The man exploded into action, scrabbling frantically along the wall and scraping already bloody fingers against the mortared walls, all in absolute silence.

"Damn it, I'm trying to help!"  Walter snapped in exasperation.  It appeared that gently cajoling him into the car wasn't going to be an option.  He dropped the blanket and moved in.

Alex didn't give in easily.  He twisted and fought as Walter's arms encircled him.  Walter finally had him pinned against his body, back tight against the breast of Walter's jacket, arm trapped at his side.  It was like trying to hold a wildcat and Walter almost let go as Alex sunk his teeth into the arm that was wrapped around his chest.

"Shit!"  Walter scrabbled to maintain his grip despite the sudden pain in his forearm.  He brought his hand up and managed to grab Alex's jaw, keeping his only remaining weapon at bay.  "Would you stay *still*?"

Alex obeyed.  He went completely limp, a sudden deadweight in Skinner's arms.  Skinner managed to not drop him and realized that Alex hadn't really obeyed, he'd passed out.  From dehydration, starvation, fear, pain, he wasn't sure, but any of them would explain it.

Free to manhandle him, Walter wrapped him in the blanket, trying to avoid aggravating the sores and scrapes as best he could.  He gathered the man into his arms, marvelling at the lack of weight, and carried him out into the light.

*^*^*^*^*^*




Light.  Pain.

Fight back.  Fight.  Don't let them take you.

No.  Don't touch.  Don't don't touch.

Bright.  Hurts.

Hurts.

*^*^*^*^*^*




Walter sighed as he took his tumbler of scotch and tinkling ice cubes, and sank down to slouch in his favourite armchair.  He glanced up at the ceiling, as if he could see through the wood and beams to the occupant of the bedroom above.

He had brought Alex to the car, and settled the limp body in the back seat.  He prayed he wouldn't wake up and panic while they were on the freeway.  Lady Luck for once had been looking down with some favour.  The trip home was relatively short, they didn't get stuck in traffic, and Alex remained unconscious.

Skinner managed to get him into the house without notice from the neighbours.  No prying eyes peered from behind curtains next door, and no one was out mowing the lawn across the street.  Skinner carried Krycek to the house and brought him up to what he had dubbed the 'guest' room of the three bedrooms upstairs.  He wasn't sure what exactly to do first.  The man needed medical attention, so a call to Scully would be in order.  But the smell and grime were getting unbearable in close quarters, not to mention he didn't want to sacrifice his good sheets for an ex-assassin.

Skinner bathed him in the tub, running a couple of inches of water and settling the limp body into it.  Alex didn't wake.  He didn't respond as Walter poured water over his torso, removing layers of dirt and dead skin, turning the water brown.  Five refills of the tub later, and Alex was relatively clean, although Walter wasn't sure how to wash his hair without drowning him.  He would have settled for rinsing the grime out of the tangled locks, but the fine hair was so snarled and matted it was hopeless.

Walter sighed.  It had to be done.  It took a couple of runs with the electric shaver, then he threw the small pile of filthy hair into the trash, leaving Krycek with the only haircut Walter knew how to do, a brush cut.  His cheeks looked hollow, and the dark circles under his eyes deepened with the short cut.  Skinner ran his fingers through the short fuzz remaining, remembering how his fingers had been drawn to the soft brown hair while they made love.  Alex didn't stir as he ran a razor over the thick beard on his cheeks, gradually removing the traces of his prolonged confinement.

Pulling Alex from the water almost strained a muscle in his lower back, and Walter groaned in anticipation of being very sore the next morning.  He laid his burden on the thick towels he had placed on the bed.  Soon Alex was dry and clean, the noxious smell of sweat and urine banished, replaced with what the label on the soap promised was 'summer rain'.   But he was still unresponsive, unmoving.

He hadn't so much as flinched when hydrogen peroxide bubbled in his wounds and a soft cloth wiped any residual dirt from the deeper scratches.  Working his way from head to toe, Walter tended each graze, wondering how the hell the wounded man could be alive.  Alex's ribs were stark and his skin pulled tightly over them.  Never heavy, his stomach was concave and peppered with bruises.  Walter avoided the larger bruises as he pulled a pair of boxers over the bony hips and covered Alex with the lightest sheet he could find to avoid irritating the injuries.  As it was, there wasn't a position that would relieve the strain on Alex's wounds.  His back was also striped with welts, down his still-rounded ass and continuing to his thighs.  They crossed one another and spoke of multiple beatings.  But they weren't too deep and probably wouldn't scar.  He'd call Scully in the morning

Leaving his 'guest' curled on his side, Skinner had moved downstairs, confident he would hear any movements in the bedroom, gone to the bar and poured himself a drink.

Life had suddenly become very, very complicated.
 
 

*^*^*^*^*^*




Warm.  Wet.

Dry.  No rats.

Where?

Safe.

*^*^*^*^*^*




The sun had set, casting the sky in multi layers of pink and purple as the smog of the inner city in the distance captured light and refused to let it go.   The neighbourhood was quiet, only a lone car moving down the lane leading to the main road.  A dog barked.  The height of the scotch in his glass slowly lowered.  He didn't notice as the sun gradually disappeared, leaving him in the shadows of the dusk.

A thud on the ceiling above startled him and he set down the drink.  He pelted up the stairs and
flicked on the light switch.

Alex had woken.  He was crouched behind the bed, wedged into a corner with the sheet tangled about his torso struggling against its confines.  He was clearly panicking.

"Alex." Walter moved into the room, wanting to reassure.  "It's okay.  You're at my house."

Alex writhed against the sheet, face contorted.  Skinner suddenly realized that his right arm was trapped within the sheet, pinned against his side.  He moved quickly to his side, putting a hand on Alex's shoulder and holding him still.  The cornered man froze, eyes wide but unseeing as Skinner unwound the accidental toga, freeing the trapped arm.

The tension drained out of Krycek as surely as if Skinner had pulled a plug in a sink.  Skinner took the opportunity to pull him closely to his chest, gentling him like a wild animal about to run.  They sat on the floor, Walter with his back to the wall, legs out straight in front of him, with Alex crossways on his thighs so that his left side pressed against Skinner.  Walter tipped Alex's head back with a finger under his chin, hoping for a sign of recognition, be it hate or relief, but the vibrant green eyes were still dull and unfocussed.

"Where are you in there?" he whispered hoarsely.

Alex merely stared at a point over Walter's shoulder that only he could see, lost in a world of pain and memories.  But he slowly relaxed into Walter's arms, his head falling onto the older man's chest and his right arm resting limply on his own lap.  Walter could feel his legs start to tingle as the circulation was hindered by Alex's rather insubstantial weight.

This wouldn't do.  He moved Alex off his lap so he could rise and then as gently as possible, eased him onto the bed.

Alex grabbed his arm.  He was so shocked by the movement that he froze and stared at the tattered fingers, which gripped his sleeve in a death grip.

"So, maybe you are in there, after all."  Walter settled himself on the bed beside his patient and brought him once again close to his side.  "I'm not going anywhere, Alex.  You can sleep, you're safe."

The hand didn't move, but the rest of Alex relaxed gradually.  His head moved to rest on Walter's shoulder, his eyes closed until finally it looked as if the injured man was sleeping.  Walter decided to follow suit and slipped into sleep, his hand absently stroking the soft hair on the head at his shoulder.

*^*^*^*^*^*

 "Hello?"

"Scully?"

"Sir?  It's seven o'clock in the morning."

"I'm aware of the time, Agent Scully.  I need your...assistance."

"Is something wrong, sir?"

"No, yes, I don't know.  Would you mind coming to my place?  I need a medical opinion."

"Are you injured, sir?"

"No, I'm fine.  But bring your bag anyway.  You might need it."

Walter hung up after getting a reassurance that she would be there within the hour.  Alex continued to lay curled on his side on the bed.  He was awake.  Or he was at least conscious.  His eyes were open, but didn't even track a hand waved in front of his face.  When dawn had come, Walter had been woken by the frantic movement of Alex, who was trying to cover his face and escape the circle of Walter's arms.  The light streaming in through the window was clearly bothering his eyes, and Walter found himself wondering for the hundredth time just how long he had been locked in the dark hole.

So the shades where drawn and Krycek was resting, still and silent once more.

When Scully arrived, Walter wasn't surprised to see that she was immaculately dressed despite the early hour.

"I need you to take a look at someone." Walter opened the door to let her in.

"What's with all the secrecy, Sir?"

Skinner didn't say a word, merely ushered her upstairs and opened the door to the guestroom.  Scully moved into the dimly lit room.

"Shit!"

He almost laughed at the curse, so uncommon in their dealings with one another.

"What the hell is he doing here?"  She turned to look at him, eyes filled with surprise, and a healthy dose of righteous anger.

"It's a long story.  I'll tell you, but please, can you make sure he's not going to up and die on me?"

She rolled her eyes, but opened her bag.  "I'll see what I can do."

Walter stood in the doorway and watched as his agent moved to the side of the bed.  She purposefully placed herself in Alex's line of sight, but Skinner doubted it would make a difference.  Her hands were gentle, and she talked.  She told Alex when she would move a limb, when she would prod a patch of skin, and when she pulled down the boxers to check for sexual abuse.  On the larger cuts, she replaced the makeshift bandages Skinner had used the night before with butterfly bandages.  The other wounds she left alone, trusting they were not deep enough to scar.  The welts on Alex's back made her wince and Walter had to step outside into the hallway to gulp large breaths of air.  He could hear her talk as she disinfected and cleaned the scrapes more thoroughly than he had the night before.

"Well, he'll live."  Scully joined him in the hallway, snapping off her gloves.  "The worst of the cuts might scar, but there's a chance they won't if they're kept clean.  There's no sign of any forced sexual contact.  I'm mostly concerned with his rather catatonic responses.  He needs a professional psychiatrist.  Would you like to tell me how he ended up in your guestroom?"

"It's a long story.  One that requires coffee."

Once back downstairs, Walter moved to the kitchen and went through the familiar motions of making coffee.  It wasn't until Scully gently removed the canister of flour from his hands that he realized he had put himself rather unsuccessfully on autopilot.

"Why don't you let me do that, sir?"  Scully filled the sugar bowl with sugar as opposed to the flour Skinner had been holding, and then measured the coffee grounds into the machine, flicking the switch that sent the water burbling up to drip down into the pot.

"It's been a long night." Walter rubbed the back of his head.  "I'm not sure where to start."

"Where did you find him?  I thought he had taken off to Europe or Russia."

"In a warehouse.  He'd been locked up in a room.  No light.  No food.  Didn't see any water, but maybe there was some puddle there.  He was a -- a gift."

Scully raised a finely arched brow.  "A gift?"

"From someone inside the Consortium who was working against them on the inside.  He contacted me.  I don't know why they called me." Skinner winced inwardly at the lie.  Clearly, he had known of Walter's past relationship with Alex-- if you can call a one night stand a relationship , he mused -- and thought he'd actually give a damn.

The problem was, Skinner did give a damn.  Memories of that body pressed against his, words of passion spilling from kiss-bruised lips, kept washing over him at the most inopportune times.

"Well, I'd suggest you find a publically funded mental health hospital and get him checked in," Scully offered as she sipped at her coffee.  Her lipstick left red smudges on the white porcelain mug and she wiped at it absently.  "I doubt he has any money.  Plus, they'd be able to help with his arm."

"What's wrong with his arm?"  Skinner straightened with what he refused to call alarm.

"Well he's going to need a new prosthetic, unless you put it somewhere..." At the shake of his head, she continued.  "The stump caught some nasty blows and I wouldn't be surprised if some physiotherapy is necessary, and an operation at the worst.  He's going to be an expensive guest, so putting him in a state hospital would be the best.  I've got a list somewhere, and I could recommend a reliable psychiatrist."

"No."

Scully looked up from her mug.  "No?"

"No.  No hospitals."

"Sir, with all due respect, you can't be serious about keeping him here.  He's a criminal!  And while we don't have any evidence with which to make any sort of charges stick ,we both know what he's capable of."  She poured herself another mug of coffee.

"Scully, it's -- it's complicated."

"What will Mulder say when he finds out you're harbouring the man who killed his father?"

"Agent Mulder doesn't have to be involved in this." Walter sent a glare across the kitchen to make it clear that Mulder *wouldn't* be involved.  "I can't explain right now, but I really don't think that a hospital is the best place for him in his condition.  I've had some experience with post traumatic stress, and I think some human contact is better than what he'd get in an institution."

Scully's eyes were bright as she stared intently at him.  She pursed her lips.  "He's going to need help with his arm."

"I've got a friend from my army days, specializes in amputees."

She sighed and brushed invisible lint from her skirt suit.  "I think this is a mistake."

"Putting him in a hospital would be a mistake."

"I'll write a prescription for some antibiotics.  Give him lots to drink.  But in small doses or he'll just throw it all up." Her doctor mask fell over her face, replacing the concerned friend look.

"Thank you."  He took the slip of paper from her fingers and folded it neatly in half.

"And if anything happens, don't say I didn't tell you so," she said with a half smile.  "I have to get to an autopsy that Mulder's been hounding me for.  Will you be okay?"

"I think so.  I've called in and left a message that I'm taking a  week off.  Should put a kink in everyone's day, but I've got some vacation days owed."

Scully picked up her bag.  "Call me if anything happens.  I'll drop by in a couple of days to check on things, okay?"

Walter nodded and held open the door.  "Dana...thanks."

She placed her hand on his forearm and squeezed gently.  "You're welcome.  Don't get hurt."

He watched as she pulled out of the driveway and then shut the door.  He went back into the kitchen and pondered what one made a catatonic man for breakfast.  Toast seemed reasonable, and somewhat tidier than scrambled eggs.

So he popped two slices of bread into the toaster.   He found some frozen orange juice in the back of his freezer and cajoled it out of its can.  He jiggled the toast out of the slots, spread them  with a thin layer of butter and placed them on the plate.  Then he poured a large glass of the juice and placed it on a tray with the plate.  Breakfast was served.

Alex wasn't awake when he opened the door, but he slowly stirred as Skinner placed the tray on the night side table.  The green eyes opened and Skinner almost jumped as they tracked his movements around the bed.  It was the first sign of humanity in the battered man since his rescue.

"Alex?"  He kept his voice low.

There was no response, but the jade eyes didn't waver from their object of attention, staring at Walter, clearly seeing him as opposed to the blank stare of the night before.

"I brought you some food."  He picked up the toast and broke off a corner with one hand, while encouraging Alex to sit up with the other.  Krycek sat up against the headboard, hand limp on his lap.  He made no move for the food that Skinner offered, and finally Walter sighed and reached up with the piece of toast.  He watched as the lips parted and gently took the piece from his hand.  He felt oddly proud, like he had managed to feed a wild animal by hand.  He held up the glass of juice and found out how hard it was to get someone to drink without their active participation.  Juice ran out the side of Alex's mouth, and Walter clamped down on the desire to lap it up with his tongue.  Rather he grabbed a napkin he'd placed on the tray, and dabbed at the dribbles.

The rest of the toast slowly disappeared, interspersed with sips of juice.  Walter held up a piece of the second slice, only to have Alex turn his head away.

"Well, so you are in there.  Guess you must be full already.  Good enough.  But have some more juice."Walter managed to coax three more sips before Alex began to become distressed, his hand fisting in the sheet covering him.  The mere effort of eating solid food seemed to have exhausted the injured man, so Walter cajoled him back under the sheet to rest on his side.

"Sleep.  You're safe."  He indulged himself in a stroke along Alex's cheek, wincing at the pronounced cheekbone.  A soft sound, barely a sigh, escaped Alex's lips and the green eyes closed, dark lashes brushing at the pale cheek.  It was a start.

They settled into a routine for the day.  Alex would sleep, Walter would catch up on the paperwork he had brought home from the office.  Every couple of hours, Walter wandered into the guest room to gaze down at the curled body, the emaciated form blurred by the soft sheet covering the bruised and battered body.  He sometimes would give in to the impulse to run a hand over the short hair, or stroke a finger along the silky smooth jaw.  The other times he would bring small snacks, crackers, fruit and soup, all hand fed with infinite care.  Alex became used to the light, gradually adjusting to the absence of blackness, so Walter left the blinds partly open.  Despite the brightness, Alex managed to sleep soundly and deeply throughout the day while Walter mulled over paperwork in his study across the hall.

*^*^*^*^*^*




Dark

Soft.  Not Hungry.  Safe?

Skinner's voice.  Not hitting.

Safe?

Dark....trapped...shhh...no noise...shhhhh.

*^*^*^*^*^*

 Walter tossed his pen irritably onto the stack of papers, which didn't seem to have gotten any smaller, and pondered the hatred and fear that the sight of this man had engendered the last times they had met.  The memories of pain and death at his hand and the palm pilot were indelibly etched in his mind.   Alex had never apologized.  Walter had never asked him to.  But the betrayal ran deep and he wasn't sure if their relationship could ever return to the state it had been that one night, where passion ruled.

He wanted it to, and he wasn't sure what scared him more, the thought that it couldn't or the thought that it could.

The sun had set without his notice, and it wasn't until he realized he couldn't see the words on the page before him that he moved to turn on the light.  He got up and stretched, easing cramped muscles before moving into the hallway to check on his guest.

The room was dark and he let the light from the hallway serve as the only illumination.  He made his way to the bed.

Alex was awake, but he had his mouth jammed against his forearm, biting into the flesh to mute his panicked cries.  Walter sank to his knees beside the bed.

"Alex, don't, you're hurting yourself." He moved his hand over the bent head, his brow wrinkling as Alex flinched away, the first real response to Walter's presence.  "Hey.  Come on.  You're safe."

Walter managed to get Alex to stop biting his forearm by pulling at his wrist with one hand while cupping his face with the other.  The skin wasn't broken, but the imprint of his teeth was deep, adding one more wound to his already abused body.  Walter rubbed gently at Alex's back.

"Was it the dark?"  He continued to stroke the bare back, mindful of the welts.  "I might have a nightlight somewhere, so it won't be so dark.  Damn it, I wish you'd talk to me."  Walter huffed in exasperation, tired of having to deal with uncommunicative ex-assassins.  This wasn't in his job description, and he was pretty sure he wasn't going about this in the right way.

Maybe Scully was right, maybe an institution is the right place for him I don't know what the hell I'm doing, Walter sighed inwardly.  Maybe this was a mistake.

"W-w-w-alter?" The stutter was barely a whisper, Alex's voice rough from either disuse or overuse, Skinner didn't know.

"Alex?"  He gently tilted the elfin face upwards with a finger under his chin.  Alex blinked owlishly, his thick lashes momentarily obscuring the vivid green irises.

"W-w-here?"  Alex's tongue flickered out to wet dry lips and his eyes never left Skinner's.

"You're at my place.  I-- uh -- found you.  You're safe."

Alex closed his eyes and leaned into Skinner's hand which somehow once again cupped a slightly stubbled cheek.  "Safe," he whispered.

"I'll keep the light on so it doesn't have to be dark, okay?"  Walter made to move, but Alex's eyes opened quickly, naked fear evident in their depths.  "Okay, I'll just stay right here.  You're not alone, Alex.  I'm here."  Skinner continued to whisper long into the night, soothing the wounded spirit and caressing the wounded body that clung to him for sanctuary.

*^*^*^*^*^*

 Walter dreamt.  He dreamt of long lean legs wrapped around his waist, pulling him deeper into the warm depths of a willing body.  He dreamt of screams of pain as his body betrayed him, each vein exploding from the pressure of his blood.  He dreamt of release, exploding into the clenching channel that spasmed around him.  He dreamt of a man, alone in his agony after being held down and a white hot knife ripping into his arm.  He dreamt of sweet kisses and unbelievable agony.  Pleasure and pain mingled as he was swept along in a torrent of memory and fantasy, mixing until he couldn't distinguish one from the other.

He awoke at dawn, drenched in sweat and shaking.  A hand gingerly patted at his chest and he opened his eyes to see Alex looking across the bed at him, worry in his eyes.

"Bad dream?" the younger man whispered.  Walter nodded and Alex mirrored the gesture, a sage look in his eyes.  This was a man familiar with bad dreams, even in his current state.  Walter could smell the fear in the sweat that bathed the sheets.  He had clamoured onto the bed at some point in the night, having tired of sitting on the floor.  Now, he was stretched out on his back beside Alex, who looked like a nervous cat, ready to run at the slightest sound.

"We stink." Walter peeled back the sheets.  "Come on, get up.  Enough lazing about."

Alex moved slowly off the bed.  Walter sighed as the younger man continued to stare at him with and an edge of fear.

"I'm not going to hurt you.  I give you my word.  Let's get you cleaned up.  We could probably both use a shower."

He was relieved when Alex didn't shy away from his guiding hand as he moved them towards the bathroom.  After he sat Alex on the toilet seat cover, the man already starting to tremble from the exertion, he started the shower.

"Can you stand long enough to get clean?"  He didn't need an answer as Alex stood and almost crumpled but for Walter's firm grip on his elbow.  He managed to get Alex out of the boxers and the few bandages that remained, then stripped himself while Alex stood complacently, unmindful of his nudity

He set the shower head on the gentlest mist and helped Alex step into the tub under the spray.  Walter grabbed the soap from the dish and propped Alex up against him, taking his weight on his chest.

He soaped up a wash cloth and began cleaning him.  Alex shifted occasionally to let him access the harder to reach areas, but otherwise remained still.  Walter turned him around to face him and ran the cloth over the marred back.  The only sound was the soft hiss of water through the shower head and the patter of the droplets on the walls and tub.  Alex stirred and Skinner caught his breath in anticipation, waiting to see what would happen.

"It hurts." Alex looked up at him with wide eyes as he whispered.  "It hurts.  I must be alive."

"What hurts?" Skinner asked, continuing to run the washcloth over Alex's back.

Alex pressed his fist to his chest.  "Here."

"Were you hurt?" Skinner asked, racking his brain for what might be causing the pain.  He didn't see any serious bruising.  And while ill, Alex didn't exactly look like a candidate for a heart attack.  "Did I hurt you?"

"No." Alex closed his eyes, his head dropping down as his muscles slowly released.  "As long as it hurts, I know I'm alive.  When it stops hurting, I'm dead."

Skinner didn't have a response to that, merely ran the cloth down the mangled stump of the left arm, careful not to press too hard.  Alex raised his head and opened his eyes, and Skinner was transfixed by the pain, the longing in the depths of those green eyes.

"I don't want it to hurt anymore." Alex whispered.  "Make it stop.  Please."

Walter knew what he was asking for, but knew he couldn't do it.  His gun in the study, a knife in the kitchen, there were so many ways that Alex could find to stop the pain.  But none of them were ways Walter would allow if he could help it.  He would give Alex a reason to live.  And maybe, just maybe, he would find a way to stop the pain.

He pressed a kiss on Alex's forehead.

"Let's get you dry and bandaged.  Then you're going to tell me what the hell happened to you.  After breakfast."

True to his word, Walter patted Alex dry, re-bandaged his wounds.

"Just boxers again, or do you wants some sweats?"

"Sweats please," came Alex's subdued reply.

Walter left him propped against the counter and returned with an oversized pair of sweats.  Alex's hand disappeared inside the cuff before Walter turned it up over his wrist.  The neck slipped occasionally over his shoulder, most disarmingly in Walter's opinion, and the pant legs were far too long, but they would suffice.  Looking like a child in his father's clothes, Alex looked human again, the haunted look slowly disappearing.

"Come on, boy.  Let's get some food into you."  Skinner said gruffly, trying to regain some of the inner balance he had lost since finding Alex. Alex trailed behind him like a cautious puppy.

The sun bathed the kitchen in soft light, and Walter noticed that Alex only squinted a bit against the sunshine.  He pulled out the coffee grounds and started the pot, moving on to gather the ingredients for scrambled eggs.  Alex stood in the doorway, staring at him intently, bare feet pale against the dark wood of the floor.  He watched as Walter broke the eggs, added cream and powdered mustard and whisked in salt and pepper.  Walter could see him swallow in anticipation and grinned inwardly.  He remembered Alex's fondness for scrambled eggs from that night, and it looked like some things never changed.  Not much of a cook, he was able to make eggs.  As he poured the mix into the heated pan, he remembered the morning he cooked for Alex after their night of mind-blowing sex...

..."Walt, come on, just one more kiss."  Alex rubbed against his back, the thin boxers doing little to conceal the erection pressing against Walter's ass.

"If you don't stop humping me, we'll be late -- and we won't have time for breakfast."  Walter grinned, turning away from the stove and pulling his lover of one night close.  They traded a sloppy kiss.

"Depends on the breakfast I'm looking for," Alex grinned back and slipped to his knees.  Walter rolled his eyes back in his head and gripped the soft hair, pulling Alex's head closer to his groin...

The smell of eggs on the cusp of burning brought Skinner out of his pleasant memories to the harsh reality facing him in the present.  He dumped the eggs on a plate and nodded to Alex to sit down.  The plate clattered on the table, the force behind his hand spinning it around.  Alex flinched and Skinner swore to himself.

"Look, it's not -- it's not you, okay?  Just eat.  The coffee's almost ready."

Alex obediently shovelled the yellow fluff into his mouth, chewing methodically.  Once, though, Skinner caught a look of bliss in his eyes.  Still the hedonist, he thought wryly.

Soon, they both had steaming mugs of coffee, extra sweet with cream for Krycek, black for Skinner, and Walter looked across the table at the ex-assassin, informant, betrayer, lover, and all around enigma.  Krycek was staring at the steam as if it contained the answers to the universe and life.

"So," Walter began, the opening gambit non-threatening.

"So," Alex returned, his voice bland and unassuming.

"Want to tell me how the hell you wound up in the hole?"

Alex flinched, but only in his eyes, which tightened with remembered pain.  "I--I don't want to remember."

"Why?"  Walter was genuinely curious.

"Have you ever felt like you were going to die but not be allowed peace?"  Alex looked up from the coffee.  "Like it wasn't just your body that was going to die, but your soul too?"

Skinner shook his head.  Even on the brink of death in that hospital room, pain in every centimetre of his body, he saw death as a release, a refuge.  "Was that what it was?"

To his surprise, Alex shook his head.  "No, that's what the silo was like."

"What does the silo have to do with you being in the hole."

Alex blinked rapidly.  "It was my punishment," he whispered.  "They knew.  They knew about the dark.  They knew it's not safe in the dark.  The dark can hurt you and you never know when.  It flows out of your eyes and nose and it hurts."

Walter pushed his chair back and moved to crouch by Alex's chair.  "Alex, stop.  You're not there.  You're in my kitchen and it's not dark.  Snap out of it."

He tapped lightly at Alex's cheek as the man continued to drone on about the dark.  Finally he wound down, looking blankly at the mug in front of him.  Walter patted him on the shoulder.  When Alex finally looked up again, he had a guilty look on his face.

"Sorry.  It's just that -- that it sometimes gets -- too much." He gave a forced lopsided grin, which pulled at Skinner's heart.

Time for a diversion, Walter mused.  "What happened to you after the warehouse exploded in Texas?"

Alex blinked.  "I, uh, travelled.  Didn't want to stay in one place too much.  Some of them still lived and didn't like me that much.  There was a contract out on me."

"We wondered where you had gone."

"Why?"

Alex looked startled that anyone would be concerned for his welfare, and Walter sighed.  "Alex, we all know that you did some pretty horrible things, but we can't deny that you were instrumental in bringing down those bastards.  When you disappeared, we weren't able to thank you, or offer you our protection."

"Protection?" Alex snorted softly.  "Right, Skinner.  As if Mulder was going to offer to put me up and protect me from the big bad men.  He hates me, now more than ever."

"It wasn't your fault that Samantha had been killed years ago." Walter was fairly certain Alex hadn't yet been sucked into the black hole of the Consortium when Samantha had died.  Unfortunately for Alex, he had been the messenger and Mulder had reacted to the news badly, not wanting to believe that his driving force had been meaningless all those years.  Walter reached over and touched Alex's hand.  "And Mulder might not have, but I would have."

Memories of soft skin, hard muscle and sweet caresses.

Alex looked up, his face a mask.  "Even after --?"

"Even after the nanobytes."  Walter kept his hand on Alex's.  "I remember that night often."

The mask crumbled slightly, cracking along the edges as pleasant dreams warred with bitter reality.

"I killed you," Alex stated, pulling his hand away and wrapping it around the ceramic mug.  "You have to hate me."

Walter closed his eyes and then opened them again, meeting Alex's eyes without rancour.  "I can't say I didn't hate you.  Then."

"So what, I'm a pity project for you?"  Alex stood, wavering slightly, but rallying and walking over to the sink to stare out the window at the backyard.  "I don't do pity, Skinner.  I can't.  I mean, fuck, I killed you.  Doesn't that mean anything?  How can you forget that?"

Walter rubbed a hand over his head, wishing for once that life could be uncomplicated.  He thought about their past, and their future, deciding to put his eggs in one basket.  He rose and went to stand by Alex, pulling him gently around.  He could see the effort it took for Alex not to flinch, to react, to pull away.  He saw the resigned look, that any pain to come was deserved.  Taking Alex's hand, he placed it on his chest, right above his heart.

"What do you feel?" he asked, his voice low and rumbling in his chest.

Alex looked confused, staring first at his hand, pressed flat against the soft brushed cotton, then up at Walter's face.  He didn't say a word, the puzzlement clear in his eyes.

"Do you feel my heartbeat?  Do you feel me breathe?"  Walter pressed gently on the too-thin wrist.  "You might have killed me, Alex, but you brought me back."  He cleared his throat roughly.  "I'm here because you didn't leave me dead.  You saved me.  Let me save you."

The only sound in the kitchen was the hum of the refrigerator as the motor kicked in and the soft inhalation, almost a gasp, through Alex's lips.  The mask was disintegrating, the tense muscles slowly loosening, and Walter pulled the younger man to his chest, hugging him tightly.  Alex's knees gave out and they found themselves seated on the floor, Alex practically in Walter's lap, mute tears soaking the front of Walter's shirt and dampening the shaven hair of Alex's head.

*^*^*^*^*^*

 This is too much.  Can't be happening.

It's only temporary.

God, the warmth hurts so much.  It'll only make the cold worse.

But it's so warm.  Even if only for a while.

*^*^*^*^*^*




"I was staying at a shelter downtown," Alex began as Skinner settled him onto the couch, draping an afghan over his slender frame before sitting down beside him, close, but not too close.  Distance would be important for Alex to get out his story.  "I wasn't feeling well, the flu or something, and I guess that's how they got the drop on me.  I went out one night and didn't even see them coming.  They stuck a needle in my arm, and the next thing I know, I'm in this black room.  Couldn't see a thing.  They had taken my clothes, beaten me up.  I don't remember much about that, but everything hurt."

He wrinkled his forehead.  "What's the date?"

Walter glanced at the calendar on the wall.  "It's the twelfth."

"No," Alex shook his head, "The month."

"Oh.  July." Walter almost didn't want to know.  "How long?"

"It was June twenty seventh when they grabbed me." Alex closed his eyes and dropped his head back against the couch. "God, it felt longer.  There was a puddle of water, and the roof leaked, so I had all the water I needed.  But food, I was so hungry."   He opened his eyes and they were devoid of emotion.  "I would have eaten the rats if I could have caught one."

Walter abandoned his misbegotten plan to distance himself from Alex.  Instead he moved over and brought the ebony-haired head to rest on his shoulder.  Alex snuffled softly before continuing.

"It was like being back in the silo.  And after a while, I guess I thought I was back.  It was just so dark.  It was like the air pressed against your skin until you feel like you're going to implode." His voice dropped to a whisper.  "Except for the rats."  His voice broke slightly.  "I could hear them moving, squeaking.  Waiting for me to die.  I -- I -- I kept wondering if they'd start eating me before I died."

Walter held him as he shook with the reaction of memory.  His hand stroked from the nape of Alex's neck to the bottom of his spine in comforting caresses.

"How did you find me?" Alex looked up, his eyes bloodshot.

Walter winced.  "A mutual acquaintance thought you had enough, called me and brought me to you.  A gift, he said."

"Punishment," Alex intoned.

"No...never.  An unexpected gift." Walter reinforced his statement with a squeeze around Alex's shoulders.

Alex just sighed and let his head fall against the strong shoulder again.  "They won't give you a refund when you get tired of me, you know."

Walter chuckled.  "That's assuming I ever get tired of you.  And as I recall, it took an awful lot for you to wear me out."

He was rewarded with a soft laugh.  But Alex's eyes remained bleak and hopeless.

They remained on the couch for the rest of the morning.  Occasionally they spoke, but mostly drank in the peace of silence, letting it heal wounds, past and present.

By the time lunch time came around, Walter was getting a numb ass, and Alex was nodding off, his eyelids closing slowly, then snapping up, forcing himself awake.

"Tell you what, I'll go make some soup, then after lunch, you take a rest."

Alex murmured agreement as Walter removed himself from beneath the blanket that covered them, snuggling down into the warm space left behind.  Walter grinned reflexively.  The younger man just looked so damn cute, it was all he could not to kiss him senseless.  That would have to come later.

When he came bearing a tray with two bowls of soup, one plain chicken broth, the other a meaty stew from a can, Alex was staring at the ceiling, his eyes once more glazed.

"Penny for your thoughts," Skinner quipped.  Alex blinked and looked over at him.  He was reclined completely on the couch, the blanket bundled about him like swathing cloths on an infant.

"Cheap thoughts," he murmured, sitting up slowly and unravelling his arm awkwardly from the blanket.  He winced as he moved his left arm, or what was left of it, the muscles twitching spasmodically.  Walter watched as Alex rubbed it as best he could and then settled down to the soup waiting for him on the coffee table.

"What happened to your prosthesis?"  Walter sipped at his stew, blowing across the spoonful.

Alex shrugged uncomfortably.  "It was gone when the drugs wore off.  Not that it was much use.  It got wet right after the Consortium fell and shorted out all the stuff inside.  None of the gears worked, it must have been rusted up too.  Useless piece of junk."

But Walter could tell he wanted it back, to have the semblance of an arm, no matter how fake.  "I know a doctor.  He works with Vietnam vets."

The spark of hope in Alex's eyes warmed Walter from the inside out.  "Do -- do you think he'd be able..."

"Scully said you'd need some physiotherapy on the arm anyway.  Seems like they got in a few nasty wacks deep to the bone.  That's why its hurting."

Alex shook his head.  "It was hurting before.  Nothing new."

"I'll call and make an appointment."

They ate in silence until spoons clinked against the bottom of the stoneware bowls.  Skinner gathered them up, motioning Alex to stay put.  When he returned from the kitchen, Alex was leaning back against the couch.  When Walter resumed his position on the couch, Alex sought his heat without invitation and placed his head again on the welcoming shoulder.

"So."

"So," Walter echoed.

"When does this end?"  Alex didn't look up, just stroked the soft flannel with his hand.

"What end?" Walter shot back, deliberately being obtuse.

"You doing this.  Being..." the younger man trailed off, as if uncertain what word to use.

"What..being nice?  Being caring?"  Walter could feel Alex nod.  He tightened his arms briefly around him, careful not to jar the sensitive stump.  "When you want it to," he whispered against the hair so short it didn't even tickle at his nose.

Alex took a shuddering breath.  "What if I don't want it to?"

"Well, then I guess you're stuck with me."

Alex looked up at him with a mixture of surprise, relief, and something Walter couldn't quite place -- pleasure?

"Oh.  Well.  Okay, then."  He closed his eyes, and relaxed bonelessly against Walter's comforting frame.

Walter let a small grin cross his face.  A week off, and Alex Krycek in his home, and at the moment, in his arms.   Not bad.  Not bad at all.

*^*^*^*^*^*




Two days later, Alex was twitching under Walter's solicitous concern, and Walter was having a hard time resisting the sight of Alex wearing his boxers, his sweats and his T-shirts.  Alex, lacking any clothes of his own, didn't seem to mind wrapping himself in Walter's oversized clothing, but Walter was finding the flashes of skin as a sweat shirt dropped over a shoulder or as a pair of pants slipped off a hip, quite distracting.

So after averting his eyes for the countless time as the neckline of Alex's borrowed shirt dipped below the shoulder, revealing smooth skin, only slightly bruised, and an elegant collar bone, Walter tossed his book onto the coffee table, startling Alex from his own book.  Green eyes watched as he stood, holding out a hand.

"What?"

"We're going shopping."

Thus it was that they arrived at an exclusive men's clothing store in the middle of downtown.  Well made, and well-priced, Skinner liked their service and their clothes.  His credit card would suffer for a while, bit it was between that and his libido, and he wasn't feeling that strong.

 Alex stood uncomfortably in the aisle, eyes flicking between the racks of shirts on the one side and piles of sweaters on the other.  A baseball cap obscured the amateur brush cut, but stood out like a sore thumb.  Walter almost laughed at the panic in the green eyes, but took pity, and began riffling through the racks.

"Can I help you gentlemen?"  A young man, slick and smooth in a charcoal grey suit and highly polished shoes appeared behind them.  His name-tag proclaimed that "Justin" would be happy to serve them.

"We're getting a new wardrobe.  For him."  Walter jerked his head towards Alex who was still reeling from exposure to the real world after his enforced solitude.

"And would you be looking for something formal or casual, sir?" The clerk turned to Alex and graced him with a wide smile, appreciation dancing in his eyes.  Alex merely stared back.  Walter cleared his throat, and moved between the two of them.

"Something of everything." Walter plucked a brushed cotton shirt and held it up experimentally in front of Alex.  "What do you think?  Burgundy?"

'Justin' nodded enthusiastically.  "Of course.  And might I direct your attention to our newest line of casual suits.  Right this way."

Walter watched as his guest/potential lover/rescuee looked over his shoulder as he was led away by the salesman.  If it wasn't for the lustful glances and unnecessary touches that the clerk kept giving Alex, Walter would have found it doubly amusing.  But, feeling the need to stake out his territory just a bit more firmly, he followed behind, shaking his head at colours, pointing out certain fits, and situating himself between the wandering hands, that just had to make sure the sweater fit just right, and Alex.

"And if you will just try this on, we can make the adjustments right away." The clerk motioned to the dressing room, holding out a hanger with a charcoal grey casual suit.  Alex merely eyed it dumbly, looking like he expected it to bite, so Walter moved forward taking the hanger.

"We'll be a couple of minutes."

"Ah.  Of course, sir."  The young man's eyes flicked slightly down to the empty sleeve of the sweatshirt, just noticing the lack of hand.  "Please, ask for assistance if you need it."

Walter waited until he was out of earshot.  "Need some help?"

"I -- I don't *get* this." Alex hissed in a show of emotion that Walter hadn't yet seen the few days Alex had been recovering: anger.

"Get what?"

"This.  We're shopping for fucking clothes.  Doesn't that strike you as the least bit odd?  I mean an ex-assassin and a FBI guy picking out which colour suits my fucking eyes.  This doesn't make sense."   Alex ran his hand through his hair, distracted and unnerved, clearly about to bolt.

"Alex."  Walter placed his hands on the strong shoulders before him, ducking down to catch Alex's eyes.  "A while ago we were working together to bring down government officials who were in collusion with aliens who wanted to colonize the world.  Picking out clothes is nothing."

He could feel the tension drain from stiffened muscles, exhaustion from even the light activity making itself known on the thin face.

"Let's get you into this suit so we can go home and take a nap."

Shaking his head, Alex followed Skinner into the change room and allowed himself to be draped in the amazingly fine fabric.

Walter watched, with only a hint of jealousy entering his consciousness, as 'Justin' took a piece of chalk and efficiently marked off the adjustments.  Faltering a bit when he came to the left arm sleeve, he tactfully said nothing and left it alone.  Walter planned to come back for more adjustments once Alex got a new prosthesis.  For now it would do.  He wasn't sure what Alex would need a suit *for*, but it never hurt to be prepared.

The wild look in the green eyes had faded somewhat, and now they were tinged with the slightest amusement, horribly overshadowed by weariness.  They travelled over the pile of T-shirts, boxers, warm socks, sweats, casual pants and shirts, even a package of deep blue pyjamas, up to meet Walter's questioning gaze.

"No one's ever bought me clothes before," he admitted quietly as the credit card was swiped through the scanner.  Walter tsk'd under his breath and signed the slip with a flourish.

"There's a first time for everything," he replied.  He didn't let Alex take any of the bags, enlisting the help of 'Justin' to carry the bags to the car, minus one suit which he would pick up later after the adjustments were done.  That could wait.

Alex feel asleep on the drive home, his hand cupped under his jaw and resting against the window pane.  Walter had to force himself not to stare, to keep his eyes on the road.  He only got into trouble once, while waiting for a red light.  He had let his eyes wander over the still form, lingering on the face so incredibly peaceful when at rest.  The sound of a horn behind him alerted him to the now green light, and he pressed the accelerator, feeling only slightly foolish.

"Alex." He lightly touched the shoulder closest to him, not wanting to startle him.  "We're home."

Alex shifted slightly and opened sleep-fogged eyes.  He squinted out the window on his right and then looked to the left at Walter.  "Home?"

"Yeah.  Come on.  Let's get you inside.  I'll come back for the clothes later."

Alex was clearly struggling to stay upright, so Walter managed to manhandle him inside and up the stairs to his room.  He eased the exhausted man down onto the covers and pulled off the borrowed sneakers, two sizes too big.  Alex curled up on his side and was asleep before the second shoe hit the floor.

It only took three trips to carry in the bags of clothing.  It took much longer to free the shorts and socks from shrink wrapped packaging, hang the shirts and pants in the closet and fold everything else neatly into the bureau in Alex's room.  Walter grinned to himself.  It wasn't the guestroom anymore, not in his head.  Damn, he had it bad.

*^*^*^*^*^*




The week passed slowly, a stream of sleepless nights filled with nightmares and pain.  Alex wouldn't sleep the night through, and even leaving the light on did little to dispel the night terrors that plagued him.  So Walter found himself spending hours propped against the headboard, cradling Alex's sweat soaked body as he shook from nightmares of darkness and misery.

Alex managed to eat, but still was horribly underweight.  Skinner tried every trick in the book to help him gain weight, supplementing their dinners with energy shakes.  And chocolate.  The first time he had placed chocolate ice cream in front of his guest, Alex had looked up at him with such a look of shock it almost made him laugh.

"Chocolate?" he had asked in a quiet, disbelieving voice.

"Mm hmm." Skinner murmured as he dished himself up a similarly heaping bowlful.  He watched as Alex dipped his spoon in to the dish, bringing up a heaping mouthful.  His eyes closed in exquisite pleasure as his lips closed over the creamy spoonful, a delighted purr rumbling from his chest.

Alex liked chocolate.

A stash of various chocolate foods were summarily piled in the cupboards and varieties of chocolate ice cream were stacked in the deep freeze.  Chocolate milk even adorned the rack on the door of the fridge.  Anything to encourage Alex to open up, trust, and heal.  Walter went back to work.  Leaving for the day, returning to find Alex in the same position as when he left, either on the couch, or curled on his bed.

Gradually the bruises faded, the cuts and welts healing.  Only a few left scars remained; one on his right thigh, two on his back, and one just under his left ribs.    Walter hoped that even with time those would fade, blending in with the other scars that decorated the beautiful body.  And Alex was beautiful, despite the scars, the hollowed cheeks, the clearly weakened muscles, the arm that ended so abruptly.  His shorn hair had begun to grow back, soft and fine against Walter's fingers when he stroked it in the midst of a nightmare.

Skinner tried hard not to dwell on his attraction.  It was hard when Alex had a slight setback with a secondary infection.  He lost ground, once again occasionally needing Walter's help to stand in the shower when his body would betray him with its weakness, dress him when he came downstairs to sit in the living room, or when the younger man was clinging to him after a long night.  The times were getting fewer and fewer as the infection cleared thanks to a visit from Scully and a prescription for antibiotics.  Cold showers were becoming routine, and his right hand was getting the work out of its life.

Alex remained oblivious, caught up in his own world.  He sought comfort, allowed himself to be bathed, groomed and fed when too weak to do it himself, but otherwise was silent and undemanding.  He remained holed up in his room unless Walter bullied him downstairs to the living room.  The last straw was when Scully came by to check on his progress and he submitted to her exam without a murmur of protest.  Skinner was worried.

"Well, he looks good." The surprise in Scully's voice made Walter's brow furrow. "Frankly, sir, I didn't expect him to recover quite so quickly.  You must be doing the right thing.  Has he complained about his arm at all?"

Walter sighed and stared at the subject of their conversation, who sat wrapped in an afghan in the living room, staring into space.  "No.  He hasn't complained about anything.  I haven't brought up the subject yet, but I was going to contact my friend about getting another prosthesis."

Scully nodded and packed up her surgical bag.  "That's probably a good idea.  He's probably feeling vulnerable right now, and not having a prosthesis is likely accentuating that."  She paused.  "How are *you* doing, sir?"

Walter was surprised at the question.  "Me?"

"You have been taking care of him twenty-four hours a day," she pointed out.  "You look like...well...you look like shit, sir.  No offense."

He snorted softly.  "None taken.  I haven't been getting much sleep, to tell the truth."

"I could prescribe some sleeping pills."

Walter shook his head.  "No.  But thanks."

"Okay, but if you change your mind, let me know."  She picked up her bag.  "I'll swing by in a couple of days, just to make sure his weight is improving.  You could start him on a light exercise regimen to condition his muscles.  Sitting there all day can't be helping him physically or mentally.  Don't push too hard, keep it light, but get him moving, walking eventually maybe jogging.  It might help you both get more sleep."

He walked her to her car.  "Thanks, Dana"

She simply nodded, put the car into gear and backed out of the driveway.  He stood on the lawn with his hands on his hips, wondering how his life had gotten so damn complicated before going back inside.

Alex hadn't moved.  He still sat motionless on the sofa.

"Alex."  Skinner crouched before him.  "Alex, I want to talk to you about your arm."

Alex blinked slowly.

"Does your arm hurt?"

A curt nod, nothing more.  Skinner frowned.

"Alex, you have to tell me when you're hurting.  I would have called my friend a lot earlier."  Walter reached up to cup Alex's cheek, smiling as he felt Alex lean into the touch slightly.  "You don't have to be in pain.  Okay?"

Another curt nod, and Alex was biting his lower lip, clearly unsure as to what to make of the development.

"I'll get you some Tylenol.  Then I'll see what I can do about getting you a new prosthesis."

The Tylenol was easier.  The call to his old army buddy much harder.

*^*^*^*^*^*




"Hello, Dr.  McDougall's office, Tracy speaking, how may I help you?"  The voice on the other end rattled off the information in one breath, leaving Walter the urge to take gasp himself.

"Hello, I'd like to speak with Mark, please."

"And who should I say is calling?"

"Walter Skinner."

"Please hold."

Soft, unremarkable music played in his ear for four minutes.  He timed it, watching the seconds tick by on his watch.  His stomach was a knot of nerves by the time the music clicked off.

"Hello?" The voice was as he remembered, deep, sombre, and filled with care and compassion.  And at the moment, a hint of disbelief.

"Hello, Mark."

"Well, damn.  I didn't think it was actually you.  Thought it might be some freakish coincidence."

"No, not a coincidence.  How are you?"

"A damn sight better than we last saw each other.  I never will forgive you, you know."

"I know."

"But I understand why you left.  It hurt, but I understand."

"Thanks." Walter's throat was tight.  "I really appreciate that."

"But that's not why you called, is it?"

"No.  I need a favour.  A big one."

"What do you need?" There was no suspicion, no hesitation.  Skinner closed his eyes and marvelled at the fates that let him gather such strong people around him.

"I have a...a friend who needs a prosthetic arm."

"There are lots of clinics in your area...what's the situation?"

"He's recovering from a rather traumatic experience and I don't want to have to explain things to a strange doctor.  I know I can trust you."

"And you know I won't ask unwanted questions, right?"

"That too."

"I have some appointments that I absolutely can't miss today and tomorrow, but I should be able to reshuffle some things.  How soon do you need me down there?  I might not be able to get a flight from Boston as quick as you'd like."

"Soon.  As soon as you can."

"Can you give me any details over the phone?  It'll be easier to be prepared if I have an idea of what's happened.  How much of the arm is still there?  How did it happen?"

Skinner breathed deeply and took the plunge.  "It was cut off with a rather blunt knife, no anaesthetic.  It isn't pretty.  The arm ends probably about six inches below the shoulder."

There was a moment's silence.  "Okay, no elbow joint.  There might be problems fitting a prosthetic if there's too much muscle damage.  How long ago?"

"About a year and half.  He had a prosthesis before.  It got...lost."

Another thoughtful silence.  "This isn't going to be easy, is it?"

A resigned laugh burst up from Skinner's chest.  "No.  No, it isn't."

"You owe me, Walt.  Big time owing."

Skinner could hear the affection in the other man's voice, and a feeling of almost-regret passed through him.  "I'll see you soon, then."

"I'll have my secretary call you with the itinerary."

"Thanks, Mark."

He hung up the phone and let out his breath.  Easier than he thought.  Now the real trouble would begin, trying to get Alex to get out of his funk and once again join the real world.  First stop, the chocolate cupboard for some bribery leverage.

*^*^*^*^*^*




The airport was crowded, noisy and Skinner almost regretted not letting Mark take a taxi like he had offered.  But this was something he had to do.  Time to face his demons, his past, and his regrets.

So, with the beginnings of a headache, he stood, hands in the pockets of his trench coat, waiting for the inevitable.

Mark saw him before he saw Mark.

"Walter?"

The voice was the same as on the phone.  He turned and faced the road not taken.

Mark wasn't tall.  Even shorter then Krycek, he barely topped Skinner's shoulder.  But what he lacked in height, he made up for in sheer muscle mass.  Stocky and firm, nothing could move the man when he had his mind made up to remain where he was.  Not even exploding shells while hunkered down a fox hole, keeping a wounded fellow soldier company in the dark of night.

His hair had been jet black the last time they parted but now was salted liberally with grey.  He looked...old.  But then again, Skinner realized, so did he.

"Damn."  They both spoke at the same time, the curse hanging between them.

"You look...good," Mark struggled to find a word.  Skinner snorted.

"You don't have to lie.  I look like shit and I know it.  The last weeks have been rough.  You...you on the other hand look amazing."  And damn it if he didn't, dressed casually in a pair of loose blue jeans, ribbed turtleneck in a deeper navy.  The lazy smile, filled with genuine happiness, was a flash of white in the tanned face.

"Thanks."

"Luggage?"

"Unfortunately yes.  I couldn't fit the books and equipment I thought I might need into a carry-on."  He shouldered the bag in question, and pointed out the carousel where the luggage dropped onto the conveyor belt.  "I'll have to order the more complicated equipment after I make an assessment of...what is your patient's name, anyway?"

"Alex.  Alex Krycek."

"Good friend?"  Mark asked the question neutrally, nothing betraying the curiosity that Walter knew was boiling under his skin.

"Not quite."

"Lover?"

"Not quite."  Walter sighed.  This was going to be extremely complicated.

"Well, so long as we have that cleared up," Mark said wryly as he grabbed the handle of a large black suitcase and heaved it effortlessly onto a cart.  "Let's roll."

*^*^*^*^*^*




"Nice place."  Mark set down the suitcase and dropped his carry case from his shoulder.  "I never figured you for a suburbia type of guy."

"Me neither.  I guess I needed a change of pace.  My apartment was filled with too many bad memories.  The commute can be hell, but I like it.  Coffee?"

"Patient first, coffee later."  Mark was all business, unsnapping the locks on the luggage and unzipping it.  He pulled out a classic doctor's bag and a stack of books and leaflets.  "Grab those books will you?"

"Christ, what did you do, bring your whole library?" Skinner groused as he tried to balance the heavy books.  He nodded towards the staircase visible through the foyer's doorway.  "Up the stairs and the first door on your right.  But let me go in first."

Mark didn't comment, merely trundled up the stairs with his bag and a handful of the leaflets.  He waited for Walter to join him, then watched as the older man knocked and then opened the door.

"Alex?  I'm home.  I brought the doctor I told you about."

Alex didn't move from his spot on the bed, cocooned in blankets, his hand gripping a book that he had liberated from Walter's scanty library.  His eyes were large, nervous and flitted between Skinner and the doctor.

"Hi, Alex.  I'm Mark.  Walter said I could be of use."  The stocky man moved towards the bed, finally getting a look at his patient.  "Walt, why don't you go downstairs and get me a sandwich.  Air plane food just doesn't cut it."

Walter took the hint and left.

Mark took in his patient with a professional eye.  He'd seen amputees before, most from injuries as a result of car accidents or work related.  He'd had one or two refugees who had been the victims of landmines, and those were ugly cases.  The haunted look in this man's eyes echoed their pain and suffering.

"Walter thinks I'll be able to help with the pain, and maybe fit you with a new prosthesis."

Without a word, Alex let the blanket fall from his shoulder, revealing the left arm that ended mere inches from the T-shirt sleeve.  Years of practice allowed him to keep his face neutral, not wince at the mutilation that had passed for an amputation.  Alex allowed him to examine the limb, face blank and emotionless, staring unblinkingly at a spot on the wall.

"Is it hurting now?"  He asked calmly, looking, but not touching.

"Yes."  A low voice, gravelly and rough.

"On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you've ever felt, how would you rate the pain?"

He didn't expect the rumbling chuckle.  Arching an eyebrow, he pushed up the T-shirt sleeve to examine the shoulder muscles.  "Something funny?" he asked lightly, a grin teasing at the corner of his lips.

"Worst pain of my life is more than a ten," Alex whispered.  The smile on his face didn't reach his eyes.  Then the grin faded, replaced by the bland facade.  "A four.  Sometimes a six."

The scar tissue was extensive, and would impede use of any of the arms he had in mind.  But surgery would help, and would also give the opportunity to make the remaining arm more aesthetically pleasing.

He looked up from the arm, meeting the vivid green eyes.  He slowly raised a hand and brushed a finger lightly over a fading bruise.  Clearly it hadn't happened at the same time as the arm which was at least a year or two old.  He trusted Walter.  He did.  But he had to be sure.  "Are you hurt anywhere else?"

Alex's brow furrowed.  Mark could see the realization dawn, and was relieved when the younger man shook his head negatively.

"I'll need to get some x-rays, but I think that you're a prime candidate for a new experimental arm that's being developed by some Canadian researchers.  It's the latest in microcomputer technology, and would give you a fairly large range of motion.  There's quite a bit of scar tissue in critical areas, here, and here." He pointed to the areas, noting the intelligent interest in the eyes that tracked his movements.  "We'll probably have to do some surgery, to make sure the nerves weren't damaged and to clean up some of the scarring."

For the first time that hour, he saw hope banish the fear and dread.

*^*^*^*^*^*




Walter waited in the plastic chair, shifting every minute or so as his ass numbed.  The National Geographic in his hands was tattered, probably laden with germs, and was filled with pictures of war torn countries.  All and all, not the best way to distract himself from the operation going on down the hallway.

Mark was incredibly efficient, convincing Alex that the sooner they went ahead with the surgery the better, reluctant to relieve the pain through drugs when a more permanent solution was at hand, so to speak.  Two days after his arrival the operating room was booked and a team of assisting surgeons and nurses had been found, assembled and briefed.

Alex had been silent, allowing the arrangement to fall into place around him.  Walter recognized the walls around his soul as the ones that had kept him sane and relatively whole as the world had crumbled around them during the height of their resistance against the aliens.  He didn't speak much before the surgery, simply nodding in response to questions, eyes and face closed off.

Watching him succumb to the anaesthesia wasn't as hard as he thought it would have been.  But his stomach still roiled at the thought of the stark forest operating room that had been Alex's experience.  No drugs, only pain and fear.

Who knew what was going through the man's thought as the needle delivered oblivion into the IV line.

The door to the waiting area opened and a young woman, dressed in scrubs entered.  She moved towards a couple, sitting on the other side of the room, clutching each other's hands.  Skinner couldn't hear what she said, but the desolate cries that shook the wife's shoulders were enough.  Life and death bound up together in one place, stinking of antiseptic, of the fake leather coverings on the chairs, and of weak coffee that steamed in wax cups.

He hated hospitals.

"Walter."  It was Mark, still dressed in scrubs and carrying a bottle of water.  Taking a deep breath, Skinner prepared himself for whatever was to come.  He tried not to think about how the dark stains on the pants and shoe coverings were Alex's blood.  So he focussed on the doctor's face.  Mark was smiling.

"The operation was a success.  No doubt in my mind."  Mark chugged a lengthy drink of water.  "It was a mess, even knowing how it happened.  The scarring was quite extensive, but we managed to clean it up nicely.  He shouldn't have any problem adjusting to the arm I have in mind and the pain he's been in will be mostly gone.  We'll monitor him closely for infection, but I think he can go home in a couple of days."

Walter couldn't find any words.

"He's in recovery right now, and will be there for maybe half an hour.  I'll have a nurse come and get you so you can be there when he wakes up, okay?"

Walter nodded and let out a long quiet sigh.  Mark simply patted his knee and creaked to his feet, clearly tired from the long operation.

"I'll be back after I go clean up."

Walter nodded absently, lost in thought of what to get from the gift shop to brighten up the rather spartan room assigned to Alex during his stay at the hospital.  Maybe a book.  He just couldn't see handing the ex-assassin a teddy bear with 'get well' stitched on its chest.  On the other hand, maybe he could...

*^*^*^*^*^*




"Shit."

"It's okay, Alex.  Hold on, let me get a towel." Walter ripped off a piece of paper towel and mopped up the egg from the counter and floor.  A stream of curses, English, Russian and a smattering of German flowed from Alex's mouth, voluble and strong.

"It's just an egg." Reasonable, sane, calm.

"It was the last one." Angry, volatile.

"So we'll put in more milk."  Unperturbed.

"It'll fall." Pessimistic.

"So we'll have a fallen cake."  Positive, optimistic.

Walter was much more prosaic about these things.  Alex insisted on doing things according to the letter of the law, or in this case, the recipe.  If it called for eight eggs, then eight eggs it would have.  Walter had almost given into the impulse to start making Martha Stewart cracks, but Alex was an ex-assassin, so he had thought better of it.

The broken egg was one of many, sacrificed to the greater cause of getting Alex to use his new prosthesis.  His previous arm had been bulky, unwieldy, and didn't have any movement in the fingers.  This new arm was lightweight, flesh coloured and would move at the joints, both elbow and fingers, at signals from minute shifts in the muscles of Alex's shoulder and upper arm.  It was a marvel of modern technology, and Walter was awed at its complexity.

Alex had been enamoured with the limb on first sight, avidly reading all of the information about it he could get his hands on, figuratively speaking.  But because of the incredibly strong grip of the fingers, he had to learn how to pick up breakable objects, a task which had proven to be quite difficult, time consuming, and a thorn in the side of a man who Walter suspected could always pick up new knowledge and skills quite easily when he put his mind to it.  Light bulbs and eggs were the hapless victims, breaking unexpectedly when Alex's attention wandered the slightest.

At first he had balked from using the hand to do any activities that might result in egg splattered floors or glass bits in the carpets, but Walter had cajoled him into using his left hand for as many of the jobs as possibly.

"Why?  I just break everything." Alex had complained.

"What's the point of having it if you don't use it," Walter had calmly pointed out while sweeping the floor.  "You aren't running anymore, you know.  You have time to learn to use it."

Alex's forehead had creased, and his eyes narrowed.  Then he had blinked and went to the drawer to get another light bulb.

Walter was amazed at the change in Alex over the three weeks since the operation.  He actually talked now.  Of course, most of it was cursing, complaining, born from real frustration, but Walter didn't care.  The younger man was finally communicating.  He could bitch and complain all he wanted as long as he didn't retreat to the fugue state that had been like a default setting since his rescue.  Just so long as he kept talking.

And Walter knew exactly what Alex was trying to communicate at the moment.  His entire body radiated displeasure, and Skinner was pretty sure he knew what the source was.

The cake was to join the rest of a two course meal for a 'thank you' dinner in Mark's honour.  He was returning to Washington for one last look at Alex's arm, and Walter thought prime rib would be a nice thank you.  It had been nice seeing him again, recounting old times, reminiscing about friends, embarrassing moments and the good times that had followed on the heels of the war.  But Alex had slowly been distancing himself from the doctor, becoming curt, the mask firmly back in place.

Alex's retreat to isolation was surprising given what Mark had done for him, and Walter couldn't figure it out.  He sighed as Alex let the fridge slam, rattling the bottles of beer inside on the door.  The trouble rested with Mark, but Walter wasn't sure why or what was the cause, although he suspected it had something to do with their past relationship.  Which was odd, as Alex himself was at least bisexual and wasn't homophobic.  All in all, it was confusing, and if there was one thing Walter hated after Mulder's expense account, it was being confused.

"Hello?" Mark's voice sounded from the front porch.  "Anyone home?"

"In the kitchen," Walter called back.  Dressed in a causal sweater and pressed jeans, Mark was the epitome of relaxed wealth.  The doctoring business was booming.  The younger man held up a tall thin bag.

"I brought wine."

"Cabernet?"

"But of course." Mark grinned as he handed over the elegant bottle.

During their brief relationship, Mark had introduced Walter to the delights of wine.  Having declared his devotion to his bottle of scotch, he had allowed Mark to gently woo him with the finer points of wine tasting, coming to appreciate the flavours of fruit and wood, the aromas and complexity of wines.  He still preferred scotch, but wouldn't turn down a...he glanced at the label, and took an extra firm grip on the bottle.   This was top of the line.   Something to be savoured after dinner.

Mark laughed at Skinner's expression.  "Consider it a long overdue gift."

The timer buzzed on the roast and Alex moved to open the oven while Mark supervised the opening of the wine.  Walter had to stop himself from charging over to relieve him of the rather tedious chore of removing the pan.  The prime rib was perfectly done and there was only a moment of nervous tension as it seemed like Alex's arm was tilting just a bit too far to the left, almost tipping the roast onto the floor.

But the crisis was averted, and within minutes they were seated at the table pouring dressing onto the garden salad.  Caramelized baby carrots and baked potatoes liberally sprinkled with cheddar cheese rounded out the second course.  A meal fit for a king, or at the very least a doctor who had performed what seemed to be a miracle.

The conversation meandered from Skinner's current workload, to Mark's more amusing patient stories, and stayed carefully away from any mention of Alex's physiotherapy regimen.  While not overly verbose, Alex was attentive, listening while the two men swapped news.  It wasn't until dessert, when they moved to the living room to relax by the fire, that he instigated a new topic.

"How did you two meet?" Alex asked as they sipped wine and devoured the cake, which hadn't fallen for want of one egg.  It was an innocuous question.  And if Skinner didn't know better, he wouldn't have thought anything of it.  But he could see the rigidity of Alex's shoulders, the tight line from collarbone to jaw, and he knew that there was more to the question than a simple surface enquiry into the story of their meeting.

"In 'Nam.  I saved Walter's life," Mark said with some contentment, and a warm smile aimed at Walter.  Alex looked surprised.  "Really, I did.  We were under heavy fire and Walt got hit by some shrapnel.  I hauled him into a fox hole where we hunkered down for two days before relief came."

Walter snorted softly.  "Thank god I was half unconscious at the time.  Otherwise I would have died from your body odour."

Mark reached out a hand and patted Skinner familiarly on the thigh.  "Unlike me who had to put up with your stinking self for the whole two days."  The hand was warm, the fingers strong, and Walter remembered the last moment he had shared with Mark before moving careers to the FBI...

"Walter, please.  Don't go."  Mark straddled his thighs, his weight a comfortable burden.  "We can make this work."

"They don't let gay men in the FBI, Mark," he insisted.  He let his fingers trail down the warm flesh occupying his lap.  The bed creaked ominously as their weight shifted, but it had endured much worse so he wasn't worried.

"So don't go to the FBI." Mark nibbled his way down Walter's throat.  "There's work here in Boston.  You don't have to leave me."

"I don't want to, but I have to."  They slowly began moving against each other, the second time that night.  "You say you have to become a doctor.  I've seen the work you've done at the clinic, and you're right.  It's your destiny.  Being involved in the FBI is mine.  You can't fight destiny, Mark."

He lay back and let Mark try to persuade him to stay one last time.

"...hasn't changed much...except for the hair," Mark finished with another laugh.  Alex gave a tight smile and fiddled with the stem of his wine glass.  Walter merely rolled his eyes.

"Well," Mark began, putting his hands on his knees and levering himself out of the comfortable chair he had parked himself in.  "Thanks for the lovely dinner.  I'll be heading out early tomorrow so if you wouldn't mind calling me a cab, I'll call it a night.  Alex, it was great meeting you, take care of Walt for me."  Alex murmured his own thanks, and they shook hands.  "Be sure to exercise that arm, and if you have any problems, don't hesitate to call."

Alex gathered the glasses and took them to the kitchen to call the cab.  Mark retrieved his jacket from the closet.  He and Walter stood awkwardly, nervously before caving in and embracing in a final hug.  Walter hated goodbyes, and he hadn't realized how much he enjoyed Mark's presence the last few weeks.

"Take care of Alex, Walter.  He's going to need you."  Mark looked up at him, and for a moment, Walter was lost in the bright eyes, trapped in memories of love, lust and the absence of memories of the past four years.

"It...it was nice seeing you again." Walter managed to say without stumbling over the words too much as they moved apart.

"Yes.  It was."  Mark reached up and stroked along Walter's jaw.  "You can't fight destiny, Walter.  You taught me that."

Walter simply nodded and Mark brushed his lips quickly against his, soft as a butterfly's caress.  A soft sound broke through Walter's thought and he turned to see Alex leaning against the doorjamb to the kitchen.  His eyes were clouded and his hand clenched tightly in a fist.

A car horn sounded outside.

"That'll be the cab.  How you managed to get one so fast, I won't question!" Mark said as he moved to shake hands with Alex again.

Then, as quickly as he had come back into Walter's life, he was gone.  A final wave and a puff of smoke from the taxi's exhaust pipe.

Alex had retreated back up the stairs, closing his door.

*^*^*^*^*^*




Arms full of laundry, Walter swore as the phone rang.  Shifting his grip misfired and the load of whites -- the last of a long list of chores he had managed to complete on his day off -- tumbled down the basement stairs to land on the concrete floor in an undignified heap.

"Fuck!"

Before the answering machine kicked in, he snatched up the phone with his now free hand.

"What?"  He didn't mean to snarl, but he couldn't keep the annoyance out of his voice.

"Sir?  Is something wrong?"

"Oh.  It's you, Scully."  He rubbed at the tension headache forming behind his forehead.  "Just had a bit of an accident with the laundry.  What can I do for you?  You do realize its Saturday night, right?  As in the weekend?"

"I just had someone drop some gossip on my lap, and I thought you should know as quickly as possible."  She paused.

"Well?  Don't wait on my account."

"It seems, sir, that Mulder somehow found out that Krycek was at your house.  I don't know who his source was, as I didn't say a word, and he didn't say.  But he's on his way over.  I thought you could use the warning."

*Fuck*.

"Understood.  Thanks for the heads up."  His stomach churned unpleasantly, bile rising in his throat before subsiding.

"Least I could do, sir.  He...he was upset before he left my apartment."

"I'll handle it."

He hung up the receiver and swore under his breath.  This was *just* what he needed.  It was enough that Alex was back to monosyllable responses to questions and refused to leave his room except for meals and trips to the bathroom.  Now he had Mulder coming over to make his life hell even on his off time.

After scooping the scattered clothing back into the basket and eyeing the brown smudges on the white fabric with distaste, he manhandled the basket back over to the washer and dryer.

The dryer was humming quietly again by the time the doorbell rang.  Armed with a tumbler filled with fizzing Alka-seltzer, Skinner took a deep breath and pulled open the storm door.

Mulder's lean form pushed past him, hazel eyes already scanning the hallways.  "Where is he?"

He pushed the door closed with a solid *thud* and took a sip of the bubbling water.  "Agent Mulder, please, come in." Sarcasm rolled off his tongue, souring his mouth.

"Where's the bastard hiding?  Upstairs?"  Mulder made as if to confirm his suspicions, but was halted by the steel grip of Walter's hand on his arm.

"Agent Mulder, I would appreciate it if you could conduct yourself with some dignity." He fell into AD mode almost subconsciously, standing straight, using his height and breadth to intimidate.  And it worked.  Mulder stepped back down to the floor from the stair.

"To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?  On the weekend.  At night.  During my time off."

"My sources tell me Krycek is here."  Mulder was practically vibrating with restrained energy.  "I need to see him.  Talk to him, find out what he knows.  The bastard just disappeared, right when he could have finally been some use to us."

"Giving us the information that took down the Consortium wasn't enough?" Walter asked, turning the tumbler in his fingers.

Mulder stumbled over his words.  "Yes...no.  He knows so much.  And he needs to face what he's done." Anger lit Mulder's eyes.  "He killed my father, or had you forgotten, *sir*?" He practically spat the word.

Feeling his blood pressure slowly rising, Skinner struggled to remain calm.  But that didn't stop him from stepping forward, invading Mulder's personal space.  He loomed like a thundercloud.

"I haven't forgotten anything that Alex has done."  The memory of nanocytes invading his veins would never disappear and he saw understanding dawn in Mulder's eyes.

"Exactly, sir!  That's why we have to take him in, interrogate him, find out what else he knows!"  The passion in Mulder's voice was ardent, his eyes fevered with the hope of the Truth.

But Walter had discovered that the Truth was never as transparent as one would like, and one damaged man could never satisfy Mulder's search for the key that would unlock the secrets of the universe.

"No." He made it clear he would brook no disagreement, this was not up for discussion.

"No?" Mulder threw out his hands, arms wide.  "Why not?  He killed you, for god's sake.  Aren't you just a bit pissed about it?"

"Not anymore." Walter replied blandly, taking another sip of Alka-seltzer.  Then he placed the glass on the table by the door, where keys and assorted paraphernalia accumulated.  "Go home, Mulder.  Don't bother going after Alex."

Mulder's eyes narrowed at the second use of the first name. "Why the hell are you protecting him?  How can you keep that bastard in your home, knowing what he's done, who he's killed, how he betrayed us?" Mulder ranted, raising his voice angrily.

"Because I love him!"  Walter shouted.  The chandelier in the foyer rang with the declaration that echoed slightly around them.

Silence.

"What?"  Mulder whispered, his eyes filled with disbelief.

"I love him."  Walter said, his voice taking on a razor edge.  "And I'm not going to let you scare him away or do anything to jeopardise his safety."  He stood nose to nose with Mulder now, his muscles tensing, and he could feel them involuntarily bunching.

"He's using you."

"No.  I'm using him."

That stopped Mulder in his tracks.   Then he grinned.  "I knew it.  What the hell does he know?  What has he told you?"

Skinner shook his head.  "No, Mulder.  Not that way."  Clearly Mulder wasn't getting it.  "He's keeping me sane."

The other man was confused, the line between his eyebrows deep, his hazel eyes bewildered.  "What the hell does that mean?"

"It means, that when I'm done for the day of dealing with the shit that the Directors and suits are sending my way, on top of the scrapes you and Scully get yourselves in, along with the rest of the bureaucratic ass kissing that goes on every single day, I get to come home to someone who doesn't talk back, doesn't give a shit about how much money you've spent on your latest quest.  He needed a place to stay, I needed someone I can count on to not drive me insane at the end of the day."  Walter wound down.

"He'll ruin you.  You'll be blacklisted.  They'll throw you out of the FBI."  Mulder was staring intently into his eyes, looking for some sign of understanding.  There was none to give.  Mulder was the one who wouldn't, or couldn't, understand.

Walter just sighed lightly.  "Mulder, go home."

"He'll betray you."

"Just go home."

The door closed with a click, and Walter winced at the sound of squealing tires in the driveway.  Mulder never did like not getting his own way.  Rubbing a hand over his face, he turned.

Alex stood in the door way.  His pupils were huge in the dim light and his chest rose and fell rapidly.  He looked like he was about to hyperventilate.

"Alex..."

"Did you mean it?" the younger man interrupted, his voice hoarse and filled with uncertainty.  "Did you mean what you said to Mulder?"

Walter let a small smile grace his lips.  "Yes."

And he realized, perhaps for the first time, that he did.  What he felt wasn't a substitute for the hate that had brewed so long, and it wasn't pity for the pain and terror that had been inflicted on the younger man over the years.  It was compassion, love, tenderness; all of the things which he had felt so briefly that one night long past.

He held out his hand, arm straight, palm up.  Alex moved towards him as if in a daze, eyes bright.  His fingers were cold against Walter's skin as he placed them on the proffered hand.  With a gentle tug, trying to be as non-threatening as possible, Walter drew him in.

This was different than the other hugs that he had bestowed on Alex over the last few weeks.  Those had been solely for comfort, communicating care, promising compassion and safety.  This hug promised much more, and with a finger under the narrow chin, Walter slowly tipped Alex's face up.

Their noses bumped awkwardly before their lips made contact.  But they eventually got it right.  Alex's lips were dry, warm and soft, with a hint of the chocolate peppermints he was so fond of.  Walter kept his eyes open in order to treasure the sight of Alex's lashes slowly fluttering closed with the intensity of the kiss, lids sliding down to obscure the vivid green.

Cupping his hands on either side of Alex's face while pressing him gently against the wall with his body, Walter tentatively stroked his tongue along the closed lips, seeking and receiving entry.  Alex's hand clutched at the material of his shirt at his back, and a whimper escaped from his throat.

Walter immediately pulled back.  "You okay?"

The dark lashes parted revealing the dilated pupils, surrounded by a sliver of green.  "Don't stop," he whispered hoarsely.  "Please don't..."

Walter cut him off simply by covering his mouth again.  This time there was no hesitation.  Over a month and half of frustration, desire and self-denial poured into the kiss, but Walter forced himself to reign in his urge to plunge into the willing body beneath his hands.  He wasn't going to risk this being another one night stand, and he had to be sure that Alex understood that this wasn't about repayment for the safety and security of the past weeks.

They were both breathing heavily when they broke apart, and Alex looked dazed.  His lips were swollen from Walter's attention, and his eyes were intently searching; for what sign, Walter wasn't sure.  Rejection?  Desire?

Gently stroking his fingers down Alex's cheek, Walter hoped he would see love.

"Let's go upstairs," he suggested huskily, clearing his throat of the tickle that threatened to choke him silent.  Alex merely nodded, accepting that Walter wasn't going to let go of his hand until they got upstairs.

He didn't mean to pull Alex so abruptly down on to the bed.  He had been hoping for subtle and  romantic, not desperately needy.  But Alex didn't seem to be complaining.  Alex struggled with Walter's shirt buttons, but managed to push the fabric aside, lapping at his nipples like a cat, while Walter carefully removed the prosthesis, ever mindful of the delicate mechanics contained within.  Freed of their encumbering entrapments, naked and flushed, they clutched, groped, squeezed and nipped.  It wasn't slow and long, sweet and romantic, as Walter had imagined their first time would be.  It was fast, humping against each other in pent up desire.  He slid his hands over Alex's ass, pulling him fast against him, grinding his pelvis hard.  There was no thought, there was only feeling, and a small part of him bemoaned the lack of finesse.

But when Alex whimpered and came, clutching Walter's shoulder with his hand, biting his lip, he was the most beautiful thing Walter had ever seen.  It was enough to force a climax that wracked his body from the top of his head to his toes, crackling down his spine.

Alex was boneless against him, draped warmly over him and panting breathlessly against his collarbone.  Walter managed to gain enough willpower to raise his head and gently kiss his forehead in benediction before dropping back against the pillow.  The relaxation in his muscles was deeper than ever before, and he wasn't sure when he'd ever come that hard.  Even that one night with Alex hadn't been so electric.    Maybe that's what love did to a person.

With a small grin, he turned them on their sides, Alex protesting the move with an incoherent grumble.  Then sleepy green eyes opened and caught him in their snare.

"Thank you."

Walter quirked an eyebrow.  "What for?"

Alex merely smiled an enigmatic smile before closing his eyes, tucking his head into the juncture of Walter's neck and shoulder. Despite the post coital lethargy that stole over him, Walter still couldn't sleep.  He didn't want to close his eyes and miss the sight of Alex in his bed, in his arms.  He gently traced an elegant eyebrow and imagined ways that he could wake him up the next morning.    Thoughts of Mulder, the Bureau, and the past were banished at the feel of the soft skin, firm muscle as his hand went lower, stroking along the supple spine, still slightly too nobby, but slowly returning to normal.

"Walt."  Alex whispered in the dark.  He could feel the long eyelashes brushing against his chest as Alex blinked.

"Hmmm?"  He continued to gently stroke his hand along the long back.

"It doesn't hurt anymore."


Finis

BACK