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Walter Skinner waited until Mulder had left before he took the last few steps forward. He listened to the escaping car make another two-tire turn on its way to ... wherever Mulder was taking it. Ultimately, somewhere in Georgia. That wasn't Skinner's problem.

The mess on the garage's concrete floor was his problem.

"He's gone. You can get up now."

The mess, formerly known as Alex Krycek, rolled onto its back and groaned. "Shit, Skinner, did you have to actually shoot me with a real bullet? I thought we were doing a cover-up here."

"Verisimilitude," Skinner muttered, taking care to kick Krycek's gun a little further away before he picked it up and stuck it in the back of his belt. "You wanted Mulder to believe it, didn't you?"

"Yeah." Krycek took the bigger man's outstretched hand. "Fuck. You couldn't have just hit the plastic arm, could you? This hurts like a sonofabitch."

"Mulder's not stupid; if you weren't really hurting, he'd know it. Besides, a little pain is good for the soul."

"I'll keep that in mind the next time I'm tempted to visit your apartment," Krycek muttered. "My soul doesn't need you to save it that much."

"I've got no designs on your soul, Krycek." Skinner pulled Krycek's undamaged prosthetic arm over his shoulder and hauled him into the elevator; once there, he keyed the security lock on the elevator and ordered the car to go to a lower floor. The door opened onto a service hallway. Skinner stopped at the first door on the left, lowered the arm and said, "Open it."

"No fingerprints. Right." The door opened easily, and they slid into the room and let it close behind them with the sound of a security lock.

Skinner switched on the lights with his elbow as Krycek glanced around. "Just another secret laboratory, right?"

"Not exactly. Just another secret operating room."

Krycek shot a glance at Skinner that would have incinerated him if it had had any energy behind it. "I probably deserved that one."

"Yes, you did. Get on the table, if you want to be patched up. Or you can fall down and die; that's not my problem." Skinner was already getting out bandages, a tray of instruments and bottles of disinfectant and antibiotic ointment. When he turned around, Krycek was on the table, his shirt off, ready to go.

"I've got to say, this thing is giving me a hell of a headache." Krycek slowly peeled the gunshot wound off his forehead. That had been the convincing one, the thing that made Mulder sure that he was dead -- a special-effects patch that had enough gunpowder in it to make an authentic-looking bullet hole without actually killing him. He'd brought it with him when he came to Washington looking for Scully; he knew it would come in useful sooner or later. Fortunately enough, this time could be considered 'later' -- Scully was in Georgia, giving birth to the miracle child. He had only one more thing to do and then he could retire from being the FBI's former problem child and the Consortium's most fucked-up spy.

If, that is, he survived Skinner.

Skinner knew what he was doing. He pushed Krycek down onto the operating table, prodded at the bullet site in the arm, and raised an eyebrow. "Painkillers? Anesthesia?"

"No anesthesia. I can't wait for it to wear off." He could feel his inner clock ticking away the time, waiting until he was free.

"Suit yourself." Skinner handed him a foot-long section of woven web belt, probably chopped from a table's equipment for securing unruly patients. "Bite down on this."

"Thanks." He no sooner had it in his teeth than Skinner reached for the forceps and probe, and went into his arm after the bullet. It took less than a minute and felt like a century. He kept reminding himself that he hadn't even had the web belt to chew on when his arm had been taken, and he'd survived that -- but it didn't keep him from worrying that his one remaining good arm was in worse shape than he thought.

"It splintered," Skinner said, as calmly as if he were saying, "Meeting adjourned, gentlemen," upstairs in his office. "There's part one," something dinged in a metal pan, "and part two. Good thing you're not much of a bleeder."

Krycek spat out the belt. "Good thing you weren't really out to kill me this time."

"Good for you. We'll see if it's good for the rest of us. If it's not, I'll be back." It wasn't a threat, just a matter-of-fact statement. "Your turn." He cleaned the wound with disinfectant and bandaged it carefully.

"The controller for your chip is in the back closet of your new place in Alexandria," Krycek said, a small smile playing on his lips. Skinner raised his head and stared at him, hard. "It's in your wife's small suitcase, the one you never gave away. Look in the left-hand pocket."

"Bastard."

"Actually, no. But that's not important." Krycek winced; Skinner had gotten to the burn on his abdomen from the faked gut shot. The gunpowder had exploded slightly sidewise instead of straight out, and he had the scorch mark to show for it. Skinner was cleaning it carefully, but just the sensation of his fingers touching the wounded area made Krycek's stomach twitch uneasily. "Each controller is individually calibrated to match the chip; once you destroy that one, nobody can touch you. You'll be safe."

Skinner finished cleaning and set about bandaging the wound. It was in almost the same place where Skinner's own scars showed his recovery from his war wounds, of Vietnam and later. "If that's not true, you're dead."

"Dead again. Get in line." Krycek sucked in a deep breath; yes, that worked. Good. "Besides, Alex Krycek is dead. You killed him."

"Yes, I did, and in front of a witness, too." Skinner was nearly done. "Who are you now?"

"I don't think you need to know, do you?" He felt a little lightheaded; he gazed at the top of Skinner's bald head and idly wondered whether, if he kissed it, Skinner would shoot him with his own gun or employ a more creative method of killing him. The last snap of adhesive tape against his skin brought him out of his reverie, so that when Skinner looked at him again his face showed only its usual sardonic expression.

"What if I want to contact you, for some reason? I can't just call the Smoker any more."

"Where he is now, he's permanently unlisted." The thought of his former boss being unlisted in hell made him feel a lot happier than he'd realized. "Put a light in the window; I'll know." It was a sarcastic answer, but the truth; he had three ways of finding this out, not even counting the possibility of suborning the Lone Gunmen by persuading them that it was in Mulder's or Scully's best interests that he spy on their boss. Hell, the Gunmen would probably believe that without any effort -- though he had little hope that they would keep the secret of his being alive from Mulder or Scully.

"All right." Skinner opened what looked like a refrigerator door and brought out a quart carton of orange juice, unopened. "This isn't the Red Cross; it's the best I can do. Enough to get you to wherever you need to be for whatever you need to do." He took two sweaters and a shirt out of a closet and dropped them next to Krycek on the table. "See what fits."

"Thanks." He gripped the carton between his knees and ripped the top open with his prosthetic hand. "As for where I need to be -- " he shrugged his good shoulder.

"Let me guess," Skinner growled. "You need a driver, as well as some help getting dressed."

"Oh, don't look so thrilled."

***

They reached the top of the highest sheltered point in the Blue Ridge Mountains a bit after sunset. It didn't take long for Krycek to set up the flares, aimed in the direction of a certain new star that seemed to be hovering a bit south of where they were. He calculated the angle of the light, added two more flares to one row, and started to light them. Skinner, who had been watching, nodded quickly and lit the others. When they were all burning, and Krycek was leaning against the car with him, he said, "Now what?"

"We wait. When they burn down, we replace them. We have to keep the pattern lit all night."

"And this will help Scully somehow." Skinner's voice sounded dubious.

Krycek let his shoulders slump wearily. "I didn't ask you to drive me two hours into the mountains just to pull your chain." He pointed his chin at the shape of the hillside. "You're a cop, and you're ex-military. Notice anything about the shape of this place?"

"That one's easy. It's slightly hollow, sheltered from the wind and from the eyes of passers-by."

"Very good. And it's at precisely the right angle for someone right about there," he pointed at a sector of sky, "to see it without interference from any other direction."

"And it's out of the flight paths of major airlines, not to mention the usual military flights."

"Landsat mapping might pick it up, but by then we'll be gone."

"What does the signal tell them, Krycek?"

"To go home without taking Scully and the baby."

Skinner gaped at him. Krycek enjoyed the sight; he hadn't seen the man this discomfited in a long time. "You dragged me up here to write 'Martians, Go Home' in the sand?"

"Essentially, yes. We just have to hope that Doggett and the others can take care of Billy Miles."

"What about Mulder?"

Krycek shook his head. "By the time he gets there, whatever's going to happen will already be over." He shrugged, painfully. "You don't have to stay. I can always replace flares when they burn out."

"And how would you get back down afterward? You're in no shape for a twenty-mile hike."

"Walter, I didn't know you cared."

"Shut up."

The night was quiet, except for the sounds of insects and frogs, and the occasional owl in the distance.

"I never slept with Mulder, you know," Krycek said after a while.

Skinner raised an eyebrow. "And you're telling me this now -- why?"

"Thought you'd be interested." The grunt Krycek received in response made him smile. "It's not that Mulder's unattractive. He's very attractive, but he's too unstable."

This time the response was a choked-off laugh. "Unstable? You would know."

"Yes, I would, wouldn't I?" Krycek pulled himself up off the car and went to replace the first row of flares. Skinner took care of the next two and both of them did the last one. "Did it ever occur to you that I didn't particularly enjoy what I was doing?"

"What, when you were beating me up or running that controller on me? Give it up, Krycek. You enjoyed every minute of that, all of it."

Krycek said nothing, his mouth a straight line.

Skinner said, roughly, "I suppose you're telling me this because you read my file."

"I didn't need to read the file to know who and what you were," he said, adding "sir," as if he meant it. "But it did make for interesting reading."

"Who else has seen it?"

"Nobody. I destroyed it after I read it, same with Mulder's and Scully's. Some things don't need to be in print for anyone to read."

Skinner crossed his arms again and leaned back against the car. "So, is this to tell me I can trust you?"

"No. It's to tell you I trust you."

Skinner snorted. "I didn't think you were such a romantic, Alexei Michelovich." The words were in Russian, the standard Moscow accent he'd learned at Quantico rusty but acceptable.

"It takes one to know one, Walter Sergei Danielovich." Krycek's accent came from St. Petersburg, the vowels carefully pronounced.

"So. Where will you go from here, back to Mother Russia?"

Krycek shook his head. "I'm not sure how welcome I'd be, in the long run, and it's easier to be unwelcome here than it is there. I'll probably go to Los Angeles."

"You want to break into movies?" Skinner snorted.

"I have a friend there who was left hanging, a while back. I want to make sure he's all right. After that, I don't know. I'll think of something."

They replaced the flares again. The cool damp night air started to make Krycek shiver; when the shiver turned to an uncontrollable shudder, Skinner went into the trunk of the car and brought out a worn Army blanket that he draped around Krycek's shoulders. He was wearing a heavy leather jacket and seemed impervious to the temperature or the humidity. They moved into the car and sat, watching and waiting.

An hour before dawn, Skinner nudged Krycek, who had drifted into a pain-filled sleep. "It's gone."

"What?"

"The light. It's gone." Skinner pointed at the sky. Sure enough, the bright star-like light that they'd been watching for hours had disappeared.

"Good." Krycek let his head fall back against the headrest. "They're safe now."

"We won't know until we get back in contact with Mulder."

"We?"

The faint light in the east highlighted Skinner's pale face. "Do you want to hang around and find out if it worked, or not?"

"I've got no place else to be."

"So you've said." Without another comment, Skinner got out of the car, pulled the burnt flares from the ground and tossed them into a trash bag, which he put in the trunk of his car. He started the car, and they headed back toward the city, facing into the sun.

***

When they came out of the park, down the mountains toward the Potomac to Front Royal, Skinner pulled into a truckstop. "Breakfast. You coming?"

"You paying?"

"They don't take rubles here." Skinner stared him down. "I don't have to like you to feed you, you know."

"You're just saying that." Krycek felt lightheaded again, but this time from low blood sugar and not blood loss. "All right. I'll even make you a deal in return for breakfast. Until we get back, you can ask me anything you want and I'll give you an honest answer."

"Just get out of the car. I don't particularly want to carry you in." Skinner held the door open and let Krycek lean on him briefly as he climbed out of the car. The expression on his face reminded Krycek of a man who was trying, unsuccessfully, to avoid cleaning the cat's litter box.

Krycek followed Skinner into the diner, smothering a snicker. The waitress offered them a booth; the counter was filled with truckers chowing down on combination plates of sausages, biscuits and gravy, none of which filled Krycek with any hope of digestible food. He'd eaten much worse in his time, but just because he'd done it before didn't mean he had to do it again. He ordered a ham-and-cheese omelette, Skinner ordered two eggs over easy with sausage and toast, the waitress slapped two cups of coffee down on the table and left them alone.

The coffee tasted surprisingly good going down his throat and started to warm him immediately. He felt himself relax against the booth's worn vinyl cushions. Skinner's cell phone rang, jogging him back to awareness.

"Yes. How is she?" Skinner growled into the phone. "Uh-huh. No. Good. Yes. Good. Thank you." He clicked the phone off and put it back into his jacket pocket.

"Well?"

"Scully and the baby are fine," Skinner rubbed his face with one hand, as if to push away any tiredness. "And safe. Billy Miles apparently had some friends with him, but they all left at the time Mulder arrived -- about midnight, I'd guess -- without causing any problems. Apparently, Agent Reyes confronted Miles earlier, along with a local sheriff, and that may have slowed him down."

"Right," Krycek grunted. "And?"

"Mulder's going to bring them home in a couple of days."

"Anything else?"

"Reyes said the star she saw over Democrat Hot Springs appeared to vanish just before Miles and his confederates left. She said she had no explanation for it." Skinner raised an eyebrow. "I think you know why."

Krycek nodded. He gripped the coffee cup in his plastic hand, but let the warmth penetrate his good hand, just to remind himself that he still had it. "They didn't get the signal from the mother ship, because we told it to leave."

Skinner leaned back in the booth, toying with a fork. "I can't help wondering where you are in all of this."

"Isn't it obvious?"

"If it were obvious, would I ask?"

"I'm here. I'm out of a job -- no, out of two jobs, perhaps three. If I were Japanese, I'd be ronin."

"Samurai without a master. That's how you see yourself?"

Krycek shrugged uncomfortably. "It's more complimentary than some of the other terms."

Skinner watched him, without speaking, until the food arrived. They ate slowly, tiredly, in a neutral silence that promised nothing and hid nothing. When the waitress refilled their cups for the third time, and took away the empty plates, Skinner said, "Is there still any threat from the Consortium or the aliens?"

Krycek shook his head. "Not much. The Consortium is self-destructing; even the aliens don't trust them any more. As for the aliens themselves, I think we're in a holding pattern right now. There's nothing more I can do until something else happens."

"Whose side are you on?"

"Humans. Even at our worst, we're better than the aliens." The shoulder Krycek shrugged this time, the one that didn't hurt, carried the prosthetic arm. Suddenly, he felt almost unutterably weary. "Anything else?"

Skinner looked as if he was about to say something he thought he'd regret, and stopped himself from speaking.

"If it's any help, yes," Krycek said quietly. "I know you wanted me, back when I was Mulder's eager young assistant. I know why you did what you did to me at your old apartment. And I know why you wanted to keep me away from Mulder and Scully." He watched the play of emotions on Skinner's face, through the man's professional mask. "And if you'd asked, I'd have said yes."

"You think you know a lot." It wasn't quite a growl.

"Certain conclusions can be drawn."

"And now?"

"That depends on where we go when we leave here." Krycek sighed. "Alexander Krycek is dead. Perhaps Alan Kilcannon is someone you want to know. Perhaps not."

"I don't suppose that's your only alias."

Krycek snorted, in a commendable imitation of Skinner. "You know better than that." He drank the rest of his coffee, staring into the bottom of the cup, then raised his eyes to Skinner's face. "What's your pleasure?"

"What do you want?" The tension in Skinner's frame stiffened his shoulders. "From me?"

"A ride back to Union Station, so I can catch the first train headed west. Other than that, it's up to you. What do you want?"

"A hot shower and a good long sleep in my own bed." Skinner's smile seemed as bright and false as any that Krycek had ever worn. He dropped the money on the table next to the check, and led the way back past the counter. The entire population at the counter had changed twice since they sat down; nobody gave either of them more than a passing glance as they went out the door.

Krycek let himself fall asleep on the rest of the way back. Skinner was a good driver; he had nothing to lose by trusting the man, even if it ended with himself in a cell. There was always a way out, if he wanted to take it -- one of the less-known benefits of having a false limb was its ability to double as a carryall for tools, small weaponry and the occasional cyanide pill. But when he woke, with the sun high in the sky, the car sat motionless in front of a familiar duplex in Alexandria. He noticed the address and slid his eyes across toward Skinner, who sat staring out the windshield as if it carried a translation of the Rosetta stone, or of the writings on the strange craft Scully had found off the Ivory Coast.

"I owe you something for Scully," Skinner said heavily. "I might also owe you something for Mulder as well. He's not bringing them back until tomorrow, so Scully and the baby can rest, and I want you out of town before they return. You got that?"

"Yes."

"Good. Get out of the car."

When Krycek opened the door, and started to climb out slowly, Skinner got out on the driver's side, came around, shut and locked the car door for him and walked him into the duplex. Once inside, after the door was shut, Krycek stood, watching at Skinner without an expression on his face.

"There's a bathroom on the left at the top of the stairs. The spare bedroom is just past that. I'll drop you at Union Station tomorrow morning." Skinner shucked off his jacket and hung it in the closet. "The kitchen is down here, on the right. If you're hungry, eat."

Krycek blinked, startled. If he'd heard correctly, Skinner had just given him the freedom of his own house. "You don't have a computer here, so there's nothing I could steal."

Skinner's lips curled in a sarcastic smile. "No, I've got a computer, but there's nothing on it you haven't seen before. If you want to be bored, by all means go ahead and read anything that's on it. You probably know more about my tax return than I do."

"Fuck the IRS. I'd -- rather get the sleep." A yawn interrupted Krycek as he headed toward the stairs. "I should be able to manage, I think." He turned on the landing and looked down into Skinner's dark eyes. "Thank you, tovarishch."

"Go to bed before I forget who you aren't." But Skinner's eyes followed him until the bedroom door closed.

Krycek struggled out of his clothes, took off his artificial arm, fell onto the bed and was bonelessly asleep within a minute.

It was dark when he woke, the pain of his gunshot wound rousing him from a dreamless slumber. He lay in the room for a while, blinking, until his eyes could focus enough for him to tell where the edges of walls and ceiling met in the dim light coming through the window. He sat on the edge of the bed, came slowly to his feet and, balancing carefully, walked into the bathroom to look for painkillers. The bathroom light blinded him at first, but he squinted at the cabinet over the sink long enough to find the Tylenol-3, old but not out of date, in a prescription bottle with a normal, not child-proof, cap. It wasn't hard to shake out three tablets, in spite of the hole in his arm, or to wash them down with water slurped from the tap (though bending to drink irritated the burn on his abdomen), but he left the bottle on the sink rather than returning it to its place. He went back to bed and felt the pain recede enough for him to sleep again.

The second time, when he woke up, he knew he wasn't alone in the room. He could hear the quiet breathing before he saw the large shadow near the door. The light coming in the window was pale but stronger, and he guessed that it might be 5 a.m., just enough before dawn to notice, just enough light for him to see Skinner standing there, without his glasses, watching him.

He didn't think the painkiller was still working, but for whatever reason he wasn't in enough pain to complain about it. Instead, he lay and watched Skinner impassively occupying space inside the room, observing him. Krycek felt as if he were waiting for part of the Rocky Mountains to move, but when the man finally did move, it was slowly and silently, and he remembered the way Skinner had moved earlier, raising the gun surely and without hesitation to shoot him down regardless of their bargain.

Had he been spared then in order to die now?

Skinner stood beside the bed, staring down at him. He reached a hand down to trace the edge of Krycek's jaw, the drift of collarbone, the trail down the ruined arm to a point just short of its end, before the scarring began. Only when he felt the heat of that body, so close by, did Krycek notice that Skinner was naked.

As he was, in the bed.

He started to speak, but Skinner's hand came down over his mouth to stop the words, and he grew still, waiting, until he could stand to wait no longer and kissed the palm of that hand. A movement flowed through Skinner, something between a shiver and a shudder, rippling down his body, and he sat on the side of the bed and turned toward Krycek.

Was this how death would come, from those strong, capable hands, after all the years of evasion? Of course he could defend himself, but it might not even be worth the trouble ... he couldn't help thinking this. It was a shock when he felt a hot, heavy-lipped mouth surrounding his cock, demanding to taste him, occupying him, seducing him away from fear, from a carefully cultivated lack of emotion into an intense nexus of feeling and sensation and lush, incredible pleasure.

Skinner made no attempt to touch him in any other way, but braced his hands on either side of Krycek's body as his mouth slipped up and down over Krycek's aching length, calling silently for the only response he could give. Krycek's hand knotted in the blankets under him as his back arched and he came, fiercely, granting that greedy mouth all it required of him. He broke into a sweat as he felt the rush surge through him, and he lay on the bed breathing heavily, dizzy and floating.

The light was brighter, now. Krycek could see Skinner lick his lips clean, and watched one heavy hand move up toward him, but it rested briefly on his forehead as if to check his temperature, then skimmed lightly over his bandages.

"I'll be fine --" he started to say.

"When I want you to talk, I'll tell you," Skinner rumbled. "Move over."

Krycek compromised by moving onto his side, lying on his truncated arm. If Skinner wanted him a different way, he would have to do the rest of the work. But he ran his tongue over his lips, and Skinner responded by standing and moving close enough that Krycek could lick his heavy erection, could taste the specific musky aroma that rose from that thatch of dark hair and the salty familiarity of the pearled head. He let Skinner slide himself in and out, slowly, teasing and tempting as much as he could, but he didn't object when Skinner, breathing deeply, walked around the bed to lie down behind him, move his upper leg aside and position himself. Instead he shut his eyes, sighed in relaxation, and reached back with his one good hand to help hold Skinner's solid hips in place for the first movement inward, agonizingly slow, harder and larger than anything he'd felt except in his dreams for years.

Skinner slid one arm underneath Krycek's shoulders and wrapped it around Krycek's chest to hold him in place; the other hand held the crest of a slender hip when it didn't stray down to coax that muscular ass apart with a slicked finger or caress Krycek's spent cock. As he slid home, deeper, so solid, Krycek's skin rippled in a shiver of delight, and he sighed again and rolled his hips backward against Skinner.

They made something beyond love, or hate, emotions too deep for words burning inside both of them as they moved together in the dawning light. Skinner's movements were too gentle for the kind of hard fucking Krycek had always thought he would get from his former superior, and too strong to be merely a gift of pleasure. The short, slow strokes, and the longer, firmer ones that made him shiver with delight went on and on, until he was achingly hard again and dripping, and moaning obscure Russian phrases that could have been endearments or obscenities.

Skinner grew, if anything, impossibly harder, the thrusts stronger, until he pulled out completely and Krycek nearly wept with frustration. But Skinner turned him over, onto his back, lifting his hips to position them over pillows, moving his wounded arm out of the way and making sure his neck wasn't uncomfortable, then knelt between his legs on the bed, hands sliding down the taut muscles of Krycek's ass, and waited, thumbs rubbing in circles over the sensitive skin behind his balls.

Krycek writhed, trying to inch downward, trying to open himself and feeling those hands holding him still no matter what he did. "Take what you want," he growled.

"What do you want?"

"You know. Give it to me," Krycek panted, "pretend it's your office and your desk."

"I don't have to pretend," Skinner said. He rose up on his knees and sheathed himself in Krycek slowly, inexorably, completely, and started to move his hips, hard, smacking him down into the pillows, so that Krycek groaned, braced himself as best he could, slid his legs as wide apart as possible, and came again as if a bolt of lightning were striking through him. The orgasm ripped across his body, tightening him around Skinner, who pumped in that last hard thrust and leaned over to lick the sweat from his neck and shoulders.

They fell back sideways on the bed and lay in the early dawn, still entangled. Krycek felt Skinner slide out, slowly, and let himself be turned in Skinner's arms until they were face to face. Krycek watched Skinner, his eyes dilated with unexpected pleasure, and saw that Skinner's dark brown eyes were black, the iris rim a slightly gilded dark brown. Skinner's mouth twitched; he closed Krycek's eyes again by capturing his mouth in a hard, searching kiss that was returned in equal measure. When they broke apart, they stared at each other, catching their breaths, until Krycek fell over onto his back, limp. Skinner rose, went to the bathroom and brought back a warm, damp towel to clean them both, pulled the blanket and sheet up over Krycek, and left.

***

It was full day when Krycek awoke again, more rested than he'd felt in weeks. He bathed, tried to keep his bandages dry and largely succeeded, strapped on his prosthetic arm, and was in the awkward midst of trying to change dressings when Skinner came to the doorway. He walked into the bathroom and said, "Sit. I'll do that."

"I'll have to take care of it later."

"Shut up. I'm not going to have you pulling stitches when I don't have the facilities to repair them." His tone was brusque, but his hands felt gentle on Krycek's skin as he removed bandaging, checked for infection, and tended the gunshot wound and the burn.

"And what was last night, if not an exercise in pulled stitches?" Krycek murmured.

"Or the effort to avoid them."

He could read nothing in Skinner's dark eyes but the same concrete wall that had always kept him out. His own inner wall, he knew, was made of twisted razor wire and stood in the midst of a no-man's-land, a minefield larded with live bombs, but there were trails across the ruined land and under the wire and he'd been on one of them a few hours earlier, outside the gate in a place he hadn't seen clearly before. Did Skinner know this, or had it simply been Skinner wanting and Skinner taking what he could have before it was too late?

On an impulse he couldn't explain to himself, Krycek waited until Skinner looked up, the last bandage in place, and leaned forward to put his mouth over Skinner's, to lick that broad lower lip and make himself a place inside that warmth. And Skinner's mouth opened, and his hand came up to rest at the back of Krycek's neck, fingers brushing the soft hairs at his nape, though the kiss was as deep and searching as before.

Oh, yes, there was fire there. It flickered in the darkness at the back of Skinner's eyes when the kiss ended and he turned away, casually, to clean up the mess of bloody gauze and put away the medical supplies.

Skinner left, footsteps steady on the stairs, and Krycek dressed and picked up his jacket. When he reached the first floor he followed the sounds to the kitchen, sat in the chair Skinner pointed to at the small table and ate what was put in front of him: reheated roast beef and gravy, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables, with a plate of toasted thick-cut homemade bread to share.

Skinner sat across from him, busy with his own meal. Eventually, he said, "Are you going directly to Los Angeles?"

"Why?"

"Train schedules." Skinner shrugged and dredged his last bite of toast through gravy. "What are you going to do now?"

Krycek pushed his empty plate away and drank his coffee. One thing the Bureau was good for was teaching men to make decent coffee, if only in rebellion against the caustic machine-made stuff. This tasted good. He thought carefully before he spoke. "Scully has you and Mulder and Doggett to protect her and the child, and she's not bad at protecting herself, either. But that's not the only child who needs protection."

He watched the comprehension grow on Skinner's face, the understanding that this last few days would be repeated, in one way or another, again and again. "How many?"

"I have a partial list of names and due dates. Partial. It's all I could salvage from the lab. At least half a dozen that I know of; probably many more. The page was ripped, and it's page two of ten." Krycek's eyes slid sideways toward the window, and the counter with its knives, and back to Skinner. "Not all of them are still alive. Billy Miles had brothers."

Fear, anger, regret and something unquantifiable moved across Skinner's face. "Why are you telling me this now?"

"Because I'm the only one left who cares, and if the Billy Mileses of this world win, someone else should know." Krycek set his cup down carefully. "You and I are the same, Skinner. We're both killers, and we know it. But I think neither of us has deliberately killed children."

"You tried to, with Scully."

"I told you to do it, because it was the only solution I saw then -- before I knew about the others. I knew you wouldn't. You want the list?"

Skinner nodded. "What do you want me to do with it?"

"Just keep an eye on them. Let Mulder's Gunmen friends know, too; some of their contacts will be helpful." Krycek's lips pressed together. "And don't expect to see me for a while."

"I'm not running a safehouse for traitors."

"Oh, get off the stick. There are no countries in this, any more, and I'm not betraying humanity."

Skinner leveled a stare at him, the Assistant Director glare that was no less effective in jeans and a denim shirt instead of the perfect pressed gabardine and crisp white linen. "It's hard to see you as a guardian angel."

"You're not that naive. Do you still think all angels have shiny clean wings?"

"No." Skinner gave him one more measuring look, emptied the last of the coffee into their cups and put the pot on the counter. "I'll do what I can."

Krycek reached into his jacket and took out a folded piece of paper with a ragged edge. "These are the first ones; I'll send you more names when I have them." Skinner left the kitchen, and Krycek heard a copier humming in another room. "Your email address hasn't changed, has it?"

"Not lately." He handed Krycek back the page. "Do you want Mulder to know?"

Krycek shook his head. "Not right now. The best thing he can do, he's already doing. That's enough." He stood, draping the jacket over his synthetic arm. "What time is the train? I don't want to overstay my welcome."

A reluctant half-smile, and a snort, lightened Skinner's face. "You'll never know how much I was tempted, back when you were working for me, to just put you and Mulder over my knee and whale the hell out of you for insolence and disregarding orders, regardless of the Bureau's discipline guidelines," he growled.

Humor flashed through Krycek's eyes. "That's more Mulder's kink; it would have been wasted on me. I'd suggest you mention it to Scully, but I suspect she has her own ways of keeping him in line."

The smile melted off Skinner's face like spring snow leaving stone as he put the dishes in the sink. "I'll drive you to the station."

Krycek glanced aside, at the trash can, and this time he saw the wet and twisted wreckage of the chip controller, itself finally controlled. He stood and went to wait by the front door, pushing his hair into place with his fingers for the sake of Skinner's neighbors. When Skinner walked up behind him he turned away from the mirror and stepped aside, out of the door's swing, but Skinner took him by the shoulders and pushed him back against the door in a powerful full-body press.

"Don't push me, tovarishch. You won't like it." Skinner's voice resonated in his chest; Krycek felt it vibrate through him as much as he heard it.

"I wouldn't dream of it," Krycek said, feeling his own hardness against Skinner's as if they both were teens.

"Good. Remember that." Skinner's mouth came down on his again, but he was ready for it this time, invading as much as he was invaded, taking as much as he was taken, and giving more than he had before. When it was over they were both breathing hard. Skinner stepped back slowly and handed Krycek a small carry-on, the corners of his mouth curving upward at Krycek's surprise. "Medical supplies."

Krycek nodded, watching Skinner's face return to its usual stillness.

Traffic was normal for mid-afternoon, just at the start of the Capital's four-hour "rush hour". They made it to the station, and as Skinner parked the car he said, "Do I need to put you on that train personally, or can I trust that you're leaving?"

"Believe me, I don't want to run into Mulder right now either." Krycek took a last look at Skinner, nodded slowly, and got out of the car. He turned and said, "Do svidanya, Walter Sergei Danielovitch," closed the door and walked off into the crowd without looking back.

"It's not farewell, Alexei," Skinner said quietly, watching him disappear. "I know you; you'll be back." He took the parking brake off and drove into the afternoon traffic.

Few people were taking the New York-to-Los Angeles train from Union Station, so Krycek upgraded his ticket to a small compartment rather than a regular seat for the sake of privacy. Once aboard, he sat and flipped through the complimentary magazines as the train left the station, but at last curiosity overwhelmed him and he opened the small satchel. It held the promised bandages, tape, scissors and antiseptic, along with a supply of painkillers and a good prescription antibiotic with Scully's name on the label as the physician of record; the antibiotic prescription still had an unused refill on it. Along with this he found a hastily-made roast beef and cheese sandwich, and a pair of clean silk boxer shorts that weren't new. Perhaps they had become too small for Skinner, and had lain in the back of the drawer for a while.

He let his fingers slide through the soft material, thinking of the night before, and he felt something move at the bottom of the bag. A piece of paper or light card stock. When he brought it into the light he realized it was a prayer card, the kind of inexpensive printed memorials that were made to help loved ones remember the dead. This one had been blank on the back, but a strong hand had written, "Alex Krycek, R.I.P." on it.

The picture on the front showed a Russian Orthodox icon of the Mother of Sorrows, the Madonna who knows her child is different, who knows her much-loved child will need protection until he is old enough to save the world.

"You sentimentalist, Skinner," Krycek murmured, as he opened the window, clicked his lighter and set fire to this last piece of paper that carried his name. He watched the flame work in from the outside, the dark steady eyes that seemed to watch him the last thing to burn.