Title: "A Dog in the Manger"
Author: JiM
Pairing: M/Sk
Rating: PG
Summary: Skinner's old friend opens his eyes by chasing something Skinner never knew he wanted.
Webpage: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html  (Thanks, Mona!)
Feedback: Jimapge363@aol.com


"A Dog in the Manger"
by JiM

* * *

A low whistle. "Look what's a-coming up your front walk, Walter Skinner!"

Skinner spared a glance out of the gutter he was cleaning and groaned silently. Then he looked back at his friend. "Put your tongue back in your head, Hamilton. He's one of my agents."

Hamilton grinned, raised his eyebrow and reached for another shingle. "Pity," he commented speculatively, just as Mulder came to a halt at the foot of the ladder that Skinner was working on.

"Good afternoon, sir."

"Mulder." Skinner wiped an arm across his brow and put down the trowel he was using. Autumn or not, it was a hot noon on that roof and he felt unpleasantly grubby, slick with sweat. He could feel it running down his neck and chest, soaking the tank top he wore. He knew he looked nothing like the starched AD Mulder was used to seeing and he figured that accounted for the odd look on the agent's face.

"There's been a break in the Vitelli case, sir. Actually, we made the arrests this morning. Vitelli's brother, Vito, confessed to the killings."

"Just like you said he would." Skinner didn't begrudge Mulder being right this time. Or any other time, for that matter. He and Scully still had a phenomenal solve rate and that still made Skinner look damned good, even when he had spent the entire previous afternoon 'discussing' the case with Mulder - at a volume that half the floor could hear.

Mulder shrugged, no spiteful victory dances for him. Skinner nearly smiled at the diffident frown on Mulder's face. He leaned on the top of his ladder. "So what can I do for you?" A polite version of 'why are you here?'

"I need you to sign the go-ahead on the search of Vitelli's house, sir."

Skinner sighed and heard a stifled snicker from Hamilton. Backwards. With Mulder, it was always backwards. "Mulder, is it my imagination, or does the Bureau usually requires that an AD sign a go-ahead *before* the search?"

Mulder had the grace to look abashed. In fact, he looked charmingly boyish and apologetic, actually scuffing his toe in the grass. "Sorry, sir. I tried to contact you last night, here and on your cellphone, but you were out of range. And we had to get him with the evidence still fresh. Before he went after the nephew."

Skinner could feel himself flushing. He and Hamilton had gone clubbing in Baltimore last night. There would have been no way for Mulder to contact him. It had been foolishly shortsighted to put himself out of touch when this case was still so hot, but he had been so sure that Mulder was on the wrong track.

"It was my fault, Mulder. Give me the papers." He started down the ladder, only to realize that Mulder was starting up it. He heard another one of Hamilton's low chuckles when they met in the middle. "Ya'll look like a pair of chorus boys gettin' ready for the big finale."

Mulder grinned upwards. "I assume this would be an off-Broadway production?"

Skinner sighed and made the introductions. "Colonel Sam Hamilton, Special Agent Fox Mulder." Hamilton waved a hammer cheerfully and Mulder raised a hand to screen his eyes as he nodded pleasantly at Hamilton. Skinner clambered down the ladder and waited until Mulder had jumped down before asking, "So when did the Flash hit this time?"

The Flash. It was Skinner's name for that moment went everything in a case suddenly imploded in Mulder's brain and the fragments of evidence became a mural of events and motives that painted the murderer's portrait. Mulder had no other way to explain it and Skinner had grown used to waiting for it, for the insane lightning strike that brought justice or closure, or sometimes just an answer.

Mulder grimaced. "1:43 a.m. Scully was not pleased."

"I can imagine." Skinner watched Mulder patting down his pockets and groping in his rumpled suit jacket for a pen. Then he squinted up for a moment to where Hamilton was still looking over the edge of the roof, a wolfish grin on his face, watching them. "I don't hear any hammering," he said pointedly.

"They freed the slaves, Walt. Isn't it time for a beer? Or lunch?" Hamilton said hopefully, eyes fixed on Mulder's profile. Skinner sighed and shook his head, but he knew he'd already lost this one. "Come on down, Ham. Mulder, come inside and I'll sign those forms. You want some lunch?"

Mulder's gaze seemed caught by the sweat stain on Skinner's chest and he said nothing. The sound of a thump and a body hitting the grass just beside him made him start like a high-strung racehorse.

"Jesus, Hamilton! What the hell d'you think you're doing?" Skinner growled.

Hamilton had simply jumped off the roof, dropping fifteen feet to land easily beside them. That sharp grin looked so white in his travel-tanned face and seemed to startle Mulder even more. "Used to make jumps like that all the time, Walt. The secret is all in the legs."

Skinner shook his head, realizing that Hamilton was feeling his oats again and there was nothing Skinner could do to hold him down. Never had been, not since they were 18 and alone in the wilds of Saigon nights. Hell, you'd think a man nearly fifty would be ready to drop after partying until 4 a.m., but not Hamilton. He'd been up again at 8 and ready to help Skinner fix storm damage.

"Come on, Agent Mulder. Come have a beer and a sandwich and tell us about this bust."

Mulder blinked a little at the stranger's friendly tone, but a tired smile worked its way onto his face finally. "OK. Some solid food is probably a good idea. I haven't slept in 36 hours and breakfast was one of those 7 grain bars that Scully favors."

Skinner couldn't help the grimace of commiseration that crossed his face. Hamilton said, "C'mon Walt, let's take this boy inside and feed him up right." He brushed some gravel and asphalt shingle crumbs from his bare chest, grin growing wider when Mulder's tired eyes tracked his fingers across the tanned muscles of his abdomen. "Just needs some care and feeding," Hamilton murmured, looking from Skinner to Mulder. Skinner wanted to throttle him suddenly, but instead he turned and led the way inside.

* * *

Lunch was surprisingly pleasant, once Skinner had washed up and gotten a cold beer and a thick roast beef sandwich in him. *He* felt like he was nearing 50 and the club circuit had worn him out, although he wouldn't have put the brakes on Ham's evening for anything. His old buddy hadn't had a night of uncomplicated loud dancing and drinking in far too long and Skinner had sat back, nursing his club soda and watching him with real pleasure. Ham was coming alive again, the spark coming back slowly and it was good to see.

It was fascinating to watch as he drew Fox Mulder out of his shell, asking intelligent questions about his cases, his career, his ideas. A lot of military personnel knew about Fox Mulder now, for better or worse. The whole Consortium/FEMA/DoD exposure two years ago had splashed all of their names and faces across the media, but Hamilton wasn't one of those who wanted to shoot the messenger. Mulder had exposed a conspiracy that threatened the country that Hamilton had loved and served proudly and he was grateful rather than hostile.

And Mulder...well, Mulder became someone Skinner hadn't ever seen before. He loosened his tie and finally took it off after merciless teasing from Hamilton. With his tie gone, Mulder started to relax and his bloodshot eyes began to light with laughter as they traded stories. By the time lunch was over, Mulder and Hamilton seemed well on their way to becoming fast friends. Which, for some obscure reason, bothered the hell out of Skinner.

He finally shooed Mulder out the door with the recommendation that he get some sleep and reminded Ham that the hole in the roof needed to be patched before the next rainfall. Grousing good-naturedly, Hamilton led the way outside, rehooking his toolbelt as he stood saying good-bye to Mulder. He started up the ladder, then stopped and reached down his hand to shake Mulder's. "Was a real pleasure gettin' to know you, Mulder."

"You, too, Colonel."

"Ham," Hamilton corrected with a smile, still holding onto Mulder's hand. "Come on back sometime and I'll tell you all kinds of stories about your boss here."

Skinner stepped closer and Hamilton let Mulder's hand drop. "Don't believe anything he says, Mulder. It'll all be lies."

"I got pictures," Hamilton said cheerfully and started back up the ladder. "I'll call you."

Mulder blinked again and Skinner watched as a frown of confusion crossed his face as he looked up into the sun after Hamilton. "Mulder. Mulder," he said, finally getting Mulder's attention again. "The go-ahead," he handed the signed papers to Mulder. "Let's try to get it in the right order on the next one."

"Yes, sir." Mulder looked befuddled and Skinner clamped down hard on the urge to put his hand on the younger man's shoulder, turn him around, guide him back into the house and tuck him into a nice cool bed for ten or twelve hours. Then wake him up and fuck him senseless.

Instead, he shook his head to clear it and remembered to say, "Good work on this one, Mulder. Scully, too."

Mulder's face lit with a shy smile that made Skinner clench his fists. He didn't praise Mulder enough, he knew, because when he did, oh when he did...the reaction was amazing. A kid on Christmas, he thought disjointedly, and smiled back before he knew what he was doing.

"Walt! Get your ass back up here. I'm not gonna be the only one cooking to death on this roof!" Hamilton's raucous shout startled them both and Mulder was striding down the walk without another word before Skinner had recovered himself.

"Asshole," Skinner muttered and wasn't certain whether he meant Ham, Mulder or himself.

* * *

About halfway through the afternoon, and he and Ham had switched to drinking Cokes, Ham had tossed down his hammer and said speculatively, "Pretty boy."

He knew what Hamilton was asking. "No," he said around the roofing nails he gripped between his teeth..

"So he's free?"

Skinner spat out the nails. "What, you thinking of checking out the lay of the land?"

"Just doing some recon, Walt. But if he's offlimits, just say the word. I won't poach."

Skinner was trying to nail down a shingle and the nail had bent sideways before he realized he was trying to pound it through a knot. He jerked it out with the claw hammer and reached for a new one before saying, "As far as I know, he's not seeing anyone. But I don't know if he's ..."

Ham chuckled. "He is, Walt, trust me. The way he was checking you out, he is."

Skinner put the hammer down carefully, then set the nail next to it. "What are you talking about?" he said calmly.

There was a hoot of laughter from Hamilton. "You haven't changed, have you, Walt? Never could see what's right in front of your face. Jimmy had to push you up against a tree, Sharon had to practically club you over the head..."

"Fuck you, Hamilton."

"Nope, you're not my type. But he is. He most surely is," Hamilton whistled again softly. "So, to go back to the original question...?"

"Go for it," Skinner said shortly. "If you're ready to get back in the game, go for it."

"Hey, Walt," Ham said softly. "Toddy is dead. I think I'm finally done with my grieving. I need to feel alive again, you know?"

"Yeah, I do. I'm glad," he said. He was. But his hand still twitched when he wrote out Mulder's phone number for Hamilton later that night.

* * *

It wasn't just his hand twitching when Sam Hamilton showed up in his office on Tuesday afternoon, it was his whole damned jaw. Hamilton looked crisp and handsome in his greens, just as if he hadn't spent an entire day in Senate committee hearings. Skinner watched Kimberly's eyes do a long slow glide down the visitor's body and back up to his face before smiling brightly at him. He sighed and, when the door had closed behind his assistant, said, "You're going to corrupt my entire staff, you know that?"

Ham just smiled and shrugged in that aw-shucks way that had slain thousands in its time. Until he'd met Todd and been firmly collared and domesticated and those good looks and glad eyes had been focused in only one direction for more than 20 years.

"Just dropped in to say I won't be home for dinner tonight, Walt. Gonna take your agent out, get him liquored up and see what kind of stories he tells then."

Skinner shook his head, smiling to hide his unease. "You won't believe half of them and the hell of it is, I think they're all true."

"Should be a fun evening, then." Hamilton smiled and turned to go.

"Ham..." Hamilton turned back at the door. "He's got to work tomorrow. Not too much liquor, OK?"

"Yes, sir, Mr. Skinner. I'll have your boy home by ten o'clock, I promise." Hamilton pulled on his forelock and slipped out the door, laughing when Skinner flipped him the bird.
* * *

Hamilton came in around 10:30 and laughed about Skinner waiting up for him. He offered to let Skinner check for hickeys and lipstick stains and returned the pillow heaved at him with deadly accuracy. The pillow fight lasted for 10 minutes, not including the five minutes spent picking up the pieces of the overturned lamp. Mulder's name was not mentioned.

* * *

So Skinner was a bit surprised to hear himself asking Mulder the next morning, "How was dinner?"

So was Mulder apparently, but he covered it well. 'He's quite a character, sir. He said you were in the service together."

"We were in the Marines together, until he was posted to a different unit. Eventually, he switched branches and moved over to the Rangers."

"He has some interesting stories to tell, sir," and there was a speculative gleam in Mulder's eye now and Skinner wondered what the hell Hamilton had been telling him.

"As do you, Agent Mulder."

"True," Mulder said, grin growing wider. "But his are more fun. You should come with us next time."

"At least I'd be able to keep him from his more egregious lies," Skinner said, inexplicably heartened.

"I don't think he lies, sir. I'd say it was more that he dresses up reality so that it looks more appealing from his angle."

"Trust me, Mulder, he lies."

"He said you'd helped him a lot since his lover died." Mulder's voice was suddenly gentle.

"He told you about Todd?" Skinner was surprised for a moment, then remembered how easy most people found talking to Mulder. It was only Walter Skinner who ever seemed to become tongue-tied around him.

"Sam didn't tell me his name, or even that it was a man, but that seemed fairly likely from other things he said."

"Shit," Skinner said fervently. "Mulder..."

Mulder shook his head. "Don't worry, sir. I'm used to secrets." He gave a small smile that held just a touch of bitterness.

"It wasn't my secret to tell."

"It's fine," Mulder said with a touch of exasperation. "It's not like I didn't notice that we were out on a date."

"Oh," Skinner said. "Well."

After a short silence, Mulder nodded pleasantly, then left. Skinner found that he had snapped a pencil in half. He tossed the two pieces into the trash and told himself to calm the fuck down and keep his nose out of other people's business.

* * *

Which resolution he kept for exactly four days. Saturday night, or rather, very early Sunday morning, he was awakened by Hamilton stumbling around in the living room. There was a small crash and a drunken snicker, then the light clicked on. A golden slice filtered down the hallway and into his room through the partially open bedroom door.

"Have a seat, Fox," he heard Hamilton say.

Fox? Since when did anyone get to call Mulder by his first name? He'd done it exactly once and the results had not been promising.

"You want something to drink?"

"No, I'd say we've had more than enough," came Mulder's warm tenor.

"Now that might be true, boy, it might be true." There was a thump, the sound of a large man dropping onto the leather sofa, then the slight squeaks as he arranged his body more comfortably. "Let's see," he heard Hamilton purr, "if I remember how to do this." There were some rustling noises, then silence. Skinner's mind tortured him with images of what might be happening in his living room, then his conscience scourged him for eavesdropping.

He heard Hamilton say, voice low and a little breathless, "OK, that seemed like it went well, for a test run. Want to try again?"

"Well, I wouldn't want to base my opinion on only one sample. Statistically speaking...mmmph." Skinner nearly grinned at the thought of Hamilton finding a surefire way to shut Mulder up. Then his hands clenched and he gritted his teeth at the slight squeaks of cloth on leather that filtered down the hall to his bedroom.

"Oh yeah, I'd say you remember how this works just fine." Now Mulder sounded breathless and Skinner stared blindly at the ceiling and wondered what petty god he had pissed off that he was reduced to listening to his oldest friend making love to his... to his...

'Agent' his rational mind supplied. 'Subordinate' was also presented for inspection. But it was 2 in the morning and Skinner told his rational mind to go fuck itself. Mulder was just ... his. But what to do about it?

Especially since Mulder was so obviously enjoying attentions that no one else had paid him in too long.

He was debating reaching for his gun when he heard the sounds of movement and soft laughter from the living room. He was prepared to make a complete ass of himself if those voices came down the hallway toward the guest bedroom. His muscles began to unclench, one by one, when he heard the front door open, another spate of soft laughter, and then he heard it close again. There were the faint beeps of Hamilton setting the burglar alarm, then the light in the living room clicked off and darkness descended to hide Skinner and his new knowledge. He fell asleep only after he heard the water running in the shower.

* * *

Sunday morning found him slumped over his third mug of coffee and dodging phrases like "dog in the manger" and "joy killer". Ham wasn't even up yet but Skinner was amusing himself with working out everything his friend might reasonably say to him if he ever got up enough nerve to make a play for Mulder.

He sighed, remembering how good it felt to see Hamilton back to himself again, bright-eyed and laughing and ready to tackle the newest flavors in life once more. How could he take that away from him? The answer was simple; he couldn't. Miserably, Skinner got up to mix pancake batter and wound up beating it until it was a sticky mass. He was just pouring it down the drain when Hamilton stumbled into the kitchen, sleepy and cheerful and beard-burnt. Firming his resolve, Skinner growled only a little as he told Hamilton to get dressed, they were going out to breakfast.

His resolve was tempered and tested over brunch. Gregarious and buoyant, Hamilton shared tidbits of his date with Mulder, relating anecdotes and stories that Mulder had told him. Skinner was surprised to hear the funny sides of some of the stolid case reports he had received.

Sometime around their third Bloody Mary, Hamilton started talking about the man himself, pumping for background details. So Skinner pulled out every unclassified bit of Fox Mulder trivia he could think of and was a little surprised to find that he knew so little of the man himself. He knew all Mulder's vital data, but he'd known this person for eight years, gone through hell and high water with him and he couldn't tell Ham the first thing about his likes and dislikes, what he wanted from life, nothing truly important. Hell, he hadn't even known Mulder was into men.

Skinner knew that the game was over when Hamilton said, "Sweet boy. Funny and wounded and smart as a whip, Walt. And deep down, a real sweet boy."

He could only nod and stare at the tabletop, fingertip drawing aimless patterns in the condensation running down his glass. When Sam Hamilton referred to someone as "sweet", it meant he was dragging out the heavy guns. And Skinner had never seen him miss.

* * *

Walter Skinner was a good friend. He and Sam Hamilton had been friends for long decades and never failed each other, in war or in peace. He had invited Hamilton to come and stay with him for a few months while in town for Senate hearings and to help him get over Todd's death. It was good to have someone to come home to, someone to share stupid household tasks again, someone to crack a beer with.

He had sometimes thought it would have been so much easier if he and Ham could have paired up, but that little spark that would have turned a fine friendship into a warm romance was just missing. So they shared a house, Skinner bought the groceries, Hamilton bought the liquor and did the housework. They watched CNN and the Sports Network and bitched about politics and government bureaucracy on the evenings that Hamilton wasn't taking Mulder out to quiet restaurants, noisy clubs, or intimate nightspots. Skinner had refused two invitations to join them.

On those evenings, Skinner stayed home and read a book, the TV chattering in front of him, one thumb rhythmically drumming on the arm of the easy chair until Hamilton wandered in. Sometimes he brought Mulder with him and the three of them sat around shooting the bull until Mulder recollected that he had to work in the morning and left. Other times, Hamilton came in, tie hanging askew and a secret smile on his face that made Skinner want to beat his good friend until he bled.

This state of affairs continued for two weeks until the Friday morning that Skinner snapped.

* * *

It was a little thing that did it. They had finished a case review meeting and he had been soothed by Dana Scully's cheerful smile and yet another successful file closure. Mulder had been professional and courteous and hadn't annoyed him even once. At the door, Mulder had sent his partner on ahead and turned back to ask a question, thumb still absently worrying at a spot just under his jaw. He had been rubbing at it all through the meeting and Skinner was finally distracted enough to ask, "Cut yourself shaving, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder smiled. "Uh, yeah, sir," and had taken his hand away, fidgeting with a pencil instead. Then Skinner could see and his teeth clenched together when he saw the bite mark on Mulder's jaw. Something inside gave way suddenly and through the roaring in his ears, Skinner heard himself say, "Mulder. Come over and have dinner tonight. Seven o'clock." Only it wasn't really an invitation he heard echoing around his office after Mulder's departure, it was more of a growling order and he had to wonder at the bravery of Mulder's startled acceptance.

* * *

Dinner was good, the conversation a little stilted at first when Mulder discovered that Hamilton was out all evening at some Pentagon-sponsored black-tie banquet. But they had relaxed into one another's company eventually. The food was good, the wine better, but best of all was the chance collision as they cleared the table. Skinner put his hands on Mulder's shoulders to steady him and Mulder just melted against him. Then there was nothing to do but kiss him, so Skinner did.

Christ, the man's mouth was hot and the taste was rich and sweet and now he finally knew what Hamilton meant when he drawled "sweeeeeet" about someone. Mulder made these small sounds, bitten off sighs, escaped moans and whimpers that made Skinner hot and crazy. He heard himself growling again, but this time it was a triumphant sound as Mulder pulled him down the hall toward the bedroom, shirt hanging off his shoulders, chest bare and sweat-slick and strong.

They made love for hours, fast and hard, then slow and long and it was all good, all sweet, every groan and sigh and murmur and howl. Sweetest of all, though, was the feeling of Mulder sighing and dropping into a deep sleep pillowed on Skinner's chest, his arms wrapped tightly around him. And Walter Skinner lay awake for hours, trying to feel some guilt over poaching, trying to feel badly about stealing Mulder from Hamilton, but it kept getting swallowed up in the wild singing of his blood, in the victorious whisper of Mulder's sleeping breath against his throat.

* * *

He slept some, but was still awake at first light, as usual. Mulder had slipped out of his arms sometime in the night. He was now sleeping deeply, sprawled out on his back, a slight smile on his face. Skinner pulled on a pair of discarded jeans and went to the bathroom, then wandered out into the kitchen. He was drinking the last of the orange juice from the carton when Hamilton came in and Skinner nearly choked on the guilt that had gotten lost in the dark last night.

Hamilton smacked him a couple of times between the shoulder-blades until he stopped coughing. "What happened, Walt, you forget how to swallow after all these years?" The cheerfully lecherous twinkle in Hamilton's eye undid him.

"Ham, I..." but he didn't know what to say. Hamilton's bright gaze was fixed upon him and there was nothing to say.

"I see Mulder's car in the driveway, Walt."

Skinner swallowed. "Yeah."

"Was it good?"

He couldn't lie, not now, not even about this. "Oh yeah, Ham. It was real good." He wished he could stop the stupid grin that he could feel creeping onto his face, but he couldn't. He figured that Hamilton would knock it off for him and so he was beyond startled when Hamilton just smiled gently and said, "I knew it'd be good between you two."

"What?!" Lead-eyed shock was wrestling with the grin now and winning, two falls out of three.

"That boy's been pining for you for *years*, Walt, and you never noticed. Same old Skinner, always gotta be hit over the head with something before you see it. Or someone."

Understanding hit, a lightning bolt of clarity that burned away the guilt and left him clean and clear and ready for some strong emotion to fill him. "You set me up!"

Hamilton grinned and held up one thumb. "Got it in one, Walt."

"You son of a bitch," Skinner said softly, still trying to figure out what emotion was spilling through him.

"True enough," Hamilton said cheerfully. "He's a good man, Walt. You treat him well, you hear? Or I'll kick your sorry ass."

Skinner shook his head sharply, trying to clear it. "What the hell was all that business with making out on my damned couch? And the..." he stopped, not even sure how to describe Hamilton's air of cat-with-the-cream during the past two weeks.

"Call it a tutorial, if you want. Mulder spent that whole first night talking about you, Walt, so I sort of figured out which way the wind was blowing. I know you -- you would have just stared and licked your lips and never done a damned thing to help yourself. And he's so cherry that he practically glows, you know? So I thought I'd just help you two out; a little honest jealousy is good for the soul." Hamilton was rummaging around in the cupboard, taking out coffee and mugs. "I let him feel his way around a little, showed him how to touch another man and not be scared, that kind of thing." He filled the coffeepot and turned it on. "He kisses real well, though. Don't think I could teach him a damned thing in that department." He stopped and took a good look at Skinner, who was slumped back against the counter, holding on for support. "You don't look so good, boy. What's the matter, Walt?"

"Cherry?" he said faintly.

"Oh, Walter, what did you do?" Hamilton was shaking his head, one eyebrow raised.

"He never said anything."

"Well, *shit*, Walt, what did you expect him to say? You know anyone who's gonna admit to being a 43 year old virgin?"

"Forty-two," he said weakly.

"Walter S. Skinner, get your ass back into that bedroom and wake him up and you make sure you didn't hurt him. Because if you did, I swear to you that I will beat the shit out of you and make you beg for more."

Skinner was already in motion. "If I have, Ham, I'll *let* you."

* * *

He let himself back into the bedroom, dim and cool with early morning light creeping around the edges of the drapes. Mulder was still sleeping soundly, still smiling faintly, lips parted and just a little swollen. He slid onto the bed and brushed the hair away from Mulder's forehead, caressing a little. Then he ran his hand down the bristly cheek and jaw, watching as Mulder shifted a little, swimming his way up to consciousness.

"Hey," he said as he opened his eyes, still hazy and dreamy.

"Hey," Skinner said softly, then leaned down to kiss him gently. "You OK?" he asked, indescribably relieved when Mulder tried to deepen the kiss into something more purposeful than 'good morning'.

A slow sexy smile then, and Skinner thought he must have learned that expression from Hamilton. "Oh yeah, I'm good." He reached up and pulled Skinner down firmly on top of him.

"You're good," Skinner agreed fervently, head resting over Mulder's heart. "But you should have told me."

Mulder stiffened a little beneath him and Skinner raised his head to meet Mulder's suddenly shy gaze. "It wasn't a problem."

"Idiot! I could have really hurt you." Worry gave birth to annoyance and he sat up, running a hand over his scalp.

Mulder looked away, hands playing with the edge of the sheet. "I'm not some delicate kid, Walt, so lay off the daddy act. I'm fine."

Skinner groaned and reached for him. He dragged Mulder half into his lap, settling himself against the headboard and shifting and pushing at Mulder until they fit together perfectly. "Fox, it's not that, I swear. You're the toughest man I know. It's just... I don't ever want to hurt you. You tell me, next time. Got it?" God, it was good to whisper that name, to feel Mulder relax, then smile against his throat and nod.

"There's no bleeding, but my back is kind of sore," he admitted.

Skinner, remembering just how hard they had gone at one another, chuckled. "I'll bet. A hot bath'll help. So will a massage. After breakfast, I'll give you one."

"My old coach used to say that the best cure for sore muscles is more of what made them sore in the first place," Mulder said, squirming suggestively.

"Fox, no. *No*." At the grumble of protest, Skinner relented. "Well, OK then. Later on, you can fuck me. That ought to give all those stiff muscles a decent workout."

Mulder went very still for a moment, then his arms tightened around Skinner's neck. "OK," he said softly.

And they sat there, wordless, until Hamilton called them to breakfast.

* * *

Feedback: Jimpage363@aol.com

 


 

Title: "Dog in the Night"
Author: JiM
Series: X Files
Pairing: M/Sk, K/o
Sequel to "A Dog in the Manger"
Summary: Sam Hamilton meets a man...who just happens to be shot and bloody on Skinner's front porch. Romance blossoms. (What, you were expecting this to make SENSE?)
Thanks: Karen, MT, MJ, Dawn, Leila and Ness.
Webpage: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html (Thanks, Mona!)
"Dog in the Manger" can be found there.
Feedback: Jimapge363@aol.com


"Dog in the Night"
by JiM

* * *

The first thing Skinner noticed when he got home that wet evening was that the front porch light was out. The second thing was that his garage door opener didn't work. He parked his car next to Hamilton's with a prickle of unease. Half-convinced that he was a paranoid fool, he unholstered his gun and moved carefully up the rainsoaked front walk. When he found the grayish smear of blood and the splintered holes in the door, he went on the offensive. The door was locked; he opened it carefully, quietly. He catfooted through the darkened front room, heard noises, some conversation in the den.

He spun around the doorframe, dropping into a professional crouch and found himself staring down the muzzle of Sam Hamilton's weapon. After a second of shock, they both put their weapons up, hands opened peaceably. Skinner blew out a relieved breath.

"I saw the bullet holes...I thought...what happened?"

Hamilton was sitting on the coffee table, a wet washcloth in his hand. "Where the fuck have you been? I've been calling your cellphone for the past 10 minutes."

"I left it at the office..." Skinner's voice trailed off as he realized that there was a body on the sofa. "Who the hell is that?"

"He followed me home, Walt. Can I keep him?" Hamilton had that sharp grin on his face that Skinner recognized from the aftermaths of a dozen firefights. He was wired and jittering now and would crack jokes until dawn if not forcibly restrained. Hamilton stood up and Skinner could see the man clearly for the first time.

"Only if you get him neutered first, Hamilton." Alex Krycek was lying unconscious on his sofa and suddenly, all Walter Skinner wanted was a very large drink.

* * *

"Let me get this straight. Alex Krycek jumped you outside the door?"

"No, Walt. I said he tackled me to get me out of the line of fire. You saw where those bullets hit the door. I was standing right there; if he hadn't taken me down, I'd be dead."

It was the second time he'd heard the story and Skinner still couldn't quite grasp it. "Ham, level with me; which of us is stoned?"

Hamilton just grinned at him and left, carrying the washcloth which was stained a nasty shade of pink, and a bowl of the same colored water. Krycek still lay on the sofa, pale and unmoving. He had a shallow scrape on his forehead and a minor bullet crease in his left shoulder, just enough to bleed all over Skinner's upholstery. The unconscious man's breathing was labored and harsh, though. The redness around his nose and mouth, his cracked lips and the sickly hue of skin suggested that Krycek was ill as well as wounded. Skinner hoped that would explain his continued oblivion.

Ham came back in carrying the first aid kit Skinner kept in the bathroom. "I think he's in shock, Walt. Looks sick as a dog besides being shot."

Skinner helped strip away Krycek's soaked leather jacket, deftly removing no less than three guns and a small throwing knife from various holsters and sheaths on Krycek's body. He touched the prosthetic arm, grimacing with distaste at its chill. Hamilton merely looked interested but did not comment. Then Skinner watched Ham efficiently tear away the dirty T-shirt and clean and bandage the shallow wound. "Got any smelling salts in that kit?"

"Let's leave him out for a while longer, Ham. I need a drink and there's a couple of things you should know about this guy."

Hamilton nodded, packed up the kit and stood up. Then he shook out a blanket over the unconscious man and tucked it carefully around him. His thick fingers brushed across Krycek's forehead, then trailed down to his throat and lingered. It took Skinner a moment to realize that he was taking Krycek's pulse. Ham shook his head and then followed his friend into the kitchen.

Skinner poured two moderate glasses of scotch and they silently toasted one another before sitting down at the kitchen table. "Tell me again," Skinner said.

* * *

So Hamilton told it again. He'd come home, the house was dark, all the lights off. The garage door wouldn't work, so he'd gone up to the front door. The hair on the back of his neck had prickled and something had flickered in the darkness. He had just been reaching for his weapon when a voice had hissed, "Skinner - get down!" Then something hit him hard and low and he'd gone down, someone sprawling on top of him. There was the whuff! and thud of silenced rounds hitting the door behind him and he'd stopped fighting his assailant. The man on top of him had returned fire and several more silenced rounds had cut the air around them before a car screeched off down the street. Hamilton had struggled out from under the weight of his unlikely savior and found him mumbling desperately and incoherently. Krycek had grabbed his jacket front with one hand, the other scrabbling uselessly against his chest before he'd slipped into unconsciousness. So Hamilton had brought him inside, made certain he wasn't dying and then tried to contact Skinner to warn him.

"Did you call the police?"

Hamilton shook his head. "I had a feeling you might not want them involved."

The good FBI man inside him shook his head at that, but Hamilton was right. Until he knew why Krycek was here, the fewer people who knew about it, the better. "No one noticed?"

"Doesn't seem like it, Walt. They were using silencers and our boy here only got off two shots before they took off. Most folks around here probably figured it was a TV on too loud."

Hamilton poured them both another splash of scotch. "OK, Walt. Now, who'd want to kill you? And why is that pretty boy in there trying to protect you?" He got up and put the kettle on, setting up a pot of tea.

Skinner snorted at that description of Krycek; maybe scorpions were pretty to other scorpions, but they were just as deadly. "I have no idea, Sam. He's a hired gun and he's got no special reason to want me alive."

Skinner ground his teeth, remembering all those times he had done Krycek's bidding; first, because Krycek held his very life in a palm top computer, then because Krycek was fighting with them to save the world and Skinner had had to let go his private vendetta for the greater good. Krycek had disappeared as soon as the aliens had been defeated; the mop up of Consortium members hadn't included Krycek and Skinner had gradually given up on his dreams of revenge. And now Krycek lay wounded and insensible on his sofa and Skinner had no idea why.

"There's something about him," Hamilton said meditatively, pouring boiling water into the tea pot. "Something a little lost and sw..."

"Don't you say it, Hamilton. I swear, if you do, I'll shoot you myself. He is *not* sweet."

"Damn right, I'm not sweet," a new voice snarled weakly. Krycek stood propped in the doorway, paler than wallpaper paste, eyes burning as his lip curled. His filthy T-shirt hung from his undamaged shoulder; there were streaks of blood from his now-bandaged wound and the pale pink of his prosthetic made the greenish shade of Krycek's skin look all the more sickly.

"Boy, you don't look so good," Hamilton said, unperturbed, as he got up and moved swiftly to support Krycek under his undamaged shoulder. Skinner noticed that, even though Krycek sneered at Hamilton's concern, he leaned almost gratefully into the taller man's warmth. He sighed as he was let carefully down into a kitchen chair.

"I'm not some stray," he growled as Hamilton pressed a mug of hot, sweet tea into his hands.

"No," Ham agreed calmly, checking for fever with the backs of his fingers.

"Stop that," Krycek said irritably as Hamilton brushed the damp hair away from his eyes and peered at the blackening scrape on his brow, then looked deeply into the glassy green eyes to check for concussion.
"Sure," Hamilton said, pointing to the untouched mug of tea. "Drink that, then we'll get you into a tub."
Skinner wanted to groan. Sam Hamilton had a domestic streak a mile wide -completely wasted on the military. He ought to have been running an Animal Rescue shelter. Instead, he was coddling a half-drowned, obviously ill, semi-battered ex-assassin. It was insane. Skinner wondered when Mulder would arrive and start the carnage.

"I don't need a bath! Just give me my jacket and my guns and let me get the hell out of here." Krycek staggered to his feet, only to overbalance and be caught by Hamilton in the next instant.

"Now, boy, I don't mean to be personal here, but trust me...you need a bath."

Skinner watched in bemusement as Krycek weakly shoved at the hands that supported him, then appeared to simply give up and hang in Hamilton's arms. He was propped against the big chest, then Ham turned and looked at Skinner.

"Walt?" The single word, a wealth of entreaty behind it, undid him.

"Shit," he muttered, then got up and led the way to the bathroom. "Don't make me regret this, Krycek."

Hamilton propped the semi-conscious man on the toilet as Skinner ran the bath. "So tell me the story, Walt. It's obvious there's some history here."

When Skinner looked over his shoulder at Hamilton, he was relieved to see his friend looking clear-eyed and sharp. Maybe his brain wasn't completely fogged with lust and whatever weird rescue impulse he appeared to have been seized by?

"Krycek used to work for the FBI. And the Consortium. Later on, we found out he was working for the Resistance and was something of a triple agent. But not before he'd betrayed all of us, killed some of our loved ones and..." he stopped.

"Tell him the rest, Skinner," Krycek said quietly, words only slurring a little as Hamilton worked to get his waterlogged boots off.

Skinner shook his head, standing up suddenly, fists clenched. The water roared behind him. Misty green eyes fixed on nothing, Krycek said flatly, "I infected him with nanocytes in order to control him, to get to Mulder and to make it look like we had them under control of the Consortium. I killed him once, to convince him to do as he was told. I killed Mulder's father. I betrayed every single damned oath I ever took, every friend I ever had, everything I ever believed in. I'm not much better than the people I fought against. *That's* what he's trying not to say, Hamilton."

"Walt?" Hamilton said softly.

Skinner nodded, not looking at either man. He leaned over and turned off the tap. "It's true."

"So what was he doing outside your house tonight, trying to keep you from catching a bullet?"

Skinner shrugged. "Ask him," he said tightly.

"Krycek?" Hamilton said firmly. There was no way to ignore the order in that voice.

"I owe him. I heard about the hit and I figured that...it's all over now. You deserve something good...I heard about you and Mulder. I owe Mulder, too." Krycek stopped, looking faintly surprised at himself.

"Walt?" That same soft voice again, asking Skinner what he wanted to do.

"Let's get him into the tub."

Working together, they soon had Krycek stripped and lowered into the warm water. Careful not to get the bandages wet, Hamilton ran a washcloth over Krycek's battered torso. "You've seen some action, haven't you, boy?" Hamilton asked softly, washing the truncation of Krycek's arm matter-of-factly. Krycek had insisted on removing his prosthesis himself and it sat on the side of the sink, a miracle of plastic, steel and hardwiring for the complex software that helped Krycek control the artificial limb. The metal interfaces gleamed dully against his skin but Hamilton showed nothing more than gentle interest.

"Don't call me 'boy'," Krycek tried to growl. The warmth of the water and the residual shock was making it hard for him stay alert, which was fine as far as Skinner was concerned. "Skinner, you're not safe. They're just gonna keep coming after you."

"Who, Krycek?"

The other man just shook his head and started coughing, deep wracking coughs that seemed to steal his voice, leaving it weaker than before. "I'm not sure. I need time to track down the client. I just heard about it today."

"Why are you doing this, Krycek?"

Krycek wouldn't look at him. Hamilton stayed silent, just running more hot water into the bath. "I owe you," he repeated softly.

The rush of fury burning through him shocked Skinner; it had been so long since he'd even allowed himself to feel it. "Tell you what, Krycek, let me kill *you*. Then maybe we'll be even."

Krycek just started coughing again, then he shook his head as he tried to catch his breath. "You kill me, they kill you, Skinner. You choose."

"Walt, let's get him into a bed, then figure out what to do about this."

They worked silently to lever Krycek out of the water. He seemed no more than half-aware as Hamilton efficiently toweled him down, then wrapped him in his own robe. They half-carried him down the hall to the guest room and maneuvered him into bed. Hamilton took his pulse again, this time from Krycek's lax wrist. His fingers brushed the hair back from Krycek's forehead. Fever bright green eyes fixed on Hamilton with a confused frown. "Be alert tonight. They probably won't come back, but..."

"I know, boy. I got it covered, all right? Sleep now," and Hamilton brushed a hand over Krycek eyes, forcing them to flicker shut. Then he turned to Skinner and said, "Maybe you'd better tell me the whole story."

So Skinner did.

* * *

Skinner was awakened by the rumble of Hamilton's voice about a foot from his ear. "This isn't what it looks like, Mulder."

"Actually, Sam, it's exactly what it looks like," Mulder said pleasantly.

Skinner kept his eyes closed and wondered if Mulder was armed and whether he'd have a chance to explain to his lover of only a month what he was doing in bed with another man. He and Ham had both refused to let the other one sack out on his too-short couch, so they were splitting the bed, just like old times. Hell, they even had their guns out and ready to hand. They had been talking over possible contingency plans when they'd just plain fallen asleep, adrenaline and willpower running out.

"Mulder," Hamilton said weakly, his legendary glib failing him entirely.

"Frankly, Sam, I'm a hell of a lot more interested in why there's blood on the front door and why Alex Krycek is unconscious in *your* bed.

"Mulder?" Skinner said softly, finally opening his eyes to fuzzily look at his lover leaning in the doorway, weapon drawn, an anxious smile on his face. His hair was plastered to his head, water dripped from his nose and he had never looked more wonderful to Skinner than when he said,

"Come on, Walt, give me some credit here. If you and Hamilton haven't gotten together in the last 25 years, my being out of town for one week isn't going to do it, either. Besides, you're both still dressed."

"And I worked too damn hard to get you two together," Ham added smugly.

Blessing Mulder's sharp eye and ignoring Hamilton, Skinner sat up and reached for his glasses. "Fox, we've got a problem."

"Yeah, Walt, I'd guessed. Would *someone* please explain to me about the bloodstains and Krycek?"

* * *

Mulder's main talent was an ability to easily grasp the strangest information and Skinner had never been so grateful for it before. Within 20 minutes, Mulder had approved their roughed out plan of action, added his own sensible modifications, called Scully and arranged a meet back out at the airport. Watching Mulder's face as he made the call, Skinner could imagine exactly how happy she was to hear that she would be driving back out to Dulles only three hours after she had left it.

"She's pissed, Walt. She might even be pissed enough to rent us a Gremlin."

But she had not failed them. They found her at the car rental lot, standing in the lurid orange nimbus thrown by cold autumn rain and 4 am lighting. Beside her was a large 4x4, her medical bag on the seat. When Hamilton manhandled the barely conscious Krycek onto the backseat of the rental vehicle, her mouth thinned but she said nothing as she examined the wound. Mulder started talking to her, explaining, and Skinner let him do it, tired enough to simply let the words wash over him as he stood shoulder to shoulder with Hamilton.

"Your life is a lot more interesting than you told me, Walt." Faintly reproachful look.

"Not really, Ham. There're just these moments, you know?"

"Yeah, well, who doesn't have a few skeletons in his closet?" Skinner had told him everything, trying to give Hamilton as clear a picture as he could. "What gets me, though, is that Mulder still trusts you."

"Trusts me *again*," Skinner corrected tiredly. "Sometimes I think Mulder is a little too forgiving."

"You afraid that's what he's doing with Krycek?"

"Hell, no. I'm afraid that's what *I'm* doing."

"Well, a guy saves your life, it's bound to make you look at him a little different."

"Is that what's happening with you, Ham?"

"Maybe," Hamilton said grudgingly, a small grin curling his lip in the rain.

"He's not..." Skinner stopped. If he tried to list all the things that Krycek was not, they would be there until long past dawn.

"I know, Walt," Hamilton said softly. "He's not Todd. But I'm not looking for Todd."

Before Skinner could say anything, Scully called them over. "He's got bronchitis and is heading for walking pneumonia. The head wound isn't serious, the shoulder wound is minor; it's mostly the exhaustion we need to worry about."

"We?" Krycek asked hoarsely. Scully ignored him.

"I gave him a dose of antibiotics and something for the pain. But he's going to need several days of complete bed rest before we can even figure out what to do with him."

"OK. Then that's what we'll do. We'll find a place to hole up in West Virginia, let him get back on his feet, then let him start pumping his contacts." Skinner started grabbing the hastily packed duffel bags and tossing them into the back of the 4x4. "Mulder, you and Scully get back to D.C. and stay there. We'll ..."

"No."

"There's no reason for you to..."

"No."

"As your supervisor..."

"I quit."

"You're being an ass..."

"Yes," Mulder grinned, then turned and took the keys from Scully. "Thanks, Scully. I owe you."

"Tell me about it," his red-haired partner sighed. "Just take care of him," she nodded at Skinner, who was still standing and glaring. "And him," she nodded toward Krycek. "I can't believe I just said that, but he's really sick, Mulder. Get where you're going fast, then stay there."

"What about me?" Hamilton loomed over her, grinning.

Scully smiled back, actually dimpling. "It's too big a job, Ham. You're like Mulder. The only way to take care of you is to get you to watch out for someone else."

She left while they were all still blinking over the truth of her words.

* * *

Darkesville, WV had almost nothing to recommend it, which made it perfect. They found a campground not yet closed for the season and rented a two-bedroom cabin. Mulder claimed to have investigated a Bigfoot sighting nearby and the owner actually seemed to remember him. Skinner just shook his head and paid cash, including a hefty deposit for the cable hook-up. It was barely ten in the morning by the time the four men were settled in. Mulder had insisted on driving the entire way, a determined light in his eye that quickly turned mulish every time Skinner or Hamilton tried to remonstrate. By the time they made a ten minute stop at a grocery store, Skinner hadn't even tried to rein in Mulder's junk food habit the way he did at home, just watched in horrified silence as Mulder bought enough empty calories to fuel a platoon, along with more sensible foodstuffs and a host of over-the-counter drugs for Krycek.

Later on, lying in bed with Mulder a tense weight at the other edge, gray light slinking around the edges of the faded curtains, Skinner sighed. "I feel like a vampire," he offered.

Somehow, Mulder heard the apology hidden in his words. He rolled toward him and lay his head on Skinner's shoulder. "Undead? Or wanting to drink someone's blood?"

Skinner nuzzled Mulder's hair, stale with cigarette smoke and the recirculated air of airplanes and rain water and he didn't reply. Mulder's hand came up to rub the tense muscles at the base of Skinner's neck and he groaned quietly as they started to relax.

"Don't mix up the AD and the lover again, Walt," Mulder said quietly.

"It's just..."

"I know."

Skinner fell asleep with Mulder's knowledge blanketing him.

* * *

When he awoke midafternoon, Skinner heard Mulder and Hamilton talking softly in the kitchen. He wandered out to find Mulder in jeans and a sweatshirt, stirring a pot of soup while Hamilton munched a handful of crackers and supervised. If not for Hamilton's shoulder holster and Mulder's weapon clipped to his belt, they might have looked like any two buddies up for a weekend of hunting. Skinner felt his own weapon tucked into the small of his back and sighed.

"How's our patient?"

"Fever's up," Hamilton said. "Not too bad, though. Dana said it probably would go up for a day or so." He took down a tin mug with a cracked ceramic rim. Mulder filled it for him, then handed him a bottle of Gatorade and the box of crackers. "Lemme see if I can wake him up enough to eat something."

Skinner and Mulder ate in comfortable silence, sitting at the battered pine table, knees touching. Hamilton didn't come back, although they heard the easy rise and fall of his voice talking to Krycek. After a time, Mulder said carefully,

"Sam seems to like taking care of...I mean, he's...Krycek..."

"He's always been like that," Skinner sighed. "Any goddamned stray dog or wounded bird or fucked up human being he could find. He used to hook up with the most unbelievable losers."

"What was Todd like? From what Sam said, he was a pretty together guy."

"Todd was the exception to the rule, Fox. Todd just showed up and eclipsed everything and everyone in Sam's life. He was actually a normal, stable guy with a career and not a single major neurosis in sight. He took care of Sam for a change and the novelty of that must have carried them for five years at least. He didn't even mind staying closeted for Hamilton's career."

"And now?"

"Krycek would appeal to a lot of Ham's old instincts."

"He saved Sam's life, Walt. He was trying to save yours. Frankly, I find that pretty damned appealing myself, right now."

Skinner rubbed his hands over his face, feeling the stubble rasp his palms. "I know. If I could just reconcile that with the man I promised I'd kill very slowly one day... It was a lot easier when we were still fighting the war, wasn't it? It all made more sense."

"No, *nothing* made sense, then. That's what made it easier," Mulder said softly but with certainty.

"I guess you're right. The whole forgiveness/redemption thing kind of escapes me," Skinner admitted. "Hatred and revenge is much simpler."

"No philosophy at the breakfast table!" Hamilton said as he came into the kitchen. He took a mug of soup for himself and dropped into a chair next to Mulder. "Krycek's asleep again," he said between mouthfuls. "Seems pretty worried about you, Walt."

Skinner sighed. "It *used* to make more sense than this," he complained to Mulder, who merely grinned and handed him a cookie.

* * *

It was an odd, disjointed time for them all.

It took three days for Krycek to recover enough to stay awake for longer than the time it took to drink some broth or stagger to the bathroom. Hamilton took the other bed in the sickroom and elected himself chief nurse. He medicated Krycek, fed him, rebandaged his wounds and ignored Skinner's worried looks.

He knew what Walt was afraid of; hell, Walt had good reason to fear that Hamilton was getting all starry-eyed over another lowlife scum. Hamilton smiled to himself as he filled a dishpan with warm soapy water and grabbed a threadbare but clean washcloth and a bath towel. It wasn't like it hadn't happened before, time and again. But this was different and he couldn't say why. Maybe it was that Krycek so clearly did not want rescuing. He snarled and snapped, in between coughing and gasping for breath, or moaning in his sleep. He tried to resist all efforts to aid him and gave in only when his body failed him again and again.

Hamilton crossed through the living room carrying his bath supplies and smiled at the sight of Walter Skinner curled up like a small boy, his head on Fox Mulder's lap, both of them fast asleep on the couch. The TV was muttering away to itself and the rain was spitting down outside. Hamilton's latest restoration project was sitting up and watching the drops skid down the glass.

Krycek scowled at the idea of being bathed, but didn't protest as the colonel started sponging away the sticky residue of three days of fever. He turned his face away as Hamilton worked with detached absorption, gently stroking the damp washcloth over his scarred torso, then rubbing him dry with the towel.

"You've been beat up some, boy."

Krycek shrugged and kept watching the rain. "It happens in my line of work."

"Mine, too." Hamilton skimmed the cloth down the line of Krycek's spine, noting a long, thin scar down one shoulder blade. "So why don't you get out of the business?"

"Nothing else to do. My last employers forgot to give me letters of recommendation before they...left."

"Smart boy like you can't figure out anything else to do with your time?" Hamilton had pulled back the covers and was washing Krycek's long legs, stopping at the edge of the flannel boxers Mulder had lent him.

A weary snarl curled Krycek's lip but he began coughing before he could lash out. Hamilton kept a warm hand in the middle of his back, supporting him until the worst of the spasms were over. His hand gripped Krycek's, giving him an anchor to clutch as he gasped for breath.

Finally, Krycek said, "Why the hell are you doing this?"

Hamilton didn't try to misunderstand. "Because I want to. Nothing more than that."

"Everyone wants something," Krycek said bitterly.

Hamilton shrugged. "Maybe." Then he asked seriously, "What do *you* want, Krycek?"

But Krycek had begun shivering again and would not answer. So Hamilton tucked the blankets back up around him and left, feeling those fever-bright and confused eyes follow him out of the room.

* * *

Mulder sometimes spelled Hamilton in looking after Krycek. One of those times, while Hamilton was out taking a hike, Skinner had overheard Mulder shouting at Krycek and Krycek's pitiful attempt to respond in kind. By the time Skinner caught himself in the doorway of the sickroom, Mulder was holding Krycek's head and bracing his shoulder as he coughed, deep, wracking noises that Skinner expected to produce a lung. Mulder was murmuring apologetic noises as he helped Krycek sit back against the headboard and Skinner went away before he could be seen.

The next day, Skinner had passed by the open door and seen Mulder standing, staring out the window, hands gripping the window frame until they were white-knuckled. Krycek sat, head bowed, staring at his own knees. The silence in the room felt thick and silty with whatever had just been said. That time, too, Skinner left without a word.

Late at night, when he and Mulder lay wrapped together in the too-small bed in their room, he could hear Hamilton's low Texas drawl rumbling through the wall. Sometimes, he could hear Krycek's voice, at times quieter, sometimes raised in anger. Sometimes, Skinner heard nothing more than the rolling rhythms of Hamilton reading long verses from a dog-eared copy of Dylan Thomas that someone had left behind.

He swore to himself, sometimes, in the dark, as he listened to the sound of Sam Hamilton falling for a man who had once tried to kill him and once tried to save him.

* * *

The afternoon of the fourth day, Skinner looked up to find Krycek standing beside him. "Give me a cell phone; I think I may know how to figure out who's after you."

Without a word, Mulder handed over his phone and they spent the next hour listening to Krycek speak abrupt sentences in three languages. He hung up after the longest call, no more than four minutes, and coughed again, swearing weakly when he had finished. Hamilton handed him the bottle of cough syrup Scully had included and they watched him as he swigged a mouthful of the dark cherry liquid.

"Now what?"

"Now, we wait," Krycek wheezed. "I call Rico back at 6 p.m., he tells me who hired the Maliazzis."

"You know the hitmen?"

"I know of them. They're street scum. Whoever has it in for you, Skinner, never learned that quality costs."

"Which is all to the good," Mulder said dryly. "Otherwise, Walt and Sam would be sharing a slab at the coroner's office."

Krycek nodded. "I think we can rule out any ex-Consortium members on this one, Skinner. This sounds personal."

"That's a real comfort, thanks, Krycek."

The bruising over his eye made Krycek's grin that much sharper in his pale face. He was wearing an amalgam of all of their clothing, and had borrowed Skinner's razor to shave for the first time in days. A few nicks testified that he was not yet back to snuff.

Scully had called only once. She had given Hamilton some medical advice after listening to his report on Krycek, then she had spoken to Skinner. Her voice was calm and steady, telling him that there were no outstanding warrants on Krycek.

"What do you want me to do, Scully?"

"Whatever feels right, sir."

Skinner looked at Mulder, who stood out on the porch watching the late autumn rain fall. Then he looked at Hamilton, who was never more than a few feet away from Krycek, despite the younger man's nervous irritation with such solicitous treatment. "Damn," he said softly.

"Everything has to have an end, sir."

He hung up without a word.

* * *

At 5:30, Krycek had roused himself and asked politely but firmly, to be taken to a payphone on the interstate. Hamilton had objected immediately. "Forget it, boy, you can barely stand."

"Rico won't talk to any of you and we can't risk making that call from a cellphone. There's an even chance that he might have sold me out and if he traces the call, they'll know what area to start looking in. A payphone on the highway isn't worth tracing." Krycek stood up defiantly straight.

"Unless you plan on spending the rest of your life playing cards and reading old mystery novels in backwoods West Virginia, you'd better let me make that call." His expression turned curiously pleading. "Once we know who's got it in for Skinner, we can start planning how to neutralize the threat and then we can all go home."

"You late for a hot date, Krycek?" Mulder teased.

"I've got a life, Mulder," but the words sounded curiously hollow.

There was a brief silence, then Hamilton said, "I'll take him to a phone. You two rest up and get some dinner going. We'll be back in an hour."

Grumbling and ruffled, Skinner handed over the keys. He pulled Hamilton aside. "Ham, keep an eye on this one, will you? Don't trust the pretty face."

Hamilton had surprised him, saying seriously, "I don't trust him, Walt. Not at all." Then he had grinned, "But I do like him. He's ... uncomplicated."

"So is a knife, Ham."

"Exactly." Hamilton had slapped him on the shoulder and gone out into the dusk and the rain with Krycek, walking slowly beside the assassin.

* * *

The two men had not returned within the hour. They were not back in three. Mulder and Skinner spent the time trying not to stare at Mulder's cellphone on the kitchen table. They spoke little. At ten, Mulder called Scully and asked her to monitor the police reports from their area. At midnight, Skinner put a fist through the plasterboard wall in the hallway; Mulder bandaged it silently. At 1 am, Hamilton and Krycek stumbled through the door, soaking wet and eyes quick and wide with adrenaline.

They only grinned at Mulder and Skinner's drawn weapons, standing shoulder to shoulder, although Krycek was rocking a little on his feet. Skinner, knowing Hamilton as he did, growled, "You son of a bitch. You went out and dealt with it by yourselves, didn't you?"

Hamilton grinned and shrugged and Skinner wanted to put him through a wall. Krycek said in a low voice, "It's done, Skinner. No mess, no fuss and no connection to you."

"Krycek! I wanted justice, not another body in an alley!"

"Sometimes that is the only justice, Skinner."

"I didn't ask you to fight my battles, Krycek."

"I know. It was his idea," and Krycek hooked a thumb at Hamilton who was suddenly very interested in the new hole in the wall.

"It was the same old story -- you put his brother in jail fifteen years ago, the brother just died, he sends hitmen after you. I think he'd been reading too many bad novels," Hamilton offered with an attempt at a grin.

"Hamilton, for crissakes, we can't just go around killing people..."

"I don't, Walt, except when they shoot at me or my friends. Law of the Jungle, man."

Mulder heated some soup and he and Krycek ate it silently, listening to Skinner and Hamilton wrangle and bitch. Mulder rinsed off the dishes and stacked them in the sink, then said, "Walter. Shut up. Sam, you shut up, too." He looked like he wanted to grin at the startled silence. "Everyone go to bed. We can argue about it on the way back to D.C. in the morning."

But as Hamilton passed him on the way to bed, Mulder made him give up the car keys. "No more joyriding, Sam. Who knows what you and Krycek could get up to?"

* * *

Anger and fright and relief were a heady mix and the addition of a hungry lover made it burn brighter still. Their lovemaking was short and sharp and bright and Skinner knew that it had to carry through the thin walls. When the sounds of their own harsh breathing had subsided, when their desperate whispers were all exhausted, Skinner laid there beside Mulder and let himself be petted and soothed. "The idiots," he grumbled.

"Shh," Mulder said for the fifth time. "Nothing happened to them. It's all right." So they were lying there in silence, perfectly able to hear a long, rich moan, then a flurry of coughing and some hastily smothered chuckles from the next room.

"Hell!" Skinner whispered furiously. "'Nothing' happened to them, huh?"

"What was the strange thing the dog did in the night?" Mulder quoted ruefully. It took him another half hour before he was able to calm Skinner enough to sleep.

In the morning, they said nothing about it. Hamilton smiled serenely at the world and Krycek was withdrawn and tended to jump at unexpected noises. He stood as far from Hamilton as possible and spoke in single word sentences when a grunt or cough wasn't enough.

When they reached Dulles, Krycek slipped out of the car and vanished into the crowd without a word, without a backward glance. Hamilton stared after him with a half-smile on his face and said nothing.

* * *

It was a week after their return from West Virginia that Hamilton said one evening, "I think I'll be moving out, Walt."

A little surprised, a little hurt, Skinner could only say, "Oh?"

"I think it's time. You've been damned good to me and I won't forget it. But I should probably get a place of my own."

"You're staying in Washington?" Skinner smiled a little. He'd gotten so used to having Hamilton around.

"I'll be around, Walt. Don't worry about the weekly poker game. Besides, this'll give you room enough, in case you've been thinking about inviting someone else to move in."

"I -- uh, haven't..."

"Jeez, Walt, what is your problem? He loves you, you love him, let's get it together, marine!"

He had only gotten to the daydreaming phase, wondering whether or not he might be able, in a year or two, to convince Mulder to move in with him. Or let him move in with Mulder. Anywhere he could get truly used to finding Mulder beside him every morning, where he could take for granted the arm that held him close every night. Where he could bitch about Mulder's papers everywhere and get really aggravated by the way he drank milk from the carton.

"Ham..."

"It's time, Walt."

"And...?

"And what, Walt?" Hamilton's patented innocent expression gave him away every time.

"Just make sure he doesn't bring his work home with him, Ham," Skinner sighed. "Better yet, get him to retire."

Hamilton only grinned like an idiot.

* * *

Colonel Samuel Hamilton, USA (ret.) sat alone in his brand new apartment. He sat in the dark and he waited. Eventually, the sound he'd been waiting to hear for over a week came. Someone was picking the lock of his front door.

The door swung open slowly and a shadow flowed through it.

"Nice to see you again, Alex."

The shadow jumped and started badly. There was a small crash and when Hamilton turned on the light, he saw a stack of books that had been beside the door now spilled out across the floor.

Krycek glared at him, eyes crackling with nervousness and adrenaline. He looked far better than he had a month before; healthy, tanned, weight back up where it should be, hair and clothing both fashionable and unremarkable.

"Close the door." Hamilton gestured with his weapon, nodding toward the concealed holsters Krycek wore. "You could have knocked, you know," he said as Krycek slowly emptied both holsters and the sheath at his back, placing the weapons on the bookcase next to the door.

"I didn't want to interrupt, in case you had a guest," Krycek said, hands in the air.

Hamilton smiled gently at the clumsiness of the probe. He had learned a lot about Alex Krycek on their rainy night raid together. He had seen him in action, judged him as a professional. This kind of mental and physical clumsiness on Krycek's part echoed his own recent distraction and he hoped it had the same cause.

He got up and walked slowly toward Krycek, watching as the other man started and fidgeted but held his ground. Hamilton pushed Krycek up against the door, liking the grunt of surprise that he gave, then the catch in his breath as Hamilton's weight pinned him.

"No guests, boy. I've been waiting for you."

"Sorry I was late," Krycek grinned cockily, then gasped as Hamilton ground against him a little. His head rolled against the door and he arched into Hamilton's arms as they came around his body. Hamilton removed the small hold-out .38 from the holster in the small of Krycek's back and placed it, along with his own weapon, on the bookcase next to the others.

"Now," he said, leaning in very close, "let's get some ground rules established, shall we?"

"I'm not a stray," Krycek said breathlessly, squirming as Hamilton's hands stroked up beneath his sweater.

"No," Hamilton stared into the green eyes for a moment, then reached out and very delicately licked at Krycek's upper lip.

"I'm not a pet." He moaned as those wandering hands slid around to his chest and teased at his nipples.

"No," Hamilton agreed, smiling a little as his hands flowed down the warm skin to rest on the strong hipbones.

"I'm not sweet," Krycek gasped, just as Hamilton's mouth closed over his. Long, slow moments later, Hamilton released Krycek's mouth and smiled into the hazy eyes.

"Yes," he disagreed gently.

Boneless and stupid with lust and something else for which he had no name yet, Krycek just stared back at him and said softly, "Yes."

Hamilton wondered if Krycek knew all the things to which he had just agreed, then decided he would take his time explaining it to the younger man. A lot of time. Years. He grinned and leaned in for another kiss..

* * *

The End.

Feedback cheerfully accepted at: jimpage363@aol.com

 


 

Title: "Dogs of War"
Author: JiM
Date: 12/99
Sequel to "A Dog in the Night" and "A Dog in the Manger"
Pairing/Series: M/Sk, K/OMC, XF
Summary: It's the night before Xmas and Alex Krycek doesn't come home. Sam Hamilton, Mulder and Skinner go looking for him.
Archive: OK.
Webpage: www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html  (thanks, Mona!)
Feedback: jimpage363@aol.com
Note: Thanks to Karen, Ness, MT and Dawn! Also to all of you who asked for another Ham story.


* * *
"Dogs of War"
by JiM

* * *

Walter Skinner was still staring at the tasteful cream linen invitation in his hand when Sam Hamilton called.

"Walt? I hate to bother you, boy, but I think I have a problem. Alex didn't come home last night."

Skinner's last hope that this might just be an elaborate practical joke died at the worry crackling in his friend's voice. "Ham, I *know* there's a problem. Listen to this." And he began to read the invitation aloud.

"//Revenge is a dish best served cold.
You are cordially invited to an Auction of Revenge. Come and bid on the opportunity to kill some of your favorite enemies. High bid wins the right to execute public justice on your purchase. Ten thousand dollars and this invitation offer you a front-row seat at this exclusive event.
Discretion is assured.//

"Ham, there are pictures. They've got Krycek." Skinner spread the three photos on his desktop and stared at the man in the middle. Bruised, one eye blacked, a lip split, Krycek glared at the camera. The other two men shown were even more roughed up but less defiant; Skinner had the odd thought that Krycek might fetch a higher price merely because he looked tougher to kill.

There was an odd tapping sound from the phone and Skinner placed it after a moment. Hamilton was tapping a pen against his teeth as he weighed and abandoned strategies, considered options, determined the odds.

"Someone out there knows I have an ax to grind against Krycek; it's got to be someone linked to the Consortium. And they have to be internal - this invitation came through internal mail. The bastards are still out there," Skinner gritted. "I really thought it was over."

"When's the auction?" Hamilton asked.

"Tomorrow night. Christmas Eve."

"Hey Walt, wanna go teach these jokers about Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men?" Hamilton tried to sound like his usual offhand, daredevil self and failed miserably.

Skinner closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Hamilton wanted him to help rescue Alex Krycek, of all people. For a brief but intense moment, he wished that he had just become a corporate lawyer like his old man had wanted. Hamilton said quietly, "Walter, *please*. I have to go after him."

"Yeah," Skinner sighed, "count me in."

"Mulder, too?"

"Mulder, too. I'm going to need some explanation for missing Christmas Eve with his mother. Might as well tell him the truth." Skinner had already learned that Mulder didn't appreciate being protected; he had no intention of making the same mistake twice in as many months.

"I'm on my way."

* * *

The truth was all Mulder ever really asked of anyone. Once they had told him, he was in, committed and ready for action. Skinner wasn't certain whether Mulder's friendship with Hamilton, his desire to keep tabs on Skinner himself, the chance to cancel a strained first Christmas as a couple with his mother or Mulder's own gradually lessening hatred for Krycek was the real motivator here. Ever since Krycek's startling return as Skinner's savior a few months ago, Mulder had begun building a cautious sort of friendship with Alex Krycek. While Skinner was still very uncomfortable around his one-time nemesis, Mulder had spent several evenings discovering that he and Krycek did have more in common than either had thought, including a fondness for truly awful B-grade science fiction movies. Ham had merely watched, smiled that secret smile of his and handed Skinner more beer.

Skinner watched Mulder piece together the facts as they sat in his office after hours He turned the invitation over and over in his long fingers as if hoping to gain some information through osmosis. "When did you first know for sure he was gone, Sam?"

"Last night. He never showed up for dinner."

"That's unusual? I thought he didn't live there." Krycek had remained adamant about maintaining his own apartment; they didn't even know the address.

Hamilton rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and stared out Skinner's window. "He doesn't, exactly. He just keeps some clothes there and he's been there every night since a week after I moved. *Every* night, Mulder. So when he didn't show..."

"You thought he'd skipped out on you?"

"I'd wondered, yeah." It cost Hamilton something to admit that.

"So they snatched him sometime yesterday, then. You last saw him that morning?"

Hamilton nodded. Mulder picked up the photo and grimaced as he looked at it. "Looks like he made them pay for the privilege, though." Mulder turned to Skinner. "There's something truly sick about that invitation, Walt. The people who dreamed this up are monsters. I think I'll enjoy taking them out."

"No one's taking anyone 'out', Mulder. We're getting in there, getting Krycek and getting out. Any evidence we pick up on the way, we turn over to the Bureau. Got it? The main objective is getting Krycek out of there alive."

Mulder grinned at him suddenly. "And did you ever think you'd hear yourself saying those words?"

"Shut up and call the Three Whackos," Skinner growled. "We've got less than 22 hours to plan an undercover op."

* * *

The Three Whackos, a.k.a. The Lone Gunmen, were more than happy to help Mulder although a little doubtful about the wisdom of rescuing Alex Krycek. Between the four of them, they managed to turn up information on the "auction" site, which led them to the owner of the mansion and an impressive file of indictments and racketeering charges that had all been mysteriously dropped. The owner was one Ricardo Montrecini; Mulder theorized that this was the "Rico" who had provided Krycek with the information regarding the recent assassination attempt on Skinner.

"Why the hell did you ever let Scully take a vacation now?" Mulder complained to Skinner as he reported the latest findings when Skinner came to pick him up sometime after midnight. "She's much better at teasing all this stuff out of Records."

"Because it's Christmas and you threatened to pout until I gave her two whole weeks off," Skinner reminded his deliberately amnesiac lover. "Where's Hamilton?"

"Out picking up some party supplies for tomorrow night."

Skinner winced, knowing the kinds of things that Hamilton would consider reasonable equipment for a nighttime raid on a mobster's mansion in the Virginian countryside. "Well, he knows my position on tactical nukes. Let's hope he restrains himself." That startled a smile out of Mulder, who came over to rub his shoulders. Byers and Frohike exchanged glances and pretended not to have seen the intimacy. Langly merely snorted and kept fiddling with a headset he was customizing for their operation. Mulder's friends had taken the news of their relationship with remarkable aplomb but Skinner knew that they considered him to be Mulder's biggest romantic mistake to date, Diana Fowley notwithstanding.

Mulder's strong hands dug into the bands of tension that had been woven the instant he'd read that damned invitation, then tightened when he'd heard an unfamiliar quaver somewhere deep in Hamilton's voice. Sam Hamilton knew no fear -- for himself. But the sap was honestly frightened on Krycek's behalf. At one point, when Skinner had balked at the idea of any of them going in armed, Ham had just looked up and said seriously, "What would you do if it were Fox in there?"

Skinner groaned, half in pleasure as he felt the knots in his shoulder ease and half at the barbed knowledge that he could no longer deny; Alex Krycek was not merely a pastime or odd hobby for Hamilton. The idiot actually loved the rat bastard and that meant that Walter Skinner had to help his buddy get Krycek back. Hadn't Krycek taken a bullet on Skinner's front stairs trying to protect him? When Honor reared its austere head, he knew he was lost.

"Dammit!" he spat suddenly, making Byers and Langly jump and stare at him out of the corners of their eyes. Mulder's hands squeezed him gently for a second, then he leaned down and said softly, "I know. Let's go home." And suddenly, Skinner knew that Mulder *did* know, did understand why he hated doing this, why he had to.

"Come on, Walt. Let's go home. Sam'll find us there."

* * *

Hamilton arrived at 6 am, carrying a duffel bag and driving a stretch limousine. Skinner wanted to ask, but the set of Hamilton's jaw and the blaze of his eyes forestalled him. This was the Sam Hamilton he knew from the jungle, the man that lurked beneath the west Texas good ol' boy drawl and the mischievous grin. This was the squad leader of 22 successful raids, a man who wrote training manuals for Black Ops, grim, focused and deadly. Hamilton sat down at the kitchen table and pulled out a small machine pistol and began stripping it down and cleaning it with careful and precise movements. He ignored the cup of coffee that Mulder set beside him.

"Ham?" Skinner asked carefully.

"I've got everything we need. We leave here at 3 p.m." Hamilton squinted down the barrel, then ran the cleaning rod up it.

"Ham, did you sleep?"

Hamilton merely shook his head, then carefully re-threaded the barrel back onto the stock.

"You know you need sleep before an operation, Ham." Hamilton didn't reply, merely concentrated harder on his oddly mechanical task.

Mulder and Skinner exchanged looks, then Mulder said quietly, "We'll get him out, Sam. Now go get some sleep so you'll have enough energy to welcome him home properly."

Hamilton's hand jerked, then he fumbled, dropping the trigger guard on the floor. He stared down at it as if he suddenly had no idea what to do about it. The stark confidence in Mulder's tone had shocked Skinner; but that was Mulder. He had faith in the most insane things...and he was usually proved right.

Skinner stood up, then gently took the half-stripped pistol from his friend's hands. "Come on, Ham. Bed. I'll wake you at 2." He steered his friend down the hall to the now-unused guest room and watched him strip down to boxers and T-shirt, then saw him climb into bed and drop into a deep sleep in a matter of moments. Hamilton had always been able to sleep anywhere, even in four inches of standing water, Skinner remembered.

Then there was nothing to do but take Mulder back to bed and hold him very tightly.

* * *

The limousine turned into the stately gates and paused at the guardhouse. The chauffeur, a bored-looking man with a long nose and hazel eyes handed the armed guard a single sheet of engraved cream linen and waited with ill-concealed impatience until a discreet number on the invitation was noted, checked, cross-referenced and his passenger's face peered at and the inside of the car inspected. Finally, they were waved through and the liveried chauffeur guided the car up the smoothly sloping drive to come to a stop before the long marble steps of the mansion, fully half a mile from the gate. The foyer doors were thrown open and light poured out into the midwinter gloom.

The chauffeur got out, put his hat on, then came around the car and opened the rear passenger door. A tall, grim-faced man in a dinner jacket got out. The driver handed him a small satchel, then nodded respectfully when the man spoke a few quiet words. The chauffeur then drove off in the direction indicated by a liveried servant standing in the drive and the tall man climbed the stairs and entered the mansion.

At the door, his invitation was checked again and his face most carefully inspected by a liveried security thug. The tall man stared aggressively and snapped, "Well?"

"Forgive the delay, Mr...?" a smooth voice with a trace of an accent said from behind him. The tall man turned and met the mildly amused gaze of a short dark-haired man in white tie.

"Hunter," he supplied, not meeting the man's charming smile with one of his own.

"Mr. Hunter, so good of you to come," and Skinner knew that this man knew exactly who he was.

"Mr. Montrecini," Skinner saw the cool amusement in Montrecini's eyes deepen for a moment, "I was surprised to receive your invitation. We don't move in the same circles."

Montrecini took his arm in the casual way of the continental and walked with him across a marble parquet hall, past a glittering golden staircase carpeted with crimson. "But we do, Mr. Hunter, merely on different sides. And, in the case of tonight's ... entertainment, we certainly share a common interest, do we not?"

Skinner grunted noncommittally. Montrecini, catching his guest's taciturn mood, said smoothly, "Perhaps you would like to post your intention to bid now?" A careful request for payment. Skinner reached into an inner pocket and saw that he was suddenly the focus of attention for at least three trained sets of eyes belonging to men who looked over-large for their satin livery. Moving more slowly, he drew out an envelope with ten thousand dollars in it and handed it to his host.

"You won't be disappointed tonight, Mr. Hunter. I promise you that." Montrecini tucked the envelope away discreetly and urged him across the parquet toward the sound of music and voices.

They entered a small salon filled with men and women in formal dress. Skinner was assaulted with a mix of perfumes and the scents of foreign cigarettes and champagne. A welter of voices and languages struck his ear and his host said something that he couldn't catch before his arm was released. Skinner paused to take a flute of champagne from yet another liveried servant with a suspicious level of muscular development. Looking back towards the door, Skinner was impressed with the design that made the metal detector seem part of the intricate marquetry panels that adorned the walls of the room. All except one. Skinner turned and swore silently. At the far end of the room was a small raised dais that held an auctioneer's lectern and three oversized video screens. On each screen was a man; two showed men who were slumped in attitudes of dejection in small gray cells; the third man was pacing and swearing at the ceiling. There were neat rows of gilded ballroom chairs arranged before the dais.

Skinner raised his glass to his lips and muttered, "Mulder, are you reading me?" The tiny throat mike tucked behind his tie was chafing at him and the receiver lodged deep in his ear made him want to swat at the side of his head like a bee-stung bear.

"Loud and clear, Walt. I'm already past the first set of guards and heading for the basement. Seems to be some heavy electronics down there." Mulder was using a set of toys provided by Byers and Co., searching out the most likely sites for the prisoners to be held.

"Yeah, well there's a wrinkle. There's live video feed from each cell. The instant you move Krycek, everyone in this room will know about it."

"Shit," Mulder said.

Then something Mulder had said struck him. "What do you mean "you're past the first set of guards"? Where the hell is Hamilton?" The plan had called for Mulder and Hamilton to do the recon and actual rescue work while Skinner provided cover and distraction, if necessary.

"Um...Hamilton stepped out for a moment," Mulder mumbled.

Shit. Five minutes into an operation and Hamilton was already hot-dogging. Deja vu, he thought and didn't even waste time getting angry. "I'm gonna kill him," he said quietly. "He's supposed to be watching your back! Every damned time, he used to do this *every* single time."

"He said you'd say that," the laughter in Mulder's voice soothed Skinner as he stood and scanned the crowd. He stiffened suddenly when he recognized a familiar hairstyle and the line of a feminine throat in the glittering crowd. "I think I found our internal Consortium spy," he muttered, covering his mouth with a hand as if to cough. "Johnson from OCB. I *knew* she was dirty, dammit!"

Mulder didn't reply for a moment and Skinner got worried. "Are you OK?"

"I'm fine. I'm just having trouble picking this lock..." Mulder hissed in irritation. "Can you tell which cell Krycek is in?"

"Not from the screens," Skinner said, considering the images of the two slumped men. He rather thought the one on the right was Krycek, something in the shape of the ear that was showing. This man had his head pillowed on his knees and was contained. The more Skinner studied him, the more he saw the man's posture as careful readiness, less desperation and despair.

"Well, we're in luck. The cells are all on this floor, but they're not right next to one another. Now I just need to figure out where Krycek is."

After another fifteen minutes of useless milling, there was a sharp rap from the lectern below the video screens. A cadaverous looking man in evening clothes that looked like Lon Chaney castoffs called the crowd to attention. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to begin tonight's auction. This will be a silent auction, bidding to begin at $10,000. Should you win your particular bid, you are asked to pay promptly then invited to dispense whatever justice you'd prefer. The only caveat is that it must take place here, before the cameras." There was a murmur of protest, a thin whining sound of complaint and a much louder hum of approval that raised Skinner's hackles. This highly-coifed crowd was out for blood and wanted a show.

"Mulder, plan B just went to hell, too. We can't just buy his way out of here."

There was a grunting acknowledgment from his lover and nothing more. The crowd began moving toward the chairs set in neat lines before the dais. "Come, come, surely you wouldn't deprive your fellow guests of a dose of amusement to kick off the holiday season, would you?" the auctioneer asked with toothy geniality. There was a polite ripple of laughter at that. "Then, ladies and gentlemen, let's begin the bidding with Lot #1, Terrance Cawdry, a former enforcer for the Caniglio Family..."

To Skinner, who had allowed himself to be dragged to far too many antique auctions during his married life, the scene had a gruesomely surreal familiarity. The crowd chatted and laughed and well-manicured hands or subtly shaped brows were lifted as the bidding to murder the pacing wretch became heated. Finally, a cheerful looking older man won the bid at $74,000 which he piled on a silver salver with a happy smile. Mr. Montrecini escorted him from the room and the crowd chatted and laughed as Skinner muttered, "Mulder, find cover. I think they're coming your way."

"Check."

On the center screen, there was some movement and the watchers in the salon grew silent and attentive. The pacing man appeared to have heard something; he lurched to a stop as bright light flooded his cell. His expression became terrified and he shrank back against the wall and began shrieking in silence. Suddenly, five orchid-like splashes of color bloomed on the man's chest as explosive tipped bullets tore into him. In seconds, the man's torso had been turned into pulverized meat and he slid slowly to the floor, leaving a bloody streak on the wall behind him.

Skinner swallowed heavily, then murmured, "One piece of good news, Mulder. There doesn't seem to be an audio feed."

"I heard it from here," Mulder's voice came back grimly. "I think I've found a way to bypass the video...there's a studio down here."

The auctioneer stepped back onto the dais. "Well, that was short but sweet, wasn't it, folks? A round of applause for Mr. Genelli, if you please!" Skinner was forced to join the entire ghoulish assembly as they applauded the cheery-faced killer politely, sounding like the court-side seats at Wimbledon.

"Mulder, I take it back. It would definitely be a pleasure to take these people out. Every single one of them."

"Well, now, boy, I'm glad you see it my way," Hamilton's voice flowed into his ear through the circuit.

"Where the hell have you been?" Skinner demanded under cover of a cough. There was no one seated directly beside him and he had long ago mastered the art of speaking without moving his lips, but he didn't think he could be too careful. On the screens, the remaining two prisoners had obviously heard the shots. Krycek's shoulders had jerked but otherwise, he hadn't moved. The other man had dropped to his knees and now appeared to be sobbing quietly.

"Just checking the lay of the land, Walt. Nuthin' to get excited about." Hamilton had his good ol' boy persona firmly back in place and he was working himself up to be as irritating as he could be, Skinner could tell. Once the adrenaline started pumping, Hamilton was all wisecracks and folksy geniality.

"Let's keep the objective in mind here, Ham. He's not MY lover," Skinner snapped as best he could without moving his lips or jaw, eyes fixed on the unmoving figure on the right-most screen.

There was a silence, then Hamilton said very quietly, "The mission objectives are in hand, Skinner."

"Good."

"Cut the chatter, you two," Mulder ordered. "The lock on this door is ...." and he descended into half-heard obscenities. "Hamilton, where are you?"

"Two floors above you, keeping your escape route clear. What are you doing down there, playing with yourself?"

"Fuck you, Sam."

The auctioneer ascend to his podium again and the crowd quieted. "The next lot, ladies and gentlemen, is a particularly nasty piece of work. Charles MacIlhenny, late of Sinn Fein..." Skinner tuned out the auctioneer's obscene patter to listen in as Mulder grumbled, then began to crow with triumph.

"They *do* have a tape feed on these cells. I think I can loop the tape... Yes!"

Watching carefully, Skinner saw the moment when the video feed switched to tape; there was a slight bobble and a jump, then the right-hand screen showed Krycek still just sitting there.

"I think you've got it, Mulder. How long is that tape good for?"

"12 minutes."

The auction for the luckless IRA terrorist was heating up between an iron-gray British woman and two voluble Saudis. Skinner checked his watch and folded his arms on his chest and did his very best impression of a man jaded and bored with the entertainment.

"You are not pleased, Mr. Hunter?" Montrecini's oiled tones in his right ear nearly made Skinner jump and drowned out whatever Mulder said next. "Only a few more moments of your patience and then the lot in which you have a more personal interest will come up." Skinner grimaced in polite acknowledgment and Montrecini drifted on to chat with another guest.

"Let's get a move on, Mulder. Krycek's number is coming up."

"Almost got it," Mulder's voice whispered.

"Just blow the damned thing," Hamilton urged. "I showed you how. All you need is a handful of the C-4. There's no one on two floors to hear it."

The image of his impulsive lover playing with plastic explosives made Skinner's stomach roll. Then he recalled that it wasn't a game and his stomach rolled again. There was a muffled thump! in his ear that had him shaking his head.

The Saudis overbid the British woman and were escorted triumphantly from the room.

"Heads up, Mulder," Skinner whispered urgently.

"Check," Mulder said, then there was nothing.

All eyes were riveted on the left-hand screen. In a few moments, the door to that cell also opened, but two of the liveried goons entered and seized hold of MacIlhenny's arms. They held him solidly as the two Saudis advanced into the camera's view. Each man held a very long, wicked-looking stiletto. This execution took much longer and several women and two men ran from the room in the first five minutes. The rest watched in rapt silence as a man was sliced to thin ribbons before them. Skinner kept his eyes fixed on the British woman who had been outbid. She watched with a serious sort of attention that would not have been out of place at the opera. When the first of the man's fingers was displayed and then dropped, her cheeks flushed and her eyes began to sparkle and Skinner had to grit his teeth to keep his roiling gut where it belonged.

"OK, Walt. We're out of here. I've got the engine running."

Skinner shot to his feet, handkerchief pressed over his mouth as he had seen the others do. He passed quickly through the gawkers, ignoring the amused glances and tittering remarks. He gained the parquet entrance hall where he was observed and dismissed by Montrecini's's disdainful thugs. He headed for the main doors and had taken his first deep draughts of the frigid night air when Montrecini's voice stopped him.

"Leaving us so soon, Mr. Hunter?" Surprise in the well-modulated voice, suspicion in the shrewd eyes that catalogued him.

"I came for a kind of justice, Mr. Montrecini, not to watch a man be sliced to ribbons by foreign sadists!" he growled, breath steaming and curling into the night above them.

"You would prefer, perhaps, domestic sadists?" Montrecini appeared to regret his lapse into callous humor. "Forgive me, Mr. Hunter, I see that you are truly unwell. Or is it that the bidding is a touch higher than you were expecting?" Again the assessing look.

"I'm leaving." Skinner shoved the handkerchief back into his pocket and tried to look like a man more embarrassed by his own financial weakness than by any inconvenient moral compunctions.

Montrecini touched his shoulder with polite concern. "I understand, Mr. Hunter. You must understand, of course, that I cannot return your opening deposit."

Skinner nodded shortly. "That's OK. I'll consider it my part of Krycek's price. At least tonight, I'll know he's dead, even if I don't do it myself. Well worth the money."

Montrecini inclined his head politely. "I am sorry that we are to lose the pleasure of your company, Mr. Hunter. Perhaps some other evening?"

"Perhaps," Skinner said shortly, eyes already seeking the sleek black limousine that Mulder ought to be driving up at any moment.

"A last thought, Mr. *Skinner*. I do expect discretion from all of my guests...and I know how to insure it." The shrewd eyes fixed themselves on him meaningfully.

"You have nothing to fear from me, Montrecini," Skinner growled.

"I know," the other man said complacently. "Good night, Mr. Skinner," he said as the limo pulled up and Mulder silently came around to open the door for Skinner. Skinner didn't reply, he just stalked down the stairs and got into the limo.

* * *

Watching from the steps of his mansion, Montrecini saw Skinner's limousine pull away and wind its way down the drive. So pretentious of the man, to allow himself to be driven, as if he were not merely a bureaucrat with an unfulfilled longing for murder. Montrecini snorted as he watched the limo pause at the gatehouse - the man was probably arguing with his rented chauffeur as to the best route home. Was that a flicker of movement down by the gatehouse? No. The limo was turning the corner and pulling out onto the main road, the gates closing smoothly behind it.

Rico Montrecini shrugged and turned to re-enter his mansion. He was looking forward to this next lot a great deal. Alex Krycek had been more trouble that he had ever been worth and the sudden demise of the Maliazzi Brothers in the wake of Rico's own minor information transaction with Krycek had left him in a most painful position. Tonight would solve that problem. He had even rigged the bidding so that Krycek would fall to the one person in the room who had the artistry to make this final lot a truly fitting entertainment for the night. Montrecini clapped his hands together in anticipation and went inside.

* * *

"You OK, Krycek?" Skinner asked.

"Fine." Krycek was sitting beside Mulder and didn't turn around. His head was tipped back against the headrest and the side of his face that Skinner could see seemed very pale.

"Where's Hamilton?" Skinner asked Mulder as they came up on the gatehouse.

"He said he'd meet us here." Mulder braked and waited for the massive gates to swing open. There was a whisper on the closed circuit they had been using to communicate and Mulder pressed a button, lowering the passenger window next to Skinner, the one on the right side of the car, away from the view of the gatehouse guards. A crackling of dead leaves and a breath of wintry air and there was a black form diving through the open window and across Skinner's lap. Mulder closed the window, then nudged the limo through the gaping gates and took the turn onto the main road.

"Hamilton!!" Skinner roared, the tension and adrenaline of the night finally finding release as he shouted at, then hugged his maniacally grinning friend. Hamilton was sprawled on his back, still half-lying in Skinner's lap, dressed in black, covered in dead leaves, his teeth flashing palely in the dark.

"Just one more detail to take care of Walt, then this op is wrapped up, OK?" Hamilton struggled to sit up, then fumbled around in his blackout gear until he found a palm-top computer. Turning, he looked at the mansion behind them, a festering brightness in the night, then his grin got wider. Skinner didn't get it until Hamilton said softly, "Time to cash out, Mr. Montrecini." Then he touched the stylus to the screen.

The night behind them exploded into light and sound.

* * *

Mulder drove them back to Skinner's home, the place he had moved into less than a month ago and was only now starting to think of as 'home'. He blatantly ignored any suggestions or orders from Hamilton and the stony silence from the battered man seated beside him. Krycek's behavior was something of a puzzle. In the red-gold light of Montrecini's blazing mansion,. Krycek's eyes had glittered and his teeth flashed as he watched one after another of Hamilton's party favors detonate, leveling the entire Mansion and most of its outbuildings. Hamilton had turned to look at his lover and the wild fire had died out of his eyes, leaving them very dark and very gentle as he reached out a hand to touch Krycek's bruised face with his fingertips. Krycek had allowed the caress for a moment, then his expression froze and he drew back, turning around to sit next to Mulder again, staring forward and not replying to anything they said.

* * *

It was barely 10 p.m. when they walked through the door of Skinner's house Mulder led the way to the kitchen, automatically sweeping away the disassembled pieces of the machine pistol Hamilton had left on the table that morning. "You have to admit, Walt, it was a lot more fun than spending the evening making polite small talk with my mother."

"Actually, I think that I would have preferred explaining out entire sex life, in graphic detail, to your mother to just about all of this evening," Skinner said. He pointed Krycek toward a chair and rummaged in a cabinet until he found the first aid kit. The sullen Krycek tried to escape and was settled more firmly in his chair by Skinner's glare and a heavy hand on his shoulder.

"Aw, c'mon Walt, you gotta admit, the fireworks show at the end was worth the price of admission alone," Hamilton said from across the room. Only someone who knew him as well as Walter Skinner would have known how much effort he was putting into sounding normal. He leaned casually against the doorframe, eyes bright and glittering with the evening's work, but Skinner could see the muscle in his jaw jumping whenever Hamilton tried to catch Krycek's eye and was ignored.

"We'll talk about that later, Ham," he said heavily, not wanting to get into the old argument about morals vs. efficiency just now. "Speaking of the price of admission, you're out $10,000. The rest is still in here." He handed the attache case back to Hamilton, who only shrugged. "It doesn't matter, it was all counterfeit anyway."

Skinner closed his eyes and counted to ten as he tried very hard to ignore just how many laws his friend had broken tonight...how many laws his friend had gotten *him* to break tonight. A hand on his shoulder and he turned to look up into Mulder's gentle smile. "Don't worry about it, Walt. We've both done worse for less reason and you know it." He handed Skinner a bottle of beer, then handed Krycek an ice pack and a wet washcloth. He offered a bottle to Hamilton, who only shook his head and kept staring at Krycek.

Skinner turned his attention back to Krycek, neck prickling with what Mulder had said. It unnerved him when Mulder demonstrated exactly how well he knew his lover. He was willing to bet that Mulder even knew that most of his anger at Hamilton was really disgust at how little tonight's forays into lawlessness truly bothered Skinner, despite what he wanted to believe about himself.

"Skinner," Krycek said hoarsely, "Rico was a rabid dog with opposable thumbs. Trust me, you did the world a favor. And me," he added, wincing as Skinner doctored the minor cuts and scratches on his face. Besides the beating, there were slight chemical burns around his mouth and nose. "Chloroform pad?" Skinner asked.

"Something like," Krycek grimaced. Hamilton made an aborted movement, then stopped when Krycek looked at him coldly.

"Did they feed you?"

Krycek shook his head. Mulder brought over a plate with a pile of roast beef sandwiches on it and put it on the table in front of Krycek. He also put down a large glass of milk that Krycek regarded with sincere disgust. Mulder smiled uncompromisingly. "No beer. Eat. Drink," he ordered. As Skinner finished bandaging and anointing him, Krycek picked up the first sandwich and glared at it, then ate it in two or three snaps. The others joined him as he made short work of three more sandwiches and a full quart of milk. They ate silently, except for Hamilton, who took two bites, then put his sandwich down and took out a cell phone. He spoke three words into the receiver, then disconnected and put the phone away.

"The limo will be gone in 20 minutes. No one can connect it with you."

"Good," Skinner growled. "If I have sheriff's deputies on my doorstep tomorrow morning, Hamilton, I will personally give them *your* address..."

"Don't bother," Mulder said.. "Just point them down the hall. You're spending the night, gentlemen. Your old room is open, Sam, and there are clean sheets on the bed."

Both Krycek and Hamilton looked up to argue, but Mulder said firmly, "You're staying. We'll talk in the morning. Breakfast at 8. And if either of you is missing, I'll hunt you down personally. Got it?"

"What's with the bossy Queen act, Mulder?" Krycek asked with a sneer.

"Just getting in touch with my inner bitch, Krycek," Mulder shot back, standing up. "You two have some issues to work out and you'll do it better on neutral territory. I'm going to bed." He looked at Skinner and jerked his head toward the bedroom. Skinner nodded and stood up.

"Lock up, will you, Ham?"

They were nearly out of the room when Krycek said quietly, "Merry Christmas, Mulder...Skinner."

They stopped for a moment, then Mulder said, "You're welcome, Krycek," and they left the two men sitting in their kitchen.

* * *

They prepared for bed silently. Skinner stripped off his tuxedo and left it in a heap in the corner of the room. Somehow, he had a feeling he would never wear it again. While Mulder showered and brushed his teeth, Skinner sat on the edge of the bed and stared at his hands, wondering.

When Mulder came into the room, ruddy from his hot shower and a towel wrapped around his waist, he said nothing. He merely sat down beside Skinner and waited.

"There were over sixty people in that room tonight, Mulder. There were servants and bodyguards and all sorts of people in that house tonight. You saw it -- no one could have survived that."

"I know," Mulder said neutrally.

"He killed all those people, Fox...and I helped him."

"*We* helped him," Mulder corrected gently. "And I'd do it again. So would you."

Skinner nodded miserably.

"That's the real problem, isn't it? You know exactly why Sam had to do it and a part of you secretly approves and that's why you're so angry at him. For making you know that that part of you is in there, too."

Skinner sighed, then turned and leaned his aching forehead against Mulder's warm shoulder. "I hate it when you do that," he said.

"I know," Mulder said quietly.

"He asked me last night, what I would do if it were you." Skinner paused for a moment. "I would have leveled the whole damned place, then sown salt on the ashes while I drank their blood."

Mulder grunted. "That's a bit more graphic than I needed, thanks, Walt." But his hand came up to rub very gently at the base of Skinner's skull. "Let it go, Walt. You are who you are, Hamilton is who he is...and we're all alive."

"Take me to bed and show me?" Skinner asked with a hint of a smile growing as the muscles in his neck slowly relaxed.

"As long as you promise not to tell my mother," Mulder said as he stood up and dropped his towel.

* * *

Hamilton and Krycek sat in frosted silence for nearly five minutes before Hamilton broke. "What the fuck is wrong with you, boy?!"

"I'm not your 'boy', Hamilton," Krycek grated. "I don't need you looking out for me, *Daddy*!"

"Coulda fooled me, *boy*. You'd be dead right now if I hadn't been looking out for you tonight!"

Krycek shrugged, an ugly smile on his face as he stared into space. "Nah, knowing Rico, I wouldn't be dead yet...not for hours. He had 'plans' for me. I know, he told me. Sick fuck," Krycek added, almost meditatively.

"Jesus, Alex," Hamilton's strangled whisper finally caught Krycek's attention and he looked at him.

"You don't get it, do you, Hamilton? I'm not a 'fixer-upper'. I'm never gonna renounce my evil ways and go straight and use my powers for Good," Krycek sneered. "There is no good little boy under here, Hamilton. Just beneath the surface of the mud is more mud, got it? So save us both some trouble and let me walk out that door."

Hamilton's fist bunched on the table, knuckles going bloodless and white, arm shaking with the intensity of his own grip. But when he spoke, his voice was low and might have been mistaken for calm. "You don't get it, do you, b...Alex?

"I don't want to change you. I never did. In case you missed something back there tonight, I'm the one who just turned a Virginia estate into a pile of smoking ash. And *liked* it. I don't want a 'good little boy'; I just want you."

Krycek stared at him across the table. "Why?"

Hamilton stared back and shook his head slowly, no glib words rising to the occasion. "I don't know. But I do."

Somehow, against the odds, that had been the right answer. He could see it in the way Krycek's body suddenly slumped in his chair, his exhaustion quenching the anger. "Shit," he muttered and Hamilton began to smile. He stood up and tugged on Krycek's hand.

"Come on, time for bed, boy."

Krycek stumbled to his feet, frowning again. "Don't call me 'boy'," he snarled then rocked on his feet.

Hamilton gathered him quickly to his chest and held him firmly. "Time for bed, *Alex*."

"Better," Krycek muttered as Hamilton's hand came up to stroke his hair. "I really hate the way you keep trying to take care of me," he mumbled as his head was gently pressed to rest on Hamilton's shoulder.

"I'm just trying to pay my debts, Alex," Hamilton murmured, mouth against Krycek's temple. There was an interrogative grunt as Krycek shifted his head a little to press his face into Hamilton's throat. "Hey, the first time I ever met you, you were saving my life. I figure I owe you."

Krycek lifted his head and foggy green eyes stared at him in consternation. "You're insane," Krycek said after a moment's inspection.

"And you're only working that out now, boy?" Hamilton gently pressed his lover's head back to the comfortable spot it had been in.

"Don't call me 'boy'," Krycek whispered, his arm curving around Hamilton's waist.

"Come to bed, Alex," Hamilton said softly. "You can yell at me some more in the morning."

"'Don't think I won't," Krycek warned sleepily as Hamilton smiled and wondered if Krycek would ever be ready to hear all the silly, soft words Hamilton had stored up for him. Probably not. He might even have to tie Alex down...

Hamilton began to grin and plot as he steered his half-conscious lover down the hall toward bed.

* * *
Finis

Feedback cherished at: jimpage363@aol.com

 


 

Title: "Every Dog Will Have His Day"
Author: JiM
Date: 1/00
Series/Pairing: XF, M/Sk, K,OMC
Summary: An accident shakes everyone up and some truths fall out.
Archive: x/, allslash, all others ask, please.
Feedback: Jimpage363@aol.com
Thanks: Karen, Dail, Kass, Merri-Todd and Dawn - for friendship and soothing words.
Note: This is the fourth story in the "Dog" series. The rest can be found on my page at: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html (Thanks to Mona!)


* * *
"Every Dog Will Have His Day"
By JiM
* * *

"What the hell happened?" Skinner mumbled, blinking at the light that seemed to stab into his eyes. He tried to moved his right hand up to shield his eyes and found that it was immobilized. He jerked slightly to free it and had to grit his teeth to keep from crying out.

"Hey! Watch it! Youíve got a dislocated shoulder, Walt, just take it easy." Mulder bent over him, one restraining hand on his unwounded shoulder. Slowly Skinner recognized his surroundings; another pale beige hospital room, an IV in his left arm, his right arm strapped to his chest, thin medicinal-scented blankets pulled up to his waist and a hell of a headache.

"Welcome back," Mulder said, unfamiliar lines beside his mouth easing some.

"Who hit me?" Skinner groused. Mulder smiled gently and said, "The Key Bridge abutment, I think. Whatís the last thing you remember?"

Skinner closed his eyes against the fluorescent lights and tried to think. He was comforted by the feel of Mulderís hand slipping over his. "I was over at the Pentagon for some damned meeting, then I met Ham for lunch. We were coming back when...?"

"When the Metro jumped the tracks and the car you were in rolled. Youíve got a dislocated shoulder and a pretty good whack on the head. Walt, was Sam with you?"

Skinner tried hard to think. He had a half-memory of he and Ham hanging onto the same pole in the over-crowded car, discussing the Wizardsí chances against the Celtics that night. "Oh shit, I think so. Can you...?"

"Iím on it," Mulder said, already in motion. At the door, he stopped, turned suddenly, then came back, closing it behind him. He bent over and very gently kissed Skinner. "Iím glad youíre OK. You scared the hell out of me."

"Paybacks are a bitch, Mulder," Skinner said, eyes closing as Mulderís hand stroked his cheek. The last thing he heard as he slipped back into sleep was Mulder saying, "Iíll be back soon," and that was a very good thing.

* * *

It took Mulder only twenty minutes and one temper tantrum to find Sam Hamilton. Then he had to flash his badge just to be admitted to the ICU, six floors above Skinner. Hamilton was lying very still, his normally tanned skin looking very pale in the dim lights of the glassed-in room. There were tubes and wires and sensors and electrodes hooked to him, needles in his arm and the back of his hand. His face was bruised and his right eye bandaged shut, the edges of a sutured wound just visible where the gauze ended. It was muffled and quiet on the ward, with very few patients there, but Mulder still couldnít hear his friendís breathing. There was no respirator; Mulder hoped that was a good sign. He stood staring stupidly down, waiting for Hamilton to grin and tease him for being taken in. After a few minutes, Mulder pressed his hand on Hamiltonís shoulder and went to go find a doctor to interrogate.

* * *

When Skinner woke again, Mulder was sitting beside his bed, reading a dog-eared copy of ĎCosmopolitaní. "You know, I always had a secret suspicion that you read stuff like that," he said hoarsely.

"How else am I gonna learn how to ĎKeep My Man Affair-Proofí?" Mulder asked, holding up the cheesy cover and pointing to the article in question. "Apparently, Iím supposed to encourage you to carry a trendy leather purse, like the European men do, in the hopes of making all the other girls think youíre gay so theyíll leave you alone." Mulder tossed the magazine aside and poured a cup of water, dropping in a straw and holding it for Skinner until he took a long draught.

"What happens if I refuse to carry the purse?" Skinner asked, pleased that his voice sounded more normal now. His shoulder throbbed in a rhythmic counterpoint to his head.

"Iím supposed to pout and claim that you donít love me," Mulder said cheerfully. "How do you feel?"

"Like I got hit by a train. When can I get out of here?"

"Possibly tomorrow, more likely the day after," a new voice said. A middle-aged man in doctorsí scrubs wandered in, reading the chart in his hand. "Iím Dr. Brackett, Mr. Skinner. How do you feel?" After establishing that Skinner hurt like hell but could focus on the point of a pen and could see colors from both eyes, the doctor wandered out again, promising to send more painkillers. "A dislocated shoulder, a minor concussion, youíll be fine in a week," he threw over his shoulder. Two more nurses bustled in, checked his vital signs and drew more blood, fixed his blankets and fluffed his pillows, chirping cheerfully all the while. Finally, they were left alone again.

"If one more person asks me how I feel..." Skinner grumbled, annoyed by the niggling suspicion that there was *something* he ought to be worrying about.

"You could armwrestle them," Mulder offered with wicked cheer, then his face sobered abruptly.

"What?" Skinner demanded. Then he remembered. "Hamilton? Did you find him?!"

Mulder nodded, eyes sliding off to look out the now darkened window, fingers pleating the white cotton blanket beneath his fingers. "Walt, Samís upstairs. In ICU. Heís got a hell of a head injury and heís still unconscious. He may lose his right eye and theyíre not sure if thereís any brain damage. He had to be revived at the scene and they donít know how much oxygen deprivation he suffered."

"Shit. It was just supposed to be a two-martini lunch, you know?" Skinner whispered, staring at the far wall.

"I know," Mulder murmured, putting his hand on Skinnerís shoulder. They sat like that until Scully came in.

* * *

It was Scully who asked, "How do we get in touch with Krycek and let him know whatís happened?" She had just returned from her own visit to the ICU and her face was tight and grim.

Mulder and Skinner stared at one another. Skinner shook his head and immediately wished that he hadnít. "Ham never gave me Krycekís phone number or address. I wouldnít know where to begin looking."

Mulder pursed his lips. "I do. When Krycek was grabbed at Christmas-time, Sam told us that Krycek came home every night to him." He looked at his watch. "7:00 oíclock. Iím going over to Samís."

"Mulder, I could go," Scully offered, half-rising.

"No," he shrugged into his trenchcoat. "I think Iíd better be the one to tell him." With a long look at Skinner, Mulder left.

"He hates hospitals," Scully said apologetically.

"I know. So do I," Skinner said grimly, knowing exactly why Mulder had fled.

* * *

Three hours later, Alex Krycek sat beside Samuel Hamiltonís bed, having spoken no more than four words since being told of the accident. The first three had been, "Where is he?" The last word had been a clipped "No," when told by the night nurse that he would have to leave. Mulder, watching Krycekís pale face, had intervened at that point and explained to the nurse that Krycek was a Federal agent assigned to guard this patient. She peered doubtfully at Mulderís badge, then shot another hostile look at Krycek before telephoning someone and apparently being told to cooperate. She even went so far as to drag a hard plastic chair down the hall and thrust it ungraciously at Krycek.

Krycek said nothing else. He placed the chair beside the bed, sat down and stared at the opposite wall. He merely nodded when Mulder told him that he was leaving.

Mulder went back downstairs and looked in on Skinner. He was asleep again, lying on his back, a position Mulder knew he hated. A perverse rage woke in him that Skinner should not be allowed to sleep how he chose, no matter what his injury. He sat down beside Skinnerís bed and stared at the opposite wall, jaw clenched. Half an hour later, his cell phone rang and he could not say what thoughts had been moving sluggishly around in the dark.

"Mulder? Go home," Scully said. He could hear a canned laugh track from her TV in the background.

"How do you know Iím not already home?" he spoke quietly to keep from waking Skinner.

"I *know* you," she said with a huff of exasperation. "Go home. Stop mooning. Heís fine."

He opened his mouth to tease, but what came out was, "I could have lost him today."

Her voice softened. "I know. But you didnít."

"But..."

"What do you want, Mulder, some kind of guarantee? Accidents happen." Her voice was crisp, a verbal smack on the rear. After a long moment, he sighed and stood up.

"I hate Chaos Theory," he said conversationally, shrugging into his overcoat. "Iím tired of random events."

"I know," Scully said more gently as he leaned over and touched Skinnerís bruised forehead in farewell, then left the room.

"Iíd just like a little certainty in my life. I think itís time," he said, waiting for the elevator.

"Join the club, Mulder," Scully said fondly. "See you tomorrow morning?"

"Bright and early. Thanks, Scully."

"Any time," she said and he could hear her smile.

* * *

He was walking toward his car in the half-empty gloom of the parking garage when he saw the dark figure striding away from him. The coat was wool, not leather, and it was gray, not black, but Mulder would have recognized Alex Krycek in any set of shadows.

"Krycek!"

The other man jerked to a halt and spun to face him. "Get out of my way, Mulder." His eyes were gleaming in the half-light and Mulder had the impression that he wasnít really seeing anything beyond his own dark thoughts.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Mulder stared at Krycek and spread his hands out peaceably. "Why arenít you upstairs? Did something happen to Sam?" A chill spread through him.

"Yeah, Mulder, Ďsomething happened to Samí. Someone put him in this hospital and Iím going to find out who and make him pay." The mad glitter in those wolf-like eyes made Mulder take a step back. Krycek was on a hair-trigger and hell-bent for revenge.

"Krycek, I told you already, it was an accident. Thereís no one to blame for this one."

Krycek snarled and pushed past him, now striding angrily in the opposite direction from the way he had first been heading, but he didnít even seem to notice. Mulder reached out and caught his sleeve. "Just calm down, dammit!"

It was the wrong thing to say. Mulder knew that, even before the fist slammed into his jaw. Bouncing off a parked car, he wondered why he was even bothering to try to stop Krycek. He slumped, gasping, over the hood of the car and felt the blood flowing from his nose, thick and hot. He saw it splashing on the metal beneath him and suddenly, it was all that he could see. There was a step behind him and he had turned and punched Krycek in the gut before he even knew that his body was in motion.

The fight was short and vicious and there was no clear-cut victor until Krycek stumbled and fell heavily to his hands and knees. "Come on, you son of a bitch! This is what you want, isnít it?! Someone to hurt as much as you do?! Well, here I am, Krycek!"

Krycek just shook his head, panting. He wouldnít look up and the slump of his shoulders drained away Mulderís anger. "It was an accident, Krycek. An honest-to-god, totally impossible to prevent, shit-happens *accident*. Trust me, I checked it. Walt was on that train, too."

At that, Krycek looked up. He stared into Mulderís eyes for a long moment, testing for truth and apparently finding it. A bruise was forming on his left cheekbone and his lower lip was split. Those glittering eyes closed for a moment, then he opened them again and nodded. Mulder leaned down and carefully offered one hand. Krycek stared at it, then took it and heaved himself upright. He wiped at his mouth and stared at the reddish smear on his fingers. "You have a hell of a left jab."

"Waltís been teaching me to box." Mulder pulled out a handkerchief and wiped at his own face, then grimaced at the resulting stain. They didnít look at one another. Mulder said, "Come on home with me. Thingsíll seem better in the morning."

"I doubt it," Krycek said flatly, then turned back toward the elevators. "Iím going back upstairs."

"Krycek," Mulder said, and the other man stopped, but did not turn around. "It really was an accident." Krycek nodded, then kept walking. Mulder waited until the elevator had closed before turning to go home alone.

* * *

"What the hell happened to you?!" was the loving greeting Mulder got when he arrived the next morning. Skinner pushed his half-eaten breakfast away and stared meaningfully until Mulder came over and sat on the edge of the bed. "I ran into a door," he offered. Skinnerís inspection was quick, but thorough. He ran careful fingers down Mulderís broken nose, gently prodded his split lip and examined the knuckles of both hands before letting them go and fixing Mulder with a reproachful look.

"Címon, Walt, even my mother didnít look at me like that when I got suspended for fighting."

"Your mother wasnít trying to teach you to throw a decent upper cut without breaking your knuckles." Skinner smiled a little, then his gaze turned serious. "What does the other guy look like?"

Mulder shook his head. "Like someone kicked his puppy."

"And his ass?" The gleam in Skinnerís eye told Mulder that he knew exactly what had happened and with whom.

Mulder shook his head again. "At least *I* didnít break his nose." Mulder gingerly touched the wounded area in question. "He just needed to let off steam and be convinced that this really was an accident, no great conspiracy or assassination attempt."

Skinner shifted and winced. "I can understand his paranoia, though. Howís Sam?"

"Still unconscious. The doctor says itís just a waiting game now."

* * *

Krycek had never been good at waiting games. In the dank past, he had fidgeted, shifted, sighed and gritted his teeth when his assignment was to "watch and wait". But he had done it, because his employers had left him no choice. Now, somehow, it felt like he had even less choice. No one would order his death if he simply stood up and walked away from this. No one would blame him, or question his professionalism or his loyalties to The Cause. Maybe three or four people - Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Walter Skinner.

Sam Hamilton.

Krycek shifted in his uncomfortable molded plastic chair and considered Hamiltonís slack features. He knew that his own face was expressionless, not even his "game face" on - just nothing.

Hamilton wouldnít even blame him if he walked away. He knew that. In fact, he knew that Hamilton had been waiting for the day that Alex Krycek never showed up again. In some ways, that made the slow smile that bloomed on his face every evening that much more ... Krycek didnít know what. All he knew was that he felt like a cross between Santa Claus and a crack dealer whenever he came home to Hamilton and saw that smile settle onto his tanned face, take root in his dark eyes. Not relief, exactly, but Hamilton was never complacent, never took Krycekís daily return for granted. And in the night, deep in the night, he told Krycek why.

It had begun not long after his rescue from Rico Montreciniís mansion several months ago. One night, Krycek had awakened to find himself securely bound, hand and foot, to Hamiltonís bed.

After a momentís flash of panic, he stopped thrashing and started thinking. The cuffs around his wrist and ankles were leather lined with sheepskin, specially designed not to bruise tender flesh. He was now naked, despite having fallen into bed in his underwear. The room flickered with candlelight and he could smell the spicy scent of Hamiltonís preferred massage oil heating somewhere nearby. He took a deep breath and willed himself to relax - it was seduction, not abduction. He was certain of it when Hamilton came back into the room.

"Youíre awake? Thatís good, boy. You wouldnít want to sleep through this."

"Donít call me Ďboyí," Krycek said hoarsely, a little surprised. He hadnít needed to remind Hamilton of that rule in weeks.

Hamilton smiled, a small, cool smile that sent a ripple of something that might have been fear down Krycekís spine. "Donít go thinking that you make the rules here tonight, *boy*. Itís time we had us a little talk."

"About what, *Daddy*?" Krycek spit, feeling himself falling into Hamiltonís game easily, despite that disquieting frisson that *something* was different tonight.

"About feelings," Hamilton had grinned evilly.

"What?!"

Hamilton settled onto the bed beside Krycekís naked hip; he was stripped to the waist and he had oiled himself. Krycekís attention was caught by the ripple of candlelight on muscle and he almost forgot the sense of jarring danger. This was more than a seduction, suddenly, and he struggled briefly and pointlessly. Hamilton had tied him down with scientific thoroughness, even lashing down his upper arm above the amputation.

"Unh, unh, unh," Hamilton had warned gently, then run a soothing hand up and down Krycekís chest. The warm stroke of oiled skin against his own settled Krycek back onto the bed. Hamitonís familiar touch had meandered over his chest and throat, stroking and caressing him until he had nearly forgotten his loverís odd words. He felt himself hardening and squirming, almost purring beneath Hamiltonís warm hands.

"Feels good, doesnít it, Alex?" And Krycek, half-drugged with sensation, had only nodded.

"But you donít like to talk about feelings, do you, Alex?" Krycek had shifted restlessly on the bed but said nothing. He hoped to Christ this wasnít what it was shaping up to be, some weird psycho-sexual encounter group with Sam Hamilton asking him about his feelings while jacking him off..

"Thatís OK, boy," Hamilton said softly, "I understand." He stroked one hand down Krycekís left thigh, then slowly up his right thigh. "Not everyone can talk about their feelings. Itís not Ďmanlyí. Hell, most of us donít even know what we feel, half the time." He traced one finger slowly, achingly slowly, up Krycekís cock. At Krycekís gasp, his kindly smile broadened a little. "So I wonít make you talk about your feelings," he said and gave Krycekís cock two or three firm strokes that had Krycek gasping with the promise of relief. "Instead," Hamilton said, moving to straddle his captiveís chest and stare down into the hazy green eyes, "Iím going to tell you how *I* feel, boy."

His smile had widened at Krycekís anguished moan and his sudden bucking attempts to free himself. One hand reached back and took firm hold of Krycekís balls, his grasp just firm enough to freeze Krycek in place. "Stay still," he suggested, then released him and leaned down to run his teeth across the side of Krycekís throat. "Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?" he whispered into Krycekís ear.

The torture had begun.

* * *

Krycek sat and stared at Hamiltonís sleeping profile. The bulk of bandaging over the right eye interfered with the broad line of Hamiltonís forehead, so Krycek slowly dropped forward, lowering his own head until the wound was obscured beyond the edge of Hamiltonís silhouette. Krycek found that if he laid his head on the edge of Hamiltonís bed, he could sit and watch Hamilton without being distracted by the bruising or bandaging. He often watched Hamilton sleep, awakening before the sun was up. This was almost like his morning ritual and he found a parched comfort in it. Realizing this, he heard himself make a choked noise and ruthlessly clamped down on it. He had recently learned, to his cost, that if he let that sort of thing get away from him, he would be lost. This time, Hamilton wasnít here to rescue him.

His fist clenched around the bedrail, bruised knuckles protesting and almost offering enough distraction. In the end, it wasnít enough. One dry, tight sob led to another and Alex Krycek felt all the newly-set pieces of his soul separating and fracturing again.

In that moment, Krycek hated Sam Hamilton.

* * *

* * *

It was the sound of his own voice sobbing that had broken him before. Hamilton had kept his body teetering on the sharp edge of orgasm for an hour, ignoring Krycekís pleas and threats, laughing at his frenzied thrashing and watching avidly as he gasped and writhed with pleasure. Worst of all, the sadistic bastard kept *talking*. Hamilton had kept whispering sweet, forbidden, insane things against Krycekís skin, next to his ear, into his mouth.

/So sweet, boy, youíre so sweet/

/All I want, all I ever want/

/Beautiful and so sexy/

/Need you here, all the time/

/Don't leave me/

/I love you, Alex/

He had thrashed hardest at that, moaning as Hamiltonís hand had finally tightened, finally stroked just the right way, finally given him the killing stroke that cut him free and let everything in him pour out. He kept gasping, trembling, bathed in sweat, waiting for the trembling to stop so that he could begin cursing Hamilton for ever doing this to him. But it didnít stop and it was Hamilton who first realized that Krycek was sobbing, that his face was wet with tears, not sweat. It was Hamilton who quickly slipped the straps free and then gathered Krycekís naked body against him, cradling him against his chest as he shuddered and wept. Hamilton had held him for hours, stroking him and soothing him, crooning nonsense, babbling remorse and love and need until Krycek had slipped into exhausted sleep.

They had never spoken of that night. There had been no need. Alex Krycek had been completely exposed then, all his defenses stripped away and Sam Hamilton knew it. It hardly seemed to matter to him that he, too, had been laid bare. They treated each other as gently as two burn patients, careful not to hold too tight or prod at barely healed points. But Hamilton, the bastard, wouldnít give up one thing; deep in the night, he lay beside Krycek and whispered all those same sweet, poisonously addictive words until Krycek no longer threatened or begged him to stop. He merely lay there and listened and castigated himself for believing and kissed Hamiltonís hair and ear and knew he would never survive on his own now.

It was Mulderís hand on his shoulder that helped stop the debacle this time. Somehow, that made it worse.

* * *

Showing more tact than he had ever thought the man capable of, Mulder said nothing but urged Krycek up and out of the Intensive Care Unit. They made a stop at the menís room and Krycek washed his face in cold water, noting dispassionately that he looked like hell, with redrimmed eyes and spectacular bruising coming up well on his bristly jaw. His hair was greasy and lank and he had been wearing these same clothes for two days now. Mulder still said nothing, just jerked his head toward the door and led Krycek downstairs to the hospital cafeteria. It was nearly empty in the mid-morning, so there was no one to watch them as they ate, chewing silently and staring in opposite directions.

When they got back upstairs to the ICU, there was a flurry of activity in Hamiltonís alcove. Krycek shouldered past every white-coated obstacle until he stood beside the bed. A bleary eye blinked and slowly focused on him, then white teeth flashed.

"You donít look so good, boy," Hamilton rasped.

"Let me get you a mirror, asshole," Krycek growled, resting his hand on Hamiltonís forearm. He left it there as Mulder welcomed Hamilton back to the land of the conscious, then took his leave. The two men said nothing more; Krycek settled down beside the bed again and watched Hamilton drift into a true sleep, hand still clasped on the only part of Hamiltonís arm that had no IV lines running into it. It was the nurse who later discovered the five bruises on her patientís forearm.

* * *

Skinnerís face lit with an undisguised joy when Mulder told him the news. "Heís too tough to kill," he said, "itíll take more than a train to take Sam Hamilton out of the game."

"Thereís always Krycek," Mulder suggested, leaning against the wall and watching as Skinner shifted and yanked irritably at the stupid patterned hospital johnnie they had forced him into. At Skinnerís questioning look, Mulder said, "I think Sam may have met his match, Walt. Krycek was damned scared and now heís angry at being that scared."

Skinnerís face was now alert and focused. "Do you think heís in danger?"

"Sam?" Mulder mused, staring into space. "Well, heís decided to fall in love with a trained assassin who has fewer morals than he does and who equates caring with weakness. Sam has now exposed that weakness and Krycek is seriously pissed. I think itís safe to say that Sam is in a world of trouble, Walt." Mulder smiled gently. "But Krycek will never lift a hand against him. Donít worry about that. Worry about whether he ever lets the man out of the house again, instead."

Skinner ran his unbandaged hand over his head and sighed. "I miss Todd," he said, remembering Samís dead lover, who had been a calm, cheerful attorney who rarely had crises of any sort and never emotional.

"So does Sam," Mulder said, then grinned, "but he seems to be having a hell of a lot of fun, anyway."

Skinner had to smile back, then he realized something. "Why are you lurking over there?"

Mulder straightened abruptly and shoved his hands in his pockets. The most damning evidence was the way he wouldnít look at Skinner. "Um...A.D. Cassidy and a few of the others from the office mentioned they would be dropping by to visit you this morning. I didnít want them to walk in and get the wrong..."

Skinnerís jaw tightened. "The *right* idea, you mean?" Mulder shrugged, a tight, unhappy look on his face.

"Come here," Skinner commanded; Mulder shook his head and held out until Skinner said softly, "Please."

Mulder gave in and threw himself into the chair pulled up beside the bed on Skinnerís undamaged left side. Skinner took a firm hold of Mulderís hand and squeezed it when Mulder would have pulled away. "Look Fox, don't you think they know by now? Use your head. Who was the first person the hospital called?"

"Me," Mulder said with a raised eyebrow. Then what should have been blindingly obvious hit him. "You have me listed as your emergency contact?!"

"Well, who better, at this point?" Skinner asked in an annoyingly reasonable tone.

"But..."

"*Someone* at work is bound to have noticed that we have the same telephone numbers and addresses, donít you think?"

Mulder began swearing viciously and creatively. "I *told* you this would happen!"

"And I told you I didnít care," Skinner said firmly.

Mulder stared at him hopelessly, then dropped his head to the bed and he sat there shaking it. "Youíre insane, you know." Skinner put his hand on Mulderís neck and massaged the tight muscles he found there. Mulder mumbled, even as he arched his neck, "Theyíre going to can both of us. I hope you like life on unemployment."

"Fox, everything will be fine, I promise."

Mulder gave a muffled snort. "You must have some new definition for the word Ďfineí that I havenít heard yet. What the hell did they put in your IV? "

"Trust me."

"I do; I always have," Mulder whispered. Skinnerís hand stopped rubbing for a moment, then he stroked his fingers once over the nape of Mulderís neck.

There was a shocked cough from the doorway and Mulder gave a groan. "Itís started, hasnít it?"

"Yup." But Mulder could hear the suppressed amusement in Skinnerís voice, so like Hamiltonís when he was whipping up some deviltry. Without lifting his bruised head, he asked, "Which of them is it?"

"All three of them. Kersh, Cassidy, and Jorgensen," Skinner said quietly, then raised his voice to normal conversational levels. "Well, you might as well come in. We have things to discuss." Then Skinner patted Mulderís head, a clear signal to sit up, which Mulder did, fixing him with a stare that he hoped would communicate exactly how much trouble Skinner would be in when Mulder next saw him alone. There was a wholly unrepentant gleam in Skinnerís eye that suggested that he knew. Mulder bid him a sedate good-bye, pointedly ignoring the rest of his superiors, and contriving to tread on Kershís feet on the way out of the now-crowded little room.
* * *

Mulder brought Skinner home the next day and god, it was good to be there. Mulder smiled and brought him cups of tea, turned on ESPN, fed him Motrin at reasonable intervals and puttered in the kitchen fixing Skinnerís favorite meals. Skinner spent a nervous eight hours waiting for the other shoe to drop and finally cracked around 8 p.m., when Mulder actually *bustled* through and brought him a cup of hot chocolate. With marshmallows.

"OK. Thatís it." Skinner muted the TV, then sat up and tried not to jostle his still-tender shoulder. "Whatís with the June Cleaver act?"

Mulder stopped in the doorway and turned around, all trace of faux good humor gone from his face. "I figured it made a nice counterpoint to your "Father Knows Best" act yesterday."

"Youíre mixing up your sitcoms."

"What the hell gives you the right to make the decisions about *our* future?!"

Skinner winced as Mulderís shout echoed and reverberated in his bruised skull. He had to give Mulder points for going right to the heart of the matter. "Look, Fox..." he began.

"Oh no. Donít take that reasonable tone with me. Weíre going to shout and throw things about this, Walter. What the hell were you thinking!" Mulder was uncomfortably close to the mantel, which held several heavy and breakable objects and he looked more than capable of lobbing a few of them to illustrate his point. "They fired you, didnít they?"

"No." Skinner had the fun of watching Mulderís next angry words pile up in his throat. Finally, "Huh?" emerged.

"They didnít fire me. I resigned, effective one week after the end of my disability leave."

Mulder sounded a little strangled. "You resigned?"

"In exchange for a complete lack of media attention and a very nice severance package, I resigned."

"And me?"

Skinner shrugged, then wished he hadnít. "Your career is as secure as it ever was." Which caused Mulder to smile a little; they both knew what that was worth. "Donít look so tragic, Fox. We both knew that I was never going to rise any higher after all the shit thatís gone down. And we knew the risks we were taking when we moved in together. They were bound to find out sooner or later."

"But..." Mulderís brow was knit and his lower lip pushed forward; Skinner would have cut his arm off before telling the man how adorable he looked, but there it was. Christ, it was embarassing to be this besotted still.

"Sam and I were meeting that day to talk about some ideas we had for retirement." Skinner held a hand out, silently inviting Mulder to come and sit beside him. Slowly, Mulder did, that troubled look still darkening his face even as he settled gently onto the other end of the couch. "Sam wants to open a kind of private agency, one part security firm, one part detective bureau..."

"One part anarchistís picnic," Mulder finished, shaking his head. Skinner was silent, watching Mulderís face become focused and remote as his mind worked over the problem, searching out alternate solutions, testing probable outcomes. He could see the instant that Mulder accepted the proposal and all that was implied but had not yet been said. "The severance package the Agency gives me will provide a pretty good chunk of start-up capital," Skinner added.

"Youíre a manipulative bastard," Mulder said reflectively. But he slid over when Skinner held out his undamaged arm.

"I wasnít trying to be, Fox. But when it hit me that we were out of the closet anyway, I figured that I might as well go for broke. Cassidy and the others showing up right then was just a..."

"Serendipity?" Mulder suggested with a sigh. Skinner nodded and started to smile when Mulder finally let his head rest on Skinnerís left shoulder. They sat in silence for a while, then Mulder said reflectively,

"I think weíll need to work out a payscale for independent contractors; the Gunmen donít come cheap and we really don't want them on the payroll."

"We?" Skinner asked softly.

"You donít think Iím going to hang around to work for Kersh again, do you? Besides, someoneís got to ride herd on you and Sam and I know Alex isnít going to be any help there."

"*Youíre* going to be the voice of reason?" Skinner tugged on a lock of dark hair and smiled at the idea.

"You want to go into business with a former Army Black Ops guy and an ex-assassin. In this crowd, Walt, I *am* the cautious one."

"Thatís what scares me, Fox." But it wasnít fear warming his gut and snuggling against his side. It was his future and Skinner thought he liked how it was shaping up.

* * *

Home was strange, but good after the never-ending attentions of the nursing staff at the hospital. Every two hours, they had wanted some vital sign, some sample of blood, something to keep him from sleeping. It had brought back some memories and nightmares that Hamilton had thought particularly well-buried and he had not slept at all in the three days since he had come out of his coma. Krycek had brought him home, scowling at Skinnerís suggestion that Hamilton come and stay with them for a few days.

Hamilton found Krycekís sullen care irritating, as if he were shrugging into a new harness and waiting for it to wear properly enough to become familiar. With one eye still bandaged, Hamilton was a bit unsteady on his feet, but otherwise fit enough, in his own opinion, despite the occasional dizzy spells. Yet Krycek hovered, always in the same room, watching him, unsmiling and often unspeaking. He made quick forays out to get prescriptions filled and groceries, but otherwise was a constant and largely silent companion. At night, he held Hamilton, running meditative fingers through his hair, still saying nothing.

Hamilton had fallen asleep on the couch to which Krycek had banished him most of the two days since they had come home from the hospital. When he awoke, Krycek was once again sitting across the room, not even watching the muted television. Hamilton could feel the dark-ringed eyes fixed on him and it irked him. Almost as much as the feel of the soft blanket Krycek had thrown over him while he slept. Shit - he was being nursed, watched and fed, tucked in like a little kid. He tried to get a hold on his temper, figuring that he was being a little unreasonable, but that tenuous hold slipped the instant that Krycek silently brought him a mug of tea. Herbal tea.

"I am not drinking this shit," Hamilton announced, hoping to spark something that would banish this careful stranger and bring back his snarling, difficult, lively lover. The dark something lurking in Krycekís eyes looked far too much like fear for Hamiltonís comfort.

Krycek merely shrugged and put it down next to his own mug, clearly intending to drink it himself without argument.

"Iím gonna get myself a scotch," Hamilton announced, beginning the head-spinning process of getting off the couch. Krycek nodded and pretended to read his book. Hamilton, who had a polished sense of the absurd, noticed that it was his own dog-eared copy of ĎWar and Peaceí. "Suit yourself," Krycek muttered. "Just give me a shout when you fall over," he added nastily.

"Iím just fine," Hamilton growled, rocking a little on his feet before walking over to the bar.

"Sure you are," Krycek agreed sourly. "You want me to read you the part about Ďno alcoholí from your discharge forms again?" But he didnít get up to interfere, just sat there and watched, damn him.

Hamilton, who was finding it a little difficult to judge the distance from the lip of the bottle to the glass with only one eye, merely growled. He capped the bottle, then realized he had absolutely no taste for the drink he had poured. In fact, the scent was nauseating him. It suddenly seemed like a good idea to sit down again and he turned back toward the couch, leaving the half-full glass behind him.

Somewhere along the way, things got remote and black. He found himself down on one knee, Krycekís arms around him, holding him up as he took deep breaths.

"You are such a pain in the ass, Hamilton!" Krycek snarled in his ear. "Stubborn, stupid, pig-headed..." his voice trailed off as he heaved Hamilton to his feet and carefully guided him back to the couch, lowering him gently to the cushions.

Embarrassment got the better of him; his body had never betrayed him like this and he hated it, hated that Krycek was the one to see him this weak. "Well, if this is too much fucking trouble for you, boy, why don't you head on home and I'll take it from here?!"

For a long frozen moment, they glared at one another. Hamilton became aware that Krycek was now kneeling beside him, still gripping Hamiltonís forearm. His fingers tightened and dug in, slowly, inexorably, undeniably, nails biting into tender flesh. Krycekís voice, when he finally spoke, was harder than iron but somehow with a dangerous brittleness lurking somewhere just beneath the words.

"Because this is it, you son of a bitch."

Hamilton blinked at him, only vaguely noticing that a few drops of blood were now slipping down the skin of his forearm, beginning to drip onto the leather. Krycekís eyes held him captive, even as that toneless voice began again, breath hot against his face. "I gave up my apartment two months ago. Youíre stuck with me until youíre back on your feet. After that..."

It seemed like he could smell the scent of his own blood, twining with Krycekís wild, forest-scented aroma. It cleared his head in a way nothing else could have. He grabbed Krycekís chin in his hand and forced him to look straight into his eyes. "If you leave me, Iíll hunt you down and kill you," Hamilton said gently, then stroked the hair back from Krycekís eyes.

That nameless something died in Krycekís gaze then, that small, furtive frightened something was suddenly gone. What was left was the Alex Krycek he had first met, bold, brash, impossible. But Krycek only nodded and said, "Youíre bleeding on the couch." He let go of Hamiltonís bloody arm and slowly got to his feet. He looked at his stained fingers, then down into Hamiltonís face and smiled a very small, very real smile. Then he went to get a towel.

Hamilton sat on the couch and casually wiped at the blood on his arm, then smiled as he waited for Krycek to return. Home was strange, but home was also very, very good.

* * *

End

Feedback cheerfully appreciated at: Jimpage363@aol.com