Disclaimer: (sing in chorus) CC and 1013 Productions own these characters. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: The war is over. Mulder has left the FBI. One night, a man in black leather appears...
Notes: This is a "5 years in the future" piece, most likely extremely AU. Wrote it to cheer myself up this AM. Thanks to Dawn for suggesting an M/K in a boat (I know this isnt what you had in mind, sweetie, I'm working on it. Honest!)
Archive: OK at MKRA/MSSS. All others, please ask.
Feedback: Did you like it? Hate it? Did your cat throw up?
Write: JimPage363@aol.com.
Other stories can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html (thanks Mona!)


"Don't Rock the Boat"
by JiM

He stood on the dock as night fell and watched the man through the porthole for a long time. Mulder sat in an easy chair, in a pool of light from the one lamp, steadily reading his way through a pile of what looked to be term papers. His glasses were perched low on his nose and the light picked out threads of silver in his hair and lines on his face that hadn't been there five years ago.

He hadn't moved in over an hour, just sipped his beer and turned pages. Music trickled out into the spring air -Vivaldi, he guessed, on continuous play. Somehow, it blended into the night, with the sounds of the frogs and distant traffic and his own irregular breathing, the slap of water against the dock, the ping of cables hitting masts as the boats rocked gently on the river.

Mulder. He hadn't seen Mulder in five years. Not since... his mind shied away from that last meeting. Best forgotten now, if he were to do what he had come to do. There hadn't been a day when he hadn't thought of Mulder, though. Talking to him, hitting him, accusing him, laughing with him, touching him, trusting him, hating him. Tonight, it had to end.

He stepped onto the houseboat. He was light enough that it barely dipped as he came aboard. Mulder's back was to him now. He barely made a sound as he opened the door and stepped inside. Careless, Mulder, sitting in front of an unlocked door. You never know who the night might bring you.


"Hi."

Mulder didn't start, but he did turn around quickly enough that his glasses slipped into his lap.


"Krycek! Where the hell did you come from?" He smiled at all the possible comebacks he could have made, then said simply,

"Out there," and gestured to the night.

Mulder slowly stood up, then just stared. Krycek could feel Mulder's eyes moving across him, cataloging,noting, storing details away in that damnably exact memory. He had dressed carefully for this reunion - jeans, a black tee shirt, black leather jacket. He hadn't dressed this way in years, but for this one night... he stood, patiently waiting for the inspection to end, for Mulder to render judgment.

"You look good," Mulder said, surprising him, then smiled.

"So do you," he said through dry lips. "Of course, I always thought you looked better when you weren't waving a gun in my face."

Mulder grinned at that, surprising him again. When had Mulder regained his sense of humor? "Yeah, well, you look a lot better without the hardware flashing in my face too, sport."

A silence fell, not embarrassed, but assessing, waiting. They did not look directly at one another. Finally, Mulder said,

"Why did you come here, Krycek?"

"Can I sit down?"

Mulder nodded him into the other easy chair in the small living area. The mission oak creaked comfortably as he settled into it. Mulder sat down again, eyes never leaving his unexpected guest.

"How's Scully?"

Mulder was unperturbed by the seeming non sequitur, eyes fixed on Alex's right hand rubbing repetitively over the thumb of his gloved left hand.

"She's fine. She's teaching at Quantico now. She got married last year, to an M.E. from Baltimore. He has two kids, so she gets to play Wicked Stepmother. She's having a ball." Mulder smiled fondly at the thought of his partner, happy after so long. Krycek smiled too, inexplicably relieved that she had found some measure of peace as the dust settled.

"And Skinner?"

"He's still with the Bureau. More divisions under his thumb, more hassles, less hair." Mulder's grin was touched with malice. "He got shot in the leg about three years ago, while directing a field op. Took out his knee-cap; they thought they might have to amputate for a while. He's OK, but he walks with a hell of a limp and doesn't go out into the field at all any more. I think that bugs him more than the leg."

"Yeah, it would. Skinner was always a man of action. Did he ever marry again?"

Mulder hesitated a moment, as if uncertain how much information to pass on to his former partner-enemy-comrade-in-arms. "No - he's living with someone. Seems happy enough."

"That's ... good." And Krycek was surprised to find that he was actually pleased for the man. So many had been battered and destroyed by the war, the cost so high that it comforted him to think that these people at least, had survived the maelstrom.

"Krycek - why are you here?" Mulder asked again.

"Well, Mulder, it's not like I can exactly go to my Academy Reunion, is it? How else am I going to find out how the rest of ... the Class of '99 turned out?"

Mulder smiled gently. "Are you still on the run, Alex?"

"No... and yes. No one actively has a contract out on me, but I made a lot of enemies, what with one thing and another. I'm still ... very careful."

"Paranoia is a hard habit to break, isn't it?" Mulder looked rueful. "I left the FBI three years ago and I still sweep for bugs every week."

"I'm not paranoid, Mulder. I'm just health conscious. And so far, no one's left any lead in me, despite some very concerted attempts."

Their eyes met, both remembering other times, other attempts.

"Why are you here, Alex?" Mulder asked again softly, gaze dropping toward Krycek's hands, one still rubbing against the other.

Now was the time of truth-telling and, as in those too-few times in the past when he had been brought to this point, he didn't know where to begin. A cruiser passed by on the river, drawing his eyes, engine throbbing and red and green lights glowing in the darkness. The wake from its passage rocked the houseboat as he sifted through the many truths that had brought him here, that he had brought with him.

"Krycek?" The incredulous rumble from the doorway startled them both. Walter Skinner stood in the doorway. He looked much the same as he always had - still tall, still imposing, impeccably dressed and very menacing. The fact that he leaned heavily on a cane did not detract from his presence at all.

For the first time, Krycek wondered if coming here had been all that good an idea. Yes, he wanted very badly to resolve things with Mulder, but not at the cost of being beaten to death and dumped in the river. Krycek could see that he was still in the "Accounts Payable" column in Walter Skinner's head. "You've got a hell of a nerve, coming here."

"He's here to make peace, Walter. Hear him out, OK?"

Skinner quirked an eyebrow, frowned, then shrugged, eyes on Mulder. There was some kind of wordless conversation going on here and it made Krycek nervous.

"Uh, can I have some guarantees here?"

"Such as?"

"Such as I won't find myself handcuffed to the deck in the early morning light? Such as you won't pound the shit out of me for auld lang syne?"

To Krycek's infinite surprise, Skinner laughed. Actually laughed. Like a human being.

"Been there, done that," he said easily, taking a couple of awkward steps inside, closing the door on the cool night air.

"I think I even made a donation to Amnesty International this month, Krycek. You're safe."


He shrugged out of his coat and loosened his tie, before settling heavily onto the padded bench that ran the length of the wall. His left leg jutted out stiffly before him. Catching Krycek inadvertently staring at it, Skinner grimaced and shrugged. Krycek gave a rueful half-smile and raised his own crippled limb in salute. The two men locked gazes for a moment and something too deep, too knowing for words, passed between them.

Mulder had gotten up and gone out. He returned, carrying three beers. He opened one and handed it to Krycek. While Alex was still blinking at the unthinking courtesy of the man, he watched as Mulder walked over to hand one to Skinner. The A.D. looked up and accepted the beer with a smile. Mulder smiled back, then went to sit down again.

Krycek took a thoughtful sip of his beer. He knew he ought to be surprised but he wasn't, not really. Those two had always been searching. Was it really so strange that they had finally found what they needed in one another? He felt that he ought to be hurt or angry or wounded, but he could summon none of those emotions. There was an undefinable rightness to the two men who sat near him, companionably drinking beer. There was a peacefulness between them that he had never hoped to have, that he simply wasn't made for. He put his beer down.

"Mulder."

His ex-partner looked at him.

"I'm sorry."

It was interesting to watch the emotions cross Mulder's face, like watching cloud shadows blown across a hillside. Incomprehension slid into consternation, then growing awareness and remembered anger, bitterness boiling up to dissipate in memories and pain, sadness washing through, leaving behind it... a peaceful sense of understanding, an unlooked for acceptance of all that Krycek had needed to say and could not, crammed into two unadorned words.

Then Mulder made his own sacrifice to peace and to the past and said, "I know."


The three of them sat for a while, drinking their beers, saying nothing. The music continued to play, a constant presence, like the top note of an exotic perfume, never before scented. Somewhere very deeply hidden away from himself, Alex could feel something, torn long ago, beginning to knit itself together again. Three wounded men, allowing each other to heal from the mortal wounds of the past. He finished his beer and got up slowly.

The other two looked at him in patient enquiry.

"Mulder. Is he good to you?"

For a moment, there was no one in the room, in the world, except for them. They were someplace where all things are possible, all desires merely alternate realities waiting to be called into being with one word, one touch. Then Mulder smiled very gently and said,

"Yes, Alex."

"Good." Crossing to him, Krycek bent quickly and kissed Mulder's cheek, just as he had, many years ago. Then he straightened, smiled and murmured something in Russian. Mulder only caught the last word, tovarisch, but he knew what Krycek had said. It was written clearly in the sea-mist eyes.

The man in black leather stopped at the door for a moment. He looked at both of them gravely, then said only,

"Goodbye."

The boat rocked a little as he left. When he looked back from the dock, he could once again see Mulder bathed in that pool of golden light. But now, Skinner stood beside him, one hand lightly caressing the silvering hair, one hand gripping his cane. He stood and watched a little longer, storing up the tableau in his memory, to be taken out and smiled over in times to come, like snapshots in his family album. Then he turned and melted into the night.

Finis

 


 

Wed, 3 Jun 1998 09:38:55 EDT
M/K
Disclaimer: These characters belong to CC and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is made from this work of speculative fiction.
Title: Houseboat Variation: A River In a Dry Place, M/K, 1/1, PG
Summary: After it's all over, after the dust settles, Alex Krycek reappears out of the rain, bringing a few small, final mysteries with him.
Author's Note: This is for Te, who struggled mightily and produced a wonderful M/Sk, completely against the grain. This piece is my response to her accusation that I am incapable of writing an M/K in which Alex wins. I *had* to wipe everyone else out, though. That was the trade off for her not harming a single hair of Skinner's head in her piece "Challenge".
Thanks: Many thanks to Dawn, the talented and grammatically well-hung; to Leila, the Wicked Witch of the West and a wonderful cheerleader.
Archive: MKRA, Mona's page (Thanks Mona!)
Feedback: Please! to JiMPage363@aol.com
Fic page can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html


Houseboat Variation: A River in a Dry Place
by JiM
Tuckerlair@aol.com

And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind,
and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place,
as the shadows of a great rock in a weary land. (Isaiah 32:2)

The rain which had been whispering down all afternoon had gradually risen to a roar outside. It hammered down on the roof and decks of the houseboat and it churned up the surface of the river beyond the sheltering breakwater. Mulder put his book down on the arm of his chair and watched the angry steel-gray swells for a minute before getting up to put some more wood in the Franklin stove he sat beside. The kindling made a satisfying hissing noise as it caught in the embers; the flare of heat felt marvelous and Mulder realized that he must have been sitting there, growing colder and colder, without even noticing.

He carefully closed the door of the stove and straightened, wincing at the pull of old scars. The boat rocked gently on the swollen river and light glanced off the glass of a collection of framed pictures hung on the wall above the stove. Mulder let his eyes rest on the faces of his beloved dead and was almost surprised to feel something that was nearly warmth rather than the usual swift stab of pain.

The honored dead...his mother, smiling and silver-haired, leaning on an ebony cane in the sepia wasteland of a Massachusetts autumn; Walter Skinner, caught with half a grin on his dour face; Dana Scully, one skeptical eyebrow raised, quirked at the same angle as her perfect smile; others...his father, a cipher to him, even now; his disappeared sister, trusting arm forever wrapped around her big brother's waist; a childhood friend, who had reappeared just in time to be cut down in a war he could never name. All those who had fallen and left him behind, to stand alone on the empty field of victory.

Smiling gently at them, he turned away and went to get himself a cup of coffee. He limped a little, in wet weather, his only tangible souvenir of five years of struggle. Slouching back into his seat with a sigh, he bent down to rub the protesting muscles in his calf. The sound of the rain became fractionally louder behind him; the gust of cold, river-damp air that rolled past him told him that he wasn't mistaken and he straightened. He turned slowly to face his intruder.

A ghost stood before him, dripping on the carpet, one arm drawn protectively across his midriff.

Mulder blinked once and, when the apparition didn't disappear, said hoarsely,

"Krycek, do you ever just knock?"

Alex Krycek, triple agent, former dead man, merely stared as if it had been Mulder who had appeared out of five year's worth of mist. Water slicked off his dark hair, ran down his face, dripped off his chin, soaked the floor beneath him. Those reed-green eyes stared at Mulder blankly, unwavering.

"Look, Krycek, if you're just an acid flashback, I'm not really up for it this afternoon. If you really *are* here, say something and let's get the carnage rolling."

Krycek blinked quickly, seemed to shake himself awake, and said in a husky voice,

"Can I have a towel?"

Mulder, feeling strangely at peace in the lucid unreality of the moment, went and got him one. Handing it to him, he noticed that Krycek reached out with his right hand, keeping the plastic hand jammed in that oddly defensive position over his abdomen. Eyes still fixed on the incongruity, Mulder asked,

"Are you hurt?", just as *something* writhed beneath the soaked leather jacket. He nearly screamed in shock. What in God's name had happened to Krycek? A hundred X-spawned possibilities flashed through his mind, each more horrible than the next.

Krycek, who had been wiping the rain from his face, looked at him in confusion. Then he realized where Mulder was staring; his eyes darkened and his expression became shuttered and unreadable.

"Krycek..."

"Just don't say anything, Mulder." The cold tone sliced across the narrow living area of the boat, forbidding anything remotely like pity. Krycek's pale fingers reached up; the rasp of the zipper was loud in the small space as something squirmed obscenely against the prosthesis Krycek had clamped against his side. Mulder steeled himself to stare down whatever truth was about to be revealed.

Small blue eyes blinked and flickered within the dark cavern of Krycek's jacket. A shadowy body wriggled and was pushed aside by another set of blue eyes. Comprehension flooded through Mulder and he fumbled to his chair, then sat down heavily, shock stealing away his breath.

"I need some help here, Mulder."

Krycek was standing over him, cold rainwater dripping off his hair and splashing onto Mulder's slack hands. Then his former partner was laying the towel across the former FBI agent's lap and reaching into the dark confines of his clothing. Swiftly, he drew out one squirming bundle after another.

Mulder could only stare in horrified fascination as his lap was filled with three shivering kittens.

"They're cold, Mulder, and soaked. We need to get them dry and warm soon," Krycek said and began stripping off his own soaked top clothing. "Towels through there?" the one-time assassin asked, then disappeared in the direction Mulder had come from with the first towel.

At the first plaintive mewl, Mulder began absently toweling the wet black fur beneath his hands. This was obviously not a dream. He knew himself well enough to know that there was no way that even *his* tortured subconscious could come up with a scenario this bizarre. What a great way to test for reality - if it's too weird to be imagined, it must be your life, Mulder. He snorted at himself and started gently scrubbing at another waterlogged kitten, this one a handsome, if dirty, cinnamon stripe.

Of course Alex Krycek had appeared out of the teeth of a hurricane, and dumped soaked kittens in his lap, before stripping and disappearing, only to reappear...Mulder caught his breath.

Krycek had stepped back into the room wearing a pair of sweat pants that Mulder had left slung over the tiny bathroom door after his run yesterday. His former partner had obviously explored some more and discovered his clean clothes pile as well. He had appropriated a forest green Henley that hugged his broad chest, emphasizing both the tapered beauty of his muscles and the straps and buckles of his artificial limb. The suspiciously neat hair told Mulder that Krycek had also used his comb.

Shock was giving way to irritation and other emotions less familiar.

"Krycek...what the hell is this? Why are you here?" Mulder asked as Krycek settled himself in the other armchair, then mechanically handed over one of the kittens.

The other man held the squirming body up and considered it dispassionately before putting it in his lap and chafing its fur with the towel he'd brought back slung around his neck. After a moment, he said,

"I don't have a clue, Mulder."

"At least tell me where the damned kittens came from," Mulder demanded. Krycek's expression had turned sulky and defensive and he refused to look at his former partner. Finally, he said,

"I found them in a dumpster out by the airport. Someone had shoved them in a bag and pitched them in there."

Mulder blinked at the mental image he had of Alex Krycek, hired killer, rummaging in a dumpster to rescue three abandoned kittens. His mind, usually so adept at seizing on and accepting the least probable scenario, felt like it was stuttering in shock. He took refuge in words.

"So why bring them to me?"

Krycek shrugged, staring down at his kitten. "Couldn't think of anywhere else to go."

The two men listened to the wind howl around the boat; the stove's chimney pipe clanged and rattled as a stray gust caught it. The three kittens had warmed up enough to begin a string of tiny mewling complaints; the two in Mulder's lap had begun making shaky crawling forays searching for the warm nipple they knew must be there. Wincing at the jab of tiny claws on his thigh, Krycek said,

"They're hungry. Have you got any...?" then he stopped, blinking as if unsure of what he had meant to say.

Peering at Krycek over his reading glasses, Mulder said,

"I don't actually keep fresh cat milk around, Krycek. It's only a galley kitchen."

His unwelcome guest kept staring at him and Mulder was shocked to speechlessness when he finally understood the expression on Krycek's face. Something he had never seen, not in all their battles, their dirty little skirmishes, their private vendettas.

Entreaty.

Swallowing against a sudden thickness in his throat, Mulder got up. He carefully placed his two balls of fur in Krycek's lap and stepped into the galley for the cordless phone. After a brief and humorous conversation with an ex-girlfriend, he began rummaging around his tiny kitchen cabinets, muttering absently. He gave a crow of triumph and held his prize aloft - a can of turkey and rice cat food. Then he noticed Krycek leaning in the doorway, the three kittens balanced precariously on the forearm of his prosthesis. He was trying to prevent disaster with his good hand and Mulder's lips twitched as he watched the dark nemesis of his nightmares juggling kittens. Finally taking pity on the man, Mulder pulled down a birch salad bowl and put it on the counter.

"Here. Put them in there."

Krycek stared for a moment, then grabbed the only clean dishtowel and made a nest for his charges before placing them carefully inside. The three huddled against one another, exhausted and shaking, still mewling piteously. Mulder pulled out a blender and began measuring milk and cat food into it, murmuring the recipe his veterinarian friend had given him.

"How come you have cat food?"

Mulder actually looked embarrassed. "I ...uh, used to feed this old stray." He went back to fiddling with the appliance. The whine of the blender frightened the kittens and Mulder was bemused to see Krycek absently soothing them with one long finger. Then he realized that Krycek was shivering as well.

"There's coffee," he said suddenly, pointing with his chin. The other man nodded and took down a mug from the hooks above his head. He sipped as he watched Mulder microwave the unappetizing slop from the blender.

"What is that stuff?"

"The very finest in kitten milk replacer. Kerry said that you could buy cans of it at the pet store, but there's no way in hell we're going out in that," he nodded, indicating the storm outside. "She said this recipe is just as good."

The microwave beeped and Mulder checked his concoction. Krycek came to peer over his shoulder and grimaced at the veal-gray liquid that dripped off Mulder's finger. The smell was less than appetizing, but the starving kittens seemed to find it irresistible.

Without realizing how they had gotten there, the two men found themselves back beside the stove, dipping forefingers in the improvised pabulum and pushing fingertips of nourishment into tiny mouths. Remembering what Kerry had told him, Mulder showed Krycek how to hold flailing claws out of the way of tender eyes.

Twilight gloom had clamped down on the houseboat, cutting them off from every reality but the river beyond, before their tiny charges had all collapsed into a pile of full-bellied purrs. Mulder put the last kitten back in the salad bowl and placed it on the carpet before the stove. He thought it would be warm enough there and the houseboat had been well weatherproofed - there were no stray drafts to trouble them.

His eyes caught on the pale flash of Alex Krycek's bare feet as he straightened. The unexpected nakedness troubled him in some way, as if he only now understood how defenseless the other man truly was. When he raised his gaze to Krycek's and saw the expression in them, he realized that he was right. Hazel eyes locked with jade green and Mulder began to understand who it was who sat before him now.

Krycek was a man with nothing left. Nothing to hold, nothing to believe in, nothing to know, nothing to hide. No one to care if he lived or died. Nothing.

Struggling for something to say, only inaninity came to his defense.

"Do you realize that we've been together for an entire hour and neither one of us has thrown a single punch?"

Or maybe not so inane. Always between them had been suspicion and violence, betrayal and a kind of blood lust. The magma of violent emotions had made it impossible for them to ever meet on common ground. Until now.

Now, Mulder looked at Krycek, liar, murderer, betrayer, foot soldier for a cause Mulder barely understood even now, and all he saw was a man. A cold, tired man.

Where was the rush of hatred, the siren call to brutality, the rage and betrayal that he had always felt at the mere mention of the man's name? Where had it all gone? Perhaps it was fled to the same place where the searing pain of loss had gone. What was there now to take its place?

Krycek hadn't moved, hadn't lowered his eyes, hadn't even blinked when Mulder spoke. He suddenly shivered violently and Mulder realized that his guest was far too pale and that there were dark rings beneath his eyes. If he didn't know better, he'd say that Krycek was in shock.

He got up suddenly, causing the other man to start and flinch away. Holding up his empty hands to show his peaceful intention, Mulder crossed the room to twitch a cotton afghan off the padded bench that ran below the windows of the living room area. Limping back, mind intentionally blank, Mulder shook out the folds of material and tucked it around the shivering man. Ignoring Krycek's wondering stare, he knelt down and fed more wood into the stove, after carefully shifting the bowl of kittens. Struggling back to his feet, Mulder looked down at Krycek's shuttered face.

Then he went to heat some soup.

He came back into the living room carrying two mugs of soup and a box of crackers. Krycek was asleep in the chair, head thrown back as if offering his throat to the wolf. Curiously unsurprised, Mulder put Krycek's soup on the top of the stove beside him and sat down to eat his own dinner.

He listened to the raging of the wind as it clawed at mooring lines and electrical cables up and down the dock. Rain slashed down and the river surged up and Mulder sat between the two and watched his dearest enemy sleep.

It had been at least a day since Krycek had shaven; his jaw was dark and rough. His now-dry hair was overgrown, longer than Mulder had ever seen it. A dark lock fell over the pale forehead and Mulder's fingers itched to stroke it back into place. There were deep lines etched beside the full mouth and around the eyes that sleep couldn't fully erase. Once, Mulder had thought that Krycek looked like a fallen angel. Now he looked like an angel that had been cast out of hell, as well. There were new scars, too. One above the right eye, giving the eyebrow a permanently rakish tilt. A long tear, roughly healed, in the tender flesh under the point of his jaw. A knife cut across the back of his remaining hand.

Krycek began to shift in his seat, muttering low. The guttural words made no sense to Mulder as he strained to catch them, until he realized that they must be Russian. The fingers of his right hand flexed once before he came awake with a shout.

His eyes were wide with fear and he stared uncomprehendingly at Mulder, fingers scrabbling wildly under his arm for the weapon and holster that were no longer there. The afghan was crumpled at his feet.

"Hey. It's OK," Mulder said soothingly and was relieved to watch sense trickle back into Krycek's wide green gaze.

"Mulder - why am I here?"

Ah - there was that familiar, half-missed feeling of surreality again. He smiled gently. "I don't have a clue, Krycek."

He held out the cup of cooled soup. Krycek took it mechanically and began to eat. Mulder found himself strangely content to watch the man eat. It was as if he had welcomed a wild thing into his home and he had calmed it enough to eat from his hand. He snorted at the idea of Alex Krycek ever being anything even remotely tame.

"What?" Krycek asked.

"Why did you come here, Krycek?" Mulder heard himself ask.

Krycek ran a tired hand through his hair. "I'm not sure, Mulder. I think I came to bury the past."

After a moment of silence, broken only by the moaning of the wind, Mulder said,

"Why not? We've buried just about everyone else."

"Who...?"

"Don't tell me you didn't know, Krycek!" The sudden burst of rage was as familiar as it was hateful.

"Scully. Skinner. My mother. Byers. Langley. My sister. Spender. My father...others." Mulder told his rosary of sorrow in a flat voice forced out from between clenched teeth. "Don't tell me you didn't know."

But the shocked green eyes were telling him exactly that.

"Scully? Skinner? They're dead, too?"

Mulder nodded, and found his fists clenched. The demon sleeping in his soul had reawakened and he wanted, very badly for a moment, to hammer out the shadows of his griefs on the other man's body.

But he was surprised and a little grateful to find that these emotions, too, had become blunted, their edges no longer able to stamp him out in their own brutal patterns.

"*They're* all dead, too, you know," Krycek said conversationally. At Mulder's confused look, he said, "The Consortium. All those old gray men. And the others -- in Norway and Russia and Saudi Arabia...all gone."

"Yeah? How many are notches on your gun barrel, Krycek?"

Krycek's lips thinned in a feral grin. "Just one, Mulder, just one. I thought of you as I pulled the trigger. I know you wanted him, but I got to him first...

"So there's no one left anymore. No one to hate, no one to blame. No one left who knows what really happened."

"Except for us," Mulder said quietly.

Krycek smiled coldly, the blankness in his eyes chilling. "What's left of us," he said and shrugged his mutilated arm.

"The last two pawns on the board?" Mulder's voice mocked him.

"I'm not playing any more, Mulder. You do whatever you have to do, finish it however you have to. I just want it...finished."

Without warning, Krycek's hand flashed to the small of his back. His gun was in his hand and pointed at Mulder before the other man had drawn his next breath.

Everything stopped - the wind, the rain, the fire in the stove between them. Now that it had finally come, Mulder found himself unafraid. Rather, there was a sense of expectation, and for the first time, a bit of hope. He, too, would leave the field now and rejoin his friends, his loves, his comrades. He was almost grateful to Krycek for making it possible. Almost.

Then the assassin opened his hand, and let the gun spin downward, to hang from his trigger finger like some strange Christmas ornament. He offered it to Mulder, on the flat of his hand, an ice-fey grin lighting his face, its edges sharpening when Mulder slowly took the weapon. He knelt on the floor before his last enemy.

"Finish it, Mulder. Let it be over."

The gun felt good in his hand, silk-smooth and warm from Krycek's body. A good weight, well-balanced. This was a precision tool, designed to deliver death with the deft touch of a craftsman. It *was* time to end this.

Mulder let the hammer carefully slide back home, flicked the safety back on and placed the gun on the floor beside his chair.

"It's over, Krycek. Finished. We're finished," he said softly.

Then his hands were dragging Alex Krycek to him, unable to bear the fracturing of the ice in the other man's eyes.

Krycek made no sound as he knelt, sobbing, with his head in Mulder's lap. For a long time, Mulder just held him, silent tears running down his own face, bent low over the other man. Krycek's hand was twisted in Mulder's flannel shirt, a desperate anchor in an unsuspected storm.

Then Mulder calmed enough to begin stroking Krycek's hair, soothing and petting him as he might gentle a spooked animal. He skimmed over the quivering muscles of his back, rubbing lightly at his neck and shoulders, muttering meaningless words of comfort. After a time, the sobbing vibrations slowed, then disappeared. Krycek raised his face.

Mulder took that face in his hands and examined it critically. Alex looked terrible. His eyes were swollen and red, face paler than before, nose running. He sniffed loudly.

"Shh, you'll wake the kittens," Mulder admonished with a watery smile of his own. A sound like water spurting through a rusted pipe came up from Krycek -after a moment, Mulder identified it as the honest sound of amusement. A snort, a chuckle, Mulder couldn't tell. His own smile widened and unfettered impulse made him lean forward and kiss Krycek's forehead. The other man blinked.

"You need some sleep, Krycek. When was the last time you actually slept?"

"You mean with both eyes closed? Not since I was 14." The grin he gave was a little more convincing than his last try, but not much.

"Sleep now. I'll keep watch."

Mulder struggled to his feet, gritting his teeth when abused muscles and scar tissue reminded him that he was no longer as limber as he used to be. He tugged on Krycek's hand to get him to stand. Then he steered the other man into his tiny bedroom and pushed him gently toward the bed that took up most of the space.

Krycek hesitated.

"Mulder - you don't have to do this. I can sleep in a chair. Besides, I slept on the plane from Sydney."

Mulder just pointed sternly at the bed. With uncharacteristic meekness, Krycek slid under the maroon quilt, feeling the softness and warmth leech the last of his overtaxed strength from him. "Mulder - there's no one after me. I promise. No need to keep watch."

The former FBI agent stared at him for an endless moment, then he nodded and began stripping off his clothes. When he was down to his underwear, he lifted the quilt and waited for Krycek's sluggish mind to catch up. When the other man slid over, Mulder climbed in beside him. Then he began yanking on Krycek's shirt. *His* shirt, he reminded himself and felt a ridiculously pleased expression trying to sneak onto his face.

"Come on, Krycek. You can't sleep in all those straps and buckles."

"Yes, I can, Mulder. I do it all the time." Krycek's protest was weak and Mulder had no trouble stripping the green shirt away from the pale skin and over the dark head, muffling any more complaints.

The prosthetic arm was functionally ugly plastic and steel; fortunately, the buckles were not difficult and Krycek was motionless, face turned away from the proceedings. Mulder slid the appliance away and laid it on the floor beside the bed. Mulder allowed himself a moment to study the mutilated limb, saddened but unfazed. Like Mulder, Krycek had his scars and bore them without complaint. He promised himself a more leisurely and thorough inspection of the whole form later, then began tugging the covers up over both of them.

"Lie down."

"Are you always this bossy?" Krycek complained as he slid down and felt the warmth of flannel sheets caressing him. His head seemed heavier than he remembered, suddenly.

"Nah - just with stray cats and assassins."

"Which am I?" Krycek asked drowsily, eyes already closing.

"Damned if I can tell any more, Alex."

Then Mulder was tugging on him, shifting and manhandling him until Alex lay close beside him, dark head pillowed on Mulder's shoulder. Alex gave a long sigh of contentment and exhaustion bound up together as he felt Mulder's hand lightly stroking his hair.

Mulder felt the warm wash of Alex's breath against his throat and his body gave an anticipatory shiver. Lecturing himself sternly, he drew the exhausted man even closer. There would be time for that later. There would be time for everything else between them, later.

Beneath them, around them, the storm raged and the river seethed. The two men, the last refugees, slept.

The End

 


 

Wed, 3 Jun 1998 09:40:23 EDT

Story: "Houseboat Variation: Courage to Forget", Sk/K, R
Author: JiM

Archive: MSS/MKRA, Mona's page
Disclaimer: The characters are used without permission and without intent to infringe copyright.
Warning: If M/M sex offends you or you are under legal age, please do not read this piece.
Summary: A Houseboat Variation. Skinner and Krycek are the last two left standing...
Thanks to the wonderful betas: Te, Leila, and Dawn (who has forgiven me the kittens.)
Feedback: JimPage363@aol.com.
The other Houseboat Variations and my other stories can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html (thanks, Mona!)


"Houseboat Variation: Courage to Forget"
by JiM
Tuckerlair@aol.com

I sit beside my lonely fire
And pray for wisdom yet:
For calmness to remember
Or courage to forget.
(Charles Aide, Remember or Forget)

He shifts against me and mutters something in his sleep, the words exhaled against my throat. I don't even need to look at him, I just draw him in a little closer and tighten my arm around his back. He subsides and I can give my full attention to watching the fog roll up the river. It is Sunday afternoon, that long dead time, so like 3 am, when all you can do is remember and regret and wonder about your life.

It's not love.

No. It's shared need. We give each other what we need. Security. Companionship. Release. Security. I know where his wounds and scars are and how he got them and he knows mine. Hell, he put some of them there.

It's the memories.

It's the way he moves against me in the night and I know what he needs - some nights, it's punishment. Others, it's for the sheer sweaty animal freedom of it. And then, times like this, it's just comfort. He needs to be held, to sleep knowing that someone else will keep watch, keep the enemy at bay - even when there is no more enemy. There are still the demons in our minds, clawing out of memories and stillborn regrets.

I hold him while he sleeps, murmur when he stirs, stroke his forehead lightly until he sinks back into sweeter dreams. And he does the same for me, on those nights when I can no longer be strong, can no longer carry the memories without crying out loud. Ah, the things I should have said...the things I should never have done...we understand vain regret, we two. And we are gentle with one another because of it.

The gentleness is hard to see; if you were an outsider, you might see only the harsh words, the silences that last for days, two men who live almost as strangers, whose daylight lives rarely intersect.

And yet, we sleep together at night, wrapped around one another, unable to stir without the other waking and clutching, holding on until the panic of loss recedes enough to loosen hands so used to loss.

I found him one morning at dawn, sitting on deck. Five years since it had all gone down, five years since we were certain he was dead and there he sat. Doing nothing, just sitting there, river mist beading his hair. He must have been sitting there for hours while I slept. I hadn't even heard him come aboard.

I was stupid. When I saw him sitting there, I just stalked out to confront him, no gun, no backup, just a cup of coffee in my hand. By all rights, that should have been the last thing I ever did - confronting a known assassin wearing only my jeans and a flannel shirt. But my strange luck held that morning, too. I've lost everything that mattered in my life except my life. That morning was no different.

"Krycek? What are you doing here?"

His head was tilted down; he was slouched in one of the beach chairs I keep on deck for fine weather, feet up on the rail. He looked up at me through the dark fringe of his lashes, like an animal peering out of a thicket.

"I was in town, so I thought I'd pay you a last visit, Mr. Skinner."

I should have guessed. The Consortium, defeated and disbanded though they were, had a passion for tying up loose ends and I was one of them. It wasn't enough for them that I had already caught my Golden Bullet - the one that earns you the pension but doesn't quite kill you. No, they sent Krycek to finish it. I hadn't expected them to be so petty.

I took a deep breath and watched it steam away into the chill morning air. I remember feeling grateful for noticing the sweetness of that breath, the last clean taste of spring that I would know.

I think that I thought of the ones I had lost, the ones I desperately wanted to see again; Sharon, Dana Scully, my parents, Fox Mulder. I hoped they would be waiting for me. I nodded once, gaze still locked with his. Then I slowly set my coffee cup down on the rail and turned my back. And waited, watching the sun come up over the Potomac.

After a time, there came a choked sound, distant kin to laughter. "I'm not here to kill you, Skinner, although you do look all noble and ready. I just want to talk."

Well, there are three ways to take the news that you are not going to die on a spring morning; relief, despair, and breakfast. I had used up those particular emotions years before. So I made breakfast.

I watched Alex Krycek over the breakfast table. He had always had a lean and hungry look. But now he seemed blade-thin and worn, badly used, carelessly handled. He was gaunt and unshaven, his eyes burned and his movements were jerky, almost uncoordinated. There were scars that I didn't remember - a long vertical cut beneath his right eye, a jagged line across his throat, as if he had worn a choke-collar of barbed wire. The open collar of his shirt showed livid flesh beneath; he had been burned. His left arm rested stiff and unalive on the table.

We did not speak until I put a plate of eggs and sausage before him and the coffee pot between us.

"You look like hell, Krycek," I said, then took a bite of my breakfast.

"You look the same as you always did."

"Yeah, it's a comfort to still be able to recognize the guy in the mirror. Why are you here?"

He hadn't touched his food. I jabbed my fork at it and said, "Eat. Why are you here?"

He chewed and swallowed one mouthful of egg and I knew that I could have fed him ashes and salt and it would have tasted the same to him.

"I came to find Mulder."

Oh.

"Mulder's gone," I said shortly.

"I know. I found out. So then I went looking for Scully. And she's gone, too."

I nodded shortly. "And the Lone Gunmen."

"And Spender," he said. "They're all gone, Skinner. All of them. Except you."

"Except me," I agreed and sipped my coffee. "And you."

He shook his head, a lock of dark hair fanning itself across his pale forehead. "I'm gone, too, Skinner. It just doesn't show yet."

"Do you have the cancer?" I asked evenly.

"No, at least not the one you think," he bared his teeth in a funhouse smile. "But I'm dead all the same."

Oh, I knew what he meant. It was clear in his eyes. Even killers get sick of death after a while. They become infected with it and there is nothing left to do then but die themselves.

I finished a last mouthful of egg. "What do you want from me, Krycek?"

He gazed steadily at me, as if honestly trying to answer the question. "I don't want anything, Skinner. I came looking for someone that isn't here any more. I wanted to...I needed to say...," his voice trailed off and his eyes became unfocused, as if he were having a conversation with the past.

Something low and dark prowled behind my eyes, someone I hadn't been in a long time. "Don't tell me you came to apologize, Krycek, because I'll kill you where you sit." He blinked and I picked up my coffee cup.

"No. That wasn't it. No apologies. But I wanted to ... explain. To give him the last few puzzle pieces. To tell him that they're all gone. I killed every one I could find. That it's over."

"Over," I repeated, turning the word over in my mouth. The dark slinking something between my eyes gnawed at it for a bit, as I drank my coffee and Krycek pushed cold eggs into piles. After a time, I nodded and said, "Over."

He stayed. I don't know why. But he was still there when night fell, so I made up the couch for him. And I lay peacefully under the same roof as the man who had once been ordered to seduce me or kill me. He had failed at both and the river rocked us both to sleep that night.

He woke me in the night, screaming. When I got to him, he had no more breath to shout. His muscles had locked and he couldn't breathe, couldn't speak, couldn't move. His eyes were staring at nothing, whites rolling in the gloom.

I had seen night terrors like this in the jungle. The cure is short, brutal and very effective. I slapped him twice across the face, then shook him hard once.

I heard him draw a ragged breath, then another. Then self-awareness flooded back into his eyes and he began trembling. I pulled him into my arms and held him tightly, anchoring him back in the waking world. His breath was sobbing past my ear and his tremors shook us both. His body was cold beneath my hands, even beneath the t-shirt I had lent him.

I don't know what I said to him, that night in the dark. I meant to murmur reassuring things, soothing things, things that you say to children when they wake screaming in the night. But, somehow, I didn't say those things. I vaguely remember whispers using my voice, saying,

"Krycek, you bastard, why'd you have to come back now? You son of a bitch, it was over for me. Shhh, it's all right. Bastard. Come on, breathe. That's it. Can you stand? Good. Rat bastard. Through here. Sit. God, I hated you. Wait there."

I think I went and got him some water. He took it, trusting as a child. There were no tears on his face. I think the expression in his eyes would have been less terrible if he could have cried. He drank the water, then just sat looking up at me.

I couldn't bear that look. Anything but staring at my own reflection in those eyes. I got into bed and pushed and prodded him until he, too, was beneath the covers. Then I settled him on my chest, pulled his arm across my abdomen and stroked his hair until he went to sleep.

We woke that first morning, surly, uncommunicative, bewildered. But he didn't leave and I, well, I had nowhere to go. Some days, I would leave him to go teach my classes at Quantico or to do errands, wondering if he would still be there when I returned. I don't know what he did with his time. But I went home every evening certain that he would be gone.

And there he'd be. Reading. Or sleeping. Or just staring out at the river. He took to cooking for the both of us. He wasn't bad at it. Sometimes we'd talk, but mostly, I was aware of the silence between us. Calm. Unthreatening. Waiting.

And at night, he would slip into my bed and I would pull him into my arms and we would sleep, no words between us. The frequent nightmares we both suffered provided a staccato rhythm to our nights. It was good to have someone to hold when imagination and memory twisted together to torture me.

I grew used to having him there; his dark head beside me on the pillow, the flash of a sharp-edged grin when he was amused, the solid thunk of his artificial arm against the furniture, his own peculiar smoky scent on the clothes that he borrowed, willow green eyes that watched me wherever I was on the boat. And I knew that we were both waiting for something.

Then came the night when he didn't reappear.

I had gone out that morning, dropping him at Dupont Circle to cruise the bookstores. He wasn't on the boat when I got back to the marina. He didn't come back when night fell. I went to bed alone for the first time in weeks and couldn't sleep. He wasn't home when I finally fell asleep at dawn.

I spent the next day not thinking about him. It took a lot of my time and energy and I resented it. It grew dark. I could feel my teeth gritted against what I knew was coming. I wondered when the police would come to inform me that they had identified another dead John Doe. Odd that I never questioned that assumption...until I heard the scrape of his boot on deck and felt the boat dip slightly as he came aboard.

He said nothing when he walked in. I don't know how I looked. I was sitting beside the wood stove, a paperback on my knee, thumb marking the place where I had stopped reading, several hours ago.

He'd been roughed up; there was a scrape along his jaw and he had the makings of a bruise high on one cheekbone. His lip was split and it had bled a little. When he took his jacket off, I saw that he was wearing only a t-shirt, not the sweater he had worn yesterday, and that the t-shirt was torn. There were dark red welts around his wrist; those marks are hard to mistake -handcuffs. His prosthesis was gone.

"What happened to you?"

"Ran into some old friends," he said in an offhand tone and got himself a beer. I was left to imagine how he had managed to survive a beating and escape to come back here.

He came back and held the bottle out to me in the system we had developed for those times when I didn't just open it for him. He held it steady, I twisted the cap off. He nodded his thanks and drank thirstily, not looking at me.

It was when he tilted his head back that I saw them. Bite marks, all along his throat, dark and mocking welts against that pale skin. And I remembered what else was available down at Dupont Circle besides used book stores. It was Washington's main sleaze center - anything could be had down there, for a price. Idly, I wondered what price Krycek had paid for the particular services he seemed to have received.

Krycek finished his drink, then looked at me with a pleasant smile, a polite social expression at odds with everything that passed between us in the dark. I was only vaguely aware that I was still holding the book I'd been reading.

His eyes darted to the book and widened. I looked down and discovered that the spine had split in my grip. I raised my eyes and met his and saw that he knew the truth. Busted. I sighed, tossed the ruined book on the floor and got up. And paced toward him, steadily, inexorably backing him up against the door. I didn't touch him, but leaned in close enough to feel his breath against me face. He smelt of sex and smoke and burnt sugar.

"If you need something, Krycek, just ask."

I leaned even closer, still not touching him, but now I could feel his heat all along my length. I touched my finger to the split in his lip, then traced the swollen line of his hurt cheek. "Is this what you need, Krycek? What you want?"

"Not all the time," he whispered.

So I found myself kissing him, gently moving my mouth across his bruised lips. He tasted of burnt sugar and spring air and I wanted to crush him against me. Instead, I braced my hands on the door at either side of his head and said,

"Do you want this, Krycek?" But I knew the answer; I could feel it rippling through his body and see it crackling in his eyes. Then his hand was on the back of my neck, pulling my head to him again.

I don't know how long we stood there, kissing one another, struggling to control the other. I had jammed my leg between his and used it ruthlessly to put pressure on his hardening cock. He moaned and writhed against me but he didn't give in. He kept his mouth on mine, his tongue darting between my lips and sparking waves of heat and dizziness through me. It was a wonder that we didn't hit the floor. When I felt like I was losing control, I steered us toward the bed.

He's good with that one hand. My clothes were half off before I even realized it. I was too busy tracing that line of welts down his throat with my own mouth. When I felt his hand skim down my chest, I grabbed his wrist and twisted it behind him so that I could concentrate better. He hissed when I caught the raw welts left from the cuffs, but I didn't let up. I could feel his hard cock throbbing against my thigh as I trapped him against me again.

His t-shirt, mine actually, was already torn, so I didn't particularly regret tearing it off of him. I stopped to consider my handiwork; he was panting heavily, his skin flushed and his eyes were burning into mine. There were bruises and bite marks along his collar bones and ribs. I could see the calloused and rubbed areas where the fittings of his artificial arm had cut in. I ran the fingertips of my free hand gently over the marks of violence and pleasure and pain.

"What do you want from me, Krycek?"

His eyes flickered, as if I were speaking an unfamiliar language, then they locked back on mine, decision made. He gave a tentative tug on his imprisoned hand, and I let it go immediately. He brought it up to the side of my face and tilted my head with the lightest of touches. Then his lips were moving against mine, so sweetly that I moaned into his mouth.

Somewhere in the darkness, we stopped struggling for dominance and tried for linkage. We made love so gently, so tenderly that night. I have rarely used that kind of care with a lover and I have never been handled so kindly. We were both making love to someone who was dead, and we knew it. We slept that night without dreams, without nightmares.

The next morning was the same as always. No kisses, no words, just an untangling of limbs and morning grimaces. Then I made breakfast.

And that's how it has been for two years. He has never left again. We give each other what we each need, security, space, quiet, sex. He still wears my clothes, although he buys all the groceries and liquor and dozens of paperbacks per month. I still don't know where he gets his money, although I have sometimes seen him palm unset diamonds, teasing them out from the lining of his leather jacket.

We sometimes go out for meals now, always at his instigation. Once he showed up unannounced as my morning class let out at the Academy. His demon grin dimmed not at all as I waited for someone to discover that his security pass was forged, that he was still a wanted man. No one noticed that day or on the handful of days since then that he has appeared there. I shake my head and wonder what's become of national security.

I do not know when his birthday is, I only know the date his cover story gave. He knows mine and we ignore it. But we both celebrate Mulder's. And Scully's.

It's not love. It's shared need. We give each other the space and quiet and the calmness to remember our dead. Sometimes, in the night, when we hold each other and there are soft touches to take the place of words, I think it possible that we may one day give each other the courage to forget.

Finis

 


 

"Houseboat Variation: Snows & Sins", M/Sk
Warning: M/M relationship implied. If you are under-age or bothered by this, do not read the story. (Duh)
Disclaimer: Not my characters, no infringement intended.
Note: Another "Houseboat Variation"...
Thanx: Many thanks to Te and MJ and Dawn and Leila, who soothed the savage beast and talked this off the ledge. For you all, with much affection. Posting for JiM, whose account is whacked.
Feedback welcomed: JiMPage363@aol.com


"Houseboat Variation: Snows and Sins"
by JiM

"And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten."
(Swinburne)

The snow began falling as he drove out of the city and headed south along the river. Because it was still early in the afternoon, traffic had not yet become snarled, as he knew it would. The evening commute would be awful in any case, this close to Christmas. Snow always threw the District into complete chaos; as little as two inches could paralyze the city. He wondered if he could blame the sudden chaos in his own life on the snow as well. No, he decided, the first step of the ruin had been taken long before the first flakes had fallen today.

Parking his car in the nearly empty lot of the marina, Walter Skinner shrugged into his overcoat and stepped out into the snow. He strode toward the dock, his steps making no sound on the snow that already blanketed the ground. His goal was the houseboat in the last slip, the only one on which there was any sign of life on this muffled afternoon.

Curiously reluctant to end his journey, Skinner stopped at the very end of the float, staring across the water. Here, the river banks were empty - the far shore was hard to see now, obscured by the whispering fall of thick flakes. The water was the color of iron, the banks a lighter shade of ash, the sky made of pewter. All around him things were merely varying shades of grey -- the very fact that had brought him to this moment. An echo of the queer desperation that had driven him earlier today made him turn and search for something of color and light in the toneless afternoon. Golden light beckoned from the houseboat, promising warmth and some kind of certainty.

Shivering a little at the feathery, relentless touch of snow on his bare head, Skinner turned and walked quickly toward the houseboat. It rocked a little as he came on board and the door opened before he even had a chance to knock.

"Skinner. What are you doing here?" Mulder asked, even as he gestured for his former boss to enter. The use of the semi-respectful 'sir' had been one of the first casualties; they had never granted each other the intimacy of first names.

Skinner didn't answer; instead he stood awkwardly dripping melting snow until Mulder relieved him of his overcoat, hanging it on a hook beside the door. There was soft music playing, a rippling piano that offered a peculiarly fitting soundtrack for the falling snow beyond the windows. There was a fire in the wood stove against the center wall of the room and the spicy smell of burning cedar was a comforting counterpart to the fire's warmth.

Mulder's face was turned toward him expectantly but his eyes were hidden behind dark glasses. Scully had insisted on the ultra stylish Oakleys and had bought Mulder a selection of them. The pair he wore today were the side-wrapping style favored by skiers, mirrored to cut the merciless glare of sunlit snow.

Skinner found Mulder's expression hard to read and wished that he could see his eyes, even though they would tell him nothing more. The one time he had looked into Mulder's eyes since, they had reminded of fractured glass, colorless, unseeing and unreflecting.

"So...is there a new case? What was so important that you couldn't just send it?"

"Can I sit down?"

Mulder nodded in his general direction and gestured toward one of the mission oak easy chairs flanking the wood stove. Once seated, Skinner looked around, trying to see anything of his former agent's personality in the painfully neat, softly lit environment in which he found himself.

The wall opposite the door was dominated by a long worktable, covered in computer equipment; a huge monitor, special keyboards and braille readouts, a scanner and other electronics that looked so state of the art he wondered if they were even for sale yet. Amber and green lights glowed softly. A jeweler's magnifier stood beside the the monitor, next to stacks of neatly labeled files. Skinner smiled wryly - Mulder's work area had never looked that neat while he worked at the Bureau.

"I see the Lone Gunmen have done you proud."

A slight smile touched Mulder's mouth. "They like to bring me new toys to test for them. You should see the security system they set up for this place. I knew you were coming when you turned into the parking lot." There was an involved looking keypad beside the door, its readout lights blinking softly.

His smile faded. "So - why are you here?"

Skinner sighed. So there was to be no thawing in his manner, no memory of warmth between them. He should have realized it earlier, but he had headed here automatically, unquestioning, a needle turning North. Just one more mistake to repent at leisure.

"I have no idea why I came. I'm sorry. I'll go." He rose and was stopped by Mulder's soft voice and by the strong hand that gripped his wrist.

"No. You came here for a reason." Mulder's head was cocked, as if listening to distant rhythms. "Something's happened. What?"

Skinner subsided back into his chair, Mulder's firm grip on his wrist refusing any compromise until the larger man was seated again. The afternoon's snowgray light flickered dully on the sunglasses as Mulder turned his face toward Skinner.

"I resigned from the FBI today."

Mulder's fingers slid away from Skinner's wrist as he slowly sat back in his chair, accepting this new fact with the same intellectual detachment that he employed as he studied the case files he consulted on. There was no expression on Mulder's face at all -- no, so much of his expression had always been in his eyes, Skinner reminded himself. Or perhaps it was that he simply didn't care.

"Why? What happened?" There was that investigator's tone, so damnably neutral.

"Nothing out of the ordinary. I went in to work as usual, met with my staff, had a couple of case meetings, reviewed some files, dropped in at the Support Staff's Christmas party, then walked into the Director's office and quit."

"And came here."

"Yes." Skinner tried to match Mulder's flat tone and sounded only tired.

Mulder's mouth quirked a little. "Have you checked your water supply lately, Skinner?"

Skinner had to smile back. "I wish I could blame it on drugs. But at least I didn't take a swing at the Director," he reminded Mulder of that ugly scene between them, so long ago that it could make them both smile now.

"Good thing - she could probably take you, two falls out of three."

They were silent for a moment, each lost in his own thoughts. Then Mulder stirred, with an echo of his old restlessness, and said, "What will you do now?"

"I haven't got a clue, Mulder. I didn't plan on this."

"What *did* you plan on?"

The question surprised him. More, it shocked him to discover that there was an echoing cavern where the answer ought to have been. Walter Skinner realized suddenly that he had had no plans, had had no expectations from the future beyond getting up and going to work each morning. Not since the ShadowWar had ended, not since he and Mulder...

Oddly enough, Mulder seemed to have no expectation of an answer. He let Skinner sit there, wordless, while he rose and went into the galley. Skinner could hear mugs click against each other, then something being poured into them. Mulder reappeared, carrying two mugs of coffee. He moved slowly, without hesitation, but with a graceful awareness of his surroundings that Skinner had never seen. The last time the A.D. had come to see Mulder, almost two years ago, the younger man had been clumsy and belligerent, refusing all help and angry at any offer of assistance.

He held one cup out to Skinner, only a few inches off-center. Skinner took it, then watched with fascination as Mulder brushed his fingers along the cool top-rail of the stove, guiding himself back to his own chair by orienting on the stove, then reaching for the arm of the chair with certainty. That explained the mathematical neatness of the room; Mulder could no longer afford himself the luxury of clutter. His throat ached suddenly and Skinner took a burning gulp of his coffee to distract himself.

Mulder heard him choke and laughed. "Slowly, Skinner, show some appreciation. That's Jamaican Blue Mountain and is meant to be savored, not swilled."

Skinner took a second, more respectful sip and noted the richness of the flavor, the elegant trace of its aroma left in his mouth after each swallow. "Since when did you become a coffee aficionado?" Skinner remembered countless abandoned fast food styrofoam cups of dubious brown liquid left to grow mold around Mulder's office and car.

Mulder shrugged. "Since I took the time to care about how things tasted."

Since the time was thrust upon him, Skinner rephrased in his own head, a surge of impotent rage dimming his vision for a moment. It was so unfair, what had happened to Mulder. In the very moment of triumph, blood-soaked and bitter though it had been, to have seen the truth, then to have sight blotted out forever. Skinner blinked rapidly, remembering the flash that had stolen Mulder's eyesight and had dazzled him and Scully for days afterward. Typically, Mulder had been facing toward the site, straining to see what he could and Scully and Skinner had been turned away, shouting at Mulder, trying to drag him away from the danger. And so Mulder, braver, more reckless, more willing to risk all to have the truth he craved, Mulder had paid the higher price.

There was a quiet droning in his ears. It took a few moments for Skinner to register it as Mulder's voice. For one happy moment, he could almost believe that the younger man was concerned.

"Skinner? Are you all right?"

"No," he answered honestly. "I haven't been all right in years. Not since you left."

Then his own mental editor caught up with events and Skinner was horrified to have revealed so much. Damn - why did his memories have to choose now to flare up at him? He was usually far more adept at suppressing them, ignoring their bitter gnawing until he was once again coolly in control.

Mulder sounded as if he were speaking through clenched teeth. "I didn't leave, Skinner. You threw me out. Remember?"

He remembered. He remembered it all. That one night when they had finally burst through every binding, every barrier, every suspicion, to come together. One night in which everything was right and good and whole. Afterward, he had lain awake through the night, Fox Mulder asleep on his chest, and he had prayed that he could make this last.

Then morning had come, and with the morning, a package by special messenger. He remembered the winter air biting at his bare legs, slinking through his thin robe as he had stood at the door and signed for it. Remembered the flash of fierce joy when he thought that, in just a moment, he could go back and wrap himself around a warm and sleeping Mulder. Then he had opened the package and known that he could never do that again.

Photographs. And a note. Two words written on a cigarette wrapper. "End it."

And he had. Clumsily, perhaps even brutally. But he had.

And Mulder remained alive, chasing the truth, stalking it down, demanding the answers to everything he wanted and getting most of them. And Skinner remained alive, supporting Mulder, sometimes openly, sometimes covertly, always there. But never welcomed. Never again for him, the quickflash grin, the veering humor, the camaraderie of laughter. Scully had wondered but never asked.

Then, when it was all over, he had had one more chance and he had bungled it. Too clumsy in his grief, he had tried to arrange Mulder's life, to protect him from ugly realities, to cushion and soften the blows, forgetting how that most independent of men reacted to any interference. Then, scared, blinded, in constant pain, Mulder had struck out at everyone around him, cutting them to shreds with his well-trained psychologist's mind.

Scully had borne it best of all of them, but then, she had loved Mulder best of all of them. She had refused to give up on him, through the long months of fury, long after everyone else, including Skinner, had retreated as if from a maddened animal. Eventually, Mulder had pulled himself out of his cave of self-pity and allowed her to help him. She had arranged for him to learn braille, she had gotten him into therapy, met regularly with his medical team, pushed the Lone gunmen into borrowing, purchasing, stealing and designing the best electronics and computerware. She had also arranged for Mulder's consultant status at the Bureau and had found him this houseboat, a quiet place to learn how to live again.

Skinner had been able to do nothing but watch and mourn.

Mourning had been iced over with indifference when Mulder's attitude toward him did not change. Gradually, he resumed his friendships with everyone left, everyone except for Skinner. And Skinner understood instinctively why it should be so; he had betrayed Mulder. All the rest of his betrayers were dead or gone, but Walter Skinner remained, a near-mute reminder, a single stumbling block before the blind.

He had come to the houseboat only once; he had not been invited inside. He thought wryly that he had chosen his weather better this time. Then, it had been a sunny spring afternoon, not conducive to the enforced hospitality he was enduring now. Suddenly, it was unbearable.

He rose, placing his cup on the stove beside him. "I've got to go."

Mulder's face tipped up as if he were looking at him. "No, you don't."

"Mulder...," .

Unexpectedly, Mulder laughed. "I'll bet your teeth are gritted together and you're looking down and to the left, right? I can just *see* it," he crowed. "You always do that when you don't know what to do." Skinner, who was doing just that, didn't know what to say. He turned away, only to be stopped by Mulder's iron grip on his wrist again.

Mulder stood and turned Skinner back to face him.

"Let me see what you look like now," he said.

The taller man stood still, but he nearly trembled in his driving need to get away from the pain that was threatening to tear loose in a debacle of icy shards that would leave him nothing at all. Then Mulder touched his face gently and he couldn't have moved to save his life.

Mulder's long fingers skimmed over Skinner's face with the gentleness of a lover and the impersonal care of a physician. They coolly traced his brow, noted his glasses, then shaped his cheekbones, slipping in to track down the blade of his nose. The sensitive tips of Mulder's fingers drifted over his lips; he smiled distractedly when one finger dipped into the deep cleft in Skinner's chin. Skinner had to close his eyes. He could feel Mulder's breath against his face and it was too much.

Then those knowledgeable hands slid lightly over the top of Skinner's head, brushed through his hair, then pressed against the muscles at the back of his neck, testing and cataloging. Spread wide, those fingers drifted back over his jaw, noted the rapid swallowing and the thumping pulse before Mulder dropped his hands, barely brushing Skinner's shirt front.

When Skinner trusted himself to open his eyes, Mulder was still standing there, a slight smile on his face. That smile. The one that said he saw right through your bullshit. Damn.

"You *are* doing that TMJ thing you always did."

"And you're doing that smartass grin thing you always did."

"Isn't it nice to know that some things haven't changed?"

"That's not the only thing..." Skinner bit his words off. It was too late for this; he had been seduced by that one moment of warmth. Pathetic, that's what it was.

Forcing himself to look at Mulder, standing so close to him, he was caught by his own reflection in Mulder's sunglasses. Stretched out of shape, too long, too short, twisted -- great, now I'm thinking in metaphors. What the hell was in the coffee?

"I've got to go," he repeated desperately.

"No. You're going to stay." Mulder spoke with the careless confidence that Skinner remembered from a hundred cases. He already had his theory and was prepared to fight until everyone else saw it the same way. "I'm going to make you something to eat. We're going to talk." He gestured vaguely toward the windows. "Besides, it's still snowing, isn't it? The roads will be awful. You'd better stay the night."

Dazed, offered everything he'd ever wanted, Skinner could only say, "Mulder -it's only 3 in the afternoon."

"Then we'd better talk a lot." Mulder said and smiled gently as he wandered into the galley.

The snow was still falling twelve hours later and Skinner lay awake and watched it. It blanketed the city and all traffic had stopped long ago. Now, rather than obscuring as it had earlier, it made the night lighter, brighter, less threatening. The thick snow brought with it a sense of peace, falling and building up and smothering all else in its gentle insistence. Like Mulder, who slept beside him, face pressed against Skinner's shoulder.

Mulder, demanding that he stay, forcing him to listen until he *had* to talk. Skinner, watching him move, surefooted and graceful as he cooked, as he courteously refusing any offer of help from his guest. Finally, over soup and beer and sandwiches and after hours of talk, Skinner had told him about the Smoking Man's pictures.

Mulder had merely said, "Ah. I'd wondered."

"Wondered what?"

"Where the blackmail threat was going to come from. After you...threw me out that morning, I figured it would be from you. That you were back with them. A way to keep me in line." The very blandness of the words undid Skinner and the room roared about him.

Gentle fingers grazed lightly against his jaw. "You're doing it again," Mulder smiled slightly. Skinner's hand fumbled, then he clasped Mulder's hand, an anchor as the debris of the past rose up and spun around him.

Hours more, of talk and silences, as the shards of their lives refitted themselves into new patterns. Skinner found that not all of the memories were bad or painful or shameful; he heard himself laughing and wondered at the sound.

"I wouldn't know my own motivations if they walked up and bit me on the ass."

"True," Mulder agreed with humiliating swiftness. "But that's always been my department anyway." He softened the truth with a smile. "You handle the big stuff and I'll let you know why you do what you do. You're going to keep trying to protect me and I'm going to keep fighting with you about it. Eventually, you'll see that I can take care of myself, more or less, and I'll realize that I can accept your help and it doesn't mean that you see me as any less of a man. I figure it'll take us about six weeks to get all that out of the way."

"And then?" Skinner had asked, trying to believe that Mulder meant what he said.

"You'll eventually decide that you don't need your apartment any more and move in here. At some point, you'll realize why you left the FBI and the next step will be logical -- or not. You'll choose some field in which you have to make few compromises but get visible results. And beauty. I think you'll make a great woodworker, Walt."

Amused and appalled at how easily Mulder read him, Skinner could only snort, then ask, "And what about you?"

"Me?" Mulder's lips pursed as he considered. "I'll get a little more patient; I'll have to learn to share my space and my toys. And get used to reading Skinner Silences again. But the great sex ought to counterbalance any rough times we might have." Mulder's grin was positively calculated to be the most annoyingly self-confident expression Skinner had ever seen. He loved it.

"Just promise me; if you get any packets of photos," -- that irritating shit-eating grin again -- "you'll show me. I always wanted to know which buttock was my best side."

Forgiveness, like the feather touch of the snow, settling lightly about him.

Long moments, taking off Mulder's dark glasses, looking into his eyes again. Discovering that Mulder could see him, in gentle light and from very near. Realizing that, of the two of them, Mulder was still the one who could see more clearly. Somewhere in the night, swearing that he would never leave Mulder's sight again.

(finis)

 


 

Houseboat Variation: In the Shadow of the Rock
M/K,
sequel to "A River in a Dry Place"
by JiM
<JiMPage363@aol.com>

Warning: Contains graphic M/M sex - if you are underage or offended by this idea, get thee hence and read this NOT.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to CC and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is made from this work of speculative fiction.
Title: "In the Shadow of the Rock", sequel to "A River in a Dry Place", a Houseboat Variation
Summary: The morning after "A River in a Dry Place". Now Mulder's got Krycek and a bowl of kittens - what the heck is he supposed to do with them?
Author's Note: This is for Te,who demanded that the boys have sex. This piece is my response to her accusation that I am incapable of writing an M/K in which Alex wins. I *had* to wipe everyone else out, though - that was the agreement.
Thanks: To MJ, Dawn and Leila, who all did speedy beta work - you are all wonderful!
Archive: MKRA, Mona's page (Thanks Mona!)
Feedback: Please! to JiMPage363@aol.com Fic page can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html


"Houseboat Variation: In the Shadow of the Rock",
sequel to "A River in a Dry Place",
a Houseboat Variation
by JiM

"And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind,
and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place,
as the shadows of a great rock in a weary land." (Isaiah 32:2)

Alex Krycek was still sleeping. He was curled on his left side, mutilated arm hidden from sight. One dark lock of hair had fallen over his pale forehead and Mulder gave in to the urge and stroked it back into place gently. Alex made a small sound of contentment, but didn't wake.

He hadn't truly awakened since Mulder had put him to bed early last evening. He had slept in Mulder's arms all night, never moving. Sometime in the pallid dawn, while Mulder was still working on his first cup of coffee, he had heard Krycek in the bathroom. But, when he had gone in with a cup of coffee held before him like a lion-tamer's chair, he found the man dead asleep again, a faintly worried expression on his no-longer-youthful face.

The hurricane was blowing itself out now; the wind had died down to a murmur and the rain no longer pounded the roof and deck. But it had still been cold on the houseboat and Mulder had gone to relight the woodstove. His other guests were stirring then. The wooden bowl full of kittens roiled like a pot aboil as the three scrabbled around beneath the dishcloth they had been tucked into last night. He had blown up the embers around some new kindling and gotten the fire going again as one of the more adventurous kittens finally struggled out of the dishcloth. Its siblings soon followed and the three set up a mewling chorus demanding food. Picking up the bowl, he brought the trio of plaintives into the galley and started heating their pabulum.

"I know," he told them gravely, "the service in this joint stinks." Three sets of blue kitten eyes had blinked in reply.

He had gotten them all fed by the simple expedient of dipping his hand in the pinkish muck and letting the three kittens suckle greedily from his finger tips. By the time they were done, a fair amount of the pabulum had gotten smeared into their fur and he spent some time cleaning them up with a damp cloth. It was while he was washing the second kitten that Mulder realized that he was enjoying himself. He had always wanted pets as a child but it had never been possible, according to his parents. His schooling, and then later, his job had made caring for anything more evolved than a tankful of fish unwise.

"Apparently, I was just waiting for Alex to show up with you guys," he had told the now sleepy kittens as he carried their bowl back to the warm spot in front of the stove. One kitten had chirped as if in agreement and he found himself smiling like an idiot.

That same ridiculous smile kept coming back throughout the morning as he listened to the wind, kept an eye on the river and watched Alex sleep. Around noon, he had made himself some lunch and eaten it in semi-solitary splendor. The bowl of kittens sat beside him, so he read them the more interesting parts of the article he was reviewing, then fed them again. After lunch his leg informed him, in no uncertain terms, that he was going to lie down for a while.

So he took the kittens and his article and stretched out beside the sleeping Krycek, propping his aching leg on a couple of pillows, and flicking on the wall TV, muted. He checked Krycek's forehead for fever, but his skin was cool to the touch. Not sick, then, just exhausted. Jet lag, probably, he'd said something about the flight from Sydney. Jet lag and emotional exhaustion, he amended in his own mind, remembering the bitter storm of weeping that had overtaken both of them yesterday. They had begun a healing process last night, but to what end?

The kittens had begun ambitious but clumsy exploratory maneuvers around the bed, over and under his leg, under the sheets and up the pillows. The cinnamon kitten had settled itself between Mulder and his proof-sheets and seemed more interested in occasionally batting at the end of Mulder's nose than in joining its siblings. Krycek slept through the black kitten's determined assault and subsequent conquering of his hip. It perched with infant dignity on the arc of too-thin flesh between Krycek's hipbone and his ribs and folded its paws under itself to meditate, where it rose and fell with his steady breathing. The tabby striped kitten chased its own tail until it had spun itself into the perfect sleeping position between the two men.

After a time, Mulder realized that Krycek was lying there with his eyes open. His expression was as unguarded and innocent as a child's. "You awake now?"

"Um hm," Krycek nodded, then shifted slightly, pressed his face against Mulder's arm and went to sleep again. The black kitten met Mulder's resigned sigh with a blink and resettled itself.

Eventually, Alex did awaken. Mulder had gone out to check one of his mooring lines and when he returned, it was to find Krycek stretching and blinking in front of the stove, the black kitten perched on his right shoulder. He was neatly combed and freshly shaven; Mulder wondered if he had used Mulder's toothbrush, as well.

Krycek had obviously ransacked Mulder's clothes pile again; this time he had requisitioned a pair of black jeans to go with the long-sleeved green Henley he had borrowed the previous evening. The jeans were too large for him; after staring silently at him for a moment, Mulder went and fetched his spare belt. He watched as Alex threaded it through the belt loops, an awkward task with only one hand and a kitten on one shoulder, but Mulder didn't offer to help. When he had cinched the belt, Alex looked at him questioningly.

"Well?"

"We need to get some food in. For us, as well as the kittens. It's stopped raining. How do you feel?"

"Empty," Krycek said, then looked surprised.

"Hungry? Want some breakfast?"

"No," Krycek said, brows still knit together in a bewildered frown.

"What's the matter?" Mulder said, reaching for a jacket.

"That was a little more... honest than I had intended." He absentmindedly put the kitten down on a chair.

"I thought we decided that it was all over last night, Krycek," Mulder tossed him a spare wool jacket. "All that cloak and dagger, undercover, paranoid lying stuff," he clarified.

"Old habits die hard, Mulder. It's gonna take a while before I'll feel comfortable just speaking my mind to you. Or anybody."

Mulder nodded; Krycek wasn't the only one unused to speaking unguardedly. They went out together into the whining dregs of the storm.

Krycek followed Mulder up and down the aisles of the grocery store, offhandedly approving anything Mulder suggested. Mulder began to realize that Krycek wasn't merely being pleasant nor a model guest - he actually had no discernible preferences. How many years do you need to be on the run before you no longer care what food you eat as long as you get enough to keep running?

Krycek's only contributions came in the health care aisle. He threw in a toothbrush, a box of condoms and a tube of KY jelly. It was his turn to smile at the stunned expression on Mulder's face as they both kept walking.

"This might be one of those times you ought to open up and tell me what's on your mind here, Krycek."

"No need. I think we're both pretty clear on this issue. What kind of cat food do we need?" he gestured to the rainbow of designer cat food cans, his expression blander than tapioca.

Mulder distractedly picked up several cans of the brand his veterinarian had recommended, threw them in the cart, and kept walking toward the produce section.

"Krycek - what makes you think I'd sleep with the man who killed my father?"

He stopped to consider the plethora of leafy greens, blocking the young man who was listlessly stacking lettuces into the displays. The question was purely a matter of form, Mulder knew that even as the words left his mouth. It had seemed so much clearer last night, in the dark, listening to the storm. Now, in the cold light of day with the accouterments of Krycek's decisive assent sitting in his grocery cart, he was backpedaling rapidly.

Mulder held up a red lettuce; Krycek shook his head. "The romaine looks better. And I didn't kill him, Mulder. How many times do I have to tell you?"

"Maybe until I believe you?" Mulder said without heat. "Do you like spinach?"

Krycek shrugged. Right. Mulder had forgotten, no real preferences. He took the spinach.

"I was just supposed to listen in and use a little intimidation - he's the one who reached out and pulled the trigger. Come on, Mulder, cut me a little slack here. I'm a professional, I never would have pulled a job as clumsy as that." There was an edge of exasperation in Krycek's voice. "Even Scully believed me," he reminded Mulder carefully.

The young lettuce stacker was staring open-mouthed at them; they ignored him, continuing on to the fruit section. Mulder sighed. "Actually, I do believe you. And I don't know why I should." He threw some oranges into the cart. The rage he had always felt when he thought of his father's death throbbed vaguely, like a bonfire in the distance. He had always known that his father had been responsible for so much suffering - why not this one sharp ache as well? What had changed, that he could so easily believe what Alex Krycek told him now?

"I'm done lying to you, Mulder," Krycek said quietly. "It's finished, remember?"

Mulder nodded and hefted two jars of peanut butter. He started to ask, then shrugged, said "Hope you like creamy," and tossed the jar into the cart. There was a flash of green eyes, warm as summer, above a smile that could cut diamonds. Then it was gone. It took Mulder two aisles to get his heart-rate back to something approaching normal. When did this happen, he wondered. When did my body wake up again?

Alex seemed content to dawdle along beside him, not even exulting in having silenced Fox Mulder. A gallon of milk and a dozen eggs later, Mulder started to speak then stopped. Finally at the check-out line, he said,

"So, what would you like to do?"

Krycek paid for the groceries with bills peeled off from a wad of multi-national cash from his pocket. His deliberately bland expression was back and Mulder didn't argue the point with him. They watched the bagger in silence for a time.

"I think I'd like to stop killing people," Alex finally said softly.

Mulder blinked. "I meant, what would you like to do this afternoon?"

Alex visibly snapped back to the present moment and his lips were pulled back in a wolf-flash grin. "You gotta start somewhere, Mulder."

Mulder knew he was in deadly earnest and something ached treacherously as he realized, for the first time, that like Mulder himself, Alex Krycek had never wanted to be what he had become. Mulder took refuge in lightness. "OK. So -this afternoon, we don't kill anyone. Anything else you'd like to put on the agenda?"

"Can we go to the library?"

The two men didn't even notice the odd looks they got from the bagger and the cashier as they left.

Whatever Mulder had imagined Krycek did for amusement, light reading had never figured into the picture. And yet, as they left the library branch closest to the marina, Mulder was faced with the irrefutable evidence that Alex Krycek read voraciously. His arms were full of books, like a man hoarding food after a famine. Science fiction, poetry, physics, history, mysteries and a book on cat care were balanced precariously against his artificial arm as he tried to shrug his way out the door. Wordlessly, Mulder took half the stack and smiled gently at Alex' confused glance. Perhaps, after a time, Alex might grow used to being helped.

Back home, they unloaded groceries and fell into a workable system. Krycek would hold up an object, Mulder would point and Alex would stack it away, noting the contents of the cupboards with a professional eye. Before they were done with the second bag, Mulder had no doubt that Krycek could find anything he needed. They bobbed and pirouetted around one another like dancers. Once they collided, and Mulder found himself hard against Alex, arms most of the way around him. Only after the heat and whipcord strength of Krycek's body had burnt itself into him was Mulder able to back away. Startled hazel eyes looked into surprised green ones - wisely, they said nothing.

The kittens showed up to demand food, chirping and mewing and screeching, in the case of the tabby. Alex laughed and scooped them all up, hanging them like burrs from his shirtfront while Mulder blended and heated another batch of food for them.

It was only after they had fed their furry charges and put them back to sleep in the salad bowl that Mulder remembered that Krycek hadn't eaten all day. And he remembered the sound of Alex's laughter; for just a moment, he had sounded like a young, carefree man. Like someone he had probably never been.

"Hungry?"

"Not really," Krycek was turning the pages of the top book of the stack he had brought home. Mulder could almost see him sinking into the words before his eyes like a man sinking into the arms of a Siren, drowning happily in print. He smiled a little, then went into the galley. He poured two cups of coffee and made a peanut butter sandwich, which he deposited on the arm of Krycek's chair, then sat down in the other chair with his own mug and pulled the next book off the stack.

`Alice in Wonderland'? Mulder thought, `Curiouser and curiouser' and he started to read. The bowl of sleeping kittens sat in his lap, Alex ate without comment, the fire burned noiselessly beside them and the afternoon darkened to twilight. Once Mulder got up and disappeared into the galley for a while; Krycek greeted his return with an abstracted smile and put down his book to accept his refilled coffee cup.

But then Krycek found that he was unable to return to his book. He spent a few minutes watching Mulder turn pages, drinking his coffee and stroking the black kitten who had made its arduous way up his pant leg and into his lap.

"Mulder?"

Mulder looked up to find the green eyes fixed on him with an almost desperate confusion in them. He grunted interrogatively.

"What are we doing?"

It was the ridiculous simplicity of the question that stymied him. And the answer was obviously very important to Alex. Mulder could feel certain rusty wheels and cogs turning in his brain - the parts that had made him one of the best profilers Violent Crimes had ever had - grinding out the background to the question. In a few seconds, he had established a working theory which pointed to one simple answer.

"We're not killing anyone, Alex."

Krycek stared at him, testing his words, looking for the mocking edge, understanding gradually seeping into his expression. "Well," he said, recalling his words of earlier, "you gotta start somewhere."

After dinner, he said curiously, "So, this is what normal people do?" and took another wet dish from Mulder, dried it carefully and stacked it away. Mulder stopped for a moment and grinned ruefully down into the soapy water. "I have no idea, Krycek. Normalcy has never really been my forte'. Remember, this is `Spooky Mulder' you're talking to here."'

"Good point," Krycek agreed with a teasing grin. Mulder splashed him with soapy water, then yelped when Krycek snapped him with a towel. Laughing, he fled, Krycek hot on his heels. Alex caught up with him in front of the stove, grabbing him around the waist and swinging him around. They were both laughing like fools until their eyes met. Suddenly, laughter died in a rush of heat.

Afterward, Mulder could never remember who moved first, nor how they wound up in each other's arms. Whose was the first mouth to open desperately beneath the other's? Who moaned and who growled - it didn't matter. All he knew was that they had been moving toward this moment for eight years and they had finally reached it together.

Alex's evening beard scraped along his as he nudged Mulder's head back and began kissing and biting his way down Mulder's throat. His hand gripped Mulder's shoulder fiercely as he felt Mulder's hand creep into his hair. He misunderstood the steadily growing pressure on the back of his head.

"Don't make me stop, Mulder. Not now. It's been so long...," he gasped into the hollow of Mulder's throat.

"If you stop, I'll kill you, Krycek. I swear it." Mulder heard his own voice and wished he could have sounded just a little less needy.

Krycek laughed again, a clean sound, like a river undammed. "Alex," he breathed, "call me Alex." He bent to his self-imposed task again, hand sliding down to slip open Mulder's shirt, one button at a time.

Mulder let his hands glide up and down Alex's back, learning the flex and play of his muscles. He felt as if he were drowning in the heat and rush of Alex Krycek; it scared him. He opened his eyes and they automatically fell on one of the few things that had ever kept him grounded - his partner's face.

Her picture glowed at him from across the room, eyes laughing. He could almost hear her voice sharpening with exasperation as she asked, as she had so many times in the past, "Mulder - are you seriously trying to tell me that you are about to make love to Alex Krycek?"

Ok - she had never actually said *those* words - he found himself grinning foolishly, then gasped as Alex's greedy mouth began nuzzling at a nipple. His hands tightened and he pulled Alex closer, harder against him, grounding himself in the hot reality of the moment. But his traitorous mind, well-versed in multi-tasking, kept up his conversation with Dana Scully even as he felt his knees weakening.

"Look, Scully, I'm all alone here. You're the one who keeps telling me to find someone and settle down."

"I didn't mean Krycek!" he could hear her indignant squeak, more than half laughter. His shirt hung open now and Alex was stroking his fingers across his chest, letting them drift lightly through the hair in the center of his chest and then down...

"But who else knows me so well, Scully? There's no one left. No one in this world shares my nightmares..."

"And you always did want him, Mulder. Even after you knew what he was, it was always there between you, wasn't it?" she sighed resignedly. "Are you sure this isn't some sort of game on his part?"

"I'm sure. We have an agreement; no lying, no killing and he pays the vet's bills."

"Only you could have a prenuptial agreement that sounds like the Balkans Peace Treaty, Mulder."

His lips, drifting across Alex's forehead, curved into a rueful smile. The younger man, eyes closed, stood still and arched his neck as Mulder's hands slid up his spine and into his hair.

"Mulder..." someone said.

"Hmm?"

"Tell him that he'd better make you happy."

"I want to make you happy - tell me how."

That sense of being close to her drifted away and he was anchored anew by leafsharp eyes looking into his a little anxiously. He let his fingers gently brush Alex's lush mouth. "Kiss me," he suggested, smiling again.

There was no question that kissing was one of the skills that Krycek had honed well. His tongue slipped past Mulder's lips like a thief, then it made a thorough inventory of his mouth. Mulder gasped and tangled his fingers in Alex's dark hair. It felt like a white-glove inspection, the delicate trailing of silk across every surface until he was writhing in sheer pleasure.

Krycek pulled back and grinned into Mulder's flushed face. "Anything else you'd like?" he asked impudently, confidence rising as Mulder's composure fell away.

"I can think of a few things, " he said breathlessly, "but they require a bed."

Alex's smile was dazzling, shattering the sharp lines that had been cut in beside his mouth and eyes; it made him look young and carefree, nearly innocent. No - that knowing, hungry look in his eyes could never be mistaken for innocence, as he took Mulder's hand and led him to the bedroom.

The tabby kitten and the orange kitten were curled up asleep on the pillow. Alex picked them up and gently deposited them in the laundry basket, incidentally full of Mulder's clean clothes. They blinked and yawned at him, then went back to sleep.

When Alex turned around, Mulder also blinked at him, but there was nothing sleepy about his expression. He touched his finger to Alex's mouth to silence him, then he gently pulled his shirt over his head. He let his eyes rove over Alex's muscular body, noting the scars, the too well-defined ribs, the muscles that flexed and danced as Alex inhaled sharply at the look in Mulder's eyes. Eyes never leaving Alex's, Mulder unfastened Alex's prosthesis and put it down next to the kittens. Then he ran his hands slowly down Alex's torso, thumbs dragging down the center line of his body, through the fine, soft hair across his abdomen. They dipped into his navel, slid down another few inches, then stopped.

The two men stood, unmoving, Mulder's hands resting on Alex's hips, his thumbs just slipping inside the waist band of his jeans. "Alex? Are you sure?" Staring at one another, all the words unsaid between them spinning like leaves in the autumn winds.

"I'm sure, Mulder. I'm sure." And Alex dragged him into another kiss and his rebellious mind finally gave up and gave over to his body's demands.

Their clothes were stripped away without pretense or delay. Sliding onto the bed, Krycek pulled Mulder down on top of him and kissed him fiercely, then said "I want you inside me. Now."

At first, the words made no sense to Mulder, who was still gasping for breath. When they finally penetrated the fog in his brain, he mumbled thickly, "Slowly, Alex. We have all night."

Krycek grabbed the back of his neck and yanked his head down, kissing him savagely, grinding his arousal up into Mulder's. "Now," he insisted.

He let go of Mulder, pushing him slightly to the side. Then he fumbled around in the bedside table before coming up with a handful of condoms and the tube of lubricant. As Mulder watched, trying to soothe Alex by lightly stroking his chest, the younger man ripped open a condom packet with his teeth, scattering the others. Then he nudged against Mulder until he lay on his back, bemused by the small sounds of animal need that trickled up as Alex deftly smoothed the condom down over Mulder's erection.

It was too much; Mulder thrust his hips up, teetering on the edge. Alex suddenly tightened his hand on the base of Mulder's cock, throttling the roar of pleasure. "Don't you dare," he hissed, eyes burning. "I've been waiting for this, for *you*, for eight years." As Mulder held his gaze, the fierce edge in his expression shaded away into something that was nearly entreaty. "Give me this, Mulder."

He pressed the tube of lubricant into Mulder's hand, waiting with a vibrating patience as Mulder squeezed the thick gel onto his fingers. He stroked it onto Mulder's straining erection, using firm, focused strokes. Mulder held onto his own control with the most tenuous of grips, the fingers of one hand digging into Alex's shoulder.

"Alex," he ground out from between clenched teeth.

The other man nodded, met his glance, then moved suddenly and straddled him. Without preamble, Krycek took hold of Mulder's cock and slid onto it, forcing himself past all obstacles until he sat firmly against Mulder's bucking hips. His lips were pulled back in a snarl and Mulder knew he had to be in pain. He didn't move and Mulder's screaming nerves slowly uncoiled enough for him to lay still and become used to the heat that claimed him.

Alex braced himself with his hand in the center of Mulder's chest, looking down at him with a curious distance in his eyes. Mulder was reminded of the empty look he had seen in Alex's eyes the previous evening. Gently, he slid his hands up Alex's hard thighs and gripped his hips again. He knew suddenly what it was that Alex needed now. Slowly, so slowly, he began to move beneath his lover. His strong hands guided the too-slender hips up and down in a gentle rhythm, refusing to let Alex set the fiercer pace that would set everything between them afire in an instant.

"Mulder...I need..." Alex panted, eyes pleading, muscles flexing as he tried to force Mulder to his speed.

"I know what you need, Alex," Mulder assured him, his iron grip never allowing Alex any option but the slow steady climb to the oblivion of fulfillment. He had no choice but to feel every stroke of Mulder's cock in him, to know every twitch and roll and slide of the man below him. Mulder forced him to know exactly who was inside him; he pulled Alex down and curled himself up to kiss him, trapping his hard cock between them.

Alex suddenly gasped and began twitching and jerking wildly. Mulder held him tightly, trying to slow him down before he realized that it wasn't passion driving his lover. He opened his eyes in consternation, only to see a pair of smoky blue eyes peering down at him from over Alex's bare shoulder --- it was the black kitten, wondering why he hadn't been invited to play in this interesting game. Mulder was torn between the urge to hurl the little demon into the wall and hysterical laughter. He plucked the little beast from its bloody perch and dropped it gently on the floor beside the bed.

Alex's eyes, now filled with laughter, met his and they both dissolved into full-bellied laughter. Suddenly, without warning, they were both teetering on the sharp edge, a breath away from the lightning that had always been waiting for them. Mulder pulled Alex down for another kiss and wrapped his hand around the neglected organ that strained between them. Two hard strokes, three, and Alex was convulsing, writhing and screaming into his mouth. Then Mulder, too, was gone, washed away in the lava flow of Alex's pleasure.

Mulder didn't know how long they lay there, merely breathing. Alex lay on his chest, possibly unconscious, and his hands were idly stroking up and down Alex's back. He lightly fingered the bloody scratches, ran his hand over the thickened scar tissue of the mutilated arm, carded his fingers through the sweat-dampened hair. Alex stirred a little, adjusting his head to a comfortable position on Mulder's shoulder.

"I don't remember the last time I laughed during sex," he offered hoarsely.

"We're even - I don't remember the last time I had sex."

Alex gave a startled snort, then a chuckle, then the two of them were laughing again. Alex pushed back a little and brushed his hand through Mulder's hair, still chuckling. He reached down and plucked the black kitten from its determined ascent up the side of the bed. Plunking it down in the middle of Mulder's chest, he grinned evilly at Mulder's wince as the sharp little claws made themselves felt.

"I think we should close the door next time."

"I think we should *get* a door," Mulder corrected him. He fingered his jaw and felt the sting of beard burn and grinned.

Alex was straddling him again, looking like he'd been worked over by the football team and happy as hell about it. There was a light in his eyes that Mulder had never seen there before; he decided that he liked it. He ran his hand up Alex's throat to cup his jaw, thumb resting on the bruised lips, forefinger teasing the scar at the point of his jaw. He drew Alex down for a gentle, slow kiss. The black kitten, caught between them, gave an indignant squeak so reminiscent of Scully that Mulder was laughing again even as those demonically needlesharp claws dug in in retribution. Alex rescued him and picked the kitten off, putting it down at the foot of the bed.

He slipped the condom off and dropped it in the trash can beside the bed. Then he allowed himself to drop flat beside his lover. Mulder immediately rolled on top of him, kissing him soundly. When he could speak again, Alex gasped out, "Mulder. Wait. Let me rest a minute."

Mulder pressed his forehead gently against Alex's.

"Take as much time as you need, Alex. I'm not going anywhere."

Unable to say anything to match the promise in Mulder's words or the reassurance in Mulder's eyes, Alex did the only thing he could to show his growing trust in the man who held him now. He fell asleep.

It was never going to be easy; it would certainly never be normal. But, Mulder thought as he pulled the covers over both of them, it might just be enough for them both. You gotta to start somewhere, he reminded himself.

(Finis)

 


 

22 September 1998
Disclaimer: These characters belong to CC and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is made from this work of speculative fiction.
Title: A Moment of Peace, M/K, 1/1, PG - the last of the Houseboat Variations
Summary: It's over, Mulder's won, but he's waiting for something...and Alex Krycek offers him the opportunity to end it all...
Author's Notes: This is for Dawn, who actually started the whole thing many months ago by asking for Mulder and Krycek on a boat. This isn't quite what she had in mind, but then, it wasn't quite what I'd planned on either. This is a bit of a hymn to my childhood and, like Mulder, I realize I will never live this life. But it's fun to dream about...
Thanks: Many thanks to Dawn, Anne, Tiffany, Te and expecially to Leila, the Wicked Witch of the West and a wonderful cheerleader.
Archive: Please ask!
Feedback: Please! to JiMPage363@aol.com
Fic page can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html


"A Moment of Peace"
by JiM

"After the battle and we're still around,
everything once up in the air has settled down,
Sweep the ashes, let the silence find us.
A moment of peace is worth every war behind us."
(Indigo Girls)

***

The end began quietly with a simple chime from his computer telling him that he had mail. When he opened it, the message was deceptively short and simple. It read:

>Mulder-
>Truce?
>-- AK

Mulder sat staring at it for long minutes, uncertain of how to react. AK--Alex Krycek. It had to be. Krycek wanted a truce? Hell, Krycek was alive? Just about everyone else ever connected with the Consortium and the failed colonization was dead. How had his former partner managed to survive the debacle, balanced precariously between three sides as he had been?

The idea that Alex Krycek was emailing him was so outre that Mulder knew it couldn't be a fake. The return address was internal and Mulder had to grin; Krycek had balls, sheer unadulterated chutzpah. Who else would hack into the FBI's internal email server?

He hit reply and typed:

>Krycek-
>Why?

There was something strange in the knowledge that Alex Krycek was out there somewhere, waiting for his response. He had time to throw two pencils at the ceiling before Krycek's reply chimed.

>Tired.

Before he knew what he was doing, Mulder had typed:

>Me, too.

And sent it.

'Tired' wasn't a strong enough word for it. He and Scully and Skinner had given their lives over to the fight and they had won, but the cost had been too high for any of them to return to any semblance of normal life. Skinner was a career FBI man and would remain one, but there was now no question that he would advance any higher than AD. His star had set and he was content to find his peace in routine and administration. Of the three of them, Scully had bounced back the fastest, her faith stronger and more enduring than either man's. She had left the FBI entirely and had accepted a position as an ME in Baltimore. She confessed over their weekly beer that she found the job just a little too routine and that she sometimes hoped for something bizarre and familiar.

And Mulder just drifted through his days at the Bureau; all of his most bizarre theories proven horrifyingly correct, the war fought and won, and Spooky Mulder was at once the hero and the albatross of the FBI. The job of the X files now taken over by whole departments, Mulder was assigned to review the findings. He amused himself for a few months paying back former slights and insults with irritating and insightful comments scribbled into the margins of case reports that went to the Director's desk. After a time, his childish need for revenge appeased, a suitable number of minds messed with, he had asked for something more rewarding than case file review. He had found himself back in Violent Crimes so fast his head had spun.

For a time, he had found the return to standard FBI routine relaxing, almost comforting. The challenge of profiling was re-energizing - the minds of the criminally insane and sociopathic had become no more than complex puzzles to be worked and solved, no emotional input required any more. Yet, as spring came on, he had felt a growing restlessness that seemed to blossom with the cherry trees, a sense of unfinished business. Now, here in mid-June, he was sitting in front of his computer, anticipating Alex Krycek's reply and he knew this was what he had been instinctively waiting for all along.

Krycek's reply chimed.

>Let's finish it then. Meet me.

Mulder spoke to the screen, a healthy sense of self-preservation reawakening, no matter how late in the day. "You've got to be kidding me, Krycek. No way!"

But his fingers turned traitor and typed,

>Where?

The answer was succinct and recognizably Krycek.

>I'll send you what you'll need. I'm surprised that you're agreeing to this.

>It's the only way I'll get any answers, isn't it?

The reply to that startled him.

>Would have thought you'd have had enough of answers for one lifetime, Mulder. OK - ask.

Mulder blinked, feeling like a kid who has just been handed the keys to the candy store and realizes that he no longer has any appetite. Slowly, he typed,

>Did you kill my father?

>Not your father

The words blinked stark and green at him for a time. He had suspected, had thought he had made peace with the knowledge.

>Why?

The chime of Krycek's answer startled him from a thoughtless reverie.

>Was going to kill you. Couldn't let that happen.

>Why?

>Hard to explain --- and my hand is getting tired. Meet me. Mulder sighed, then typed,

>Where and when? And you'd better have some answers, Krycek.

>I have answers, Mulder. You won't like some of them, but they're yours - I promise.

>Take a long weekend. A package will be delivered to you within the hour. Come. Please.

>Yes.

There was nothing after that and Mulder knew intuitively that Krycek had signed off.

A document envelope was slid under his office door 45 minutes later. In it were a plane ticket to Boston and a matchbook from the Marblehead Yacht Club. On the inside cover of the empty matchbook, Krycek had written, "6/19 13:30". It was so ridiculously paranoid and familiar that Mulder found himself smiling. No one in his right mind would take the word of Alex Krycek, liar, coward, thief and murderer. But Mulder knew where he was going to be on June 19th at 1:30 in the afternoon. He picked up the phone and began making arrangements for a few days off at the end of the week.

***

It took less than an hour to drive from the airport up the coast to the small colonial town. The Marblehead Yacht Club turned out to be a rather plain shingled building, perched on a thrust of gray New England granite, at the end of a pretty residential street. He left his rental car parked by the curb, hefted his gym bag and walked towards the club building. Mulder had been to Marblehead several times as a kid, and had raced from some of the more imposing and monied yacht clubs in town. But this club was obviously aggressively unconcerned with image, its members caring only about sailing.

He paused on the sea wall for a moment, watching the weird cacophony of vessels in the harbor -- yachts, skiffs, lobster boats all rocking gently in the breeze, a small coast guard cutter laboring past, two kids zipping by in a bright orange zodiac -- it was a familiar and surprisingly peaceful chaos, sunlit and carefree. He was startled from his reverie by the squawk of a gull diving overhead. Krycek had to be here somewhere, although Mulder was having trouble fitting the shadowy figure of Alex Krycek into these sunny, wholesome surroundings.

The door was locked, so he pressed the intercom buzzer and waited.

"Yeah?"

"My name is Fox Mulder and I'm looking for..."

"Oh, Mr. Mulder. Alex asked me to keep an eye out for you. Come on in."

The buzzer sounded and Mulder walked into the main room of the club building. A middle-aged man in white shorts, shirt and tie, and navy anorak with the club insignia on its breast stepped out of an office to greet him.

"I'm Jack. Are you ready to go, Mr. Mulder?"

"Go where?"

Jack waved one ruddy hand out towards the harbor and smiled. "I'm supposed to take you out to the 'Shadow'. Alex is out there redoing the teak today."

Jack guided Mulder out of the club building and onto the pier with a courteous gesture as he pulled on a ball cap and a pair of mirrored sunglasses. "He's been pretty anxious about your arrival. I think he's looking for someone to help with all that trim."

Mulder remembered the mind-numbing boredom of re-oiling the teak on his own family's sailboat and smiled back; it was impossible not to smile at the man's open grin, teeth even and white in his ruddy face, but Mulder felt that same disquiet at the knowledge that Alex Krycek was waiting for him still. Somewhere out there on the sunlit water lay all the answers to his darkest questions and the keys to his murky life. Did he really want them now?

Mulder followed his guide down the gangway and out onto the float. A uniformly blond and tanned family with two little girls and a spaniel was already seated in one of the stolid, straight bowed white launches tied up there; blue bumpers squeaking discreetly as the wake from a passing boat rocked it gently against the dock.

Mulder hopped down into the launch and took a seat at the stern. He was glad of the half-understood impulse that had made him wear old jeans, sneakers and a sweater this morning, rather than his usual FBI-issue dark suit. He realized now that he had dressed as he had because he was no longer Special Agent Fox Mulder, not for this trip. He felt himself slipping into someone else, the man he might have been without ... everything. Someone who worked a 9 to 5 job and sailed every free moment he could, living out a quiet life in a small New England town where everyone knew everyone else. Mulder shook his head, knowing he could never be that man, yet longing for it with everything in his being, just for a moment.

The other passengers had greeted Mulder with cheerful grins and were now chatting with Jack as he slipped the mooring lines off the cleats at the bow and the stern and leapt into the boat. From their conversation Mulder gathered that the launch driver was also a high school English teacher just out for the summer. The motor thrummed alive as Jack thumbed the throttle with one hand and kept two fingers of his other hand on the wheel, easily guiding the launch away from the float and out into the harbor.

Mulder took a deep breath and felt a wave of nostalgia wash over him as the combined smells of diesel fuel, sunblock, and salt water took him back to his childhood on the Vineyard. Sailing had been one of the few unsullied pleasures he and his remote father had shared. Even when they couldn't talk, there was still the easy give and take of sheets and sails, tacking and reaching, jibing and running before the wind in the noisy silence of a summer day on the water.

They came to the other family's boat first. Mulder was on his feet and automatically reaching out to steady the launch against the side of the sloop as the children and their parents tramped off with noisy cheer. Jack shoved them off with a wave, then neatly pirouetted the large launch around and headed off towards the mouth of the harbor, picking his way through the thickets of moored vessels with a careless two-fingered ease that Mulder had to admire. The breeze whipped his hair back from his face and made him wish he had thought to bring a windbreaker. But it was exhilarating to be chilled by the salt air and he wondered why he had never sailed after he had left home.

He also wondered how long Krycek had been hiding out here. The sailing community, while large, was also closely knit. How had Krycek managed to lose himself so completely?

"Has Alex sailed with you long?" he asked, then winced internally at how clumsy he sounded, the rustiness of his interrogation style. If Jack thought the question odd, nothing showed in his suncreased face.

"Off and on, I'd say about 15 years. He started coming here with his uncle when he was a teen, crewed for him in the summers. He's a good kid."

Mulder blinked at the dissonant description of Alex Krycek, hired muscle and assassin, as a "good kid". Not a cover, then, but a piece of Krycek's own identity, some surivor of the wreckage. He wondered who the uncle was - perhaps one of the well-manicured impeccably dressed cabal that still haunted his nightmares? The random surmise chilled him. "Is his uncle out there today?"

"Nah. The old man died about ten years ago and left Alex the 'Shadow' and the mooring. Lucky for him- the mooring list is ten years long now." Jack dropped the throttle with a flick of his brown hand. "Here it is now."

A twist of the wheel and the launch was sidling up to a graceful sloop and Mulder's grip was whitening on the railing beside him. The launch's bumpers chirped and scraped as the two boats rocked together and Alex Krycek looked up from oiling the teakwood detailing around the forward hatch and met Mulder's eyes for the first time in three years.

"Mulder." He dropped his rag and stood up slowly.

Mulder suddenly realized that he didn't know what last name Krycek was using among these people.

"Alex," he said evenly. There was a flicker of amusement in Krycek's eyes and Mulder knew that he understood the sudden intimacy of his first name.

They stared at one another for another long moment then Krycek suddenly moved forward with his hand out. Mulder automatically handed him his bag, then swung himself aboard the 'Shadow'.

"Thanks, Jack," Alex said and pressed a folded bill into the launch driver's hand.

"Any time, Alex. When do you want a pick up?"

Krycek looked back over his shoulder at Mulder, who returned his stare gravely but offered no hints. "Not sure yet, Jack. I'll radio when I have a better idea."

An air horn sounded close by, two short blasts followed by a long. Jack grinned and said, "Duty calls. Have a good afternoon, Mr. Mulder. Alex," he tapped one finger to the brim of his ball cap in farewell and pulled away, leaving the two men to stare at one another.

After a moment, Krycek turned away and hopped down into the cockpit, all gleaming white fiberglass lined with tasteful burgundy cushions. He dropped Mulder's bag onto one of the benches then suddenly turned back and met Mulder's gaze again, brows knit as if he were confused by something.

"You know, I didn't think you'd come."

"I told you I would."

"And you always keep your word," Krycek said, not teasing. He seemed to shake himself back to alertness, then he waved his hand around. "Welcome aboard. What do you think?"

Mulder came to join him there, the lashed-down wheel and the boom in the center of the cockpit between them. "She's beautiful, Alex. Jack said your uncle left her to you?"

Krycek heard the unasked question and nodded. "My real uncle. No, he wasn't one of them. Just a man who recommended his favorite nephew for a job to a friend." Something in Krycek's eyes made Mulder guess,

"The 'friend' was my father, wasn't it?"

"Bill Mulder was a friend of my uncle's, yes." Mulder heard the carefully arranged answer. He felt the deck rock under his feet then steadied himself with a hand on wheel and said bitterly,

"All right - we both know Bill Mulder wasn't my biological father, so we can stop dancing around that issue. But he's the only man I'll ever think of as 'Dad', so you'll forgive me the occasional slip."

There was a radio playing somewhere and the music slipped and danced across the water. The sharp smell of the teak oil Krycek had been applying was carried past him on the freshening breeze. The water whispered and chuckled against the hull, like a friend inviting him out to play. Krycek continued to meet his fierce gaze, sea-green eyes unblinking. Then he said,

"It's a beautiful afternoon; let's take her out for a sail."

Mulder was grateful to him, suddenly. He nodded.

"There's a pretty good breeze once you get out of the harbor; I've got a spare windbreaker down in the cabin. Why don't you drop your bag and get it while I get us ready to go out?" He turned away and began to pick up the can and rags scattered on the deck.

Mulder swung down the wooden ladder into the cabin of the 'Shadow' and was impressed anew. From the water, she was trim and neat-looking with graceful lines drawing the eye. But inside the main cabin, Mulder had to admire the beauty and elegance of her design. The main cabin was warm with teak detailing, upholstered benches running the length of both sides. A folding table was bolted to the richly-carpeted floor, its leaves folded down to allow passage to the forward cabin. A compact wood stove was bolted against the wall of the forward section.

To his left was the galley area, complete with stove, sink and refrigerator tucked beneath the counter. Dishes and glassware were neatly secured in racks lining the hull above. Coffee mugs rocked gently from their hooks above the sink.

To his right was a small chart table, tucked into the corner. Brass and wood gleamed and Mulder's attention was immediately caught by the controlled clutter. A bone-colored copy of Eldridge's Tide and Pilot Book, the Farmer's Almanac of the sailing world; a chart book and a salt-stained copy of the Guide to Celestial Navigation; a battered logbook; grease pencils, a protractor, compass and parallel ruler. So Krycek was a purist, preferring to plot his courses by hand. Navigation was a venerable skill and not easy to acquire. Then Mulder caught sight of the expensive handheld model of the Global Positioning Satellite link tucked into a pigeonhole above the desk and had to grin. Krycek always had a backup in place. Mulder wondered what calibre his backup plan for this weekend was.

There was a technological bouquet of sailing equipment carefully mounted to the sidewall of the cabin above the desk. Small as it was, no more than 36' in length, this vessel seemed to have been outfitted for serious ocean cruising some time ago. Mulder wondered what Krycek's uncle had needed to get away from.

Stowing his bag in a locker under one of the benches, Mulder also caught sight of a wall-mounted TV and VCR combination, bolted above a small but expensive-looking stereo. Paperback books lined the walls above the benches, held in place with elasticized tie-downs. Sunlight dappled the cabin, flowing through the small portholes all along each side. There was a rich smell of salt and teak oil, diesel fuel and that touch of mildew that no ocean-going vessel, however elegant, can ever avoid.

"What do you think?" Krycek's voice startled him and he whirled to see him sitting on the top step of the ladder.

"She's beautiful," he replied sincerely.

Krycek's teeth flashed white as he smiled proudly. He was dressed in the ragged fashion peculiar to sailors on the New England coast, no matter how much money they had; old gray chinos, a pastel polo covered by a torn blue cotton sweater. He wore battered and paint-stained docksider shoes and Mulder had to admit that it all suited him well enough, despite the fact that his Bureau-mind couldn't help imagining Krycek as he had last seen him, in filthy jeans, engineer boots and an old leather jacket.

Of course, the last time he had seen him, Krycek had been bloody, frenzied and under fire. It was hardly surprising that he would look so much better now. But there was something indefinable about the former assassin; he had lost the vicious light that had glimmered in his eyes years ago. In its place was a weary kind of acceptance. His face was sunburned and lined, no longer smoothly, deceptively juvenile. There was pain in his face but he seemed to have made a peace with it. Scars gleamed whitely against his tanned skin - across his throat, down one cheek and twisting around his forearm below pushed up sleeves. The mute fact of his amputated arm was a reproach to Mulder still.

He suddenly realized that he had been staring at Krycek for some time; he looked into the other man's face and saw a smartass remark rise, then die before it could be spoken.

"Let's head out," was all Krycek said.

Mulder followed him out on deck and they wordlessly unlashed the canvas sail cover on the boom, folding it and stowing it beneath one of the benches in the cockpit. Sailing, like life, demanded order and careful precautions, lest loose gear escape or necessary tools be lost at sea.

Alex wordlessly pointed to the bow and tossed him the boat hook. He went forward, knelt and drew up the mooring line, green and dripping. Behind him, he heard the cough and purr of the engine starting, like a singer clearing her throat before an aria. He unhooked the line and let it drop back into the sea where it disappeared into the deep green water, leaving no trace but a few tiny bubbles.

Returning aft, he jumped down into the cockpit to stand next to Alex, wondering how Alex ever managed to take the Shadow out alone - an able-bodied seaman would have hesitated at taking out so large a craft by himself. As he stowed the boat hook, Mulder remembered that every yacht club always had a sufficiency of youngsters and hangers-on who were willing to crew for the Devil himself as long as they got to sail. Alex probably had a herd of potential crew just panting for the chance to hoist his sails, content with the payment of a flash of those white, even teeth.

'And what's my price?' Mulder wondered. 'Oh yes, answers.'

But he had lost his voice for questions. He stood beside Krycek and watched the cliffs of the harbor slide by as Alex guided them out towards the mouth of the harbor, the wheel moving smoothly beneath his tanned hand. Huge mansions on one side, built to rival the Newport 'cottages' of the Vanderbilts and the Belmonts, cramped colonial and Georgian homes on the other, above the working docks of the town. Cormorants and gulls sunned themselves on rocky outcroppings and bobbed in the water around them. Mulder jumped as a cannon went off to their right, signaling the start of a race.

Alex laughed and said, "That's the Eastern Yacht Club. They always have to make a bigger noise than anyone else."

A flock of racing Lasers, tiny fleet sailboats with brightly-striped sails, took off like a flight of startled birds, racing for nothing more than the simple joy of it. Mulder remembered the leap in the blood, when he first heard the cannon or the starting pistol or the air horn blast, that moment when he was finally allowed to tighten his sheets and let the wind take him, running faster, jibing better than anyone else, yet still feeling a kinship with them all, win or lose. The companionship of water, wind, sun, rain ... of joy.

They came to the mouth of the harbor and Mulder saw the ugly lines of the lighthouse, still painted that same chocolate brown, its green light flashing with idiot, life-saving regularity. Across the mouth of the harbor from the lighthouse perched Ft. Sewall, a Revolutionary fort of earthworks and old cannons. The guns had been painted against rust and remained shiny and ready-looking, but they would never fire again. No one expected them to - the times and people they had protected had passed on.

Outside the harbor now; he looked to Alex- setting sail with one crew member and a one-armed captain was going to be difficult. Alex only smiled then flipped the wooden lid on the binnacle, right beside the wheel. Where Mulder expected only to see the ship's compass, he also saw a row of switches, carefully labeled.

"How much work did you really want to do, Mulder?" Krycek asked, then began flipping switches in a measured pattern. Automated winches silently raised the mainsail; the jib unfurled like a lady's silk handkerchief and Mulder found himself grinning at the loveliness of the sails blossoming before him. "So much for sweating and grunting," he commented.

"It has its place," Krycek said blandly, watching the tell-tales, the yarn pieces tied onto the side-stays and the sails, waiting for them to show him the wind. The boom slammed over to their left as the breeze caught the mainsail; Mulder ducked it without thinking.

"We still have to trim and tack by hand. Are you up to it?" Alex said. He didn't even wait for Mulder's reply, just handed him a pair of black leather half-gloves and cut the engine.

Mulder grinned at the challenge, pulled on the gloves and went to trim the port sheet. He noted that all the lines, sheets and halyards were color-coded and the chocks they passed through were clearly labeled; it was well-thought-out so that a small crew could easily sail the Shadow. The boat gave a leap forward and he felt that rush in his blood again as the sails filled and Alex Krycek took them out into deep water.

For the next two hours, they spoke little. Mulder silently followed all of Alex's commands, hardly questioning that he did so. He relished the flex and strain of his muscles as he hauled on the sheets, bringing the sail about by main force. They passed beyond the small islands, heading northeast. Land dropped away, reduced to a bluish haze of the horizon to their left and behind. He stood beside Krycek, bemused by the sun flickering on the water and the sibilant rush of the sea against the boat's hull.

Somehow Krycek knew the wordless language of his childhood. He knew the silent conversations that take place as the wind changes direction, as the sea slips beneath you, as you work together to travel in one direction no matter what the wind and currents demand. Questions flickered behind Mulder's eyes and were gone before he could voice them. He felt old emotions, like echoes from the past, and wondered if he had come here to kill Alex Krycek.

Krycek abruptly stepped back and nodded at him to take the wheel. Suddenly the Shadow was alive beneath Mulder's hands. It danced and jigged as he remembered the minute wheel adjustments to make use of every breath of wind and not collapse the sails. After a time of silent coaching, Krycek left him and went below. Mulder was left alone with the sea and the wind and the boat he piloted. There was no room for thought any more, just anticipation and reaction to wind and water.

Krycek came back on deck, balancing a plate with cheese sandwiches and a couple of beers tucked beneath his prosthetic arm. Mulder ate with one hand, automatically drinking whenever Alex passed him the bottle, his eyes on the tell-tales, the sails and the sea before them.

"Mulder, when was the last time you were outdoors?"

Startled out of his reverie, Mulder didn't understand the question at first.

Patiently, Alex said, "You're getting sunburnt. Here," he drew a tube from his pocket. Before Mulder was truly aware, Krycek was smoothing sunblock onto his face. His fingers were gentle and firm, moving briskly from nose to forehead to cheeks and back to Mulder's nose again. The cream was cool and soothing and Krycek's expression was abstract and just as cool, until he met Mulder's startled glance. Then he flushed a little and wiped his hand on his pants before stuffing the tube back into his pocket.

"Coming about," Mulder suggested a little maliciously to cover his own confusion. He turned the boat into the wind and watched as Alex leapt to release the starboard sheet, then begin hauling on the port sheet to bring the mainsail all the way around. Tacking was a difficult dance for two crewmen, let alone for a one-armed man; Krycek has been jibing most of the afternoon, a more elegant process that didn't require the sort of athleticism that Mulder had just put him through. His green glare back in Mulder's direction was eloquent and promised fitting retribution in some not too distant time.

Suddenly apologetic for his mischief, Mulder indicated that Krycek should come back and take the wheel again. He relinquished it cheerfully and sat beside Krycek, his feet up on the binnacle to keep him from sliding as the deck tilted. They were were traveling at a good clip, leaving a white wake behind them, a path that faded quickly into the secret green of the sea. Headed into the wind, the paradox was that they should be powered and driven on by the same force they were resisting. Hadn't that always been the heart of the mystery between them?

"I had to kill him before he told you everything, Mulder. If he had done that, you would have been dead before morning."

Krycek spoke abruptly, his eyes flickering between the tell-tales and the compass.

"I needed the truth then, Krycek!"

"Truth out of season can kill just as surely as a bullet, Mulder. Believe me, it would have then. If I hadn't been able to report that Bill Mulder had told you nothing before he died, you would have been disposed of, with or without the Smoker's patronage."

"He was my father!"

"He wanted to confess and be absolved. You were a handy receptacle for that guilt and it would have killed you," Krycek said fiercely.

Mulder took a deep breath, trying to absorb what he had been told. "He was my father," he repeated quietly.

"I know. I'm sorry."

And the odd thing was, Mulder believed him. He believed that Alex Krycek was sorry. How strange.

"Jibe-ho," Krycek said softly, and turned the wheel. Mulder, lost in thought, watched the boom slam over to the other side, and absently admired the sails in their new configuration, catching the late afternoon gold of the sun. Was his mind being changed as easily and abruptly, the old hatreds and angers turning to something easier, more peaceful? He trimmed a sheet automatically, then asked,

"How did you get out of the silo? I never thought to ask."

Krycek shivered once, a long rippling motion that coursed through his body. "The alien. When it left, I guess it felt ... obliged. It dropped me on the ground outside."

"And the militia?"

"A way to hide out. I was using them to make strikes against Consortium projects and interests. FEMA offices and the like."

The coastline became visible on the horizon, they were heading back toward land. At Mulder's raised eyebrow, Alex said, "We're expecting a front later this afternoon. I'd rather be in the harbor when it hits."

"Your arm?" Mulder asked suddenly.

"You know how that happened, Mulder," Krycek said shortly.

Mulder swallowed, remembering a butcher's knife in the firelight. "They knew you there, in Tunguska."

Krycek sighed. "That was one of the Resistance testing centers for the vaccine. I was assigned there. That night we spent in the cell, they were trying to figure out how much to tell you. I wanted you brought in on the plan, to help us but my superiors weren't convinced. Then, when you made a break for it...you know the rest."

Suddenly, Mulder was tired of truths and answers. A cosmic joke - here he sat with the one man who could fill in the last puzzle pieces for him and he no longer wanted to know. He just wanted to run before the wind, a simple forward motion, in harmony with the world and its forces.

"I'm sorry," he said, unconsciously mimicking earlier Krycek's words.

He watched with fascination as Krycek's remaining hand tightened on the wheel, knuckles going bloodless and pale. After a time, Krycek said only, "I know," and Mulder felt the cool touch of forgiveness, like mist in the morning.

***

The rest of the journey back to the 'Shadow's' mooring in the inner harbor was silent, save for Alex's courteously worded commands regarding sheets and winches. They had plenty of company coming back in and Alex furled the sails and switched to the motor not long after entering the harbor. The sun had been steadily paling, despite the lengthening afternoon. As he was drawing up the mooring line with the boat hook, Mulder realized that everything ought to have been touched with gold and yet all the colors seemed to be draining away. The hum of the motor died and every other noise suddenly seemed muffled and unlikely.

"Mulder," Alex said, calling his attention, then pointing to the east side of the harbor.

At first, it looked like smoke, pouring steadily out of some disaster. Then he realized that it wasn't rising like smoke, but slowly rolling and curvetting along the the cliff and then spilling over and down until it met the water. Looking to the southeast, Mulder could see the wall of fog moving in off the Atlantic, only briefly foiled by the peninsula that made up the eastern edge of the harbor and the town. He realized that he could now hear the distant lonely moans of fog horns from vessels already mantled in sightless, dangerous peace.

The two men stood and watched the fog as it slowly surged through the gap in the mansions and filled up the harbor. They could no longer see either shore and most of the neighboring boats were paling and bleeding away from their sight as the fog thickened. Squawks and screeches from nearby air horns proclaimed that many sailors had decided to give it up and were calling for pick up.

There was the growl of an engine and the MYC launch slipped out of the mist. Jack pulled alongside, his launch half-full.

"Alex - I thought I saw you coming back in. You want a pick up?"

Krycek considered for a moment. "You hungry?" he asked Mulder.

"Yes," Mulder answered and was surprised to discover that he was.

"Can you swing back here in ten minutes, Jack?" Alex smiled and waved his hand at the uncovered sails and all the other minute details that need to be seen to before a boat can be left.

"No problem - but I have a pickup right off Fort Sewall in 20 minutes. That means you'll be taking a ride with me."

"You're the only one I'd trust, Jack," Alex promised with a wink, then pushed the bow of the launch away from the 'Shadow'.

"See you in ten." With a whiteflash grin and a purr of diesel engine, the launch driver was gone.

Yanking the sail cover out of its locker, Mulder found himself annoyed at Krycek, but more at Jack. Why? He pondered as he and Alex silently and efficiently laced the canvas cover back onto the boom to protect the mainsail. Krycek closed the main hatch and slipped a padlock through the hasp. He had been easy and familiar with the man, in a way that he and Mulder never had, not even when they were ersatz partners. Mulder found himself envying that as he wandered forward, kicking bumpers over the side to protect against scraping.

He stopped and stood amidships, one hand on the thick cable sidestay that helped hold the mast, looking back at Krycek in the cockpit. Who became aware of his silence and stillness and turned to look back at him. He shivered as the chill dampness of the fog seeped into his awareness along with the hum of the returning launch.

"Come on, Mulder, you'll feel better once we get something to eat."

"Will you?" The words spilled out before he knew they existed.

Alex Krycek smiled faintly. "Anything is possible."

The launch was empty save for the three of them. Mulder sat in the stern again and watched Alex as he stood chatting with the launch driver. They moved slowly, carefully past fog-shrouded boats, their shapes nebulous and uncertain in the premature dusk. Colors and sounds had lost their powers, now there was only a sense of immanence to define the world around him. His head felt very clear suddenly. His thoughts were sharp and bright as they hadn't been in years. A channel marker bell rang out somewhere to the starboard, a single clear tone marking their passage.

It was growing cooler as the clammy fog wrapped itself about them. He watched as Alex slipped into the leather jacket he had bundled under his arm as they left the 'Shadow'. With a start, Mulder realized that he recognized it, the relic of another era. It made Krycek dangerous and remote again, until he turned and looked back at Mulder, a small self-conscious smile on his lips. Mulder shook his head in amused disbelief - Alex Krycek was sentimental. Then it struck Mulder as painfully funny that the two of them should be feeling maudlin over Krycek's uniform of those last horribly shadowed years. Perhaps he himself should have worn one of the suits he had always managed to destroy in fieldwork? Something in his quirked lips communicated itself to Krycek and a slow grin twisted onto his face and Mulder knew that Krycek understood his thoughts very well. The channel bell rang out again, from behind them this time.

***

Dinner was quiet and pleasant, nearly surreal in its very normalcy. The restaurant was a glass room hanging out over the water, just off the public landing. It was filled with happy couples and families all smiling at one another over candle-lit tables which were too small for strangers. The sun had set, unnoticed, merely deepening the gloom until the fog took on the orangeish hue of the sodium streetlights.

Mulder watched Krycek, absently noting his dexterity with his utensils. Krycek had always been skilled at adaptation; it was his one true ability. Like Mulder, he had been caught in a web far too tightly woven for escape. And, like Mulder, he had refused his assigned part as sacrificial pawn, thrashing and fighting until he had won a way out of the net. But the cost...

Looking up from his plate, Krycek had caught Mulder's fixed stare. "What?" he asked, laying down his fork.

"Why did you come to my place the day after you shot my father?"

"Would you believe it was to tell you that you weren't safe there?" Krycek's lips twisted in a rueful grin. "I'd heard about the scene with Skinner and figured they were setting you up to take the blame for your father...I just wasn't sure what the set up was."

"And I beat the shit out of you," Mulder's expression was a mirror of Krycek's, two men remembering mortal sins that had faded to peccadilloes with the passage of time, washed away by so much more terror and pain.

"Jesus - another few years and we'll be feeling sentimental over Tunguska," Krycek murmured.

"I don't think so," Mulder said flatly. Krycek shrugged and signaled for the check.

***

They walked through the narrow empty streets of the fog-muffled town. The houses were set right against the sidewalk; in many places, there was no sidewalk, no margin of safety for the traveler. Some of the street-level windows were lit and the curtains not drawn. Mulder glanced at the scenes of domestic peace, seeing but not quite believing in the firelight and leather furniture, children playing with pets, a single woman reading a book in the glow of a lamp. It was a world he had once thought he belonged to and one he knew he would never fit into now. He was no more than a visitor, an observer, forever set apart by his memories and his deeds and the knowledge that pulsed in his veins. A great sadness rose up in him and he turned to say something, anything to Krycek - he wanted to shout, to attack, to be battered - anything to let him deny himself this last truth.

He saw that knowledge rooted firmly in Krycek's eyes. Krycek, who had always been the mirror he tried to smash, waited for him to act. The fog echoed with his suddenly harsh breathing as they stood in the middle of an empty street, houses crowding them, hemming them in with unachievable domesticity. The clock in the town hall struck the hour and Krycek waited. When the long, slow tolling was done, Mulder said,

"You thought I would kill you."

Krycek nodded, eyes dark in the orange mist. Mulder, trying to understand, said,

"You invited me up here thinking I would kill you."

Krycek nodded again, patiently waiting for Mulder to arrive at the point.

"Do you want to die?" Mulder asked curiously.

Krycek shrugged. "I want it to be over. I told you that - I'm tired. Tired of my memories, tired of waiting for you to shove a gun in my ribs, tired of ... I'm just tired, Mulder."

"Me, too."

After a long moment, they started walking again. Shortly Mulder recognized the street he had parked his car on. The yacht club building was dark before them. They stopped again, standing in the empty parking lot, listening to the waves lapping at the pilings below.

Once again, Krycek waited for him to arrive at some point of decision; Krycek waited for him to choose the next moment for them both. The wheel was in his hands again. The power exhilarated and frightened him in equal measure and Mulder realized it was the first strong emotion he'd felt in nearly a year.

"It's over."

He'd shocked Krycek, he could tell. A demon child's grin of mischief cut his face as he watched Krycek's mouth hang open.

"Just like that?!"

"Anything that happens from now on is something new," he clarified and felt a flicker of delight as he watched the universe shift and reshape itself in Krycek's eyes. He wasn't above feeling triumph at finally disconcerting Alex Krycek by doing something unexpected. By his own personal count, it would take at least five years of steadily unanticipated behavior on his own part before the scales of confusion were balanced between them.

"It can't be that easy, Mulder."

The darkness flickered. "You call the last ten years *easy*, Krycek? It wasn't; it isn't. But it is *over*. Maybe the hardest part comes now. Learning to just live again."

"I...," Krycek started, then stopped. He looked carefully at Mulder, then stepped closer. "Everything that happens now is new?" he asked. At Mulder's nod, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he looked directly into Mulder's eyes, leaned forward and kissed him. His lips moved chastely across Mulder's, soft and warm, undemanding. In keeping with what he recognized was to become his new hobby, Mulder surprised Alex Krycek, his tongue slipping out to lick at the other man's lips, teasing its way inside. There was a small, muffled noise and Krycek's hand found its way to Mulder's shoulder, pulling him closer.

When they broke, foreheads resting against one another as they panted, Krycek whispered, "What do you want, Mulder?"

Mulder only smiled, kissed his cheek and stepped away. His hand tugged at Alex's sleeve, drawing him toward the yacht club's door. When Krycek's hand fumbled the keys, Mulder smiled and took the ring and opened the door. He followed Krycek through the dimly-lit building out along the pier and down to the float. Jack was sitting in the launch, reading a paperback with a small penlight.

"Ready to go back?" he asked them genially.

Alex looked at Mulder, bewildered and hopeful, still not believing in the newness of time. "Not back," he murmured.

Mulder nodded and climbed into the launch, settling back into his now-familiar seat in the stern as Jack took them out into the harbor. As before, Krycek stood beside the launch driver but his eyes were fixed on Mulder. There was a hint of the green youth Alex Krycek had once been, when hope and the future had not yet become strangers and Mulder felt some germ of his younger self awaken from his long sleep and reach out toward Alex.

They reached the 'Shadow' and Krycek bid Jack farewell absently, gaze still locked on Mulder. The fog still swirled around them; a foghorn called softly in the darkness and the water whispered against the hull as they stood on deck.

"Fox."

"Alex."

They smiled at one another, the newness intoxicating. "Where do we go from here?"

"Bermuda? Bar Harbor? Newfoundland?"

"What about the FBI?"

"I think I just resigned." Mulder had to laugh at Krycek's expression.

"No half-measures, huh? OK. We can be out of here in the morning. Is there anyone else you need to finish up with? Scully?"

Mulder frowned, already thinking ahead to that conversation. "Yeah, eventually. She and Walter are going to be a bit... disconcerted."

"Homicidal," Alex suggested.

Mulder shrugged. "They'll understand. Eventually. We all have to find our own peace somewhere."

Alex blinked. Then his eyes met Mulder's and there was a flash of lunatic laughter in them.

"I know. It's crazy. Tell me something I don't know," Mulder mock-grumbled.

"I'm an insomniac, I cook well, I have bank accounts scattered on three continents and I'm just as crazy as you," Alex offered, reaching for him.

It as as much of a declaration as either man was ever likely to get. But in the long beats and reaches between ports, there was no need for words. The nights spoke in gentle touches and desperate embraces. The long silences between them were alive with truths and knowing and answers unspoken.

Peace, as such.

Finis
Feedback always appreciated at: JiMPage363@AOL.com

 


 

Title: "Portrait By a Neighbor - A Houseboat Variation"
Author: JiM
Fandom/pairing: XF, M/Sc/Sk
Summary: A neighbor watches as the last raw wounds begin to heal.
Rating: PG
Date: 2/00
Archive: Yes, just ask
Warning: There be hints of heterosexuality lurking amongst the slash. Be forewarned.
Feedback: jimpage363@aol.com
Note: With grateful thanks to Edna St. Vincent Millay and to Dawn, who started the WHOLE series one rainy night. Also to Mona, who keeps a great page.
Webpage: The other houseboat stories can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html


"Portrait By A Neighbor" - A Houseboat Variation
by JiM

* * *

It isn't nosiness, exactly. It's just that when folks live so close together, like we do in the marina, you get to know all about one another. I live alone, and I like people, so it's only natural that I watch them, yes? And I like watching my younger neighbors, the ones in the slip next door, very much. They're ... interesting. Mysterious. Beautiful. A little tragic, a little funny, and very kind to a nosy old geezer who can see more than they might suspect through the half-drawn curtains of their houseboat.

They aren't married, not that I can tell. He calls her "Scully" although she introduced herself to me quite prettily as "Dana" when I brought them a plate of housewarming brownies. She calls him "Mulder" and refers to him as her partner, which is a little odd in these days. It's obvious that they are lovers, although one might have to watch for a while to be certain. They move and work together like old friends; the bits of conversations that I overhear as they go back and forth past my houseboat are often laughing, full of teasing and gentle tones, sometimes acerbic, but rarely anything romantic. And yet, I have caught glimpses... sometimes, he takes her small, heart-shaped face between his large hands and strokes his thumbs over and over her cheeks before bending to kiss her with a tenderness that takes my breath away. One night, late last summer, I stepped out on deck to try to catch a cool breeze and I saw them locked together, dancing on the deck, barely moving as they swayed to some old blues tune. She cradled his dark head against her shoulder as they circled, his hand tangled up in hers and pressed against her heart.

Neither is young, although they certainly seem to have the vitality and energy of younger men and women. I think she works for the government in some capacity; twice, I have seen sober-faced black suited men and women arrive to pick her up late at night, muttering about "briefings in half an hour" and "the Director has flagged this case...". Mulder just watches her go, a leashed mixture of longing and resignation on his face.

The second time I saw it happen, I went over with a plate of cookies and commiserated with him on our shared insomnia, not asking where Dana was. He was pleasant, distractedly chatting with me about all sorts of things -- the man keeps more intriguing trivia behind those beautiful hazel eyes than any ten game show contestants could. She arrived home just before 2 am and I saw an entire conversation flash silently between them in the moment it took her to shrug off her overcoat and the time it took him to pour her a cup of the herbal tea. She shook her head, he nodded, his expression lightening, and that was that.

I didn't know what he did for a long time. At first, I thought he was simply lazy; maybe it's my age showing, but househusbands never seem to be quite right to me. He rarely left the boat; I often saw him sitting and staring at a computer screen and I assumed he was whiling away his time surfing the Internet while Dana supported them both. Then I looked deeper and he seemed to have that same bruised look, deep in his eyes, that my brother Frank had when he came back from Viet Nam. I saw a kind of tattered faith, threadbare, but still holding in his gaze and I wondered what the trauma had been. I resolved to be kinder in my heart about his apparent sloth.

Then I happened to be browsing in a bookstore and saw one half of his sardonic grin peeping out from a row of paperbacks in the 'True Crime' aisle. Fox Mulder's titles took up most of a shelf. I bought one, took it home and read it. It was a surprisingly good read, for an account of the hunt and capture of a grisly serial killer. In some of the paragraphs, I could almost hear Mulder's voice drawling with irreverence and impatience at foolish bureaucracy; in other places, his sense of humor or grim purpose were startlingly familiar. The author's notes on the back of the book told me that he had been a profiler with the FBI and I wondered if that explained the look in his eyes; in both their eyes, really.

They keep their distance, friendly but still a little aloof to most of us here at the marina. They rarely attend any parties and they have few guests. I guess that's why I noticed when the tall man started coming around.

The first day I saw him, I was washing down my decks, trying to scrub away the winter grime. I'm always looking for a distraction from that boring task, so I looked up hopefully when I heard the car drive into the parking lot. It didn't look familiar, so I went back to work, only noticing later that the driver hadn't gotten out. A few days later, I saw that same blue car again. This time, I was taking my trash to the dumpster at the end of the float and I watched as the driver sat for a few minutes, then turned off the engine and got out.

He was a tall man, balding, and whatever hair was left was as steel gray as my own. He wore glasses that flashed as he looked up and down the float, just standing there at the edge of the parking lot, looking down on the river and the marina. His gaze seemed to fix on my boat and I walked back slowly, wondering whether or not to call the police. I felt him looking at me when I swung myself back aboard. Those eyes passed right over me and I felt myself weighed, judged and dismissed in a single instant. Then I realized he was looking at the boat next to mine, where Mulder and Scully lived. I felt a chill suddenly. I stepped inside to get my phone and when I came back out, he was gone.

I didn't know what to say to Mulder or Dana, so I said nothing. Perhaps it was a mistake.


The next time I saw the tall bald man, he was standing halfway down the gangway, just looking at their boat. I had my arms full of groceries, but I nearly dropped them when I saw him standing there, blocking my way.

"Excuse me," I quavered at him. He was wearing torn jeans and a battered leather jacket and a baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes.

His head whipped around and I felt that measuring gaze on me again. After a moment, he flattened himself against one railing, leaving barely enough room for me to pass with my burdens. I felt that same chill again as I brushed past him, but something made me turn at the bottom of the gangway, my feet back on a deck, now back on my home territory.

"If you're looking for Dana and Mulder, they've gone out for the day." Which was true. I had heard them cheerfully arguing about who was going to drive and how long it would take as they'd left early this morning.

Those dark eyes rested on me again, then he said in a clipped voice, "Thank you."

"Would you like to leave a note or a message? I could give it to them when they get back," I offered, not understanding my own impulse when everything about this man suggested danger, if not to me, then to my neighbors.

"No!" he said sharply, then "Thank you," as if remembering a formula. Then he turned and strode back up the gangway, got into his car and left.

The incident troubled me enough that I puttered on deck until the light went, then I lingered around my portholes until I saw them come home that evening. Mulder was carrying a huge pink stuffed bear, the kind you win on a carnival midway, and I remembered that the state fair had begun yesterday. Dana was laughing at him and stopped to poke a tuft of candy floss into his mouth, effectively stoppering whatever nonsense was rolling out of his mouth and into the dusk.

They both listened to me seriously, but without a sign of alarm. Mulder made me describe the man twice and he and Dana shared a look again. She cocked an eyebrow and he nodded, the corner of his mouth inching up. "It looks as if we'll finally be able to finish it, Scully," he said softly.

"Maybe," she said. "That depends on whether or not he comes back."

"He will," Mulder said with absolute confidence. Then the two of them seemed to remember that I was there and thanked me kindly for my concern. They tried to reassure me that the strange man was no one to worry about, but I knew better. I had looked into those eyes. So I kept watch. Someone needed to be a good neighbor to those two.


He came back again, about a week later, on an afternoon of rain. This time, he had made it all the way down the gangway and was standing out on the float when I noticed him. He was just standing there, bareheaded in the rain, staring at their houseboat . He was wearing another pair of patched jeans with a worn trenchcoat over a thin sweater. I didn't know if they were home and I didn't know what to do - call them, call the police? I settled down to watch and see.

After a few minutes of covert observation, I began to think that perhaps Mulder was right; the stranger didn't *seem* threatening to me now. He just stood, in the shadow of one of the large cruisers tied up at dock and he let the rain soak into him as he stared unwaveringly, almost hopelessly at the houseboat. He seemed frozen in place, unable to go forward, unwilling to go back. I wondered how long he would stand there, wavering, nearly shuddering with the tension.

Then Mulder stepped out on deck, a bag of garbage in his hand. He stopped dead when he caught sight of the soaked man on the float. There was suddenly a humming kind of tension that stretched between the two men, tightening with every breath. I was reaching for the phone to call the police when I heard Mulder speak, the sound carrying clearly across the water and through my open porthole.

"Hey, the Prodigal G-Man returns. Are you coming aboard, Skinner, or do you just want to stand out there until you drown?" The words were abrupt, almost rude, but Mulder's tone was so gentle that I was left thinking that he had said something very different indeed.

Apparently, the man called Skinner heard the something different, too. Some of the screaming tension left his shoulders and he raised his head a little, some pride seeping back into his stance. "I wasn't sure I was welcome."

Mulder frowned, a gentle rebuking expression. "We've been waiting for you. You made it kind of hard to issue an invitation when you fucking *disappeared* for two years," Mulder's voice had dropped to an accusatory growl near the end. I had never heard him swear before and as I blinked in surprise, I nearly missed it when Dana stepped out on deck and saw the stranger.

She said nothing at all, just rushed across the deck, jumped down to the float and ran straight into the tall man's arms. He caught her up and wrapped her tightly in his embrace, holding her to him for long moments. I couldn't hear what she said to him, but I could see the effect of her words on the bald man. His eyes were closed, but his face suddenly folded, his jaw clenched and his lips tightened. I wondered if he were crying. Her hands stroked lovingly over his shoulders and head and his hands tangled in the back of her sweater as if she were his only anchor.

When I looked to see what Mulder thought of his lover embracing another man, I found that he was already in motion. He, too, crossed the deck and jumped down lightly to the float. Then he came over to them and wrapped one arm around Skinner and one around Dana and I could tell that he had begun whispering to the bald man as well. One of Skinner's arms jerked free and he clutched Mulder to him, holding onto both of them as if he were about to be washed away in a great torrent. Mulder drew the bald head down to his own shoulder and he and Dana cradled the big man between them for long wet minutes. Finally, after some more quiet talk, Skinner let Dana slide back down onto her own feet and he slowly released his desperate grip on Mulder's back.

I watched without understanding as my two neighbors each took one of the tall man's hands and led him aboard their houseboat and drew him inside. Through the half-drawn curtains, I stared shamelessly as they stripped away the newcomer's soaked clothing and toweled him off, then dressed him in some of Mulder's sweats. There were many gentle touches, soothing caresses that seemed to belong to more than just Dana and Mulder.

I spied shamelessly on them throughout the evening. They ate, coaxing their guest as if he were a sick child. Then they talked, long hours into the night. Dana and Mulder listened mostly, but sometimes Dana talked and Mulder yelled. Somewhere around midnight, Mulder stood up and slammed his fist down on the table, then he dragged Skinner to his feet and kissed him. Hard.

I was shocked speechless and apparently, so was Skinner. The only one who seemed to have been expecting it was Dana. She smiled tenderly at the shell-shocked man, said something soothing to Mulder, then gently, softly, slowly, took Skinner into her own arms and kissed him, too. They turned the lights out not long after that, so I didn't see what happened.

But I have a pretty good idea. Skinner didn't leave that night. Nor the next.

When he did leave, Dana went with him. I fretted about this, covertly watching Mulder as he sat and stared at his computer screen for three straight hours, wondering if I should bring him some brownies and sympathy. But the other two returned before dusk, each carrying several battered pieces of luggage, which is when I knew that Skinner was there to stay.

And stay he has. I don't pretend to understand it, although some of the younger folks around the marina nudge and wink at each other when one of them passes. They still keep pretty much to themselves, although Walter is very kind about helping me with some of the heavier upkeep on my boat. Once, near the end of the summer, he invited me over to their boat for a barbecue. I found him a pleasant, if quiet conversationalist. He wasn't eclipsed by Mulder's cheerful chat nor Dana's friendly courtesies so much as content to rest in the shadow of their conversation. Now that I no longer see him as a stalker of my favorite neighbors, I see that he, too, has the same brittle after-action look in his gaze that is slowly dying out of Mulder and Dana's eyes.

I still say it isn't nosiness, exactly, that lets me know so much of what happens over there. The curtains are never fully drawn, so how could I help but see if Mulder welcomes each of them home with the same caresses and kisses? How could I shut my ears when I hear Dana cry out in pleasure as she is loved by those two beautiful men? Now Walter Skinner is as beautiful and mysterious to me as the others. I am too old to feel shock or envy; instead, I feel a certain joy that these three have found some peace and love together. I may never know what caused the wounds they all seem to share, but at least I been witness to a great and unexpected healing.

Finis

 


 

Title: "Self-Potrait - A Houseboat Variation"
Author: JiM
Fandom/pairing: XF, M/Sc/Sk
Summary: Houseboat variations - this is a companion piece to "Portrait By a Neighbor". This is Skinner's POV.
Rating: PG
Date: 3/00
Archive: Yes, just ask
Warning: There be heterosexuality lurking in the shadows with the slash. Be forewarned.
Feedback: jimpage363@aol.com
Note: With grateful thanks to Dawn, who started the WHOLE series one rainy night. Also to Mona, who keeps a great page.
Webpage: The other houseboat stories can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html


"Self-Portrait"
by JiM

* * *

I am standing at the edge of the parking lot, looking down toward what I think is their houseboat and I'm wondering when the hell I became such a coward. This is the second time I have come here intending to talk to them, needing to explain, just wanting to see them again ... and I know I won't be able to go down there today. I'll just stand here and stare. Maybe it's progress. Last time, I wasn't even able to get out of the car.

It's been two years since I saw them last; two years since I walked out of my old life and left it all behind, leaving as little trail as I could. Two years since the morning that Dana Scully came into my office, closed and locked the door behind her. While I stared at her, waiting for an explanation, she smiled softly, came straight up to me and kissed me. Christ, it was good. Better than any idle daydream I'd allowed myself and a hell of a lot better than that enthusiastic but clumsy liplock she'd hit me with a couple of years before when Mulder was doing laps in the Bermuda Triangle. This time, she meant it, and it was hot and sweet and so good and my arms were locked around her waist and shoulders and she fit perfectly against me and she wasn't letting go any time soon.

She finally let me go and drew back a few inches, a cat smile on her face. "Agent Scully...?" I started, then she frowned. I tried again. "Dana...?" She smiled again gently. I still remember that moment. The morning sunlight turned her hair to flame and her eyes to sky and I didn't remember my own name, let alone that I shouldn't be allowing this to happen. "What's going on?" I asked, daring to let my fingers touch her hair and brush a strand of it back behind her ear. Her scent was cinnamon and roses and I wanted to nuzzle behind her ear and in the hollow of her throat, to know how it changed as she was touched.

"Come to dinner tonight and we'll tell you." She slipped out of my arms and headed for the door.

/We/. It hit me hard. It was an open secret that she and Mulder lived together now. In deference to Bureau appearances, Mulder maintained his apartment, but we all knew where he spent his nights and with whom. While my brain was still chewing over the possible implications of that invitation, she left.

What Scully and I had just done was the worst kind of betrayal of someone I'd betrayed too many times already. I had no idea what she'd intended but I knew I couldn't hurt Mulder like that. Neither would Scully, that much I knew. So what was going on here?

But damn, it had felt good to be kissed with hunger again.

I was still torn between shaking my head and grinning stupidly when Mulder showed up with a pile of useless paperwork. I was terse with him, nearly snarling with embarrassment and an idiotic sense of guilt, positive that he would smell her scent on me. I didn't even notice when Mulder closed and locked the door behind him. So I was unprepared for the second time that morning that a subordinate walked into my office and kissed me.

I hadn't even allowed myself to wonder what it would be like with him, which was just as well, because I couldn't have imagined it. He was so good, strong and hot and as sweet as Dana, in his own way. Hard against me, one hand locked behind my neck and his scent was cool and green and it got all twined up with hers in my head. When he let me go and I got a look at those gleaming eyes, I knew that somehow, they had figured it out. They had figured out what I had only ever half suspected.

"Mulder?" God, I sounded pitifully hoarse and nearly squeaked as he let his hands slide down my arms, pulling away slowly.

"Scully forgot to tell you, dinner's at seven." He grinned, a wicked, light-filled look. "Dress is casual."

I clutched at his shoulders. "Jesus, are you two serious about this?"

He nodded, a gentler expression on his face. "Very serious, Walter. If you want it.."

"Why now?"

He shrugged, so elaborately casual that I knew he wasn't nearly as cool about this as he was playing it. Well, that was reassuring, at least. "Because it looks like we're finally out of the woods, that things are finally quieting down. Scully and I have been talking about this for a while now."

"How long?"

"Since before the hearings started." Sixth months before, the whole mess had broken and the investigative hearings had kept us all on edge, never knowing when the summons would come, never knowing what we'd be asked next, what secrets we would tell or hear. But justice was being served and some of the bastards were going to jail, others committing suicide or having unexplained accidents. The public was getting to know the truth and Mulder and Scully were redeemed in the eyes of the Bureau. I was more problematic, but my testimony had been as unflinchingly honest as I could make it and I knew I had scored some hits on Spender and his buddies at FEMA and the NSA. A sudden frown creased his features. "We weren't wrong, were we, sir?"

I shook my head. "No, you weren't wrong, Mulder. But," an unpleasant thought grated across my consciousness, "I'm not into one-night stands." There, it was out on the table. I might wind up cursing myself as I slept alone tonight, but I needed more than that from them.

He grinned suddenly and looked endearingly relieved. "Neither are we, Walter. Trust us. Just come to dinner tonight and we'll see what happens."

I licked my lip, still tasting him on it, imagining her again, the scent of roses and pine needles making me reckless and stupid and so happy. I nodded. "Seven o'clock." He smiled again and was gone.


Two hours later, I was being escorted out of the building by Security, carrying a box of personal possessions and minus my gun and badge.

* * *

It's taken me two more days before I got up the guts to come here again. That's if I'm being honest. What I've been telling myself is that I have been too busy meeting with my lawyer and working my way through the mountain of trivial paperwork she has saved for me over the years. My condo is still being rented out so I am staying at a Hilton in town. My room has a phone and I have their phone number - Jane, my lawyer, got it for me. I called yesterday, then hung up when I heard Mulder's voice. Christ, I'm a coward.

I wonder what the hell I'm supposed to say to them.

That last morning left me nothing. Or did I abandon everything left after the final blow? I wonder now, as I stand on the gangway and stare at what I now realize is an empty houseboat. Why the hell did they move to a houseboat? But I know. It's exactly the kind of goofy, irrational home that would appeal to all of Mulder's warped sense of humor and even some of Scully's.

The FBI, in its infinitely fucked up wisdom, decided that it needed a scapegoat. Someone prominent, but not crucial to operations. Someone who had been too damned honest and looked like he might continue that way, someone who knew where the bodies were buried and who had damned few allies left after the dust had settled. There I was, ready-made for sacrifice.

I sat there that last morning and listened to my former colleagues and friends as they hung me out to dry without even a decent show of regret. My official sin? My own admission about the deal I made with Spender, the theft and destruction of Jane Brody's body and all the evidence surrounding her death. I was lucky to escape prosecution, they said, and they were right. So, there I was - fired, no pension, no future. Then they threw me to the wolves. My face was on the six o'clock news as the FBI's show of good faith that they were rooting out traitors and collaborators in their midst.

I walked out of the Hoover Building and down the street to a bar. I spent one hour staring at a glass of Johnnie Walker and thinking hard and fast. By two o'clock, I was in my attorney's office and by three o'clock, I had signed a pile of paperwork, including a power of attorney and handed her the spare keys to my condo. I went home, packed a bag and simply ... left.

I went to my brother's in Delaware first. He had already heard the news and was bewildered but welcoming. That is, until the news crews showed up on the front step the next morning. I knew I couldn't put him and his family through that, so I left.

I left. I'm good at that. I'm doing it again. The oldster who lives on the next boat to Mulder and Scully passes me on the gangway and stares at me suspiciously, then tells me what I already know - they're not there. I can't just leave a message, not this time. My cowardice hasn't sunk to that level.

I left a message for them, that last day. I can still hear myself making that last call from my cell phone before I dropped it on the kitchen table in my condo and left it behind. I knew they wouldn't be home yet.

//Mulder. Scully. By now you've heard. I guess I should have expected something like this. It's the logical conclusion of some really bad decisions that I made a long time ago. I, uh, wish it could be different. Take care of yourselves. Goodbye.//

Goodbye. I sit behind the wheel of my car and stare at that empty houseboat and wonder why I ever thought of coming back. They don't need me any more now than they did two years ago. Stupid. It's time to end this, Walter. I turn the key and drive away. I will not come back.

* * *

This time, I make it an entire week before I return. So here I am, sitting in my car and watching the rain fall. I have spent days thinking about what they will ask, what I will tell them, what I cannot. Some are easy: where have you been? Living in a boarding house in Keene, New Hampshire. What have you been doing? Working the closing shift as a bartender and part-time bouncer at a roadside bar called "Joe's". Why? Because Joe pays me cash, asks no questions and likes the fact that no money ever disappears out of the till on my shift. Why did you leave? No answer.

It's a little late to take the Fifth here, Wally, I tell myself. Wally. That's what Joe and the regulars called me. That's what everyone there called me, except for Karen. Karen, the librarian who had already read whatever books I was checking out on my day off. Karen, who always stopped by the bar on her way home and had a single gin and tonic, extra lime, and who had been going home alone every night since her husband had died five years before. Karen, who stayed behind one night to point out the Northern Lights shimmering and dancing above us at 2 in the morning, then kissed me in the parking lot and told me that I was dying from loneliness. Karen, who took me home, made love to me, held me tightly, then listened to me talk and who heard everything I didn't say.

The next morning, she had smiled sadly and told me it was time to go. "I'm not kicking you out of bed, Walter, don't misunderstand. I mean, it's time for you to leave Keene. Go home, Walter. There's someone waiting for you, isn't there?"

"I don't know."

"Yes, you do," she said, with the same look she used to give noisy kids in the reading room. "You can't hide up here forever."

"It's been working pretty well so far," I muttered. She merely frowned at me, then made me breakfast and never mentioned it again. But she had planted a seed and I think she knew it. She wasn't surprised one night in late March when I poured her a gin and tonic and told her it was my last night. She kissed my cheek gently, wished me well and walked out, leaving her drink untouched on the bar. That was two weeks ago.

So now, here I am, standing here like an idiot in the rain. The memory of her words has given me just enough courage to get all the way down here. They're home this time. I can see movement behind the half-drawn curtains. A flash of scarlet that looks like Dana's hair, something dark in the shape of Mulder's shoulder. I remember other times I have come to them, times when we have all held drawn weapons on each other. Why were there so many of those times? Yet, none of those times have I ever been frozen the way I am now. Maybe someone ought to point a gun at me - it always seems to clear my thinking enormously. Before I can even grimace at the thought, Fox Mulder steps out onto the deck.

He sees me immediately and stops, moving no closer. I get the impression that he doesn't want to spook me and I am pathetically grateful. He stares at me, cataloging, searching, assessing. I want to squirm, but I don't. God, he looks good. Still lean, still tall, hair a little longer than before, maybe a little gray threading through the chestnut, a few more lines around his eyes. Those eyes seem so much clearer now, calmer, even as they dissect me. Then he says suddenly, softly, "Hey, the Prodigal G-Man returns. Are you coming aboard, Skinner, or do you just want to stand out there until you drown?"

Vintage Mulder. Somehow, he has found the perfect thing to say. "I wasn't sure I was welcome."

He blinks at me, rain running down his face and slicking down his hair.

"We've been waiting for you. You made it kind of hard to issue an invitation when you fucking *disappeared* for two years." He is snarling near the end and somehow, that convinces me more than anything that he is serious. Then Dana steps outside to see who Mulder is talking to.

She is still so beautiful, hair long enough to touch her shoulders now, still the color of flames. She looks at me for an instant but says nothing; after all, Mulder is the talkative one. She just runs across the deck, jumps down and I am holding her again. She still smells of cinnamon and roses and now of spring rain as I hold her close and she buries her face in my neck, whispering things I can barely hear but which batter away at whatever defenses I might have left.

Then Mulder is there and he is holding me and pulling my head down to rest between them and I have never been here but I am home and I know it when he whispers, "You stupid son of a bitch. What the hell did you think you were doing, taking off like that and leaving us a fucking message!?" His arm is tight around my ribs and she is holding onto me with both arms and saying "Walter," softly and I haven't wanted to cry like this since I was nine years old.

More rain falls and we're all drenched before Mulder tightens his grip, then releases me and Dana says practically, "Let's get you inside and into some dry clothes. You're soaked," blithely ignoring her own waterlogged condition. They each take one of my hands and tug me on deck and indoors, into warmth and light and music.

I'm not sure how they manage it, but I'm half-stripped before I even know what's happening. Mulder is rummaging in a closet across the room and Dana has my sweater and jeans draped over the back of a chair. I don't even have time to feel embarrassed as Mulder briskly towels my legs, kneeling before me. Hell. That sight makes it a bit harder to pull on the sweat pants he's holding out. He sees and grins but says nothing. He puts his hands on my shoulders and pushes me down onto a stool. His hands are so hot on my chilled skin... then Dana takes another towel and begins gently rubbing at my head and chest. Mulder squeezes my shoulders once, then lets go and wanders into what must be their bedroom, stripping as he goes. I might regret missing that show if Dana weren't here, now, smiling down at me, then cradling my head to her breast as she strokes the towels down my back.

Rainwater drips off her hair and runs in little pearls down her white throat. I touch my lips to one and drink the rain from her skin. The little gasp she gives is too perfect for me to have ever imagined it and now I know this is real.

There is slow jazz playing and the scent of something savory and meaty in the air, mixing with the the scent of rain and Dana and the sound of rain on the river. My arms are around her slim waist and her hands are moving over me slowly, flickers of warmth on my chilled skin. She presses a kiss to the top of my head, then slowly moves away. Now Mulder is back and he touches her cheek gently as she passes him on her way to change her own wet clothes. He has changed into faded jeans and a purple polo shirt, and he holds out a black henley to me. I shrug into it, the warmth and softness so good after being cold for so long. Mulder is no longer before me and I turn my head at a slight sound behind me.

"Relax," he whispers just before warm hands close over my tight shoulders again. "You're safe here," and he begins rubbing gently. I have always been safe with Mulder. Even when he was taking a swing at me, or pointing a gun at me, I was strangely safe with him. He never wanted to destroy me, he just wanted the truth, wanted the pain and questions to stop. Now, that's all I want, too. His touch feels good, solid, anchoring.

"Fox..."

"Shh. We'll talk about it soon, Walter. Not just yet. Let's get some food into you first, then you can tell us what the hell you thought you were doing." His voice rises some at the last and his hands tighten and I know that I'm in for it. Fortunately, Dana comes to my rescue.

"Mulder. You can yell at him later. Come set the table." And I am released, breathing a sigh of relief even as I long for the touch of their hands again. But it is a wholly new pleasure to watch the two of them moving around the small galley area, weaving and turning, nearly dancing as they dish up bowls of beef stew and pour glasses of beer, lay out utensils. It is homely and comforting and I don't remember the last time I was a part of something like this. I didn't even know I missed it.

The food is good, hot and well-seasoned. We sit very close together at the tiny galley table bolted to the floor at the junction of two of the benches lining the cabin. Dana and Mulder chat at me, eyes gentle and assessing, not expecting me to speak, kindly filling up the silences with gossip and funny stories. Mulder keeps filling up my bowl, pressing thick slices of rye bread at me, and it suddenly seems peculiar that Fox Mulder should be coddling me. I am not a starvation case; I have only lost a few pounds since he knew me.

Then comes coffee and talk. Hours of it. They drag the whole damned story out of me. Now I remember how everyone used to talk about Mulder's skills as an interrogator and Scully's cool, impassive interview style. Always, we come back to the same damned question: why did I leave? There isn't a thing I can hide from them. I tell them about that sham of a review panel; they had seen my life splashed on all the major networks and newspapers. Pretty soon, I talk about about Joe and Keene and the quiet life I lived at the boarding house and how I coached the bar's softball team. Then, somehow, I am telling them about Karen and what she said to me. That's when Mulder really loses it.

He starts low but works his way up in volume pretty quickly. "You stupid son of a bitch. You always have to take everything on yourself, don't you? You fucking run away every time!"

"Mulder," Scully says gently, trying to deflect him but it does no good. I can't even be angry at his words; they are all true.

"I was trying to protect you two. The shit was hitting the fan and there wasn't a damned thing I could do to help myself and I didn't want to drag you down with me." There. The truth is out. I stare at my hands and trace a water ring on the table top. There is silence for a moment, then Mulder says quietly, "Bullshit."

Part of me wants to shout at him; part of me wants to laugh. Busted. Mulder can always tell; I wonder idly why it should be that he can see through me when I have been able to hide from every other person I ever cared about. Dana doesn't see it yet, but she trusts Mulder's instincts even as she shoots a questioning glance at him. She takes my hand firmly and arches an eyebrow at me and they are both waiting for me to say something. The boat rocks gently on the rain-swollen river.

I don't know what to say. Fortunately, uncomfortable silences are never a problem around Mulder. "You just ran. You may have been kidding yourself that you were protecting us, but you went to ground because of your own goddamned pride and you didn't give a damn what we felt about it!" He is shouting again and I can't even shake my head to deny his words. That just seems to piss him off even more and then he's got a hold of me and is dragging me to my feet. And now his mouth is moving over mine, grinding my lips against my own teeth as his tongue demands entry, breath hot around me, in me. The taste of him, that forest scent, the heat, even the bruising feels like something I've missed in secret for years.

He is letting me go and I am rocking on my feet when Dana says with gentle humor, although there is something wild and hungry straining in her eyes too, "I think we've got his attention, Mulder." She stands up and takes my hand again, then very slowly, very gently, so softly, she is pulling my head down to hers and her lips are moving over mine, tempering the pain and wild pleasure of Mulder's kiss with the sweetness of her own.

Then, somehow, the lights are out and they have stripped away my clothing and I am drowning in the taste of her beneath my tongue, the touch of him along my back. Their whispers rub up against me, finding all my tender places and all I can do is to say their names over and over as they reshape me in the dark.

* * *

I don't sleep that night, I just lie there and hold them in my arms and listen to their sleeping breath, their dream-murmurs, the half-awake words of love as they shift and hold me tighter before sinking into sleep again. I am as sick and fragile as I had been after the shooting, as if any chance movement might tear me open again.

They seem to know. When the morning comes, they are very quiet. They touch me often, caresses, kisses and hugs, those thousand touches that bind one person to another, but they say little. What is there left to say, really? They wanted me, I came to them, they have me. There are no more demands for talk, for explanations, for reasons that I do not know how to give. They bandage me in a gentle silence I had never expected from either of them. I sleep between them that night, knowing I am loved and not understanding why.

After a few days, I finally ask Mulder what I am supposed to do with the rest of my life. Actually, I am shouting. He starts it, when I come home and tell him I have found a bar-tending job in Alexandria. Finally, he tells me.

"We're going to write a book."

"That's your thing, Mulder, not mine."

"It will be," he says grinning.

Once again, Mulder is right. It is my thing. There is a fierce pleasure to writing down everything that happened, exactly as it happened to me, to exploring how it looked and felt and what it meant. We have some trouble accessing official files, but Mulder's hacker friends take care of most of that and there are still those left in the Bureau who want to see the truth come out, no matter the cost to careers or image.

Dana merely smiles and continues her consulting work for the Bureau, ignoring the snide comments as rumors fly. She also ignores the hostile looks and threats of legal action as our book comes to press and rapidly becomes a best-seller. The public never tires of hearing about how they are cheated and conspired against by their elected officials and servants. Dana resolutely refuses to accompany us on the promotional tours, although she insists on choosing Mulder's ties for him and I make certain he wears them on camera.

I am allowed to be alone, but never lonely. Three people can overwhelm a houseboat and yet we never seem to get in each other's way. They let me be silent, but they touch me all the time; even I cannot mistake myself for an outsider. Sometimes, I hear myself laugh and the sound surprises me with its freedom. Comparisons are the danger; the man I was cannot live here with Dana and Mulder, cannot feel them beneath his hands, taste them in the night, hold them in the rain. That man cannot laugh with them, so I am letting him go, in bits and pieces, as we write these books.

It's not what I planned. It is, however, exactly what they planned and I know it, although they never say. Instead, Dana smiles and says, "I love you, Walter, and want you to be happy." Mulder reads over my shoulder and says, "Adverbs are cheap, Walter, use them occasionally." But his hands on my shoulders tell me the same thing as Dana's smile.

It's not what I planned, but it will do.

<Finis>

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Archived: 20:24 03/15/01