Title: After Hours
Date: March, 2001
Betas: Lorelei and RJ, the Wicked Beta of the West. (Thanks, guys...)
Summary: Well, you see, there were these two men.....
Rating: Pretty much PG on paper...you rate what goes on in your own imaginations
Spoilers: Some references to the beginning of Season 8.
Archive: You know who you are
Comments: Sigh. My ISP really dislikes Yahoo. If firstname.lastname@example.org bounces, try email@example.com
DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013, but considering how they are being misused this year....
DEDICATION: To the great jazz flutist, Moe Koffman, who died this week. Thank you for all the music.
It was pretty innocuous as a beginning.
There was this little after hours jazz club hidden away in a D.C. basement. Its existence was an open secret to musicians, not only those who travelled the jazz circuit. It was a good place to unwind after a gig. Anyone could show up, from the Symphony's First Trumpet to some travelling combo who just wanted to touch base with their own kind.
It was also known to attract a few die-hard fans of the genre, who were accepted on the condition that they behaved themselves.
Walter S. Skinner found himself at the top of the narrow stairs, looking down at the door with the very discreet sign "After Hours". It was nearly one a.m. of a Saturday morning. He really should have been heading for home and his bed. Instead, he had felt the the urge to come here, to unwind, to put aside the neverending petty squabbles of the going-for-the-jugular week that had just ended with yet another late meeting.
As he went down the steps, he yanked off his loosened tie, shoving it into one of his jacket pockets. He'd been strangled enough by it for the past days.
It was dark inside. The owner was a lady known as Lou, a tall, slim, black woman of indeterminable age who believed that the darkness helped people unwind after the glare of the spotlight.
As clubs went, the room was not that large. It had originally been a basement apartment. Now, everything had been taken down but the support posts. There was a long bar to one side. A piano stood in the far corner, small tables scattered around it. It was the only instrument the club provided. Any others came with the musicians themselves. That the piano was a Steinway, perfectly tuned, was testament to the quality of the hands that played it.
Lou was in her usual place, behind the bar, serving up whatever the customer wanted, mentally keeping a tally on the quantity. She knew her regulars and knew when to cut them off. "After Hours" was a place to unwind, not to get drunk. There was food as well, but only sandwiches that a gnome of a man whipped up, without asking for anyone's preferences. What Arnie felt like making that night was what one ate. If one wanted to eat.
Skinner returned Lou's nod, took his scotch, filled a plate with a couple of the sandwiches stacked high with a variety of meats and condiments. His stomach rumbled, surprising him into trying to remember when, or even if, he had had lunch while he looked around for a table.
And found one that came with a surprise.
"I didn't know you were a jazz fan, Krycek."
Alex Krycek, wearing the effects of his week, looked up at the man standing to one side of the table he had chosen in the darkest corner. "Fuck."
Said without emotion, as if any was beyond the ability of the man at the moment.
"Yeah," agreed Skinner. He placed his drink and food on the table, grabbed a chair and hung his jacket on the back of it.
The week, what with OPC investigating Mulder's disappearance, Kersh's promotion to Deputy Director, Scully's brouhaha with Special Agent Doggett, plus all the other shit that seemed to have picked this very week to hit the fan, made his having to deal with the man who had suddenly appeared -- supposedly now on their side -- almost a non-issue.
Holding up his glass, Krycek signalled to the man who was taking table orders.
"You come here often?" Skinner eyed the sandwich before taking a bite. You never knew what was going to pop up in one of Arnie's compositions. Whatever it was, it tasted heavenly after a week of vending machine food.
"When I can."
Ben placed another glass of vodka in front of Krycek. He then placed an unasked scotch in front of Skinner. "Lou says to tell you two that you've both reached your limit for tonight."
Krycek sighed. Skinner grunted. Ben grinned.
Neither man spoke after that. Someone sat at the piano, began tinkering and, soon, a few more musicians joined him and the music didn't allow for speaking.
During one of the pauses, around three, Krycek stood, stretched. He nodded at Skinner. On the way out, he leaned over, kissed Lou on the cheek and waved to Arnie who responded with a nod.
Skinner looked at his watch. He was tired enough now that he would be able to sleep when he got home. He hooked his jacket over his shoulder, nodded to Arnie and Lou on his way out. As he passed the woman leaning against the bar, he stopped. "You must know him well to let him kiss you?"
Lou laughed, a low, husky sound that echoed smoke, whisky and long hours. "What woman doesn't like being kissed by a beautiful man?"
With the hint of a smile and a nod, Skinner conceded. He'd get no information out of her about one Alex Krycek. But then, no one who asked would get any information out of her about one Walter S. Skinner either.
He went home and went to bed.
He didn't get back to the club for a few weeks. He and Scully had followed a lead down to Arizona and yet another confrontation with Special Agent John Doggett.
He came back to D.C. with more unanswered questions than ever, with more of an acceptance of things that his eyes did not believe. To find that Doggett had been assigned to the X-Files by the newly appointed Deputy Director. To a DD Kersh who, now more than ever, wanted to see that department in such disrepute that it would be shut down, permanently this time.
Skinner wondered, as he opened the door to the cigarette smoke and the haunting music of a horn, just who was behind things this time, now that Spender was dead.
Lou greeted him with a smile and a nod. Arnie handed him another of his creations along with the scotch he'd ordered. And sure enough, there was Krycek, in the darkest of the dark corners.
"We've got to stop meeting like this."
Krycek groaned but moved his chair over so that Skinner would not be in Ben's way.
And that was the sum total of their conversation that night.
They both ate their sandwiches -- Skinner could swear he tasted peanut butter with the chicken -- drank their allotted quotas of liquor slowly and allowed the music to work miracles of relaxation around them.
Skinner was the first to leave.
He arrived first the next Friday, claiming the table he was beginning to consider theirs. His and Krycek's.
The Krycek that joined him this night was dressed in a very tailored, dark business suit. Skinner removed his jacket from the chair closer to the wall, watched -- attentively -- as Krycek's nimble fingers undid his tie, the top buttons of his shirt, revealing a hint of collarbone. With a sigh, Krycek joined him.
"Lou says you both look like you need supper." Ben placed a plate pilled high with sandwiches on the small table. He came back with their drinks, not even asking Skinner what it was he wanted to drink.
Krycek's jaw cracked with his yawn.
"You not getting any sleep?" Skinner tossed out in a casual tone, more an observation than a question.
"Jet lag." Krycek rubbed his face with his right hand. "I was hoping to find you here. Saves me a trip." Reaching over, he placed a small cookie-sized CD case on the table in front of Skinner.
Skinner reached for his drink. "What is it?"
Krycek investigated the contents of his sandwich before taking a tentative bite. He shrugged, spoke around his mouthful. "Some info that might prove interesting. Have Scully take it to Mulder's three stooges. They won't have any trouble deciphering it."
Skinner looked from the disc to the man next to him who seemed to have decided the sandwich was worth eating. "Okay." He slipped the case into his jacket pocket. "Thanks."
"It's not much, but it may give up more information in the right hands."
And then the music started, so the talk stopped. Listening to the soothing tones of "Swinging Shepherd Blues" played on a flute almost as hot as Moe Koffman's, Krycek slowly chewed his way through his share of the sandwiches. He finished his drink, stood up, nodded to Skinner and left.
He wasn't at the club the next Friday.
Skinner missed the one after that.
"You're looking beat," commented Lou as Skinner limped in the next time he came. Arnie looked up from his artwork and snickered.
Actually, Skinner was looking more than just a bit beat. Besides the limp, he was also sporting a first-class shiner, a small bandage on his forehead, a large bruise along the right side of his jaw.
"You gonna be able to chew or do you just want the scotch?" At least Lou had the decency to sound concerned.
"Just the scotch," he mumbled, not really wanting to open his mouth wider than he absolutely had to. "I had something earlier this evening."
Krycek, looking like himself in leather and denim, shook his head in sympathy as Skinner found his seat and sat down, gingerly, out of respect for some sore ribs.
"I hear you let Scully drive your car."
"Shut up, Krycek." But there was no force to the command. Skinner waited until all his bruises and sore spots eased and then sighed. "She really is a natural red head."
Krycek grinned. "Only finding that out *now*?"
Skinner hesitated as he carefully raised his drink to his mouth. "My one consolation in all this is that now the perp knows it too."
"Not a good idea to piss off a pregnant woman."
Skinner thought a moment. "Certainly not this one. I swear she didn't hear me at all once she made up her mind the little weasel wasn't going to get away. And for a woman with a small foot, damn but she sure can hold a pedal to the floor."
"Went through the roadblock right after him?" Krycek slouched back in his chair, eyes sparkling with suppressed laughter in the scant light.
Skinner was very aware that Krycek was biting his lip but, feeling more than hard-done-by and probably looking for some sympathy, he couldn't stop the words from spilling out of his mouth, no matter how sore it was.
"Through the roadblock, over the lawn at the Washington Monument. Followed him right into the Reflecting Pool. Where she stopped him by crashing *my* side of the car into his front fender.
"Even then the jerk wouldn't give up. She tackled him as he tried to wade out of the water. I swear, I don't know which of them I was ready to drown first."
Krycek signalled Ben, all the while making some sounds that could have been sympathetic...or just stiffled laughter.
"Sorry, Boss Lady says, considering the circumstances, he's had his quota for the night."
Krycek thought, then offered, "Tell her I'll see to it that he gets home."
Skinner paused in sipping his scotch. His jaw throbbed too much to open widely.
Ben was back promptly. "She says 'okay', as it's medicinal tonight," and offered Skinner some wordless sympathy.
Skinner tried to smile his thanks. Grimaced.
Krycek let him get to the point where he felt no pain before he helped Skinner out of the club, up the stairs and into a nondescript car.
"You need help going up?" he asked at the front steps of Skinner's condo.
Eyes trying to make out the blurred figure next to him, Skinner grunted his thanks.
With a grin, Krycek parked the car, got a boneless Assistant Director into an elevator and off at the seventeenth floor.
"Thank you," Skinner enunciated carefully. He dug around in his jacket pocket for his keys, but they seemed to have disappeared.
"Here, let me?"
Krycek slipped his hand into Skinner's pants pocket and, after a moment's hesitation, found the keys. He opened the door and propelled a malleable Skinner up to his bedroom.
There, he let the man down gently onto his bed. As an afterthought, he removed Skinner's shoes, loosened his belt, pulled off his tie, unbuttoned his shirt. After covering him up with a blanket, Krycek stared at the man softly snoring. He watched him for a minute or two, not moving until, with the hint of a rueful smile, he stroked the back of his fingers along the undamaged side of Skinner's face. Then he left.
In the elevator going down, he found himself laughing aloud at the disgruntled expression Skinner had worn all evening, not even succumbing to the magic of the music after the day he'd had.
Neither man thought to question that Skinner, bruised and battered as he was, had gone to the club rather than head for home and bed.
The next Friday they met, it was at the Gunmen's, not the club. It was not a relaxed gathering.
In the sudden silence that occurred in the midst of a biting argument, Krycek's stomach growled.
Scully, hands resting on her protruding stomach, merely glared at him, eyebrow raised in that mocking way she had. Byers and Langley coughed their surprised laughter into acceptable noises. Frohike looked up from the database Krycek had helped him hack into, over the protests of the two members of the FBI present in their "office".
"There's some pizza left over, if you want it," he generously offered.
Krycek ignored the empty or debris filled boxes that were stacked on the table and shook his head. What he wanted was a drink, some aspirin and a quiet spot to get rid of the headache this last load of information was turning out to be.
Skinner, not in the best of moods himself after a week of confrontations with Kersh's inside man, in *his* X-Files department, stood up. "It's been a long, hard week for all of us," he spoke in a forced conciliatory voice. "Dana, perhaps you should go home and let the Gunmen gather whatever information they deem necessary without our presence. That way, if someone ever asks us how this information fell into our hands, we can say without lying that we don't know."
Dana Scully conceded, but not happily. Byers escorted her to her car, all the while promising her that no one would ever know that they had been rummaging around in secret Pentagon databases.
"Come on, Krycek. I'll buy you supper." Without waiting for his response, Skinner grabbed hold of Krycek's shoulder and started pushing him towards the door. For a moment, it looked like Krycek might bite him for doing so. His face turned feral and he bared his teeth. Skinner met that with a raised eyebrow and continued pushing Krycek out to his car.
"So what are you in the mood for?" Skinner pulled out into the scant late evening traffic.
Krycek sighed, rubbed his forehead with the tips of his fingers. "Aspirin?"
Skinner glanced away from the traffic to the man who no longer looked dangerous, just tired. At a red light, he reached over and opened the glove compartment, rummaged around and dropped a bottle of generic ASA on Krycek's lap.
"The large economy size," noted Krycek as he tossed back four.
"I thought when Mulder left that I wouldn't need it any more. But what with Kersh being on my back for everything and anything, Doggett and Scully snapping at each other, *you* popping up with information that leads deeper into areas I would prefer not even exist..." He left it there.
Krycek closed his eyes and grunted.
So he really didn't notice where they were going until Skinner pulled into the garage at his condo.
"I've got some steaks that need to be eaten," was all Skinner said as he shut off the engine.
Once in his kitchen, Skinner quickly nuked some left-over soup in a mug and handed it to the silent, almost wary Krycek who was sitting at his table. "To hold you until food's ready."
Krycek sat watching Skinner as he scrubbed a couple of large Idahos and placed them in the microwave to bake as he prepared a salad. When he put the frying pan onto the burner to heat up, Krycek finally moved. He took off his leather jacket, went through the cupboards until he found what was needed to set the table. Skinner found a bottle of red, poured them each a glass of wine.
As he sliced mushrooms for the sauce, Skinner began talking about the video game his youngest nephew wanted as a Christmas gift.
>From video games, their conversation over the meal moved to sports. By the time Skinner finished washing up, with Krycek drying, they were onto the stock market: Skinner, because his father had been an engineer in the business, favoured oil stocks; Krycek, hi-tech.
It was late when Krycek finally shrugged into his jacket, thanked Skinner for the meal. Skinner offered to drive him to where he was staying, but he refused, preferring to take a cab.
At the door, he turned, a slightly puzzled expression on his face. "I had a good time. Thank you."
Skinner nodded, waited until the elevator door had closed behind Krycek to shut the apartment door.
When he thought it over while getting ready for bed, he, too, was surprised at how pleasant the evening had been, with this man who had killed him.
Krycek didn't appear anywhere during the next couple of months. Lou asked Skinner about him both times he managed to get to the club. His life just then left little time for relaxation. Kersh was bound and determined to have Doggett provide him with an excuse to shut the X-Files down. And Doggett was not providing him with it, in spite of the pressure to do so. Kersh was certain that Skinner had something to do with Doggett's lack of co-operation and was making life as difficult as possible for both of them.
The information that Krycek kept sending to the Gunmen was making it hard to believe that Mulder's disappearance had occurred without the collusion of people at a certain shadowy level of power. Not that any of them would admit to it.
The Consortium may have gone down with Spender's death, but it wasn't quite out yet.
Skinner left Headquarters December twenty-third, ready to sign his resignation papers. The fact that Kersh wanted them was the only reason he had for not having done so.
As he trudged to his car, he forced himself to ignore the pounding in his head by breathing deeply through his nose, counting his paces to ten, then starting over again. Anything to calm down from this last meeting with *Deputy Director* Kersh.
He nearly missed the body that lay on the cement floor between the passenger side of his car and the garage wall.
After a quick look around to confirm that he was alone in the area, he casually went to that side of his car and stooped to see just who the hell was lying there.
But the man didn't respond.
Quickly, Skinner checked him out, opening the leather jacket and finding the reason in the blood soaked t-shirt Krycek had stuffed against what seemed to be a knife wound on his left shoulder, just under the collarbone. He winced in silent sympathy at the sight of the stab, not particularly wide, but also not particularly recent. It looked infected.
Checking that he was still alone, Skinner opened the back door of his car and manhandled Krycek onto the seat. Just before he closed the door, he took off his coat and covered Krycek with it.
Then Skinner got out of there.
Doctor Joe Fischer was not pleased, as he reiterated several times, to be dragged away from his wife's plans for last minute Christmas shopping just so he could open his office for one of Skinner's emergencies.
Skinner ignored him. He knew how Joe felt about shopping, wife or no wife.
"He's lost some blood, but not enough for it to be a real problem. The wound isn't that deep, but the infection is what's making him sick. I've cleaned that out and the antibiotics should take care of the rest of it.
"Looks like he's been on the go far too much. Needs a couple of good meals, some sleep and he'll be ready to take on whoever did this to him. Assuming that's what he wants."
Fischer dried his hands and looked from his semi-conscious patient to his poker buddy. "You might like to point out to him that he's getting a bit old for this macho bullshit."
He stared at Skinner for a moment. "You, too, you know. You're not getting any younger, Walt. The stress you're living under these days isn't worth it. You've got more than enough years with the FBI to retire. Isn't it time you thought about yourself and whether you want a heart attack at your desk, or a future?"
He held up a hand, forestalling Skinner's argument. "I know. I know. But Mulder may never come back and you are carrying a stress load that would have knocked a younger man to his knees long ago. Just think about it, Walt. I'd rather go fishing with you than attend your funeral. Come on. I'll help you get this 'fish' into your car."
Krycek revived enough to stagger into the apartment with Skinner's help. Skinner had already decided that his couch wouldn't be the best place to settle Krycek and the bed in the spare room needed to be cleared off before sheets and bedding could be put onto it. Looking at the white-faced man who was leaning heavily against him, Skinner concluded that it would be easier all round if he just put Krycek down in his bed.
Hell, it was an extra-large king-size. A family of four could sleep in it comfortably.
Krycek tried to undress himself but Skinner pushed his hand away -- Fischer had removed the prosthesis and Skinner had felt a little uncomfortable carrying the thing in under his arm.
He quickly stripped Krycek to his skin, got a pair of his old sweats on the man and tucked him into bed. Then, even though by now there was a drum solo playing in his head, he poured himself a stiff drink, sipped it as he went through his nightly rituals, tossing back the last of it as he turned down the bedding on his side of the bed and slipped under.
No sooner had his head hit the pillow than he was awakened by "Jesus, Skinner, but you snore!"
Skinner thought about that before he turned his head. Squinting against the light streaming in through windows he had forgotten to curtain, he checked out the man with whom he was sharing his bed. Krycek had a bit more colour than the previous night but was watching him with over-bright eyes. Fischer had warned him about the probability of some fever.
"You look like hell," said Skinner.
"Then that makes two of us," said Krycek.
"Do you feel like it, too?" Skinner closed his eyes and tried to remember where he had stashed the extra-large super-economy sized bottle of ASA.
"Yeah." Krycek moved hesitantly, as though he were trying to find a more comfortable position. "Skinner?"
"When you found me, did I have my jacket with me?"
Skinner snorted, regretting it immediately. "You and that bloody jacket. What is it, your security blanket?"
Krycek didn't answer right away. "Probably," he finally admitted. "But there are a couple of CDs in the lining that may give us a direct line to the people who arranged for Mulder's 'abduction'."
"It's on the chair over there in the corner."
"That what happened to you?"
"Well, let's just say that someone would be a lot happier if the stuff on those discs never saw the light of day."
Skinner lay still for several minutes, wishing that he could turn over and just go back to sleep. With a heartfelt moan, he sat up and reached for the phone. The Gunmen promised to be there within the hour. Well, at least that would give him time to find the aspirin, take a shower. He moved to sit on the edge of the bed. "Don't go away," he tossed over his shoulder.
Krycek didn't answer. He was sound asleep.
Of course, the first person the Gunmen had alerted was Dana Scully who arrived before he'd had his first cup of coffee. She waddled into the living room, took one good look at the man who was putting his pension on the line for Mulder and shook her head.
"You need to take better care of yourself, Walter."
"Actually," said Skinner, pouring himself a mug and inhaling the blessed aroma of mountain-grown beans, perfectly roasted and then ground to produce this nectar of the gods, "there's someone upstairs in my bed that could use some of your medical know-how."
Neither Scully nor Krycek was pleased to see the other. But, over Krycek's protests, Scully did check out the wound and took his temperature. She approved of the antibiotics Fischer had prescribed and stood over Krycek as he swallowed his morning's dose along with some aspirin for the fever.
Then, escorted by the Gunmen who had scoffed at the inferiority of Skinner's computer set-up in his home office, she allowed Frohike to "ride shotgun" in her car as she followed the other men back home and to their computers.
Krycek slept most of the day, waking when Skinner shook him to take his medication or to eat something. Skinner napped on the couch, catching up on some much needed sleep, or pretended to be watching television while he mulled over some of Joe Fischer's truths.
Christmas Day saw Krycek gingerly make his way down the stairs to Skinner's couch while Skinner moved into his favourite armchair. Apart from some inquiries about each other's health, the odd comment on food, they barely spoke to each other, both pretending to be watching the myriad of Christmas specials that inundated programming for the day.
Finally, in the evening, Skinner found a Handel's Messiah on one channel and settled in to listen, eyes closed, to the beauty of the music.
"You never explained why you killed me."
Krycek blinked, reluctantly forcing his brain into paying attention.
>From the screen, "Unto us a child is born" filled the room.
"Why now, after all this time?" Krycek sat up, turning his body, slowly, so that he could watch Skinner's face.
"Why not?" Skinner opened his eyes and looked at the man on his couch. "Consider it a Christmas gift, or payment for the last couple of days if you prefer that."
Krycek thought about it and finally nodded. "You know that Orgel went to Spender with the technology."
Skinner sat straight, nodded.
"And Spender was beginning to find that, in spite of everything, you were not going to be a good little boy and do exactly as he said. So he decided that you should be one of those the nanocytes were tested on. And he thought it would be fun to include Orgel in the test group as well."
"I know all that." Skinner's voice hinted at impatience.
"What Spender didn't know was that there were three methods of inoculation against the black oil. There was the vaccine that the Russians had perfected."
"The one that Mulder got in Tunguska."
Krycek nodded. "Then there's a sort of inoculation that occurs when the Oil uses someone as a carrier. Assuming they survive. It doesn't exactly protect the carrier from the black oil, but it seems that the carrier cannot be used by any other alien form for transportation...or other things. The carrier sort of wears the Oil's personal brand and she or he can only be used by that particular Oil."
"So you would have been protected should they have won."
"I guess. Always assuming that the Oil wouldn't bother to take the time to find that particular carrier -- me -- again when it would be so much easier just to pick the next person walking by."
"And the third?"
"Well, that was an interesting side effect of the nanocytes. When they are dormant, they don't affect the Oil. But once they've been activated, to their fullest potential...well, let's just say that there's something about them that isn't very appealing to the Oil."
"And killing me was..."
"Taking them to their fullest potential. I tried it out first on Orgel. Unfortunately for him, I waited a little too long to bring him back."
Skinner listened to the music with no further comments or questions. Krycek dozed off.
The information that Krycek had delivered turned out to contain the line of communications the Consortium had developed to contact the Oil, the Rebels and the Morphs. Scully, with a reluctant Doggett, went off to follow it, promising to stay in as close contact as possible with the Gunmen.
Skinner phoned the Bureau and informed them that he was using a couple of his many weeks of accumulated vacation time.
Krycek stayed with Skinner, spending the next couple of days on the couch, the nights on his side of Skinner's bed.
The two men didn't speak much. They watched the sports channel, played some chess while listening to Skinner's jazz albums.
New Year's Eve, Skinner looked at Krycek. "Do you have a place of your own, Krycek?"
Krycek looked up from moving his knight to a square that challenged Skinner's queen. "No. I rent residential apartments when I'm staying in a place longer than a few days." He picked up the knight, examined it intently. "I can be out of here in a few minutes if that's what you want."
Skinner shook his head. "No. Just curious." Then he moved his queen to safety.
They were watching the ball drop in New York's Times Square when Skinner got up and went over to Krycek.
"Happy New Year, Krycek."
And then he bent over and claimed Krycek's mouth.
He straightened and watched as Krycek opened his eyes, now filled with need.
The sight was so erotic that Skinner felt he had no choice but to claim Krycek's mouth again.
This time, when Krycek got around to opening his eyes, Skinner was waiting, hand reaching out.
Slowly, hesitantly, Krycek placed his hand in Skinner's.
As they made their way up the stairs, Skinner smiled at the man holding tightly onto his hand.
"So, Alex, how do you feel about fishing?"
Archived: April 06, 2001