Title: What's Left Of Me
Author: Donna McIntosh
Feedback dmcintoshtx@yahoo.com
Fandom: X-Files
Pairing: Skinner/Krycek
Genre: Slash
Rating: NC-17 FRAO
Disclaimer: These characters belong to Chris Carter not to me. If they did, I'd be rich and these guys would have a lot more sex!

Summary: Skinner and Krycek work several assignments together and come to the conclusion that they make a pretty good pair.

Skinner sat in the back of the helicopter having second thoughts about this mission and his insatiable desire for field work. He glanced over at Krycek beside him, eyes closed, sound asleep and cursed Cassidy again. Why on earth would she use *him* when she knew full well he worked for Spender; he would never know. Next time he would ask who else would be involved before he accepted an assignment. This was ridiculous. Alex Krycek; of all people! He despised the man. And there he sat; leaning against the side window, sound asleep.

It was getting colder now the farther northeast they flew; he could feel the temperature dropping. The scenery was beautiful though, he had to admit. Dawn was just beginning to lighten the eastern skyline over the tree covered mountains. A long lazy stream meandered its way through the trees passed a cabin nestled atop a small rise. No smoke coming from the chimney so whoever owned it was probably living in a condo somewhere in a nearby city. For a moment he had a pang of regret and wished he was going to be spending the next few days in his cabin and not traipsing off to some lumber camp in northern Maine.

That thought had barely clarified when he felt the chopper lurch and heard the pilot curse. Krycek was instantly awake beside him as the pilot struggled with the controls.

"What is it? What's happening?" Skinner demanded as the pilot fought for control and called a frantic "Mayday -- Mayday".

"We're going down," Krycek said as they whirled and eddied and jumped about. In seconds they were going down, down, down; smashing through trees. The engine screamed, metal twisted and tore, limbs cracked and broke. For a moment there was utter silence.

The first sound he heard was a gurgling noise from the pilot; a sound he hadn't heard since his days in Nam.

He sat up as best he could and untangled himself from Krycek who was now under him as the chopper had landed on its side. He checked Krycek's vitals first as he was closest. They were strong. Krycek was alive but unconscious. He leaned over the front seat and checked on the pilot just as he shuddered and gasped his last breath; he was dead. Sounds and smells from distant memories froze him momentarily. A moan from Krycek brought him back to his present predicament.

"Get off ..." Krycek struggled to get up and let out a groan. "Shit! My shoulder is broken!"

"We gotta get out of here," Skinner said trying the side door which was now over head. It was jammed shut and he didn't like what he saw when he looked out. A steep rocky hillside below them and the chopper hung up on a few broken tree limbs. The whole thing swayed as they moved about.

"The pilot?" Krycek asked.

"Dead. He caught a tree limb through the chest."

"Damn! Try the radio."

"Krycek, listen to me. We've got to get out of here.

This thing is snagged on a few branches; it can roll the rest of the way down this mountain at any minute."

Krycek stared at him wide-eyed and gulped but he stilled his movements.

"Looks like the only way out is the windshield."

Skinner said looking around.

Krycek eyed the narrow opening between the two front seats and doubted that he could make it.

"Nice and slow now," Skinner warned him.

"You go first," Krycek said cradling his wounded arm with his plastic one.

Skinner eased himself through the opening and into the front seat; the chopper shifting and creaking as he went. "Come on," he urged Krycek.

"You go on. I'll be along in a minute."

"No! We're going together. Any major shift of weight can send this thing on down the mountainside."

"Skinner, my shoulder's busted. There's no way I can make it out of here."

Skinner reached into the back, grabbed a hand full of fatigue jacket and pulled. Krycek cried out as he was pulled through the narrow opening. They stilled for a moment as the swaying movement of the wreckage settled back down. The left side of the windshield was broken out by the tree limb that had speared the pilot. The right side was shattered but mostly still in place.

"I'm going to kick out this windshield and at the same time you and I are going straight out and heading for that second tree there," he pointed in front of them.

"What's wrong with the first tree? It's a good twenty feet closer."

"That's what's wrong," he pointed to a rotor blade a few feet back from the closer tree and it was still hooked by cables to the chopper.

Krycek craned his neck to see and took it all in.

From the way it was laying, if the chopper rolled, that rotor was going with it and taking anything in its way.

"I get your point. Second tree it is," Krycek said as his chances for survival seemed to be growing slimmer.

The chopper gave another lurch and they heard the cracking of the branch.

"NOW!" Skinner kicked the broken glass and lunged forward pulling Krycek with him. They hit the ground hard; Krycek on his side and Skinner on all fours.

Branches cracked, metal twisted and tore and the wreckage hurtled down the mountainside. Skinner leapt forward dragging Krycek as a loud THWACK took the rotor and the small tree down with it spraying them with dirt and debris. They sat behind the second tree gasping for breath.

"Krycek? You still with me?"

"Yeah; for the moment."

"What the hell kind of answer is that?"

"Skinner, my shoulder is broken, possibly my ankle as well. I can barely move. This ground is freezing and we're in the middle of nowhere. It might have been better for both of us if I had gone down that mountainside."

"I saw a cabin just before we went down," Skinner said as he caught his breath. Krycek was right. It was close to freezing; they needed to get to shelter and soon.

"A cabin? You sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. Turn over. Let me check that shoulder."

Krycek tried but it took Skinner's help to get him on his back. He made it with a groan. Skinner unfastened the front of Krycek's jacket, reached in with both hands feeling all around the shoulder.

"I don't think it's broken. I think it's just dislocated."

"Can you put in back into place?" Kyrcek asked hopefully.

"I've seen it done but I've never done it. I could try but it's gonna hurt like hell."

"It already hurts like hell. Will you try?"

Skinner heaved a sigh and knew he'd have to. They were hours away from any medical facility even if they had a way out of there.

"We'll have to take your jacket off."

Krycek pulled at it with his plastic hand and with Skinner's help, they succeeded. Skinner felt the shoulder again and could find no break in the bone. It was dislocated all right. He figured a few moments to see which way he would have to twist it then pulled Krycek over to a smaller tree.

"Hook your arm around this tree. When I pull, you hang on."

Skinner sat down beside him then placed his foot in Krycek's arm pit. Slowly he straightened out the arm which had drawn up in pain. He picked up a finger sized twig and placed it between Krycek's teeth.

"Bite down on this. You ready?"

Krycek shuddered but nodded his head yes.

"OK. We go on the count of three. I have to pull and twist. Hold on that tree."

Krycek nodded again.

"One -- two -- three!" Skinner pulled with all his might and twisted. Krycek screamed and bit the twig in pieces.

Skinner reached over and felt the shoulder again.

"I'm sorry, Krycek. I didn't get it in all the way. We'll have to do it again."

Krycek gasped in pain and fought to stay conscious as blackness was closing in around him. "Do it!" he managed to gasp out.

Skinner found a larger branch for him to bite on and thrust it in Krycek's mouth.

"Count of three then. One -- two -- three!" He fixed his grip on Krycek's forearm as he counted. The count of three and he pulled and twisted again; this time hearing the slight pop as the shoulder bone slipped back into place. Krycek passed out.

Skinner leaned over backwards and relaxed his tensed up muscles. He gave himself a full minute before he sat up and began to assess their situation. First he checked Krycek's ankle. It was already swelling so it was difficult to remove his boot. He managed after a bit to get it off and Krycek slowly regained consciousness.

"What are you doing?"

"Checking out your ankle. We've got to get moving and find that cabin. We don't want to be caught out here if it starts snowing."

"Is it broken?"

"I can't tell for sure. I don't feel any broken bones but it's already starting to swell," he fiddled in one of his pockets and brought out a roll of duct tape. He wound it around the ankle hoping to give it enough strength to walk on.

"Let's see if you can stand," Skinner said helping Krycek to his feet.

A wave of dizziness washed over him and Krycek pitched forward. Skinner caught him and leaned him back against the tree for support. In a minute or so, Krycek's head came back up and he had regained his senses.

"We gotta get moving. Let's get your jacket back on first," he helped Krycek back into his jacket and slipped his right hand into the front opening. He took out the tape and wound it around Krycek a few times to support the arm and keep it in place.

"There's no way I'm going to make it down off this mountain, Skinner. You'd better go on. You can send someone back for me when you get to the cabin."

"There's a good chance that cabin is empty, Krycek. I didn't see any smoke from the chimney. It's up to you and me to get ourselves down."

"I can't stand on this ankle. I couldn't make it down with a crutch even if we could find something strong enough to hold me."

It was full morning now and the thought of descending the long steep mountain before them filled them both with dread.

"How far do you think that cabin is?" Krycek asked wearily.

"I couldn't say. I saw it only a moment before we went down. It can't be too far."

"How in the world do you expect to find it in these woods? Which direction?"

"It was right beside that stream," he pointed to the bottom of the mountain to the stream in the distance.

"All we have to do is get down there then follow that stream east. We can't miss it."

"Easy as that, huh? How do you propose to get down there? As steep as it is, it would be difficult enough to walk. You can probably make it but I'm going to have to crawl."

"I've been thinking about that. Maybe we could just slide you down."

"Slide me?"

"Yeah. If we had something we could sit you on; I could just pull you down behind me."

"Yeah, and if I had wings I cold fly! Why don't you just go on. I'll make my way down. There could be someone in the cabin and you could bring help. Have you tried your cell phone?"

"Mine's gone. I must have lost it in the wreckage. I found yours and it's broken in pieces."

"Well, just go on then. From the looks of that sky, it's not going to get any warmer."

"I noticed. Those are snow clouds. It could open up any time."

"So go." Krycek leaned back against the tree.

"OK. I'm going. But you're going with me," he took off his jacket.

"Are you crazy? I'll never make it down and we both know it!"

Skinner put his jack around Krycek's hips looping the arms around front and through his belt and tying them together. Then the tape came out again and he ran it round and round Krycek taping the jacket tightly around him.

"What the fuck are you doing?"

"Getting your ass down off this mountain. You can't walk and I can't carry you down that incline so it looks like you're gonna slide."

"You're gonna pull me down? We'll never make it!"

A few flurries of snow filtered down through the trees.

"By the time any help could get here you'll be covered with snow and impossible to find. What do you think your chances will be then?" Skinner asked in his best AD voice.

Krycek stared at him recognizing the truth in his words. The thought of being dragged down that rocky mountainside made him cringe but even worse was the thought of staying up there, unable to do anything for himself but wait for a slow frozen death.

"OK," he gulped. "Let's do it."

"I think the best hold would be the neck of your jacket. That way you can rest your head on the back of my hand to keep it from bouncing of any of those rocks."

"Whatever. This is your show." Krycek was in too bad a shape to argue.

"I'll take it as careful as I can," he promised as he helped Krycek back down. He got a grip on the jacket and took off slowly; Krycek's rump riding smoothly on Skinner's jacket.

Skinner paused for a moment trying to decide which path to take. The eastern part of the incline was relatively free of rocks but seemed to be much steeper. The center part was the path the chopper took and was covered with scattered bits of metal. He chose the western slope. It had more rocks but there was also more brush and some smaller saplings along the way plus a few flat places where they could stop and catch their breath.

The start down was gentle and Krycek used his feet to help. Dirt and stones skittered down in front of them as Skinner walked sideways down to their first stop by a small tree. Skinner wedged his foot up against it as he turned and checked on Krycek.

"You doing OK?"

"Yeah; not too bad. How much further?"

"We're about a quarter of the way down. The next stop will be a little further; about 150 yards. It's a nice flat place with a few bushes. When we make that, we're half way down."


"You'd better not push any more; it's steeper here.

Just let your feet drag. Prop your bad foot up over the other one. Can you hold it there or do you want me to tape it?"

"I can hold it."

"How's the shoulder?"

"Don't ask."

"OK. You ready?"

"Yeah. The snow's picking up. Let's get on down before this place gets any slipperier."

"Hang on."

The next part of the slope was rockier, steeper and farther to the flat area than Skinner had thought. He heard Krycek grunt a few times but couldn't stop to check until they reached their half-way point. He sat down; his leg and arm muscles trying to cramp up from the shock of the crash, the cold and the strain. A check on Krycek showed him to be unconscious.

"Probably for the best," he muttered to himself. A glance down-slope showed it to be steeper than he thought. There was no way he could make it down standing up. He eased Krycek over the edge and started down on his rear; a few inches at a time. At the next outcropping his muscles were screaming. The snow was coming down harder now and cold was really getting to him. Krycek was unconscious but he was still alive.

A sinking feeling came over him as he glanced over the last leg of their trip down. A few feet further and there was a sheer drop off; at least twenty or thirty feet. There was no way they could go any further this way. He looked over to the east. He now had only one choice left. He would have to cross the debris path to get to the eastern slope and continue down.

A few deep breaths and he started sideways; a few inches at a time. The snow was going down the back of his neck and piling up on the ground. The wind was bitter cold and stung his face as he went. He moved one gloved hand across the ground before each move, feeling his way past chunks of wreckage; bits of metal, shards of glass, cables and assorted pieces.

One rotor blade he had to kick at several times to get it to move on down and out of their path.

An occasional groan from Krycek was the only sound on that mountain, that and his own harsh breathing.

They finally reached the other side of the debris path and over to the eastern slope. He sat for a moment and wiped the sweat from his face. Another 150 feet and they would be on level ground. Down he started scattering puffs of snow flakes before them. The way was much easier now with fewer rocks and in no time they were at the bottom.

It felt good to stand up again. He brushed his pants off; walked over to the stream and scooped up a few swallows of water. He splashed his face then cupped some up in his hands and carried it back to Krycek.

He dribbled some into Krycek's mouth then released the rest of it over his face. Krycek revived somewhat.

"Where are we? How much further?"

"We're down, Krycek. Now we just have to make our way up-stream to find that cabin."

"We're down? Can you see the cabin?" Krycek struggled to sit up.

"Yes; we're down." Skinner helped him to sit up. "We can't see the cabin yet. Do you think you can stand?"

"Sure!" He tried to get up and with Skinner's help he made it to his feet with a groan and tipped to his right side when his injured ankle refused to hold him.

Skinner steadied him to keep him from falling. "How are your ribs," he asked.

"My ribs? They're OK. Why?"

"Let's get you up on my shoulder then; I can carry you; at least for a ways."

"Shit! I can probably walk."

"Maybe; but it will be a lot faster if you let me carry you. We need to get to shelter." Their breaths were coming in frosty puffs when they spoke.

"You need your jacket. Take it." Krycek insisted.

"I do. We can always tape it back on you if we need to," he unwound the tape from Krycek's waist and slipped the jacket on. It felt good. He turned the collar up to keep the snow off his neck and snuggled his knit cap down over his ears. His body was immediately grateful.

"OK. Let's do this." Skinner hoisted him up on his shoulder with a grunt from both of them. "You OK?"

"Just go; go!"

Skinner started out with a steady firm stride. He walked along the waters edge, eyes searching constantly for that cabin. After about a mile, Krycek stopped him.

"Stop; please stop." Krycek could stand it no longer.

He needed to get upright so Skinner put him down then and leaned him against a tree. "You OK?" he asked.

"I can't go on any further. Just leave me here. I'll catch up after I rest a little."

"No. It can't be much further. We'll make it. We're making good time now."

"Skinner, *please*! Just let me rest," he begged.

"You can rest all you want as soon as we get to that cabin. I'll make us a fire; it'll be nice and warm.

You can go on just a little while longer; can't you?"

"It hurts, Skinner. Everything hurts."

"I know. In the cabin there will be coffee probably; maybe some food. Maybe even some pain killers. Come on. Let's keep going," he tugged at Krycek into standing.

Without another word he heaved him back up over his shoulder and started walking again. This time he quickened his pace. Krycek couldn't go on much longer and neither could he. They needed to find that cabin and they needed to find it now.

The snow was now two to three inches deep and it crunched beneath their step. The snow came down in large flakes blanketing the area in white. The farther they went the worse the snow became; thicker and deeper. He was tiring now; his steps were stumbling and uneven; just putting one foot in front of the other and pushing on.

They came around a bend and there it was; the cabin.

No lights on inside; no smoke from the chimney. It was deserted.

"There it is, Krycek! The cabin!" Now he hurried his steps with renewed vigor.

"You found it? Put me down; let me see."

"No. We can't stop. We've got to get inside. We're almost there."

Krycek twisted and tried to see but couldn't make out anything through the veil of white snow. "I can't see it. Are you sure you saw it?"

"Yeah; I can see it. Not that far. Just relax and we'll be inside before you know it."

He stopped for a moment at the steps and leaned against the railing. They made it!

He lowered Krycek down on the steps. He fiddled with the door for a few minutes; pulled a small tool out of his pocket and the door swung opened for them. He grabbed Krycek up and carried him inside to the couch.

He closed the door and went to making a fire. In minutes the room was filled with its warm glow.

Skinner made his way back into a bedroom and came out with a quilt. He wrapped it around Krycek. "There are light switches and electrical appliances so there must be a generator. I'll check around outside and see if I can find it and get it going."

He stepped back out into the cold but this time with a lighter heart. At least they had found shelter and there was a fireplace and a nice pile of wood. He walked around back till he found a shed. He made short work of the lock and was inside before you know it. He found the generator and turned it on. Beside the shed he saw the propane tank and checked the gauge. It was nearly full. Things were finally looking up. He made his way back to the cabin and went in. He flipped a switch and the lights came on.

A quick check around and he found thermostat and dialed it up. He heard it click on. Heat! They would have heat in a while. He came back to check on Krycek and found him on the couch passed out.

He added more wood to the fire then checked the place out. It was relatively new, not more than four or five years old. It was approximately forty foot square. Front door and back door opposite each other; on the left a kitchen and behind it a bedroom. On the right was the living room with bathroom behind it and a small utility room behind that.

After walking through the place he started his search in the kitchen and was pleasantly surprised. There was food in the pantry; canned goods and some mixes.

Small barrels on the bottom shelf of the pantry contained coffee, sugar, flour, and pinto beans and rice. Shelves offered a variety of spices and bottled herbs. Whoever owned this place certainly liked to cook.

He closed the door to the refrigerator and heard it come on. He filled the ice cube trays and put them in the freezer to freeze. He dug around in the cabinets until he found the coffee pot and put some on. Gazing around, he saw a microwave and all the latest conveniences. He was stunned. Even his cabin wasn't this nicely equipped.

He poured himself a cup of coffee and savored the warmth and taste of it. He fixed another and took it over to Krycek.

"Hey, you awake?" He nudged him with a knee.

One eye opened and stared at him.

"Coffee? It's nice and hot."

Krycek struggled to sit up. Skinner sat both cups of coffee down on an end table and helped Krycek to sit up. He handed him the cup and Krycek took it with his plastic hand and sipped it.

"We really lucked out with this place, Krycek.

There's food in the pantry and firewood out back which we'll need to bring in as soon as the snow stops.

This place is heated; the generator runs on propane and the tank is nearly full."

"Don't suppose you found a telephone? Radio?" Krycek asked between gulps of coffee.

"Nope. So far that's all I see over there," he pointed to an old CB radio on a table in the corner.

"Does it work? Is it hooked up?"

"I don't know. I haven't tried it yet," he walked over and sat down and flipped the switch on.

"It seems to have power and there is an antenna out back. I never had one of these things. You know how to operate this?"

"Probably. Just turn that dial on the front there to change frequencies."

Skinner did as he was told but all he got was static.

"I'll work with it later, Skinner. Right now I just need to sit for a few minutes."

"How about some soup? Are you hungry?"

Krycek looked at him; too exhausted to even think.

"There's a big deep bath tub in the bathroom. It will probably take a while for the hot water heater to get working but once it does you can soak in a hot tub.

That should help some. I haven't come across a first-aid kit yet but I'll bet there is one and it'll probably have some Tylenol or something. I'll look around and see what I can find."

Krycek finished his coffee and sank back down on his side, bringing his legs up and snuggling into the warmth of the quilt. His eyes closed and in minutes he was asleep.

Skinner came back into the room a few minutes later with some Tylenol. "Hey, I found some in the bathroom in the medicine cabinet," he took the lid off and shook some out in his hand but Krycek was fast asleep.

Skinner dumped the capsules back into the bottle and set it on the end table for later then busied himself in the kitchen putting a big pot of beans on. An hour later he heard Krycek stirring on the couch. He opened a can of chicken noodle soup, poured it into a mug and warmed it up in the microwave then took it in to Krycek.

"Here. It's chicken noodle soup. Krycek fumbled a bit but finally managed a sitting position and took the mug gratefully.

"Thanks," he said and sipped the steaming liquid.

"Why'd you do it, Skinner? Why didn't you just leave me up there?"

Skinner turned from the fire and answered, "I wouldn't have left a dog up there," he regretted the comment instantly as he saw the look on Krycek's face; nothing much really, just a slight muscle twitch under the left eye; just enough to show that the barb hurt.

"I didn't mean that the way it sounded," he half-way apologized.

"It's OK. You have every reason to hate me; I certainly don't deny that," he sipped his soup.

"Tylenol is on the table there," Skinner said and watched as Krycek sat his soup down, carefully lifted the bottle with his prosthesis and uncapped it with his teeth. Skinner watched with amazement as it was done with ease; something he had obviously done many times before.

Skinner turned his attention back to the fire; he couldn't watch any more. It made him queasy inside and it shouldn't have; he had every reason to hate this man and savor his pain and discomfort. He didn't though; in fact, he was sickened by it.

"What are you cooking?"

"Huh?" Skinner was caught off guard by the question.

"What's cooking? Smells good."

"Oh. Some pinto beans. They take a few hours to cook so I thought I'd get them started. There's lots of other stuff if you want something else."

"No. Beans will be fine." Krycek up-ended his mug and finished off the last of the noodles. He leaned forward on the couch and tried to stand. He made it but he teetered on that bad ankle. "Bathroom down that way?" He took a hop in the direction of the hall.

"Yeah. Here, let me give you a hand," Skinner offered and after a few awkward attempts, got his arm around Krycek's back and helped him down the hall. He waited outside until Krycek was done then helped him back to the couch.

"You'd better let me have a look at that ankle."

Skinner knelt in front of him and pulled the tape off that was wound around the ankle over the sock. "What happened to your other boot?" He looked around and noticed it wasn't there.

"I don't know. I remember we put it back on before we started down but I don't remember much of anything else once we got started."

"I'll go out tomorrow if the snow stops and see if I can find it."

"You don't have to do that."

"It's all right. I was planning on going anyway. I want to take a look at that wreckage and see if our bags are around; maybe see if I can spot the chopper's radio."

"That radio is spread all over the mountain side."

"Yeah, but my cell phone is out there somewhere too. We might just get lucky and find it."

"We sure got lucky to find this place. I'm glad you noticed it."

"I never can sleep on those choppers." Skinner walked back to the fireplace and put another log on.

"I can sleep any place where I know I'm relatively safe." Krycek turned sideways on the couch and lifted his legs up.

"I guess that's a necessity in your line of work."

Skinner said and tried to make it sound like a compliment rather than an insult. He never was into hitting people when they were down. Even people he despised.

"Yeah, pretty much," Krycek agreed. He didn't take it as an insult. "So how long do you think it'll take before they find us?"

"I have no way of knowing. It all happened pretty fast. I don't know if the pilot got the coordinates off or not. I just heard him calling Mayday and the next thing I knew, we were in the trees."

"Cassidy should know by now that we didn't make it," Krycek offered.

"I don't know. We were supposed to contact her after the job was finished. Unless she's in direct contact with whoever arranged transportation, she might not have heard about the crash yet."

"OK. Worst case then -- we were supposed to contact her tomorrow night after we made the pick up. So if nothing else; she will know something's wrong by then."

"She should. Depends on how important and urgent that disk is and how badly she needs it," Skinner said and sat down in the recliner.

"We could be here for some time then."

"I could think of a whole hell of a lot of other places I'd like to be right now," Skinner said as he stared into the fire.

"Me to, Skinner. Me too." Krycek mumbled as he drifted off to sleep again.

Skinner sat for a while watching the fire then wandered back into the bathroom to check on the hot water. It felt warm enough so he decided to take a shower. He went into the bedroom and checked in the drawers and closet. He pulled out some sweat pants and held them up; they looked like they'd fit. He also found some underwear and socks and hanging in the closet he found some sweat shirts and pulled one down.

He gathered the clothes up and took a quick shower; not wanting to use up all the hot water in case Krycek woke up again and wanted to bathe. It wasn't until he was soaping up that he realized he had several scrapes and bruises himself.

He wished he had his tooth brush. He put some toothpaste on his finger and worked on his teeth. A bit of deodorant and then he dressed in the borrowed clothes. He took his clothes into the laundry room and laid them on the washer. He'd wait for Krycek to change so they could do their clothes in one load.

Back in the bedroom he found some sheets and pillow cases in a drawer and made up the bed. Smoothing out the quilt on top he knew the bed would have to be Krycek's. As banged up as he was, it was only right.

He went back into the drawers and pulled out another set of underwear, sweats and socks; and another sweat shirt from the closet. When Krycek woke up, he could have a hot bath and change of clothes.

He sat and fiddled with the radio as Krycek slept and tried to figure out how to make it work. He looked through the desk drawers for an instruction manual but couldn't find any. He did manage to find a small portable radio that he turned on low and looked for some information of the weather and hoped for a newscast where he might hear some news of their crash; though he doubted Cassidy would let a thing like that go public.

Another hour or so and Krycek woke up and struggled into a sitting position with a groan.

"How about a hot bath? We've got hot water now and there are some clothes in there you can change into. It'll help."

Krycek started to get up but Skinner stopped him.

"It's a big tub and it'll take a while to fill. I'll go turn it on. Why don't you come over here and see if you can get this radio working."

Krycek nodded consent and Skinner helped him over to the desk while he went into the bathroom to start the tub. He came back in a minute later and joined Krycek at the desk.

"Can you make anything out of it?"

"It's an old model but we might be able to pick something up on it," he turned the dial slowly trying to catch any wisp of a conversation. All he got was static. "The storm is probably interfering; maybe once it's passed we can get someone. He kept at it though, plastic hand turning the dial while his ear was craned to the speaker.

Some time later Skinner got up and checked on the water and announced the tub ready. He helped Krycek into the bathroom and asked if he needed help undressing. Krycek insisted he didn't. It took him some time but he finally got out of his clothes and into the tub.

Skinner returned to the front room and sat down at the radio; turning the frequency dial and speaking into the microphone, "CQ CQ Mayday, Mayday," he kept it up until he had run the dial several times then gave it up for a time. He checked the beans cooking, added some more water then placed another log to the fire.

Another 30 minutes passed before he heard the bathroom door open and Krycek calling to him.

"Skinner? You said something about some clothes?"

Skinner got up and went to him. "Yeah, here on the bed," he helped Krycek, towel wrapped around his waist, into the bedroom and sat him on the edge of the bed. He handed him the underwear first which Krycek pulled on; then the sweat pants.

"Let me take a look at that shoulder; how does it feel?" Skinner winced as he got a close up look at the severely bruised shoulder. "Can you move your arm?"

"Yeah, but it hurts like hell. At least it's back where it belongs," he rolled his shoulder a bit and grimaced.

"And the ankle?"

"About the same. Sore as hell. The hot water sure felt good though."

"Good." Skinner knelt down and felt the ankle. "I can't feel any breaks so maybe it's just sprained."

"Hopefully," Krycek agreed.

"I found something that might help the discomfort a little. Vicks."

"Vicks? I thought that was for colds?"

"It's also for muscle aches and pains. It has a penetrating heat; it might help."

"OK. I'm game," Krycek agreed not quite sure about all this help he was getting.

Skinner took a dollop of it out and rubbed in into Krycek's swollen ankle. He then pulled a thick white sock on over the foot. Next he sat on the bed next to Krycek and rubbed some Vicks into his shoulder.

"Oohh; that does feel good," Krycek said.

Skinner took out some Ace bandages he had found in the medicine cabinet and wound them around Krycek's shoulder then helped him put the sweat shirt on.

Krycek slipped the other sock on while Skinner was folding a sling he had taken out of a First-Aid kit.

"You think that's really necessary?" Krycek asked.

"It would be best if you could give that shoulder at least a few days rest before you started using it again," he looped the sling over Krycek's neck and helped ease the arm into it.

"That does feel better. Thanks," Krycek said as Skinner wound an ace bandage around his injured ankle and helped him back into the living room.

Later Skinner baked some corn bread to go with the beans that they ate for supper and they took turns at the radio calling for help. They argued when it came time to turn in. Skinner insisted Krycek take the bed but Krycek wanted the couch. He insisted he'd rather be there in front of the fire where it was warmer.

Skinner finally gave in and enjoyed stretching out in the big bed. He didn't know for sure if Krycek really wanted the couch or if he was just grateful for what Skinner had done for him; not that it mattered all that much. They could always switch tomorrow.

He awoke in the morning to the smell of coffee and Krycek's voice, "CQ CQ Mayday, Mayday". Skinner wandered into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee and peered out the window.

"Hey, it stopped snowing."

"Yeah, for now. Radio said there is more on the way."

Krycek said as he joined him for another cup of coffee.

"I'd better get an early start then."

"You going back out there?"

"Yeah. Shouldn't take all that long. I want to take a look around and see what I can find. I might just luck out and find my cell phone." Skinner rinsed his cup out in the sink and headed back for the bedroom where he changed back into his fatigues and jacket.

"You sure you want to do that? It could start again any minute."

"It's not all that far. I shouldn't be gone more than an hour or so."

Krycek said nothing more and kept his eyes averted until Skinner was out the door and well on his way.

Krycek watched through the window as Skinner headed towards the stream then disappeared from sight around the stand of trees.

An hour went by and it started to snow again. Krycek watched anxiously out the window but there was no sign of Skinner. He hopped back to the desk and started calling again on the radio. He checked his watch and another 30 minutes had gone by.

"Damn it, Skinner! Where the hell are you?" He hopped over to the window and stood a while staring out into the darkening sky. Another 30 minutes passed before he finally saw the dark figure emerge around the trees, head down and heading through the veil of snow towards the cabin. Krycek met him at the door opening it for him.

Skinner came inside after beating as much snow off himself as he could; and went directly to the fireplace. "Ahhh that feels good!" he said pulling his gloves, hat and jacket off and warming his hands over the fire.

"What'd you find?" Krycek asked looking at the pile of gear Skinner had dropped as he came in.

"I found both our packs. I searched and searched but couldn't find my phone. The chopper radio is smashed beyond repair. Oh, and I found your boot."

"You did? I figured it would be buried in the snow."

Krycek grinned at him.

"It was half way up the mountain and was just about covered up but I saw the red shoe laces sticking out.

Damn; it's cold!" He headed over to the kitchen and brought back a cup of coffee. After he finished it he headed into the bedroom and changed back into his sweats.

"You hungry? I saw some oatmeal in the pantry.

There's also brown sugar and cinnamon so it won't taste all that bad." Back in the kitchen he started the oatmeal.

"Sounds great."

"Still nothing on the radio?"

"Nah. I'll keep trying." Krycek hopped back over to the radio and started his call again. "CQ CQ Mayday, Mayday" He repeated it over and over again as he dialed different frequencies.

They ate their breakfast of oatmeal and coffee at the little table in the kitchen without conversation.

"What do you think Cassidy will do when she doesn't hear from you tonight?" Krycek asked when he'd finished the last spoonful.

"She'll try and contact me first. When I don't answer; I assume she'll try to contact you. After a certain amount of time, she will begin to backtrack and find out we never made it."

"How long do you think that will take?"

"I don't know; a day or so probably. Why; you got a date or something?"

"The old man's in Hong Kong for two weeks. I need to be available when he gets back."

"Oh; I'm sure we'll be out of here by then. We certainly wouldn't want to disappoint him now, would we?" He gave a sarcastic grin.

Krycek ignored him, got up and limped back to the radio. The rest of the day was spent pretty much the same; taking turns at the radio, napping and voicing hopes of a possible pick-up later that evening.

After a dinner canned pasta, vegetables and fruit cocktail, they began trying to hear any search planes that might be in the area. It was no use though, as the snow started again and came down heavily, non-stop for the next two days; leaving snow drifts of four and five feet deep.

Skinner brought in the rest of the firewood and stacked it in the racks set up for it in the utility room. He wasn't too worried as the heating system seemed to be working quite well. His only concern was that they didn't loose power.

Day four dawned with the sun shining brightly giving hope that they might be seen by a search plane.

Skinner ventured outside and decided they needed some kind of sign for a plane to take notice. He came back in and searched for something bright colored; all he could come up with was a pair of red long-johns.

"What are you going to do with those?" Krycek asked.

"We need some sign for the search plane. I'm going to use these," he held them up.

Krycek snickered; "That ought to get their attention all right."

"I've got to find something to write on it with.

Something to make an SOS that won't wash out with the snow or rain falling on it.

"How about bleach?" Krycek offered. "I saw some back by the washer. It ought to work."

Skinner agreed and with a pen he made a big S O S on the long-johns and went back to the utility room with a spoon and laying the garment flat, he proceeded to spoon bleach directly to the letters. Then let it soak in for a bit. Later when he checked it, there was a perfect S O S.

"Now that you've got it, what are you going to do with it?" Krycek asked.

"I'm going to climb up that antenna out back and hang it up. If those planes are any where in the area, they will be creating enough air disturbance to make this thing flutter. Once they see what it is, they should come close enough to read the SOS."

"Sounds good," Krycek admitted. "Just the fact that it's long-johns is enough to make someone come close enough to take a second look. It ought to work."

Krycek limped outside and watched as Skinner climbed up the triangular post that held the antenna. He hoped that it was secured good and tight. The last thing they needed was for Skinner to be hurt as well.

He worked for several minutes but finally had it attached and as if on cue, the wind started blowing and out those long-johns blew; the big white SOS plain to see. Even seen from the back side it still spelled out SOS even though the Ss would be backwards, the distress signal was plain for all to see and recognize.

Skinner had barely gotten back down when the snow started again and they hurried back inside. Sitting in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate made from Cocoa and powdered milk, they talked.

"So tell me, Skinner. What were you like as a kid? I understand you had a brother and a sister. I'll bet that was wonderful!"

"Wonderful? I don't know that I'd call it that. It was just a normal childhood, I guess. Didn't you have any brothers or sisters?"

"No. I was an only child. I always wanted them though. Did you play a lot of games with your brother? Tease your sister?"

Skinner grinned, slipping back into memories of his childhood. "My brother and I were never close. In fact we were always exact opposites. He was six years older that me and was more into reading than anything else. I was more into sports and running around," he paused remembering. "I did give my sister fits though. In fact, that was the highlight of my day there for a couple of years," he chuckled.

"What did you do?" Krycek was enjoying the story immensely.

"She used to polish her nails; constantly! I hated the smell of that stuff and every time I smelled it, I'd try and do something to scare her so she'd mess them up," he grinned at the memory he had long forgotten.

"Didn't your folks ever get after you for it?"

"When they caught me, they did. The older I got, the smarter I got and figured out ways to not get caught."

"What happened when you did get caught? How did they punish you?"

"Well, mostly I just got yelled at but one time she was doing her polishing at the kitchen table and spilled it all over the chair. Now that dinette set had been in the family for years and my mother loved it dearly. My dad said that now the chair covered with red nail polish was mine to sit on from then on.

Well I didn't like that at all so one day I took it out to the barn and sanded it all off. Dad caught me and said that was a fine idea but I would have to finish it completely. He made me sand the entire chair, then showed me how to re-stain it to match the rest of the set. Now, I really loved that. My chair turned out to look the best in the bunch. That next summer I didn't have much going on so I sanded down and re-stained the entire set. Mom loved it and I had found myself a new hobby."

"You like to refinish furniture?"

"Yeah, I do. It's very satisfying. I haven't done any in years, but I did enjoy it."

Krycek sipped his cocoa and stared into the fire.

"So, Krycek; tell me something about your childhood?

What was it like being an only child? Did you get spoiled rotten; get everything you wanted?"

"No, not at all; quite the opposite actually. We were quite poor. Poppa had been a school teacher in Saint Petersburg but when they immigrated he could only get work as a Teacher's assistant. Momma worked at a library and the three of us lived in a little duplex Apartment. We were saving to buy a farm so we didn't spend a single penny we didn't have to. I remember I used to mow lawns and do errands for extra money and every cent went to Momma. I'm sure my contributions didn't amount to very much but Momma always accepted it like it was a treasure and it made me feel like I was helping to build our dream."

"Your Momma was a wise woman."

"Yes, she was."

"Are your folks still alive?" Skinner asked, tabling his empty cup.

"No. They died when I was 8 years old."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"You never did a background on me?"

"Just what's in your folder at the Bureau."

"That's next to nothing."

"So tell me. Where did you go after your parents passed?"

"Sisters of Charity Boys Home."

"Was it horrible?"

"Actually, it was nice. I liked it there a lot; kind of like having 35 brothers."

"How long were you there? Until you were 18?"

"No. I left when I was 14."

"Where did you go?"

"New York City. I wanted to be a cop and I wanted to work there."

"You knew what you wanted to be when you were 14?"

Skinner asked.

"Yeah, I did. I hitch-hiked to New York City found a job in a burger joint and then a place to live. I was tall for my age so I told everyone I was 16 and they believed me."

"So you started on this path as a teenager?"

"I guess you could say that."

They were silent for a while then Skinner spoke. "If you always knew what you wanted to be; what made you change your mind?"

"Nothing; it's what I always wanted."

"Yet you turned the first change you got?" Skinner wasn't sure how far he should push this line of thinking but it was always a good idea to learn all you could about an enemy.

"I know you probably won't believe me but I didn't know I was on the wrong side until it was too late."


"I met Spender in the Hoover. I saw him around a lot and one day after I'd been there about two months he took me aside and asked if I would be interested in doing some off-hours work. I was tickled to death to be asked to do something besides bring coffee or dig out a file. He started offering me small jobs and I took them gladly; thrilled to be finally doing some real work." Krycek kept his gaze on the fire in front of them.

"You didn't know who he was?"

"I hadn't a clue. He was always around the Hoover so I assumed he was with the Bureau in some capacity. By the time I found out who and what he was; it was too late."

"Why didn't you go to your AD; explain everything?"

"It was too late by then. I had already taken out a couple of men and he had all the evidence; proof enough to put me behind bars for life. He knew I couldn't stand that."

"Did you ever think about just leaving? Taking off somewhere?"

"Yeah, I have. And I paid for it."

"You took off?"

"I did."

"What happened?"

"He found me; brought me back."

"Why didn't you take off again?"

"I tried it four times, Skinner. The first time when they brought me back, he had his men work me over good. I tried again a month or so later. He found me again and this time it was worse."

"How?" Skinner prodded.

"Because of something that happened in my childhood, he knew I was severely claustrophobic," he stopped talking and went into the kitchen for a glass of water.

"When he got me back the second time, his goons worked me over then locked me in a small closet over night."

Skinner grimaced. He wasn't claustrophobic himself but remembered some of his buddies in Nam were and had some rough times whenever they found them squeezing through small spaces. He knew how this could affect someone so afflicted.

"That must have been tough."

"It was. But I don't learn that easily. I tried it again."

"What happened?"

"The third time I tried it; he had his goons work me over in the cellar. They tied me to some rings in the wall and one of them used a whip on me; then it was back into the closet. He left me there for three days."

Skinner was too aghast to pose any questions.

"The last time they caught me," Krycek went on but he was visibly shaking as he spoke. "They beat me till I was unconscious. When I woke up ... I was being raped.

Both of them ... used me. I was then taken to the wall, the whip was used, and then it was back into the closet for ten days."

"Shit!" Was all Skinner could think of to say.

"That was the last time and it's going to be the last time. I'm not taking any chances," he spoke the last few words barely above a whisper. After a minute or two he got up and hurriedly limped into the bathroom.

Skinner shuddered and for the first time felt pity for Alex Krycek. All the time he'd hauled him down off that mountain, he hadn't been that gentle. All the time he'd helped with his shoulder and his ankle, he hadn't been that gentle. Now he regretted it.

Looking back on Krycek's life, becoming an orphan so young, working hard all his life to become a cop, then when he finally makes it he runs into the likes of C.G.B. Spender. He had always wondered why Krycek had turned; he had always assumed it was money or some desire for power or some such thing. It never occurred to him that Krycek might have been tricked into working for the Consortium. He stood staring into the fire when Krycek finally came out of the bathroom, got his pillow and blanket and lay down on the couch ready for bed.

Skinner sat for a time at the radio trying to get his SOS out but there was no answer. The storm seemed determined to keep the airwave filled with static. He heard no voices on the radio and apparently no one heard his. He tried for an hour then gave up and went on to bed.

One day led into another and they all blurred into the same thing; taking turns sitting at the radio calling for help and eating whatever they decided to throw together from the canned goods in the pantry.

Occasionally they went outside when the snow stopped.

They checked to make sure their SOS was still visible and to gather some more tree branches that had broken off in the storm.

By the time their tenth day came, the snow drifts had covered the windows and doors. Krycek was pacing nervously when Skinner awoke and came out of the bedroom.

"What's wrong?"

"Snow's about to cover this place up entirely! It's up over the windows now. You can't see out any more."

Skinner nodded and poured himself a cup of coffee.

"How about the portable radio; have you heard anything on that?"

"Just talk of more and more snow. What's taking so long? Why haven't they found us?"

"I don't know. We must be pretty much off the beaten path. I haven't heard a plane since we've been here."

"I've got to be back in four days. If I'm not, the old man's going to find out I've been working for Cassidy and everything's blown to hell!"

"What do you want to do? You want to try and walk out of here?" Skinner asked trying not to sound too sarcastic.

"I wouldn't even know what direction to start walking!"

"We were in the air at least two hours before we went down. We could be hundreds of miles from civilization."

Krycek gulped and had to agree that that was probably right.

After breakfast Skinner took his turn at the radio while Krycek twisted the dial on the little portable radio looking for weather reports. They both sat in silence as the weather man's voice came on warning of further worsening of the storm system.

Skinner returned to his calling. They were about to trade positions when they heard a voice through the static from the Yaesu. "Who's calling Mayday? Are you in trouble? Over."

Krycek slid into the seat that Skinner had just vacated and gripped the microphone.

"Mayday, Mayday. Can you read me? Over," he waited for the voice to come on again before carefully turning the dial a fraction to get a stronger signal.

"I read you loud and clear. Where are you and what's the trouble? Over"

"Helicopter crash; one dead; two survivors. Can you send help? Over"

"What is your location? Over"

"Somewhere in the woods of northern Maine. Can you make a land line call for me? Over."

"Helicopter crash? Over."

"Yes! Can you make a phone call for me? Critically urgent. Over"

"Jeese, man! You serious? I haven't heard anything about a helicopter crash. Over."

Krycek was getting exasperated. "Do you have access to a phone? Please call the police; this is urgent!


"I can call, I guess, but they're gonna need your location. Over"

"Call your local police. Do you have a pencil and paper? Over"

"Just a minute. I'll get some. I'll be right back.

I mean -- Over."

Skinner and Krycek grinned in relief at each other while the young man on the line got his pencil and paper.

"OK. I'm back. What do you want me to tell the police? Over"

"Tell them you're a ham operator and you picked up my signal. Tell them what frequency you are on. Tell them to call the F.B.I in Washington D.C. this is the number:__________. Ask for Director Jana Cassidy.

Tell her Walter Skinner is alive and in a cabin snowed in about two miles from crash site. Have you got that? Over"

"Just a minute ... OK, I got it. You sure this isn't some kind of joke? I mean I don't want to get into any trouble, calling the police and all. Over"

Skinner pulled the microphone away from Krycek. "This is Assistant Director Walter Skinner. We have one dead and one seriously injured. We need help. Call the authorities NOW!"

"OK, OK, I'm dialing the number right now. Take it easy. Over"

They held their breath and waited. Finally! Finally they got through to someone! Moments later the voice came back on.

"Are you there? Over"

"Yes! We're here. Over"

"I spoke with Lt. Williams. He's going to try and reach you on his radio. Over"

"Did he make the phone call to D.C.? Over"

"I don't know. I gave him the message and he said he'd take care of it. Said he wanted to talk to you himself. Over"

"OK, thanks. What's your name? You just saved our lives! Over"

"I don't know about that. But my name's Harry. Harry Benson. Over"

Just then static crackled loudly and another call came in.

"Walter Skinner, do you read? Over"

Skinner took the chair that Krycek vacated and answered, "Walter Skinner here, Over"

"Lt. Williams Bangor PD here. Were you sending out a Mayday? Over"

"Yes sir! I'm an assistant Director at the FBI out of DC. Our helicopter went down ten days ago. We are in a cabin about two miles east of the crash site. Can you relay information to DC for me?"

"Yes sir. I can make the call for you. First I'll need your badge number and number of survivors. Over"

"Badge number ____________. Pilot dead. Two survivors. Can you get that information off to DC as soon as possible? We are snow bound here. Cabin is almost completely covered. Snow keeps coming. Before long we'll be totally covered and they'll never be able to find us. Over"

"Do you know the exact location where you went down? Over"

"Exact location unknown. Approximately 2 hours out of Bangor, heading north west. We are in a cabin beside a stream. Chopper went down on the side of a mountain and slid the rest of the way down and remains are in the stream. Cabin approximately two miles east. Over"

The static was getting worse and their signal fading.

"Losing signal. Will make call and try on this frequency again after. Over" That was the end; nothing but static from then on.

They were all excited then; pacing the floor; hoping the Yaesu would come back to life again.

"You think the cabin is completely covered? The chimney must not be because the fireplace is still working." Krycek asked.

"Even if the cabin is covered, the chimney sticks up about 15 feet further and that antenna with our SOS about 10 feet higher than that."

"I wish we could see out," Krycek said as he went from window to window trying to peer through the snow.

"First thing; we need to keep a fire going. The smoke could be seen from a lot farther off than our signal."

Skinner said as he placed another log on the fire.

"How long do you think it will take?" Krycek asked eagerly.

"I have no idea. It could be a matter of hours or maybe not for another day or two."

"A day or two? I can't wait that long!" Now that rescue was near Krycek was more excited.

"We can't see what the weather is like out there. If it's clear, it may only take a few hours. If it's still snowing, it might take longer. The last thing they want is to put another chopper up there in danger."

"Yeah, I guess you're right." Krycek rubbed his hands together and continued pacing.

"We should probably see to putting the place back in shape; and get into our own clothes. I want to leave a note for the owner and some cash for all the supplies we've used up. Do you have any cash on you?

I've got a couple hundred."

"Yeah. Sure. I've got about that much." Krycek got his wallet from the mantle and pulled out the cash and handed it to Skinner.

Skinner went into the bedroom and changed into his own clothes. Krycek did the same in the living room.

Skinner pulled the sheets off the bed and put them in the washing machine. He dug around on the desk until he found paper and pen and set about writing a thank you note for the cabin's owner.

"You know, as far north as we are, this must happen a lot; getting snowed in like this. I wonder ..." Skinner walked around looking at the ceiling.

"What? What are you thinking?" Krycek followed him into the hall.

"There it is." Skinner pointed to the opening in the hallway in the ceiling that obviously went to the attic.

"An attic?"

"If this sort of thing happens often, they would need another way out. Maybe there is a way out through the attic?" Skinner said as he slid back the cover over the opening. He reached up and grabbed the stair rung and pulled them down. Up the stairs he went with Krycek following right behind. He pulled the string that turned the light on.

Sure enough, over on the back side by the chimney they saw it; a trap door leading to the outside through the roof. They walked carefully on the beams to the door and in minutes Skinner was pushing it open; flooding the attic with light. He reached up with both hands and hoisted himself up the few feet it took for him to sit on the edge and look around.

Krycek found something to stand on and hopped up to sit on the other side. They breathed in deeply the cold crisp air and looked around. The snow was deceptively deeper in some places than other. It appeared like the roof wasn't covered but the snow came up to within about a foot of the roof and lay out flat and white before them like a gigantic blanket covering the area with only tree tops showing.

Their SOS still fluttered in the breeze and where the land slanted off down towards the stream he could see the snow was only 3 or 4 foot deep. He wondered where a chopper could land.

"There's no way a chopper can land up here." Krycek had read his thoughts.

"No; not right close but there is a clearing down there just around that bend of trees close to the stream," Skinner said. "That's probably the closest place."

The wind got up then and they came back down inside where it was warm. Skinner poked the fire up and added another log. "If this weather holds out; they could get a chopper in here."

"And if it doesn't?" Krycek was used to figuring all the angles.

"Then at least they know we are still alive and will be looking for us."

Krycek shook his head and warmed his hand over the fire.

The initial excitement wore off and they set to fixing some lunch for themselves.

At first, Cassidy refused the call but her secretary insisted. "This guy is for real and he says he has a message from Skinner."

"Skinner? There's no way in hell!" Cassidy scoffed.

"I think you'd better take it." She prodded.

"OK," Cassidy sighed, not wanting to get cross-ways with her assistant; one of the few people that she was close enough to, to accept their judgment on situations.

"Jana Cassidy; you say you have a message for me?"

"Yes. Thank you for taking my call. I'm Lt. Danny Williams, Bangor PD. We got a call from a ham radio operator who said he was in touch with a Walter Skinner calling in a Mayday. He gave me the frequency and I checked it out. It's legitimate, all right. Do you have an Assistant Director there named Walter Skinner?"

"We do."

"Badge number __________?"

"That's correct."

"He says his helicopter went down two hours northwest of here. He said the pilot was dead but there were two survivors. He said they were in a cabin by a stream two miles east from the crash site. He asked me to call you and relay the information. It sounds pretty legitimate to me."

"So why didn't he contact the Bureau directly?"

"Apparently all he has access to is a ham radio. He said the weather there was bad and they were snowed in. I talked to Skinner myself. This is legitimate; not someone playing a prank."

"All right, Lt. Williams. We will look into it and see if there's anything to it. Thank you for the call." She hung up with a curse. So Skinner and Krycek were still alive. Now she'd have to mount a search. And with everything else she had to contend with it was just too much! She cursed again and made the call. She made a mental note to herself to inform Bancroft that she wouldn't need him as the new AD after all.

They sat in the opening of the roof door and watched the sun go down and with it their hopes sank.

"Looks like they won't be getting here till tomorrow."

Skinner said as he climbed back down the attic steps and into the warmth of the cabin.

Krycek followed him down, "They could still find us tonight; I mean, search planes fly at night," he reasoned.

"Can you imagine what all this looks like from up there? There could be several cabins located near that creek and they'd have to check each one of them out," Skinner said as he entered the kitchen area and started opening cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew for dinner.

"Yeah, but how many of them are flying a pair of long johns with an SOS on them?"

"This is true but they'd have to see it and it's almost dark out there. It'll probably be tomorrow sometime. We'll leave the radio off and see if we can hear a plane. It'll probably be another chopper and they are usually good and loud. Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll see the smoke from the chimney."

Krycek took the bowl of stew Skinner offered and ate silently. If they got picked up tomorrow, he could still get back to DC and be there when the old man got back. There was still enough time.

They were up early the next morning, putting the cabin back to rights and getting everything in order for their departure. By sun up they were sitting on the roof waiting; hoping for the sound of an engine. It seemed to take for ever; like they'd sat there for hours but all of the sudden there it was. Rotor blades whirling in the distance, getting louder and louder as it neared them.

They stood up and waved and the pilot motioned them to come down by the creek where he could land. They scurried back down the steps; dowsed the fire in the fireplace, turned the generator off, and grabbed their bags. Just as they were heading back up the steps Krycek stopped Skinner with a hand on his arm.

"I owe you."

"We're even. You were the one in the car that hit the man that was shooting at me the first night I was infected with the nanobots. I saw you."

"We'll never be even, Skinner. I did so much ..."

"How much of it was your idea and how much of it was following orders?" Skinner asked.

"That's no excuse." Krycek shook his head.

Skinner put a hand on Krycek's shoulder and squeezed, "I'd work another assignment with you any time," he couldn't believe he was saying that but he meant it, and he felt it.

"And I don't hate you nearly as much as I thought I did."

They heard the bull-horn then. "Hey, you in the cabin? Are you coming out? Do you need assistance?"

They hurried up the steps and stepped out on the roof.

They waved at the guy and slid down the roof to meet him. He was carrying two extra pairs of snow shoes.

They slipped them on and off they went.

Skinner signed off on the report and closed the folder; his last for the day. A check of his watch showed 8:35pm; another 13 hour day behind him. He drummed his fingers on top of the closed folder and cursed himself once again for allowing his life to become nothing more than one meeting after another and one report after another.

"One of these days ..," he vowed as he walked the stack of folders into his front office and dropped them his secretary's desk. She would have her work cut out for her when she returned in the morning.

Just as he turned to head back into his office his cell phone rang. "Skinner" he answered as he walked back into his office and took his coat from the rack and pulled it on.

"Skinner, it's me. I need your help. I'm cut; bleeding a lot," Krycek gasped into the phone.

"Where are you?"

"Stairwell, third floor. Hurry."

Skinner stopped in his en-suite bathroom and grabbed up a clean towel from the shelf and stuck it under his coat. He headed out for the stairs and galloped down to the third level. There in the shadows, huddled back in a corner he found him.

"How bad is it?" he asked kneeling beside Krycek.

"Don't know. Hurts like hell. Bleeding like mad."

Krycek lifted his hand off his side and the blood bubbled out.

Skinner covered the wound with the towel and put Krycek's hand over it. "Hold it. Press down," he pulled Krycek to his feet. "We've got to get you to a doctor."

"NO! No doctor. Just help me get out of this building. I've got bandages."

"Uh uh. You need stitches." Skinner helped him down the stairs to a side entrance of the Hoover. "Wait here. I'll bring my car around."

Krycek was beyond arguing. He needed to get out of the building and he needed to do it now. If he could just make it back to his apartment, he could fix the wound up himself.

Skinner brought his car around and pushed the passenger side door open; Krycek took a quick look around then climbed in. A quick wave to the guard on duty and they were out through the security gate and on the road.

"There's a clinic about 15 minutes from here. I friend of mine runs it," he glanced across at Krycek who was obviously in a bad way. His breathing was ragged, his face pinched and try as he might he couldn't keep the tears from streaming down his face as he grimaced in pain.

"There'll be reports ..," he protested.

"No. This is a private clinic. My friend owns it.

There'll be no questions. I take that back. He's a doctor. Doctors always have questions but I can promise you, there will be no reports made to anyone."

Krycek leaned his head against the side window and protested no longer; he didn't have the strength.

Skinner pulled out his cell phone and thumbed in his friend's number.

"Tony? I need a favor. I'm bringing in a John Doe.

Knife wound, lower abdomen. Bleeding profusely."


"OK. We'll be there in about ten minutes. And Tony, we'll be using the back entrance. This is strictly confidential. I don't want anyone else to see him."

"Thanks," he closed the phone and pocketed it.

"This will all be handled on a John Doe basis. Don't worry about it."

"Whatever." Krycek was beyond worrying. He was just struggling to stay conscious.

They had no sooner got him on the table in the back room when Krycek passed out. Dr. Tony Green, Skinner's old Marine buddy, worked over him stitching up then bandaging the wound.

"This one has seen some hard times, Walter. Where'd you find him?"

"He used to work at the bureau. He's more or less in private practice now."

"What the hell happened to his arm?" he asked as he worked.

"I'm not sure exactly; just that he lost it four or five years ago in Russia."

"From the looks of it, it didn't come off easily; looks like he's had several surgeries on it."

Skinner stepped closer to the table and took a better look. He'd seen worse; in Nam but Krycek had never been in combat; at least none that he knew of.

"Tony, you got another shirt around here somewhere?

He can't put that thing back on."

"You're taking him out of here tonight?"

"He won't stay once he wakes up."

"I'm sure I can find something. It might be a scrub shirt; is that OK?"

"Sure thing; just something to cover him up with."

"I'll see what I can find," he left the room then and Skinner stood and waited, watching Krycek's vital signs on the monitor. He was doing better. It had been just a flesh wound; deep and messy but nothing vital was damaged.

Krycek's eyes blinked and he was awake. "Where are we?" he whispered to Skinner.

"At my friend's clinic. You're going to be fine.

"I've got to get out of here. They will be checking the clinics looking for me."

"We're in a back room. I've explained to my friend the need for privacy. They won't find you here."

"Will he stitch me up?"

"It's all done. Once you feel strong enough we can go."

Krycek's hand went to his side and he felt the bandage. He breathed a little easier but he was still concerned about getting out of there before anyone came looking for him.

"Good. Where's my shirt; my jacket?"

"Your shirt is a bloody mess; Tony is going to come up with something for you to wear. Your jacket is right here, on the chair."

"My gun?"

"Right here." Skinner lifted it out of his pocket and showed it to him. "I thought I'd better keep an eye on it for you till we leave."

"OK. Thanks," he settled down for the moment, content to rest with Skinner standing guard.

An hour later they were in the car. "Are you sure you're OK?" Skinner asked. "Tony wanted you to stay over night. I could have stayed with you to watch."

"I'm fine. Just drop me off at the mall; over behind Sears."

"OK. Would it do any good to ask you what you were doing in the Hoover and if anyone else was hurt?"

"I was on a job and I got careless. The person who did this wasn't supposed to be there either. He didn't get hurt. He caught me following him, cut me and took off."

"You ever think of a new line of work?" Skinner tried to lighten the mood.

"Every waking moment but that's not in the cards."

"Then why not deal yourself a new hand?"

"Can't be done."

"Sure it can. People change careers every day."

"People don't leave the Consortium."

"There's got to be a way."

"I've been hunting for one for years now and I've come up with nothing."

Skinner pulled into the Mall parking lot and drove around to the rear of Sears and parked.

"You could turn state's evidence; I'm sure you know enough about the old man to put him away for life."

"I'd never live long enough to testify."

"There has to be a way."

"I've tried and lived to regret it. Thanks for your help tonight, Skinner. I owe you -- again."

"If I could come up with a way; would you leave?"

"There is no way, Skinner; and I'm not ready to die just yet."

"Alex ... Maybe if you had help? I could help you; I have friends who could help."

"NO! Stay out of it. You've already put yourself in enough danger because of me. I won't have you risk your life and that of your friends on something that's hopeless."

"I'll think of something. There's always a way.

Remember, you didn't think I could get you down off that mountain either but I did."

"Yeah, I remember; but this is different. Leave it alone," he reached for the door handle but Skinner's hand on his arm stopped him.

"OK; think about this then," he reached his left hand over, cupped the side of Krycek's face and pulled him in for a soft sweet kiss which shocked them both.

"That's not playing fair," Krycek said after taking a deep breath.

"I wasn't playing," he brought their mouths together for a much firmer, deeper kiss.

"Walter, you and I both know that ... you and I ... it's just not in the cards."

"Well, I'm shuffling the deck and calling for a new deal then."

Krycek grinned, a crooked grin from a man who never had much to grin about in his life. "You can't change what is."

"Watch me!" Skinner said and pulled Krycek into his arms and kissed him again long and deep until they were both shaken.

"I gotta go." Krycek pulled back from the embrace reluctantly. "I have to catch a plane in a couple of hours and I can't show up in scrubs."

"OK; but just promise me you'll think about it. Maybe there isn't a way for you to get out on your own, but there just might be a way you could do it with help."

"You're one crazy son of a bitch, Walter Skinner. You know that?" He stepped out of the car looking carefully around.

"You owe me for tonight, Alex and all I ask in return is that you'll think about it." He smiled out the window at him.

"I'll think about it but that's all I can promise," he said and turned to walk away.

"That's all I ask. Watch your back, Alex."

Krycek favored him with one more lopsided grin and he was gone into the maze of parked cars.

Three Months Later

"So how do you feel about another field assignment?"

Cassidy asked.

Skinner held the phone aside while he cursed. "Does it have anything to do with helicopters?"

"Jesus, Skinner. You got out all right didn't you; what are you whining about?"

"What do you have in mind? Do I have the right to opt out if I don't like the sound of it?"

"Since when did you become such a pussy, Skinner? Get your ass over to my office at 2:30 and we'll talk. If you think it's too much for your delicate sensibilities then I'll call in someone with balls."

She hung up the phone and Skinner cursed her under his breath.

He checked his watch and decided he'd have just enough time to run out and get some lunch. Walking down the hall towards Cassidy's office later he began having second thoughts. As much as he hated the desk work, he wasn't all that sure he wanted any more of Cassidy's BS either. He took a deep breath and went inside. Cassidy's secretary seated him in one of the two chairs that sat in front of the Director's desk.

A few moments she came in and seated herself at her desk.

She sat there shuffling papers and files while he cooled his heels across from her and wondered for the millionth time how she managed to land the job of Director. Certainly not on her winning personality, that's for sure.

Her phone buzzed and she answered it. "Send him in," was all she said.

Skinner turned to see Alex Krycek walk into the room.

He came on in and slouched down in the chair next to Skinner. Skinner held his breath; struggling to keep a dis-interested expression on his face.

"This doesn't involve another helicopter ride, does it?" Krycek groused.

"Dumb-ass joke and it's already been used. Just shut up and wait a minute." She continued messing with her papers until she finally had them as she wanted them.

"This is a retrieval job; a safe; weighing 85 to 90 pounds. Krycek can get the two of you in and the alarms to the safe taken care of. Skinner, I want you to haul the thing out of there and bring it to a location that I'll give you later. Any questions?"

"You want us to bring back the entire safe? Not just the contents?" Skinner asked.

"That's what I said."

"You don't think I can get into the safe?" Krycek asked.

"No, I don't. It's some kind of privately built job.

This guy does great work and it takes hours to get into one of his safes and there's no way it can be done in a timely manner without setting off every alarm in the building. We don't have the time on-scene to work on it. We've got the dimensions and it's small enough to carry. We've rigged up a harness and Skinner can haul it down on his back."

"Haul it down?" Skinner asked, already not liking this job.

"That's what I said. It's on the tenth floor and you'll be taking it down the back stair well. Walk in the park, right?"

Krycek and Skinner looked at each other for the first time since Krycek entered the room. A dubious look passed between them.

"There are only two guards on duty on that floor. One walks the halls and the other keeps an eye on the stairs. At exactly 3:00 am the stair guard takes off for his lunch break. That leaves the stairs clear for thirty minutes. You go in through the side door; there's lots of cover there; up the stairs, get the safe, bring it back down and deliver it to me. That's all there is to is. So are the two of you in or do I have to call in some *real* agents to do the work?"

"I'm in," Krycek said, drumming his finger tips on the arm of the chair.

"Count me in," Skinner said with a side ways glance at Krycek. He knew it couldn't be as easy as it sounded and that there would be more to it, he was sure of that; but he would get to spend more time with Krycek and he wanted that -- badly.

"All right. Here's the information; the location, the layout of the office the safe is in, and the location to deliver the merchandise." She tossed a set of keys across to Skinner. "I've reserved a pickup for you to use. Give me a call when you've delivered. And try not to mess this mission up like last time."

"WE didn't mess up last time!" Skinner replied.

"You didn't get the job done; did you?" She retorted.

"That wasn't our fault; the chopper crashed if you remember correctly." He'd had enough of her bull shit.

"Whatever," she waved a hand and dismissed them.

"Just try and get the vehicle back in one piece."

Skinner and Krycek walked to the outer office together. "I'll meet you at the motor pool at 2:30," Krycek said and ambled off in the opposite direction.

Skinner nodded in agreement and watched him walk away.

They pulled up and stopped behind an apartment building which was just across the alley from the building. They sat and waited and at exactly 3:01 the side door opened and the guard walked out. He stood for several minutes surveying the area, then walked over to his car, got in and drove away.

"Let's go," Skinner said and they took off across the alley and entered the building. Up the stairs they went, level after level until they were at the door marked "10th Floor". Krycek eased the door opened and they slipped inside.

The office they needed was at the end of the hall behind large carved oak double doors. Krycek worked at them for just a minute and the door clicked un-locked. Skinner watched with admiration at the fine work Krycek could do with just one and a half hands.

Once inside they stopped dead in their tracks. The tell tale red lights crisscrossed the area. Krycek found the panel beside the door and worked his magic again and the lights blinked off. The safe was in the credenza behind the desk and Krycek was on his knees and working. Skinner stood by watching; careful not to touch anything. It took eight minutes before Krycek leaned back and wiped his brow.

"OK. Pull it out of there." Krycek stood up, took the harness out of his pack and waited for Skinner to lift the safe. He set it on the credenza, eased it into the harness then bent down and hefted it up on his back while Krycek fastened the straps around his chest. "Got it?" Krycek asked.

"Yeah. Piece of cake," Skinner answered as he moved around to get it into a comfortable position. "Let's go."

They started out slowly, Krycek closing the credenza door; re-setting the alarm; then peeking out the door to see if the coast was clear. The guard had just passed and they waited until he got to the end of the hall and turned the corner before heading for the stairs. They made it down two flights of stairs before someone on the 8th floor opened the door and came into the stairwell in front of them.

"What the hell ..." The guy went for his gun but Krycek jumped him. They struggled for less than a minute.

The gun went off and in the next instant the shooter was laying dead, neck broken. Krycek turned around to find Skinner sitting on the top stair.

"Let's go," he started down the stairs but Skinner sat there, working something out of his pocket.

"What are you doing?" Krycek asked.

"I'm hit." Skinner answered, finally managing to get the roll of duct tape out of his pocket. He pulled off a length of about three feet and started wrapping it around his leg.

"You're hit?" Krycek couldn't believe it.

"Slug hit me in the leg," he wound the tape round and round his leg. He tried to stand but his left leg gave out on him and he sat back down.

"You always carry that stuff with you?" Krycek asked.

"On every single mission. And I usually find a reason to use it."

"C'mon; we've got to go; now!" Krycek came back up the few stairs.

"You're going to have to take this," Skinner started undoing the harness.

"No way! You're getting paid to haul that thing down these stairs and that's what you're going to do!"

Krycek reached over and fastened the belts back up.

"I can't make it, Alex. You're going to have to finish the assignment without me. I'll crawl back inside and hide out somewhere. You can come find me after you deliver this."

"No fucking way! We're going down these stairs NOW!" Krycek hauled Skinner to his feet.

"Lean on the railing on that side and me on this side." Krycek put his arm around Skinner's waist.

"We'll never make it in time," Skinner warned.

"HOP!" Krycek ordered. "Remember, how I had to hop around that cabin? Well, it's your turn now."

Skinner took one step down with a hop and he groaned.

"I can't do it! You can carry this. It's not that heavy."

"You got two choices, Skinner. You hop or you can sit down and I'll pull you down these stairs backwards; see how you like it."

They stared at each other for several seconds then Skinner hopped down another stair. First one step then two then another.

"We're going too slowly. We'll never make it in time," Skinner warned as he hopped.

"We made good time upstairs. We've got about 15 minutes left. We can make it if you keep going. You just need a little incentive."

"Incentive?" Skinner scowled.

"Yeah. How about this." Krycek turned and smiled at him. "You get down these steps in time and I'll give you the best blow job you ever had. How about it?"

Skinner threw his head back and laughed. "I don't know about that now. I've had some pretty good blow jobs," he kept hopping.

"Shit! You probably can't even remember when the last time you got one. When would that have been? Before you joined the bureau? You spend every waking minute behind that desk of yours!"

Skinner just snickered and kept hopping.

The trek down was arduous and painful. With each hop and the safe moved, chafing against Skinner's back.

The muscles in his good leg screamed at carrying all the weight but down they went. Skinner fought the desperate need to just sit down for a minute; they didn't have a minute to spare and he knew it.

Finally they made it and with four minutes to spare Krycek peeked out the alley door. No one was in sight. "Wait here. I'll bring the truck around," he took off across the alley.

Skinner was only too happy to wait; just being on the ground floor again seemed to perk him up. He decided to wait outside; that way, if the guard did show up, he could duck back out of sight among the garbage cans in the shadows. A car pulled up just as he stepped into the darkness. The guard got out, looked around, and went into the building; passing Skinner by less than six feet. Skinner was sure his heart was pounding so loudly that the guard could hear it as he crouched down, but into the building the guard went, carrying his bag of food.

An instant later, he heard the truck pull up. Krycek jumped out and came over to him. They dumped the safe in the back of the truck, jumped in and took off.

It was a relief to get the weight off his back and he was happy to let Krycek drive while he sat there trying to catch his breath and trying to remember why it was he had asked for field work.

"You OK?" Krycek asked after he had maneuvered through several alley ways and back out into traffic.

"Yeah. Looks like it went straight through," he said rubbing his leg. "Would you really have dragged me down those stairs?" he asked with a grin.

"You better believe it!"

Twenty minutes later they were at the drop off and unloaded the safe into the waiting hands of Cassidy and her group. She cursed at Skinner for taking a bullet and told him to get over to their company doctor and get fixed up and to keep his mouth shut about what happened. She told them both to write up their reports and she would have them picked up by currier.

Krycek drove Skinner over to the clinic and helped him out and over to the door. "See you around," he said as a nurse came out with a wheelchair.

"Hey, wait a minute," Skinner stopped him. "You owe me something!"

Krycek grinned. "I guess you'll have to collect next time," he waved a hand and was gone.

"I now pronounce you man and wife." The priest said and Mulder, grinning happily, kissed a radiant Scully.

She was a lovely bride all in white; her red hair, grown long, hung loosely down her shoulders. Mulder's hair was longer now too; touching his collar in back; the two of them hardly recognizable from just a few short years ago.

The reception went smoothly, everyone on their best behavior. Even Bill Scully, Dana's brother. He stood tall and handsome in his Navy uniform but still kept an eye on Mulder. He'd probably never really trust him but that didn't bother Dana. She did; and that was all that mattered to her.

Skinner stood in the background trying to be inconspicuous. He hated these sorts of things but this particular wedding was long over due. He was happy to attend but now that the wedding was over with all he wanted to do was get out of there. He sidled up to the happy couple, said his good-byes and slipped away from the festivities.

With a sigh of relief, he hopped into his car and headed back to the office. He didn't have anything special that he was working on but he'd find something; anything to keep from going home to his empty Apartment; his empty life.

Sunday evenings were usually spent alone at the Hoover and this evening was no exception. His footsteps echoed eerily in the empty hall way; he was grateful for the silence when he stepped onto the carpet in his outer office. He keyed the lock to his door, opened it and went in. He turned on his desk lamp and nearly jumped out of his skin.

Someone was sitting in the large overstuffed chair in the darkness.

"Who are you and what are you doing in my office?"

Skinner demanded as his hand moved slowly towards his holstered gun.

"You've forgotten me already?" a familiar voice asked as the man stood up and walked over to the desk.

"KRYCEK?" Skinner could feel his blood pressure rise as he said the name.

Krycek chuckled, "So how was the wedding?" Krycek asked taking a seat in front of Skinner's desk.

"It was a wedding. They're all the same. People get married all the time, Krycek."

"Actually, that's why I'm here."

"You're here because you didn't get invited to the wedding?"

"I want to give them a gift. Something special and I need your help getting it."

"Are you out of your mind, Krycek? You know how they feel about you."

"What I'm getting them is really important."

"To you maybe. I can assure you that any gift from you will go straight into the trash."

"Not this one." Krycek sat and drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair and smiled.

"Walter, I meant what I said. I want to do something special for Mulder and Scully and I need your help."

"What makes you think that they would even accept a gift from you?"

"It's William."

"It's what? William? Their baby?" He had Skinner's undivided attention now.

"Uh huh. I found out who adopted him and did some checking up on them. They were Consortium."

"Oh God! Please tell me you didn't just say the Consortium has William. I thought they were out of business?" Skinner pulled his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. He was more tired than he thought. In fact, he just realized that he was exhausted.

"The couple that adopted him worked for the group. When the organization collapsed, they disappeared. That's why I need your help. I've been looking for him for months now and I think I've finally found them and when I do, I'll need someone with authority to pick him up."

"You sure about this?" Skinner couldn't believe it; didn't want to believe it.

"Positive. Here," he reached inside his leather jacket and pulled out an envelope and tossed it on the desk in front of Skinner.

"Son of a bitch!" Skinner swore as he read, then threw the papers down and got up. He paced the floor and wondered if he should contact Mulder and Scully but decided against it.

"I don't think we should tell the newlyweds until we have William," Krycek answered Skinner's un-asked question.

"Agreed. There's no sense getting their hopes up."

Skinner sat back down at his desk then asked. "Before this goes any farther, I need to know what your stake is in this? Why do you want to do this for them?

What's in it for you?" Old suspicions die hard.

Krycek waited for a moment then answered. "A long time ago, for a few months, Mulder and I were partners. I made a lot of mistakes and blew that partnership but it meant a lot to me. I have tried over the years to talk with him; to explain things but I never got the chance; he sees me and he starts swinging."

"You can hardly blame him for that."

"I know; but not everything that was done to him was done by me; but he'd never believe that," he leaned forward in the chair and continued.

"Look. I'm not trying to re-establish old friendships here. I'm the one who made the mistakes; got mixed up with the wrong side. A lot of shit came down on the two of them and I was responsible for some of it. It's all over with now; it's in the past. But I was in the head quarters building tidying up loose ends when I came across the information about William. I know it won't make up for all I, and others like me, have done to them but we've got a little kid here, left in the hands of Consortium people and I think he needs to be with his real Mom and Dad; that's all."

"What makes you think they still have him? They could have dumped him in some orphanage somewhere."

"I've been trying to trace them since they moved and so far I seem to be one step behind them. Each time I get word of them, there's three of them; parents and a boy about three."

Skinner rubbed the back of his neck that was aching with tension.

"We need to find him, Walter. The poor kid must be scared to death with all the running. We've got to find him before they do decide to dump him somewhere."

"Do they know you're after them?" Skinner asked.

"I don't know. I've tried to be careful but you never know who they're in contact with or who might have said something to them. With the group now defunct, they must know that they are a loose end that somebody will be looking to clear up."

"Christ! OK. Let's start from the beginning. Tell me everything you know about them."

Among Krycek's paperwork were court orders signed by a judge that had gotten the adoption overturned and legal authority to take custody of the child whenever they found him. After another hour's digging, Skinner had to agree that Krycek's latest information seemed solid. In a matter of hours they were on a plane headed for Chicago.

The plane ride, while only a few hours, was a bitch.

Thunderstorms raged over the city; the ride was rough and the landing was rougher. Both were relieved when they made it to their hotel through half-flooded streets and idiotic drivers. Things went from bad to worse when they tried to check in. The storm had caused a lot of people to extend their stays and there was only one room available. They would have to share.

"Sorry about the accommodations, Walter." Krycek apologized as they entered their room.

"I'm beyond caring at this point. I'm just glad we're on the ground in one piece and made it this far without drowning. I only hope this rain lets up so we can get out and get an early start in the morning and get the job done," Skinner said as he slung his bag onto one of the two queen-sized beds that occupied the room, along with a small round table, two chairs, and a dresser with a TV on top.

"Actually, the storm can work in our favor. No body in their right minds would go out in a storm like this so if they ARE here; they might stay put long enough for us to find them."

"You mean you want to go out looking for them in this mess?" Skinner gestured towards the window; the storm was raging outside and streaking the sky with lightning.

"Uh huh. It's the best time to find someone. They all stay inside and usually leave their blinds open so they can watch the rain. Piece of cake."

"Well, your idea of a piece of cake is different from mine," Skinner said as he proceeded to unpack his bag.

"You don't have to come out. I'll just take a quick trip out to the address we have and see if they are there or not. If they are, I'll give you a call and you can grab a cab and join me."

"I'll have to get in touch with the local authorities first; let them know what's going on."

"Fine. You make your phone calls. I'll see about getting us a car. I reserved one so they should have something for us."

"You ever driven in Chicago before? It's hard enough to get around as it is; this rain will make it nearly impossible."

"Nearly; but not impossible. I'm counting on them not being familiar with the city and not wanting to take off in the storm. Two points in our favor."

"Unless this just happens to be one of the parent's home town," Skinner warned.

"It isn't. They are both from the south. No relatives here; I've already checked," Krycek said, dropping his bag on the floor next to the bed opposite Skinner's.

"I wonder why they picked Chicago then. Are there Consortium connections here?"

"Not any more. They probably picked Chicago because they figured a big town would be easier to get lost in. He's a plumber so he probably figured he'd have no trouble finding work in a town this size."

"Makes sense, I guess. It'd also be easier to hide here with a child than a small town would be."

"Exactly. I'm outta here. I'll call you if I find anything." Krycek headed for the door.

"Wait a minute." Skinner stopped him. "I'm sure I'm going to regret this; but I'm going with you. I can make the calls from my cell," he grabbed up his jacket and the two of them headed out the door.

Skinner made his contacts with the local authorities while Krycek drove them across town in their rented SUV. The storm was in full bloom but Krycek managed to keep them on the road.

"You seem to know where you're going; I take it you're familiar with Chicago?" he asked holding on as Krycek made a tight turn to avoid a stalled car.

"I've been here a lot. I'm familiar with the main streets and I located the address on a map before we left so I have a pretty good idea how to get there."

"Have you given any thought to what we're going to do with the child if and when we get out hands on him?" Skinner asked.

"He's just a kid. We'll buy him a hamburger and french fries and hop the next plane back to DC and give him to his parents. What's to worry about?"

"Well for one thing, we don't even know if he's potty trained or not. We might need to get some diapers or hell, I don't know whatever a little kid needs," Skinner answered.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. If he needs diapers, we'll stop at a store and get some. What ever he needs, we'll get for him. It's not like we're going to have him for any length of time; just a few hours at most until we get on a plane. Then we'll get the flight attendants to help with him. Once we have him in our hands; we'll call Mulder and Scully and they can meet us at the airport."

"You think we can really do this? Find him, I mean?"

Skinner was having serious doubts.

"Sure we can and we will. If he's not at this place then we'll keep looking."

"For how long?"

"As long as it takes," Krycek said as he pulled over to the side and turned off the lights.

"Is this it?" Skinner asked looking at the house they stopped in front of.

"Across the street, three houses down; plumbers truck in the driveway." Krycek pointed.

"So how do you want to do this?" Skinner asked, the old adrenalin starting to pump.

"Let me go first. I'll take a peek and see if I can see anything. If I spot him, I'll flash my light at you. You drive on up and go in the front. I'll keep watch on the back in case they try and take off."

"OK. Sounds good. I'll wait until I see your light," Skinner answered as Krycek took out his pen light and flashed it towards the floor to make sure it was working then slipped quietly out the door.

The rain had finally let up some and was now just a heavy drizzle. It was late though, nearly 9 pm and the fog was rolling in. Skinner watched as Krycek made his way around to the back of the house, coming back out on the other side a few minutes later and going up on the porch and knocking. That wasn't in their plan. Something must have gone wrong.

"Yes?" An old man, in his 80s answered the door after the third knock.

"Excuse me; I'm looking for the Mastersons. Are they here?" Krycek asked.

"No, no they're not. They left yesterday. We just moved in here today." The old man nodded towards his wife who was now standing at his side.

"Isn't that their truck?" Krycek asked.

"It is indeed! And Mr. Castleberry the landlord promised that it would be removed this morning and it's still sitting there."

"Did they leave anything? Papers or anything like that, that might tell me where they went?"

"Are you the law or something?" The old man asked growing suspicious.

"No; no. They're relatives. We've had a death in the family and it fell to me to find everyone; you know, for the funeral and all." Krycek ad-libbed.

"Oh, yes, of course. I'm so sorry for your loss. No, the place was cleaned out when we got here this morning. They did leave the keys to the truck though in case we needed to move it when our moving van got here. We didn't touch it though; had the driver just park in the street to unload. I know they frown on that but we didn't have all that much and it only took about an hour. You know if you leave anything on the street they'll tow it. I had to park my car down the street at the convenience store and walk three blocks back! It's terrible!"

"Could I see the keys? Maybe they left some information in the truck."

"Oh sure. Lovey, where did you put those keys?" He turned to his wife.

"I know right where they are. I'll get them for you."

She grabbed them up off the top of the TV and handed them to Krycek.

"I don't suppose you'd be willing to put that thing out on the curb so it'd get towed? I mean I know they're relatives and all but I need my driveway."

"I can do that. If they left it, they must not have any further need of it. If I can get it running, I'll pull it out front. Better yet, why don't I take it over on Baker Street? It'll get towed from there for sure."

"Oh that would be wonderful! Thank you, thank you."

The old couple smiled and closed the door.

Skinner watched as Krycek got into the truck, started it up and turned the lights on. Krycek pulled the truck out of the driveway, passed Skinner and nodded for him to follow. They drove to a nearby grocery store and parked beneath a light in the parking lot.

Skinner got out of the SUV and climbed into the passenger side of the truck.

"What the hell's going on? Why'd you take the truck?"

Skinner asked as Krycek was going through the papers that littered the cab of the truck.

"We missed them. They left yesterday. I got a look through the window and saw it was an old couple in there. I knew it wasn't the Mastersons so I knocked on the door and asked if they knew where they were.

They didn't. The place was cleaned out by the time they got there this morning. The landlord was supposed to have this truck towed off but didn't get around to it, I guess. I offered to get rid of it for them and they were very grateful."

Skinner opened the glove box and started going through it. "They always seem to be one step ahead of you.

Did you tell anyone you were coming here?"

"No one. The information that I got, I got off the computer; recent Real Estate transactions and new plumbers being hired. Krycek climbed into the back of the truck and started rummaging around. "Look!" He reached out to Skinner and handed him a sippy cup with a picture of Big Bird on the side. Not the usual thing you would find in a plumber's truck.

"This doesn't mean it was them," Skinner warned.

"It was them all right. Why else would they run?"

Krycek said as he gave up on the back and moved up front again.

"No telling. It could be them. But it looks like another dead end." Skinner tossed the cup into the back.

Krycek took a notebook out of his jacket and started taking notes. He wrote down the VIN number and license number of the truck so he could trace it.

When they satisfied themselves they had all the information they were going to get from the truck, they left it and headed back to the hotel.

Exhausted and discouraged, Skinner headed for the shower as soon as they got to their room. When he came out of the bathroom Krycek was sitting at the table working on his lap top.

"You still at it?"

"Uh huh."

"I'm going try and get some sleep." Skinner set the alarm on his watch and laid it on the small table between their beds. "I've been told I snore. If I bother you, just give me a shove and I'll roll over and stop," he crawled into bed.

"It won't bother me; don't worry about it," Krycek answered, not looking up.

"Huh ... what's the matter?" Skinner struggled for consciousness. "Was I snoring?"

"No; I just found out where they're staying. You want to sleep or do you want to go with me?"

Skinner sat upright; reached over and turned the bedside lamp on and put his glasses on.

"You found them? Are you sure?"

"As sure as I can be about anything. I'm heading over there right now. You want to come along?" Krycek asked as he pulled his leather jacket on.

"Yeah, sure; give me a minute here," he jumped up, grabbed his jeans and slipped them on, pulled his Henley on over his head and slipped into his shoes and socks. "The storm passed?"

"Just about. We've still got some light rain; that's about all."

"Good. It should be easier to get around then."

Skinner stood and grabbed his jacket and pocketed his cell, wallet and ID.

"It should be at this hour," Krycek said as they left the room.

Twenty minutes later they stopped outside an old apartment house. Krycek turned the engine and lights off and they sat and watched the place for any activity.

"Looks like everything is pretty calm. Do you want to wait out here? I can call you when I find out anything." Krycek offered.

"No way. I'm going in with you. We've got to try and do this with as little excitement as possible.

There's no need in scaring the boy to death."

"Exactly," Krycek agreed as the two of them exited the vehicle and headed across the street and up the old wooden steps.

The front door opened easily with just a little help with a pick and they were in.

"Up stairs; third floor; 307," Krycek whispered.

The stairs were amazingly quiet for such an old place and in a matter of minutes they were standing in front of door #307.

"How you want to do this?" Krycek asked. "Any ideas?"

Skinner thought about it for a minute then answered.

"Let's just go in. If we knock, that would give them a chance to take off out the fire escape and we'd loose them again."

"My thoughts exactly," he bent to his work and in seconds the lock to the door clicked opened.

Krycek eased the door opened and they went inside.

They were in a small sitting room of a barely furnished Apartment. Boxes were still sitting around and on the couch a few toys; a sippy cup sat on an end table. Krycek pointed to it and Skinner nodded.

They both stepped back into the shadows and drew their guns when they saw a light come on under the bedroom door. A sleepy-headed man in his forties came walking out; hair mussed and rubbing the back of his neck.

Krycek stepped up behind him and placed his gun against the man's head. "Silence!" Krycek said and the man froze. Krycek pulled him over to the couch and sat him down holding the gun at the man's temple.

"Call her out here; nice and easy like," he ordered.

"Annie? Annie, c'mere a minute," the man's voice croaked.

Skinner stood where Krycek had a few minutes before, and stepped out behind the woman as she entered the room. "Nice and easy now," he said as he took her by the shoulder and placed the gun in her back. She raised her hands slowly. She saw her husband then with Krycek standing beside him and she began to tremble.

"Your work for the Consortium is finished now," Krycek said to them. "We're taking the boy."

"We did everything that was asked of us," the husband asked; his voice going shrill. "We are no threat to the group."

"Relax," Krycek assured him and pointed to the woman to join her husband on the couch. Once he had them both covered, Skinner went into the bedroom and came out minutes later with the sleeping boy wrapped in blankets.

"What are you going to do with him? He's just an innocent child. He can't testify against anyone; please don't hurt him." The woman began to weep.

"We're returning him to his parents. You did your job; we have nothing against you. The group is now out of business, as I'm sure you already know. We're just tying up a few loose ends. Just go about your lives as if none of this had ever happened."

"You're not going to ... " the husband couldn't bear to voice what he had been thinking.

"No. All we want is to return the boy to his parents; then our job is finished too." And to Skinner he said, "Does he look all right?"

"Yeah, he looks good." Skinner pulled the blanket closer around the sleeping bundle in his arms.

"Well, do you have what you need to take care of him?" the woman asked, "I mean until you get him to his parents? There's pull-ups in the bedroom and be sure you take his Elmo; he can't go to sleep without it."

This woman clearly cared for the boy.

"Get them," Skinner told her.

She hurried into the bedroom and came back with a diaper bag and the red stuffed animal. "Can I put some snacks in for him? When he wakes up he always likes to have a little something to eat."

Skinner nodded and she stepped into the small kitchen area off the living room and Skinner followed her.

She put in fruit drinks, snacks, a banana and two sippy cups full of juice.

"He's a really good boy and travels well," she said handing Skinner the bag. She smiled a tearful but still frightened smile.

"There will be no need for you to report this to anyone. If your neighbors ask, just tell them he was a foster child and was returned to his family."

"Yes, yes, of course." The man shook his head up and down hopefully.

Krycek and Skinner headed for the door.

"Could I just ... kiss him goodbye?" the woman asked with tears running down her cheeks.

Skinner nodded and the woman came over and placed a damp kiss on the boy's forehead.

"He really is a good boy." She looked up at Skinner with sad eyes.

"He'll be taken good care of; I promise you that."

Skinner said then they were out the door and headed down the steps.

"I didn't think it would be that easy," Skinner said as they climbed into the car and headed back to the hotel.

"I didn't either. Let's hope it stays that way. We don't want any trouble around him." He looked over at the bundle still sleeping against Skinner's chest.

"He has Scully's hair."

"Yeah, I noticed. Look at that jaw-line though. That's Mulder's for sure."

In minutes they were back in the hotel and Krycek was on the phone with the air port. Skinner laid the sleeping boy on the bed and waited to hear when they could leave.

Krycek put the phone against his chest and spoke to Skinner. "We've got two choices. They have a plane leaving in an hour for DC or we wait until 11:45 in the morning. Which do you want?"

"One hour." Skinner answered and began gathering his things and stuffing them in his bag. "Maybe we'll get lucky and the kid will sleep until we get back to DC."

Krycek confirmed with the airport then got his stuff together as well and they headed out. They arrived at the airport with ten minutes to spare.

Krycek was right; once they were aboard and in the air the flight attendants hovered around them helping with the boy who did indeed wake up but showed no fear at all of being with strangers and that the people who had been caring for him were no where in sight.

The three and a half hour flight passed quickly and mid-way Skinner used a phone on the plane and tried calling Mulder. No answer. He tried several times with the same results.

"Well, it *is* their wedding night," Krycek grinned.

"It was their wedding night last night when we were driving around Chicago in that storm; but he should be able to answer his phone by now." Skinner scowled.

"I'm sure they are just ... busy."

"Busy, my ass! They've got their phones turned off.

Shit. Looks like we're going to have to take the boy home with us until we can reach them." Skinner growled as they landed and he carried the boy down the ramp.

"You can handle it from here," Krycek said, then added, "I'll see you around," he started off towards the parking lot.

"Oh no you don't! You're not leaving me alone with him!" Skinner used his most authoritative voice.

"You don't need me." Krycek stopped and turned back around.

"Yes I do! You got me into this. This was all your idea. You're going to be there when they come to pick him up. That's NOT up for discussion!" Skinner handed the now fully awake boy over to Krycek as he unlocked his car door. Krycek fumbled with him a moment then climbed into the car.

"I don't see why you need me. He's doing fine."

Krycek bounced the boy a bit on his lap.

"He should be in a car seat," Skinner scoffed.

"Well I don't happen to have one in my back pocket; do you?"

"If we get pulled over; I'll never be able to explain all this."

"Then just drive carefully and don't give any traffic cop any reason to pull us over," Krycek answered, playing with the boy in is lap.

The twenty minute drive to Crystal City passed uneventfully and soon they were entering Skinner's condo.

"Oh man, I'm sleepy," Krycek said as he collapsed on the couch; setting the boy down on his feet.

Skinner got busy on his phone again and called every number he could think of. He finally got the number of the hotel where they were staying from Mulder's friends, the Gunmen, and managed to get a call through. Mulder was not to happy to be disturbed but Skinner told him that he had something for him that would change his and Scully's lives forever and that they needed to get over to his condo immediately to take possession of it. Mulder asked a hundred questions in the space of a minute but Skinner answered none of them and just insisted that they get over there as soon as possible.

By the time he finished his conversation he noticed that William had climbed up on the couch and had gone back to sleep with his head in Krycek's lap; Krycek leaning back against the couch and snoring away.

Skinner picked the boy's blanket up off the floor and covered him with it then went into the kitchen and put some coffee on.

While it was brewing he went up stairs and took a brief shower to wake him up. Back downstairs again and with his first cup of coffee in hand, he answered the door.

"What is it that's so important that you had to call us over here at this hour?" Scully groused as they entered Skinner's semi-darkened living room.

Skinner put a finger up to his lips to shush them and nodded over to the couch.

"Krycek! What the hell ..," Mulder said in a loud disgusted whisper.

Scully walked over closer, intrigued by the sight.

Krycek roused but didn't get up, not wanting to disturb the boy sound asleep in his lap.

"What is this? Who is that boy?" Scully was staring at the child.

"It's William, Scully," Krycek said, petting the boy's head.

"No! William's gone ... they moved far away. No one knows where they are." Her eyes never left the boy.

Skinner opened the curtains; flooding the room with light. "It's true, Dana."

"It can't be ... " she was speechless but bent down and pulling the blanket back took a closer look.

"If you've hurt him in any way, Krycek, I'll kill you with my bare hands," Mulder snarled.

"Mulder, you've got this all wrong." Skinner tried to explain.

"What's he doing with William; and how do we know that's even William?" Mulder railed.

"It's William!" Scully confirmed in a tearful voice as she caressed the small cheek.

"You can't be sure, Scully. Not with Krycek mixed up in this."

The boy woke up then and seeing the newcomers, scooted up closer next to Krycek who put a protective arm around him and spoke softly to him.

"You remember the woman and man who were taking care of you?"

The boy nodded his head 'yes' and said, "Rose and Eddie."

"That was their names; Rose and Eddie?" Krycek asked.

"Uh huh. Are they comin to get me?" he asked rubbing his bright blue eyes.

"No. They are far away now. This beautiful lady here is Dana and that's Mulder. They are your real parents; your momma and daddy."

The boy looked at each of them then pointed to Skinner and looked back to Krycek.

"That's your Uncle Walter."

The boy gave a crooked little smile that was an exact miniaturization of one of Mulder's smiles.

"Hi, Sweetheart." Scully sat down beside him on the couch and caressed the dark red hair back off the boy's forehead. "What's your name? What did Rose and Eddie call you?"

"Boy," he said timidly.

"They called you 'boy'?" Scully asked.

"Uh huh."

"Your real name is William. William Mulder," Scully said as she snuffled back the tears.

"Mudder?" he asked and pointed to Mulder and smiled.

"Mulder," Scully repeated. He's your father so you have the same last name. His first name is Fox."

"Fox?" the boy smiled and pointed again to Mulder. He liked that name.

"Krycek if this is some trick of yours ..." Mulder threatened.

"Mulder, it is what it is. Take a look at him. Is there really any doubt that he's your son?" Skinner offered.

"Mulder, come over here." Scully reached out a hand to her new husband. He came to her and knelt down in front of the boy.

"Mudder," the boy said proudly.

"Mulder," Mulder repeated the name correctly.

"Fox?" The boy smiled at him.

"That's right; that's my name," he reached out and took the boy's hand. The boy held on to Mulder's hand with the both of his and smiled.

Mulder and Scully exchanged glances; Skinner and Krycek did the same.

"Juice?" The boy turned to Krycek and asked.

"Oh. Sure thing, kid," he got up and dug around in the bag and brought out a small container of juice and stuck the straw in it for him. "Here you go."

"Thank you," the boy said and drank it thirstily.

"How did you find him? Where are these people who are supposed to be taking care of him?" Scully sidled over to Skinner and asked.

"Krycek found him."

"Why didn't you come to me, Krycek? Why go to Skinner?" Scully asked.

"I needed someone with authority to go in with me in case there was any trouble retrieving him. I went to a judge and got the paperwork straightened out," he handed Scully the papers granting her and Mulder full custody of the boy. "He advised me to contact the local authorities and get one of them to go in with me. I wasn't sure of his exact location at the time and I didn't want to have to put him through the system while the legalities were being sorted out. I figured Skinner could cut through all that and we could get him to you as soon as we got our hands on him."

"He seems perfectly calm and unafraid. Apparently there wasn't much of a struggle?" Scully asked Skinner.

"No, not at all, actually. Krycek informed them that their job of caring for the boy was finished and that we were taking him to his parents. They seemed like nice people and the woman seemed to care very much for the boy."

"I'm glad," Scully said looking fondly at the boy who was once again holding onto Mulder's hand and repeating "Fox Mudder". Mulder was sitting on the couch beside him and talking quietly to him.

"Have you looked at these papers? Are they authentic?" she asked Skinner.

"Yes, they are. I know Judge Everman. I gave him a call and he confirmed. It's a done deal. You and Mulder have full legal custody of the boy," Skinner assured her.

"Potty?" the boy scooted down off the couch and came over to Krycek.

"A...sure thing. I'll take you this time but next time, it's your daddy's turn; OK?" The boy looked shyly over at Mulder and shook his head 'yes'.

"You're one lucky little boy; you know that?" Krycek spoke to the boy as he led him to the bathroom off the kitchen area. "You've got a new mommy and a new daddy and a new Uncle Walter and they are all going to take good care of you and love you very much."

Mulder watched until they were out of the room and came over to Skinner and Scully. Scully handed him the papers.

"How did Krycek know where to find him and how did he manage to get the adoption over-turned?" Mulder asked as he scanned the papers.

"From what he told me he found out by accident. Several months ago when the Consortium went down; Krycek was going through some files and found a reference to the boy. He checked it out and found that the boy had been adopted by members of the group. He started looking for them but apparently they knew the group was no longer in existence and figured someone would come along and take them out. They seemed quite terrified that they were going to be killed."

"Where are they? I have some questions I'd like to ask them. I want to know just how deeply involved Krycek was in all this," Mulder asked as he pocketed the papers.

"We found them in Chicago but that was several hours ago. I'll bet they are long gone from there by now," Skinner assured him.

"You didn't get any names, addresses or anything else?" Mulder asked.

"Oh we got lots of names and addresses; it was different in every city. I doubt any of them were the real names they were born with."

The boy came skipping back into the room just then.

"I went potty!" He announced to the group.

"Good boy, William!" Scully met him with a hug. "I'm so proud of you! You did really well!"

"I'm going to investigate this thing from top to bottom; Krycek, and I'd better not find out that you are lying here," Mulder warned in a low voice.

"Mulder, could you just listen to me for five minutes without threats and hear what I have to say?" Krycek stepped back from the group a little and Mulder joined him.

"I'll listen; that's all I can promise for now."

"That's all I ask, Mulder. Just listen to me without swinging at me so I can say my piece then I'll check out of here."

"I'm listening," Mulder said keeping a close and distrustful eye on Krycek.

"I guess what I'm really trying to say here, Mulder, is that I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all the things that went down that I was part of. It wasn't all me, you know. There were two clones of me around. I took one out and Skinner took one out."

Mulder made a face like he didn't believe what he was hearing but he kept silent.

"It's true, Mulder. Look, I've got nothing more holding me here. After the group was taken down, I went looking for files. I found them everywhere; in each of the old man's hide outs. I've burned them; every file I could find. That's when I came across one marked William Mulder. That was how this got started five months ago. I've been looking for the boy since then. Apparently his foster parents cared for him or they would have just dumped him in an orphanage somewhere and taken off. At least he was in loving hands. You have that much to be thankful for."

Mulder just stared at him. "And you had no idea where he was before that?"

"None. I had heard that Scully put him up for adoption when you were on the run and things were so bad here. I didn't know the Consortium had him."

"Why didn't you just give us the information and let one of us go after him?"

"Would you have believed me if I told you what I found out; or would you have started swinging the minute I got within shouting distance of you?"

Mulder screwed up his face and looked over at the boy sitting on Scully's lap.

"None of that matters any more, Mulder. The boy is back where he belongs."

"I don't trust you, Krycek. Not for a minute. What's in it for you? You getting immunity out of this or something?"

Krycek gave a disgusted look. "There are no warrants out on me, Mulder. The group is out of business and as of today; I'm retiring. I've been responsible for a lot of shit that came your way and for that I am truly sorry. A lot of it you brought on yourself with your fucking superior attitude; but I'm apologizing for it all anyway. I can't change what happened in the past but I thought if I could bring you back your son that it might make up for just a little bit of what went down. I'm through apologizing now and I'm going to leave. You go ahead and check out anything you want to; I could care less. I'm outta here."

He turned to Skinner and said, "Skinner, I'm outta here" and headed for the door.

William jumped off Scully's lap and ran to Krycek, taking his hand. He looked up at him with a smile, fully intending to walk out that door with him.

Krycek picked him up and hugged him.

"William, I'm very glad that I got to meet you and maybe I'll see you again some day. I've got to go now. He walked over and handed the boy to Mulder.

"Daddy Fox and your new mommy will look after you now," he walked back to the door and Skinner met him there.

"So this is it? You're really retiring now?" Skinner asked him.

"This was my last job. I'm out of it all now."

"Do you really have to leave right now? I mean ... you still owe me something," he turned his back to the others and spoke softly so they couldn't hear.

"Oh yeah." Krycek tilted his head and smiled.

"Another time; another place and something like that might have done wonders for both of us."

"It's not too late. They should be leaving shortly.

Why not stick around a while. We could see what develops."

"I think we both know what would develop, Walter, and you have to admit, it's a lousy idea."

"Not in my book. Don't you think we should at least ... check it out?"

"Uh uh. I'm checking out of this town; not looking for reasons to stay longer." Krycek smiled one last time and walked out the door.

Skinner felt the cold stab of rejection, steeled himself to it, then turned to face the others.

He needn't have worried. The others were paying him no mind. Mulder was holding the boy and Scully was standing close by and they were talking softly to him, smiling and petting him. The boy was responding with shy little smiles.

"Well, if you folks will excuse me, I got very little sleep last night." Skinner picked up the boys bag and stuffed animal and handed them to Scully.

They walked to the door together and the boy dived into Walter's arms. Skinner gave him a big hug and reassured him that he would see him again soon then handed him back to Mulder. Scully hugged Skinner and thanked him and they were out the door and gone.

Skinner stood in the middle of his empty condo and sighed. Everyone was gone and he was alone again. It seemed to be the story of his life. He went upstairs, showered and got into bed. He laid there and thought about his life. It certainly wasn't the life he expected and now at fifty years of age, he realized it never would be. He'd managed to let life slip passed him somehow. He had done everything he thought he was supposed to do. He worked hard, did all the things he thought were right and where did it get him? Alone.

That's where it got him. He turned over, punched his pillow into shape, and dozed off.

He fell asleep thinking about Alex and wondering where he was and if he was with someone. He probably was.

It seemed everyone had someone but him.

The next few weeks at work were deadly dull for Skinner. There seemed to be no end to it; one report blurring into the next. He was in the office every morning by seven and never left before eight or nine pm. He kept as busy as he could and turned down every offer to go out to Scully and Mulder's place. He didn't' want to see them or even think about them. He just wanted to be left alone. That was his role in life; to be alone.

Those were the thoughts he was wallowing in when he was driving home after work late on Halloween.

Decorations were all over the city and parties were going on in different areas. He had just passed a large crowd coming out of a school auditorium when the truck hit him. He heard the noise and then he was spinning around and around and the next thing he was aware of was a bunch of kids in costumes shaking him and asking him if he was all right.

He blinked but his vision was blurred. He tried to sit up but couldn't. He heard another loud noise then; the sirens and everything went black again. The next time he woke up he was on a gurney and bumping through some doors and rolling down a long hall way.

He was pulled over onto an examining table and worked over for a time. Lights shined in his eyes, needles stuck in him and tubes put in his nose. Everyone bustling around him;

everyone had something to do. It was like watching a movie; he'd open his eyes and look around then close them again and dozed off.

He awoke with his left foot in a cast and a bandage around his head. He managed to find the call button and got a nurse in there. He was told he had a broken ankle and a concussion but he would be fine. He thought he should call someone but decided there was really no need; not until morning so he closed his eyes and slept.

He stayed in the hospital three days before they released him. His only visitor was Kim, his assistant. She came in with a bouquet of flowers and assured him that she had taken care of everything and put off all his meetings and not to worry about a thing.

He took a taxi home and settled in getting used to walking with crutches. He hated them and cursed them often; his crutches, his broken ankle, his bad luck and the fates in general for making his life so empty and miserable. Skinner didn't not do sick or hurt well at all.

The first week he obeyed the doctor's orders and stayed home. The second week he showed up back at work. He wasn't there two hours when he accidentally banged his ankle against a desk drawer. He took one long painful look around the room and said aloud, "Fuck this!" He put his coat on, grabbed his crutches and left.

He sat on his couch for hours staring off into space.

His life was shit and it was time to do something about it. He gave the matter considerable thought over the next few weeks and the day he went in to get the cast taken off he went immediately afterwards to his office and resigned. He stayed just long enough to do the paperwork for his retirement then left for good.

He spoke with the real estate company who sold him the condo and told them to put it on the market again. He wanted out and he was getting out; out of all of it.

The morning he was packing the last of his belonging; someone knocked at his door. He signed for the special delivery letter, tipped the delivery guy and closed and locked the door. The writing looked vaguely familiar but he couldn't quite place it. He tore the end of the envelope off, blew in it and pulled out the paper. It was a folded up road map of Maine with a long red line marking the route northeast until it stopped with a big red X. Nothing else. He looked back into the envelope to see if he had missed anything. That was it. He looked at it a few minutes longer then with a grin, shoved it into his jacket pocket. He picked up his bag, his laptop and headed out the door. He dropped the keys off with the building manager and left.

First stop was at Ford Motors where he traded in his SUV and bought a brand new four door pickup. Next stop was just down the street where he purchased a 16 foot enclosed trailer.

The drive was long but beautiful this time of year.

It was nearly sundown when he got there. He knocked at the door but there was no response. He walked around the back and took the small trail heading away from the cabin. His ankle began to throb as he crested the top of the hill. He stood for a moment looking down through the trees and saw what he was looking for. The trip down hill was much easier.

Half way down he put two fingers to his mouth and whistled. The figure below standing by the lakeside turned with a jerk; his hand going up inside his jacket automatically.

Recognition struck and the man's face split with a grin. He trotted over and met Skinner as he bottomed the hill.

They stood face to face; inches apart. "Hi," Alex said.

"Hi, yourself."

"I see you found the place all right."

"Piece of cake," Skinner assured him.

"I heard you retired."

"Uh huh."

"Got any plans?"

"I didn't have until I got this map this morning."

A cold wind blew in off the lake then and they both shivered.

"C'mon. Let's go. It'll be snowing before long."

"Good. Maybe we'll get snowed in," Skinner said and started back up the hill and stumbled a bit.

"Your ankle still bothering you?" Krycek asked.

"You know about that?"

"Uh huh. Here; let me give you a hand," he reached out his good arm and Skinner took it.

By the time they made it back up the hill Skinner's ankle was really hurting and he slung an arm around Krycek's shoulders. "Do you mind?"

"Not at all. I've got some stew on the stove and we'll get a fire going."

"Sounds great. I'm starving."

They rounded the front of the cabin and Krycek got a look at Skinner's rig.

"Hey, that's all right! What's in the back under the tarp and is that trailer loaded?"

"You like it? I've always wanted one of these but it just never seemed appropriate back in D.C. Under the tarp is a small generator; it's always good to have a back up just incase the big one goes. Also there's ten five-gallon containers filled with gas to run it; just in case. And yes, the trailer is full."

"You brought furniture?" Krycek asked with a frown.

"No, no furniture. Just food and a few odds and ends." Skinner unlocked the back of the trailer and rolled the door up.

"This entire trailer is filled with food?" Krycek gasped.

"Mostly. I got a few tools in there as well as two freezers."

"Freezers? You brought freezers?"

"Uh huh. I knew there was one out here and I figured you probably had that one full so I brought two more.

One I got filled with a side of beef the other one is filled with pork, poultry, fish and sausage."

"They're full? Walter, where are we going to put all this stuff? The cabin isn't all that big!"

"The freezers will go on the porch and we take in what we can fit in, the rest we can leave in the trailer until we need it."

Krycek shook his head with a grin and started trying to see what all was in there.

"I figured you'd have some of everything so I brought a little more of everything; just in case we get snowed in again." Skinner grinned proudly.

"Well we'd better start unloading. It'll be snowing before long. We've been getting it every day this week just about sundown."

"This trailer has a ramp that pulls out. Let me reposition this thing and we'll be able to dolly this stuff right onto the porch," Skinner said and hopped into his truck and backed it into position close enough for the ramp to extend the distance to the porch.

Skinner pulled out his dolly and started loading up cases of food on it. Krycek began carrying bag after bag of fresh vegetables. Huge bags of potatoes, onions, corn on the cob; and one by one, slung over his shoulder he carried them into the house as Skinner dollied in stack after stack of canned goods.

By the time they made it back to the freezers they were bringing in boxes of tools, shelving units to be assembled, and large store bags filled with assorted things.

"I see you brought just about everything we could possibly need but did you think to bring a bag or a change of clothes for yourself?" Krycek asked with a grin.

"Oh yeah. I got my stuff up front in the cab; oh and there's the strawberries too," Skinner answered as he hooked the appliance dolly up to one of the freezers.

"I didn't see any strawberries," Krycek commented.

"They're in the back seat of the pickup; ten flats of them."

"You bought ten flats of strawberries?" Krycek couldn't control his giggles.

"I did. I like strawberries. Don't you?" He dollied the first freezer down the ramp and onto the porch.

"Yeah, I do. That's why I bought ten flats of strawberries yesterday."

Skinner un-strapped the freezer and stared at Krycek.

"You bought ten flats of strawberries yesterday?"

"I did. Did you get them from that little fresh produce place back there at the cross roads about 20 miles back?"

"Yes! They looked so great I couldn't pass them up.

That's where I got the apples and pears and walnuts too."

"So what are we going to do with 20 flats of strawberries?" Krycek teased as they went back into the trailer for the second freezer.

"We'll think of something. One of those bags from Sears has a ton of those little plastic containers to freeze stuff in. We can freeze as much as we can get into the freezers and we can always make some jam. Do you like strawberry jam?" Skinner asked as he strapped the second freezer to the dolly.

"You know how to make strawberry jam?" Krycek asked, not quite believing this conversation.

"My mom used to make it every year and I helped some.

We can pick up a recipe off the internet." Skinner hauled the second freezer down and got it settled on the front porch; one on either side of the door while Krycek fiddled with extension cords to get them both plugged in and going.

Skinner's bags and the strawberries were brought in and they set them in the hallway; the only spot available. Krycek checked on his stew and Skinner got a fire started and they both collapsed on the couch to catch their breath.

They sat silently watching the fire take hold then Krycek spoke. "I didn't really think you'd come."

"I had to. You owe me."

Krycek chuckled. "You came all this way, went to all this expense just for a blow job?"

"I aim to collect. A promise made is a debt unpaid."

"OK, OK. You want it now or do you want dinner first?"

"Dinner first; then a shower," Skinner said.

"Dinner it is." Krycek heaved himself up off the couch and dished up a couple bowls of stew. He opened some bread and they ate a hearty meal as he told Skinner about buying the place. It seemed the original owner had gotten a job offer in Sydney, Australia and had no need of the cabin any more.

After dinner Skinner took a quick shower and shave while Krycek loaded the dishwasher. Then Krycek took a shower while Skinner fiddled with the fire and contemplated the evening before them.

He came into the room smelling of soap and toothpaste; a little sideways tilt to the head. "Here or in there?" He nodded towards the bedroom.

"Couch," Skinner said and they both walked to the couch. Skinner pointed for Krycek to sit and he did; looking up at Skinner with green eyes flashing.

Krycek reached up to Skinner's waist band and Skinner caught his hands and shoved him backwards down on the couch. In one swift movement, he pulled Krycek's sweat pants down around his knees; knelt in front of the couch, and took him in to the root.

Krycek gasped in shock and gripped the side of the couch to keep from grabbing Skinner's head. His hips moved in sync with Skinner and in minutes he was fighting to keep from loosing it. The thought kept running through his mind that no body on this earth would believe this -- Skinner on his knees and delivering the most enthusiastic blow-job he had ever gotten! And he had gotten blow-jobs all over the world and considered himself to be quite the expert on them. Skinner could make a living doing this; a good living. Way too soon, his body betrayed him and gave it up to Skinner's demanding mouth. He blinked out of existence for a while as he drifted through space and time. When he regained his senses Skinner was standing in front of the fire, staring into it.

Krycek sat up and righted his pants then got up and joined Skinner at the fire place.

"That was not what I expected," Krycek said as he stood staring into the fire.

"Good," Skinner turned to face him then. "I'd hate to think you were taking me for granted already," he said with just a hint of a grin.

Krycek snorted a stifled laugh then after a few minutes silence asked, "Skinner, what are you doing here? What is all this stuff?" He nodded to all the stacks and stacks of boxes around the room. "Are you really planning on staying?"

"Uh huh. If you want me to," he reached out a hand to Krycek's shoulder and massaged it gently.

"You KNOW the dangers, you KNOW what could happen. There could still be operatives out there cleaning up loose ends. My days could well be numbered."

"How much time do any of us have, Alex? I can't count the number of times I thought my time was up and for one reason or another and it wasn't. I turned fifty last birthday; what little is left of my hair is going gray. How much time do you think I have left?"

"Walter, you're far from being old." Krycek assured him.

"The point is; neither of us knows how much time we have left. I, for one, don't want to spend it alone.

You and I are good for each other; you know that."

Krycek stared at him, not believing his ears. "You really want ... me?"

"I do. You need me, Alex; to watch your back and to warm your bed. You'll find me eager and willing to do both," he pulled Alex into his arms and held him close.

"I just never thought ..." Alex tried to speak but Walter cut him off with a long sweet kiss that shook them both.

"Well think about it then," Walter said when they broke for air. "You must have been thinking of it when you invited me up here."

"I was but that was more of a day dream. I guess I never thought you'd actually drive all this way just to see me and if you did; it would only be for ... a visit."

"I didn't. Not just to 'visit' you. I want you, Alex; for whatever time I have left in this world."

Alex kissed him then and held on for several more kisses before he spoke. "I planned on spending whatever time I had left up here alone. I've never been in a relationship before. I'm not even sure I'd know how. So much has happened; I don't even know if I'm capable of one. I have nothing to offer you, Walter; but if your want what's left of me, for whatever time we have left, then I accept."

Walter crushed him in his arms and held on tight.

"Who knows, we could have years and years and years left."

"Well we won't have to worry about buying groceries; that's for sure." Alex teased.

Walter laughed as he pressed little kisses against the side of Alex's neck. "One thing we do need to get settled right now though..."

"What's that?" Krycek said pulling back enough to see Walter's face.

"Which side of the bed do you want? I really think we should go in and work on that problem right now."

"There won't be any problem there. I don't care where I sleep as long as you're sleeping close by." Alex wrapped an arm around Walter's waist as they walked to the bedroom.

Walter stopped as they passed the flats of strawberries stacked in the hall. "What the hell are we going to do with 20 flats of strawberries?"

"We'll think of something, I'm sure. We can always make wine out of it."

"Wine? Now there's a good idea. I like the way you think, Alex."

"I actually think better naked," Alex said as he removed his sweatshirt and tossed it on the dresser.

"That's amazing! I do too!" Walter said as his sweat shirt sailed over his head.

The End

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