Russian Blues

by Ursula

Title: Russian Blues
Author/Pseudonym: Ursula
Fandom: X Files
Pairing:  Skinner/Krycek
Rating: NC-17
Status: Finished
Date Posted: 12-15-04
Archive: Some Place Safe, Link to Gossamer
E-mail address for feedback: Fan4Richie or Ursula4X@aol.com
Classification: Slash, Case File, post series
Series/Sequel: Is this story part of a series:
Web Site: http://www.fhsarchive.com/stories/Ursula.html
Disclaimers: No profit, fan fiction for fun
Notes: Written for the 2004 Skinner Krycek zine
Dedicated to Lynda, Aqualegia, a fan who has given generously since the beginning of "Alex's fandom", who has weathered all the storms in a tea cup with grace and style. And who made this zine possible!
Thanks to Linda, Amazon X For beta!
Warnings: Slash, Romance, some graphic violence
Time Frame: Post Series


Russian Blues

"You can't go in there," the bouncer said.

Walter eyed the bulging muscle, checking for and finding a hidden weapon. The man was an elegant brute, his body the result of lots of red meat and days in the gym. His body made mockery of his tuxedo. He would have been better suited to a loincloth and body oil. Walter wondered if Krycek was fucking him or being fucked by him. Alex liked it either way. The man was Alex's type...the same type as Walter was.

"You can tell Mr. K that his old friend, Skinner, is here and that I'm not leaving until he meets with me," Walter said, crossing his arms. He turned his back dismissively, one upping the hired muscle.

"Yeah, well, I could kick your ass out to the curb," the muscle said.

"Mr. K would be very angry if you did that," Walter said. "Go tell him before I start yelling Mr. K's real name."

"Fucker," the muscle muttered, but he turned and obeyed.

Walter expected that. Alex might like beefcake, but he would never tolerate brainlessness even in hired muscle.

A few moments later, Alex came out of his office, scowled at Walter, and said, "This better be good, shit head."

OooOooO

Despite himself, Walter watched Alex's ass sashay back down the hall into his office. It was round and as plush as the expensive carpet that muffled the sounds of the casino. The rich cream of the wall treatment concealed some sort of sound baffling system, thankfully drowning out the clamor. A last shriek of a happy winner penetrated Walter's ears before the heavy door blocked out any trace of Alex's business.

Alex's office was a compromise between expensive tastes and modern technology. The paneling was obviously an architectural antiquity, but one wall housed a number of close circuit TVs.

With a nod at the monitors, Walter asked, "Don't trust the help?"

"When have I trusted anyone? Oh, wait, I remember. I trusted you and both of us remember how that went," Alex said.

"I asked you to go back inside," Walter reminded, "Not to end up killing anyone. We've had this conversation before. We are not going to agree."

"I did what I had to do to survive," Alex replied. He stood up and went to the bar, pouring two shots of golden amber scotch.

Placing one glass in front of Walter, Alex walked around his antique desk to sit on his throne-like office chair. He looked like a caged panther in his well-fitted tuxedo in this office that reeked of wealth and power.

"Valinch?" Walter said, after taking a sip of the smoky and fruity flavor. "I still like Glenfiddich best."

"You can afford Glenfiddich," Alex pointed out. "I can afford anything I want."

"Including that body builder outside?" Walter asked.

"I don't sleep with the help," Alex said. "I'm not Spender. I don't have to order someone to have sex with me."

Smirking, Walter leaned back in his chair, happy to have ruffled Alex's feathers. He had always known how to penetrate Alex's defenses...among other things[LR1].

"What do you want, Walter?" Alex said, leaning forward. "I don't owe you anything. Far from it."

"It's not about what you owe," Walter said, looking into Alex's eyes. "It's about what you want."

Chaotic emotions stormed across Alex's face. Even though he managed to regain his mask of indifference, Walter saw what he expected: longing, loathing for himself and for Walter. But strongest of all was desire.

"You think you can walk in here and offer me a fuck for whatever it is you want?" Alex spat.

Taking a drink, channeling his amusement into his eyes, Walter said, "No, I think I can walk in here and offer my respect in return for you helping me to save my brother."

Alex flinched. He said, "Your respect? You're a murdering bastard, Walter, not above fucking your subordinates in more ways than once."

Silence was the key here. Walter undid the metal prongs of the cardboard file he carried and took out the manila folder. He shoved it toward Alex.

Alex's eyes were beautiful when he was angry. Beautiful when he was sad. They were just beautiful.

Alex's lashes fell against his cheeks as he followed Walter's hand to where it opened the file.

"My brother, Anton," Walter said, his voice softening. He could never see Anton without imagining a soft, heavy weight on his back, hot breath against his neck where his younger brother slept as he carried him piggy-back home, trusting him always and entirely. His other friends also had younger siblings in tow at times. They grumbled and Walter pretended to agree, but the truth was, he loved having Anton tag along, his big brown eyes worshipping Walter. He felt like a hero when his youngest brother looked up at him.

"Yeah, I know. I keep up on things," Alex said. "A good cop that snapped. What do you want? You need money for a better attorney? You know the jury is going to have a lot of sympathy for him. Look who he killed. Scum. A child molester. He won't do much time with the right defense."

"He didn't do it, Alex," Walter said.

"Right," Alex said. "You're his brother. You have to say that."

"No, you're not listening," Walter said. "Yes, my brother was a big brother to one of the kids that Chicken Bill lured into his house and molested. Yes, he wanted to see the man punished and was pissed when the creep was set free on a mistrial, but Anton would not take the law in own hands."

"Not like his older brother?" Alex asked.

That was hard to swallow, but Walter knew Alex had a reason to feel that way. "You shouldn't have kept me backed into that corner," Walter said. "Threatening Mulder was the last straw. Besides, I knew you wouldn't stay dead. Jeremiah Smith wouldn't let that happen."

"Bastard," Alex said again.

"You made me that way," Walter said.

"Fuck you," Alex replied.

"Could be arranged," Walter said.

"You have to be out of your mind," Alex said. "You think you can still make it happen for me? You're old and I've had better."

Looking Alex up and down, Walter found a smile that he knew would tell Alex that he knew exactly what he could do to and for Alex.

The way Alex looked away told Walter that Alex knew, too.

"What makes you think I can help? Set Mulder on it. If there's an obscure fact, an explanation everyone else missed, he can find it," Alex said.

"Mulder can't help. He offered, but you're the only one who can help," Walter said. "Anton was investigating a murder. It was a Russian immigrant who owned a deli near St. John's Russian Orthodox Church in Austin, Texas."

An unreadable expression flickered across Alex's face. "What was his name?"

"It wasn't your father," Walter said. "His name was Gregor Olenev, a nice old man, who was active in the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian charities."

"People die," Alex said with a shrug. "People you love. People you hate. So you think that because the victim was Russian that I can help you?"

"I think that you can help me because the victim was probably killed by the Russian Mafia," Walter said. "That's what Anton believed and what he was pursuing when suddenly a particularly nasty alleged perpetrator on another case is murdered. A few stray hairs from Anton's head are found in the man's hand. Anton is removed from the murder case. It's all very neat and obvious."

"It takes an idiot to mess with the Organizatsiya," Alex said. "Your brother and the old man should have known better. Besides what makes you think I can help you?"

"Spender told me how he hooked you," Walter said. "It wasn't too bright to decide you could run a few errands for Vladimir Shiroff."

"I wanted to go to college," Alex said. "My father thought I should have been happy to work in his deli. He wouldn't pay for my education and he wouldn't sign the form that would have allowed me to get a decent scholarship. All he had to say was that he wouldn't support me. I had saved as much money as I could, but it wasn't enough. I was an eighteen-year-old kid. How was I supposed to make enough money to pay for college?"

"Join the military?" Walter said. "That's how I did it."

"I was ambitious. I didn't want to throw away four years of my life and start behind the rest of the people my age." Alex said. "I wanted to be a lawyer."

"Your plan really worked out well," Walter pointed out. "The only reason you're not still working for the Russian Mafia is because Shiroff owed Spender a favor and he wanted someone like you. Someone bright, ambitious, with a clean background, but someone whose moral compass was off."

"I was a kid," Alex said, "and furious at my father. I know now that it was stupid, but I paid for it."

"So did a lot of other people," Walter said. "You were there long enough to know how to help me."

"Why should I? You think I want to end up dead? Those people are killers, Walter. They've killed nearly as many people as the project did without even the bonehead ideology to remotely justify their actions."

"Help me because it's the right thing to do," Walter said. "I know that part of you still knows that."

Alex's face became remote, beautiful, but his eyes were cold and his mouth thinned into a hard line. He ducked his head, glanced away then said, "Don't try to manipulate me. Let's make a deal, Walter. I help you or try to. Whatever the outcome, you take me home to your family. You introduce me as the love of your life and you treat me like it for the holidays. Like that deal, Walter?"

Poor Alex. As intelligent as he was, there was a lot he didn't understand. Walter smiled and said, "That works for me."

Alex's mouth gaped open, not an attractive look for most people, but it was still pretty on Alex. "When would you like to meet them? I'll arrange something."

"I don't know," Alex said. "I need to make some arrangements first. Get my cousin to cover for me here."

"That's fine," Walter said. "I'm going to fly back to Austin. You know how to find me there. Drop by when you're ready." Walter hesitated and then said, "Your father is still alive. He attends St. John's with my mother."

"Like that should mean something to me," Alex snarled. "That old man hasn't spoken to me since I was eighteen. I tried to run to him once, when Spender set me up at the FBI. He shut the door in my face. I know about your family, Walter, but don't live in illusion. My family never did give a damn about me."

"I'm sorry," Walter said. He was sure that Alex didn't believe him, but he was sorry. Sorry that Alex's father had tried to force an eagle into a sparrow's roost. Sorry that Alex's natural arrogance had led him from one wrong decision into another. Most sorry that he had not understood it when his beautiful young lover had hinted that he needed help.

"Yeah, well, let's see what your family does when you introduce your 'lover'," Alex said.

"You'll be surprised," Walter said.

A skeptical look greeted that, but Alex said, "I'll see you in Austin."

"Thank you, Alex," Walter said. He stepped forward, intending to kiss Alex, but Alex turned his face away.

"Don't try to bribe me with love," Alex said. "I know what was between us. Nothing but sex. At least, that's good. It better be good, Walter. Your brother's life may depend on how happy you make me in bed."

Swallowing his anger, Walter shook his head. Perhaps this was not only a chance for Anton, but a second chance for himself. When all was said and done, Walter knew that he would never love again, never love anyone more than he loved this beautiful, dangerous, wounded man.

"Austin," Walter said. "I'll be waiting."

OooOooO

His cousin, Chris, swiveled in Alex's chair. "Sure, I can cover. I want to get away anyway. Broke up with a really lovely lady."

"Couldn't keep your pants zipped again?" Alex asked.

"I'm wounded," Chris said. "It's like being a hungry man at a feast. Sometimes you just grab a taste."

"Yeah, right, then you whine about it when another relationship is down the tubes," Alex said.

"It's all that hot Russian blood, cousin," Chris said. He smiled and swiveled again. "You still carrying the same torch?"

"I don't know," Alex said. "Torches can burn you. I'm tired of being hurt."

"Yeah, well, life hurts, cuz, but that just proves you're alive," Chris said.

"No thanks for your romantic advice, Chris," Alex replied. "I know your history."

"Point taken," Chris said. "Anything I should watch out for here? Any staff with sticky fingers or anything like that?"

"Keep a close eye on things. I don't want any of the Organizatsiya or the Mafia getting in the door. My people are one hundred percent trustworthy, but the wolf is always at the door" Alex said.

"Gotcha," Chris said. "You want to do something before you go? Have dinner or something?"

"Sorry, Chris," Alex replied, "I have a lot on my mind. Thanks for doing this on short notice. And, Chris? Don't pretend to be me. That was okay when we were little kids, but, believe me, you don't want my friends or enemies."

Batting his eyelashes, Chris replied, "As if I would ever think of that. I'm all grown up now."

Grinning to himself despite his worries, Alex shook his head. Chris would never quite grow up. He was as impulsive as Alex was cautious...as faithless in love as Alex was hopelessly faithful.

Which reminded Alex. Turning to Chris, Alex said, "Chris, if a guy named Mulder shows up, tell him... never mind. You might like him. Just remember to duck the first punch."

OooOooO

The place was as small and dark as all the other ones in which Alex had found Leon. Leon drew the blinds even tighter, peering through them with his black beady eyes. With his thin nose, his weak chin, and those eyes, Leon looked more like a mouse than ever, having grown a few wisps of beard that looked like straggling whiskers.

"When am I paid off?" Leon whined in greeting. "You keep tapping me and I keep having to risk my ass to tell you anything."

"You still alive?" Alex asked.

"Yeah," Leon admitted, looking about his dark little room.

"Then you owe me. The day you're dead, the debts called off," Alex said, letting an edge creep into his voice. Leon was trustworthy as long as he was as frightened of Alex as he was of the Organizatsiya.

"You're a mean man," Leon complained.

"What I want to know is about a cop named Anton Skinner," Alex said. "What do you have on him?"

"Big guy with black hair, lots of muscle?" Leon asked.

"Yes," Alex said, thinking about the picture he studied.

"Stupid enough to mess with Vassily?" Leon inquired.

"That stupid," Alex agreed, smiling wryly. Skinner-stupid, Skinner-ballsy, thinking about a cop dumb-brave enough to take on the Russian crime boss made Alex wanted to meet Anton.

"So what do you know?" Alex probed.

"Vassily wasn't that concerned. The guy that iced Gregor Olenev wasn't following orders. Vassily is a businessman. Dead men don't pay for protection. Sure, sometimes he makes an example of someone, but he tries to make it guys who are none too popular in the Russian community anyway. Not guys like Olenev who liked to play Grandfather Frost to the kids in the community," Leon said. "Besides, Shamil Gubin roughed up one of Vassily's God-daughters when they were dating. I heard that Shamil was on his way out anyway."

"That doesn't mean that Vassily would throw him to the cops," Alex noted. "He wouldn't take a chance on the man squealing or on any of the other big men thinking he was showing a sign of weakness by letting Anton Skinner arrest his man."

"Vassily and you were young dogs together," Leon said.

"Yes, but he was never a sentimental man," Alex said. "Nor was his father. Asshole. I heard Spender had his eye on Vassily and that was why Shiroff sold me to the devil."

"Then you have more reason to fuck Vassily over on this thing," Leon said.

"What about Chicken Bill? You know anything about him?" Alex asked.

"He was bad news," Leon said. "Related to Vassily too, but he wasn't under protection. Too big an asshole even for the Organizatsiya to count as family. He knew better than to mess with any of the Organizatsiya children, but any other child was fair game. He kept moving around before the word could spread about him. When he was younger, he got caught a couple of times, but his father was a big man then. They put the word out and the victim's families got paid off. No prosecution. He was in some kind of private hospital for a while, but they decided he was cured and let him out about ten years ago. He got married and divorced a couple of times. Women who had kids. Everyone knows what he was really after and the women eventually got wise and left. There wasn't any charges against him; the women were too scared. Then he moved into that house and lived alone. No one knew about his past. He fixed bikes, did chores for single Moms and made himself everyone's favorite uncle."

"Until a boy talked," Alex said with a grimace.

"Yeah, Anton Skinner's little brother," Leon said. "I guess the Mom signed him up when she noticed that he was getting moody, getting in trouble at school, and disobeying her at home. Anton gets the kid under his wing and wham, the kid tells him what's bothering him. Anton gets the kid and Mom to bring charges. Then a bunch of other kids come forward. I heard talk about whether they should bail Bill out for old time's sake, but Vassily said to let Bill go to prison."

"So the mistrial was a genuine mistrial?" Alex asked.

"Far as I know," Leon said.

"Fuck," Alex said. "I guess I better talk to Anton Skinner."

OooOooO

First stop was Anton's lawyer. Walter had picked the man, not the highest priced lawyer in town, but a damn good one. Israel Ben David had been in practice a long time. He was hard working, a bit eccentric. He was an orthodox Jew and was known for his insistence that Friday trials end early enough for him to keep Sabbath.

Ben David's office was cluttered with files although a sparkling computer testified that he was not locked in the past. He wore a reasonably expensive suit that his sloped shoulders and poor posture transformed into an ambulance chaser's special. Dark stubble had transformed his cheeks into a scrub pad. He was thin with high cheekbones, an aquiline nose, full lips, and the soulful eyes of a Labrador Retriever.

"So you're the private detective that Walter hired," Ben David said.

Answering with a shrug, Alex said, "I need to see Anton."

"Why? I've interviewed him. My investigator interviewed him," Ben David said. "What do you think you can get by talking out of him?"

"I need to know if his brother is right and he's innocent," Alex said, with a directness that he recognized as alien to the person he was now.

"I notice you're not asking me," Ben David said.

"You're his lawyer," Alex replied. "It's not your job to determine if he's innocent. It's your job to persuade the court that he's not guilty."

"I like you, Mr. Krycek," Ben David said. "Okay, if you're going in as my 'intern', you're going to have to fill out some paperwork."

"What? Why?" Alex asked.

"Because I am not going to be disbarred for participating in a fraud," Ben David said. "Walter called me and let me know that you have a juris doctorate."

"Juris Doctorate, MBA," Alex said. "I was planning a career in business when events . . . when I joined the FBI instead."

"Great, let's get you hired," Ben David said. "Hell, maybe you will decide to practice law in reality. I understand you were injured and can no longer be an FBI agent."

So Walter had laid a cover story down for him? Alex said, "Yes, but I found an amazing doctor and I no longer have a disability."

"Great," Ben David said. "Hey, just make sure our client doesn't incriminate himself in front of anyone."

"Sure," Alex said, "But Walter swears his brother is innocent."

OooOooO

Anton Skinner appeared to fill the small lawyer's interview room. He was a big man, bigger than Walter although the resemblance was unmistakable. Anton also had spent his free time in the gym, more so than even his older brother. He showed it in the heaviness of his chest, the girth of his arms and thighs, and the bull-like majesty of his neck. Blue-black hair was thick on his head; he was luckier than Walter in that respect. His eyes were the same as Walter's sharp, black-brown eyes with a slanted, heavy lidded look inherited from some unknown Tartar ancestor.

"You're Alex," Anton said, sitting straight in his chair. "My brother has a lot of faith in you."

That silenced Alex. Amazed him. Was Walter so desperate that he would lie to his brother?

Alex said, "I'll do what I can. I know a fair amount about the Organizatsiya. Tell me about the two cases, the murder case and Chicken Bill's case."

"Well, Gregor Olenev was some kind of guy. He looked like an old fashioned Russian patriarch, long white beard and all. He was a good guy, a stand up guy. He played along with the Organizatsiya for a while."

"Most of the Russian community does," Alex said, "or they don't stay in business long."

"Yes, I'm not stupid, Krycek, I know that. Anyway, he paid his dues reluctantly until his son was beaten into a coma. Word was that it was about the girl that both the son and Shamil Gubin dated. Olenev heard about it too and the next time Shamil showed up for protection, he turned his back on him and walked to the back of the store. He called 911. Gubin took off, but not before threatening Olenev. Olenev's shop was robbed twice. Then he was mugged, but he was determined to resist. He was meeting with the attorney general. They offered him protective custody, but he refused. A few days later he was found dead in his shop, shot execution style, but not until after he was tortured," Anton said.

"Rough deal," Alex said, privately thinking the old man had been living on borrowed time. He could have least consented to go into protective custody. Although Alex had taken personal satisfaction in arranging for some of the most unpleasant members of the Organizatsiya to be abducted, he would never have been foolish enough to take it on directly. He had used the Project to exact his revenge ... even the Russian Mafia had been less ruthless and less powerful than the Consortium at its worst.

"Very rough," Anton growled, sounding so much like his brother that Alex's cock jumped in response.

"What about Bill Zhurkin?" Alex asked.

"He was slime," Anton said, "But I didn't kill him. I was going to watch him and I knew he would do it again. I was going to catch him and make sure there wasn't a mistrial. I'm a lot like my brother, Krycek. We don't self-destruct. We fight hard, but we fight smart."

Alex used every instinct he had to read Anton. His guts told him that Anton was telling the truth. Too bad. That meant Alex would have to take a chance and meet with Vassily. Damn. He was never one to swim with the sharks, but here he was. All for Walter's cock!

Well, before Alex met with Vassily, he was going to collect some of his wages.

OooOooO

"Pick me up at the jail," Alex said. "I just met with your brother."

Flipping his mobile phone shut, Alex walked over to the nearby coffee cart to buy a coffee and a chocolate encrusted something or other.

There was barely time to finish his snack and pat his lips clean with the paper napkin before Walter pulled up. His conservative American built sedan was replaced by a van that said, "Angel Haven Pet Rescue." The van had soft focus paintings of dogs, cats, horses, pigs, llamas and even a donkey, all complete with halos and wings all over the sides.

"Nice wheels," Alex said, getting in.

"The truck still has a horse trailer hooked to it and Mom's car has dog hair all over the front seat. This was the best chance you have of not getting your clothes covered with hair," Walter said.

"Nice," Alex said. "I forgot that your folks run an animal rescue."

"Sarah and Mom are slightly mad that way," Walter replied as he deftly threaded through Austin traffic.

Walter looked great. He wore a blue denim shirt, open down to his collar bone and nicely fitting jeans. A cowboy hat sat between them to complete Walter's garb. "You planning on stopping and roping a few head of cattle on the way back?" Alex asked.

"It's Texas. I'm bald. Unless I want to risk a third degree burn on my head, I wear a hat. I like cowboy hats," Walter answered.

"You can ride my saddle anytime," Alex replied with a smirk.

"You can bet I will be riding," Walter said. He gave Alex a look that thrilled the hell out of him. "We'll go to the main house first, but Sarah thoughtfully put us both in the guest cottage. No concerns about noise so I am going to make you scream."

"You're enjoying this too much," Alex complained. "I think I screwed up."

Glancing at Alex, Walter took his right hand off the wheel to put it on Alex's leg. "You won't regret this."

"What if I don't find anything you can use? You going to turn on me then?" Alex said.

"Look, helping my brother was simply the last thing that I needed to give me the courage to approach you," Walter admitted.

"Bullshit," Alex said, but his voice quavered. He knew he wanted to buy it. Walter was the one he had hated, hated because he wanted so much to have his love, his respect.

Except for the stop to pick up Alex's suitcase, the two men didn't talk for the rest of the trip. Alex was thinking and Walter seemed to be off in a world of his own.

OooOooO

The Skinner 'ranch' was miles out of town, but Walter was driving like a Texan, way too fast. They arrived about twenty minutes after Walter picked Alex up. It was way too soon. Alex felt like telling Walter to turn around and drive him back to Austin, but Walter's hand gripped his knee. "They'll like you, Alex. I told them...not all of the truth, but the truth that matters. That I have loved you for years and that I want you to be in my life."

Glancing down, Alex struggled with his feelings. It would be easier to jump out of the van, go back to the casino, and bury himself in the glitter of the casino.

"It will be all right," Walter said. "Take a chance. We had something, Alex. Spender might have meant for it to be a humiliation for your and a trap for me, but it wasn't. We were meant to be and I won't let you go this time."

The gate opened and shut behind the van. To the left, Alex could see a pasture with an odd assortment of horses, everything from a handsome riding horse to an ancient and slat sided mare. A small donkey made his way among his equine companions, a goat standing on his back from time to time.

A group of llama peered over a fence on the right. Alex could see a barn, the long low shape of a dog kennel. The house itself was Southern style with a wraparound porch. Before Walter had even parked, three people came out on the porch.

Alex could tell they were all Skinners. Even the mother was tall and strongly built. Walter Sr. was the template for his oldest son. Even at seventy-five, he stood tall and straight, lean muscle over strong bone. The eyes that Alex so loved came from Walter's mother. She was not a pretty woman...more like a handsome one with her thick hair still shot through with black, her strong bone structure, and those heavy browed eyes, like black diamonds in their oval settings.

As Walter parked, the younger woman strode down the stairs. Alex thought she looked like a queen, a person used to giving orders that were obeyed. Walter said, "Alex, my sister, Sarah Skinner."

Sarah's grip was strong as a man's. She was nearly as tall as Alex and probably weighed only slightly less. "Alex, welcome! I've heard so much about you."

Thinking if she truly heard much about him, Sarah would have ran back in the house and locked the door, Alex shook her hand and smiled. He stepped forward to do the same when Walter Sr. offered his hand.

"My mother, Sezia Skinner," Walter said, "And, of course, my father, Walter."

"I go by WJ," Walter Sr. said. "Walter's not really a junior. I'm Walter John and he's Walter Sergei. Sezia was strong on each one of the kids getting a Russian name. She's big on her culture."

Laughing softly, Sarah said, "I'm Sarah Sashenka. We almost have a name in common. You're not afraid of dogs are you? Or cats?"

"No," Alex said. "I'm not fond of cockroaches, but dogs and cats are fine." Glancing back at the horses, Alex said, "I know how to ride, too."

"Great, I'm sure that Walter will get you out on horse back to see the rest of the place," Sarah said. "Come in. We were just putting the finishing touches on lunch, a Russian feast for you."

"Thank you," Alex said. What else could he say? He liked Russian food, but even if he didn't enjoy it, he never refused a meal. There were too many times in his memory when he had nothing to eat for him to be picky.

The inside of the house was interesting, constructed for a family with many animals. The hall was tiled and the rest of the house that Alex could see had wood floors. A parade of well behaved dogs waited for permission to sniff him. They ranged from an aging Great Dane that reminded Alex of WJ to a small, very lively dog that he could not place as any known breed.

A bevy of cats appeared to be resident as well.

Pointing at the cats, Sarah said, "We rotate the cats through the house except for the sick ones. Czar, the big guy, is a permanent resident and so is Angel, the black and white pit-bull. Those are Dad's dogs. The Borzoi is Mom's dog, of course, and the other three are the current house-dogs out of the rescued dogs. Of course, you and Walter will probably want to borrow one or two of the rescued dogs to keep you company here. You can have a look later today and pick them out."

Rolling his eyes, Walter said, "My little sister, Sarah, means we will have one of her charges in our care whether we consent or not."

"I like dogs," Alex said, "never could have one, but I like them."

Frankly bewildered by the warmth of this family, Alex settled in a chair in the large cave of a living room. He wanted the borzoi to keep him company, but instead WJ's pit-bull settled at Alex's feet, its broad slab of a skull happily shoved beneath his hand.

"Son gave me that dog," WJ said, "Angel's getting on now like me. I'll never forget Walter walking in the door and taking this little tyke out of his pocket. Poor little devil was just a pup, but he looked as he had been through the fight of a lifetime. Angel's ears had been hacked off by some idiot and he had as many stitches as Sarah's rag doll."

"I was in the field observing when my agents busted a narcotic's ring. The assholes had pit bulls for protection and when we were looking for evidence, I found Angel thrown behind some boxes in a shed. Looked as if they botched the ear cropping and then used the pup as a bait dog for some of the other pits," Walter explained. "I couldn't let the pup die. It had already survived so much."

"Best dog I ever owned," WJ said. "Best present Son ever gave me."

Father's eyes met son's eyes and Alex begin to understand why Walter was confident that he would be accepted even after introducing his male lover. This was a kind of family love that Alex had never known. It stabbed him deep inside as he remembered the last argument he had with his father. All of seventeen and hitting the streets to make his own way.

Sarah and her mother disappeared into the kitchen to finish making lunch. Alex waited for WJ to say something about the situation.

Instead, WJ said, "Walter tells me that you are going to help him prove that Anton is innocent."

"I'm going to try," Alex said.

"He said you were a good agent,' WJ added, "and you were undercover with the Russian Mafia."

"No, sir, I wasn't," Alex said, glancing at Walter. "When I was seventeen, my father and I parted ways. I had six months of high school left and, although I had scholarships to college, I knew I needed some money to start. One of the old men offered me a job running errands. I was stupid enough to accept. Through one thing or another, I was allowed to leave with my life, went to college, and eventually ended up at the FBI."

"Where you met Walter," WJ said. He petted his Great Dane.

"Where I met him," Alex said.

"I wondered why there wasn't another woman when Sharon finalized the divorce," WJ said. "I guess I know now. Don't look so bothered, Alex. I don't blame you. I do have a thing or two to say to my son. He could have ruined both your careers. Not telling us, well, that's another matter. It isn't something I would have chosen for my Walter, but what's done is done. As best as we can with Anton in the situation he's in, we'll make you welcome here, Alex. You're one of the family now."

"Lunch is on the table," Sezia Skinner said. "It's good to put together food for another Russian. Sharon never cared too much for Russian food."

"I love it," Alex said. "My Mom was Russian too. She used to cook feasts I will never forget."

It had been years since Alex had even allowed himself to think about his mother. Before she died, they had been a happy family, Father, Mother, Alex, and his younger sister, Galina. After his mother died, the entire world went bleak. His father sent Galina to stay with Jelena, Alex's aunt. Alex found himself working in the store after school and all his sports activities cancelled. His father never hit him, but all the joy had gone out of the house.

Blinking back a tear, Alex sat down next to Walter and let his plate be filled with food. The Skinner women must have been cooking all morning to get this on the table.

The traditional fish soup was on the table along with the pickled herring that had to be present on every festive table.

"We have Kievski Kotleti for the main course," Walter's mother said. "I hope you like that."

"Love it," Alex said. Damn, if this was what it was like to be a Skinner in-law, he was willing to put on bridal white and marry Walter.

"Mikhail will be here in time for Christmas," WJ said. "That's the middle son. He teaches Russian history. He lives in Washington State. He was the dreamer out of my sons."

Alex nodded and ate his soup. He still wasn't sure what to make of Walter's family. They weren't exactly as he imagined them. He had imagined Walter's father was stern and old-fashioned, a version of his own father. WJ was not that man at all.

The conversation moved around Alex, which was fine with him. He always preferred to get a feel for the interactions in a place before he spoke.

The topic seemed to be which of several applicants should be allowed to adopt a particularly cute puppy.

"What do you think, Alex?" Sarah said.

"Why don't you get them all up here and see who the puppy likes the best?" Alex said. "Maybe the families who don't get picked will fall in love with some of the other dogs?"

"Great idea," Sarah said.

"How did your family get into this?" Alex said, his curiosity overcoming his caution.

"The girl inherited a lot of money," WJ growled. "Had to throw it away on animals. Her mom is as bad as she is so I got drafted as free labor."

"Dad!" Sarah said. "I did inherit money. I had a wealthy client that doted on her animals. I was the first nurse she had who really cared about her and her pets. She had always dreamed of a place like this, but she became ill before she could make it a reality. When she died, she left the money to me as long as I provided a home for life for her cats and her dog. The dog is Czar, but he picked Dad as his person. The cats are three of the house cats. I invested some of the money, but the interest pays for most of this rescue and sanctuary."

"Do you take all kinds of wounded creatures here?" Alex said.

"For the most part," Sarah said.

"I might need an opening for myself," Alex said.

"If you could persuade Walter to take his retirement and come home in time to spend a few years with his Mom and Dad, you can have the keys to the place," Sezia said.

"I've been thinking about it," Walter said, "I just need the right incentive." His hand squeezed Alex's thigh to let him know what that was.

Alex returned to listening and eating, filling his stomach and finding his heart was filling as well.

Despite how well he was treated, Alex kept waiting for Walter to turn on him, reveal that it was a ploy to get his help with his brother. It was hard to believe that Walter could really love him. Sex was all it had ever been. Alex had been sure of that.

OooOooO

After lunch, Sarah walked them through the dog kennels. They were not the cages that Alex expected. Instead each kennel was set up much as a human home would be, with a small couch-like bed, toys, and rugs. Sarah said, "This setting makes it easier to train the dogs to be good house pets. Would you like to meet any of them?"

Alex found his attention caught by a pretty pair of dogs, white dogs with broad faces and very soft fur. He said, "How about these two?"

"Ah, those two are very special. The female is Ruth and the male dog is her son, Zorro. Ruth is deaf. Zorro acts as her hearing aid dog. We want them adopted together," Sarah said.

The dogs were sweet and gentle. Alex couldn't remember not to talk to Ruth, but she responded anyway, keyed to his movements.

Glancing at Walter, Alex said, "As long as we are going to have dogs in that cottage where we're staying, could we have these?"

Kneeling on the ground, Walter said, "Sure, I like them too. These are pit bulls like Angel. You know anything about them?"

"What I read," Alex said. "Dogs that are used by ruthless men, abused, hard to kill. Reminds me of myself."

Nodding, Walter reached for leashes and collars. The two dogs wriggled happily.

"When those two came in, they were skin and bones. They were found wandering in Austin. Ruth looked to have had numerous litters. No one knows how her son and her escaped from their owners. Zorro had wounds as if they tried to fight him. The two were inseparable. They might have been euthanized together, but one of the shelter workers called me to see if I could take them. I can't take them all, but these two deserved a chance to live," Sarah said.

The cottage was the larger of the two guesthouses on the property. Sarah said that the smaller cottage usually housed students and volunteers. The sanctuary attracted a lot of volunteers and some came to stay for a few weeks or longer.

Walter was already settled in the cottage. He kissed Sarah on the cheek and hurried her out of the place. Alex sat down, Ruth's leash still in his hand. He stroked her broad silky sides as she pushed her muzzle against his legs. He was nervous, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Walter said, "I'm putting your suitcase in the bedroom I'm using. There are two bedrooms, but I want you in my bed, every night."

Damn, Alex startled at that. He said, "Yeah, that's all right. It's what I wanted."

Walter grinned and said, "Got you right where I wanted you. How did you like my family?"

"I don't see why you ever left home," Alex said. "If my home was anything like this, I would never have left."

"I could have my Mom talk to your Dad," Walter said.

"No thanks," Alex said. "If we had problems before, they won't be better now. Leave it alone, Walter."

"We'll see," Walter said.

"You didn't ask me what I thought about Anton," Alex said.

"I thought you would tell me," Walter replied.

"Yeah, well, I believe you. I believe him when he says that he didn't kill Chicken Bill," Alex said. "The only thing is that my source doesn't think that your brother was framed ... at least not by the Russian mafia. He thinks that the person who killed Chicken Bill wasn't part of the Organizatsiya. I'm going to set up a meeting with the current boss...the son of the guy I used to work with."

"Is that safe?" Walter said.

Damn, the man actually sounded worried. Alex said, "No, it's stupid as hell, but I can tell if Vassily is lying. I could always read him."

"I'm going with you," Walter said.

"Bullshit," Alex said. "I can't be watching out for anyone else if I'm going to deal with Vassily...If I'm not satisfied that he set your brother up, I want to go with you and talk to all the families of the kids that were molested. I have a feeling that the answer is going to be out there. Some mother, some father, someone took the law into their own hands. Maybe they think that Anton will never be convicted. Maybe they don't care."

"You could be right," Walter said. "Anton thought it was the Russian Mafia, but he cares so much about the people that he works with. He would have a hard time believing that they would let him go to jail for a crime they committed."

"He might not like it, but as Mulder says, the truth is out there," Alex said. He stood up, Ruth following him. He said, "I need a shower and a nap. Your Mom and Sister are good cooks. I can't remember the last time I ate so much."

"You want company?" Walter asked.

"You can wash my back and be my pillow, but don't expect anything else until I sleep this food off,' Alex said. "Your Mom's cooking might save your honor yet."

"Not interested," Walter said. "Before the New Year starts, I'm going to prove it to you that I want you. But for right now," Patting his stomach, Walter said, "You're not the only one. I'm going to have to work out twice as much while I'm here."

It was the first time that Walter had seen him naked since his arm was restored. Alex felt shy for some reason where he had been arrogant and bold when he had gone to Walter after his amputation. There wasn't even a scar to show where the hideous stump had been. Jeremiah and company had healed every wound. Alex knew he looked not much different than the young lover he had been to Walter so many years ago.

Alex left his suit hanging, following Walter to the bathroom, stripping the rest of his clothing as he went. He saw Walter looking at him and stood a little straighter, feeling his lover's gaze heat.

"You look great," Walter said.

"Yeah, you always look good," Alex said, stepping into the shower.

"How's the hot water is this place?" Alex asked.

"Just the way we like it," Walter said, "Nearly endless."

A scratch at the bathroom door informed Alex that Ruth wanted to know what they were doing. He smiled mischievously at Walter and opened the door.

"Hey," Walter objected on cue. "I thought we were going to have some privacy."

"She's just a dog," Alex said. "Besides, it's not fair to take her and her son without spending time with them."

"You're going to spoil them," Walter said.

"They deserve it," Alex said. "Come on. Relax. Wash my back."

Walter's touch was as perfect as always. Alex knew the feel of Walter's hands. The rough areas from his boxing and firearms practice. The strength that pervaded him. His gentleness when he stroked Alex's skin.

Walter's lips caressed the nape of Alex's neck, making him shudder and take a deep breath. Walter's hand slid around to wash Alex's cock and balls.

"Walter," Alex protested. "I said, later."

"I know later," Walter said. "Just making sure you remember why it's worth waiting for."

"Arrogant fucker," Alex said.

"Both of us," Walter agreed.

Turning the water off, Alex grabbed towels, handing one to Walter. He yawned. The trip, being back here in the place where his childhood had died, had taken a lot out of him. Despite the excitement of being with Walter again, he needed sleep more than he needed sex.

As Alex found a comfortable position, he realized that this was the first time that he slept with Walter without having sex.

When Alex was young, before Walter found out who he belonged to, the two of them had made love passionately every chance they had. Afterwards, Alex would cling to Walter's strength, wanting to tell him everything, but too afraid that there was nothing between them but sex.

After Alex had lost his arm, they had never slept together. They rutted with each other in fury, inflicting pain with pleasure until the boundaries between the sensations was broken down to the point of being indivisible.

Thinking about that, Alex felt ashamed. He had become addicted to Walter's touch. He needed it so much that he didn't care how Walter felt about him.

Walter sighed, turned slightly and his hand drifted across until it rested on Alex's ass. He snorted in bliss and grumbled back into sleep.

Despite his drowsiness and the heavy meal, Alex didn't sleep until he felt a slow increase in weight and warmth on the bed. He opened one eye to peer at Ruth. Oh, well, let the poor girl take some comfort when she could. Alex felt himself drift off to sleep, thinking it was dangerous to feel so safe.

OooOooO

Waking, Walter tried to think why both sides of him felt supported and warm. A heavy head rested on his leg. Walter didn't think it was Alex. He explored and found a bony head covered with silk. A wet, cold nose pressed into his hand and he heard the solid thump of a thick tail against the bedding.

"Bad dog," Walter said half heartedly, but when he stood up, the dog crawled back into the warm spot he left, framing Alex between the two white canine beauties. Alex was smiling in his sleep, his lush lashes charcoal against his cheek, his plump lips parted. He looked like an adorable child.

Standing there, Walter drank in the sight. He could not recall a time when Alex had not startled if he even moved when they shared a bed. The only time he had much of a chance to observe Alex sleeping was that terrible night that Mulder had dragged Walter's former lover into his apartment. Mulder promised Alex ...some place safe. Then Walter had punched his beloved with all of his strength, chained him in the cold of approaching winter, and stood, unable to take his actions back, unable to sleep himself with the agony of desire and guilt.

The image of Alex, his hand white in the night as it dangled from the chain, shivering, his lips blue with cold as he sporadically slept and woke with terror in his face had haunted Walter from that time on.

The relationship they resumed wasn't the one they had in the past. It had been a dance of lust and terror. Walter never knew whether to expect sex or torture when Alex appeared in his life.

When Alex told Walter his plans, Walter had believed he could let him go.

No.

It had been love after all. A fierce, unyielding contest of two very male creatures who could not live without each other.

When Walter was informed of his brother's arrest and of the background of the case that may have led to Anton being framed, he thought of Alex immediately. Between the few times that Alex had briefly discussed his past and the information that he was given either by Mulder or by Spender, Walter was well aware of Alex's past.

It had surprised the hell out of Walter to find that his mysterious Russian lover had spent the latter part of his childhood in the same city where he had been raised. The Krycek family had moved a lot when Alex was young, from New York to Maine to Florida, all the way to Vancouver BC at one point before Alex's father had decided to join the small Russian community around St. John's. He had enough money to start his deli and Alex's mother had family in Austin.

Sometimes Walter thought that he half remembered a mischievous pair of green-eyed kids with a beautiful woman and a glowing-eyed man when his mother had dragged all her boys and her one daughter to church.

However, Walter wouldn't have noticed Alex, not then. Not until he traveled to Vietnam, losing a lot of his faith and inhibitions in that weary, blood-torn country.

OooOooO

Walter was studying the case files on both cases when Alex finally came wandering out, clad in a pair of boxers and his now wrinkled white shirt. His hair was an untidy mass of spikes. One side of his face was faintly indented by his pillow. Both dogs trotted beside him, tongues hanging from their mouths.

"You find anything new?" Alex said.

"No, I've been over and over these case files," Walter said.

"Let me see them again," Alex said. "You make any coffee?"

"I'll get right on it," Walter said.

When he returned from the cubbyhole of a kitchen, Alex was ensconced on the couch, one pretty foot swinging loose and the other propped on the sofa. The dogs flopped on the floor nearby, Ruth lying on her back, her jowls comically flowing from her wide mouth and her head resting against her son.

"I like these dogs," Alex said. "You think your sister would let me adopt them?"

"I like them too," Walter said. "We'd have to share."

"Yeah, right," Alex retorted, "You, me, two dogs, and we could adopt Mulder as our wayward child."

"It sounded good until that last part," Walter said.

"We could hire Scully to baby-sit him," Alex said.

"I'm surprised he's staying out of it," Walter said. "I told him not to come, but he seldom listens."

"Oh, I told my cousin to send a few intriguing e-mails and then lead him around for a while," Alex replied. "My cousin looks a lot like me, enough to fool Mulder."

"I appreciate it," Walter said. "This isn't the time for intuition. I need good solid investigative work that will stand up to free Anton in court."

"Yeah, and you thought you and I could take on the Organizatsiya when Federal prosecutors haven't been able to touch more than a few odd members out of thousands in the United States?" Alex said.

Frowning over the file, Alex said, "Why was Mrs. Polenov ruled out as a suspect?"

"She's fifty years old, a kindergarten teacher, an unlikely suspect at best," Walter said. "Besides, she was at work during the time when the murder had to have occurred."

"Unlikely people do unlikely things when something this horrible occurs in their lives," Alex said. "Gavrie Polenov was an only child, long awaited, and his father is now deceased. His mother would hate anyone who hurt him. Once she found out that the man who molested her son was getting off scot-free, she might have decided to make sure the man would not hurt another child."

"I won't rule anything out," Walter said, "But I think it is likely that the Organizatsiya is involved."

"We'll see," Alex said. "I'm going to go over these again and see if anything else strikes my attention."

"All right," Walter said. "I'm going to take Ruth and Zorro for a walk. Then when I get back, if you're in the mood, the dogs can have some crate times."

"You want to put them in a cage?" Alex asked, frowning.

"They like the crates," Walter said. "I'll show you when I get back. Believe me. Sarah wouldn't do anything that was negative with these dogs."

A toss of the head challenged that, but Alex went back to work. Walter felt a sting of regret. What a good agent Alex would have been if Spender hadn't held his leash...

OooOooO

When Walter came back, Alex had neatly put the files away. He must have had his coffee, but when Walter looked every cup was in place. Same habits that Alex had displayed when he had visited Walter's apartment. Alex not only put things back when he was finished, but put them back so exactly that you would not know they had been touched. Walter wondered if Alex's finely honed instincts and training ever relaxed...would he be the same if they lived together?

Giving each of the dogs a treat filled kong...a dog toy with a hollow inside that could be filled with food if desired, Walter closed the crates and left the dog to enjoy the bounty. He held out his hand to Alex and asked, "Now?"

Alex studied Walter for a moment and then said, "Yeah, now."

Letting Walter pull him to his feet, Alex wound himself into a kiss. His hands drifted down to Walter's firm ass. Walter's hands reciprocated; his fingers sliding beneath Alex's underwear. Alex walked backwards, his hands freeing Walter of his robe. They tangled with each other as they hurried to strip away their remaining garments. Walter's robe fell in the doorway to the bedroom and Alex kicked off his last sock as they rolled onto the bed.

"Mine," Walter said, "Mine." His voice was thick with lust and longing. He didn't care if Alex knew how much he was desired. Finally. Finally, Alex was his.

Touch. Walter's fingers caressing, claiming, exploring. Taste. Alex's lips, sweet as always, tender flesh, lower lip a little nibbled as he did when he was worried. His mouth tasting of toothpaste and coffee. The scent of him faint musk and a trace of something exotic that was the quintessence of Alex. The sound of Alex's breath catching. A moan as Walter teased his nipples. Then the whisper, "More."

"Your obedient servant," Walter said. He let all the tenderness and hope that he felt crowd into his voice.

"Make love to me," Alex said.

A concession. Not fuck me. Not just demanding hands. Alex was offering something he seldom gave, a chance for someone to hurt him and reject him.

"I will," Walter said as he bowed his head to worship Alex's cock.

A glance upward caught Alex's eyes fluttering closed. Walter's lips smiled around Alex's cock. He doubted Alex closed his eyes for anyone else.

Concentrating his attention on Alex rather than on his own demanding cock was difficult, but Walter disciplined himself. Reaching over to the bed stand, Walter found the lube he had placed there when he had unpacked.

A snort told him that Alex had noticed. "Boy Scouts are prepared," Walter said, leaving his task for the moment.

"Guess I was in the wrong troop," Alex replied. A moment later, Alex said, "I love it when you laugh around my cock. I could feel that more often."

It was something that hadn't happened since Alex had left the FBI. After Walter realized what had happened, there were no carefree moments. Nothing could kill the passion, but the joy had died the moment Mulder marched in to Walter's office and told him that Krycek was a traitor.

Walter moved it up a notch, his tongue circling the corona of Alex's cock, teasing around until he found the most sensitive spot. Walter flicked the spot repeatedly, working at it until his hands had to hold Alex down by the hips.

Pulling back, Walter enjoyed the groan of frustration from his lover. Alex's lips pulled back, his face caught in a frown of frustration.

Turning back to his lover, Walter moved lower to Alex's balls, handling them tenderly and gently as he kissed them softly. Alex opened his thighs even wider, giving himself to Walter with a total trust that moved him greatly. Walter teased Alex's anus as he played with his balls, his finger not yet penetrating, stroking the outer ridge of muscle delicately.

"I don't know whether I want to be fucked or sucked," Alex groaned, rolling his head.

Since Walter wanted to do both, he didn´t need to answer. He moved back to Alex's cock, giving butterfly kisses to the sensitive underside, finally he concentrated on sucking Alex deep inside, his mouth working the rim of Alex's cock. He loved the way Alex cried out, the way his body lost all control and shuddered its way into pleasure.

Limbs relaxed, Alex lay back for a moment then said, "Fuck me, Walter."

That was an invitation Walter could obey easily. He made sure Alex was ready, but he was always relaxed after Walter made him come. Alex said that Walter was the only one that could get him up a second time while fucking him. It might have been a lie, but Walter always, even when he was most angry at Alex, made sure that Alex was fully aroused and on the edge before he lost himself in fucking him. It blew Walter away when he felt Alex come. It was a point of honor to make Alex dissolve in pleasure.

Poised between Alex's legs, Walter grinned down at Alex and said, "Consider this a down payment."

Positioning his cock at Alex's entrance, Walter slowly pushed through the resistance, grunting softly when he felt Alex's body yield to him.

Alex's heels closed over Walter's back as his hands dug into the mattress. Alex's face went blank for a moment. Walter managed to move his hand back to Alex's cock, stroking it as he growled a litany of loving threats. He felt a surge of satisfaction as Alex's erection, which had never fully subsided, rose again.

It was as if they had never been apart; they never forgot what pleased each other. It was a curse to them that they were perfect partners in bed. Walter had never really been satisfied with anyone else after the first taste he had of Alex.

Thought fled. Heat incinerated everything but the sweet, perfect tightness of Walter's cock in Alex's ass. Everything but the enticing moans from Walter's lover. Every move brought the peak nearer. It was a moment from nearly unbearable stimulation. All Walter could think was, 'Come, damn it, come, so I can come.'

Then Alex shuddered and let out a long exhalation as his body went tight, quivered, and then relaxed just as Walter had to move faster, to surge into him.

Body snapping rigid, Walter yelled. Falling back, his arms catching him before he could tumble in either direction, he panted, his eyes closed.

"Damn," Walter gasped.

"Damn," Alex repeated, his voice nearly reverent. "I tried to forget it was like that."

"Me too," Walter said, letting himself slide down to embrace Alex.

"We stink," Alex commented, wrinkling his nose.

"Stink good," Walter growled, nuzzling his lover's neck.

"Come on, Walter, we already had naptime. We better get cleaned up and get ready to have dinner with your family. Then I have to go see if I can get Vassily to meet with me," Alex said, rolling away from Walter.

"You're right," Walter said. He closed his arms around Alex, holding him tightly.

OooOooO

A tall tree was set in the living room. Alex glanced at it when he entered. Sarah said, "It's resting until the branches drop. I expect you will help us decorate it tomorrow."

"You don't..." Alex started. He meant to say that they didn't have to treat him like family, but that instinct he always had, the one that Spender and the other project leaders had always used, told him that Sarah was genuinely welcoming him, happy that he was someone who could make her brother happy.

"I'd love to help," Alex said softly. It had been a long time since he helped decorate a Christmas tree.

"We were going to wait for Anton, but then we thought it would be better to have it here when he comes home," Sarah said.

"We decided to make dinner lighter," Sarah said, "Ukha and potato cakes."

"I love ukha," Alex said. "My mother made the best ukha in New York."

"Well, I make the best ukha in Texas," Seiza [LR2]boasted.

"It smells great," Alex said. "If I hoped to get anything from Grandfather Frost, a good bowl of ukha would be on my list."

"You don't ask for much," WJ said. "After you're done in town, there's a special mass for Anton tonight. I expect you will be there."

What was there to say, but "Yes, Sir, I will be."

OooOooO

Vassily was a slime ball. Alex had always known that. The man was a year older than he was. Alex used to envy Vassily back in high school. He had been hired to tutor the football star. That was how he came to Vladimir Shiroff's attention.

Sitting with Vassily in that huge fancy house, Alex couldn't help but contrast the bleak apartment above the deli that he shared with his father. He hadn't even had a room of his own, just a curtain across an alcove that had once been a large closet. His father had the only bedroom and the rest of the apartment except for the tiny bathroom was all one room.

His father didn't begrudge Alex his education, but when Alex presented his scholarship, his father had said he couldn't go. He wanted Alex to go to the local college so he could continue to work in the deli.

The scent of pastrami could still make Alex gag to this day.

Vassily pretended to sniff the air when Alex entered, clad in his most expensive suit. "I thought I smelled pastrami," Vassily said.

"It must be from your shirt," Alex said, sitting down without an invitation.

Like all too many former football stars, Vassily had grown stout and red of face. His once thick hair had receded on his head. His black beady eyes were further buried in folds of flesh. His bulbous nose was a minefield of broken veins.

Vassily had made college due to Alex's tutoring and his prowess on the football field. An injury had sidelined him and he flunked out, returning to his family business, the Organizatsiya.

It was not that Vassily wasn't intelligent. It was that he saw no reason to try hard to bend his mind to academic subjects. He had a wily, manipulative intelligence that seemed to have been bred into his family line, which had been with the Russian mafia since it developed.

"You did well for yourself," Vassily said. "Your casino would be an excellent way to process some of the profits of my business. We should talk about old times and about our future together."

"We have no future together," Alex said. "I'm here for one reason. Anton Skinner."

"Anton Skinner is a fool, a tiny stinging fly that I have considered swatting," Vassily said.

"Did you?" Alex said.

"What's your interest in Anton?" Vassily said.

"His brother is a friend," Alex said.

"A special friend?" Vassily said. "I know all about you, Alex."

"Then you know that I have special friends, powerful ones," Alex replied. He both saw and felt the flicker of fear, hiding his predatory smile in response.

"I know why you are here," Vassily said, "You think I engineered the death of my cousin. You are a fool. As for Shamil Gubin, my grandfather once told me a story. You see he had a stubborn cow that was difficult to milk, but a great producer. He was also saddled with an idiot of a farm hand. When he sent the man to milk the cow, the brute beat her to death for kicking him. He threw the man out naked in the Russian winter, telling him that he could come back when he devised a way to milk a dead cow. My grandfather was a wise man in his way. Gubin has given me too many dead cows. I didn't take any steps to protect the fool. You know as well as I that Gubin would never admit his connection to the Organizatsiya. There is death and then there are worse ways to die."

Damn, unfortunately Alex's instincts told him that Vassily wasn't lying. He frowned and asked, "Do you know who killed Bill Zhurkin?"

"No, if it was not the cop, then I do not know," Vassily said. "You will do me a favor if you find out. I don't like things happening in my territory without my knowledge."

Nodding, Alex said, "I'll let you know."

"I know you can keep secrets, Alex," Vassily said.

"Just keep away from the Skinners," Alex said, "We are no longer young men. It's best that we keep the peace with each other."

"I agree," Vassily said.

"Good evening, Vassily," Alex said. "I'll see myself out."

Thick lips pulled into a smile. "Take care, Alex. It's a dangerous world out there."

Alex met Vassily's gaze, nodded and sauntered out of the shark's jaws.

OooOooO

Somehow Alex was not surprised to find Walter waiting in the rental car. "How did you get in?" Alex asked.

"I have talents you don't know about it," Walter replied.

"Apparently," Alex agreed. He said, "Move over. I drive."

"Well?" Walter asked.

"Unfortunately, Vassily denies that he set your brother up," Alex said.

"You believe him?" Walter asked.

"Walter, you know that I drove the old men around, went with them to meetings?" Alex asked.

"Yes, I saw you," Walter admitted.

"You ever wonder why?" Alex asked.

"Protection?" Walter said.

"Not exactly," Alex said. "I have a talent. A talent that Mulder would find amusing."

"You have several I find amusing and entrancing," Walter said, putting his hand on Alex's leg.

"Yes, I know," Alex said, "But I'm serious. I have the gift of the truth. I can tell when someone is lying almost all of the time. I have to be in the same room with them for it to work."

"Are you serious?" Walter asked.

"Unfortunately, yes," Alex said. "Vassily wasn't lying so now we have a different job on our hands. We have to find out which of the victim's families killed Zhurkin."

"Or it could be a victim or a family member we don't know about," Walter said. "The man could have had countless victims."

"We had better hope for an easy answer," Alex said. "I'll go with you to interview the families. Should we get started tonight?"

"No," Walter said, "but you may have a chance to observe most of them. Father Stepankov is saying a mass for Anton tonight. Many of the families will be attending as well as a lot of the Russian American community here. Anton is well loved."

"Haven't been to a Russian Orthodox church since high school," Alex said.

"I'm reasonably sure you won't turn into a pillar of salt," Walter said.

"Hope not," Alex said. "Lead on."

OooOooO

Most of Walter's family was there, including Anton's wife, Anya, and his two sons, Ivan and Sergei.

Alex felt the ancient traditions pull him in. An icon of Saint Nicholas of Myra occupied the richly embroidered lectern in the center of the church. Dozens of candles burned in stands nearby. The church was full. Alex felt a dizzy moment as he saw his father standing in the congregation. Despite his years, Alexander Krycek stood, spurning the chairs set along the walls for the infirm and aged.

His father's gaze met Alex's for a moment before the man turned away. All right, old devil, two can pay that game. Reminding himself that he didn't care, Alex stood next to Walter.

It was hard to believe that Father Stepankov was still preaching. He must be in his mid eighties. Alex could remember when the priest was tall and strong. The priest was famous for once having chased a visiting priest out of his church. The man had been found fondling Bill Zhurkin. Father Stepankov had fought with the archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church over prosecuting the priest. It had come full circle, Alex thought. The victim had grown up to be an abuser. He wondered what the fiery Father thought of that.

It was easy to lose himself in the chants, in the incense, in the woman in their best dresses, scarves covering their heads. Alex made himself watch the faces instead, looking for some trace of guilt. He wasn't used to standing so long and moved restlessly. It brought back old memories, good ones of going to church with his mother. There was always good food and sweets afterwards. Later, his father had made a misery of the church as he did with most of the family life after Alex's mother had died.

When the ceremony concluded, many of the congregation came over to offer support to Walter's family. Alex stood back as he had in his days with the project, listening, observing, extending his senses. This time instead of reporting to one of the old men, he would tell Walter if he suspected any of these friends and community members.

None of the family members aroused that uneasy feeling in Alex. They seemed sincere, concerned about Anton. Still, Alex could be wrong. It was a long day and Alex was tired and under stress. His father had not come over nor had he left. Alex could feel his father's dark eyes glaring at him. If it was not for Walter's reputation, Alex would have embraced his lover publicly, flaunting his sexuality in front of his tyrant of a father.

Shaking his head subtly, Alex moved back into the shadows, the place where he felt most comfortable.

OooOooO

Despite his failure, Walter didn't reject him or accuse him of not trying hard enough. They had come directly back to the cottage, refusing an offer of a nightcap from WJ. Alex had a mild headache and the nagging feeling that he had missed something tonight.

"I don't know," Alex said as he slid into bed with Walter.

His lover embraced him tenderly. Alex said, "I think there was someone there, someone was withholding the truth."

"What would help?" Walter asked.

"I have to talk directly to them," Alex said. "Tomorrow, we have to find a reason to interview the families."

"All right," Walter said, "I think they will cooperate."

"I don't want to fuck this up," Alex said.

Walter frowned and grimaced. He said, "Whatever happens, I know you tried to help. That's enough, Alex."

"Not for me," Alex said. "I don´t intend to fail you, Walter. I'll get your brother out of this."

"If I didn't love you before this," Walter said. "I would fall in love with you now."

Alex's senses told him that it was the truth. Incredible that this should be happening. He had made a comfortable life for himself, secure in his luxury, not letting anyone get close to him. He was finished with pain and that meant being finished with the heights of feeling too. He had opted for safety now that the war with the aliens was over.

Walter had crashed back into his life, overwhelming him, pulling Alex out of his complacency. Alex couldn't go back to it now.

Too tired to make love, Alex fell asleep in Walter's arms. There were no nightmares, no terrors. He was safe.

OooOooO

Joining the family for breakfast, Alex saw that the boxes of ornaments were out.

"We thought we would decorate before you and Walter start your day," Sarah said. "We didn't want you to miss your first tree with the family."

The Skinners were bound and determined to treat Alex like he was a long awaited and beloved spouse to their favorite son. Alex didn't get it, but he could sense no prevarication. People spoke of unconditional love. Alex had felt it from his mother, but never since until now. He wasn't sure if he could live with it. It felt wrong and kept him on edge, waiting for the family to turn on him.

Before Alex could flee the invitation, Walter urged him forward, whispered, "I know how you feel. I felt the same after Vietnam. Come on. It gets easier."

The boxes held delicate glass balls, a handful that had even survived the trip from Russia. They held strings of tinsel and glass icicles, but as carefully wrapped were odd clunky ornaments made of cardboard, Styrofoam, and clay. Alex had to smile when he found a glitter sprinkled clay star with a chubby hand imprinted in it. A steady hand labeled the artwork, Walter S., 2nd grade. Alex caressed the ornament, trying to imagine his strong, serious lover as chubby second grader, laboring over his 'star'.

"I used to wonder why they put up these funny ugly things when we had such beautiful ornaments," Walter said, "But now I understand. It was love and still is."

Alex found a spot for the heavy Walter star.

Somehow the antiques and the modern, the treasures of art and the treasures of the heart came together on the tall blue spruce to form a lovely, elegant tree. Even the prompt decision of one of the cats to climb into the tree didn't mar the beauty.

Anton's little boys were already outside, getting a riding lesson from their tall and sturdy aunt when Alex and Walter left on their mission. They had five appointments today, five families of six victims. One unfortunate family had two boys molested...

The only thing that the families had in common was that they lived near Bill Zhurkin, who had lived in a small house not far from St John's Russian Orthodox Church. One of the families wasn't even Russian.

OooOooO

Although Walter took the lead with the first two families, he let Alex conduct the third. He watched the FBI agent emerge like another personality that lived beneath all the faces that Alex had worn since.

"Did you ever hear anyone threaten Mr. Zhurkin after Gavrie Polenov accused him?" Alex asked.

John Harper said, "Who didn't threaten him? There was a lot of outrage. It came as a shock. He seemed so normal, so helpful. I know my wife and I somehow thought that they warned you if there was someone with a record like his in the neighborhood. I can't believe this. Myra and I moved here because it was an old fashioned neighborhood, a place where our kids would have roots. Now, this . . ."

"There are good and bad people everywhere," Alex said softly. "Kids can recover from a lot if you give them love and care."

"Yeah? Well, since this happened, I heard that Bill Zhurkin was a victim, too. Molested by some monster of a priest down at the Russian church. Not Father Stepankov, of course, he's a good man. Shame about the cancer," Harper said.

"Get your kid some counseling," Alex said, "Talk to him. Listen, I knew Bill's family. They weren't the kind to do the right things. It was hushed up and I think they blamed Bill for what happened to him."

"I wish I could feel some sense of compassion for him," Harper said. "I can't. A good clean shot was too good for him."

"Would you have done it if you could?" Alex asked.

"I don't know. I'm a mechanic. I fix cars. I've never even thrown a punch in anger since I was a kid," Harper said. "I wouldn't take the chance of leaving my family to fend for itself. I've got six kids! I'll tell you something though. If I had done it, I wouldn't leave Anton Skinner to sit in jail for it."

"I know," Alex said, "Thank you, Mr. Harper."

A brief eye contact told Walter that Alex was ruling Harper out as a suspect.

Making sure that Harper was aware of the special counseling fund, donated by an anonymous source that Walter suspected was Alex himself, the two men moved onto the next interview.

OooOooO

The Rosoff family was huge and very traditionally Russian. Alex wasn't surprised to find Father Stepankov having tea with the family. When the father had been conducting the mass, Alex hadn't really looked at him, too overwhelmed by old memories and the necessity of looking for guilt of the faces in the congregation.

Now Alex saw that the priest was not only frail with age, but had the look that cancer leaves, a yellowing of the skin, a bloated appearance left by the medicine although the rest of the priest's body was pitifully thin.

Letting Walter take the lead again, Alex listening to the conversations while he watched the room.

Slowly, Alex's sixth sense alerted. The priest's face showed little, but there was something in his eyes. Alex drifted closer to Father Stepankov, finally jerking his chin to one side. The priest rose, irritably waving away the assistance of one of the family's teenager members.

"Let us walk outside in the garden," Father Stepankov said.

Glancing at Walter, Alex obeyed the priest. After a silent moment, Walter continued to talk to the family.

"It was you," Alex said. "You killed Bill Zhurkin."

"It was not my intention," Father Stepankov said. "I went to his home to ask him to accept the church's compassion, to confess and accept the discipline of both heaven and earth."

"What happened?" Alex asked.

Sinking deeper in his old fashioned overcoat, Father Stepankov replied, "He fell to his knees as if he was going to confess, but instead he...he pawed at me and said that he loved the taste of priest's cock. I moved away and he continued to say such terrible things. Father Soshnikov makes me carry a pistol for my protection. It was in my hand and I fired."

"And you let Anton take the blame?" Alex asked.

"Only until I finish transferring my affairs here," Father Stepankov said. "I have already made my confession to the church. Tomorrow, I will go to the authorities and give them my gun and my admission. Please, Alexander Alexandrovitch, give me my last day."

Conflicting feelings warred in Alex's heart. The respect his parents had for the church was part of his life for seventeen years, but at this moment, Father Stepankov also stood for the old men who had used and disregarding him since Shiroff had made his promises to entice him into working for the Organizatsiya.

"I'll have to tell Anton's family and Anton," Alex said.

"I know," Father Stepankov said. "Thank you, Alexander Alexandrovitch."

Alex nodded.

Father Stepankov said, "I've spoken to your father about you as I tried to do many years ago. I have told him that there is no righteousness in so many years of silence toward his son. You were a good boy, Alex."

That merited only a glare. Alex had to wonder if the world's outcome would have changed if he had remained a good boy? Despite the misery of much of his adult life, Alex knew that the process of moving from passive tool, a foolish and ambitious young man, to an embittered and wounded rat in a hole, had made him the right person for Jeremiah Smith to recruit. The right one to play double and triple agents to engineer the events that would eventually thwart both the project and the Oiliens...

"I don't need my father's approval or your sanction," Alex said. "Whatever I've done in my life, I ended up in the right place to do a lot of good."

"I understand," Father Stepankov said.

That warranted a smile. Alex said, "You don't, but that's not important. I think I finally understand that."

Walter stood in the doorway, a worried look on his face. Alex helped Father Stepankov back into the house and watched as he said his goodbyes.

It went against Alex's instincts to let him go. He didn't worry that the priest would escape by ordinary means, but he wondered if the man might choose suicide to revealing that he had ended a long and illustrious career by murdering a parishioner?

As soon as they were safely in the car, Alex said, "Walter, it was him. It was Father Stepankov. He asked for another day to finish turning the church over to Father Soshnikov. What do you think?"

"It's so hard to believe," Walter said, "not so much that Father Stepankov did it, but that he let Anton suffer for it."

"His church means more to him than his conscience," Alex said. "Like all old men, he prefers his cause to his conscience."

Walter said, "We've done things we've regretted for our causes too."

"I know," Alex said.

Walter's hand cupped Alex's cheek. He leaned close and kissed Alex's cheek before finding his mouth. "Now, we live for ourselves and for each other."

Giving himself to the kiss, Alex embraced his lover. "I'm glad you came to me for help, Walter, even if the case would have solved itself."

"Perhaps not," Walter said. "Your confrontation might have insured that Father Stepankov wouldn't take his guilt to the grave with him."

"Maybe," Alex said. His experience in life said that men and life behaved in unpredictable ways. Men who seemed good did terrible things and men like Alex, villains by the world's reckoning, could end up becoming saviors.

"We better tell Anton," Walter said. "Leave the choice to him."

OooOooO

Pulling some strings, Walter had his brother brought to the lawyer's interview room. Anton looked exhausted, dark circles around his haggard face. Alex saw the hopeful look when the policeman saw his brother. After all these years, Anton still looked up to Walter, saw his big brother as his rescuer.

"We found him," Walter said.

"Thank God," Anton said. "Has he been arrested?"

"He asked for another day," Alex said, "To put his affairs in order."

"He did? What makes the bastard think he deserves that after putting me in here?" Anton yelled.

"Anton, it's Father Stepankov," Walter said.

"What?" Anton said, his face crumpling. "It can't be . . . that good, good man."

"He confessed to me," Alex said. "It sounds as if it was a moment of madness and then, well, he couldn't bear the shame. He said he planned to turn himself in. He wanted the time to put the church in order and to say mass once more."

"I can't believe it," Anton said.

"It's up to you," Walter said. "We could bring him in tonight and you could be free in a matter of hours."

"No, let him do it tomorrow," Anton said. "He did so much good."

"All right, Anton," Walter said. He hugged his brother, holding him in a fierce embrace.

To Alex's surprise, Anton pulled him into the hug, saying, "Thank you, Alex. Thank you."

OooOooO

It was not only Walter and Sarah's arms around him that made Alex feel warm and welcome here. He felt as if he had come a long way in the last couple of days, a journey from hell to what seemed to him to be paradise.

"There's only one present I want," Walter said.

Alex hadn't known what to give Walter. The last time he had picked out a present for anyone was a misguided attempt to please the man who owned him. He had a cigarette lighter inscribed for Spender and had given it to him for a Christmas gift. How Spender must have laughed!

"I didn't know what to get you," Alex said.

"You," Walter said. "I want you with me. Here. In Washington. At your casino. Anywhere you want."

"Jesus, Walter," Alex muttered. He looked around at Walter's family, already growing dear to him.

Could he do this? Could Alex Krycek start life over again like an ordinary man?

"Alex?" Walter questioned.

"Yeah," Alex said. "Yes, I'll stay with you if you're sure."

"I'm sure," Walter said. "Just you, me, a couple of dogs."

"And your family," Alex said. His phone rang and he answered it when he saw Chris's number. "And a few odd bits of my family. You'll have to meet my cousin, Chris."

"Hey, Alex, Merry Christmas," Chris said. "Uh, I have to ask you. Is there anything serious between you and this Mulder guy?"

"Between Mulder and me?" Alex asked. He laughed and said, "No."

"Then I can make my move?" Chris said.

Alex heard Mulder's voice in the background, sounding very fuck happy. He shook his head. Chris as usual has made his move and was asking later.

"Chris, he's all yours," Alex said. "Wait, do you think you would like a permanent job, managing my casino?"

"Sure, cousin, love to," Chris said.

"Great," Alex said. "I've decided to stay in Texas. Things are working out here."

"Yeah? Well, good for you," Chris said. "Happiness, Alex, happiness."

"Happiness, Chris," Alex said, wondering how the volatile Mulder and his whimsical cousin would work out in the long run.

Pulled back into the circle of Walter's family, Alex spared a thought for his father. There could come a time when he would make his peace with Alexander Mikhailov Krycek.

Meanwhile, here, now . . .

Alexander Alexandrovitch was home.

The end



If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Ursula