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Substitutions
by Josan


Prologue

He wasn't surprised. Not really.

He'd known from the very beginning that he was nothing more than a substitute. That though Skinner took him to bed, had sex with him, allowed him to move in, he hadn't been the one Skinner had wanted. That when Skinner looked at him, all he saw was the one he didn't have.

But now he did.

Mulder was back.

Not just back on Planet Earth, not just back in D.C.

But here, in the foyer of Skinner's apartment, glaring at Krycek with disbelief.

"What's hedoing here?"

Skinner, thought Krycek, looked torn. Holding back when all he obviously wanted to do was put his arms around the man standing in front of him, cling to him for dear life. Yet he was 'gentlemanly' enough to know that doing so in front of the man who had been sharing his life—well, his bed—for the last four months was not very couth.

Krycek knew what he had had, knew what he no longer would have.

"It was easier to work together to find you. We used this place as our headquarters," Krycek offered, in a neutral voice. His hopes that Skinner would contradict him, would claim him as lover, were dashed as Skinner cleared his throat and, eyes not meeting those of either man, agreed.

Mulder was not fooled but was also not willing to push the issue. What Skinner had been up to while he had been cruising through the stars was none of his business. Ignorance was easier than dealing with the actual situation.

"We weren't certain whether you were ever coming back," explained Skinner, on more than one level. "Unfortunately, Mulder, your apartment was let go. Scully oversaw the storage of all your things."

Mulder grunted, understanding but not liking.

"Why don't you move in, until you decide what you want to do?"

Fuck! thought Krycek, was Skinner suggesting a threesome?

Mulder must have thought so, too. The horrified look he sent Krycek's way was quickly replaced with revulsion also quickly masked with disdain.

Krycek decided it was time to take control. "Skinner, Mulder looks famished. Why don't you go see what you can put together for him?"

Skinner took a deep breath, understanding that Krycek wanted to be alone with Mulder. He nodded, sent a look of almost embarrassed apology in Krycek's direction as he turned to go into the kitchen.

Before Mulder could go for him, Krycek raised his hand, stopping him. "Keep him busy in there. I don't have much. I'll be out of here as soon as I pack."

Krycek knew that Mulder had a wealth of things he wanted to say to him—no doubt his opinion of a man who would take advantage of the grief and loss of another to move into vacated territory. Krycek could see the jaw muscles twitching in Mulder's effort to hold back the words.

Mulder finally nodded, took off his coat and tossed it onto a nearby chair. Without saying a word, he went into the kitchen.

Krycek was packed and out in under thirty minutes.

Substitutions

The sign in the window said "Help Wanted. No experience needed."

Krycek hesitated in front of the bar. He'd withdrawn his limit at an ATM the night of Mulder's arrival and had used nothing but that cash to make his way here, just to be certain that there was nothing to track him by. Should anyone care to track him down. Which he somehow doubted.

He'd let his beard grow, worn the same clothes over and over again as he made his way by train, bus, thumb as far away from an impossible situation as he could get.

Well, here he was, in Cascade, a town on the north-western coast of the country. Moving further west would require an ocean going vessel of some kind. As for being easily recognized, well, hebarely recognized the scruffy reflection staring blankly back at him in the bar window.

He needed, he admitted to the pale shadow, a shower, a shave and a chance to access some money. Problem was, to get his hands on the accounts in Switzerland which he considered part of his inheritance from a now-defunct Consortium, he would need to use electronic access. And that would leave a trail he was not yet ready to deal with.

The bar was dry, warm after the near drizzle conditions outside. The closer he'd gotten to this part of the continent, the more complaints he had heard about the rainy weather. That would make a difference, he'd thought, to the cold of Siberia, or the hot humidity of that other Washington, though no less unpleasant.

He dropped his knapsack onto one of the well-worn bar stools, took off his leather jacket, shook the moisture off and hung it on the back of the stool. He hoisted himself up on the one next to it.

"Beer?" The bartender barely looked up from the invoice he was adding up.

"Yeah. That and the job if it's still open."

Jack Brussell looked up. He placed his clipboard down and reached for a glass stein, smoothly moving his hand to the plain glasses. Looking over the man who sat in front of him calmly accepting his examination, Brussell pulled a lever and expertly filled the glass with draft, not needing to keep an eye on what he was doing. When the weight felt right, he released the lever, wiped the base on a towel sitting for that purpose on the serving counter, handed over the drink.

Krycek raised it, took a sip. For draft, it tasted top-of-the- line. He raised the glass in a little salute before taking another mouthful.

Brussell was an ex-cop. Not that he would pass for one now. He would probably be laughed out of the physical, what with his gut. Well, a man had to sample what he sold, how else could he recommend? Not that he over-sampled. It was just that all these years of trying out new batches, new brewries had its price.

He'd bought himself the bar after he'd been shot in the line of duty. Rather than face years at a desk, dealing with paperwork, he'd accepted the package he'd been offered and bought the bar. Dealing with the people who came in for a drink was a hell of a lot more fun than sitting at a desk, though the damn paperwork had followed him here.

He'd been a cop for over twenty years—even if that had been fifteen years ago. At first look, the man seemed to be one of those down on his luck types who were here one day, gone the next. But Brussell had long ago learnt to look beyond appearances, even scruffy ones.

The stiff left arm didn't phase him, neither did the black glove worn only on that hand. It was the eyes that told him this was somebody who could take care of himself and, from the steady way they met his, that it might be worth taking a chance on the man. Wasn't like the job required a lot of training. He could always put the sign back up.

"Any warrants out on you? Be careful answering, it's an easy thing for me to check."

Krycek looked at the glass, remembering the steins. He cocked his head, gave a nod of appreciation. Prints were easier to pick up off the smooth sides of a glass.

"No. No warrants. No old ones, no outstanding ones."

Brussell nodded. Krycek took another sip of his beer.

Reaching for the clip board, Brussell handed it to Krycek. "This doesn't add up and I can't find the mistake."

Krycek set down the glass, pulled the clip board over to him. Brussell handed him the pencil he'd shoved over an ear when he'd poured the beer. Krycek took it, scanned the figures. Brussell took back the glass, topped it off.

Krycek used the pencil to make a couple of corrections, putting a check next to each, retotalled the column and handed it back to Brussell. "A couple of the numbers were reversed and the one was really a seven."

Brussell raised an eyebrow, looked over the paper. Shit, he'd been working on the damn stuff for over an hour.

"You going to need a place to stay?"

Krycek shrugged. "If I have a job."

"There's a room upstairs. Comes with bath and a kitchen nook. The mattress is fairly new and firm. Utilities are tied with down here. That and minimum wage. Forty hours a week. More if we agree. The hours are four until closing plus a half hour for clean-up. Supper and breaks included. Days off are Tuesday and Wednesday."

The room upstairs was a decent size. Brussell hadn't lied about the state of the mattress. Thankfully, it was a double. There were some linens and blankets on the top shelf in the closet. The few dishes and cutlery— obviously from downstairs, a couple of pots and one pan were in the one cupboard over the small sink. Brussell told him that all he had to worry about was his own breakfast and lunch. The two burner hot plate, the small fridge were ample for that.

There was a small table with two chairs by the window, an old wing chair upholstered in a dark colour by the floor lamp. The tall carved dresser must have been a monstrosity even when it had been new. There was a TV set on its top, hooked into the cable that served the bar.

All things considered, thought Krycek, not as bad as many places he'd rested his head. He didn't allow himself to think of the best one.

Though the towels were a little thin, the water in the shower was hot and plentiful. Krycek took his time shaving. The beard reminded him too much of a time he would rather not remember. He would get a haircut, after pay day.

Krycek pulled out his spare jeans from the knapsack, looked them over. Well, they would have to do until he could get to the laundromat Brussell had pointed out was down the street. He would need to replace the ones he had been wearing. Too threadbare for much more use. Another thing to do when he got paid.

Though it was Wednesday, he'd asked to start right away.

Brussell didn't need him out front until the crowd arrived. There were empty cases of beer to move by the outer door for pick-up, filled ones to move closer to the inner one for easy availability throughout the night. The room was refrigerated and Brussell didn't think much of Krycek's leather jacket to keep him warm. He merely handed him the heavy quilted one he kept for that purpose. He watched as Krycek buttoned it up, one handed. He was rather pleased that his new employee had washed up so well.

Now and then, during the next hour, he stuck his head in to see how Krycek was handing moving the cases. Usually the men he hired stacked one on top of the other, moving two or three at once. It was obvious Krycek couldn't do that, but even moving them one by one, balancing each between hand and hip, he wasted no movement. In the same amount of time that Brussell figured his two-handed employees could do the job, Krycek was hanging up the jacket and coming to get his next orders.

And froze stiff as he realized the bar was filled with cops.

Brussell grinned. End of shift at the station one block over and the place filled with Cascade's finest needing to unwind from work.

Krycek caught his grin and raised a very expressive eyebrow.

Good thing, thought Brussell, the man had a sense of humour otherwise he would probably be looking for a new employee.

Still, in recognition of Krycek's possible unease with the crowd he attracted, Brussell kept Krycek busy behind the bar, handling the orders for beer. He noticed the man worked efficiently, quietly. He didn't look bothered or nervous surrounded by all that Blue.

###

By week's end, Brussell acknowledged that it would probably take a lot more to get a reaction out of his new employee. There was an incident late Saturday night when two of the beat cops had a little too much to drink and the discussion on the best way to handle the gang that was muscling in from the outside on a local one got more than a little out of control.

Krycek was on the floor, cleaning up, when one took a swing at the other. Except that the other bobbed just as the fist came his way and it hit the tray Krycek was carrying. Bottles and glass shattered. The next fist flying by nearly caught Krycek on the shoulder.

By the time Brussell had grabbed his baseball bat, stepped out from behind the bar, the swinger was outside and the other cop was following him out. Protesting loudly, but out nevertheless. Krycek shut the door behind the two men he had "escorted" out—Brussell hoped that neither of them would turn up with a broken arm—and went to get the broom to sweep up the mess. None of the cops remaining said a word, though one or two of them did look over at Brussell with raised eyebrows. Brussell only smiled, went to get an empty box for the glass shards. Together, he and Krycek had the mess cleaned up in no time. No one protested when Brussell announced he was closing for the night.

After a couple of weeks, Krycek was beginning to pick out the regulars, remembering what they preferred to drink. The bar offered food as well. Mainly sandwiches and other quick food. Some of the cops stopped in on their breaks when they were in need of something to handle a sudden hunger. Brussell noted that Krycek soon figured out which cops were on break, which at the end of their shift. The ones on break had to be satisfied with soft drinks, coffee. If they wanted anything with alcohol, they had to ask Brussell for it. Not that he filled those orders any more than Krycek did, but he appreciated the fact that they thought they had to try the new man out. Nice to know his new employee had passed that little test.

Though Brussell allowed a certain amount of beer to his employees while working, Krycek stuck to Cokes. He poured himself a beer only once the door was closed for the night and they were cleaning up.

All in all, Brussell was pleased with his new employee. So pleased that he didn't bother to question the tax information on the form Krycek filled out.

Krycek was surprised how at ease he felt working in the bar. Maybe all those years of hanging around the FBI, the KGB meant that the Blue didn't make him nervous. He knew Brussell thought it funny that, apart from a few raised eyebrows the first week, no one paid any attention to him unless they wanted another round.

Actually Simon Banks had not only noticed him the first night he'd been in, but every time he came to have a beer with his people, to catch up on the gossip. He had a good relationship with his crew, but it was easier out of the Station, here in the bar. Things that they wouldn't say in front of him in the department, they would let slip after a few beers.

He didn't feel guilty about listening in on private conversations. Knowing there were relationship problems, family visiting, teenagers acting up helped him deal with the additional tensions and stresses in his department. Not that his people didn't have enough to begin with at work.

This night he looked over at two of his men, his best team of officers. Since Blair Sandburg had entered Jim Ellison's life, his friend seemed to have found the peace that had so eluded him. Jim's special talents were finally appreciated, respected. Under control. Blair didn't consider his friend to be a freak, a nutcase. Had, in fact, teamed up with Jim to help him deal with situations that no one else could.

And those senses of Jim's came in handy. The first night he'd been in, as the new bar man had been serving everyone their drinks, he'd caught the slight sniff that ended in a small sneeze.

"Gun oil," had commented Jim.

Simon had nodded. So, Jack's new employee carried, did he?

The additional fact that the partners had become close—Simon snickered to himself. Yeah, well, that was the acceptable way of putting it—was only a bonus in his eyes. Jim deserved a little luck in that part of his life. It was nice that Blair saw it that way as well.

It made Simon just a bit wistful to see the way Blair looked at Jim and vice versa. It had been a long time since anyone had looked at him that way. He chomped hard on his unlit cigar. God, the thing was foul. Time to replace it. He tossed the three-inch chewed up stub into the ashtray and pulled out his case.

"Jesus! Simon! Outside with that thing," Blair laughed. "The air's polluted enough in here without your adding to it."

Simon felt that now he had to make a production out of lighting his stooge, blowing the smoke up to the ceiling over his head. "This," he explained between puffs, "is not a pollutant. This is a Cusano. Made, I'll have you know, by being rubbed along a virgin's unblemished thigh."

Their corner of the room filled with catcalls and hoots. Simon noticed the man at the bar looked over their way. Their eyes met, held, even through the cloud of smoke that encircled him.

Nothing, thought Simon. He had never seen eyes with so much nothing in them before.

###

Krycek was taking the chairs off the tables when he realized there was someone else in the bar.

"We're not open yet." He turned, right hand ready to go for the small gun safely holstered in the small of his back.

"Then you should keep the back door locked," growled Simon Banks, helping himself to coffee.

Krycek barely lessened his readiness. The Captain was big. Not just in height—he had to be at least six four—but in structure as well. Shoulder breadth and body size indicated that if he had once spent some time on a football field, it was probably as a brick wall. He had, Krycek assessed quickly, to be a good ten, maybe twenty pounds over a solid two hundred. Not that he appeared muscular like Skinner, but he looked like a man who took care of himself.

He'd also noticed that Banks moved well for a man his size. And dressed well. With his size, those conservative suits he wore must have to be made to order.

Except those shirts of his indicated there had to be a far less conservative side to the big black man. Charcoal grey suit today, with some pink shirt, dark pink tie. Not a D.C. kind of combination.

Today, he also looked like hell, thought Krycek. Considering he had never seen the Captain anything less than impeccably dressed, the mud and dirt that were embedded in his pants probably meant the man was just coming away from some crime scene. There were streaks of mud marking both sides of his jacket, as though he had often wiped his hands along them. His shoes too were caked with mud that he had trailed behind him on his path to the coffee pot.

Krycek's mouth curled slightly in a grimace. He had washed that floor last night. He would have to wash it again before they opened.

"Where's Jack?" Banks leaned against the bar, cup of coffee at his mouth, eyes following Krycek's every move.

Krycek had noticed that whenever Banks came to the bar, he watched him. He knew that look, was aware that it contained more than 'professional' interest, though he wasn't certain if the man himself knew it.

"At the hospital. Seems his grandson decided to take a dive off his bike and his daughter needed someone to drive them to emergency. I'm filling in until he gets back." Krycek finished taking down the chairs. He decided he'd wait until the Captain and his muddy shoes left to clean up the floor.

Banks's eyes stayed on him as he went behind the bar, began cutting up lemons.

"What are you doing here, Krycek?"

Krycek paused then continued slicing. He knew that tone. He'd heard it often enough in his life. Banks was looking for a fight. Well, he'd have to go somewhere else. His role as a punching bag was over. Let Banks find another way of dealing with whatever burr had gotten under that expensive suit of his.

Krycek went to move away when a large hand gripped his wrist. "Look at me when I talk to you."

Krycek looked at the hand that gripped more tightly. Slowly, he raised his head, his eyes blankly staring to the side of those glaring at him.

In a burst of anger, Banks yanked the wrist he held, pulling the man attached to it partially over the counter. "I've spent the last forty hours watching my men avoid each other's eyes. I know why they did it. What's your excuse, Krycek?"

Krycek said nothing, did nothing. He just waited as the anger slowly drained out of Banks's eyes. He blinked, looked startled to see his hand gripping Krycek's wrist. "Ah, shit!"

Banks released the wrist. Krycek didn't need to check to know bruises were already forming. Banks rubbed his hands over his face as Krycek straightened, took a step back, far enough to be out of the reach of the long arms.

Banks sighed. All anger out of him, he suddenly looked like a man who had been up forty hours, looking at the ugly side of life.

"Man, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. You can lodge a complaint against me if you want. It's just..." He looked up at Krycek as though it were important that he understood. "We found this basement with dead kids buried in it. Twelve of them. I..."

"Forget it," Krycek reached for the whisky the Captain sometimes ordered. "Nothing happened." He poured some into a shot glass, got a fresh cup of coffee and added the liquor to it.

Banks scowled at the new cup. "I have to go back."

"You eat lately?" Krycek tried to sound only curious. Not concerned. He had killed but never kids. Those he had truly killed had deserved it in one way or another. Kids never deserved death.

Banks didn't answer. Just continued staring at the cup. Krycek sighed. He went into the small kitchen that was just off the bar and quickly put a sandwich together.

"I'll only puke it up," said Banks, once he noticed it.

"Easier than puking up bile."

Krycek left the sandwich, continued preparing the bar for the day's business. After a few minutes, Banks picked up a half of the sandwich and began eating it.

Krycek went back into the kitchen for some limes. When he came out, the bar was empty. As were the plate and the cup. Banks had left ten dollars by the plate.

Krycek put the money into the cash register, went and got the things he'd need to clean up the mud.

### "So how's the grandson?"

Brussell looked over his shoulder at Banks. "Damn," he smiled, "I really have to remember to keep the back door locked."

Banks reached for a cup and helped himself to coffee. "Would keep the rabble out."

"Davey's fine. Got a cast on his arm and is the hit of the neighbourhood. Becca's going to take a little longer to get over the fact. I reminded her of what we'd gone through with her at that age. She used to think that every tree on the block was a personal challenge to her climbing skills. She had no trouble going up. It was the down part that was the problem."

Banks grinned. "Daryl went through a Superman phase when he was five. I remember one time in particular. It took Joan and me an hour to talk him off the garage roof."

The scream that pierced the air took Banks by surprise. The cup hit the floor as he stooped, reached for his weapon. Gun in hand, on one knee, he scanned the room.

Brussell had also reacted though not in the same way. He only sighed, shook his head. "It's okay. Only Krycek having a nightmare."

Slowly, weapon still in hand, Banks got to his feet. "You sure?"

Brussell nodded. "He has them now and then. So far, he's been careful to have them before opening time."

"That's polite of him," grunted Banks.

But the scream was back, louder, longer. Banks left the bar, Brussell behind him. "He usually stops after the one," he panted as they raced up the inside staircase up to the second floor.

As they reached the door, they heard the sound of something heavy falling onto the floor. At least the screaming stopped.

Brussell pounded on the door. "Krycek! Krycek! Everything okay in there?"

No answer. Through the door a new sound, as of an animal in pain. Brussell rummaged in his pockets, came out with a bunch of keys. In no time, he found the right one, slipped it into the lock and opened the door. Banks nudged him aside and went in, cautiously, weapon at the ready.

A quick glance told him that Krycek was alone in the room. Dressed in shorts and t-shirt. Huddled in a foetal position against the wall by the bed. Banks sniffed, searching for alcohol, other substances. All he got was an acrid whiff of fear.

He handed his weapon back to Brussell, just in case, and carefully approached the man curled in on himself, making the noises.

"Krycek?" He waited for a response, any kind of response before crouching in front of the man. "Krycek?" Softer, more gently. As he went to touch him, Krycek raised his head, looked into the direction of his voice.

Well, thought Simon, there's not nothing in them now. In fact his eyes were black, so black that Simon knew Krycek had to be almost sightless. And they were filled with a terror that made Simon grimace.

Slowly, keeping his voice even, unthreatening, Banks eased his hand onto Krycek's shoulder. "Hey, it's all right, Krycek. You're with friends. Come back from wherever you are, eh, man. Jack, what's his first name?"

"Alex." Brussell kept his voice quiet. Wherever Krycek was, he didn't want to jar the man.

"Alex? It's Simon Banks. You know me. Alex, come back. Hey, man, it's all right."

Krycek's eyes closed and he took a deep shuddering breath. Except the shuddering didn't end with it.

Banks gradually pulled the unresisting man into his arms, offering him an anchor as reality replaced nightmare. Krycek's body shook from the force of his return. Banks sat on the floor and moved so that his back was to the wall. He cradled Krycek in his arms all the while murmuring to him. "Jack, get me a blanket, will you? He's like ice."

Brussell placed Banks's gun on the small table and untangled one of the blankets from the bed. He carefully draped the cover over the trembling man. While Banks tucked the blanket more securely across Krycek's shoulders, Brussell checked out the small fridge. "He'll need something for the shock. I'll get some orange juice from downstairs."

On his way out, Brussell closed the door behind him.

Simon kept up the calming monotone, hand rubbing along Krycek's back through the blanket, long after Brussell knocked on the door, placed the pitcher of orange juice and a glass on the table by his weapon and, shrugging, left Banks to deal with the situation.

God, thought Simon, what the hell kind of nightmare did the man have that effectively turned him into a lump of shivering flesh?

The noise stopped fairly quickly, but the trembling wasn't showing any signs of fading away. Simon made himself more comfortable, as well as he could, sitting on a hard floor, legs stretched out, a fully-grown man curled in his arms.

Eventually, the combination of blanket, Simon's body heat and Krycek's coming out of the fugue caused by the nightmare eased the trembling to the occasional shiver. Krycek's body unwound a little, his head now tucked under Simon's chin. Simon moved his hand to include the back of Krycek's head in the slow sweep he made of the man's body in what he hoped was a calming motion. His son, Daryl, had liked that kind of touch whenever he'd been ill as a child. It had always soothed him.

Simon felt a sneeze coming on. His nose wrinkled at the sour odour of fear coming from the sweat-dampened hair. He managed to swallow the sneeze, all the while wondering what could have set the man off like this?

Hell, he was already getting a reputation for being unflappable. Not just the incident of the two beat cops, but a couple of others which had not gotten that far. He would cut off people he felt had had enough, staring them down when they tried to pull their macho 'Authority' stare on him. Simon had seen him do it. Authority was not something that seemed to impress Krycek.

He had also seen Krycek delicately indicate it was time to switch from the beverage of choice by quietly presenting the drinker with a cup of coffee instead of another beer or drink.

And Brussell obviously trusted him, as much as Brussell ever trusted anyone not family. Jack was the kind of man who felt that he had to be forever present in his bar otherwise things were going to go down the drain. Yet a bare month after the man's arrival, he'd left the bar in Krycek's hands, and not just the day of his grandson's accident. He hadn't abandoned his vigilance, but he did seem to have eased off on it a bit where Krycek was concerned. And he seemed to also want to keep the man working for him. Why else would a man screaming with nightmares still be living above his bar, possibly upsetting his clientele?

Simon rested his cheek on Krycek's head. "It's okay, Alex. You're safe. I've got you. You're safe now that I've got you."

Now where the hell did that come from? Simon shook his head. Still, he closed his eyes and focused on the feeling of the man in his arms. Nice. It had been a long while since he'd held a man like this. Since one of Jim's...what was it Blair called them? Zones. Since one of Jim's zones. The last one he had personally had to deal with before Blair had arrived to take over.

Krycek wasn't as big a man as Jim. As tall but far less...bulky. Longish hair instead of the buzz cut Jim had worn back then. One arm instead of two.

Simon tucked the blanket a little more snugly around that shoulder. The sleeve of the t-shirt Krycek was wearing hadn't quite covered the end of the stump. It wasn't pretty. He'd seen a few amputations in his career, never anything that looked this amateurish. Maybe, thought Simon, that was what the nightmare had been about.

He was growing more aware of the back his hand was stroking. Solid. Hard. Muscular without being muscle-bound. Long. Good shoulders. He let his hand drop a little lower than it had been. Nice ass.

And then there were the green eyes. He'd never seen eyes that particular shade of green. He'd caught the colour the first time he'd seen Krycek in the bar. The day he'd dragged the man over the counter, they had barely reacted to his gesture. But he had noticed the colour, dark with little flecks of gold.

Simon sighed. He preferred the nothing in them to blind fear.

Krycek moved, slowly uncurling his legs. He took a long, slightly wobbly breath and settled against Banks's chest.

They sat that way in silence for several minutes.

"Did I wake the house up?" Krycek's voice was hoarse.

"No house to wake up. Just Jack and I."

Krycek nodded against his shoulder. He moved his right arm from where it was caught between their bodies. Banks released his hold on the man, expecting him to move out of his arms and off him. Instead, Krycek's hand dropped to his fly and began working it open.

"What the hell..." Banks tried to shift away. Not that he could, his back was to the wall and Krycek was suddenly heavy on him. "Krycek!"

Krycek ignored the snappish tone, started bending so that he would be closer to the semi-hard cock he was pulling out of Banks's pants.

"Stop that!" It was the voice that brought his bull pen to complete silence and attention. It got Krycek to turn his face up to look at him.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Banks tried to keep his tone severe, heard it lessen at the look of bleak resignation in those green eyes he had just been thinking about.

"Paying you back."

"For what?"

Krycek's weak smile was a slash of mockery on his too drawn face. "For the care provided. You're hard. I'll take care of that. If you prefer, just think of me as a substitute for your hand. I'm used to that, being a substitute."

"Krycek," Banks put both hands on the man's shoulders, held him away. "I'm not in the market for a blow job."

Krycek nodded. "On the bed then."

Banks hid his astonishment at Krycek's persistence. "No. No blow job. Not on the bed. I don't want any of that."

Krycek gave a small snort. "Yeah, sure. That's why you're sporting a boner."

"Okay, I'm sporting a boner," growled Banks. "Things like that happen when I hold a beautiful man in my arms. But my dick doesn't dictate to me, Alex. I decide if and when I take someone to bed. And I'm not into quickies of any kind. Certainly not into thank-you fucks."

Simon wanted to shake Krycek hard. Hell, didn't the man have an idea of self-worth? Shit! Payment for being held? He gave in to the urge to shake him, but did it once, gently. "Hasn't anyone ever just held you?"

"I'm not the holding kind." Voice more than tired; resigned.

"Really? What kind are you, Krycek?"

"I'm the fucking kind. I take it that you have no real objections to fucking men. You haven't thrown me off and acted like some insulted virgin. All I'm offering is a fuck." Krycek moved so that he was off Banks's lap, onto his knees. "Or a blow-job, whichever you prefer. Just let me know when."

Banks reached for Krycek's face, held it between his hands. "You listen to me. Yes, you make me hard. Yes, I would like to get you into bed. If only to see what it would do to those eyes of yours. And if I ever do, it will not be to use you as a substitute for my hand." Even he could hear the anger in his voice. "I never want to hear you sell yourself short like that again, you hear me, Alex?"

Krycek's eyebrows arched in a frown. He nodded, or tried to nod: his face was still firmly held between two enormous hands. One of those hands loosened, stroked the hair off his face. Banks's face softened. "Go take a shower, Alex. Get rid of the smell of that nightmare off your skin. It's probably what's making you act like an idiot. Go."

Krycek rose to his feet, a little awkwardly. Simon figured the residue of the nightmare was still making itself felt. He stayed sitting until he saw Krycek make his way into the bathroom. "I'll pour you some of the orange juice. Make sure you drink it when you're done in there."

Krycek hesitated in the doorway, nodded then closed the door behind him.

Simon rose, tucked himself back into his pants, zipped up his fly. He checked the small fridge, pulled out a partial loaf of bread that came from the local bakery, butter. In the cupboard, he found a jar of peanut butter. To the sound of the shower, he made toast, fixed it and left it on a plate by the filled glass of orange juice.

Then he left, locking the door behind him.

###

The knock on the door had him reaching for his gun.

"Who is it?"

"Simon Banks."

Krycek stilled for a breath. He looked at the gun in his hand, slipped it up his sleeve.

In the two weeks since the nightmare, Krycek had started to believe that he might not be required to pay back. So much for that, he thought, as he opened the door.

Banks was dressed in dark jeans, a heavy grey sweat shirt with the Cascade Police logo framed by a navy parka that hung open on his shoulders. It made him look different, less the Captain, thought Krycek. No less big, though. He leaned on the edge of the door, waiting for Banks's instructions.

Banks took the unlit cigar out of his mouth. "You own a pair of running shoes?"

Krycek raised an eyebrow, then nodded.

"Good. Put them on. And bring something heavy for under that leather jacket of yours. The wind's chilly today."

Krycek left the door open. Banks ignored the invitation. He remained in the hallway, looking in, as Krycek replaced the half- boots he was wearing with a pair of black joggers. Banks made no comment about the gun that went into its back holster, watched without a word as Krycek carefully tied his shoe laces. With a double knot no less.

"Aren't you going to ask where we're going?" Banks paused by his car door to light his cigar.

Krycek shrugged. "You're the boss. Brussell's seen us together. If I don't come back, or come back too damaged to work, at least he'll know who I went with. I doubt that he'd do anything much about it."

Banks nodded, his tone slightly sarcastic, "The Brotherhood and all that."

Krycek made no comment, just waited for him to hit the unlock button and then slid into the passenger seat.

"And not knowing what I may do to you, you're still coming with me?" Banks started the black Chrysler, looked over his shoulder as he pulled back out of the parking spot.

"I owe you," said Krycek. There was as little emotion in his voice as there was in his eyes. "I pay my debts."

Banks answered that with an eyebrow that rose high above the rim of his glasses. After that, he kept his eyes on the road.

Not what Krycek had expected, had he allowed himself to expect anything. They were standing on the wharf, looking at one of the boats tied up.

"You ever sail?" Banks carefully jumped down onto the small sail boat, his open parka flapping in the slight breeze. He worked quickly and efficiently to untie the tarp.

"No."

Banks grinned up at him. "You don't know then if you get sea-sick?"

Krycek shrugged. The last time he had vomited it had been an alien. No, not quite true. He'd gotten drunk once after, drunk to the point where he'd puked his guts up. It had reminded him too much of that time in the silo and he'd never drunk that much since.

Banks seemed to know what he was doing. Krycek stood on the dock, not really understanding what was going on.

"Pass me the cooler. Thanks." Banks held up his hand. "It's a bit wobbly if you don't have your sea-legs."

Krycek hesitated.

"I just want to make sure you don't end up in the water. This time of year, you'd be experiencing hypothermia in no time flat." Banks kept his hand out, patiently waiting while Krycek made up his mind.

Krycek had to admit that he did need that hand. A wave hit the hull just as he was stepping down, making the floor bob up and down. He ended up in Banks's arms.

Banks held him up until the boat stopped rocking. "You think you can find your way to that bench without tipping over?"

Krycek caught the slight challenge. With a nod, he let go his grip on Banks's sweatshirt and cautiously made his way to the side bench. As his body adjusted to the motions of the boat, he watched as Banks stowed the cooler under the back bench, prepared the sail. The boat had a small motor and Banks checked it thoroughly. He found two safety flotation pillows and tossed them to Krycek.

"You can swim, I hope?"

Krycek allowed himself a smile. "Yeah. Mainly in swimming pools. I thought you said that the water was too cold for that."

"It is." Banks grinned. "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing. I don't usually dump my passengers into the water." He looked around, wistful. "This will probably be the last day I'll go out this year. The waters are getting too rough. But today the weather is perfect and I hate to waste one of my rare few days off doing something like cleaning out the eaves troughs when I could be sailing."

Krycek said nothing, just sat back as the small motor chugged while, sitting by the tiller, Banks took them away from the wharf, out into the harbour. Once he felt they were far enough away from the smaller boats, Banks turned off the motor.

"I need to hoist the sail. That means one of us has to steer. That's where you come in."

Krycek felt his eyebrows rise under his bangs.

"It's not hard. Daryl could do it when he was a kid."

Krycek felt a smile want out. Damn, the man certainly knew which buttons to push. Holding on to the side, he made his way over to the tiller.

"Just hold it steady, like this."

It didn't take long. In less than five minutes the sail was catching the wind.

The moment the wind caught the sail, the small boat leaped forward, like a thoroughbred out of a starting gate. Krycek was taken by surprise and had to tighten his grip on the tiller, keeping it on the course Banks had set up. It was much harder than he'd thought it was going to be: the little boat fought him for control.

Fuck, he thought. He'd lost control of so many things in his life, this was not going to be another of those occasions. He fixed his eye on a distant point of land and held the tiller to it.

After a few minutes, it dawned on him to wonder why Banks hadn't taken over. He looked up to find the big man standing, legs spread apart as he balanced on the tottering floor, calmly taking out his cigar case and selecting one of those trademark cigars of his. All the while, watching Krycek. He smiled suddenly.

A brilliant, gut-wrenching smile.

"You're doing well for a land lover."

The smile and the compliment warmed something cold in him. Not that Krycek allowed himself any time to take pleasure out of either. Instead he made himself wonder just what the hell Banks was up to?

Banks gripped the cigar between his teeth and came to take over the tiller. Without his saying a word, Krycek took back the seat he'd previously had, looked away, into the wind.

He thought that the point might be their destination when Banks put the boat into a curve, headed her out into the emptiness of the open water.

Krycek rested his right arm on the edge, rested his chin on it, eyes on the horizon. He supposed he should be worried about Banks's plans, but the sudden peace that filled him made it too troublesome to worry about.

###

Simon watched as Krycek fell under the spell of the water, the sky, the fresh air. The face that hid its secrets so well was relaxed, the mouth slightly open, eyelids partially closed against the wind. His hair was long enough to flutter in the downdraught off the sail.

He was intrigued by the man. He'd finally decided, after the nightmare, to find out what he could about this man who offered sex so casually, yet ignored all the flirting that came his way in the bar. If there had been any action going on upstairs, Jack would have passed a comment on it.

He hadn't found much. An FBI file that had been sealed. The FBI he knew would never have recruited a one-armed man. Had Krycek lost the arm while working for them? Why was his file sealed? Had he been working undercover?

Jack had made him laugh the night he'd recounted the incident with the tray. He had casually described Krycek's efficient manhandling of the two cops but Simon had thought it was a little too expert for a civilian. But for someone with a sealed FBI file?

He decided not to approach Krycek about it. He knew the man would think, as he had today, that he was looking for payment of some kind for the day he had offered comfort to a man caught in a nightmare.

That hadn't stopped him from watching Krycek whenever he'd gone to the bar. Surreptitiously. It would do neither of them any good to have the Captain of the Major Crimes Unit caught ogling the bar man. But the more he watched, the more he wanted to learn about the man.

Things like, why was he carrying a gun? He did have a license for it— that too had turned up in his research—and a lot of people did carry. But the way he had handled it when holstering was too smooth.

What about those small nasty tricks that went uncaught by any but the man he used them on? One of the cops Krycek had escorted out had complained about a pinch to the shoulder that had made it so painful to move his neck that he was outside the bar before he could protest.

And where had he learnt to walk the way he did? He wore boots, walked on a wooden floor, yet did so soundlessly. And he was alert. Forever alert. No wonder he caught the situations in the bar before they blew up. He seemed to be always waiting for something to happen. To him?

Here, sitting, looking out over the water, Simon watched as some inner tension drained out of the man. It was good to know that sailing worked the same way on Krycek as it did on him.

Stretching his legs out, he leaned back and watched the man watching nothing.

###

"Krycek? Alex?"

Krycek finally heard the voice calling him. He closed his eyes, returning to the present, then opened them and turned to face the man calling him.

"Coffee?" Banks had a large thermos in his hand, pouring out some steaming liquid into the cover. "Seem to remember you taking it black." He held out the cover.

Krycek nodded his thanks, reached for the cup. It was hot, strong. It was perfect for the day. Made all the more perfect because Banks didn't bother talking to him again, allowing him once more to find the peace that drew him. He concentrated on the sounds of the hull cutting through the water, the wind filling the sail, the occasional shriek of a gull.

At one point, Banks patted him on the shoulder and pointed to the tiller, getting to his feet. Krycek slipped back to take control, watching as Banks opened the cooler. He pulled out a large plastic container with a variety of halved sandwiches, another with cut up vegetables, a bag of apples. Krycek saw there were a couple of cans of Coke, two more of Mountain Dew.

He assumed the Dew was for Banks. Cops took their caffeine any way they could get it.

Banks lowered the sail, which reduced their speed, allowing them to eat without having to do much more than let the current take them.

The men ate in silence. Simon felt no overwhelming urge to talk. He came out here to get away from the noise, the cacophony of his work, to find a sense of peace. He was pleased to discover his sailing companion felt the same.

Simon threw his crusts into the water, attracting a couple of seagulls. After that he merely tossed them into the air, letting the gulls put on a show. He smiled when Krycek joined him.

"I like the ocean," Simon said out of the blue. "Helps me put things in perspective."

Krycek didn't answer, but then he thought Banks hadn't really been expecting an answer. He watched as two of the gulls fought over the apple core he tossed up.

This time, when Banks hoisted up the sail again, Krycek was ready for the jolt of power that moved the boat. The gulls were less pleased and protested, loudly. They even followed, optimists, long after Banks took back the tiller.

Krycek looked up at them and shook his head slightly. Life was full of disappointment, he told them silently. Get used to it.

"Alex."

See, he thought.

Krycek turned to find that Banks was lighting his cigar, the smoke pulling back as soon as he exhaled.

Banks patted the bench next to him. Krycek hesitated, then joined him, sitting stiffly, eyes still staring out at the horizon, though he really wasn't seeing anything any more.

Simon put his arm around the tensed shoulders, pulled Krycek back against him. "I'm not going to eat you. I just want your body heat. We're going back and the wind will be cold. You warm enough? You might like to button up that jacket of yours."

It was cold. The sun was also beginning to drop, making him suddenly aware of how long they'd been out skimming on the water. To his surprise, Krycek found himself pressing in a little closer to Banks's body, looking for more warmth.

He could see the point where they had turned when Banks pulled him in even closer, wrapping the open end of his parka around Krycek's side, his long arm snaking around his ribs to rest on his hip. Krycek looked up.

Banks rested his hip against the tiller as, with one hand, he once more lit his cigar. "Does the cigar bother you?"

Krycek thought about it, shook his head.

"That's good because it's part of me. But you don't have to worry, Alex," he said, laughing. "My ex-wife trained me well. No kissing until I brush my teeth."

Krycek rested his head against Banks's shoulder, watched as Banks puffed away, getting the cigar going again. He waited until the end burned red before reaching up with his right hand, taking the cigar out of Banks's mouth and passing it over into his left hand which gently closed on it. Again with his right, he reached up, pulled Banks's head down to him.

And then he kissed him.

Simon had been taken by surprise but knew that Alex had to be in charge of this moment. He opened his mouth, indicating that he was willing, but left it passive so that Alex was the one who determined where this kiss was going.

It started slowly. Krycek wasn't certain how Banks was going to react. Fucking a man was one thing, kissing him quite something else.

Banks didn't seem to be reacting negatively. Krycek pushed the kiss a little further, slipping the tip of his tongue into Banks's mouth, passing it along the top of his teeth. The flavour of cigar wasn't that bad. Though strong, it was sweeter than cigarettes. And far less overwhelming than cigarettes that were chain-smoked.

Besides, as Banks had said, it was part of the big man's persona.

Alex deepened the kiss even more, using his tongue to explore the man's mouth. Simon took this as a signal that he was being invited to join the kiss and he did.

When he pulled away, both men were in need of air. Simon had to take a couple of deep inhales to clear his head before he noticed they had veered off course. Alex waited until he'd corrected then raised the cigar back to Simon's mouth. With a raised eyebrow, Simon reclaimed his cigar, pleased to note the slightly glazed look in Alex's eyes. Good. He was glad that he wasn't the only one who had been bothered by that kiss.

He pulled Alex even closer to him, tucking his parka snugly around the man, holding it in place by wrapping his arm around his waist. "Warm enough?"

Alex looked surprised at the query but nodded his head.

With a sense of accomplishment, Simon navigated their way back.

Alex helped him tie up the boat, put things away and secure the small boat from the oncoming weather. The sun was setting when they made their way back to Simon's car.

Alex sat in the passenger seat, both real and plastic hands on his lap, staring straight ahead, not saying a word. Simon turned to watch him whenever he could, at a stop sign, a red light, wondering what was going on behind the face. Alex was not as blank as he'd been earlier that day when he'd picked him up, but he was far from the relaxed man who had settled against him after the kiss.

So Alex was totally surprised—Simon didn't think any of that was faked— when Simon pulled into the alleyway besides the bar.

He took the dead cigar out of his mouth, turned in his seat enough to face Alex. "I told you before, Alex, I control my dick. It doesn't control me. I enjoyed having your company today. You're a comfortable companion. I'd like to do this again. Think about it and let me know."

Simon released his seat belt, reached over in front of Alex and opened his door for him.

Alex didn't move. Simon was delighted to see a certain amount of confusion in the eyes that fascinated him. He gripped his cigar tightly to hide his satisfaction at Alex's hesitation in leaving the car.

Alex watched the car drive away. He didn't know what Simon was up to, only that this a game with which he didn't have much, if any, experience.

###

"Hey, Alex!"

Alex looked over to the group who had taken over their usual corner. After three months, he was getting used to having people call him by his first name instead of snapping or snarling his last. "What?"

"Who's your money running on tonight? Vancouver or LA?"

Hockey. The men and women of the Major Crimes Unit were followers of hockey, fanatically loyal to the west coast teams, unless one was playing the other. Then it could get weird. Once Blair had bet Jim that the Canucks would not only win, but do so by at least three goals. Not that they bet money, but it had been rather hard for anyone to control their laughter when Jim had worn his pants backwards for a day after he'd lost.

And Simon, of course, had arranged for Jim to be seen often in public that day.

Simon, Alex was discovering, had a sense of the ridiculous under those impeccable suits of his.

He wasn't quite sure when Banks had become Simon to him, and he Alex to the Unit. Simon had given him a week to think about that day on the ocean before he'd shown up with tickets to the local college's football game. When they'd found their seats in the bleachers, Alex had realized they weren't alone. He recognized some of the bar's regular Blues as well as several of the MCU, cheering on the local team. When someone had broached the question of Alex's presence, Simon had merely taken the cigar out of his mouth, indicated that if Krycek were going to settle in town, he had better learn which were the 'right' teams to support.

And that had been it. If Simon included Alex in some activity, he was accepted. Alex was surprised how often some of the MCU got together. About every couple of weeks. Mostly the unpaired ones, though Blair and Jim often came along. To the movies, mainly techno thrillers which were mocked, scoffed at, torn apart afterwards over a meal at one of the local restaurants. To local sports events which were taken, Alex thought, far too seriously for him. He just sat back and listened to the discussions.

Well, until hockey season began. If Alex was a fan of a club—the little he had had time to follow such things—he was a Montreal fan.

Simon stared at him in unfeigned horror. "Montreal! Shit, Alex! They're has-beens. They haven't put a decent team together in years."

Alex shrugged. "So, the Kings haven't won anything since Gretsky left. And the Canucks have only made it as far as the second round of playoffs."

"Yeah," Jim shook his head sadly, "but they're our teams."

"So, Montreal is mine." And though he really didn't care that much, Alex found that he enjoyed the raucous discussions that occurred during a game, even added his two cents' worth now and then. He even felt particularly vindicated when his Habs won their game against Vancouver, and tied with LA.

"Luck," groused Simon, lighting his cigar.

"It's an anomaly," Blair explained as he paid up.

Alex only grinned as he pocketed his winnings. It was a rare event for him to bet.

Tonight, the local favourites were playing against each other, with support pretty evenly divided. Major Crimes had been working overtime the last three weeks, dealing with a messy little problem that could have had repercussions all the way down to the Capital. A little drug money laundrying operation that had led straight to the Office of the Attorney General. The last of the paperwork had been done that day and the Unit was out celebrating. Even the ones with family had stopped in long enough for a drink, or two, before taking off to discover what their families had been up to in their absence.

Simon was still in his office, dealing with some attorney from the AG's staff.

"Why don't I just hold the money?" Alex offered, knowing no matter which team he supported tonight he would be a loser. He was still too much of an outsider to belong to one particular group or the other. He noted who bet what against whom and went to fill their orders for the next round. At the same time, he stuck his head into the kitchen, placed a order for a tray of finger food, sandwiches to help absorb the alcohol and the release of tension.

Simon found a vacant stool at the bar and listened to Alex place the order to keep his people sober enough to drive home or at least stagger out to a cab.

"Put that on my tab."

Alex looked up from pulling out several bottles of beer from the fridge. "They finally release you?"

Simon grunted, rubbed his face with the heels of his hands. "Managed to convince them I have no hidden agenda and that I really don't care to find myself promoted to the AG's department. As if I would want to spend time with a bunch of assholes too thick to see what was going on under their collective legal noses!"

Alex made a noise that sounded commiserating, placed a cup of doctored coffee in front of him. "You want a sandwich?"

"No. I just want to go home to bed."

"Then why are you here?"

Simon lowered his hands, picked the cup and took a sip. He was tired enough to know that was all he could allow himself. "Because it's been almost two weeks since I've seen you and I wanted to make sure you were still here."

Alex looked around to see who could have heard that. Not that Simon had spoken loudly. The TV had almost everyone's attention and he relaxed a little.

"Yeah, I'm still here. I...I wouldn't leave without telling you."

Simon stared tiredly at the man who had picked this night to tell him his plan of patience was working. "You planning on leaving?"

"Not any time soon. No. No, right now, I have no plans to leave. I...like it here."

The cheers drowned out the groans as one team scored. Simon felt like cheering as well. He was too tired to prevent what he knew was a sappy smile stretching his face. "I'm glad to hear that."

Alex smiled back, a little shyly. "Go home, Simon. Get some sleep. I'll see to it that the ones who are too drunk to drive go home by cab."

Simon stood up, buttoned up his coat. It was cold outside. There had already been two snow storms and another was supposedly on the way. "Thanks. I appreciate that."

Alex nodded, picked up the tray with the beer and food, went to take care of Simon's people.

###

Super Bowl fever had hit the Precinct.

There were arguments everywhere over which teams were going to make it into the January final. Alex was kept busy in the bar dealing with the skirmishes that broke out.

Brussell enjoyed watching Alex deal with them. He was better at it than he was, more diplomatic. Quieter. When he'd hired the man, he'd never expected him to stay this long. It had been almost five months. The college kids he hired as additional staff for the Friday to Sunday shifts might last a full semester, maybe even the two. He'd rarely had one come back for a second year. Cops were notoriously bad tippers.

Alex was more relaxed than he had been those first weeks. Might have something to do with the fact that Major Crimes seemed to have adopted him. Sandburg in fact seemed to find a fair amount to talk about with his bar man.

He had dragged Alex off the other day to that 'Lord of the Rings' thing that had opened at Christmas. Ellison had refused to go, saying he heard enough of mythology and religious cultural analysis as was.

The two of them had come back, deep in discussion about some symbolic thing or another, and Ellison had groaned, "Not another one!"

Alex had asked for this Sunday off. Not Super Bowl Sunday, but the one of the playoff games.

Brussell was thankful that he hadn't asked for Super Bowl Sunday. The bar would be full and he had everyone he could drag in working that day. The bar was closed to the general public, open only to the men of the Precinct who wanted a location to party loudly without upsetting neighbours or family. Most arrived in cabs or were dropped off, but there were a few designated drivers. Didn't matter. Brussell took the keys of anyone who had driven. He was the final judge of who could drive.

Alex stood on the sidewalk as the cab drove off. He had never been to Simon's house. It was in a nice neighbourhood, the kind where people mowed their lawns Saturday morning, cleaned off their driveways as soon as the last flake had fallen. From the kids on the street, he concluded it was also a mixed neighbourhood. The kids were white, black, asian. There was a street hockey game going on and he watched as a car slowed down, honked and the kids hurriedly cleared the road, only to set it up again when the car drove on.

The front door opened and Simon filled the doorway. "You coming in?"

Alex nodded, strolled up the pathway that was outlined with mounds of snow. As he entered the house, he handed Simon the large brown paper bag he was carrying.

"What's this?"

"Jack sent sandwiches. They're a bribe. He wants you to attend the Super Bowl party just in case he needs someone to pull rank." Alex toed off his wet boots, hung up his jacket next to the others. He could hear hoots and caws coming from somewhere within the house. "Am I the last one to arrive?"

"Hmmm. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to show up."

Alex shrugged. "Doesn't sound like you would have missed me."

Simon dropped his voice a tone or two. "Believe me, I would have known you weren't here." He liked the small start he got as reaction.

Alex turned and looked at him over his shoulder. This was a game he knew how to play. He could respond with a 'come hither' look, or with a bedroom growl like Simon's. He could do that. Except, he suddenly realized, he didn't want this to be a game.

Fuck. Didn't he ever learn?

Simon had moved on, leading the way to the back room where familiar and unfamiliar faces were already arguing on the outcome of a football game that hadn't even started.

Alex took one of the armchairs that hadn't been claimed, sat silently on the sidelines until the atmosphere of the group finally got to him. By half-time, Simon was pleased to see Alex was cheering, moaning, arguing, challenging as if he'd always been a member of this select group of people Simon allowed into his private life.

He noticed once more that Alex and Blair tended to gravitate together. He never doubted Alex had brains and used them just as he wasn't all that surprised to see Alex hold his own with Blair. The day of the nightmare, he had examined the room while waiting for Alex to recover. He'd been surprised by the stack of books from the local library piled on the floor by the bed. Not that they were there, but at the variety of topics they covered: the new book that presented a case for Kissenger as a war criminal, a collection of Faulkner, a thick volume in what he finally figured out had to be Russian, a history of the Hundred Years War, another on the latest computer scams in banking.

Alex was no slouch in the computer department. Jack had happily turned over his computer to Alex who had refined several of the programs Brussell had to use to restock, making them far more user-friendly for the self-proclaimed Luddite.

Simon realized he'd been very quiet when he caught the way Jim was looking at him. He knew that he'd been staring at Alex and that he was not a complete secret to the man who had once shared his bed, if only for a very short time, in the distant past. He waited for Jim's judgement, knowing there would be one. Jim raised an eyebrow, shrugged and then turned to watch the two men who were cheering on their quarterback. He turned back to Simon and gave a small nod of approval.

Simon shoved his cigar into his mouth to keep his grin from alerting everyone to his pleasure at Alex's acceptance. Now, all he had to do was get Alex to accept.

His neighbours finally went home. Blair left with the keys to Jim's truck all the while Jim argued about their getting back to the loft with his precious truck unscathed. Alex was cleaning up the mess, tossing the debris into a green garbage bag, stacking the dishes that needed washing on the kitchen counter.

"You don't need to do that."

Alex looked up, shrugged. "It's easiest done now, before any of that barbecue sauce glues the plates to the tables and floor."

Simon gave a soft laugh. "I think I'm more afraid that the stuff will eat its way through the wood. Blair is very fond of spicy. Unfortunately, his stomach is younger than most of ours."

"Cast-iron, you mean. I thought he was vegetarian?"

"He mostly is. Has a couple of exceptions like these spicy hot wings. His specialty. Thank god, he doesn't make them often."

While Alex tied up the garbage bags, set them by the back door for disposal, Simon disappeared into the living room, slid a CD into the player. Soft, bluesy jazz filled the room.

"That's nice." Alex slouched against the archway from the hall.

"Dancing music. Do you dance, Alex?" Simon held out his hand and waited.

Even in the dim light of the table lamp that was all he had turned on, he could see those eyes grow serious. Still Alex pushed away from the support and took the steps needed to place his hand in Simon's.

The music was slow, sensual. Simon pulled Alex in close, allowing him time to get used to the closeness. "I only want to dance, Alex. Nothing else. It was one of the few things Joan and I agreed on. I've missed holding someone I like close to me, listening to the music." He let his voice fade into the sound of his humming along.

He felt Alex relax, letting himself sway to the beat, all within the confines of Simon's arms.

Simon was tall. Joan had barely reached his collarbone. They had both liked dancing, but after a while the slow numbers were hard on her neck and on his back. It was nice holding someone nearly his height, having a head resting on his shoulder.

Alex moved well, he thought. He'd like to see if he moved as well to the sound of something wilder. Maybe that new Santana CD Daryl had given him for Christmas. He'd like to see Alex all hot and sweaty...he made a small sound that caught Alex's attention. With a rueful grin, he raised his hand to resettle that head against his shoulder. Where it belonged.

Yes, he'd love to see Alex on his bed, naked, sweat-slicked. But not tonight. Alex wasn't ready yet.

He'd set up the CD for only the four final selections. When the last horn faded out, he pulled back, just a little, and used a long finger to tilt up Alex's chin. His face was relaxed, waiting. His eyes were accepting. Not inviting. What he wanted to see in them was invitation. Maybe he was an optimist, Simon thought, as he bent to take the mouth with his, but he thought that might be coming.

He deepened the kiss, holding Alex near, letting him feel his body's reaction to his closeness, to the feel of him in his arms. To the taste of him. Was very pleased to feel a similar reaction against his thigh.

He pulled away, hand still touching that face, reluctant to lose contact. "It's late. I'd better get you home."

Alex looked stunned. "Home?"

Simon nodded. "It's late. And it's a working day for both of us tomorrow. Jack will be pissed if you're too tired to work."

"Jack...?"

Simon hid his satisfaction as he reached for his and Alex's jackets. "Better get your boots on. It's been snowing and the kids won't be around to clear the walkway until the morning."

"Simon..." Alex sounded very unsure.

"Yes?" Simon handed Alex his boots.

Alex stared at them as though he had never seen them before. When he looked back up, his eyes were puzzled.

"I know you want me. You were hard. I could feel your cock against my stomach."

"Yes." Simon kept his voice calm. "You were hard, too. I could feel your erection."

"Don't you want to have sex?"

Simon nodded. "Yes, I want to have sex with you. I want to take you upstairs, to my bed and see how long and how often I can make you come. But I told you before, Alex, my dick doesn't rule me."

Alex was thoroughly confused. "I don't get it. You want me. I'm willing. It's not as though there's anyone around stopping you. If you're worried I'll talk..."

Simon shook his head. "No, I'm not worried about that, Alex. I trust you. When we go to bed, I know you won't blab about it. That you'll be very circumspect about the whole thing."

"So what's the problem?"

Simon waited until Alex had stepped into his boots, had pulled on his jacket. He reached over and buttoned it for the man who was staring at him as if wondering if he should be angry.

"Once you said to me that you were use to being used as a substitute. Do you remember that, Alex?"

Alex's head jerked back. He stepped away from Simon's reach. "No, I don't remember that."

"The day of your nightmare." Simon allowed Alex to precede him out of the room, stopping him when he reached for the knob of the outer door. "Alex, do you believe that's what you'd be, a substitute, if I took you to bed now?"

Alex stilled, looked at the door for a long moment before answering. "No. No, I don't believe that."

"Good. Then you'll understand why I need an answer to a particular question before I'll allow myself to take you into my life."

Alex turned, rested his shoulder against the door. "What's your question?"

"Am I a substitute for someone else, Alex?" Before Alex could say anything, Simon hurried on. "No, don't answer. Not yet. Think about it."

The drive back to the bar was very quiet. As Alex went to get out of the car, Simon reached over. He pulled Alex over for a quick kiss, then let him go.

Once more, Alex found himself watching Simon's car drive away, leaving him more confused than he cared to admit, even to himself.

He waited until he couldn't see the red tail lights then, with a sigh, he took out his key and went into the still lit building. Jack must be working on the books again, he thought. And the bloody door wasn't locked. Good thing Simon hadn't accompanied him, he would be raising blue murder about that.

"Jack, don't you ever go home?"

And walked into a real nightmare.

###

The kid who'd replaced him was lying on his back on the floor, in a pool of blood.

Jack was tied to a chair, a balaclava-masked man standing next to him, one gloved hand holding Jack's face against his hip while the other held a knife to his eye. There were bruises on the older man's face, blood dripping off his chin from the nose that had to be broken.

Alex didn't move as he felt the gun dig into his back between his shoulder blades.

A third man, also masked, stepped into view, standing between the dead or dying kid and Jack. He too had a knife in hand.

Alex slipped away as Krycek, the assassin, the rat-bastard, the survivor, rose to the forefront.

The only one with a gun seemed to be the man behind him. At its prodding, he took a few steps forward, ignoring the kid, eyes on the man who appeared to be the leader of this bunch.

"Sorry," whispered Jack.

The man in front of him lashed out with his hand. The one by Jack barely had time to move the knife out of the way or it would have penetrated Brussell's eye.

"The only thing I want to hear coming out of your mouth is the combination to the safe."

Krycek made his voice coldly accusing. "You let them kill the kid rather than give them the combination? Fuck, Jack. I really loveyour priorities."

Brussell flinched at the accusation but was quick enough to keep his mouth shut.

The man behind him laughed, a hyena sound. Krycek assumed that the tone was drug induced. "Hell, the stupid kid went for me. Fucking college kid who thinks he's better than we are. I showed him."

The leader turned to Krycek. "You. You work here. You know the combination?"

Krycek shrugged. "I'm only the hired help. You think the man would trust me with that?"

"Well, maybe he'll wish he had when I take one of his eyes out."

Krycek shrugged again, conveying the message that he could care less. All he did was look at the kid on the floor. "Shit, what a mess! You know how hard it's going to be to get all that blood out of the floor. Especially soaked in as it is."

"Ahhh, ain't that just too fucking bad, asshole." The one with the gun giggled. The one by Jack laughed.

Casually, as though he weren't in the middle of a death scene, Krycek had been unbuttoning his jacket. Now he shrugged it off his shoulders, allowing it to drop to the floor. "So," he said, "what do you want me to get you while you get the combination out of Mr. Slave Wages here?" He turned as though heading for the bar. "Beer? Something harder?"

"Stay away from there!" The leader sensed that he had somehow lost control of the situation. Krycek was behaving as though there was nothing wrong with this picture.

Krycek stopped, turned around to face the men. "Hey! No problem. Just thought this might be thirsty work, that's all. I mean, a couple of free ones won't bankrupt the man, in spite of how he behaves."

The leader turned to Jack, the eyes of his men on him. Krycek's gun suddenly appeared in his hand. The one by Brussell was the first one down. The shot had startled the gunman. By the time he turned to deal with the source, Krycek had dropped to the floor, firing his second shot. He didn't even check to see if his target had been hit: he knew it had.

The leader made a dive for Brussell. Stretched out over his lap, knife at his throat, the leader yelled, "I'll kill him! I will!"

"I know you will," agreed Krycek, lying on his stomach, arm stretched out in front of him holding his weapon steady.

The shot got the man in the back of his left calf. He screamed, dropped off Brussell onto the floor.

Krycek quickly rose to his feet. "I have to tell you, punk, that I don't appreciate the games you've been playing tonight." He aimed his weapon at the man's head.

"Hey! You can't do that," he screamed. "That's cold blood." The man dropped his knife to the floor. "See, I'm unarmed. You can't shoot an unarmed man."

"Your bad luck, punk. That's my area of expertise, shooting unarmed garbage like you."

And Krycek fired.

###

The kid had a pulse. Barely.

Krycek rushed to the phone, called 911 and used police code to describe the situation. He hadn't yet finished releasing Brussell when the first cop showed up. The ambulance was three minutes behind.

While one set of paramedics handled the kid, another patched up a blistering Brussell who was livid with himself that the kid might pay the price for his forgetting to lock the back door. Krycek sat at a table calmly giving his version of events. As he'd worked on Brussell's bonds, the man had looked at him. "The kid still had the knife in his hand when you fired. I'll swear to it."

So that was the story he told. He kept it simple, not that anyone really questioned him much considering the fact that three men were dead because of him.

The CSI team had come and gone. The cops at the end of their shifts came in to check out the place. Krycek's statement had been taken. Brussell's had corroborated his. Word had come back from the hospital that the kid was alive but in critical condition.

Brussell's daughter and son-in-law had shown up to bring Jack home with them. Becca had hugged Krycek, tearfully thanking him. Krycek had nodded, because something was expected of him. Inside, he was numb from the cold that had taken over when he had realized that he couldn't stay here.

That tonight had put an end to whatever delusions he had had about fitting in somewhere, having friends.

Having a lover who wanted him.

What Banks wanted was Alex. And he was Krycek.

###

He was upstairs, packing his knapsack when the door opened behind him.

"You would think that after tonight people in this building would lock their doors."

Krycek let the sound of Simon's voice pass through him. It would be the last time he would hear that particular gentle tone. He would have preferred leaving without hearing it again. He knew it was going to be replaced with a different tone, a harsher tone. One that would make him bleed when he would remember it.

"Considering the number of cops in the place, I didn't think it was much necessary."

Simon came in, closed the door behind him. "Going somewhere, Alex?"

"Krycek. The name is Krycek." He finished folding his second pair of jeans, placed them into the pouch.

"Ah, yes. Krycek. The man with the sealed records at the FBI. Tell me, Krycek, are those sealed records the reason you're running away?"

"I'm not running away." The accusation hurt. "I'm leaving before someone takes a good look at the situation and your good name gets soiled by association."

"Ah, altruism. Funny, not something I would think Krycekwould be all too familiar with."

Krycek turned. Simon was angry. Incredibly angry. His voice had hidden it fairly well until that last comment. Now Krycek faced it full front. "You have no idea who Krycek is," he mocked.

"I think I do. He's a coward who runs when things get rough. A man who uses people and drops them when they are of no further use to him."

Krycek's head snapped back as though he'd been slapped. His voice was almost a whisper. "If that's what you want to believe."

Simon watched as whatever colour had been left in the man's face disappeared along with what little emotion he had had in his eyes. They were back to the nothing of those first days.

Fuck, talk about backfiring. In his fear at nearly losing the man he cared for, the sight of him packing had made him blunder. He had thought that by challenging Alex he could get him to tell him what was going on in that mind of his, why he was packing. A man didn't kill three men just like that and walk away as calmly, as coolly as had been reported to him.

He'd come as soon as someone in his department had heard of the shooting and had thought to contact him. The scene wasn't one of his: Homicide was responsible and had taken quickly care of it.

"No, Alex." Backtracking, he kept the anxiety out of his voice, reverted to the calming tones he had used the day of the nightmare. "That's not what I want to believe. Why don't you tell me what really is going on? Trust me a little, Alex. Tell me the truth."

Krycek could feel the need grow to throw himself into Simon's arms, to be held, to be comforted. He knew better than to submit to that need. He felt as though there was a knife in him. Rather than let Simon be the one to twist it, he did it to himself.

"The truth? You want the truth. Okay."

Simon listened, not saying a word. The names meant nothing to him. Well, most of them. The small change in tone when Alex mentioned Walter Skinner's alerted him to the potential of a rival.

It was a story that if he had never met Jim Ellison, had never known about Sentinels and their Guides, he would have chalked up to an overwrought mind.

Instead he listened to the story of a boy who had been given up as a hostage to some shadow organization to ensure his parents' co-operation. "Like Mulder thinks he's the only one who's ever had to deal with that situation." Of the boy's training. Both as an assassin and a whore. "You were right to keep me out of your bed. Never know where my ass has been." Both professions being available to his 'mentors'.

His infiltration into the FBI, his betrayal of the people there. Black oil aliens and a silo in North Dakota. Greys, morphs who bled green. The hunt for some vaccine. An arm cut off. Nanocytes and resurrections. Abductions, pregnancies and returns. A near-colonialization that had been averted because of the now mass-produced vaccine.

Shit! thought Simon. God! If only a third of that were true, no wonder the file had been sealed. Not that he disbelieved what Alex was telling him. Not that he wouldn't have questions. But later on, not now. Not now when it was more important to watch Alex's face, to read the subtleties of his body language as he was telling this story, trying to determine how all this had affected the man. No fucking wonder Alex had nightmares!

"I'm leaving, Banks, before someone gets over the fact that their favourite haunt was invaded and questions how I managed to kill three men. One of which, in spite of what Brussell says, was unarmed when I killed him. And then they'll start questioning how come you, the Captain of the Major Crimes Unit, saw fit to spend so much time with a trained assassin. And then question just what the hell I have on you so that the cops would ignore what was obviously cold-blooded murder. And maybe that file is sealed, but all it will take is the right phone call to the right person in Hoover to give them all the ammunition they would need to take you down.

"Still want to take me to bed, CaptainBanks?"

Krycek didn't wait for an answer. He turned, decided that what he didn't have in the knapsack he would replace once he was far enough away.

He hit the wall hard, the breath knocked out of him.

"I just want the answer to one question." Simon grabbed both of Alex's hands and held them against the wall, using his greater height and body weight to confine him.

Krycek didn't fight back, didn't try to get Banks off him. He just braced himself and hoped the pain, whatever form it would take, would be soon over. So he would be allowed to leave and lick his wounds in private.

"I asked you a question earlier this evening. Shit, last night. I was going to give you some time to think it over, but we don't have that time. So I'll ask it again and I want an answer now."

Simon let Alex go, stepped away from him.

Simon's voice was the one he'd used when he'd asked the question originally. "Alex, am I a substitute for someone else?"

Slowly, Krycek peeled himself away from the wall, rolling to his back. He refused to meet Banks's eyes. All he had to do was lie and Banks, he knew, would let him leave.

He wanted to lie. He had been trained to lie. Lies weren't important. Survival was.

All he had to do was lie.

He made the mistake of looking up.

"No, you weren't a substitute for someone else. No one else ever treated me like you did." He pulled away from the wall. "I'm sorry."

He reached for his knapsack. A long arm stopped him. "Past tense, Alex?"

Krycek stared at the door. "Please," he whispered, "let me go. It's the best way."

Simon slowly pulled the man into his arms, held him close. He said nothing, waiting for a sign that Alex, not Krycek, would make the final decision.

And his patience paid off. He felt a tremor shake the man in his arms, felt him draw a deep breath, felt his hair tickle the edge of his mouth as Alex sagged against him.

Simon rubbed his cheek against Alex's head. "I think it's time we went home."

He stooped, picked up the knapsack, hooked it over his shoulder. They would come back for whatever had been left behind. He placed his other arm around Alex's shoulders, offering support, and opened the door.

Jim and Blair looked up from their positions in the hallway.

"It got a little loud there for a while," Jim explained. "We thought it would be better if no one else came to see what all the noise was about."

Simon smiled. There was nothing like good friends.

###

Alex was silent all the way to the house. Simon made a note to himself that adrenaline rushes left Alex depressed, not wired like so many others. So he really didn't worry much that Alex allowed himself to be steered into the house, stripped of his outer wear, led upstairs to the bedroom.

There he stood still, responding to instructions as Simon stripped him, until Simon reached for the arm. Then Alex shook his head, clumsily worked at removing the attachments. Simon let him do it but took the arm and placed on a small table he had moved into the room earlier that night for just that purpose. He directed Alex into the bathroom and shower. Alex didn't react much when Simon joined him, washed him down.

Simon had never seen Alex naked before. He wasn't disappointed with what he saw. But he had also never seen Alex this tired, this exhausted.

He dried them both off and then back into the bedroom. He was turning down the bedcovers when Alex finally spoke. "How do you want me?"

Simon found himself swallowing hard. He spoke gently. "Told you before, Alex. My dick doesn't rule me. Come on, step into these shorts. I think one of my t-shirts might be better tonight." Better. Hell, he wanted to put his mark on this man while he was still too tired to understand. Wanted him to bear his scent so that others would know he belonged to him.

He helped Alex into the bed, hurriedly put on shorts and a t- shirt on himself though he usually slept in the nude. But not now. Not a good idea.

He got in on his usual side of the bed, unhurriedly pulled Alex into his arms as he had when they had danced. He tucked the blankets around them, used his hand to stroke the long back in a soothing motion. He felt a immoderate sense of victory when Alex sighed, allowed his body to go boneless against Simon's and began breathing in a slow, regular rhythm.

###

He had a nightmare, of course.

Well, the beginning of one. Simon woke him gently. "It's all right, Alex. You're safe. I've got you now."

Yes, he did feel safe. Because Simon had him, held him.

He drifted back into sleep.

###

Four days later, Alex Krycek was severely pissed. Frustrated really.

He couldn't remember ever having felt this way.

The authorities were going to allow the bar to re-open that weekend. The Super Bowl party was still on. Brussell insisted on that, as he also insisted on having the Precinct padre bless the bar. He had wanted an exorcism, but Father Martin explained that a blessing would work as well.

It turned out that the man he had shot down had had a gun hidden on his person. If he had turned his back on the man after he'd tossed the knife, it would have been a good bet that he and Jack would probably now be dead. The Major Crimes Unit had agreed that he had done the right thing to protect himself, Brussell and the kid. A few minutes more and the kid wouldn't have made it.

The kid was doing well. The bullet had missed his heart by a centimetre, but he was young, in excellent physical shape. Once blood had been transferred into his body, the kid had improved by leaps and bounds. He would not, however, be coming back to work. His parents had been very insistent on that. Brussell's insurance would see to it that the kid would never have to work in order to afford his education.

The back door lock had been changed to something that would automatically lock the moment the door closed. Jack had already locked himself out once. The desk at the Precinct had a spare key.

Cleaners had been in. The floor had to be sanded to get rid of the bloodstains. Right now it was drying from its being verathaned. It would be ready in time for the reopening, the blessing and the Super Bowl party, all to occur that Sunday.

Jack had thanked him for saving his life. He had a job for however long he wanted one.

Of the three who had heard his confession, Blair was the only one who had so far made any reference to it. After the initial brouhaha was over, he had popped up at the house with some of those stomach burning wings of his, four cold tongue sandwiches, a six-pack of beer and a list of questions that had more to do with the hierarchy of alien castes than challenging his statement that they existed.

And every night, Simon had taken him to bed, pulled him into his arms. And gone to sleep.

Not that Alex hadn't appreciated that the first night when he had barely been able to place one foot in front of the other.

Nor the second night, when he had spent the day at the Station, answering official questions, being dragged into one department, then another, once more to answer questions of a less than official variety, to be congratulated on his quick thinking, his skills. One of the Precinct sharpshooters wanted to take him down to the shooting gallery, to see what his level of marksmanship was. Jim stepped in at that point, got Alex away and drove him back to Simon's house in his truck.

"You fish, Alex?"

"Fish? No, I can't say I do." After a day of technical questions, it was a relief to be talking about something else. Still, why fishing?

"Simon likes fishing. Almost as much as sailing."

Ah, Alex nodded. "Well, I'd never been sailing before Simon took me out. I liked it."

Jim smiled. "You'll like fishing. We often go when we can, the three of us. Just watch out for Blair when he casts his line. He tends to be more enthusiastic than proficient." Jim turned to grin at Alex. "But I'm working on that."

The third night, Alex felt like himself again. He'd spent the day at the house, going through—at Simon's suggestion—the books, the records, the CDs, the videos. It surprised him that their tastes were compatible. Except for 'Limp Bizkit' and 'Alien Ant Farm'. But then Alex figured out that these had to be Daryl's.

He did wonder what Simon's son would have to say about his father's new bedmate.

Because that's all he'd been so far. A bedmate.

Alex was used to responding to direct orders where sex was concerned. Skinner had been his first venture into wanting sex for himself. And he'd known that Skinner had wanted him even if he hadn't cared for him. Even if he had preferred Mulder. All it had taken was a look, a strut and Skinner had been hard.

All Simon did was take him to bed and hold him.

He knew Simon wanted him. It was hard to ignore the erection pressing against him. So why wouldn't Simon do anything about it?

And, damn it! he wanted the man. Wanted those large hands to touch more than his back. Wanted to know the taste of him. Wanted that large cock of Simon's up his ass where it belonged.

Simon was surprised when he got home that night to find supper in the oven.

"You cook?"

Alex slouched in the doorway, frowning. "I don't like starving."

"Smells great." Simon opened the oven door and took a deep sniff. "What is it?"

"Chicken paprika. With noodles."

Simon beamed at him as if he had done something profoundly important.

"Now that you're home, I'll start the noodles. By the way, your son called today. He left a message on the machine for you. He wants you to call him. Seems he heard about the trouble at the bar and he wants you to check in with him."

As Simon passed him, he bent and gave Alex a quick kiss on the cheek. "Next time, answer it. I've told him about us."

He laughed at the stunned glare Alex gave him. "He's not sure he likes the fact that his father is so 'avant garde', but he'll be okay with it, he says, once he's had time to take it in. Says he understands the problems between me and his mother a little better now."

"When did you tell him all this?"

Simon looked over his shoulder on his way upstairs to change out of his suit. "When he came at Christmas."

"At Christmas!"

Shit! At Christmas he still hadn't been sure what Simon had been up to. It was only when he'd asked if he were a substitute that Alex had faced the fact that what he felt for Simon was far more than what he had felt for Walter Skinner.

He pulled the casserole out of the oven.

And what he wanted from Simon Banks was much more than he had ever wanted from Skinner.

Simon ate supper, thanked him sincerely for making it, complimented him on the quality. Warned him that he was pretty much a failure in the kitchen.

"I'm sure you make up for that with other talents," Alex muttered. Not that he had any personal experience of that, he groused to himself.

"No, go find some music and put it on," said Simon, wiping his mouth. "I'll clean up."

So Alex went and found the bluesy CD they had danced to. He dropped himself onto the couch, stretched out and pulled out his most alluring pose.

Damn it! He was not sleeping—justsleeping!—in that bed tonight.

Simon kept his face straight though his eyes were devouring the man on his couch. He had more than an inclination of why Alex was behaving this way. And about time! He was tired of taking cold showers in the morning, of making do with his hand.

But he had wanted the first move to come from Alex.

And it looked as though it had.

He dropped into the other end of the couch, took Alex's stocking feet and placed them on his lap.

"What do you see when you look at me, Alex?"

The question took Alex by surprise. "What do you think I see?"

"No, none of that. I asked first. What do you see, Alex?"

Alex brought his arms down, propped himself up on his elbow. The look he gave Simon went straight to his cock. And Alex knew it. He rubbed a foot against the bulge in his jeans.

Without saying a word, Simon captured the foot. He waited. All those nights spent on surveillance, honing his patience, were paying off.

"I see," Alex dropped his voice into a deep seductive bedroom tone that Simon swore only he would ever hear, "a man I want. A man who wants me."

"You don't see Walter Skinner?"

Alex blinked. He wondered what he had said that had made Simon hone in on that name. And he realized the question was very serious. He couldn't brush it off.

"No. I don't. Oh, there are a couple of similarities."

"Really?"

"Yeah. You both wear glasses. And I guess you could say that the two of you are authority figures in a law enforcement environment. You're a captain, and he's an assistant director. Apart from that, you're nothing like him."

Alex began pushing himself down, sliding on his ass. "He would never have held me the way you did when I had that nightmare. He would never have spent time with me to learn who I was. He would never have introduced me to his friends. He would have assumed right away that I killed those three men in cold blood. Even if the evidence would have proven differently. He would have let me walk out the door—he didlet me walk out the door. He called me Krycek, never Alex."

Alex was as close to Simon as he could get with his feet held tightly between Simon's hands. "He never would have held me in his arms at night just to sleep. Never held me after sex. Are you going to hold me after sex, Simon?"

"No, but I will hold you after we make love."

Alex's smile was shy. He blushed slightly. Simon thought he had never seen anything so enticing in his life. "I've never made love to any one, Simon. You'll be the first."

Simon let go of Alex's feet, pulled him so that he straddled his lap and into a kiss that made both of them harder.

"There's one thing you haven't mentioned, Alex." Simon had Alex over him like a second skin. "And it is important."

Alex looked up, eyes heavy with arousal.

"I'm black."

Alex pulled his head back, gave Simon a frank, appraising look. "Yes, I guess you are. Am I supposed to find this a problem?"

"It might be. Because, if I may be allowed to point out to you, you're not. Relationships are never easy at best. Our being in a relationship is going to be hard enough as is, Alex. How are you going to handle the fact that we're different colours?"

Alex passed his hand alongside his lover's shoulder, up his throat, his cheek to the back of his head. "So long as you don't bleed green. That's the only colour I care about. You going to take me to bed?"

Simon grinned. "Yes. Since you ask so nicely, I am. What time to you have to be at work?"

"Not until Sunday. You know that."

Simon got to his feet, taking Alex with him. Alex allowed himself to find his feet only after rubbing himself like a cat in heat against Simon's chest, his stomach, his groin.

"Remind me to let you out of bed in time for the blessing."

Alex's eyes blazed brilliant as he laughed.

###

Epilogue

"I'll get that. You finish stashing the beer."

Alex opened the door, expecting it to be some of the Unit showing up for Thanksgiving Day football.

It wasn't.

"Hello, Krycek. You're looking good."

Walter Skinner, looking every inch the Assistant Director, was standing on the porch of their new house.

Alex had expected something from his past to show up when he'd accessed one of those Swiss accounts to pay for his share of the house and buy himself a car. They had seen the place on one of the drives they took now and then, searching for a new fishing hole.

It was out of town, but near enough that it only took them thirty minutes to get to work. Development was new in this area and the traffic was fairly light. The house was larger, with more than enough space for the two of them—three when Daryl came visiting—so that they wouldn't trip over each.

The plots were large, almost two acres, so though they had neighbours, there was also space between them. Not that the old neighbourhood had been a problem. But they were both more comfortable with the distance between the house and the Precinct. It gave them the illusion that their relationship was less public.

Not that most of Simon's people hadn't clued in to the fact that the Captain of the Major Crimes Unit had a relationship going with a man. Some others had as well. However the fact that the man regularly outshot the police sharpshooters made everyone careful of what they said. Besides, the Unit was very protective of their Captain. And it wasn't as though they flaunted their relationship.

"How's Mulder?" Alex made no move to invite Skinner in.

Skinner smiled. "You know Mulder. He hasn't changed. Still driven. Still chasing the stars. Still...difficult."

"Alex! Who was..."

Simon came to the door and looked at the man who was talking with Alex.

"Simon, this is Walter Skinner. Skinner, Simon Banks."

Not that Simon had needed the introduction. He liked to know where potential problems might arise, not only in his professional life. He had 'researched' the Assistant Director.

He nodded courteously at the introduction. Stuck his cigar into his mouth. Allowed his hand to settle on Alex's hip. Not holding him back. He knew that Alex would not be leaving, but it wouldn't hurt Skinner to understand that Alex belonged to him now.

A truck pulled up. Blair and Jim hauled out a couple of boxes of food and drink, their share of the day's festivities. Blair nodded politely at the man who stepped back, allowing them to enter unimpeded. Jim exchanged a questioning look with Simon who gave a slight shake of his head. No, nothing he couldn't handle.

"Are you in the area for business or pleasure, Assistant Director?"

Skinner caught the use of his title. "A little of both, Captain."

Before Alex could say anything, Blair yelled out, "Alex, where do you keep the spices?"

"Spices? In the...Shit!"

Alex was torn between staying in hopes of averting bloodshed between the two posturing men or saving everyone's stomach lining. He looked at Simon. Their stomachs won. Without a last look at his past, Alex hurried into the kitchen.

"Sandburg! Don't you dare add anything to my chili! It's fine!"

"Man, how would you know? You've been tasting this all day. Your taste buds..."

"There's nothing wrong with my taste buds. Jim!"

Simon took the cigar out of his mouth. "Any friend of Alex is welcome under our roof, Skinner. Can't say the same for poachers, though."

Skinner listened to the ruckus going on out of his sight. He could hear the laughter in Krycek's voice and knew that it was a sound he had never heard Krycek make in his presence.

"I don't think I qualify as either, Captain. I was just in the neighbourhood and wanted to see if Krycek was all right. Tell him I said good-bye."

Simon watched the rental pull away and drive out of the neighbourhood. He closed the door to find Alex watching him.

"He said to say goodbye."

Alex shrugged.

"You can still go after him if you want, Alex."

Alex's smile was one he kept for their bedroom. He came over to Simon, placed his arms over Simon's shoulders. He kissed him the way he did when they were necking on the couch.

"Now," he purred, "why would I want a substitute when I have the real thing?"

-NIF-

###

jmann@mondenet.com
Josan's Stories

Title: SUBSTITUTIONS
Author: Josan
Date: August, 2001
Summary: X-Files/The Sentinel crossover
Pairing: K/SB
Rating: Not quite NC-17. but more than PG-13
Archive: You know who you are, if you want this one.
Comments: jmann@pobox.mondenet.com
DISCLAIMER: One set of characters is the property of CC, 1013 and Fox, the other belongs to Pet Fly Productions and Paramount Pictures. I don't get rich off either set.
THANKS to all those who looked it over.
Warning 1: I guess I didn't realize until I started this story that I was a little irritated with the participants of a certain garage scene in the X-Files finale. Keep that in mind, will you.
Warning 2: I have never seen an actual TS episode. All my assumptions have come from fanon, with some TS readers correcting some of that in regards to canon. So, if I have something wrong, blame it on my ignorance— unintentional—of the episodes.
Warning 3: Existence? What's that, Existence?????
DEDICATION: To the two TS writers I admire the most. Yes, if you have read VIRGULE, you will note I snuck in a reference to one of her stories. LEMON DROP is inspirational....and is the one who pushed me into doing this story. Well, that'smy version of the facts (g) and I'm sticking to it.