Title: In Death, there is
Summary: Skinner gets more than a few surprises. DEDICATION: To 2001.
You were a shitty year, not only in New York City. Still, none of it was your fault. Go to a good rest.
In the wanning light of the summer evening, Walter Skinner glanced at the printed-out email in his hand and checked the number on the door against it.
The duplex had been badly in need of a paint job at least a dozen years ago. Now the small building was that weathered grey. There was a postage-stamp sized yard in the front that grew more weeds than grass. Skinner looked around. Other houses on the misnamed street resembled this one, with front yards that were more littered. Several of the duplexes were boarded up. The entire neighbourhood may once have been a good one, but now it was on its last legs. He had the feeling that squatters were just waiting for the last residents to move on before moving in and taking the street over.
A good hole for a rat, he thought. Assuming that the message which had brought him here was indeed from the Rat.
Krycek had disappeared the night they had seen Scully off with Reyes. In the two years that followed no one had reported a sighting of the assassin. Skinner had begun to breathe more easily and then, yesterday, a message had appeared in his personal e-mail inbox.
'I still have the palm pilot. Interested? Window of opportunity slim. 14-A Blue Meadow Lane, Philadelphia. No earlier than 8:30 p.m., no later than 9 p.m. Come alone. I'll be watching.'
The door of the ground floor apartment was as weathered as the rest of the building. Skinner had the idea that if he pushed hard against it, the wood would splinter. The doorbell didn't work, at least not that he could hear. He rapped hard on the panel by the peephole. And waited.
He looked around, trying to see where Krycek might be watching him from, wondering —as he had all the way up here—if this was another bit of fun the Rat was having at his expense.
He knocked again. Harder this time. And continued waiting.
He had his hand up to knock once more when the door suddenly opened.
Hand upraised, Skinner froze at the spectre who was staring at him from a skeletal face. He finally found enough voice. "Krycek?"
"Knew you'd be punctual, Skinner." Spoken softly, hesitantly, as though the man was conserving his breath. Leaving the door open, Krycek—what there was left of him—turned and, holding onto the wall, slowly made his way back into the house.
Skinner gave himself a little shake and followed, closing the door behind him.
Whatever he had been expecting, this wasn't it. A Krycek whose sweatsuit was hanging on him like drapery, the left sleeve flopping empty. A Krycek who was only skin and bones. Literally. Whose shuffling gait had nothing in common with the stride that had taken him through people's lives, wreaking havoc.
Krycek made it to what proved to be the kitchen. He stumbled then caught himself as he left the stability of the wall for the chair. Skinner was startled to find that he'd put his hands out, ready to catch the man.
Krycek closed his eyes, waiting until a spasm of some kind had done before he indicated a chair with his hand. Skinner took it, sitting patiently for the several minutes it took for Krycek to be able to speak.
His smile was more of a grimace. "Surprise."
Krycek raised his hand. "Look. I don't have time for chitchat, so why don't we get down to business right away."
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
Another grimaced smile. "The Oil. Seems it leaves a little of itself behind. Proves...'incompatible' with human tissue after some time."
"That what the doctors said?"
Krycek shrugged. "The diver and his wife died. Unknown causes. But there are still a few Consortium scientists around who figured it out." He raised his hand and waved off the rest of Skinner's questions. "It's not catching. You have to have carried the stuff in you for it to have this effect."
Skinner's eyes fixed on the hand. It looked so incredibly fragile that he wondered the bones didn't break at Krycek's gesture.
"Look. We need to do business while I still have the energy. You want the palm pilot."
It was a statement, not a question. Skinner wanted to yell, of course he wanted the bloody palm pilot, but found he couldn't. The air waves caused by his yelling could knock Krycek off his chair. And the Rat seemed to sense his reticence. There was that grimace again.
"What do you want in return?" he asked, gritting his teeth. If it was a bullet between the eyes, he'd be willing to be accommodating, after he got the information he needed.
Skinner was slow on the uptake. The sight of Krycek in the condition he was in seemed to have thickened his brain. He was about to ask what the hell a 'zander' was when it dawned on him that Krycek was calling out to someone. He slipped his hand to the weapon on his hip and got his second surprise of the evening.
The boy who stepped out of the shadows was dark-haired, slim. He was wearing jeans that had seen better days, a navy t-shirt. He looked clean, too clean for a kid his age. About six or seven, thought Skinner, if he compared him to his nephews.
Zander came to stand by Krycek who smiled at him. He raised his stump and the boy moved in closer so that Krycek could rest it on his shoulders. From the wide-eyed stare the boy had fixed on him, Skinner thought that maybe the closeness offered strength to both of them.
"Zander, this is Walter Skinner. The man I told you about."
Zander gave a slight nod of his head, all the while watching Skinner intently.
"Skinner, this is Zander. My clone."
Skinner pulled his eyes away from the boy to Krycek and then back to the boy again. Neither of them said a word as he tried to put the adult Krycek's features—the healthy Krycek—onto the boy's face.
Shit, he thought, once he would have mocked the notion of a clone. Now, after all his experiences with the X-Files, not only did he accept it, he believed it. The boy's green eyes, the same colour eyes that were watching him from the man's face, were the clincher.
Krycek smiled. "See," he said in that hesitant whispered voice of his, "I told you he was quick."
Zander moved his stare from Skinner to Krycek. "Yes, Alex, you were right."
The voice was a child's voice, a tenor that would one day break and become the slightly husky tones that Skinner often heard in his nightmares.
"So business," said Krycek. "Skinner, you want the palm pilot and all the data that goes with it."
"That is why I'm here." Skinner couldn't stop the harshness of his tone. Then regretted it as it seemed to affect the boy.
Krycek moved his hand off the table to clasp the boy's arm in what had to be some reassuring gesture.
"Yes, I do." Skinner forced his voice into its usual calm tones, as if this was just a regular meeting with some SAC.
The boy relaxed a little and Krycek sent Skinner a nod of thanks.
"I'll give you all that. And more. In return, I want you to take Zander here and raise him as your son."
In a day of surprises, this one literally took Skinner's breath away. As he realized that Krycek was serious, he opened his mouth to say... Hell, he didn't know what to say!
"Listen," said Krycek. "I have all the documentation that will prove that Zander is your biological son. Medical reports, notarized statements, adoption papers, etc. I give you all that and the other stuff and you walk out of here with Zander."
Skinner passed both hands over his scalp. What the hell was he supposed to do?
He stood up and took a turn about the room. He noticed that there were signs that the place was being lived in, that this was not just a site for a meeting.
He stared out of the small window that faced what once might have been a nice back yard, but that was now cluttered with weeds and things that people who had moved on had not wanted.
He turned, looked at the two watching him with very similar expressions. Shit, of course they would be similar! They were copies. "Krycek..."
Skinner stopped. He could hear his own exasperation.
"He's a good kid," said Krycek. "I got him away from Them in time."
Krycek nodded. "Before training."
Skinner wondered what the hell Krycek was talking about then clued in. Shit!
"Krycek. Why me?" Skinner pushed aside his frustration to try and understand. "Krycek, I don't have children. I know nothing about children. The closest I've come to them is nephews and nieces. Surely there is someone else..."
Krycek was shaking his head in that slow way that permeated every one of his gestures. "Only you."
"I trust only you."
"Trust?" How the hell could the Rat think that he was trustworthy? With anything Krycek?
Skinner suddenly grew aware of the boy and his eyes again. "Look, Krycek, shouldn't we be discussing this without..." and he gestured with his head to the boy.
Krycek smiled at the boy. "Zander and I have no secrets. Not since I found him. It's a promise I made to him and I've kept it." He looked up at Skinner. "I found out about Zander while I was digging in Consortium files for info about Mulder's disappearance. It took me a while to find out where They kept him and to get him out of there." He smiled once more at the boy who, for the first time since he'd come out of the shadows, smiled back.
In the boy's smile there was more of the Krycek that Skinner had known than there was in the man sitting there. There was also a sharing of a memory that Skinner found he preferred not to know.
"Zander didn't have a name back then. Just a number."
Shit, thought Skinner, and was surprised at the flare of anger he suddenly felt on the boy's behalf.
"We decided that one Alex Krycek was enough."
Skinner nodded in agreement as he sat down. "You're not kidding," he muttered. Krycek grinned that fleshless smile of his.
"Sacha, we felt was too wimpy. But Zander thought Zander —that's with a z, not an x by the way—would do fine. Zander Krycek sounded okay." He turned to Skinner. "Zander Skinner sounds fine, too."
Skinner sighed. "Again, Krycek, why me?"
"Because you're a good man. Because if you take this on, you'll do your best with him. And you won't hand him over to Them if They ask you to. And if They try to take him, you'll do whatever is necessary to keep him safe."
"In return for the palm pilot and the rest? What if I agree then, once you've given me what you've promised, I renege?"
The boy stiffened, his face expressionless.
Fuck, thought Skinner.
Krycek shook his head. "If you agree, you're going to give Zander your word, on your oath as a Marine." He turned to the boy. "Remember that. If Skinner swears he'll do something on his oath as a Marine, he'll die keeping that promise. That's why I trust him." He looked at Skinner. "Why I trust you."
"He's a good kid, Skinner. He deserves a chance."
"And you think They are going to come after him?"
Krycek shrugged. "Well, They weren't very happy when we got out of there. And Zander here was one of the Smoker's prime experiments."
Skinner wondered how the boy felt, hearing all this. He stood next to Krycek, leaning slightly into him, whether for comfort or to offer support, he couldn't tell. It was obvious from the increasing breathlessness of Krycek's words that this meeting was draining what little resources he seemed to have left.
"And there are still some of his scientists around. That's part of the information I can hand over."
"What makes you think They would harm the boy? I mean, he's a...scientific coup." Damn but it felt awkward saying such things with those eyes watching him. The boy might know what he was, might have accepted it, but...
"Because we know what They have planned for him. The same thing They did with the children They took from their families. To experiment on them, like They did to Mulder's sister. Then, if the kids survived, to turn them into weapons for Their use."
Skinner didn't want to ask how Krycek knew all this.
He looked at the boy. Krycek young. Krycek before 'training' had begun.
The two sets of eyes were no longer the same. One was watching him, incredibly tired. The other, just waiting.
Eyes holding the boy's, Skinner nodded. "I'll take Zander."
"Swear it," said Krycek.
The boy's eyes were too old for his face, thought Skinner. "I swear. On my oath as a Marine, that I'll take Zander, raise him as my son. Protect him."
Krycek nodded. "Thank you."
"Will Mr. Skinner want to inspect me now?"
The boy's voice was carefully neutral. Skinner was not sure what the boy meant. But Krycek did. And was too ill to hide his shock.
"Zander? When were you inspected? I thought I found you before... You were too young..."
The boy cocked his head in a way that made Skinner's stomach tighten. Shit! The boy really was Krycek. Would he be able to carry out his part of the bargain?
But all Krycek was interested in right now was the boy. "Zander. What did they do?"
The boy shrugged. "They had me take off my clothes. They stayed in the room while these two men...one of them was in a wheelchair..."
Krycek knew who that was, thought Skinner. He himself could guess.
"The other, he touched me. He said that I was still too small. Alex," Zander whispered, "I...I didn't like it."
The first emotion Skinner had heard from the boy, and it was fear.
Krycek smoothed the hair off Zander's forehead. "Yeah. I know." And then wrapped his arm around the boy for a comforting hug. "I know."
After a moment, he pulled back. "Could you go get the package for us, Zander?"
The boy glanced at Skinner then, with a nod, went out of the room.
Krycek rubbed his hand over his face. "I thought I'd found him before..."
"How old is he?"
Krycek looked up. Skinner could see that the man was finding it hard to focus. "He's just turned eight. That's the age They liked to take them." He paused, gave Skinner a rueful admittance of what he had already guessed. "Us. A few years for testing. Kids that age adapt quickly. Then training for those who survived began at twelve."
Skinner nodded. "How long ago did you find him?"
"I waited until we sent Scully off to go after him. We've been moving around ever since. I think we pretty much lost Them early on, but I haven't been taking any chances. If you act quickly on the info in the package, you shouldn't have to worry about that. There aren't many of Them left."
Krycek worked at catching his breath. Skinner felt uncomfortable. He'd dreamt of killing the Rat slowly but the man in front of him was dying that way and he suddenly knew that, even if he had caught Krycek while healthy, he probably wouldn't have been able to carry out his dreams on the man.
"Skinner. Zander...he's a good kid."
Skinner nodded. Like Krycek had probably been before he'd been handed over to people who had tested him then, when he'd survived, turned him into a weapon.
The boy slowly entered the room as though he'd been waiting for them to finish their conversation. He placed a clear plastic container filled with computer discs on the table in front of Skinner then a thick manilla envelope alongside it before he went back to stand next to Krycek.
"The discs," said the boy, "contain all the information we could find in the Consortium files that pertained to the nano experiment, along with other ones as well."
The formalized language startled Skinner. The boy was reciting something he had been told to say.
"The palm pilot along with the documentation that makes me..." Here the boy hesitated. Skinner watched as the boy took a breath and continued. "That makes me your son is in the envelope."
"I know," Krycek's voice was faint with exhaustion, "that you'd like to crush it right now. But don't. Scully will need it. Besides, you have nothing to worry about. By now, the nanos have pretty much worked their way out of your system."
Skinner's shock and anger brought him snarling to his feet. "You fucking bastard! You knew this before you made me promise..."
And stopped. The boy had buried his face in Krycek's shoulder, his arms holding on to the man with painful strength. Krycek winced but wrapped his arm around the boy.
"'Tsokay, Zander, 'tsokay. He barks but he doesn't bite. I swear it. I wouldn't leave you with him if I thought he would hurt you. I swore that to you when we discussed this. I still swear it. And I believe it. He's angry with me, not with you."
"I won't let him hurt you." Even muttered into Krycek's shoulder, Skinner heard the sincere promise in the boy's words.
"I know you won't. But he won't hurt me. He's an honourable man, Zander. He may want to but he won't. He knows that I can't fight him back. Not now."
Krycek tried to disengage himself from the boy and finally the boy pulled back.
"Time for bed. You get ready. Skinner and I have a few more things to talk about and then I'll come read you another chapter."
The boy was reluctant to leave.
Krycek patted him weakly on the seat of his jeans. "Go. Please."
And the boy went.
Krycek needed some time to recoup whatever strength he had left. Skinner looked helplessly around the room, went to the cupboards and rummaged until he found a glass. He went to fill it with water from the tap, but it ran rusty. He tried the fridge and found a bottle of water.
"Here," he held the glass to Krycek's lips.
Krycek took a couple of sips and then shook his head.
After a couple of minutes, during which Skinner could hear the boy in the bathroom, Krycek continued. "In the package, you'll find a couple of bank accounts. One is for you, for taking him. The other, the one in Switzerland, is for his expenses. I'm trusting you to make sure he gets a good education. See to it that he does something worthwhile. Whatever's left over, give him when he can handle it."
Skinner found the information in the package. Both accounts held several million dollars. "Krycek..."
"They created us. They should pay for us."
Krycek made it on his own—barely—to Zander's room when the boy called out that he was ready.
Skinner waited to follow, scanning the papers in the envelope, trying hard to ignore the man who had been his nemesis now struggling down the hallway to the boy's room.
The documentation proved he had had a son by one Alexandria Krycek. The result of a one-night stand as the notarized statement from the 'mother' indicated. She had not contacted Skinner because she was aware that her twin brother and Skinner were 'at odds'. There were legal documents that showed Alexandria had died of cancer two weeks after having her lawyer contact Walter Skinner. There was a power of attorney for Alexandria and guardianship papers for Zander in Skinner's name. There were several others that showed that Skinner had been dealing with the State of Pennsylvania's social services department. That he had been investigated and proven to be the boy's biological father. That he had been shown to be ready and willing to provide a home for his child.
All the documentation was dated a good six weeks before. Skinner doubted that Krycek would have still been healthy enough to break into data banks and arrange all this at that time. He must have prepared for this event long before that. Skinner wondered if he was that easy to manipulate. Or whether it was just that Krycek had been that sure of him.
He slid the papers back into the envelope and made his way to the small darkened room where Krycek was lying on a twin bed that was tucked into a corner, a pyjamaed Zander quietly lying at his left side, holding a teddy bear that looked as though it had travelled a few miles.
Krycek had regained enough strength to hold a book in his hand. He smiled at Skinner as he made his way in. "There's space for you at the foot of the bed," he said.
Skinner realized that it was more than a suggestion. He nodded, took the space that Zander didn't fill.
As he looked around, he noticed the bottle on the bedside table, by the lamp that was providing the only light in the room. And the syringe next to it. So that was how Krycek had recovered his strength. He looked up and found Krycek's eyes on him. The man's expression was both rueful and accepting.
"We're reading Harry Potter," explained Krycek. "Chapter eleven, Quidditch." He looked up from the book. Skinner nodded. Even he knew about Harry Potter. "It's Zander favourite chapter," Krycek told Skinner and continued where he'd left off.
As Krycek read, Skinner examined the room. It was obvious from the cupboards in the kitchen that the rental had come somewhat furnished. The glasses and dishes were a mish-mash of various left-overs. The bed in this room sagged a bit, but not back- breakingly so.
And it was equally obvious that the other things in the room belonged to the boy whose room it was. There was a small shelving unit with books. Not that many. But enough that would quickly fill a box. There were a few games, of the non- computerized variety. And a chess set that stood ready for a game. There was a ball in a boy-sized mitt on the top of the bookcase.
He noticed that when Krycek reached the end of the page, the boy turned the page over for him.
In the shadows, he could make out a poster of Wayne Gretsky on one wall, another of a soccer player he didn't recognize—not that he would have, he didn't follow the game—with another of Harry Potter. Again items that could be quickly put up and taken down.
He realized that though Krycek was reading in that breathless way of his, the boy was watching him. With no expression at all on his face. What the hell was he going to do with the child? he wondered.
And then he noticed the boy's hands were working the teddy bear's stomach with a white-knuckled grip.
The kid, he realized, was terrified.
Sweet Jesus! How could he not be!
Skinner wriggled a little uncomfortably.
The clone of a man he hated. Being created for some ... well, whatever the reason, it was obvious that no one had protected the kid from that knowledge. Not even Krycek.
And Krycek had to know how the kid felt. Hell, he was that kid. Had been that kid. Had to know that the kid was terrified.
As he had been.
The kid hid his feelings well. Probably a trait Krycek had also had at that age.
What a fucking world, thought Skinner.
Skinner clued in on the fact that this wasn't the first time Krycek had said his name.
"Would you finish the chapter? I need...I need to go to the bathroom."
Watching Krycek who refused help get out of bed unaided was painful. Zander sat up on the bed and watched silently, mangling the bear in his hands. Skinner stood by awkwardly, holding the book in his hand.
At the doorway, Krycek paused to gather strength for the rest of his journey. He looked over his shoulder at Skinner. "Don't forget the voices."
He waited until Skinner nodded and then continued out of the room.
"Voices?" Skinner had no idea what Krycek was talking about.
"Alex likes to do voices when he reads."
Skinner sat on the side of the bed. "What kind of voices?" He marvelled at the calmness in the boy's voice while his hands betrayed him.
"He says he does Hermione in a Scully voice. And Ron in a Mulder voice. He does Harry in his own."
Skinner had no idea who Hermione and Ron were, but he nodded his head. "Where did he leave off?"
He knew the boy had only pretended to fall asleep as he reached the end of the chapter. Just as he knew that his reading style was not what he was use to with Krycek. Who would have thought that Alex Krycek, traitor, assassin, triple-agent would read children's stories using voices?
He turned off the light, quietly closed the bedroom door behind him and went off to find the man.
He found Krycek in the bathroom all right. Lying on the floor by the toilet, breathing shallowly in pain-controlling pants. As he neared the toilet, Skinner realized that the bowl's liquid was a dark red, speckled with globs of black that floated.
Barely conscious, Krycek's head rolled back when Skinner slipped his arm under it to raise him. He slipped his other arm under Krycek's knees and carefully stood up. Shit, it was like carrying a child. There was no weight left on the man.
Skinner headed for the door opposite the boy's. He had assumed that the place was large enough for two bedrooms and he'd been right. He lowered Krycek onto the bed and pulled the covers over him.
This room was not like the boy's. Nothing here to personalize it, to make it a haven. The only things that the room seemed to have of Krycek were the clothes hanging in the closet. Not many of those either.
And the bottle of medication with a syringe next to it on the bedside table.
Skinner sat on the bed and turned on the small lamp. He had no idea what was in the bottle, the writing was Cyrillic.
"Need some of that."
Skinner watched as Krycek tried to focus on him. "How much?"
Krycek bit his lip. "Make it eight ccs." He sounded resigned.
Skinner filled the syringe with the correct amount and made sure there was no air in the needle. At Krycek's gesture, he pulled down the loose neck of the sweat shirt and found the shunt someone had installed near the left shoulder.
Whatever it was, it worked quickly. Within five minutes, Krycek's breathing was less pained, a bit deeper. He could focus on the man watching him.
"Didn't think it would end this way, did you?"
Skinner shook his head. "How much pain are you in?"
Krycek found the strength to smile. "More than enough to appease your need for revenge."
"Jesus! Krycek!" Skinner rubbed his face with his hands.
"Skinner, the stuff doesn't last very long any more. I need to know."
Skinner took a deep breath and nodded. "Okay. What do you need to know?"
"That Zander won't be made to suffer for my sins."
Skinner's mouth dropped.
"No, listen. Seriously. I need to know if you can look at him and see him. Zander. Not me. He may have been cloned from me, but he isn't me, Skinner. I'm the one who betrayed you. Beat you. Tortured you. Me. Alex. Not the me who is Zander."
"Krycek, he's a kid."
"Yes, but he's me. And when you have nightmares about what I did to you, he's going to be right at hand. Will he pay for that? Skinner," Krycek's hand closed on Skinner's with as much strength as he could spare, "Zander needs... He needs kindness, Skinner. Someone who will come to...to care for him. If you can't give him that, please, be honest with me now. I can't leave him in hands that will hurt him. If you can't promise me that, tell me now. I'll take him with me. I won't leave him behind for others to hurt. Skinner?"
But Skinner had heard the sound that Krycek was too weak to pick up. He looked over his shoulder to see the child standing in the doorway of his room, watching and listening.
A child who understood what Krycek was talking about. Who could meet Skinner's eyes with no expectations. No hopes. Not asking. Not begging. Just waiting as was the man on the bed for his answer.
His eyes on the boy's, Skinner closed his free hand over Krycek's. "I swear on my oath as a Marine that the boy will never suffer for what you did to me. That he will be treated as his own person, not as a duplicate of you." He looked down at the man. "I can't promise anything more than that, Krycek. I don't know the boy. But I do promise that he will be treated with kindness and that I will keep him safe."
That seemed to satisfy Krycek. He released his grip on Skinner's hand. "Thank you. You'll leave with him in the morning. It doesn't take him long to pack. Down to an art form."
Skinner tucked the blankets around the man. "Get some sleep, Krycek. We'll discuss this in the morning." He looked over his shoulder. The door to the boy's bedroom was closed.
Whatever the medication was, it didn't prevent Krycek from quickly slipping into sleep. Skinner left the small lamp on and went to check on the boy.
He wasn't asleep. He was sitting up on the bed, huddled in the corner against the wall, clutching the bear to his chest. Skinner had turned off the lamp when he'd left the room but the boy had turned it back on. Skinner wondered if the boy were afraid of the dark.
He took a deep breath and shook his head. How the hell he was going to handle this?
He sat on the side of the bed as he had with Krycek and placed his hands on his lap.
"You know Kry...Alex is dying."
The boy nodded slowly. "He..."
Skinner made his voice encouraging yet calm, as he did when interviewing a panicky witness. "He?"
"He sleeps a lot and it's harder to wake him. He doesn't eat any more."
Skinner nodded. Shit, Krycek, you cut it close, didn't you? "You heard us in there. You know that Alex and I have not exactly had a friendly relationship."
"He said that you hated his guts and that you'd love cutting them out of him if you were given half the chance."
Skinner winced. Fuck, Krycek, did you have to be so honest with the kid? "He might have been exaggerating. In fact, he probably was."
The boy didn't look as if he believed that. His hands were white against the brown of the bear.
"Makes you wonder why he'd pick me to..." Skinner cleared his throat. Shit, he couldn't say give. That sounded like the kid was a thing to be passed around. "To father you."
The boy shrugged. "He said you were the best man he knew."
Skinner shook his head. "Zander." It struck him that this was the first time he'd called the boy by his name. He tried it again. "Zander. I'm nothing special. I'm just a man. And I have to warn you, I have no real experience with children. I have none of my own. If there is someone out there that you'd prefer..."
"I don't know anyone. I know Alex because he came to get me. We never stayed anywhere very long. Alex wanted to make sure no one would find me again."
Skinner nodded. "Well, if you're willing to try, I am too. But, Zander, your opinion in this is very important. I know that I promised Alex I would take care of you, but I have the feeling that was his decision, not yours."
Zander shrugged again. "I trust Alex. If Alex says you should have me, then that's all."
"Are you sure about this, Zander?"
"Alex says I can trust you with my life."
"All right then. You and I, we're going to try this father and son business. And I swear, on my oath as a Marine, that I will give it the best that I can. Is that all right with you?"
Zander looked into his eyes as though searching for something. He must have found it because he relaxed his grip on the bear and nodded.
"Now then, you may also have heard Alex tell me that he wants us to leave in the morning." Skinner was taken aback by the pain that flashed on Zander's face. "I didn't swear to that. I know he thinks it's a good idea, but I don't. And I think that you would like to stay until..."
Zander signed, relieved. "Yes, please."
Skinner swallowed hard. "Okay." His throat was dry all of a sudden. "So, our first act as a father-son team will be to disregard Alex Krycek's wishes on this matter."
He pulled back the bedclothes and indicated the boy should get under them. He tucked the blankets around the boy and looked at this, his now son. "What if I read you another chapter? Would that be all right?"
Zander nodded. Carefully, as though not sure how Skinner would react, he made room on the bed for him. Skinner stretched out beside the boy. Just as warily, he raised his arm, offering the boy room to come closer. When he did, Skinner gently rested his arm around the small body.
"You know, one day you'll have to tell me how all of this begins." He found the place he had left off.
"You don't know the story?"
Skinner looked down into the child's face. "I know about Harry Potter, but I've never read any of it until tonight."
Zander bit his lower lip. It flashed through Skinner's mind that he had seen another face do the same gesture. He wanted for the anger to hit him. It did. He wasn't surprised that it did. What did surprise him was how little there was of it compared to other times.
"Maybe," Zander's voice was very quiet, "you'd like to begin at the beginning?"
Skinner felt a strange warmth in him. "Are you sure?"
The boy nodded. "We're read all the books over and over again. I know the story. I don't mind if you want to start at the first page."
Skinner pulled his arm over the boy to hold the book as he turned back to the front of it. Once he had, he left his arm where it was, holding the boy close to him.
Zander released his breath and moved a little so that his bear was now resting on Skinner's side. His head on Skinner's chest, as he had rested it on Krycek's as he had read, Zander waited.
"Chapter one," said Skinner. "The Boy Who Lived. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal."
And when he reached the bottom of the page, Zander turned it for him.
The wind was blowing hard as they neared the top of the hill overlooking the countryside.
Skinner checked to see if Zander was all right. It was a surprise to him how often he found himself checking to see that Zander was all right. He finally understood why parents were so concerned about things he once thought of as not particularly important.
Zander was wearing Alex's battered baseball cap, backwards so that it wouldn't blow off in the wind. Skinner had adjusted it for him, but it was still too large for him. The boy would grow into it, he knew.
As he would with the leather jacket that Zander wore. Right now it hung down to below his knees but, one day, it too would fit perfectly.
Skinner had found the boy in bed, wrapped up in the leather jacket, holding onto the cap and his teddy bear, the night Alex had died.
Krycek hadn't been too happy that he and the boy weren't going to be leaving in the morning but, by then, he'd barely had the strength to do more than accept.
He'd lived one more day, sleeping most of the time. Zander had lain next to him on the bed, holding onto the man who was himself. Skinner had carried in a chair from the kitchen and read more of Harry Potter. Once, Krycek had startled both of them by pointing out that Skinner's Hermione wasn't Scully enough. "You do her like she's pointing out that Mulder's theories are wrong and that Science is right," he'd managed to whisper.
The last time Krycek had been awake, he had sent Zander out to get him a glass of water and then directed Skinner to a different bottle of medication. A small one. As Skinner had filled the syringe with its contents, he had had a sense that Krycek would not awaken again after he fell asleep this time. "Skinner. Thank you."
They were his last words.
Krycek's instructions on what to do with his body had been among the papers in the envelope. They were very specific. He was to be cremated. More than once, if necessary. There was to be nothing left of him except ashes. Not the smallest bone fragment. Absolutely nothing that could not pass through the holes of a flour shifter. After his experience with Billy Myles, Skinner thought he knew why.
Both he and Zander had accompanied Krycek's body to the crematorium. At the last minute, Zander had handed Skinner his bear. "Could you put that in with him?"
"Your bear, Zander? Why?"
"I don't want him to be alone."
So Krycek along with the bear had passed through two cremations until Skinner had been personally satisfied both were nothing but ash.
And now they were carrying those ashes in a wooden box to this place on a day that were just what Krycek had specified: a hill in the countryside, on a very windy day.
At the top of the hill, Skinner looked around and nodded. The view was as beautiful as he'd remembered it. This was a good place.
He opened the small wooden box and took a handful of ashes out, tossed them up and away into the air. They both watched silently as the small grey cloud dissipated in the wind. Zander tugged on his sleeve. Skinner lowered the box and allowed Zander to take a handful. As he tossed his portion into the air, in a different direction, Zander said, "Be free, Alex."
Skinner looked at the boy. With a nod, he tossed the last of the ashes in yet another direction. "Rest easy, Alex."
That night, also according to instructions, they burnt the wooden box in the small fireplace of the bed and breakfast they were staying in.
He was tucking Zander into one of the twin beds in the room when the boy placed his hand on Skinner's arm. "Please, what do I call you?"
Skinner sat by the boy. Zander had replaced his bear with Krycek's jacket. He wondered how long that would last and then decided that it didn't matter. "I don't know, Zander."
"Do I call you Master?"
"No!" Skinner tried to control the flare of anger that he knew would frighten the boy. "No. No, usually sons call their father dad, or daddy. Father. Papa. That's what I called my father." Skinner suddenly found himself smiling at a memory. "He hated it when I called him Pop. Said it made him sound like a soda. A soft drink," he explained.
"I tell you what," he tucked the blanket a little more snugly around the boy's back. "I'll leave it up to you. You'll know what to call me when you're comfortable with me. Until then, 'Hey, you' will do. All right?"
They were pulling into D.C. when Skinner realized that Zander was kneading his hands against the jacket he was wearing. The kid... No, his son. His son needed something other than the jacket to replace the bear he had given to Krycek.
He pulled off the thru-way and took the road to a mall that his sister had once sent him to with specific instruction for a toy she wanted for her first grandchild. Yes, the store was still listed on the building.
Inside the mall, Zander stuck very close to Skinner, eyes wary, taking in everything in his silent way. Skinner kept his hand on the boy's shoulder, knowing that it would offer a sense of security.
In the store, the boy's eyes darted every which way. His sister had wanted a teddy bear dressed as an angel for a child who had turned out to be, at least in his opinion, the devil incarnate. The whole store was filled with bears, of all sizes and costumes.
"Zander? What do you think?"
Skinner held out a dark brown bear wearing a black leather jacket.
Dana Scully pushed open the door and walked into the mess that packing for a move always created.
Skinner looked up from filling a carton with mementos and straightened up. "Dana. What a surprise." And it was. She must have flashed her badge at the security guard in the lobby to get in without his being called. And the door was unlocked and open because he had sent Zander to dump some garbage down the incinerator chute, an activity which, for some reason, delighted the boy.
It didn't take more than a glance to know that Dana Scully was not in a happy mood. "Sir. What's going on? You handed in your resignation this morning, effective immediately. What's wrong, sir?"
Skinner sat on the arm of the leather armchair that took up the corner. "Nothing, Dana. I've just had enough of being Assistant Director. It's time to move on to other things."
"Sir. The suddenness of this decision is worrying. Has something happened? The palm pilot you gave me. Are you being threatened? I thought all that was over now that Krycek..."
"Dana!" Skinner looked over his non-invited guest to the boy who was carrying in a carton someone must have left for recycling. "Dana." He softened his tone. "I'd like you to meet my son."
It wasn't every day that Skinner got to see Dana Scully speechless. He nodded to Zander, inviting him to enjoy the spectacle then realized that the boy needed more information. "Zander, I'd like you to meet Special Agent Dana Scully."
The boy stopped holding the carton in front of him as though for protection. He looked at the red-haired woman who was snapping at this man who was now his father.
Zander turned to Skinner and mouthed 'Scully?'
Skinner nodded, then let go of his restraint and grinned openly. He was overwhelmed with delight when Zander shyly returned the grin. Their first private joke, he thought.
He never even noted that the boy's grin was an exact duplicate of someone else's.
"Your son, sir?" Scully was incredulous.
Zander put his carton down and went carefully around the woman to stand by Skinner who placed his hand on Zander's shoulder. Side by side, they watched as Scully looked the boy over, not really believing what she was hearing. "Sir. I didn't know you had a son?"
"Not surprising, Dana. I didn't know it myself until quite recently."
They watched as Scully's eyes squinted a little as though she were trying to find the father in the son. "He doesn't look much like you, sir. Are you sure..."
"Absolutely sure, Dana. I have all the tests and papers that say it's so. As for his looks, well, he looks just like his mother. Thank god. That way he's got a good chance of keeping his hair."
Skinner smiled down at Zander who once more smiled back. A little less shyly this time. Damn, thought Skinner, this parenting business wasn't always frightening. It could really be quite fun.
"Is he the reason for all this...rush?"
Skinner suddenly realized that Dana Scully was irritating him with all her questions. The movers would be arriving in a few hours and they weren't nearly ready for them.
"Dana, you may feel right bringing up a child in D.C., but frankly, you have a lot of support. You have Mulder. Your family is nearby if you need help. I'm just doing the same thing. Zander and I are moving to my home town, aren't we, Zander?"
Zander nodded, expression once more that of the child whose future had been determined for him. Skinner mentally chastised himself. He had made this decision very quickly. In the boy's interest—he'd be safer where more eyes could watch out for him—but without discussing it much with him. Skinner knew he would always hate seeing that expression on the boy's...on his son's face. He pulled the child close to him.
"Well, Zander is also going to know what it's like to have a grandmother dote on him."
Zander looked up, eyes surprised.
"To have uncles and aunts around. Cousins he can play baseball with, football..."
"Soccer?" whispered Zander, hopefully.
Skinner nodded. Surely one of his nieces or nephews had to like the game. "Soccer. And hockey. To go fishing with them, swimming. To have arguments and even fights with them."
Skinner smiled. Zander seemed quite taken with the notion of arguing and fighting with someone. He opened his arms to his child and scooped him up into his arms. Zander wrapped his legs around Skinner's waist and his arms around his neck.
"Really. Like I did. And all things considered, I didn't turn out so badly. Did I, Dana?"
Dana Scully looked at the big man holding the green-eyed child in his arms. There was something about the child...
"Did I, Dana?" Skinner repeated.
She switched her gaze to him. Eyebrow raised, voice dry, she answered, "No, sir. All things considered, you turned out pretty well." Then couldn't resist adding, a bit condescendingly, "For a man."
Zander's eyes opened wide. Into Skinner's ear, he whispered. "Papa! Hermione. Alex was right!"
Laughing, Skinner hugged his son tightly to him.
AND SO IT WAS