Title: Hearts and Flowers
Feedback: Yes, please!
Warnings: This story contains a m/m sexual relationship.
Rating: mild R
Spoilers: Through Essence. AU afterwards - - we all know Existence never happened, right?
Archive: Full House, RatB, DitB, WWOMB
Disclaimer: All X-Files characters belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made.
Notes: Thanks to mrs_sweetpeach
for beta. Happy Valentine's Day to everyone!
Walter Skinner stepped back as yet another cart loaded with flowers, balloons and stuffed animals was pushed into the elevator. It had been like that all day. Apparently not even the FBI was immune to the effects of Valentine's Day. He moved back further, overwhelmed as the cloying scent of the flowers and the plethora of red, pink, and all shades in between, filled the small space.
When he and Sharon were first married, she'd made a big deal out of Valentine's Day, sending him balloons and flowers and all manner of sappy Hallmark cards. He claimed to be embarrassed by it, but secretly, it touched him that she bothered.
It didn't take trained psychologist to figure out that the main reason he hated the holiday now was that he had no one to celebrate it with.
Skinner had come out of the war a hero. A minor hero, but nevertheless, a hero. He'd been reinstated at the FBI in a nominal position with no real power, but he was through with all that anyway. He was biding his time, waiting for retirement, and happy to leave it all behind.
Mulder was the real hero, the Harry Potter of the war. You couldn't look at a magazine or turn on the TV without seeing him. Skinner supposed he deserved it, after all those years of trying in vain to make people believe.
He and Scully were happy, Scully staying behind in Virginia, teaching at Quantico and raising their son Will and daughter Melissa, while Mulder took his turn in the spotlight.
Skinner allowed a moment of thought for Alex Krycek, the *anti* hero of the war. Krycek, who of course did not die, by Skinner's hand or anyone else's, had been instrumental in helping to win. First orchestrating from behind the scenes and, later on, from the front lines, Krycek seemed determined to bring down the Consortium, singlehandedly if necessary. And, as Mulder had also worked closely with Krycek, a good deal of Skinner's time had been spent refereeing their fights.
As he worked with Krycek, Skinner developed a grudging respect for the man. Just as Mulder would never fully trust Krycek, it appeared no one else would either. Even though Krycek's help in the war effort had been recognized, and his record cleared, he was not acknowledged as a hero.
Not that he had ever expected to be. He had told Skinner as much, during one of their frequent late night talks over whatever liquor was available.
"Mulder will be the hero of all this shit," Krycek said, nearly drunk, flinging out his arm as if to encompass all of the war. "If we can keep his reckless ass alive until it ends. He has the charisma for it, and all those years of fighting against the system. He'll get the book deals, Skinner."
"What about you?" Skinner asked.
"Me? I'm no hero. And no one will ever see me as one. Remember, I wasn't on the side of the angels at the beginning. I wanted what the other side offered. Money. Power. Of course, the brochures never mentioned what you had to do to get those things," Krycek said as he took another sip of his drink. "Nope, Skinner, when this is all over, *if* I'm lucky, I'll be free for the first time in... forever. I'll be happy with that."
Krycek had been eerily accurate in predicting Skinner's future, too.
"But you, Skinner," Krycek had said. "You'll be a hero. Not like Mulder, but still a hero. Too important to just ignore, but you won't be a star. You'll be welcomed back to the Bureau and they'll give you a position with a title that *sounds* important."
It was during another one of those late-night drinking sessions that their relationship had taken another turn. It had been a bad day, with the discovery of a Consortium lab and the grisly experiments being conducted there. Many of the younger members of the team had lost it completely; crying, puking, and running outside, overcome with the need for sunlight and fresh air. Krycek had grimly done what was needed, as had Skinner, putting the subjects out of their misery. Both men had been more shaken than they cared to admit by what they'd seen and what they'd had to do.
Krycek was pale beneath his tan that night, hand shaking as he poured them both a generous amount of whiskey. Skinner didn't imagine his appearance was any better.
Krycek sat down beside Skinner and gulped his drink.
"Slow down, Krycek," he cautioned, although in truth, he would've liked nothing more than to drink himself into oblivion.
Krycek had been quiet all afternoon, but now he spoke, his voice raspy and filled with self-loathing. "I used to work for the people responsible for that... abomination we found today. I don't really think I can get drunk enough to forget. But I intend to give it my best try."
"Krycek - - Alex. You said it. You *used* to work for them. You don't now."
Krycek looked at him, his green eyes pools of anguish. "Do you believe in hell, Skinner?"
"I think sometimes we go through hell on earth."
"What the hell does that mean?" Krycek asked without any real anger, downing the rest of his drink in one gulp.
"That means," Skinner said, grabbing the bottle before Krycek could pour himself another, "that you are doing a more than adequate job of punishing yourself. Hell would almost be redundant for you."
Krycek laughed bitterly, but wouldn't look at Skinner. Skinner took the younger man's chin in his hand and turned his head. He looked into Krycek's eyes and said softly and sincerely, "I don't know if I believe in heaven or hell anymore. But I do believe in forgiveness," Skinner said, loosening his grip on Krycek's chin, but not letting go.
"You can't honestly believe I can be forgiven," Krycek said, disbelief evident in his voice.
"Anyone can be forgiven. I forgave you long ago. The question is, can you forgive yourself?" Skinner asked, releasing Krycek's chin.
Krycek didn't look away, and after a few seconds said quietly, "I'm not sure I can," and then Skinner kissed him.
Krycek started in surprise, but didn't pull away, instead he opened his mouth to admit Skinner's probing tongue.
Skinner broke off the kiss first. "I'm sorry, Krycek."
"Why? I'm not."
"I don't want to take advantage. You've had quite a bit to drink, and after what we went through today..."
"Skinner, shut up," Krycek said pleasantly, not sounding drunk at all now. This time he initiated the kiss.
Skinner tried once more, his sense of honor warring with his ever-increasing feelings of arousal. "Are you sure?"
Krycek answered by clawing at the button on Skinner's jeans. Their first encounter was characterized in this way, the frenzied groping of horny teenagers, only managing to remove the necessary clothing to get to each other's cock. Neither lasted long, both of them having had only their right hands for company for more months than either man would care to count.
The next morning had been as awkward as Skinner expected, but neither man tried to pass it off as drunken fumbling, instead they seemed to silently agree not to speak of it.
It happened again with some regularity, usually after a bad day. Gradually it became more than just relieving tension, a way to forget the things they'd seen. They began to open up to each other, not an easy thing for either man. Both had a long history of repressing their feelings. Skinner began to look forward to the nights. He was able to talk to Krycek about things he'd never been able to tell Sharon. Krycek found he could confide in Skinner without fear of it being used against him.
The tide of the war eventually turned in their favor, and they redoubled their efforts. During most of that time, Skinner and Krycek had little time or energy to devote to sex. Instead they were content to hold each other as they sank into an exhausted sleep, offering themselves an entirely different kind of satisfaction.
Once the war ended and the reconstruction began, Skinner began to wonder what would become of his relationship with Krycek. Krycek worked as hard as the others to help rebuild civilization, but Skinner sensed he was restless, ready to explore his newfound freedom.
Unsure of how Krycek felt about the thing between them, Skinner finally decided it would be easier to let Krycek go. He deserved to have a life, and it was unfair to expect him to tie himself down with someone older, who *wasn't* free to run off on an adventure. He began distancing himself, making up excuses about having too much to do, and gently suggested to Krycek that it might be time for him to move on.
Skinner drove him to the airport on the day his plane left.
"Walter, I...." Krycek started to say right before he went to board the plane.
"Don't bother, Krycek. I always understood this wasn't forever. No need to say anything. I hope you find... what you need."
Skinner had turned and walked away, not giving Krycek a chance to say anything more. He had gone to his new, empty house and gotten thoroughly drunk.
A knock at his office door interrupted his thoughts.
"Sir?" Arlene stuck her head in the door. "Sir, I have a... something for you."
Skinner motioned her in, his mouth dropping open in surprise as she set a teddy bear, with a heart-shaped balloon tied to his neck, on his desk.
"Ah... thank you, Arlene."
Skinner stared at it for several minutes before picking up the bear. It was a tiny brown bear, dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and leather jacket. He grabbed the card and opened it.
It said simply,
I'm in town and would like to see you. I'm at the Bethesda Court Hotel.
Skinner sat back, telling himself not to make too much of this. It was likely Krycek just wanted to catch up with a war buddy.
Skinner got back to work, reading the same report for a half hour without comprehending a word. Sighing, he gave up and called Krycek's hotel and asked for his room.
Skinner closed his eyes at the sound of Krycek's voice.
"Hello?" Krycek said again. "Is anyone there?"
"Krycek, this is Walter Skinner."
"Walter! I'm glad you called. How are you?"
"I'm fine. And you?"
"I'm great, thanks. Did you... um... oh, hell. Can I see you? Will you come here tonight?"
"All right. What time?"
"Around 6:00? We could have dinner here if you like."
"That sounds fine. I'll see you then."
Skinner hung up, elated, yet still a bit apprehensive. He determinedly got back to work, actually managing about an hour's worth before giving up. He picked up his briefcase and coat, grabbed his bear and went to tell Arlene he was leaving for the day. He received several surprised looks on his way the elevator, courtesy of Krycek's gift.
At home, he debated what to wear, feeling for all the world like a teenager on his first date. He showered and picked out a suit, then put it back in favor of a dark green sweater and khaki pants. Then he wondered if Krycek would expect a Valentine gift in return. He couldn't imagine anything he wouldn't feel silly giving to Krycek, but he felt he should bring *something*. He settled on bringing a bottle of Scotch, a brand he knew Krycek liked.
Skinner finally headed out the door at 5:45, and knocked on Krycek's door at precisely 6:02.
Krycek opened the door, and Skinner got his first look at the man in nearly two years. He had put on weight, and it looked good on him. He was dressed casually in a black turtleneck and jeans and looked more comfortable than Skinner had ever seen him.
"Walter," Krycek said warmly. "Come in."
Krycek directed him to the sofa, taking the armchair for himself. "You look good, Walter. How have you been?"
"Fine. You look good yourself. I assume you found what you were looking for."
"You could say that," Krycek said, not explaining further. He inquired about Skinner's job, and even asked after Mulder and Scully.
"What about you, Alex?"
"I've been... everywhere. It's a lot different, traveling when you're free. I really enjoyed it."
A knock at the door announced their dinner. They were quiet during the meal, content to concentrate on the delicious food. Afterwards, Skinner brought out the Scotch. Krycek poured them drinks, joining Skinner on the sofa this time.
"This is just like old times," Krycek observed, then grimaced. "I mean..."
"Alex, what... why did you ask me here?" Skinner asked abruptly.
Krycek took a generous sip of his drink. "When I left, it took me a while to figure out why you did what you did."
"I - - "
Krycek held up a hand. "Wait. I'll tell you what I came up with, and then you tell me if I'm wrong. I decided you were being noble, letting me go so I could have a chance at a normal life. Sort of a cruel-to-be-kind situation. Right?"
Skinner glared. "What makes you think I'm so... noble?"
Krycek laughed. "Skinner, you've *always* been noble. Now, was I right?"
Skinner hesitated. "Maybe."
Krycek laughed again, a deep rumbling laugh that did pleasant things to Skinner's stomach. "Well, I did what you suggested. I traveled, I saw what was out there. I met someone in Italy, and we were together for a while."
Skinner was surprised at the sharp pain that statement caused him.
"I traveled some more. Eventually I realized something."
"What was that?" Skinner asked, dreading the answer.
"That what I wanted was right here. So I came back."
"I want you," Krycek said simply. "Everywhere I went, everything I did, I kept thinking ‘I wish Walter was here', or "This would be so much more fun if I was seeing it with Walter.' Fuck, I missed you, Walter," Krycek said, setting his drink down. "Any chance you still have feelings for me? Did you ever?"
"God, yes, Alex, of course I did. I still do. I missed you."
Krycek sighed in relief. "So, do you want to see if we can make this work? Without, you know, a war to distract us?"
"I would like that very much," Skinner said.
"Could we start now?" Krycek asked, moving closer to Skinner.
Skinner moved in for a kiss. "I'd like that too," he whispered, before devouring the other's lips with his own.