TITLE: Overhead, the Stars
AUTHOR: bardsmaid (LoneThinker)
FEEDBACK: fans the coals of creativity. Welcomed at: email@example.com
DISTRIBUTION: Yes, but please keep my headers attached and let me know where it is
SPOILERS: 5x14: The Red and the Black RATING: R for language
KEYWORDS: Mulder, Krycek
DISCLAIMER: The X-files characters are the creations of Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. No infringement is intended.
MANY THANKS: to Spica for professional-strength beta SUMMARY: Two very tired men. A language lesson. A houseplant.
Overhead, the Stars
Mulder shifts on the unfamiliar couch in the darkness, asking himself once again what he's doing here. He peers into the gloom: half a kitchen in the corner, a bookcase against the wall dappled with light from the street lamps. A bed, a small dresser: not much to show, considering the high-placed schemers Krycek works for. Beside the window a houseplant with limp, speckled leaves drapes its murky greenery from the edge of a spindly-legged table.
Obviously it's been a while since the son of a bitch was here last. And what's a guy like Krycek doing with a houseplant, anyway?
The apartment--such as it is--is warm and stuffy. Drowsiness rises around Mulder like a stealthy fog as his mind drifts back, an involuntary homing device, to the darkness of his own apartment two weeks earlier. He watches the strange tension in Krycek's face as he makes his little speech, listens to his clipped delivery, tight as if his voice were the fuse to a bomb. He can almost smell Krycek's sweat.
Mulder pulls up abruptly, raises his head, scans the surrounding shadows. Reassured, he relaxes. There's nothing to learn here, nothing to indicate that Krycek will be coming. No reason to stay.
And what was it he'd planned to do if Krycek had showed? Throw his little 'resist or serve' drama in his face? Demand to know why all indication of warring alien factions had disappeared into thin air immediately after that night? Punch him?
As if it would do any good.
He should leave--stand up, stretch, take a last look around. Go home to his own couch; he and Scully have a meeting eight hours from now with an as-yet anonymous soldier from Wiekamp Air Base. It's enough that he's managed to put the pieces together and find this place. Maybe that's all that drew him here--the challenge.
But old profiling habits die hard. He recalls a long evening spent in John Mostow's apartment: shaping clay, studying sketches, filling his lungs with the very air Mostow breathed. If he sits here long enough, some part of him thinks, maybe he'll start to understand Krycek: what makes him tick, what the hell he's up to and why. Maybe he'll finally make sense. An understandable scumbag is always better than a scumbag you haven't figured out.
Mulder's head slips slowly forward but he catches himself, blinks and scans the shadows again.
Dead tired, Krycek pulls the mail from his box in the lobby, shuffles quickly through it and tosses the lot at a nearby trash can on his way to the elevator. His good shoulder aches from the weight of his sports bag and his stomach is tight and empty. Jet lag looms over him like a panther about to pounce. The apartment in Foggy Bottom would have been a dream compared to this shoebox, but better the old men don't know about it. It leaves an option, anyway, when most of his possibilities these days range from zero to negative.
A week with the Brit at his Rocky Mountain hideaway had been more than enough. If the end had come... well, if it had, it would have been as pretty a place as any to die: stark and clean and lonely with that burning blue sky.
But nothing happened: no reports of tagged colonist pawns barbecued in the U.S. or Kazakhstan, no hellfire raining down on major cities, not even a UFO sighting in Podunk. Fewer sightings than normal worldwide, in fact. Which makes no sense.
Skirting a pile of phone books, Krycek arrives at the elevator. He raises the prosthesis, aims a synthetic finger at the 'up' button and pokes, then relaxes against the door frame.
The Brit and his wall of family pictures had grown irritating as one day dawned after another, and more and more Krycek had found himself restless with the need to salvage what could all too easily become the final batch of the Cali vaccine.
It was Marita's original condition, her insurance policy against him somehow hijacking the secret vaccine distribution plan she'd laid out so carefully: two verifications for every request, her approval for every pick-up he'd make at FarmaCol's back door. Two weeks ago he'd been this close to having her relent and change it. She understood, finally, that he was in it for the long haul, and they needed a plan for contingencies. What if something happened to her?
Then something had happened, all right. Who knows what the hell she was thinking, but she managed to throw away everything--maybe salvation itself. Traded it for a stint at playing host to the black oil.
A shard of jagged memory makes Krycek swallow involuntarily but he quickly turns the movement into a clearing of the throat. Looking up, he sees the third floor indicator light still blinking. He jabs at the button again, then closes his eyes briefly, hoping to bring moisture to the dry burning behind his lids. What's done is done; Marita made her choices. Now, unless he can figure out a way to get to it, that batch of vaccine will represent six thousand potential lives down the drain, and who knows if that number will ultimately make the difference between survival and annihilation?
Yielding to the nagging itch in his stump, Krycek rubs the fake arm carefully against the wall and hopes he hasn't already used his last clean socket liner. A moment later the elevator arrives and he steps inside. The bed in this place is about two steps above shelter quality, but sleeping men don't complain and the sack is going to be his next stop just as soon as he can peel his clothes off.
He pushes the button for the fourth floor and glances at his watch. A few minutes to midnight; nearly 1 a.m. in Venezuela. He pictures Rubn Arizbal, their FarmaCol contact, just eighteen hours earlier, reserved but obviously disturbed at his persistence, and why wouldn't he be? It was just what Marita might have warned him of. No, he couldn't turn over the vaccine without Marita's authorization. Knowing Arizbal, he wasn't likely to budge.
Maybe he shouldn't have broached it. Maybe he should have spent the time laying the groundwork to get someone else into the lab.
Or maybe the apocalypse will come tomorrow.
The elevator door opens. Krycek pushes himself away from the wall and strides out. The hallway seems to stretch on forever. Nearly a month since he was last here; anything left in the fridge will be penicillin by now.
His hand is shaky enough that the key misses twice before it slips into the lock. Turning the knob carefully, he opens the door. Warm, stale air spills out. He's already inside, setting the bag down and about to close the door behind him when he spots a shadowed form on the couch.
No response comes from the sleeping man. Krycek shakes his head. He's set down his bag, opened drawers, checked the fridge, all without Mulder so much as stirring. If it weren't for the distinct possibility of waking up in a few hours with a gun pressed to his temple, he'd be tempted to crawl into bed and ignore his intruder.
"Zasonya," he mutters. The Russian word comes out unbidden and Krycek shakes his head. He nudges Mulder's foot and steps back. "Wake up."
Mulder grunts. Krycek tightens his grip on his pistol. The safety's on; this is no time for shooting. After a moment, Mulder's eyes open and suddenly widen. He reaches instinctively for his gun.
"It's on the table by the door. You can pick it up on your way out." Krycek pauses. "Look, how did you find this place, Mulder?"
"Grocery receipt," Mulder says, sitting up straighter, trying to clear the fog in his head. The realization filters in that Krycek isn't really pointing the gun at him. "Found it in my apartment after your little visit; you must've dropped it. I tracked it to the place across the street." He nods in the direction of the little ground-floor grocery. "Wasn't hard to track a distinctive customer from there."
"Fuck." Krycek lets out a sigh. What hasn't gone wrong in the last two weeks?
"Look, go home, Mulder. I just got in from... off a fourteen-hour flight, and I'm tired." He turns, approaches the bed and pulls back the spread, then sits down on the edge. He tilts his head to the left and then the right, stretching his neck muscles. "You need a better edge than you've got, you know that? I could've cleaned out this apartment while you slept and you would've woken up in the morning wondering where everything went."
"Haven't gotten much sleep lately, I guess. I keep thinking..."
When he realizes that Mulder's voice has trailed off, Krycek looks up.
"I checked out your alien rebel," Mulder says.
"I heard he got away."
"In a manner of speaking. I saw--" Mulder stops and shakes his head. "Maybe I still don't know what I saw," he says softly. He looks up at the ceiling and closes his eyes briefly. "Your rebel was in a box in the back of a delivery truck. Scully recognized the driver from Ruskin Dam, but there was another man who came after the man in the box, with one of those..." He makes a stabbing gesture.
"To kill him."
"Yeah. Then everything froze; there was a blinding light... Next thing I knew, a couple of MPs were leading me away. Both men from the truck were gone."
"Last minute rescue from above."
"That's what I figured." Mulder leans forward. "What's going on here, Krycek?"
"Hell, I'd love to know somebody who could tell me." He'd laugh if it were funny. His voice drops. "All I know is that in the last eight or nine months before these burnings started there've been a series of abductions that don't fit the pattern. The colonists tag their abductees and drop 'em off again. These people"--he shakes his head--"are just disappearing."
"Could be. Could be something else. But yeah, that's my guess."
The room falls quiet. Krycek yawns and drowsiness settles over him. After a moment he stands, goes to the sink, fills a glass with water. He takes it to the window and pours it slowly into the houseplant's pot.
Mulder stifles a smile. Who would have thought to peg Krycek as the houseplant type? But something stops him from giving voice to his observation.
"Guy before me left this here," Krycek says as if he knows Mulder's mind. Two fingers drift absently over a speckled leaf. "Stubborn little bastard--refuses to die. Come in here after a while away and you'd swear it was a goner. Give it a little water and it comes right back." He turns and takes the cup back to the sink. It's time to shoo Mulder out.
Instead, he finds himself opening the refrigerator door and squinting against the sudden light. Seconds tick by and he stares at the contents. "There are a couple of beers left in here. You want one?"
Mulder hesitates, caught off-guard. "Yeah," he says finally, and stands. "Why not? It's been kind of hot in here, anyway."
"It gets stuffy." Mulder has come up beside him and Krycek hands him a bottle. "There's a patio two doors down--roof patio. Not much, just a couple of chairs, but at least you can breathe out there."
"Go on. I'll be out in a minute." He gestures. "Out the door, turn left. Under the exit sign." Then he crosses the room and disappears into the bathroom.
Mulder sits in an old plastic chair clutching his beer, looking up at the sky, occasionally glancing down to watch tiny beads of moisture break away and trickle down the bottle's brown glass. It's hard to believe he's here, that he's drinking Krycek's beer, that any of this is happening. Everything still seems slow and a little thick, as if it may all actually be a dream. Right now he could be asleep on Krycek's couch. Or on his own.
Krycek was right. The patio is tiny, half-illumined by a weak yellow bulb on the wall. The two chairs-- one faded red, one blue--are separated by a small plastic table. Mulder glances at his watch. Krycek could be plotting something, setting him up somehow.
But it doesn't feel that way. He puts the bottle to his lips, tips it and lets the sensation of liquid trickling down his throat verify that he's here, he's awake, he's thinking straight.
He stares into the night above the city lights, thinking of the abductions that have caught Krycek's attention. He considers the scar-seared face of the rebel alien from the truck, and Krycek's houseplant that refuses to die. Leaning back, he pictures Samantha's face overlaying the high darkness.
When Krycek opens the door to the roof patio, Mulder is staring at the sky. There's something awkward, a feeling of having lost their previous rhythm, and he wonders again why he didn't just hustle Mulder out the door instead of offering him his last bottle of beer. It's been thirty-two hours since he was last able to stretch out in a bed, not counting the couple of hours he spent tossing on the return flight from Bogot.
Krycek clears his throat, moves to set his beer on the table and sits down. Mulder seems lost in thought, eyes upward. Krycek finds himself studying Mulder's silhouette--the contour of forehead, nose, chin. As he watches, Mulder's lips come together and his Adam's apple suddenly dips.
"How do you do it?" he says, turning to face Krycek. His eyes are serious; something fragile glints within them.
"Look up. Look at the stars, knowing what's going on out there--what's coming?"
Krycek ponders, the rounded rim of the beer bottle smooth against his lips. He shrugs. "I just... I don't know. You do what you have to do."
He tips the bottle and takes a swig. It's a stupid question. No, a stupid answer--a pat answer, empty. And Mulder's eyes are hungry for hope.
"I guess... I guess you tell yourself whatever it takes. The stars--" He stops, mouth half open.
"Nah." Krycek shakes his head. "Nothing."
He glances up, past Mulder at the blue-black night. The corner of his mouth twitches. "At home, really old people will tell you that stars are the residue of the moon. That at the new moon, God takes the old moon and breaks it up into stars."
He stares into the shadows beyond his boots and takes a quick swig of the beer. It's a crazy folktale, a fable.
When he glances up again, Mulder is looking at the heavens, smiling.
"I like that," he says, his eyes lit with quiet enthusiasm. "I've never heard that before."
Krycek shrugs and takes another drink from his bottle. It's been years since he was able to look at the night sky without something in his gut tightening.
"Star," Mulder says presently. "How do you say it in Russian, Krycek?"
One eyebrow rises involuntarily. When has Mulder ever asked him a question and really wanted to hear the answer?
"Zvezda," he says finally, letting the familiar Russian sounds caress his tongue. He repeats it for good measure.
Mulder's forehead crinkles in concentration. He attempts the word, his 'z' and his 'd' too hard and distinct.
Amused, Krycek says the word again. It's obvious that Mulder is throwing himself into this, wanting to get it right. There's that look on his face--the kind he gets when he's discovered some new, as-yet uncharted territory.
At some point in the back-and-forth of modeling and response, the steel-chain tension that's dogged Krycek since the night on the freighter begins to drop away. His neck and shoulder muscles begin to loosen. Stretching his legs out comfortably, he finds his mouth creeping toward a smile. A few tries later Mulder's pronunciation becomes passable and silence returns as the two beers are drained. Krycek smoothes a thumb casually along the slick glass, studying the path it makes through the beads of condensation.
Mulder clears his throat. "I really ought to go," he says as he sets his bottle down. "Let you get some sleep."
Krycek grunts assent. They stand and Krycek follows Mulder through the door and down the hallway.
"Next time I'll knock," Mulder turns and says when he's passed Krycek's door.
"Next time I won't be here." Krycek works the lock on his door and opens it. "Can't have the world knowing where I live."
Mulder's mouth opens; there's a pause before he speaks. "But you know where to find me."
"Yeah." He watches Mulder turn and head toward the elevator. "Do svidanya, bratishka."
Mulder turns back. "Brat--"
"Get a dictionary, Mulder." Quickly he shuts the door.
Lying in the dark, on the verge of drifting off, Krycek finds himself staring at the silhouette of his houseplant. Already it's showing signs of revival.
He's wondered more than once why he hasn't just tossed the thing; like Mulder, it's always seemed to require care without offering any payoff.
Or maybe not.
Krycek rolls onto his side, bunches up the pillow and closes his eyes. Warm and slack, he waits for sleep to come.
zasonya - someone who likes to sleep all the time do svidanya - until we meet again
bratishka - brother
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