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How to throw a Curve Ball
Part 1
by Courtney Gray


Title: How to throw a Curve Ball - Part 1
Author: Courtney Gray
Author's Website: Courtney's Fanfic
Fandom: The X-Files
Pairing: Fox Mulder / Alex Krycek
Rating: PG-13 (m/m interaction)
Author's Disclaimer: They don't belong to me...
Series/Sequel: Story I in the "How to throw a Curve Ball" Series



I.



"Of all men's miseries the bitterest is this,
to know so much and to have control over nothing."

-- Herodotus



* * * * * * * * * * * * *


He should've kept the gun. It was a nice Sig Sauer, handled well, and he liked the model better than the S&W he was carrying. Stupid. Talk about the Grand Gesture. Well, at least Mulder hadn't shot him. Funny, he hadn't really considered the possibility at the time. He should have. He glanced up at the darkened windows. Maybe he should've played it differently all the way around.

The wind was picking up again, cold and stinging, reminding Krycek of where he was and where he needed to be.

He struggled with the buttons on his leather jacket. Damn it. His hand was still shaking. He couldn't feel the edge of his thumb. Still numb from the handcuff. At least it wasn't a zipper. It was even worse trying to clip the ends together with just one hand. That's it, that's good, think about the details. Life goes on. Maybe not for very long, but just worry about 'now' and the fucking button. He managed one and then another and looked around. The brown brick buildings seemed darker and uglier in the cloud-thick night. The streetlamps threw pools of weak yellow light here and there. He avoided them and walked deeper into the shadows.

Back in the old neighborhood again. Well, not his neighborhood, but he knew it well enough all the same. He could hear a dog barking somewhere, and farther off, a siren wailing. A fire truck maybe, or an ambulance. Yeah, help is on the way. To the rescue. Save the day. Fight or die. Resist or serve.

Krycek started walking faster.

He walked for block after block until he came to an area with a few stores, all of them closed. A cafe was still open, though, well lit and cheery, with a handful of people sitting at small tables by plant- strewn windows. He crossed the street, away from it. At the end of the next block there was a bar, the neighborhood hangout probably, worn-looking. The only neon was a square sign in the dark- tinted window with the words, Jack's Taps.

He had to make a call and he knew he needed a drink, so he went inside.

***

His legs felt stiff. Man, how long had he been sitting on the floor? The gun still dangled in his hand, heavy and warm. His fingers were tingling. Losing sensation. Gee, that would be nice. Blinking, Mulder started to laugh, but couldn't quite manage it.

So, fate existed after all, and she threw a mean curve ball.

He struggled to his feet with a groan and slowly put the gun back in its holster. The apartment was dark, the only light from the transom above the door. He walked to it, the sound of it slamming and the fading footsteps, still crystal in his mind. He glanced into the shadows of the room and wondered how Krycek managed to get in; he seemed to have a knack for that, for sneaking into all the dark corners when you least expected him.

Mulder reached for the lightswitch and changed his mind, turning on the lamp near the door instead. He didn't want too much illumination at the moment. It would just hurt his eyes. Yeah, right.

So now what? He was still wearing his coat, he realized. Didn't seem to matter. His feet moved back towards the living room, stopping before the small white square of paper on the floor. Things are looking up. He grabbed it quickly and headed for the couch.

The glow from the fishtank seemed brighter than usual. "How are you doing, fellas? Quite a show, huh? Thumbs up or thumbs down, whaddya say?" His voice sounded shaky. He picked up the box of fish food and sprinkled a little in the tank.

He sat down on the leather couch, slouching low against the cushions. He was still holding the piece of paper in his other hand. He turned it over and over for a long time before he stopped.

Wiekamp Airforce Base.

***

The bartender gave Krycek a quick once-over as he came in the door. The dimly-lit room was narrow and long with the bar and stools running along one side and a row of small wooden tables and chairs on the other. There were a few people sitting at the tables and a bloated old guy on one of the stools, shot glass in one hand and cigarette in the other. A collage of beer bottles, all shapes and brands, lined the gold-veined,mirrored wall behind the bar above a shelf of small kegs.

He checked for exits, and saw the small red sign above the door at the far end of the room. There was an alcove next to it with a public phone. There was probably a bathroom back there, too, but he couldn't see it.

"Heineken," he told the bartender. He wanted something stronger, but he knew it wouldn't be too smart. Not at the moment.

The bartender nodded and pulled a glass mug from a shelf.

He had some twenties in one pocket and a couple of hundreds in another, mixed up with some rubles. The smooth old bastard hadn't taken his cash at least. Of course, it wasn't even enough to cover one night at the Four Seasons. His lips twitched at the thought. For a man whose last places of residence were a gulag and a damp metal corner in the hold of a freighter, he was a lot less choosy than he used to be. Besides, there was still time before he had to decide on his Last Night on Earth Blowout. Hell, maybe there was even a chance...

"That'll be two dollars."

The bartender placed the glass of beer on a paper coaster in front of him. He fished out a twenty from his jeans pocket and tossed it on the counter. As he looked up, he caught the bartender staring at his hand. The prosthesis. Deliberately, he took hold of it and cradled it against his lap.

The bartender's eyes snapped up with a flicker of embarrassment. God, how he despised that look, that mixture of curiosity and pity. The fucking arm. He worked so hard at pretending to ignore it, disguise it, live around it, and then he'd see that fleeting look on some stranger's face and it would all come rushing back at him. And every time, just like now, he'd clamp down on the feelings, forcing them back into the dark with all the other nightmares.

Anyway, he had a call to make.

His voice was calm and controlled when he spoke. "Does that phone work back there?"

"Yeah."

"Could I have some quarters with the change."

The bartender nodded and headed for the register.

Krycek picked up his glass and took a long swallow of beer, almost moaning at how good it tasted. God, he'd forgotten. There were so many small comforting things that had slipped away, little bits of normalcy leeched from his life over the last few years. He drank some more, enjoying the flavor and coldness of it going down his throat. He savored it as if it might be his last taste.

A moment later, the bartender dropped his change and some quarters on the counter next to his beer.

He wiped foam from his mouth with the back of his hand and glanced towards the alcove. "Be right back." He wrinkled his nose as he passed the end of the bar, through the old guy's haze of smoke, and decided to go into the washroom first. It was just a small gray room with a stained porcelain sink, a toilet and a tiny barred window. He slipped the latch into place, locking the door. Public bathrooms made him jumpy.

The face in the mirror shocked him. He stared at his reflection, wondering if he'd ever looked this bone-weary before. He supposed not. He'd never felt quite this tired before. So tired it was painful. Amazing, the variety of pain in the world. It seemed he was attaining connoisseur status in that particular subject.

He splashed some water on his face, fingertips suddenly pausing, involuntarily, against his lips.

***

Illusory control and irrepressible destiny, now there was a couple to watch on the dance floor.

Mulder played with the piece of paper in his hands, turning it this way and that, and thought about how a single involvement of feeling could implicate a person in a future of inextricable human involvements. He thought about how much easier it was to believe in disbelief.

His face felt hot. Or was it just that one spot on his cheek? It felt like a cold burn. Of all the things the cunning prick could've done.

He looked at the square of paper again, at the neatly printed letters. He held it up in his left hand, twirling it through his fingers. His mind shuffled through the sensations and images, replaying them: a hand grabbing his neck, muscle and force shoving him forward, the crack of his body hitting the floor, the strength behind the arm. One arm.

That was it.

One arm. The images were fast and shadowy as he sifted through them. Then, with a sudden clench in his stomach, he saw it, glimpses out of the corner of his eye, captured in his mind like a grainy photo in an album. The stiff unnatural hand, bloodless, lifeless. Fake.

"You're losing it, Mulder. I can beat you with one hand." Krycek had meant it, literally.

And he had flung back a reply that he still couldn't fathom, like something out of Sexual Innuendo for All Occasions.

He didn't want to think about that just yet.

So, Krycek hadn't been that lucky after all, back in Tunguska. Some helpful Russian souls had cut off his arm.

He glanced at his own shoulder, remembering how the stump had looked, courtesy of a hypodermic and an enforced, virtual nightmare. One arm gone, then two. Waking to a feeling of horror unlike anything he'd ever experienced before, waking up to discover pieces of himself gone, cut away for nothing. He could still hear himself screaming.

He wondered how the reality had been for Krycek. How had they done it? Had they dragged him off to some makeshift hospital? Had he been unconscious? Awake? No. No, he couldn't have been awake.

***

Slowly, he ran a fingertip over the curve of his lips, brushing away the droplets of water. He had wanted to kiss Mulder on the mouth, hard. He had wanted... But it was better that he hadn't.

"I'll never let you forget," he whispered into the mirror. A thin smile grew over his face as he remembered the shell-shocked look in those hazel eyes. Yeah, you wiseass, you fucked-up, beautiful fool, you have a helluva lot to figure out. Come fight the war, Mulder, and maybe you'll find all that truth you've been searching for... or running from. Maybe you'll even find me in there somewhere.

He turned the faucet up as far as it would go and splashed handfuls of cold water over his face.

The call. He better make the call. He tore a few paper towels from the dispenser and wiped his face. All his bridges were burning down around him. There was no going back to Russia, not that he'd wanted to in any case, but that meant he was well and truly on his own now, and he couldn't afford any more mistakes.

He went out to the phone and checked it over before dropping in some change. Then, he took a long, deep breath and punched in the numbers. After the second ring, the smooth voice answered.

"Yes?"

"I spoke to Mulder," he said.

"And?"

"I... gave him the information, but I don't know if he'll do anything about it."

"Did you explain what's at stake?"

"There's no reason why he should believe me. I don't see why you didn't talk to him yourself. What, afraid he'd muss up your suit?"

"The information is far more persuasive coming from you."

A wisp of fear curled around his stomach. "Why do say that?" he asked evenly. Uncomfortably, he sensed a smile in the other man's answer.

"Agent Mulder has faced some unpleasant realizations of late that have affected him in ways even those closest to him cannot fully comprehend. Eventually, he will be forced to make some very difficult choices." There was a resigned sigh in the old man's voice. "You are more than just his enemy, Alex. I believe there's a bond between you and Agent Mulder, a rather complex one, whether either of you cares to acknowledge it or not. It can be very useful. Ironically, I think he will act on information from you before he would... believe... anyone else. In any case, we will know soon enough."

Krycek bit down on his lip. The smooth bastard was playing with him again. Fishing around in his mind with his little barbed hooks. He was an expert at the game. Well, he wasn't about to give him anything, one way or the other. "I suppose we will. So now what?" he said instead.

There was a slight pause on the other end of the line. "We still have a bargain to complete. You have several more tasks to accomplish, and then, as agreed, the documents and materials you need will be waiting for you."

"Fine--" He started to hang up when the old man continued.

"You should consider maintaining contact with the Syndicate after our own alliance has concluded."

He couldn't believe the audacity of the man. He kept his voice low. "Is that a fact? I don't recall volunteering to help you this time."

The other man ignored his comment. "The outcome of the Project is as important to you as it is to the rest of us. If resistance is possible, then victory is possible. Unfortunately, as you know, this is not a view that the rest of my colleagues share. At least, not at the moment."

He wondered at the other man's confidence. There seemed little cause for it, as far as he could see. It would be a long and difficult struggle, at best. It was typical of that group of arrogant, Machiavellian assholes to believe they could manipulate all the players to their own advantage, and always on their own terms. "I'm sure your buddies have already made contingency plans should any of us manage to get out of this alive."

The smile was back in the cultured voice. "Of course. That would only be prudent. That has been our modus operandi from the beginning." There was another pause before he spoke again. "It would not surprise me if your path and Agent Mulder's cross again, under quite different circumstances."

His grip on the phone tightened, knuckles whitening. "As you know, I have plans of my own. I don't need yours or anyone else's. I'll finish what I said I'd do for you. I owe you nothing beyond that."

"Perhaps, but it would do well for you to remember that your resources aren't what they used to be, and the Syndicate's are... considerable. You will need their help."

"Their help? You mean, your help, don't you?"

The silence stretched until it was almost unnerving. "Each of us must use whatever means are available to us to achieve our goals, no matter the source."

The cryptic reply sent a chill up Krycek's spine. "The Syndicate's resources haven't done much for any of you lately."

"That remains to be seen. For the present, meet me as we arranged. Soon it will be time to find our old wolf and return him to the fold. And, yes, I know you disapprove. However regrettable you or I may consider it, it is necessary. So be prompt, Alex. We still have a good deal to discuss. And you know how I hate to be kept waiting."

Teeth gritted, Krycek didn't say anything, just quietly hung up the phone.

***

Mulder squinted up through the darkness at the water stain on the ceiling above his desk. The white paint had peeled away in a jagged, fist-sized circle, revealing the bare plaster underneath, mottled with spidery cracks. He never noticed it before. Suddenly, he felt a certain peculiar empathy with his ceiling, vulnerable as it was to the forces of nature and inferior plumbing eating away at its protective layers.

His mind was on a wild ride, he decided. He was cycling through observations, events and encounters, from the mundane to the abstruse, trying to find some center of gravity to pull his thoughts together. Turning his face away from the ceiling, his eyes skipped over the white square of paper that now lay beside him on the couch, a symbolic flag of surrender against the black leather. He closed his eyes and, much to his discomfort, felt his mind spiraling, inevitably, backward...

He wasn't cold when he should have been. Maybe it was the daylight coming in through the bars. Maybe the sun warmed the stones and concrete for enough heat retention. Or maybe it was just his own adrenaline, his heart still racing.

He glanced over at Krycek, scrabbling at the iron bars like a cornered rat. His white tee shirt was streaked with sweat, a wide, wet line arrowing down between his shoulder blades. The guy was scared, really scared, which made him even more dangerous than usual.

Of all the people in the fucking world, he had to drag Alex Krycek out of the country with him to the backwoods of Russia, as his interpreter, no less. Bullwinkle hooking up with Boris. Only he couldn't imagine the moose doing anything quite so stupid. It was even tougher to come up with a reasonable excuse for himself, reason seemingly having little to do with much of his behavior where Krycek was concerned.

He stared again at the grim stone wall in front of his face. What exactly did they do to prisoners in a place like this? Somehow he didn't think that light exercise and a chance to catch up on his Dostoevsky was going to be on the agenda.

Torture. Krycek said they were going to torture them. He turned to look at the other man again. He had shifted into a sitting position against the opposite wall, legs pulled up, arms locked around his knees. His head was down, eyes fixed on the stone floor between them.

There seemed no point in standing, so Mulder sat down, too. The guy in the next cell, the one who so conveniently spoke English, didn't seem to be in a talking mood. In fact, it was very quiet. No. Somewhere, muffled by distance and walls, there was a faint sound like someone shouting. Or screaming?

He gazed across the gulf of ten feet at Krycek's huddled form, his mind echoing the other man's words.

Don't touch me again.

The emotions beneath the words had hit him like a spotlight, capturing him in a disturbing way he hadn't at all expected.

As it was, his own feelings for Krycek were so dark and so murky, he couldn't define them. And that annoyed the hell out of him. If it was only hatred, simple and unrefined, it would be easier. Much easier. He would've left Krycek chained in the car to rot. Or thrown him over to that cigarette smoking shithead and his cronies. Let his former masters deal with him with their usual extreme efficiency. Or he could have turned him over to Skinner. Done his proper duty and put the little bastard in custody. There was plenty enough to hold Krycek on suspicion, at the very least. Any of those options were far saner and more reasonable than the one he chose.

Krycek's body was rocking slightly back and forth. His face was pale. His teeth raked over his lips, once, twice. His eyes were hidden behind long, lowered lashes. The man was a mystery, as slippery and dark as the oilien creature that had once possessed him.

Mulder hated mysteries. There were too many in his life already.

They were both afraid. That was understandable. Thrown into a place like this, what man in his right mind wouldn't be? The anger wasn't surprising either. Krycek was daring him. He had the upper hand here. He spoke the language. Yet, it was not as much about that, about what might happen to either of them in this Russian dungeon as it was about what had always been happening between them. Their private little war. Their lives seemed to crisscross again and again as if by perverted, fated design, with personal motives and vast conspiracies binding them together in some kind of secret, Gordian knot.

Just looking at Krycek now, he felt the sudden urge to grab him and punch him in the face. Hit him again and again until he was bloody. Hold him down, make him... hurt. He drew in a quick breath, clenched and unclenched his fists. Tried to clear his head. It was ridiculous. He wasn't a violent man. There were no solutions in violence, no truth in vengeance. He knew that. What purpose, then, would it serve to beat up on Alex Krycek?

It would just feel very, very good, a small voice whispered from the shadows of his mind.

He stood up and walked across the cell. The dark head jerked up at his approach, catching and holding his stare. Clear green eyes looked back at him, glittering with fear and... expectation? Full lips parting, the pink tip of Krycek's tongue slid up against the edge of his teeth. Mulder felt a twist of nerves, a sliver of something like revulsion, in the pit of his stomach. Is he expecting me to hit him? Does he want me to?

Slowly, Mulder started to crouch down and saw the barest flinch, the sudden tensing in Krycek's shoulders, watched as Krycek let go of his knees, hands moving harmlessly to rest, palms flat, against the stone floor. Open, waiting.

Don't touch me again. So, even that was a lie.

Mulder leaned forward. A flicker of triumph gleamed in Krycek's eyes. You don't know me, thought Mulder with sudden intensity, moving closer. He tilted his head, his face brushing against Krycek's, his lips making contact with a cool cheek, the touch changing into a kiss, pausing.

In the few seconds that followed, Mulder became acutely aware of the sound of Krycek's stunned gasp, the feel of his too-soft skin dotted with new stubble, the quick rise and fall of his chest, the mingled scent of sweat and soap.

You weren't expecting this, were you? thought Mulder with quick satisfaction. He nuzzled the flesh beneath his lips, instantly amazed at the delicate circle of fire that danced around his mouth, just where it touched Krycek's skin.

It felt good.

Could anything be more bizarre?

The sensation heightened as Krycek's head turned, very slowly, never breaking the contact between them. Closer, closer, closer. Until the edge of Krycek's lips were brushing his. Until he felt Krycek's breath in his mouth.

The fire spread out over his skin, igniting through his lungs, his chest, his groin. He was kissing Krycek full on the mouth, tongue thrusting into moist warmth, hard and desperate. And Krycek was kissing him back. Small, husky noises rose and blended between them.

He sensed a tremor running through them both, though only their mouths touched. Strangely, it seemed as if their bodies were melting into each other.

Mulder's cock was getting hard.

Don't-don't-don't-don't. A small, insistent voice cried out from the back of his brain. Think!

He pushed himself away and stood, stumbling back a step. His hands were shaking. His whole body was trembling. What the hell? What the hell?!

"Mulder." The word was a raw whisper. He looked down into Krycek's face. His lips were parted and ripe, glistening from their kiss, his breathing ragged. Did his own face look like that? Was it that transparent, that hungry? Were his own eyes that... vulnerable?

He could fuck Alex Krycek. It was no revelation, merely a fact finally acknowledged, a piece of information some part of him had known since they'd met. He could rip the clothes off of him here and now, on the filthy stone floor of a cell in a Russian gulag, take his body any way he wanted, and Krycek would let him. He knew that, too.

Mulder took another step back. No. No. Whatever his mind or his body might tell him, he wasn't going to let it happen. He wasn't going to let himself want Alex Krycek. Never. His memories recoiled at the thought, fought against the need.

"Mulder. Please." Soft, seductive.

No. He wouldn't let it be true. It was unacceptable. He couldn't afford to lose that much of himself. Slowly, deliberately, he raised his arm and wiped the kiss away with the back of his hand. He willed himself to look at Krycek. "I don't need you here, or anywhere." And watched a fragile hope die away as the wall formed once again between them.

The cell seemed suddenly colder, darker. Better. He needed the cold now. He turned his back and walked to the furthest corner, sliding down against the wall, wrapping his arms around himself. He looked up at the barred window, at the fading light. In the shadows beneath the window, Krycek sat, unmoving...

Mulder opened his eyes, his mind snapping back to the present. He rubbed his face with his hands as if the action could somehow erase the memory once and for all. Too late. It seemed that Krycek would never let him forget. No. He would never forget.

Every choice is an exclusion. A professor at Oxford had told him that years ago. They had been discussing western religion and philosophy, Man's fall from grace and moral opposites flowing from binary opposites. The origin of and the dilemma posed by what you want to do versus what you should do. Crap that seemed like intellectual finger food to him at the time. Such was the arrogance of youth.

Well, what should he do? Check out Krycek's fantastic story about alien rebels and conspiracies to exterminate the human race? A short time ago, it might've been easy. Right up his spooky alley. But he wasn't the same man anymore. He knew too much, yet he was sure of nothing. What truths were lies, what lies were true? Curve balls were flying everywhere. He was only certain of one thing: that his single-minded crusade had almost cost Scully her life.

Scully. She'd stood by him through it all, even though she wouldn't, couldn't, believe.

Her friendship was his anchor in the world, his center of calm. In many ways, she had kept him sane. Ironically, she seemed more open now to extreme possiblities than he was. It was as if they had somehow traded places. Yet, instead of bringing them closer, it seemed to be pushing them further apart.

So why should he believe Alex Krycek, of all people? What was Krycek to him? He was everything Scully wasn't. He was unpredictability, danger, violence, treachery, and a minefield of emotions so passionate and intense that no logic could touch them.

If Scully was the quiet eye of the hurricane, its still and safe center, then Krycek was the storm.

Mulder rubbed at his face again and glanced at the piece of paper beside him on the couch. Wiekamp Airforce Base. Unconsciously, he brushed his fingertips lightly across his mouth. A person would have to have a hole in his head to be lured into anything by the likes of Alex Krycek.

His lips stretched into a slow, uneasy smile. Then, he began to laugh.

***

Krycek stared at the pay phone, a frown line creasing the bridge of his nose. His dealings with the Syndicate were taking on a bizarre new twist. That elegant, wily old bastard was going to try to persuade him to continue their alliance. He wondered what the old man could offer him. More importantly, what would the others have to say about it? He had the clear sense that there was more dissension within the group now than he had even imagined. The tolerance level on all sides seemed to be hitting bottom. Much as it delighted him to think of those devious powerbrokers finally going for each others' grizzled throats, it was also the worst possible time for it. Decades of their convoluted machinations had brought them all to this crisis. The alien infiltration was beginning. Options were fewer and turning very ugly. Everyone's life was on the line now.

If only Mulder had believed him. The man had the survival skills of a lemming. Ah, but that mind of his... truly a marvel to behold. Even with only scraps of the truth and despite setback after setback, Mulder still managed to keep going in the right direction. And, of course, he had Scully. They made a good team. A perfect team. Krycek choked back a familiar stab of envy, damning himself for the thoughts that always followed.

Yeah, he knew what it was like to be Mulder's partner, remembered what it was like to be around him every day, listening to him working out the puzzles, piece by piece, following his hunches with abandon when the facts were no where to be found. And he wondered for the umpteenth time if Mulder and Scully were lovers. If Mulder was in love with her. Well, what the hell difference should it make to him? Scully was a good-looking woman. Hell, he'd tumble her himself, if he had the chance. If he didn't have to listen to her at the same time.

Krycek squeezed his eyes shut. Can't you even stop lying to yourself? It wasn't Scully that interested him. Haunted him. Obsessed him.

He had imagined the scene too often: a safe place where he didn't have to look over his shoulder or check for exits. A place where he didn't even need a gun, where he could keep the lights on and the windows wide open. A big, soft bed with clean sheets. Dark satin sheets. Yeah. And there, sitting cross-legged and beautifully naked in the middle of it would be Mulder, grinning and cracking sunflower seeds, spitting shells out into his palm. Krycek imagined standing by that bed, reaching out slowly to caress the side of Mulder's face with the back of his hand, his own real left hand, and feeling the smooth warm skin against his own. Mulder would look at him then, and slowly his expression would change. The hazel eyes became troubled, and then angry.

Ah, don't worry Mulder, pretend it's just sex. It doesn't have to compromise your hatred for me.

Krycek opened his eyes, feeling the emptiness flowing into him again. Somehow, much as he tried, he could never imagine a place without the past in it.

The sound of coughing made him draw back as the old drunk from the bar weaved towards him. His face was red and mapped with broken veins, his eyes milky. The cough was like a death rattle. The stench of stale booze wrapped in a shroud of cigarette smoke encased the man as he shuffled by and went into the restroom.

God, how he detested the smell of cigarette smoke. It instantly reminded him of that conniving sonofabitch. Well, if nothing else, Krycek could say he'd learned the finer points of ruthlessness from a master. He only hoped he'd live long enough to return the favor. It galled him to think he would have to drag that bastard out of hiding... and keep him alive.

He walked backed to the bar, surreptitiously eyeing the other patrons and the entrance. He'd finish his beer and then he'd go.He pulled out one of the tall stools and sat down. He looked at his beer. "Bartender," he called. "I want a fresh one."

The barman glanced at his half-finished Heineken. "You're not gonna finish that?"

"No. Just give me another." He watched the barman's fuzzy eyebrows rise a notch before the man shrugged and took the half-full mug away. Bartenders were accustomed to oddballs, he supposed. Let the guy think he was some kind of compulsive. He was, after all. He had to be. He watched as the guy grabbed another glass from the shelf and poured a fresh beer from the tapped keg.

It tasted just as good as the first one. He sat for a few minutes, enjoying it and trying to think about nothing else. Simple pleasures, two words that rarely entered into his vocabulary anymore. He realized he couldn't afford the time for them. He finished the beer quickly, tossed a twenty on the bar counter and got up to leave.

"What about your change?" the bartender called after him.

"Keep it."

"Hey, thanks buddy, stop in again, okay. Next time, the beer's on the house."

Krycek looked over his shoulder at the bartender's smiling face. "Yeah, sure. Next time."

Outside, the wind had died down a little, but it was colder all the same. He thought about Mulder, sitting in his apartment with a gun uncomfortably in his hand and a little piece of paper on the floor. Be open to extreme possibilities. Wasn't that part of Mulder's credo? A small smile touched Krycek's lips, one that actually made it to his eyes. He pulled the collar up on his leather jacket and walked out into the night.


~ End of Part I ~


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