Alex Krycek gave the corpse crumpled in front of him a solid kick to the groin, but the offender was past caring. A pity, that, because the predicament the geezer had gotten him into certainly called for an emphatic demonstration of displeasure. Alex had done this a dozen times and had grown used to people doing the decent thing, dying a drawn-out and horrible death quietly and without fuss. Who the hell had arteries practically on top of their windpipe? And besides, hadn't anybody told the guy that old men were supposed to have crusted-over arteries through which blood cells squeezed by turning sideways and sucking their stomach in, nicely complemented by feeble, fluttery hearts with little or no spraying power?
Not this one - no, he had to be special. Not only had he been some kind of mutant, but he'd sprayed like a fucking fountain, entirely missing the handy plastic sheet laid out on the floor for his convenience and instead decorating the tasseled velvet monstrosities framing the window with irregular splatters of ruby on aged ivory. Fat spatters clustered at chest-level on the left-hand curtain, thinning out picturesquely where they swerved to the right, crossing over to the companion drapery where they were nicely complemented by a fine spray of blood that Alex would have sworn was impossible to achieve by means of a common hunting knife.
If pressed, Alex would have conceded that from a purely aesthetic standpoint, the embellishment was an improvement - if only because *any* change was bound to be one to the better. Unfortunately, leaving half the blood that used to circulate in the client's veins spread out in decorative polka-dots over said client's draperies did tend to raise questions. Inconvenient questions, considering the requester of this hit had specified a discreet disappearance.
Inconvenient questions such as "where the hell is that incompetent fuck-up that calls himself an assassin and how soon can we show him how it's supposed to be done?"
"Okay, handsome," Alex told himself encouragingly, kneeling next to his sprawled victim and quickly bundling him into an easy-to-carry package neatly wrapped in the plastic sheet. "This is merely a minor setback. Control your destiny by taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions."
He dragged a heavy mahogany chair to the window and climbed on it, fumbling with folds of velvet and curtain rings and finally succeeding in detaching the fabric from the rod without tearing down anything important. He considered this a major success. Hell, considering that he' d never so much as looked at the system involved in hanging curtains at close range before, it was to be considered nothing less than a triumph of the technical skills he'd honed to a fine edge through years of intensive weapons training.
The curtains were clean - apart from the blood, of course - and did not exude so much as the smallest of dust-clouds when handled. Fortunate indeed. Not only was Alex allergic to dust, but he was also well-acquainted with the pain-in-the-assedness of having to gently age or dirty clean clothes or other costume elements.
Having taken note of the way the draperies were folded and arranged on the rod, Alex constructed a second bundle out of the ill-fated curtains, taking care not to spread the stains to the carpet.
"Oh well," he sighed. "Looks like an evening at the mall for you, Alyosha-love."
The first fabric was too pale. The second one was too dark. The third one had godawful little stripes, and the fourth one was the right color, but completely wrong in terms of consistency, or whatever that was called when one was talking about curtains. Alex was sure he didn't want to know. *Fuck* that old bastard and his arteries.
"Can I help you, sir?"
Alex considered killing the sales assistant to lighten his mood, but decided that the way his luck was going tonight, she'd find the correct curtains for him by spilling her blood all over them, and there'd be no other suitable pair anywhere within a fifty-mile-radius.
"No," he gritted instead.
"Are you certain? Perhaps if you'd just tell me what you're looking for? Or perhaps it would be helpful if I suggested some fitting hangings - many customers, particularly men as I've observed, have a hard time choosing. Often it's helpful to -"
"No *thank you*," Alex said with murderous emphasis. His threatening glare failed to make an impression, reflected by the sales assistant's water-proof facade of artificial cheer.
The bottle-blonde hovered, her solid helmet of hair bobbing in his peripheral vision as he dug through yet another rack of draperies only an ancient relic with no taste, an assassin saddled with clients with spewing arteries, or possibly a particularly morbid vampire would want to own.
The door-chime jingled and the sales-woman turned, her plastic smile awful to behold.
"*Now* will you tell me why you dragged me all the way out here?" a too-familiar voice inquired in tones of none-too-patient long-suffering.
In a move so smooth Sergejev would have been envious, Alex stepped forward, pivoted into the swathes of fabric, and whisked an atrocity in forest green around himself.
The saleswoman was definitely on the Things To Do list.
"Scully, these cases have nothing in common except for one thing - every single case of lycanthropy has taken place in a room that was fitted out with curtains bought in this store at some point within the last two months. "
"Mulder, contrary to what you seem to believe, lycanthropy is a well-documented clinical disorder involving the irrational, but entirely subjective belief of the afflicted that they turn into a wolf at certain times. This is merely a pathological reaction to the negative perception of one's own animal, or baser, urges and is in no way connected with any of the physical changes that have taken place in this particular case, which, as I have repeatedly pointed out to you, have nothing to do with lycanthropy at all. In all cases, we are dealing with what I must at this point speculate was hormonally induced, abnormally rapid growth of the hair and fingernails, coupled with extreme sensitivity to light, also known as -"
"That is beside the point, Scully!"
"And the point would be...?"
"The point *is* that -"
"I'm allergic," Alex confided in a low voice, completely inaudible beneath Mulder's rising diatribe. "I have to test this thing for allergens before I buy it. Don't mind me. I'll be sure to call you if I have questions."
"We have a perfectly good spray for that!" The sales assistant seemed scandalized he'd suggested allergens might be lurking in her drapes - as though the mere sight of them weren't enough to make anyone but the pathologically taste-impaired break out in hives.
Across the store, Mulder wheeled around, face aglow with enthusiasm. Alex caught the merest glimpse and felt his mouth go dry even as he buried himself deeper in velvet. "Of course! Artificially induced lycanthropy - brought on by a chemical compound disguised as, say, a spray for preventing allergies."
God, the man was a complete nut. Alex couldn't help but admire a mind that twisted. A butt that tight certainly wasn't to be sneered at, either.
"Mulder." To judge by her tone of voice, Scully didn't share Alex's reverence for the more peculiar aspects of her partner's psyche. Hard to judge what she thought about the man's derriere - she'd always possessed an enviable air of complete imperviousness to lust.
"Scully," Mulder shot back, apparently trying for an approximate note of exasperated reason, but ending up dangerously close to pleading instead. "Let's just have a look. Here, uhm, Miss - give me one of those cans of anti-allergic spray, please."
"I most certainly will not -"
"Look, we're with the FBI, all right? Now hand over that can - it's evidence. And by the way, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."
"Geez, Scully. Where's your sense of drama?" Mulder had obviously hated the saleswoman on sight. A man of taste.
There was movement to Alex's right. He withdrew even further into swathes of fabric, coming up against steel rods and what felt like bales of fabric to his questing hand. He breathed through his mouth, trying manfully to ignore the itch in his sinuses and the foreboding rasp in his lungs.
Mulder gasped. Very briefly, there was silence. Then, his voice lashed out without a trace of the usual bored-sounding drawl. "Stop that poodle!"
The sharp clacking of sensible pumps on linoleum warned Alex that things were happening, even though he had withdrawn into the curtains as far as he could and could see nothing except kidney-shaped swirls on burgundy.
Nothing in Alex's experience could translate as quickly into action as the minute sound of a gun being cocked. The quiet snick had barely registered in his consciousness when Alex had his own weapon in hand. The curtains around him shifted and settled as though stirred by a breeze, the disturbance slight enough to go unnoticed by all but a close observer.
"Mulder, what are you doing? It's just a dog!"
"Don't argue, just get it, Scully!"
A yipping with a definite hysterical note sounded far too close to Alex and his protective coverings were disturbed once again as claws scraped by not two feet from his hiding place. A gap in the drapes revealed a flash of curly tan hair as a poodle the size of a German Shepherd shot past, Scully in hot pursuit.
Alex had time for an idle thought of how nice Scully would look in a black negligee and an equally idle, automatic calculation of her velocity, his limited field of vision and the necessary vector for a shot before a crash sounded next to his curtain and he was smothered in a sudden weight of lace, aluminum rods, and FBI agent.
The instinctive attempt to pull his concealing fabric cocoon closed was hampered by Mulder's weight. It was a senseless measure, anyway. Mulder was digging through layers of chintz, velvet and lace with grim determination, clearly fancying himself on the cusp of a breakthrough in the matter of whatever weirdness he'd gone poking his nose into now.
Royal blue fabric fringed with yellow tassels was yanked aside to reveal the slightly flushed face of Mulder, eyes alight with the joy of the uncanny, hair mussed and sticking up in tufts. Alex had the pleasure of witnessing a second of sheer surprise on the expressive face, rendering it rather fetchingly wide-eyed.
"What's the matter, am I not furry enough for you?" growled Alex, sliding to the side and dumping Mulder off in order to protect himself from collecting strategically placed knees. Mulder's combat skills were sporadic, but when he did fight, he fought dirty. His technique was better when he wasn't out for blood, but considering that he was also completely ineffective at those times, there was much to be said for the berserker fighting style.
Disgust, anger, and yes, definitely berserker mode clawing up from wherever it was he stowed all that pain and hate and rage when he was trying to lay claim to some semblance of normality.
Alex twisted to get his feet under his body, kicking Mulder's gun hand up as he did so. The gun obligingly went flying half-way across the store. Mulder never could hang on to his weapons.
"Why do you have to be such a klutz, Mulder?" Alex panted, wrestling the agent for possession of his own gun.
"Why do you have to be such a treacherous, low-life, scum-sucking, slimy piece of shit, Krycek?" Mulder snarled.
"Hissy fit," Alex retaliated breathlessly.
"Listen to the FBI agent -" Alex almost poked Mulder in the eye when the man slipped on a length of synthetic lace and crashed down on top of him again. He barely tore his hand aside in time. "- so mature - a real role model - "
"You're behind this, aren't you? Who are you working for now, Krycek? Is this all a plan to -"
Alex hooked a leg behind Mulder's knee, got an elbow on the ground - onto a reasonably firm bale of fabric, at any rate - and managed to flip both of them over, ending up on top of Mulder. A length of lace had wound itself around Mulder's leg and torso and across Krycek's shoulders, constricting his left arm. Fortunately, Mulder's right hand was also tangled in the fabric.
Mulder's bellow trailed off into a wheeze as Krycek drove a fist into his diaphragm, not hard enough to bruise, but hard enough to drive the air from Mulder's lungs and prevent him from calling in the cavalry. Hopefully, apprehending the fleeing poodle would keep Scully busy for a couple of minutes. Even if she did return ahead of schedule, she wouldn't risk any hasty moves with her partner pinned beneath Evil Arch-Enemy Alex Krycek in person. Or so the evil arch-enemy hoped. Not if he was holding a gun to Mulder's temple... The way he was doing right about now, say.
Mulder grew still beneath Alex and contented himself with murderous glances and one more, clearly token attempt to throw Alex off that was quickly abandoned when Alex slipped the safety off the gun. Good thing he hadn't done that earlier, what with all of the rolling in the draperies. Alex knew his man, all right - the instant Mulder had appeared on the plan, he'd made a mental note not to flip the safety one second earlier than he had to. You never knew where Mulder would manage to throw loaded hand-guns.
"Klutz really isn't the word," Alex jeered, smirking with satisfaction at the furious glare the taunt got him.
This looked like a good moment to take a second or two to rethink his tactics, if not his entire strategy. Inconspicuously walking out of this particular store with a nicely wrapped-up set of curtains to replace the ones in his late client's office did not look to be in the stars. Searching through the stock with an enraged Mulder held at gunpoint while Scully chased a sales assistant and her hysterical poodle through the back rooms was not a prospect to gladden Alex's cool heart... or any other part of his anatomy, though Mulder's wriggle had gone a little way towards making at least one bit of Alex more content with his present lot. Under different circumstances, Alex wouldn't have minded lying full-length on top of his favorite FBI agent - especially when the agent in question was trussed up and attractively flushed - but at this particular moment in time, he was less than enchanted.
"This day just keeps getting more fucked-up," Alex told the tousled man pinned beneath him. "You can be such a fucking asshole, Fox. All I wanted was to buy some fucking curtains!"
"And I'm sure your plans for picking out wallpaper afterwards were all set," Mulder spat venomously. "How stupid do you think I am?"
There was no good answer for that one, so Alex let it go. Mulder could be astonishingly stupid and then turn around and display an equally astonishing and enormously inconvenient brilliance. In this instance, it was perhaps better that Mulder continue to think Alex was mixed up in the case of curtain-induced lycanthropy - it would prevent him from sniffing around for other reasons an assassin might have for turning up in a drapery store. With luck, it would be months before the disappearance of one prominent senior citizen became cause for speculation, and if Mulder filed Krycek's involvement away under some lunatic X-file-ish category, he might never connect his run-in with an old enemy to a common missing persons case.
But first things first.
He could take Mulder hostage in order to get out of the shopping mall... which would effectively prevent him from returning to the scene of his as yet uncompleted crime and thus spell major bad news. He hadn't found a fitting pair of curtains yet, which meant he was screwed. Say that he did manage to get away clean before the police, the FBI, half the nation's TV and radio stations and God only knew who else converged, and say that he did manage to drop Mulder off somewhere before either of them was abducted by aliens, concussed by flying guns or mauled by werewolves... Even then he'd be toast because rich old men did not usually choose to go on trips in the company of their favorite pair of drapes, which was something even the police would probably realize.
He could shoot Mulder, which would have Scully on his back in two seconds flat. Even if he managed to shoot her, as well, this would draw a lot of attention and would prevent him from returning to the scene of his previous and still uncompleted crime with the curtains he hadn't found yet anyway, and so forth and so on.
And if he were to be honest with himself, he was loath to shoot a man with such a twisted mind and such a nice butt, especially seeing as the package came with such a lovely line in indignant heaving of chest and defiant wriggling. A man would have to be quite sure it was absolutely necessary in order to snuff such an interesting specimen.
Of course he could also give up, let himself be beaten, verbally abused, carted halfway around the world in handcuffs while Mulder chased werewolves, vampires and God only knew what else, and eventually arrested... Which would inevitably lead to the ignominious end of being assassinated in the holding cell. To add insult to injury, the job would as likely as not be assigned to some jumped-up, no-talent, spaced-out punk straight off the streets who wouldn't dare to give a real pro like Alex the funny eye unless the pro in question was under lock and key. Strange how that option didn't appeal, either.
"Guess I'll have to beat you unconscious," Alex told Mulder moodily. Damn it - you had to be careful how you handled yourself on business time. Littering your path with stolen vehicles, burning crime scenes, dead witnesses and unconscious law enforcement personnel would ensure that you would forever be classed with the cheap thugs. It had taken Alex long enough to work his way out of that payment bracket. He didn't want to backslide.
"Don't put yourself out on my account," Mulder shot back, demonstrating once again his amazing inability to keep his mouth shut, no matter what the circumstances.
Think now, handsome, Alex admonished himself silently. How to find the perfect curtains and get rid of Mulder within the next minute or so... Curtains. Mulder. Alex smirked as a beautiful plan popped into his head full-grown.
Mulder's eyes widened as Alex leaned closer, but he didn't attempt to turn his face away or do what any sensible person would have done, namely seize the moment to regain the upper hand.
This had worked beautifully the last time Alex had tried it, and what would you know, Mulder had not bought a clue yet. He still froze like a rabbit in the headlights when Alex brushed a light kiss on his cheek. Alex could practically hear an inferno of confused thought kicking up next to his ear.
"Best quality heavy velvet," Alex murmured into Mulder's hair, taking care to brush it with his lips. "Old ivory with a yellowish tinge, short fringe, a matching pair sized for a king-sized picture window. The kind you hang up on rods with lacy white curtains and then tie back with sashes."
He drew back to study Mulder's expression - shock combined with disbelief. A good beginning, but they weren't quite there yet.
This time when Alex leaned in, Mulder turned his head at the last second, opening his mouth as if to protest. Yeah, right, Mulder, you're really putting up a struggle.
He'd originally intended this kiss to be as light and fleeting as the first one, but Alex decided to improvise. After all, if he'd wanted to escape Alex's attentions, Mulder had turned his head the wrong way.
Mulder's mouth opened readily to the pressure of Alex's lips and tongue. At first Alex was wary of being bitten, but when Mulder offered nothing but stunned passivity in response to his teasing advances, he grew bolder and took the opportunity to explore. Very nice - so this was what Mulder tasted like, what he felt like - warm, drugging, everything sensuous and inviting...
A surge of unpremeditated greed caught Alex off guard and he pressed closer, thrusting his tongue deeply into Mulder's mouth, stroking the sensitive palate and seeking out Mulder's tongue, putting all of his not inconsiderable skill into enticing a response from the other man. When he drew back after longer than was entirely advisable, Mulder's tongue darted out to tangle with his in a hasty, confused caress; Mulder's teeth and lips closed just in time to gently catch and nibble Alex's lower lip.
Alex had to clear his throat before he could speak.
Mulder blinked, eyes huge and shell-shocked in the too-impassive face. "Second shelf from the bottom, third rack to the left of the counter."
The wonders of a photographic memory and an overactive mind that never categorized any information as unimportant.
Alex smiled and flipped the safety back onto the gun before tucking it into his shoulder holster. In this state, Mulder was just as harmless as if Alex had gone with his original plan and beaten him unconscious. This method was more enjoyable for all parties concerned, though, not to mention far more elegant.
"Quidquid latet adparebit, nil inultum remanebit," he said huskily. It was the first sufficiently confusing and impressive thing that popped into his mind, and he needed to throw Mulder's mind something that would keep it busy for a while, much as he would throw a bone to a guard dog.
Attention to detail, that was what had brought him so far on a market overrun by competition - a competition willing to work for a much lower price, for the most part. When it came down to it, there was no substitute for quality.
Second shelf from the bottom on the third rack to the left of the counter. Bingo - old ivory velvet with tassels, neatly wrapped in plastic and wedged between be-tasseled wheatgerm-yellow and dusky rose. Alex helped himself both to the curtains and a large plastic bag from beneath the counter. As a finishing touch to his Mulder stratagem, he then retrieved Mulder's gun from the corner it had ended up in together with a selection of cotton drapes adorned with flowers, strawberries, smiley faces and other appallingly cheerful patterns.
Mulder took the proffered weapon gingerly, holding it as though it might explode if handled too roughly. Alex stared deep into Mulder's eyes while he backed to the door, clutching the bag with his curtains to his chest like a long-lost treasure and keeping his favorite enemy's trigger finger in sight just in case.
Frenzied yapping announced Scully's impending return. The door to the back room swung open and Alex sped up his retreat, escaping into the corridor just in time. He caught the briefest glimpse of glossy red hair and white knuckles as Scully dragged in an indignant poodle with a bleached and completely unmistakable pouf of hair crowning its head.
Judging from the gust of air she let out immediately after catching sight of her partner, Scully was not inclined to be patient with any more of Mulder's foibles. Even though Alex was by now some distance away from the drapery store and accelerating, he could hear her clearly. "Mulder, *what* in the name of all that's holy are you *doing* with those drapes?"
Alex allowed himself a small, pleased smile. This was what he called a job well done. He had his curtains, Mulder would not be capable of speech that anyone but he himself would consider coherent for at least half an hour, and the shop assistant had had the misfortune to expose herself as a were-poodle in the presence of Spooky Mulder, meaning that she would not know another moment of peace and would quite probably be kidnapped by aliens in the near future.
And maybe Alex would reward himself for his good work by luring Mulder to a conveniently off-track location, perhaps by means of a tantalizing fragment of information... Considering the throbbing he'd felt against his thigh when he'd levered himself off old Spooky, it might prove an interesting encounter.
Just another day in the life of Alex Krycek, assassin extraordinaire. Time to go hang some curtains.