'Out of order'. Oh, joy. Today of all days.
Kim Cook was exhausted, and her feet were in pain. She stared at the note taped to the elevator doors and swore.
She was home late. She'd stayed longer than she'd meant with her boss at the hospital--stayed until he slept, to make sure he wouldn't get up with his broken ribs and concussion and discharge himself the moment she was out the door. Then she went back to the office to finish all the work she'd left undone when she heard about the attack on Skinner.
And besides all that, learning about the attack and the perpetrator had made unwelcome memories come back, guilt and resentment all over again. Kim wasn't a person who liked to dwell on her past mistakes. To be reminded of them like this upset her.
With a crabby sigh, she kicked off her shoes and started walking in her pantyhose, shoes in hand, up the five flights of stairs to her apartment. She met a downstairs neighbour and managed a smile and a nod in greeting.
"One of those days?" enquired the woman with a sympathetic grin.
"One of those," she agreed, shuffling on.
She'd missed her evening class tonight, too. Second week running. Skinner had asked her to work overtime last week and she was kind of embarrassed about her little self- improvement project, so she'd said okay. She'd never hesitated at taking on overtime and thought it might elicit questions if she suddenly started saying no. Strange, to feel so shy of her boss. Skinner was decency personified and it wasn't like she thought he'd ever make fun of her for something like that, but...
The fifth floor hallway was dark--both light bulbs were out. She hesitated as she walked in, suddenly touched by a premonition. Her door was at the far end of the corridor. She picked her way slowly in the shadows.
She'd almost reached the door, rooting around in her pocket for her keys, when something separated itself from the murky density at the end of the corridor and spoke to her.
"Working overtime, Kim?"
Choking a cry down to a squeak, she stared at the man with dark unkempt hair hanging down in his eyes; dark green eyes whose intensity was offset by thick, childlike lashes. He was pointing a gun at her.
"Agent Krycek." She checked herself, because of course that title hadn't been correct for a long time, and substituted in confusion, "Krycek."
"How 'bout Alex? he muttered. "That's what you called me once, wasn't it?"
Yes, she thought bitterly, once and never again.
"Are you gonna ask me in?" His voice was a sardonic rasp, a sinister variation on the well-modulated huskiness that had made her go weak in the knees last summer. Looking at him, hearing him, she could barely believe that it was the same man.
She stared at his gun. "That's kind of a moot point, isn't it?"
He smiled but his eyes were like dull stones. "Then what are we waiting for?"
When she tried to unlock the door, her hands shook so badly she couldn't insert the key. So much for her tough facade. He stood right behind her, and he reached one arm around her and steadied her hand with his own. Terror and a sickened, sticky warmth ran down her spine at his touch. She remembered--God, she remembered-
--Swaying and turning in a slow waltz, held close while his eyes (shiny then, bright olivine gems) held her, invaded her, then evaded her--
But the key turned and he let go and stepped aside, leaving her to push the door open. She walked into her entrance hallway and he followed close at heel. She heard the door close, heard the lock engage and instinctively turned around to avoid having him at her back. Her heart was suddenly hammering so painfully she couldn't think, couldn't feel anything besides primal, physical, mortal fear. She was shaking, nauseous and giddy and unconsciously glancing around her for a place to run and hide.
She flashed to Skinner at the hospital, battered and bruised and in pain after a vicious attack from this man. He'd dictated his report on the attack to her, suggesting that Krycek might also be responsible for the death of Mulder's father, who'd been buried this week--responsible for Melissa Scully, who even now was fighting for her life in a hospital bed--
"Stop that!" His voice came like an explosion of anger and she backed away a few stumbling steps, gasping aloud as she came up against the living room door. He closed the distance between them in one long stride and she drew breath to cry out. Immediately a hand closed hard over her mouth, and she stared at him, terrorized.
Krycek's eyes shot fire at her. "Don't look at me like that. Just fucking don't!"
She squeezed her eyes shut to escape his temper, and heard him draw a deep, agitated breath. He must have realized his actions were at odds with his words, because when he spoke again, his voice was comparatively calm. "You're in no danger, understand? I'm not going to harm you, Kim. I just need a place to clean up and stay for a couple of hours. Everyone's looking for me, and I mean everyone. This was the best place I could think of to go." He paused, then added, "Hey, open your eyes so I know you got that."
She obeyed, and cautiously, gauging her reaction second by second, he moved his hand away from her mouth.
Her gaze darted warily to his right hand, which was holding the gun to her even now, and he closed his own eyes for a second. "It's just a prop," he muttered. He lowered the gun and looked at her again, with a hard, calm appeal. "I'm not going to hurt you, because you're going to be good, aren't you Kim?"
She nodded and swallowed heavily, feeling that every cell in her body fiercely wanted only to live. Everything else was immaterial. She was going to be good. She wasn't foolish.
--A bright-eyed agent kissing her good-bye outside this apartment block, a balmy August night... Intoxicated by too much drink and too much hope and his warmth and his kiss and wanting more, she asked him inside and nearly cried when he turned her down--foolish, so foolish--
He took off his jacket with a grimace and a choked sound of pain. "Switch on the light," he commanded.
She did, and gasped when she turned to look at him. Her shoes fell from her hands. "What happened?" she asked curiously, taking in the bruises on his soiled face and hands; his jeans with bloodied knees visible through ripped denim. The white T-shirt was bloody and torn too, and as dirty as could be. Despite herself, despite all reason, she felt a moment of sympathy. He looked a bit like a little boy who'd taken a nose-dive from his new bike.
"Shit happened," he answered curtly. "The big bang, and I was too fucking near the middle of it. I need a shower." He dropped his sports bag to the floor, pulling its zipper open. "And a change."
Kim watched as he found a change of clothes in the bag. The clothes were new, price tags still on them, something he must have bought in a hurry.
"Why don't you make yourself a little more comfortable?" he asked without looking at her as he zipped the bag shut. "Because you're coming into the bathroom with me."
"I beg your pardon?" she asked, her cheeks coloring.
His gaze fastened on her as he straightened up. His face was blank and expressionless. "Take off your jacket," he suggested politely, "unless you want it steamed while you're wearing it."
Relief made her go limp. He saw it, and smiled that hard unamused smile again. "Oh," he said in epiphany. "Well, you can join me in the shower if you want to. Tend my battle wounds or whatever."
At his joking tone, sudden defiance shot through her. She felt all the anger rise in her again, all the crossness accumulated over a particularly shitty day. "You know, I resent this," she said fiercely. "I know you don't give a shit but I want it taken down that I resent it like hell."
"Mm hm. Just for the record, huh?" This time, he did sound amused. He kicked off his boots and looked at her. "Bathroom--which way?" he asked.
She pointed out the bathroom door to him, her eyes stormy with disapproval.
"Come on." He threw her a glance over his shoulder as he walked over there and opened the door. He waited for her. "You know, I could wave this big gun around but I don't really see the point," he said, sounding mildly exasperated now.
She had no illusion about getting out of this through a physical struggle. Krycek seemed to have lost weight over the months since she had been on that one date with him, but he still must be half again her body mass. And he undoubtedly packed more meanness in his pinkie finger than she did in her entire self. She flung off her jacket and marched into the bathroom.
"You look like Mary Poppins when you're angry," he said behind her, and she could tell that he was goading her. "Or Julie Andrews, you know, whatever."
"Well, you look like a half starved sewer rat!" she fired back, stung by his taunt.
He grunted with laughter. She turned and saw him putting the gun down on the floor just outside the bathroom door. He closed the door, turned the key and reached to deposit it on the shelf in the shower. Stretching must be painful for him. This time, his grunt was of discomfort, and his movements were careful as he started pulling off his T-shirt. "Don't try anything," he warned from inside the T-shirt. "I could snap your neck in half a sec. Without even looking."
"I won't... try anything," she said, the casual threat sending a new icy heaviness to her stomach, extinguishing her flare of temper. She stood back in the corner, wishing her bathroom had been bigger. Or that Alex Krycek had been smaller. He stood so near she could have touched him without fully extending her arm; so near she could smell him--blood and sweat and fear and anger radiating off his large frame. And gasoline. He smelled like fire.
His T-shirt fell discarded on the floor. His chest was bleeding where a scab had followed the shirt off his body. His ribs were bruised blue. He pressed his fingers to them stoically, only narrowing his eyes at the pain.
"Damn," he said. "This proves it. Man isn't meant to fly."
"I bet they aren't anywhere near as bad as Skinner's." It just sort of slipped out, more snide than she had intended. But he took no offense, just shrugged.
"I guess not. You think I had it coming, huh?"
She couldn't find her voice, because now he was unbuckling his belt, unbuttoning the fly in his jeans. She caught a glimpse of white cotton underneath and her gaze flew up to his face. He looked resigned more than anything.
"Jesus, relax. I'm not going to jump you. Pretty though you are," he said, the addendum not really sounding flirtatious- -matter-of-fact, instead.
She felt flushed. In escape, her gaze drifted sideways from his face and fastened on her reflection in the mirror. Blue eyes stared back at her, large with apprehension. Her red- blond hair hung limp around her face because she'd taken out the barrette after it started giving her a headache earlier in the evening. She looked weary and scared, not pretty. Maybe he had meant it as sarcasm. But she guessed she must be some sort of pretty, anyway. A few men had told her so-- even Skinner, one night when she'd been all aglow with anticipation because she was going on a date after work. A date, as it so happened, with Alex Krycek.
Bright color caught her eye in the mirror. There was a gash of about a hand's breadth on his left shoulder blade. It was slowly seeping blood.
He pulled off his briefs and jeans in one move, stepping naked out of them and into the bathtub. He didn't draw the shower curtain closed. His battered body was heavy-boned and hard-muscled and if he was embarrassed, he hid it well.
Kim was embarrassed, though. In the mirror she saw her cheeks go from flushed to pale and back again. His nakedness felt like a threat on more than one level.
"Pardon the affront to your modesty," he muttered, as he turned the shower on. "I've just gotta keep an eye on you, you know? Wouldn't want you to get any ideas about re- enacting the Psycho shower scene from a feminist point of view. Sit down. Sit *down*. Fucking *please*?"
Weakly, she took a step to the side and sank down on the closed toilet lid. Krycek took her bottle of shower gel and squeezed some into his hand. She looked at the closed drawers in her bathroom dresser, trying to think if she had anything in there that was instantly lethal. Preferably something that made people die in throes of excruciating agony.
"Uh-uh. Keep your eyes on me," he snapped, eyes suddenly blazing at her while he kept lathering himself with soap. "I've had a crap week, get it? I guarantee that you don't want to get into a situation with me. I said I wouldn't hurt you unless you gave me reason to, and I mean it."
That man could be convincing. And apparently, he was psychic. She stared at him, trying to keep her gaze vacant. The steam dispensed a sweet fragrance of lavender all over the room. Hot damp air made her shirt and pantyhose start to cling to her skin. She wished she weren't wearing hose. She wished she'd had the jacket after all. She thought of Krycek dancing with her. She thought of Skinner's taped ribs. She thought of Krycek kissing her. She thought of Scully's sister.
He was sporting a growing erection. He washed himself unceremoniously. He only met her gaze once, intently askance under his lashes, but by then he was gently cleansing his grazed knees. He rinsed off the soap, washed his hair quickly with the shower gel, and asked for a towel.
"They're in the bedroom."
"I'll use yours." He nodded to the towel hanging on the rack, and she pulled it down and gave it to him. She didn't look away while he toweled himself dry, determined not to elicit a new humiliating reprimand. She looked at his chest- -as close to neutral middle ground as she could get.
He stepped out of the bathtub and pulled on the boxers that lay on the top of his heap of new clothes. He looked down at his knees. "You got some band-aids? And something to put on my shoulder."
She reached for a drawer, but an impatient hand caught her wrist. "Just tell me where it is," he suggested firmly.
She looked up at him, into his wary eyes and her stomach dropped. Her wrist felt branded by his touch. She felt sticky and sweaty and she was very aware that he was stronger than her and very close and visibly turned on. And there was more there. He looked like he was drunk sick on power. He looked like he wanted to cry. He looked like he hurt so bad he wanted to hurt someone in turn.
"Upper drawer," she croaked. She could hardly even swallow, her throat was so dry.
He licked his lower lip, looking at her with those guarded gleaming eyes for a second before reaching out with his other hand and pulling the drawer open. He found the box of band-aids, a roll of gauze and surgical tape, and glanced back at her.
"Okay, let's move the show to the kitchen."
He retrieved the key from the shelf, picked up the rest of his clothes and unlocked the door. He bent to pick up the gun in a fluid motion and waited for her outside. With an ironic flourish of one hand he beckoned her before him. "Après vous, Miss Poppins."
(She remembered calling him from her office after a week of warm smiles and general pleasantries between them. They'd met for ten seconds at the elevators down in the entrance hall, he going down to the basement office, she on her way up after a lunch break out of the building. She'd seen Agent Mulder cross the street as she came back. She knew Krycek was alone down there, and called him in a moment of impulsive courage.
"Agent Krycek speaking."
At the sound of that sensual voice without the friendly smile to accompany it, her stomach twisted into a knot and her brain froze. He sounded preoccupied.
"Um, hello." She gripped a pen on her desk and fidgeted with it nervously. Just a phone call. She handled dozens of them with aplomb each day, dammit. "Um, it's me. Kimberly Cook."
"Hello there." He was carefully polite. It occurred to her he might not remember her name.
"Um, Kim. A.D. Skinner's assistant?" she clarified, her face heating up.
"I remember," he said patiently, "seeing as we spoke five minutes ago."
"Um...right. Hello." She took a deep breath. "I thought that we maybe... that you maybe..."
"Yes?" he said, unhelpfully. Was there a smile in his voice? She got the notion he might be rolling his eyes. She was sweating.
"That if you're free tonight, that you maybe want... that you maybe would like to... um..." She cleared her voice. It was the sound of despair. She hoped he didn't notice but she thought he probably did. There was laughter creeping into his voice now.
"That I maybe want... maybe would like to... um? I don't generally *um* on a worknight--"
She slammed the receiver down on the hook, her heart racing as she swore under her breath. "Bastard! Piece of shit!"
Ten seconds later, her phone rang. She took it, checking the number. It was from the X-files office.
"Kim Cook, A.D. Skinner's office." Her voice was wary.
"Um... it's me. Agent Krycek. Um... you know, Agent Mulder's partner?"
She made an abortive sound between rage and amusement. "Yes?"
"Um...I thought... I thought that we maybe... that you perhaps would like to...um...."
Her breath came out in a half-outraged whoosh of laughter. "You asshole!"
He laughed too. "That's too kind. Really," he admitted.
A minute later, she had a date with Agent Krycek for the evening.)
In the kitchen, she located the scissors while he put wide band-aids on the grazes on his knees. He dressed the scrape on his chest with gauze and surgical tape, then put rubbing alcohol on his hands, a low stream of profanities coming from his lips as the liquid burned his cuts. He pulled on his jeans and craned his neck to look behind him. "How's my shoulder look?"
"A shallow gash," she said. "Four inches."
He cut up gauze and handed it to her with the roll of tape. "Put this on."
Hesitantly, she took it. "You should put on the rubbing alcohol first."
"You're just itching to hurt me, aren't you?" He handed her the bottle and another piece of gauze, but froze as he looked over at the answering machine on the kitchen counter. "You've got a message."
"I'll put it on later," she replied, loath to let him violate her privacy more than he had already done.
"I want to hear it. It might be from Skinner."
"Then by all means turn it on," she snapped. She put rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and pressed it hard to his gash.
"Mary Poppins," he hissed. "Bitch."
Somehow, the pain in his voice gave her no satisfaction. The touch of his hot skin was like a caress to her fingertips. She relented and swiped the cotton ball gently the length of the gash, then put it away. He leaned forward and pressed Rewind, then the Play button.
"Hiyah Kim. Long time no see."
"Hi Rob," she replied automatically to her little brother.
"I'll be in town next weekend. You want to meet up, go to a concert, have a beer?"
"I'll call you when I get there. Bye."
Krycek pressed the Stop button. He looked over his shoulder, inscrutable. "You talk to your answering machine."
She blushed. "So?"
"Nothing." He pressed Play again. Another message came on.
"Hi Kim." It was her sister. "Lizzie wanted to call and ask you something."
Lizzie's thin and lispy three-year-old's voice came on. "Auntie Kim, do angels' feet show when they fly? Mom doesn't know."
"Tough one." She narrowed her eyes. "Stand still," she muttered to Krycek, who was looking at her again, his face grave and expectant as if he'd been wondering about that exact same theological question, and couldn't wait to hear the oracle's answer.
"Because I'm painting one and I need to know. Call me when you find out, okay? Bye."
"Okay, sweetie. Bye." She looked back up at Krycek, whose savage face was gentle now, his eyes closed as her fingers tended to his injured shoulder blade. She felt a strange shiver run down her spine. She had a sudden crazed impulse to kiss him there, but didn't. Of course she didn't.
Do angels' wings break when they fall? she wondered.
New message. Walter Skinner spoke. "Hello Kim. Sorry for calling so late."
"That's okay but you should be in bed, you stubborn--"
"I'm at the office."
"Hah. I knew it." She was overplaying it, nervous about what Skinner might inadvertently give away to Krycek. Not that Skinner regularly left undetonated information bombs on her answering machine, but still.
"I need the report from Friday's director's meeting. Can you call me if you know where it is? I'll be here until midnight. Thanks. Bye."
"It's on your desk. You're woozy on painkillers, Walt. You should be in bed." She looked at Krycek. "Can I call him back?"
He shook his head. "Nope. Skinner'll just have to get by without that report until tomorrow." He frowned. "'Walt'?" he asked.
"Only when we meet on the answering machine," she replied, blushing again. "There," she said, fastening the final strip of tape. "Finis."
"Okay." He smiled at her in thanks. It was the fresh agent's smile-- quick, alert, warm--and it looked out of place in the face of this stranger with killer's eyes and long, soft hair. "I'm starving," he said, starting to pull on the clean T-shirt. "Could you fix me something?"
"I don't really cook," she said evasively, feeling a pang of performance anxiety of all things.
"Kimberly Cook," he said, his head emerging from the neckline of the shirt, "doesn't cook." His eyes were laughing at her now.
"Very funny," she said. "I'll make you a sandwich," she offered reluctantly. "Is walnut pate all right?"
"Walnut pate?" Mock horror crept into his features. "Oh no, she's a vegetarian."
She huffed defensively. "I suppose killers only eat bloody steak."
She regretted that instantly. Krycek's face went flat and savage again. "Just fix me the goddamned sandwich. Make yourself one too, while you're at it. And if you've got anything as brutish as a beer, that would be excellent."
Krycek sat down at the kitchen table, looking sullenly at her. He had the gun beside him on the table. She put walnut pate on soft wholewheat bread and pressed another slice on top, then cut it diagonally. She brought him the sandwich on a plate and a bottle of beer from the fridge, and leaned against the kitchen counter watching him wolf the food down. She decided not to make anything for herself--there was no way she'd be able to get it down. "How long are you staying?" she asked eventually.
"Not that the hostess is looking at her watch," he commented.
"I take it you meant 'the hostage'," she said sharply.
"Oh Jesus, cut the drama, Kim. Grab yourself a beer. That's a fucking order." He sounded weary. "I'm leaving when I get a phone call I'm waiting for. You'll survive."
God, she hoped that wasn't just a figure of speech.
He pushed away the plate as she returned with her beer. "So," he said. "What do you propose we do to pass time? Something fun that will keep me awake and keep us both occupied." Kim heard a teasing note in Krycek's husky voice and thought he might be trying to intimidate her. Or just pull her leg for the hell of it.
She gave him a cool look as she reached out her hand to the bookshelf on the opposite wall. "Game of cards?" She pulled out the deck of cards and held it forth.
Slowly, a grin spread on his face. He looked at her, nodding with a pleased expression. "Not a bad idea."
Kim drew a card and threw down another on the discard pile with nonchalant flair. She smiled and arranged her cards into neat groups and sequences.
"We haven't got all night," she said with a supercilious look at Krycek over her hand of cards.
"I don't fucking believe this," said Krycek, combing his fingers through his hair in frustration. She'd beaten him at gin rummy three times straight and was pretty sure of her fourth victory.
"I've got five brothers and sisters I've practiced on since I was in pre-school," she said smugly. "You'd better believe it."
"Fuck." He surveyed his cards carefully, evaluating his options, and pulled a card from the stock pile. He made a quick, tiny grimace as he laid down the Ace of Spades.
She drew again. With a superior smile she knocked. "Gin. Sorry."
"Just a lucky streak," he opined with a scowl after she'd counted the score. He gathered the cards and put them back in the plastic box. He was trying to make a joke of his poor attitude, but she could see that underneath the act there was truth to it. Alex Krycek evidently didn't like to lose at anything, not even a game of cards.
Kim couldn't hold back a smirk. "Too bad I didn't know you were a bad loser; I'd have let you win the last round."
He glanced up at her sharply and barely smiling, an almost ominous note in his voice. "Bad loser, huh? Well, let me tell you, lady, my luck may be changing."
Her glee at her victory faded into unease as he cast an exasperated glance at his watch, then muttered an expletive under his breath. He closed his eyes briefly as if praying for patience. Kim stared at him in dismay, with a little prayer of her own that whatever was eating at him would work out as he wanted, and not leave him stranded here. He opened his eyes again to find her watching him anxiously, and gave her a pointed glare. "What?"
She swallowed and looked away, regretting her flippant comment. She wanted nothing more than to stay on Krycek's good side, but with him so highly strung that seemed to be a question of hit-or-miss.
He got up from his chair and stretched over to the bookshelf to put the deck away, pausing as he saw the titles there.
"What's this? You a student?"
She blushed as though he'd caught her with a collection of pornography, and grabbed his empty plate to put it in the sink. From the corner of her eye, she sensed his gaze following her, much too perceptive for comfort.
"Modern political history," he mused, pulling out a book. "Funny, I didn't have you pegged for a modern political history kind of girl."
Oddly, that smarted. "It's just evening classes," she said shortly. "Just something I thought might be fun to do."
He raised an eyebrow. "Fun?"
She shrugged. "Well, interesting. Useful. It's good knowing things, you know? Anyway, I may quit the classes. There's been a lot of overtime at work lately. It's hard to find time to do the reading and attend classes." She hated the way the last bit came out sounding like a half apology. It was no doubt more information than he'd wanted, anyway.
He sat down again, leafing through the book. He seemed restless, tense, as if this was just something to do, something to occupy his hands and his thoughts for a few seconds, but when he looked at her those green eyes were sharp and provocative. "What's your background, anyway?" he asked.
Damn. He'd got it in one. Found her sore spot with killer instinct, and she jumped reflexively. "What's it to you?"
"Hey, I'm the guy with the gun, remember? Humor me," he said lazily.
Kim got a hollow feeling at the pit of her stomach. Earlier, his teasing had seemed innocent and almost flirtatious, rather like a boy tugging at a girl's pigtails to get her attention. But meeting Krycek's gaze now, she felt more like the same girl trying to get past the schoolyard bully, scapegoat for all his accumulated frustrations. She pressed her suddenly sweaty palms to her skirt.
"I went straight out of high school to the temp pool at the Bureau," she snapped. "I didn't want to go to college, I just wanted to get a job and earn some money for myself."
"Whoa. Such a sensitive little thing," he grinned. "You worked your way up the Bureau ladder then?"
She stared at him, unsure what he was getting at. "I got a spot at Skinner's office when his former assistant moved on and he must have warmed to me. I've been with him for six years now."
"Warmed to you? I bet he did," Krycek said with that slow feral smile that sent an icy river coursing through her veins. "What did you have to do, suck his cock? Don't need a degree for that, you know."
She gasped and before she had time to think, she grabbed the nearest thing on the counter--a ceramic cup--and sent it hurtling in his direction. He ducked, his eyes flashing satisfaction at the crash of the cup against the wall, and in the next moment he was close to her, grabbing her by the upper arms and holding her in a firm grip. He was grinning. He looked wildly unhappy. He had that look again like he just wanted to take his fury out on something--someone. Spoiling for a fight, realized Kim, or spoiling for--
She stilled in his arms, an instinctive act of self-defence, gaze lowered to a point below his shoulder. "I know there are rumors about Skinner and me on the gossip mill," she said through clenched teeth, her voice barely audible. "Is that why you came on that date with me, because you thought it would be easy to make me suck your cock?"
"Hell yeah," he fired back. "And you asked me upstairs, didn't you? On the first date. Shit, you were just too easy. No challenge."
At that taunt she raised her head slowly after all, dazed but facing him with precarious dignity. There was dizzy blood lust in his eyes, but as he took in her expression, something shifted. She felt it like a stiffening through him, a moment almost of disorientation, before he took a harsh breath and closed his eyes. His features were set in angry tension.
"No," he exhaled, and more forcefully, "Fuck!" and then he let go of her and walked back to the table, putting her book quickly, neatly back on the shelf.
They were quiet for long seconds. Kim tried to breathe through pain and anger and threatening tears. Krycek stood looking at the scattered debris of the ceramic cup. At last, he spoke with his back to her, his voice gritty and tense. "I shouldn't have said that. I never thought that. I never did. I never heard any fucking rumors at all."
And then he looked at her again with the expression of a heartsick child. "I'm sorry, Kim. Damn, I'm sorry."
"I'm not stupid, you know." She spoke rapidly, too agitated to even be afraid. "I know I'm really good at my job. I know Skinner would never settle for anything less. But sometimes I miss clues. Things the agents say, jokes and little... educated asides... and I think I probably ought to know more. About connections and stuff... The way things work in the world. Because that's good, you know, to know things? I'm not doing it for them, I'm doing it for me. But I don't want people thinking that Skinner's little assistant has got airs all of a sudden."
"Stop," he said and he was right in front of her again, a hand rising towards her flaming cheek but falling away before it touched. "You don't have to... You're right. It's good to know things. It's good. You ought to tell Skinner. He'd make sure you had time for your classes. Don't be so damn proud about it."
"Maybe I will," she said, her throat still tight and aching.
"Listen," he said, "The reason I went with you on that date was because I knew things were going to hell and I needed distraction and when you called I... I thought being with you would give me that. That it might feel good. That's all, Kim."
"Right," she said in a dull voice.
"And I didn't come upstairs with you because I knew the shit was going to hit the fan any day, and I... I just didn't want you to--" He stopped himself abruptly and looked away.
"Oh yes," she said. "You're a real Sir Galahad, Krycek. Gallantry personified."
He shook his head, his voice coming breathy and staccato. "I shouldn't have said--what I just said--but things are so crazy now. This insane thing just happened... Do you know how Scully's sister is, Kim?"
It was the last thing she had expected to hear. "Skinner told me today that she is critical, but stable. It's touch and go."
"I didn't shoot her. Fuck, I didn't. I made the crazy bastard stop at a phone booth to make an emergency call. Fucking booth was busted, the phone ripped out. And the next one, too. And then we just drove. I thought she must surely be dead by then. Jesus fucking Christ."
It was on the tip of her tongue that it wasn't the busted phone booths' fault that Melissa Scully was lying in a coma, but she didn't dare say it and there was an edge in Krycek's voice that made her not really want to either. He took a step away.
"What about Agent Mulder's father?" she asked.
He shook his head, his lashes hiding his eyes as he picked up his gun from the table and threw a glance at his watch. "Come on," he said. "Let's go into the other room."
Without waiting to see if she followed, he walked past her through the open arched doorway into the living room. He switched on the TV and dropped into her couch with the remote, looking wildly out of place in the room with its assortment of old painted furniture, bright crockery, family photographs and flowering plants. He switched through channels while she hovered by the door, watching him uneasily. He was quicksilver restless, annoyance visibly building in him at every new flickering image until at last with a disgusted sigh he left it at a hard rock music channel, sound yanked up way too loud for her comfort.
(In the bar, after they'd eaten their meal, she'd felt disappointed, bordering on angry. She could tell his thoughts were miles away half of the time. If he hadn't wanted to come, why the hell had he called her back at all?
In the end, hurt and confused and giving up on trying to keep the conversation going, she'd said, "Well, Alex; it's been nice but maybe I should... should get going. It's late and--"
"No, Kim." He came back from wherever he'd been in his mind, stroking his hand tensely through his hair. "Damn, I'm sorry. I'm just a little... pissed off, I guess. I'd looked forward to working with a partner, but Mulder's not even bothering to keep me informed what he's up to." He looked somehow very young in the way he shrugged, half embarrassed, half resentful, meeting her gaze. "I tried to reach him all afternoon, turned out he'd taken off to the hospital to check in with the guy they're holding in that hostage case, which wasn't even an X- file to begin with--"
Looking into his earnest eyes, she'd had no suspicions of foul play at all.
"It's not that late," he said, boyish appeal in his voice, but it was the hard pleading look in his eyes that made her relent--something almost frantic there. "Let's dance. Just a little while. And then I'll take you home."
So they stayed on and swayed to the sentimental piano music. Blue moon. You saw me standing alone. Kim had felt him relax, felt him fall into the ease of the moment, and it had made her feel so good that she could do that for him. His face rested against her hair, her cheek against the hard warmth of his chest below his right shoulder, as she breathed in an intoxicating scent that was a mix of the cigarette smoke in the room and his clean sweat and the light spice of his cologne. She was completely relaxed and she followed his minute moves with hypnotic conviction. She felt she could nearly fall asleep like this. She could feel that he was hard for her and she rested softly against his hardness.
They danced until the pianist called it a night.)
Kim felt indignation gnawing at her. Righteous anger, even, as she stared at Krycek leaned back on her couch and completely ignoring her, legs sprawled in front of him and gaze fixed at the TV screen. The sound waves from the music pounded through the room like a monstrous heartbeat.
He'd put the remote on the table, and she walked over there and grabbed it.
Before she had time to adjust the sound down, Krycek's hand shot out and closed firmly around hers, and she looked up to find him studying her with a frown of bemusement. "What the hell's up with you?" He pried the remote away from her with his free hand, and placed it on the table again. "Are you picking a fight now?"
"It was you who did that," she said, angry and unnerved. His observation was too close to target. She'd known what she did would provoke a reaction, and it hadn't stopped her from doing it. "You turned up the volume on purpose."
Krycek's eyes darkened. He held calmly on to her hand as she tried to tug it back, pulling her a little closer by it instead so she stood between his long legs. "So what are you going to do about it?"
"Oh, I know I'm in no position to negotiate," she replied fiercely, giving up on her effort to free her hand since all it accomplished was to remind them both that she was at his mercy. "But seeing as you had the gall to call me your 'hostess,' is it too much to ask that you act like a guest?"
Krycek contemplated her with keen deliberation for a moment, then abruptly reached out and turned off the sound. "I guess that's fair enough," he murmured.
The sudden silence seemed as deafening as the music had been, hammering with tension and different heartbeats. She couldn't look away from the intensity in his eyes. She felt his thighs brush against her legs and it gave her an uncertain sensation like being close to falling. Her face burned. "Then let go of me."
He glanced down at her hand clasped in his own. His grip gentled, and the calloused pad of his thumb swiped slowly crosswise over her palm. His mouth turned up a little as her breath left her in a small hiss. "Am I getting on your nerves, Kim?" Rubbing very softly at the middle of her palm now as his gaze found hers again, his voice whisper-dry, like tinders waiting for the slightest spark.
She swayed and had to consciously steady herself, all the blood redirecting in her body in a warm, almost nauseous rush. Krycek's face was intent, pupils dilating as he watched her reaction, lips parted on a careful intake of breath. They stared mutely at each other for a few seconds, then she swallowed hard and tore her hand away a bit too forcefully. He hadn't been holding it hard at all.
"You're not... getting on my nerves," she stammered. "I'm just... mad at you."
"Yeah... I noticed." His voice was pensive, his full focus was on her face, and shame took her in a drowning wave. He'd seen what she'd felt-- what she'd never, in fact, quite stopped feeling whenever she was reminded of him, even as desperately as she'd wanted to blot him out of her memory.
"Why did you come here, anyway?" she demanded, resentful and breathless as she backed a few steps away. The back of her legs collided with her big easy chair and she sank down on the edge of the seat, glad for an excuse to hide her shakiness. "Why here of all places?"
At that, he merely shrugged, still with that speculative look. "I needed somewhere to hide, that's all."
"Why not a motel? Or a bar? It would have been less hassle, I'm sure."
"Oh, you're not as much trouble as you think," he said lazily, but with a spark of impatience igniting in his eyes. "I bought the clothes, okay? I needed to clean up and change and to get out of sight. The thought of you just... occurred to me. They would look for me in motels, in bars. They'd never think to look for me with Skinner's P.A."
He sounded defensive, like he needed to rationalize his choice to himself as much as to her, and it spurred her on, vindictiveness hot in her. "But it's a risk for you," she insisted stubbornly. "This way, Skinner will eventually learn your movements. If you need to lie low, there must be a hundred places--"
Somewhere at the back of her mind, clues were stretching out to make connection...
"Oh, I get it," he broke in with obvious annoyance, cutting off her tingle of intuition. "You want me to tell you how I have cherished the memory of you in my heart all these months. How I have lain on my lonely bed at nights sighing the little secretary's name. How I couldn't resist the chance to see her beloved face just one more time."
The sarcasm in his tone left her agape. But Krycek smiled all of a sudden, a secretive tiger's grin. "Well, screw all that. But for the sake of honesty, I haven't forgotten about you, Kim. That blushing earnest face as you asked poor troubled Agent Krycek up for a pity fuck- -how could I forget?"
She stared at him, taking this in. Then, because she knew this was a game, his game, and there was no way she could beat him at it playing by his rules, she broke the rules and simply answered in bitter honesty. "It wouldn't have been a pity fuck. I don't do those."
"Don't you?" Krycek asked gently, his smile somehow tiring. "Well, well."
"Was it all an act?" she demanded. "Were you... were you at all anything like... the person I thought you were, back then?"
"Kim. It's only a year ago," he muttered, looking away. "You look at me now and tell me how much you believe a guy can change over a year."
Her throat felt dry. She charged on, driven by a passion she could scarcely understand. "I thought you... looked at me in a special way. I thought you liked me. You acted decent."
He gave a strange hard chuckle. "Yeah?"
"Were you?" she asked, near tears.
"Jesus God, Kim. No. No I wasn't." He looked at her suddenly, eyes piercing her with swift harsh honesty. "How can you ask that? You know what I did. Those weren't the actions of a decent man."
"But to me--"
"This is how it was," he said, his voice harsh too, but with a gritty tenderness running through it. "I... was getting involved in dangerous games. And I knew I was. But I didn't figure I had much of a choice in the matter, so I didn't waste any fucking guilt over it."
He took a hard breath. "And still--I was green. And nervous like hell. And there you were, all honest and clean, smiling at me as though I were ice cream you wanted to lap up. Do you have any idea how seductive honesty can be when you're wading in deception?"
Kim just stared, then swallowed. "No."
He laughed softly, shaking his head. "Of course you don't. I remember one day when I was going with Mulder in to Skinner's. And Mulder just ranted on, blatantly disregarding Skinner's authority. I saw you looking at Mulder when we came out again, your face like an open book. I saw you wanted to go over there and smack him."
"I've never wanted to smack Agent Mulder," she defended herself primly.
Krycek grinned suddenly. "Would you swear to that on the Bible?"
Kim kept staring, trying to hold back inappropriate amusement. "I plead the fifth."
"You're like that. Straightforward, quick to temper and smiles and... I wanted you. I wanted to fuck you, to..." He paused, rubbing his hand down over his mouth and chin in a resigned gesture. "I don't know. To touch something honest. Just pretend. Just for the while."
"But you didn't," she said, insisting on something she couldn't quite grasp a hold of.
"But I had every intention to."
"But you *didn't*."
He chuckled and shook his head, eyes flashing impatiently at her. "Whatever it is you're driving at, Kim, it's a moot point. Maybe you're right. Maybe I was something then that I'm not anymore."
He got up from the couch then, walked over to the windows and looked out on the street, his back straight and forbidding.
His silence gave her time to collect her thoughts. Krycek had been in some kind of accident. He was angry; he'd had that look of betrayal and triumph warring in his eyes since he got here. *They* were looking for him. Meaning, probably, the smoking man and whatever hierarchy of demons he surrounded himself with. Krycek must have been targeted somehow. He must have gotten away with something important-- information against them, or just... information...
Kim's face felt scalded with heat as she realized. Krycek had stolen the tape from Skinner this morning, and a few hours later, they'd attempted to--hurt him? kill him?--but he'd gotten away with what they all wanted. No wonder he was pacing like a caged tiger. No wonder he was giving off all those signals of triumph and rage.
She tried to look unaffected as she stole a glance through the kitchen doorway at his leather jacket hanging over the chair he'd used. Her heart was thudding. If she could give Skinner that... Give him that back to use against the smoking man...
Krycek's cell phone beeped, and he turned as if jolted by an electric shock, his whole focus narrowing as he went out of the living room into the entrance hallway and replied in a hushed voice. He left the door ajar, but couldn't consider her a serious threat any longer because he turned his back halfway from her. She heard him speaking intently and quickly into the phone in a cadence that went from querying to affirmative. She thought he might not be speaking English, but she was barely noticing.
Her heartbeat thundered in her ears, so loud it muted out the sound of his voice as she very gently walked the five- six paces into the kitchen, leaving him out of her range of view, slipped her hand into the inner pocket of his leather jacket, and struck gold.
She turned quickly around to go back... and stared into green.
Angry, ice-glazed, astonished green.
Her searing disappointment blocked out the fear she ought to have felt, and instinct took over. She ducked and charged past him into the living room, and got all of three paces before he tackled her from behind, landing her flat on her stomach on the broad pine floorboards before she was flipped over and had him over her.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he panted. "What the *hell*..."
She bucked impotently under him, surged against him with anger and frustration. "It's Skinner's," she gasped. "It's Skinner's tape, you asshole, he had it and you took it from him and you hurt him and I just want to give him back what's his. It's *his*!" she snarled into his face, ready to spit, really gathering saliva in her mouth to spit in his face. He saw what she was trying to do and there was a shock of recognition in his eyes; then instantly his hand was over her mouth, crushing down hard so she didn't have leeway to bite him.
"Don't you fucking dare!" he said in a low, deadly voice, his eyes very bright and hard. "*No one* does that to me. *Never* again."
She breathed hard through her nose, small sounds in her throat from the exertion of filling her lungs, and registered at the same time that someone before her had been crazy enough to spit in Krycek's face. Whoever it had been-- Mulder, the smoker?--the memory of it seemed to be a small shard of insanity lodged in Krycek's mind.
"Is that understood?" he demanded, still with that lethal quiet. She closed her eyes to his blistering rage, considering nodding in submission. She found she didn't have it in her. She had used up all her submissive resources for one day. He would just have to accept her passivity as tacit agreement.
But she had underestimated Krycek's need to make his point. The next time he spoke, his lips were so close they were brushing her ear. "Is-- that--understood?"
Kim turned her face and opened her eyes to lock with his again, and since her mouth had no maneuvering room to tell him to go fuck himself, she made a concentrated effort to express that sentiment with her gaze instead. Even ordinary women could be pushed to their limit. Pride wasn't the prerogative of the regal Dana Scullys of the world. She didn't think Krycek would kill her, and any other fate seemed preferable to capitulation at this point.
Any other, until she felt his tongue snake lightly inside her ear, and the full panorama of possibilities suddenly unfolded in her mind. He traced the inner rim of the shell of her ear, his breath warming the tender whorls before the tip of his tongue followed. And his skill was... devastating. She cursed herself as heat coursed through her. Krycek had seen her attraction to him. So of course he knew how best to torment her. Not pain, but this... this unbearable...
His hand lifted from her mouth and she was mortified to hear the trapped, shaky groan that immediately escaped over her lips.
"Is that understood?" breathed Krycek in her ear, and though he didn't sound angry anymore, in fact he sounded as if he might have even forgotten what he was asking her, she was really going to say it--she was going to forego all pride and whisper 'Yes' and save herself, but she couldn't, she couldn't. Because she was well past her breaking point, because she wanted the feeling to go on for just a few seconds longer, because his voice and his closeness created a bright shimmering haze where the concepts of pride and shame flitted and blurred and bled confusingly together.
She only realized that he wasn't holding down her wrists any longer when she felt his fingers rub lightly at the peak of her breast, and then the "Yes" came anyway, but a different kind of yes, gasped-out and accepting and mewling with arousal.
"Yes?" he whispered against her lips, his fingers stilling around her nipple.
"Damn you," she gasped, squeezing her eyes shut because there were tears threatening to escape and because his gaze was so hot and surprised and she just couldn't stand it, not any of it. She raised her hand and laid it over his to make him continue the caress.
"You'll let me," he muttered, still sounding a bit stunned, as if he hadn't set this up at all. Hadn't he? She couldn't think, she didn't care.
"Just shut up," she hissed, and he did and pressed his mouth warm and open to hers, but she felt the surprise linger in his kiss, a current of gentleness swirling through the sensuality, disturbing it. After a minute, he drew back, and looked intently down into her face.
"I want us to be on the same page here," he said, his gaze watchful. "I wouldn't force you. If we do this, it's your choice."
Hopelessness lanced through her. Abruptly, she put her palms to his chest and pushed hard. He rocked back on his heels and raised himself up, smooth as a cat, looking down at her as she sat up and glared at him.
"You just had to make it impossible, didn't you?" she said bitterly.
He emitted a short, soft laugh. "So if we pretend I'm raping you, that would make it possible? God save me from the neuroses of the nation's law-abiding citizens."
"I didn't want you to pretend anything," she said, riled enough to defend herself. "You could've just shut up, but oh no, you just *had* to have your little macho victory."
Hot impatience flashed in his eyes for a moment. "Did it occur to you that I simply wanted you to know you had a choice? Fuck you, anyway."
He leaned down and picked up his leather jacket and the tape, putting the tape back in the inner pocket. She stayed put on the floor staring up at him, deflated into silence by his words, and watched him shrug the jacket on with stiff, careful movements. He turned to the mirror on the far wall, adjusting the jacket over his shoulders, combing his fingers perfunctorily through his hair, then for a moment seemed to evaluate the impression he made. It was a small piece of time that struck her as absurdly significant, like a dream scene that seems lucid but whose meaning defies the conscious mind upon waking.
Afterwards, he yanked out the cord from the phone and used it to tie her hands behind her, not so hard it hurt, and secure her tightly to one leg of the heavy living room table. He tested the bindings carefully, making sure the cord didn't glide on the smooth wood, and gave her an evaluating glance when he was finished.
"How long for you to get loose, do you think, Kim?"
She sniffled. "Two hours?" she estimated roundly.
Krycek smiled. "Nice try, baby. Let's say closer to an hour. But that's okay. It's all the head start I need." He disappeared into the kitchen and came back with the roll of surgical tape, biting off a couple of lengths with his sharp white teeth.
"I won't cry for help," she promised, pausing for a second because she'd said it perfunctorily but it occurred to her that she might even mean it. "I won't put them on your trail."
Another quick, surprisingly sweet smile. "Really?" He searched her face. "But you ought to," he said, "and if I put this on, you'll have an excuse to wait."
He didn't put the tape over her mouth at once, but crouched down and held her face quite gently in his hand, the green of his eyes catching the light slanted from the rising moon outside and glowing like a pebbled riverbed through clear water. Kim sat stumped on the floor and looked at him, feeling oddly petulant, nearly wanting to cry for some reason that had nothing to do with her current predicament.
*"Did it occur to you that I simply wanted you to know you had a choice?"*
She glanced a few feet away to the floor by the mirror. She could have been lying there right this moment, held and rocked and branded by him, and been left to deal with her guilt and shame in the aftermath, feeling dirty as hell.
Her gaze drifted back and met Krycek's. He would have been good to her though, she knew it. He'd have been... good.
"Hey Krycek, maybe there's a bit of Galahad in you after all," she conceded, her voice sad.
The corners of his mouth quirked up at her dejection. "Look on the bright side," he said. "I have to leave now and I couldn't really have done you justice in five minutes anyway."
She didn't know what to say to that, so she just made a little huff and shrugged her shoulders.
He smiled then, but his eyes were inscrutable in the sideways influx of light. "Thanks, Miss Poppins. For the shower and the card game, and not least the horrible walnut pate..."
"That's mean," she said lamely.
His thumb stayed at her cheek while his fingers tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Goodbye to you," he said, "Kim Cook who can't cook." He fastened the lengths of tape lightly over her mouth--just a symbolic restraint--then got on his feet and stood grinning down at her for a second. He seemed as suddenly, annoyingly cheerful as she was inexplicably disheartened.
Then he left. When the door closed softly behind him, Kim sighed from some aching place deep in her stomach. She spat off the tape, wriggled her wrists to test the bonds, then set to work to get free.
(The bar was close to where she lived and Alex walked her home. It was a warm summer's night and he'd taken off his jacket and folded up his shirt sleeves. He was distant again, and she felt like she was anchoring him to her with her arm around his waist, like he was a ship tugging haplessly on the ebb of the tide. She talked to him a bit and he smiled down into her face but she didn't think he heard all that much of what she said.
And then they stood outside her building and they turned toward each other and suddenly they were close and kissing. It was a sensual kiss, tongues playing slow and warm, but there was something mild about Alex's mouth over hers, something near sadness.
She hadn't really planned to say it, but when he drew back, that sadness awakened an answering generosity in her, a wish to make things right somehow. She stood still and ran a finger up and down his tie, feeling shy and daring at the same time. "Do you want to come on up, Alex?"
She blushed a little at the boldness of her offer, and he smiled for some reason. He caught her hand gently by the wrist, gave her fingertip a teasing nip of his teeth before kissing it. "That's... sweet of you. Jesus, do you know how sweet you are, Kim?"
"Don't be silly," she said, smiling too, her shyness sliding away. "I just enjoy your company, that's all."
After that, his reply felt like a bucket of ice water. "Thanks, Kim. I wish I could, but... I think I should probably be on my way now." He let go of her with some reluctance and said, before he turned to leave, "Try not to think too badly of me, if you can."
She stood there with tears storming into her eyes, understanding nothing.
But the next morning, she arrived at work to learn Agent Scully had been kidnapped overnight by Duane Barry, and a couple of days later, Krycek's words had come to make perfect sense.)
Her cell phone lay in her shoulder bag.
"Hi, Kim." Skinner's voice was deep and calm. She'd always found his voice very beautiful, a restful presence of sound running through her busy days. She shivered and checked herself, feeling as if she was emerging from a dream. What had she been going to say?
"That report," she said. "Did you find it?"
"Yeah. Sorry, Kim. I meant to call back and say so."
"That's okay." She hesitated. "There's something I need to tell you, sir."
"Sure," he said, sounding surprised. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Thursday evenings," she said. "I've been meaning to ask... I've started some... some evening classes. It's kind of inconvenient with overtime on Thursdays."
He sounded concerned. "I wish you'd told me before. Was there a problem today?"
"Don't think about today," she said. "Force majeure, you know."
"All right. I'll adjust the workload so there's no overtime on Thursdays. And if you need a couple of days off to study before your final, just let me know and we can arrange it."
She smiled. "Thanks, sir. How are you feeling, by the way?"
"Not too bad," he said. "I've seen worse than that crazy punk." He paused, then added, "I just had a call from Bethesda hospital. Melissa Scully died half an hour ago. If I ever get my hands on the bastard--"
She felt a rush of cold through her like a gust from a slapping door. This was her last chance, her cue. If she didn't say it now--
There was doubt and frustration and fear, and yet... And yet.
"Well, I'm glad you're feeling better, sir," she said softly, "but promise me to go home now. It's late, you know, and you... you need your rest."
"Soon, I promise," he said, and she could hear the rare smile in his voice, a soft smile that somehow always seemed directed solely and exclusively at her. "I'm here with Albert Hosteen. We've had a visitor. I'll drive Mr. Hosteen to his hotel, and after that I'll go home. Good night, Kim."
She guessed who the visitor must be. Only one man visited Skinner in the office this late at nights. If she could have told Skinner that the smoker didn't have the tape... But there was no way of saying so without revealing how she knew, and then the Bureau would be on Krycek's tail before she'd put down the phone.
She couldn't explain Alex Krycek. She couldn't understand the things he'd done, much less excuse them. But she'd seen that there was more to him than violence and betrayal--and she'd seen the man he worked for. If that tape could make him free of the smoker, she'd say he deserved his chance. She hoped he did.
"Hey, Kim?" She could hear that gruff softness in Skinner's voice again. He didn't seem to be in the brittle mood he usually was when the smoker had called. Maybe somehow, with Hosteen there, things had turned out all right even without the tape. "I think you're falling asleep on me."
"Yeah, I'm tired," she agreed. "It's been such a long, strange day. Good night to you too, sir."
She put away the cell phone and walked over to the window. The moon had disappeared behind a cover of rain clouds, and a soft April drizzle blurred the night. She thought of Krycek walking the wet streets, wrapped snugly in shadow, and was glad the bright moon had hidden from sight. Maybe the moon protected its favorites, the creatures of darkness.
"Go safely," she mouthed, her breath fogging up the cool glass, her lips brushing the window. She turned around to the room, and picked up the wire she'd been bound with, straightened the carpet, went to the kitchen and swept up the shattered shards from the cup. At the window, the rain kept drumming softly, a strange rapping cadence of grief and hushaby, heartbeat and escaping feet.
Run, run, run, run, run--