Gamble (that he knew he couldn't win)
by Brenda Antrim

Rated PG for language.
Characters copyright CC & 1013, no infringement intended.
Setting, post-Terma.

Gamble (that he knew he couldn't win)
by Brenda Antrim

He'd been a fool to follow him. But then again, where Mulder was concerned, he had always been a fool.

He stayed close by the shadows, trusting them, as he could no longer trust anything else. Had he ever? Maybe, once. A very long time ago. He had learned young not to trust, not to give, and not to care. In the thirty years since those first hard lessons had begun, he had met only one person he would have been willing to take a chance on. Willing to trust. But the odds, or the fates, or just his typical rotten luck, had been against them.

The one man he could trust had been the man he had been sent to betray.

And he had done a thorough job of it.

Mulder stepped from the walk along the front of the J. Edgar Hoover building into the fading evening sunlight beyond, walking, head down, no particular destination apparent in his distracted stride. Krycek slipped from shadow to shadow, blending in with the crowds when necessary, trailing behind his ... what could he be called? Not a target. He was out of the game, now. Not a friend, certainly not that. Not an enemy, not any longer, and never by choice. Not a lover, although that would have been his first choice, had he ever had one to take. His ... Mulder, then. Just his Mulder.

Trusting instincts honed by years of dwelling in invisibility, he allowed a small part of his mind to drift as he followed. Mulder was in a wandering mood tonight. He got that way, sometimes, when he was especially depressed by the turns his path was taking him, or when he was especially frustrated at having yet another solid piece of evidence turn to ash in his hand. It had, it seemed, been one of those days.

Krycek fixed his eyes on the tall, slumped man rambling ahead of him, setting his peripheral vision and the back of his neck to watch for danger, and remembered. There had been so many times when he wanted to reach out. He never did, because he never could.

After Scully's abduction, blood on his hands and a job on his mind, it didn't seem that important. Mulder was an assignment, and one he would have twepped with no hesitation. He'd even broached the subject with the Cancerman, but had been turned aside. Thinking back on it now, he shuddered at close he came to murder, the only murder he would sincerely have regretted.

Or perhaps it was an instinct for self-preservation, because it was shortly after that that things began to change. Perhaps he had known, in some small part of himself, how much Mulder would come to mean to him, and had wanted to avoid losing him. He'd begun to see the passion in the man, and the pain. And against his own will he had been drawn into it.

He had gone into the game with his eyes open, he had thought. He knew what he was doing, and why he was doing it, and it wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Every cause from time immemorial had required its shadow warriors, those men willing to kill and die, to hurt and be hurt, for their cause, their country, their god, whatever it was that lit their purpose. His had been country, first, then protection from a truth that should not see the light of knowledge. Finally, when it began to unravel so astonishingly fast, it had been for himself. Things became so very clear when life was pared down to the basics ... move or die. Kill or die. Run or die. A thread of order, so thin as to be nearly nonexistent, bound him to a structure far away, to men who held one end of a tangled skein and thought they knew the pattern of the web. And so he followed, and moved, and killed, and ran. But over time, the fire of his purpose had altered. By the time he understood its new form, he was lost.

And so his own pattern had changed, transmutated unwillingly by something he had not at first understood, much less accepted. Love was alien to him, as were most of the more tender emotions, since they were not useful in a warrior, and so had been trained out of him. Or so he thought, until the iron control he had exerted since he was a child ruptured, and he was swept out of control by the force of emotions too long pent up. And the stupid risks began.

He'd left Mulder alive in Hong Kong. If he had shot him then, as he should have were he the warrior he had once been, then there would have been no alien waiting to take his insurance from him and turn it over to his enemies, once allies. He would never have found himself vomiting blood and oil in a metal tomb hundreds of feet below ground, never shrieked himself hoarse to deaf ears and an uncaring mind smiling at him through soundproof glass. Never lost days that he had not since regained, and half-hoped he never would.

He'd had a taste of freedom, when he'd escaped from the silo, however the hell he had escaped. That period was blurry in his memory, thankfully. The fundies had found him, god knew where, wandering delirious. He'd looked enough like a God-fearin' white boy for them to take him in, and his ability to change like a chameleon to fit his surroundings had ensured that they accepted him, at least for as long as he needed to use them. But instead of using the out, letting his enemies think him dead, he had contacted the self important men holding the end of the thread, and they had agreed with his plan. A plan that fit into theirs, yes, but that was not the primary purpose. Not for him. Yes, it got their infected rock samples back, but more importantly, *most* importantly, it brought him back to Mulder.

Of course, Mulder then beat the crap out of him and then gave him to Skinner to do the same, but still ... it had been worth the gamble just to see him again.

He was stupid. He knew it, and he couldn't find it in himself to care. Because sometime between watching a tall, lanky man pull ear phones off his head and stare wearily up at him, and being jostled along in the back end of a runaway truck in a Siberian forest, he had discovered that a large part of himself that he hadn't even known existed had been handed over, without acknowledgment or regret, to his ... his Mulder.

Who was just now slumping onto a bench by the Reflecting Pool, watching the moonlight paint whispery stripes on the water. He slid deeper into the shadows behind the quiet figure, drinking in the profile outlined faintly by that same light. Skin nearly translucent in the half light, head tipped forward, fatigue and disillusion imprinted in the curve of his spine, hands stuffed in his pockets against the slight chill of the night air, Mulder made his eyes ache with want. Not necessarily to love him, although he did. But to ease him. To touch him, and offer comfort. Whatever meager comfort he had to offer.

He didn't have the right.

He'd had the opportunity. Once. In that bouncing, shuddering flatbed truck on the way to Tunguska, Mulder had started to fall asleep, tired from the long flight and the even longer days before it. The handcuff chain stretching between them had ensured that he, Krycek, could make no move that Mulder did not feel, but even chained together, Mulder could not quite relax enough to sleep. So he'd made it easier on the agent. He'd feigned sleep, slumped sideways just a little, just enough to press himself lightly along Mulder's side. For twenty blissful minutes he had relaxed into that warmth, indulging in something he never realized he could do, daydreaming for too brief a time that he was where he belonged. Then those hands had reached out to him, not to draw him closer, but to uncuff their wrists, and prod him in front as they jumped from the back of the truck.

It had been a small gamble, but it had at least had some small return.

The camp had been a nightmare. He'd had to talk hard, long, and fast just to keep them alive, and even that hadn't been enough to keep Mulder off the tables. A little more clout, a little more vodka, another telephone call to another general who had been pissed off until he'd used a particular code word ... then the general had still been pissed, but had known better than to take it out on Krycek. Once again, for all the favors he pulled in, Mulder screwed it up with his own impulsive actions. He'd held on to the truck with all his strength, dove for cover when he'd had the opportunity, determined to find Mulder when he rested up, and get them both the hell out of there. He hadn't factored in the peasants' gruesome determination to save him from the camp.

That gamble had been a total failure. He had the stump and the prosthesis to prove it. But it hadn't doused the flame. He was beginning to realize that nothing ever would.

One final assassination at the behest of his superiors and he was out of the game for good. Of course, the Cancerman and his associates never knew that they had been manipulated by a master, for masters further up the line. They probably never would. But that didn't matter, because they weren't important. Since that first night when he re-evaluated the man he had been ordered not to kill, no one else had mattered. Once the fissure in his barriers opened, it was impossible to mend the breach, and equally impossible to stem the flow of emotions too long tamped down.

Mulder mattered. Nobody else did. So he was here on a fool's errand, knowing with the cold part of his mind that never stopped calculating odds, that his were not even negligible. Knowing, as well, it didn't matter a damned whit. Once he had, painfully, discovered that he could feel, and who he could feel for, he had known that his path would be impossible. While he would remain walking in the shadows, he would be walking a road paved with broken glass. And he would have no choice but to go forward, because Mulder walked ahead of him, and he had no place anywhere that was not in Mulder's shadow.

With a sinking feeling in his stomach and the rational corner of his mind screaming at him to stop, he stepped forward. There would be no better, no other, time than this. For a moment he would have to step from the shadows, and it was fitting that it be in the darkness of night.

He settled lightly on the bench at the far end from Mulder, feeling the man's warmth like a fire along the entire right side of his body. Three feet away and he could swear he could tell the difference in temperature along his skin between the side next to Mulder and the side away from him. He took a chance, a small gamble, and glanced sideways.

Mulder was staring at the water.

He cleared his throat, softly. There was no response. Shifting slightly aslant of Mulder, moving slowly so as not to startle him into movement, he spoke, the first time, it felt like, in days.

"Hi," he nearly whispered. Not the most brilliant conversational gambit he could have chosen, but then, he hadn't expected to step from the shadows, either, so once again he had to trust in his instincts. At least Mulder hadn't gone for his gun. Yet.

He shifted further, almost facing Mulder now. In the silence, his heartbeat sounded like thunder in his ears, and he wondered if the other man would answer, or leave, or shoot him, or swing his fist at him. Anything but the slow steady rise of silent breathing would be an improvement.

"If you're here to kill me you might as well get it over with."

The words sounded shockingly loud in the stillness of the night. To his own surprise, he felt as if Mulder had indeed punched him, he lost his breath that quickly. The thought hurt. Not that Mulder would expect such a move, but that such a move might be made. He didn't want to lose him. He didn't truly have him, but he didn't want to see him dead. Some small part of a soul he hadn't before recognized howled, anguished at the thought. "No," he managed to rasp. No, most certainly not. I would sooner kill myself. More easily. Much more easily.

"Then why are you here?" From the tone of his voice, he didn't sound as if he particularly cared.

Mulder was not known for apathy, and this unexpected lethargy frightened Krycek. He shivered, not used to such an emotion as fright, in his own limited range. Fear for himself, he had known that in plenty, but not for another. He stared at Mulder in the quiet light, licked his lips, and found himself speaking before he could censor his words.

"I want to help." He swallowed, and found the words coming faster, out of his control. "I know things, things that can help you. I want you to use them. Use me. I don't know the answers to the questions you ask, but I know where to start looking, I know who to start asking. I can help you. If you'll let me."

Mulder was finally looking at him. Staring at him, really. Shock, and mistrust, and disbelief warred in his expressive face. Krycek sat completely still as he was thoroughly visually examined. Those darkened hazel eyes burned into him, widening the breach in his barriers, ripping them open, leaving him unprepared for what escaped. He found himself offering everything, not with his words, but with his eyes, his body leaning forward, knocking the elbow bend of the prosthetic arm against the side of the bench, jarring his stump, uncaring of the pain that lanced into his shoulder.

"What's in it for you?" Rampant distrust. Couldn't he see what he was being offered? Wasn't it shining from him? He was turned completely inside out for this man, couldn't he see it? He was gambling *everything*, didn't he *see* it?

Find something he will believe, even if it is a lie. He was used to telling Mulder lies and being believed. It was second nature to him, but this time it was anything but easy. The words hung behind his teeth, not wanting to be forced into the space between them.

"Revenge." Mulder would understand that. "You." Oh my god. He could not have just said what he heard. He scrambled for a palliative. "As a partner." No. No, shit, no. The disbelief in those wide eyes opposite his own was changing, rapidly. Disgust was joining it, gradually overwhelming it. "To bring them down." It was too late. All that he had wanted Mulder to see, the other man was finally recognizing. He had offered his soul, and had it seen as a demand in return for information, a prize required as fulfillment of a bargain. He had offered, and it had been seen as taking, not giving. Cursing to himself, knowing there was no chance, damning his own inability to speak clearly and explain, he tried once more.

"You need what I know. And so does Scully," playing his sole trump card. "Her time is running out. You know that. I can help you track down the ones who can help her." And then, when she is well, and you have your answers, will you look at me then? Will you see that what I have to offer is just that, an offering, not a demand, not a requirement, but a gift? That I offer to you freely, in the hope that you will know what should be done with it? You have felt and used and controlled and followed emotion your entire life. Will you please take mine, and show me how to share that fire that you have become to me?

"Bullshit, Krycek. You don't have a single fucking thing that can help either one of us. You never did. This is just another sick, twisted game." Mulder's voice was ice. Krycek was stunned into immobility by the abrupt slice through his faint hope that he might actually have had a chance. His mind was frozen by Mulder's voice, and he didn't react to either the Sig Sauer being pointed at his heart or the faint snick as the safety was flicked off. He simply sat, staring, as Mulder slowly rose from the bench, the muzzle of the gun unwavering in its aim.

"Stay the hell away from me, Krycek. I don't know who you're working for now, or what you expected to accomplish by this, but it's not going to work. I'm not giving up. So you can go back to whoever is pulling your strings and tell them to go to hell. And you can go to hell with them." Mulder backed away from the bench and disappeared into the shadows, the gun still aimed at Krycek throughout the retreat.

He sat there, staring blankly at the empty spot at the end of the bench. He had known it was a gamble when he'd come here, when he'd followed, when he'd stepped forward. A gamble that he knew he couldn't win. But he hadn't realized, until that moment, just how much he had had to lose.

Settling back into the corner of the bench, staring at the moonlight shifting over the surface of the water, he considered the wall of ice he could feel growing within him and wondered, vaguely, how long the numbness would last. He stretched to his feet, off balance, with none of his usual grace, and lurched sideways slightly as he turned back into the shadows. Following, unconsciously, the man he would always follow. The numbness spread, and the darkness with it.

Somewhere, deep inside, a fire drew back, banked, but not extinguished. Once released it could not be completely destroyed, but it could wait in the embers, for however long it took until there could come a thaw.


A short note of explanation : Music has long been a refuge from pain for me. One particular song, Holding Back the Tears, on the album "Nobody Else" by Take That, was (and still remains) especially cathartic. Listening to it tonight, I realized how well it fit my favorite fan fiction pair. One line in that song describes what their relationship feels like to me : "Walking a road of broken glass" -- considering what has been done to Krycek and the ramifications within my imaginative universe, the song as a whole seems achingly appropriate.