View from the Shore, The

by D. Sidhe

     Date: Monday, January 13, 2003 5:06 PM
     I'm still working on "Caffeine", don't worry. Or go ahead
     and worry, either way. But Mulder's not co-operating, so
     it's slow going right now.

     The View from the Shore
     by D. Sidhe: Erika
     Category: Pre-slash, WIP probably
     Pairing: Langly/Krycek
     Rating: PG-13, maybe, for some angst and innuendo and
     Disclaimers: I don't own any of these people. I'm not making
     any money off this. No offense or infringement intended.
     Archive: I suppose, though I can't imagine why.
     Spoilers: Sorta all the early Krycek stuff. I don't really
     have a date to pin on this one. Sometime after "One Breath",
     but before "Anasazi" at the latest. Or you can call it AU, I
     guess. Krycek has been revealed as a double agent, maybe,
     and blamed for the abduction of Scully, but very little else
     has been revealed about him, and Melissa Scully and Bill
     Mulder are still alive. This isn't a timeline story.
     Beta: Betty looked at it and said, "It's not very funny. You
     should write funny stuff." That's as close as it came to
     Author's Note: This is less about accuracy and chronology
     than it is about personalities and possibilities. And it's
     not funny. I had an idea, and sometimes you have to get them
     out of your head. But I think Langly's pretty good here,
     though I don't know about Krycek. Will there be more? I
     don't know. It has the potential to turn into a long series,
     maybe, but it also has the potential to turn into meringue.
     I guess we'll see what happens.
     Summary: Langly's thinking about something, or somebody, or
     maybe he's not thinking at all. 

I watch him at the table across the room, wondering if he's gonna come over this time. Last time, it seemed almost like he might. And the time before that, and the time... Well. I've been sitting at this table a lot lately, and pretty often (but not often enough) he's sitting over there at that one... The first time I saw him here, casual with his latte, I stared. Not because he's hot, even though he is. But because I was surprised to see him.

He's not the kind of guy you expect to just run into around town, but I guess even guys like him go to coffee shops, or grocery shopping, or get their cars fixed, or whatever. Actually, I'm not sure guys like him do get their cars fixed. I bet he's pretty good at stealing cars.

Bad boys, it's part of the attraction. I can admit that.

But that first time, a couple months ago, when he saw me staring at him, he left pretty quickly. I didn't expect to see him again after that, and I didn't think much more about it. A couple weeks later, though, he was back. That time, when I walked in, he stared at me. And there was something about it... When he caught me watching him, he turned away, and pretended he hadn't been looking. But less than a week later, he was back, watching me again. It made me a little nervous, really. He's not a safe kind of guy. And he probably has reasons not to like me very much. Or he probably thinks he does, anyway.

I'd almost decided I needed to find a new Starbucks--it's not like there aren't dozens of them--when he, well, he smiled at me. It was half a second, so fast I wondered if I'd imagined it. But he caught my eyes, and he nodded slightly, and then he got up. My heart beat a little faster, and I wondered if he was coming over. But he just left.

I thought about that smile for the next few days, I can admit that, too. I dreamed about it. I dreamed about a lot more than his smile, actually. And I was up, in the middle of the night, when Byers and Frohike were asleep, seeing what I could dig up on him. I'm not sure what I expected to find. I already knew he was dangerous. I already knew he wasn't somebody you'd trust. I already knew there wasn't really very much information about him. He lives off-the-radar.

I ditched the records--even ditched the records of me looking--we all use each other's computers. And I didn't want them to know I was thinking... about him. They'd tell Mulder. I don't want to have that conversation.

And the next day, as I downed my second double espresso, he walked in again. I tried to ignore him. It didn't work. So I left. And I didn't see him again for a couple of weeks. I'd almost forgotten about him. Okay, so that's a lie. But I sure wasn't thinking about him, exactly, when somebody brushed against me as I grabbed some napkins. I turned around and was face to face with him. He looked--almost embarrassed. I don't know, really. He was reaching past me, his arm against my shoulder.

"Langly," he said mildly, nodding.

"Uh, hi." I stood and watched as he grabbed a lid for his coffee and headed out the door.

Out of sight, out of mind? Maybe not.

The next day, he nodded at me again, from across the room. But he didn't come over. I wasn't sure if I wanted him to or not. Okay, that's a lie. I wanted him to. But I didn't want to want him to, if you can follow that. And the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that--was yesterday.

What is this game we're playing? If there are rules, he's the only one who knows them. Why am I playing? Why am I still coming here? And why at the same time, every day, when I know--Well, you're laughing. I guess you should be. It's pretty obvious why I'm still here. But if you could see that smile, if you had those bright green eyes on you... You'd probably understand.

That look--it's like drowning. Drowning in emeralds.

And now he's standing, eyes still on me. I hold my breath, only half-aware I'm doing it. And his hand brushes my shoulder lightly, fingers on my hair, before he walks out. I swallow most of my coffee in a single gulp and stand up. This is--I shouldn't be playing this game. I should stay the hell away from him.

I'm telling myself this even as I stand just outside the doorway, looking around, trying to see where he's gone. For all I know, he's vanished. Cloaking device, maybe.

I give up and head for home. Two blocks away, a hand reaches out of a doorway and grabs my arm. It's him. He's been, my God, waiting for me.

"Langly." The smile again, like he's pleased to see me. It's novel, I gotta give it that.

"Hey, Alex," I say, a little--but I have to admit not much--warily. "Did you want something?"

He's still smiling, and for a minute, I don't think he's going to answer. Then he looks me over, and Jesus, he doesn't have to answer. Wow. I am in way over my head here.

"What's your first name, Langly? What do your friends call you?"

I blink at him like a big dummy. Why's he asking this? He can find it out. In fact, he has to already know. Then it sinks in: that's not really what he's asking. So I say what he wants to hear. And, I admit, what I want to say. What I want him to hear.

"Ringo. My friends call me Ringo, Alex."

A brilliant smile, practically a damned grin, and his hand has never left my arm but it squeezes a little now. Are we bonding? Is this stupid? Or just dangerous. I don't know. And when he smiles at me, I don't think I care, either.

"See you later, Ringo," he says, and lets go. He's gone within seconds, and I couldn't tell you where he went. Me? I go home. I don't really know what else to do. See you later, Ringo. Way over my head.

I spend the rest of the day doing what the guys tell me, and not really thinking too much. While Frohike's making dinner, Byers gives me a look, like he wants to ask, but I turn up a CD and start up Age of Empires. In half an hour, by the time Frohike yells that dinner's ready, I'm toast. I can't concentrate. My game's suffering. And Byers looks like he wants to say something about that, too. But he doesn't. The music's too loud, and he doesn't even tell me to turn it down.

Second time today a guy has sat there staring at me across a room. Why does Byers make me more nervous than Krycek did? Makes no sense, no sense at all.

I mean, listen, I know Byers isn't harmless. Some of the shit I've seen that man do--and without even blinking--I dunno. Sometimes I break out into a cold sweat just thinking of some of the things I've seen him pull--and get away with. He could calmly ask the right questions in the middle of a riot. And he has, too, I've seen him do it. Even with a gun to his head, he's totally cool. There's gotta be something in him, lets him do that. Right?

And whatever it is, whenever I see it, I'm just glad it's on our side. But sometimes I get the feeling he might use it on us, on me. Like with him sitting over there staring at me.

So I make an effort, and join in the conversation, which, of course, centers around the next issue. It always does. We live together, and we eat together, and we put out a paper. Sometimes I think that's all that's holding us together. That and the cheap rent.

Don't get me wrong--I love the paper. I really do. I love knowing what's going on, and I love helping people. Surprised? Don't be, okay. I'm not a complete asshole, you know. I watch the American people get screwed over every day, and it makes me sick. So sometimes I can stop it, and that's a great feeling. You have no idea. But there's more to life, I know that. I'm just not sure if they do, Byers and Frohike.

So eventually, I'm crawling into bed, a little hollow, a little worried. A lot alone. And I know I'm gonna dream about those eyes again, that voice. That smile, Christ, that smile. But, hell, the dreams are a lot safer than the reality. Except I know I'm gonna be back there tomorrow, watching him, wondering if he'll come over and sit down this time.

It's two days later, and I'm distracted--badly--and I can tell Byers is gettin' ready to say something. "Game night," I call, and head out the door. I didn't see him yesterday. Didn't see him today. Just as well. He's not a safe guy, I think I already said that. Maybe I'm trying to remind myself, I dunno. But...

Really, all I've got to go on is what Mulder says. And Mulder's in no position to be objective. We all know Mulder's got it bad for Krycek. It's practically blinding. But then, he's convinced Krycek was behind Scully getting, well, abducted. Whatever it was that happened. Sometimes Mulder gets drunk and goes on about being betrayed by him. I dunno. So between lust and hate and mistrust, Mulder's kind of crazy on that one. Even I can figure that one out. Hey--just cause I don't play the game, doesn't mean I don't know how it's done.

So I'm not paying a lot of attention tonight, and then somebody steps out of an alley in front of me. That can be a little scary, in this town, in this neighborhood, this time of night. I can handle myself, though, so I keep moving. And then I'm close enough to see who it is, and I don't know if I should be more or less scared that it's Alex. I'm not so sure I can handle myself with this.

He smiles at me, and is that adrenaline rush from fear or excitement or what.

"Ringo." He's happy to see me again, and I'm still weirded out by that.

"Alex. Haven't seen you around lately." Oh, shit. Why did I say that? God, that sounds so pathetic.

He glides up to me, the way that guy moves, Christ. "I've been out of town."

I shrug, like I don't care. Like I don't have a hundred questions. Like I'm not staring at those eyes, that mouth.

"Are you busy?"

What the hell--? "Game night," I say, before I can stop myself. He's gonna laugh. But he doesn't. He shrugs, glances away. He looks almost disappointed, and how is that possible.

He looks back though, and smiles again. "Another time, then." And he's gone, and I'm standing there, staring after him, wondering, well, just for starters, where the hell he came from and where the hell he went and how does he do that?

I shake myself out of it, and realize I've gone half a block back toward HQ before I thought about it. Right. Game night. Right. I rattle my dice in my pocket, turn, a little embarrassed, but nobody's around, so I guess it doesn't matter I'm such a dope I forgot where I was going, and head off for the game. I'm gonna get my ass kicked.

And once again, I'm sitting here drinking my espresso alone. I haven't seen him since last night. Last night, that sucked. I totally got my ass kicked. I was hardly paying attention. I lost so many side bets I'll be buying the pizzas for the next year. What is this guy doing to me? It's pathetic. And more than a little scary, really. Jesus. I'm in way over my head, and I don't even know what the hell it is we're doing here.

I leave, after, really, way too long, and head home. And it happens again. I guess he's getting a kick out of surprising me. And then I wonder what else he wants, but then he smiles and I don't care.

"You busy?"

"Just headin' home." I wanted to play it cool, and I make a discovery: it's impossible to lie while you're tongue-tied. I'm trying not to stare at his jeans, but God... I'm glad I don't wear my own that tight, especially right now. But he's sure got the build for it. "How're you?"

"Day off," he says. It's not what I asked, but I guess it's what I wanted to know. I wonder if he can read my mind, seriously. He gives me a look, and I hope to hell he can't. Jesus.

Then he puts his hand on my arm and starts walking, sort of pushing me along with him. "You have lunch yet? I know a great little out-of-the-way place."

I blink at him. "I guess." Oh, that sounded intelligent.

He stops and laughs at me a little. "Do I make you nervous, Ringo?"

I let out a snort. "No, of course not." But he's still grinning, so I look at my feet. "A little, yeah, Alex." I didn't mean to say that. I'm a moron.


Oh, shit. I don't want to get into this. I really don't. This guy could kill me if I piss him off, and he seems like he's got a short temper anyway. "It's, uh--I just, uh--"

He takes my arm again and starts walking. "It's okay," he says casually. "I'm just kidding. I know why." And he smiles at me again. "My reputation precedes me."

"Kinda, yeah." Oh, shit, what'd I say that for? Yeah, Alex, you make me nervous because I hear you're a psycho assassin. You think he'd just laugh or cut me into little pieces if I said that.

"Don't believe everything you hear," he says, and I shrug. "I shouldn't have to tell you that."

And I laugh--nervously of course--and change the subject. "Where are we headed?"

"Let me surprise you," he says, and I think if he surprised me any more, I'd have a stroke. But I don't say that.

"Okay." And surprise me he does. Vegetarian pizza. Soy cheese. Whole wheat flour. Grateful Dead playing in the background. And he's laughing at my expression.

"What were you expecting?"

I'm not answering that. I don't know what I was expecting. A dark alley? A leather bar? I don't know. He finds us a table, there's potted plants on walls between every table, the place is like a jungle. He orders for us, which is fine, 'cause I'm still tongue-tied. Pile on the veggies, that sort of thing. The waitress leaves, and we regard each other a little warily across the table.

"What are we doing here, Alex?"

He cocks his head slightly to the side and his lips twitch. "Having lunch." He's teasing me now.

"Listen, Alex," I say before I think about it, "are you expecting me to, tell you stuff? About Mulder and stuff?" As soon as I realize what I said, I sort of flinch. If he gets mad about it, well. He could kick my ass without blinking.

But instead he rolls his eyes. "Right. The world revolves around Mulder. If you want to," his voice is mocking, and I feel incredibly stupid, "tell me stuff, I don't care. But I just... enjoy your company."

And he looks almost surprised he said it, but it's nothing to what I'm feeling right now. "Why?" I'm incredulous.

And he glances away, looks up at the ceiling, down at the table, and then at a point to the left of me. "Why not? I'm curious about you."


He grins at me. "You're playing games. You know what I'm talking about. You're brilliant and skilled, and you're living in a warehouse with a couple of guys you have nothing in common with, instead of a Silicon Valley condo with an armload of babes."

Now, normally, I get defensive about this. I'm doin' what I want to be, making a difference. And, okay, so I'm not rich. But, dammit, I know stuff the powers that be don't want anybody to know. I know what's really goin' on out there. Most people never even think about it, but I know. But he's grinning, and I'm completely off-balance anyway, I guess I should've realized he knew where I lived, knew all about me, but I didn't really think about it, he's got me floored. So I just kinda shrug. "Not my style."

And he's still grinning. "Silicon Valley? Or the armload of babes," he says, as the pizza comes. Surprisingly it smells pretty good. We each grab a slice, and I take a bite. It's not too bad.

"Earthquakes," I half-mumble through cheese, and he laughs like I just said something really funny.

"So why?"

"I guess because I like what I do."

"Truth, justice, and the American way."

It's all I can do to not make some crack at him about that, but I stop myself. It doesn't matter. He sees it in my face, I think.

He looks down at the table again, shrugs and puts his pizza down. "I should have known this wasn't going to work," he says, acting a little sad. He pulls a twenty out of his pocket--no wallet--and drops it on the table, standing up. "It was nice talking to you, Ringo. Take care of yourself." And he leaves.

And before I know what I'm doing, I'm on my feet, following him out the door. "Alex," I say, grabbing his arm. He tenses when I do it, and I cringe, like maybe he's gonna hit me--he's got those reflexes and I should have remembered--but then he sort of slumps. "Listen, I'm sorry. Don't go, okay? I'm sorry. It's just that--just that I'm not sure what you want."

He stops, and he doesn't look at me when he says it. "A friend."

And that blows my mind. He sure doesn't seem like the kind of guy who has any friends, but he doesn't seem like the kind who wants any, either. And even if he did, why the fuck would he want me?

"Maybe we could sort of start over?"

And now he looks at me, looks into me, searching my eyes with those emeralds. "I don't think it's going to work out," he says eventually.

"Just give me a chance." And I can't believe I said that. I'm--begging--Alex Krycek to let me be his friend. I can't imagine what's got into me. I'm feeling a little crazy, a lot too warm, and kind of--out of it. Detached, I guess, is the word. I know it's me standing there with my hand on his arm, but it feels like it's somebody else.

He puts his hand over my hand where it's holding his arm, and it's like a shock runs through me. And he's still staring into my eyes. "I'd--" he starts, and then changes his mind. He looks down, and shrugs slightly. "I don't think it'll work. You don't trust me, and you're probably right about that. And you think I'm after something, and..." He stops, and now he looks up at me in suspicion. "Did you tell Mulder we've been talking?"

"What? No. Why would I do that? Really, Alex. I haven't told anybody." I know that's the wrong thing to say, I've just told a hired killer nobody knows I'm alone with him, but it's obvious he's thinking maybe I am after something from him, and I want to show him I'm not.

But he pulls away from me. "I don't know, Ringo. I'd like to believe that," he says softly, and then he crosses his arms across his chest. He's even more beautiful like this. There's something haunted about him.

"I need to think about it," he says. "I don't know." And he shrugs again.

And then he turns around, and starts to walk away. "It's been nice talking to you anyway, Ringo. Maybe I'll see you around."

And he's gone, and instead of being relieved, I'm feeling--let down, I guess. And I go home. I haven't got anything else to do, really.

But when I get home, I wish I hadn't. Byers is out, but Frohike is there, and he's just kind of watching me. I head for the kitchen. I didn't eat more than a couple bites of lunch, and, really, I haven't been eating too much lately anyway. So I look through the fridge, open every cupboard, and decide there's nothing I really want to eat. So I settle for a Jolt, and maybe it'll pick me up. I sit down at the table, and a movement catches my eye. Frohike, standing in the doorway, frowning at me.

"What." I guess I snapped at him, cause his eyebrows go up.

"You okay, kiddo?"

I hate it when he calls me that. It's almost as bad as "Blondie". "Cut it out, okay?"

If his eyebrows went up any farther, they'd be part of his receding hairline. He comes in and sits across from me, propping his head in his hands. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong."

"Right." He's not buying it, I can tell. But I guess he's not gonna push it. Him and Byers both. We're friends, but, you know. We don't get into each other's personal business too much. We don't want to know.

And right now, Mel doesn't want to know. And that's fine with me.

"Did you have lunch?" he asks suddenly.

"Yeah. Pizza."

He glances at the fridge, the cupboards. "So, what, you just had the post-lunch munchies?"

I know what he's getting at. "Do I look stoned?" I ask, pissed.

He looks at me seriously for a minute or so. "No. You don't. But you do look hungry. Your ribs are practically sticking out, kid. Let me fix you something."

My half-full can clunks as I drop it on the table and stand up. "I'm gonna go take a nap." And I brush past him, ignoring him when he says my name.

Dinner, though. And Frohike's staring at me again, watching me eat. So's Byers, so I know they've been talking about me. I'm fuckin' thrilled. Dinner is, I dunno, some kind of noodle thing. And it's pretty good, but the... ambiance is kinda putting me off. So I'm pushing my food around my plate, kind of, I guess, and, okay, maybe I'm thinking about tomorrow, if I'll see him again. If I want to. If I should want to.

But, I dunno. I don't think I'm gonna. I think I screwed it up. If he really did want a friend, I think I pretty much scared him off.

That's kind of a weird thought. That I could scare Alex.

"What's funny?" Frohike says, and I realize I must've made some kind of noise.

"Nothing. Just thinking."

And Byers stands up and starts wrapping up the leftovers. And I realize they're both finished eating. Frohike stands up too, and puts their empty plates together. I put down my fork and I go to stand up, too, and Frohike frowns at me.

"You barely ate anything. Didn't you like it?"

"It was great. I've got work to do, okay?" And I--I admit it--pretty much bolt for downstairs. By the time they get down, it looks like I'm already deep into the sites I check daily, but, not so deep I don't notice The Looks. I ignore them, and they both start working on whatever.

I'm hearing a lot of typing, though. And, you know, just coincidentally, they're not typing at the same time. Byers'll type something, and then Frohike'll be clattering away across the room. And I know what that means. I'm tempted to see what they're sayin', but I can pretty much guess anyway. I can see Narcboy frowning at me out of the corner of my eye, and it's pretty damned obvious they're trying to decide if I'm... reverting to some of my old habits. So I'm thinking about it, and I realize they've been watching me pretty close for the last month or so. Long enough, you'd think, to realize they haven't seen me stoned yet, I'm probably not.

Anyway, I can't take it. Before it's even nine-thirty, I'm totally fed up with the two of them. I sigh, I fake a yawn, and I stand up. "Goin' to bed. See you in the morning."

Frohike stops typing, and they both look at me, and then they look at each other. And I head upstairs before I find myself yellin' at them.

Now it's been four days, and I've been barely even sleeping, living on caffeine and--hope? Fear? Christ. I don't even know. All I know is, every day I'm back at my table, downing cup after cup of java, and feeling my heart jump every time that door opens. By the second day, I'm so jittery I jump every time the damned door opens. It's pathetic.

And here's one funny thing--even though I'm hardly sleeping at all, I'm spending a lot of time pretending to be sleeping. Like, whenever the guys are home. Because, I'll tell you, I am sick of The Looks. If there've been any more of those idiotic IM conversations about me, I haven't noticed them, but right now I probably wouldn't notice if a UFO dropped on my foot. Instead of sleeping, I stare at the ceiling and try to convince myself I don't want to see him again, I'm glad he decided to leave me alone.

I'm getting pretty good at it. I can convince myself within about six hours at this point, but then every morning, my feet take me where my head says don't go. It's like my brain lost the deciding vote.

Though, with this much caffeine in me, I've probably completely dissolved my brain anyway. It's pretty funny, or maybe it just seems funny to me 'cause I'm totally fucked up, but I know the guys think I'm wired, and I have to stop myself laughing at them, since I know it's true.

So it's Monday, and Like I said, I haven't seen him in four days, not like I've been looking. Yeah, right. Not like I've been scanning streets and alleys, not like I whip around every time the door to the Starbucks opens. Not like the staff here is totally sick to death of seeing me.

And the door opens, and I jerk my head round like a puppet on a string, and then I start breathing again. It's a kid, late teens, I guess, same dark hair as him. Not as tall. Really, nothing like him, just the same hair color. But for a second... And I'm still thinking that when the kid comes straight over to me, he doesn't even look around or anything. And he hands me a CD. "A guy wanted me to give this to you."

"What guy?"

And he looks out the window, and now he's looking around, and then he shrugs. "He was out there, but he's gone now. He just paid me to give it to you." And he's out the door.

I look at the CD. Soundgarden. I have this one, of course. I pick it up, turn it over, open it. Written across the top of the CD, in green Sharpie, is a phone number.

And we get this kind of thing from sources a lot, really, so there's no reason for me assuming what I automatically do assume, which is, Alex. I leave the coffee there and bolt out the door with the CD in hand. If he was just around, then maybe he is still. But he's not, not that I can find, but he's, I know I mentioned this, really good at appearing and disappearing. So I dig through my pocket for a some change, and head for a pay phone.

He answers on the third ring. I knew it was gonna be him, but still I'm surprised, and I don't say anything for a moment. Then, "Alex?"

"Hey, Ringo." And that surprises me too, but he doesn't give me a chance to ask about it yet. "I thought about it..." and he kind of stops for a second, but then he goes on. "And, maybe..."

He's quiet, so now I ask. "Is this phone... safe? I mean," I'm a little embarrassed, "can we talk?"

And he laughs, like I just said something really funny. And when he answers, I guess I can see how I did. "This one is safe. I am a professional, you know."

And that's true. I'm just a hyped-up paranoid, and he's a professional spook. And I laugh too. "Sorry," I say. "Too much coffee makes me suspicious."

"Of me?" he says, lightly, but there's kind of an edge to it.

"Nah," I say. "But I'd be surprised if there weren't people at least trying to listen in on your calls."

And the smile's back in his voice, at least that's how it sounds to me. "There usually are. But I'm a professional. You can trust me that this phone is safe."

And I shrug. I guess I do trust him, on this. If anybody's, like, recording this or something, it's probably Alex himself. And that hits me, kind of like, I don't trust this guy, and I know I shouldn't. Why the hell am I saying I do? I'm still in over my head, and getting deeper.

"It just occurred to me, that day," he's going on, "that maybe Mulder was using you, you know? To get to me. He really does hate me that much, I think. And you're his friend, and Scully's, so I suppose you think you have good reasons to hate me too..." He trails off and I'm just standing there, kind of surprised, listening to this. "Still there?"

I nod, then realize he can't see that, duh, we're on the phone. "Yeah. Just listening."

"Maybe if I'd had a chance to explain myself, I don't know," he goes on. "But that's done, anyway. For me. But maybe not for you, and I know not for Mulder. I just kind of realized what I was doing, hanging around you. I don't usually put myself at risk like this, you know."

And he breaks off again, and I get the impression he didn't mean to say that. And I have, I guess, kind of an epiphany. Alex Krycek, whatever else he is, is just a man. He's just a guy, with his own problems and his own doubts. It makes him human, and, I admit it, I like him for that. And I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. And then I say: "I'm not a threat to you, Alex."

And he chuckles--Alex Krycek, chuckling--and he says, "I spent the last four days telling myself that you are, and that I need to stay away from you. It--" he laughs again, "it didn't work very well. I'd think about what I was getting myself into, and then I'd stop thinking about the dangers, and just keep thinking... God, I sound like an idiot."

And I have to smile at that. "Yeah, but I don't have any room to judge. I've been doing the same thing the last few days."

He laughs again, and it's like the joke's on us, both of us. So I laugh with him.

"Do you like the CD?"

"Yeah, thanks. They're a great band. Do you listen to them?"

"I listened to that one, after I got it for you. Since I had it open anyway. It's not bad. I was in a store yesterday and remembered that I saw you wearing that shirt once... I wasn't sure if I'd give it to you or not. If I'd see you again. But this morning, I just..." He laughs a little. "You've probably already got that one, right?"

And I grin. "Yeah, but Frohike got fed up with it and hid it. He put a Frank Sinatra CD in the case." Actually, it was one of my other CDs he did that with, but who cares. It was neat that he got me something, and I want him to know I appreciate it.

Now Alex is really laughing. "I knew he was a Sinatra guy the first time I saw him. He really swiped your CD?"

And right now, here, over the phone, it's like we're a couple of old friends, nothing else. And I realize I like that feeling. "You wanna have lunch with me, Alex? I'll tell you how I got even."

And now he sounds a little surprised himself. And a little surprised at himself. "All right," he says, sort of slowly. And then he says, "I know a great burger place."

"As long as I can get a beer there. I've got a huge caffeine buzz on."

And he loves that, too. He laughs. "Sure."

I'm up all night, still wired. But I'm in a great mood. And I'm getting more weird looks, but different ones this time, at least, from the guys. They're staring at me as I come home, humming. They're staring at me as I dig into the editorial, which is mine this week. They're staring at me as I find a box of Twinkies and eat them all. They're staring at me as I have seconds on dinner.

I probably went over the line, though, when I didn't bitch about having to do the dishes, that's mine this week, too.

But, you know what? I don't give a fuck. They can sit and IM that I've been replaced by a pod person for all I care. Alex has a wicked sense of humor, I found that out today. Spent an hour and a half with him, about, before his cell phone rang and he had to go. He didn't say where, I didn't ask. It kinda put a shadow on things. I did wonder if he was going out to, you know, kill somebody. Something like that. But I'm probably just being melodramatic. I mean, we'd be knee-deep in bodies here.

He told me to call him, anytime. Pulled out another cell phone, a completely different one, from a different pocket. "Private line," he said. "This is the one you have the number to. So don't worry. It's clean. I don't always carry it, sometimes I can't. But it'll save the number you called from, and I'll call you back. No voicemail, sorry. And--" he half-smiled, "I'll tell you when I get a new one. I do that, some."

And then he gave me a weird look, kinda like the ones I've been getting from the guys all night, and he said, "Maybe I'll get a line just for you." And he tossed a twenty on the table and disappeared.

And I think I know what that means, maybe, but, damn. Maybe I'm not the only one in over his head here.

I'm playing the CD most of the night, my copy. The one with the phone number is stashed in my room. I don't want the guys to find it, and I have the number memorized already. Like, no reason not to hide it, you know? I don't think the guys'll search my room or anything, even back when they thought I was, you know, partying a little too heavy, they pretty much just limited themselves to disapproving stares and lectures on getting the work done on time. Like I said--we don't really get involved with each other's personal business too much. We've all got our problems, and we all kind of deal with them ourselves. Which is just as well, 'cause they'd freak.

I wonder if I'll see him tomorrow. If he'll be busy, or out of town again, or what. If I don't see him tomorrow, I wonder if it'd be too soon to call him. Probably. I don't want him to decide I'm the kind of guy who'd screw up his life by being underfoot all the time. Of course, his life must be pretty screwed up anyway, to be doing what he does. When we were talking, today, there were a couple times when he sounded tired as hell, so I guess he knows it too.

I gotta remember to check the phone number he gave me. Maybe it's not as safe as he thinks. And maybe it'll get me somewhere I can find out some more about him. Later. It's practically morning, and I think I can actually sleep. And I know what I'm gonna dream about. Those eyes--that smile--and everything else.

I am in way over my head.


Harpy Handmaiden of the Goddess of Irony

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