Alex Krycek traveled through Serbia with a detachment of Russian UN peacekeepers. He liked Serbia: you could get anything you wanted and no one asked questions, and so long as you could deal with the fact that the place was run by complete psychos who thought they were living in the 13th century, you were fine. That was true of all of former Yugoslavia, but in Serbia they didn't shoot at you for speaking Russian.
The problem with a place where you could get anything you want was that other people could get anything they wanted, too; and other people, in Krycek's experience, tended to want things that were not good for Alex Krycek. So here he was, on his way to Kosovo. All work, no play.
Krycek said goodbye to the peacekeepers in some no-name town up in the mountains, a place with two dirt roads, a handful of chickens and a filthy cafe at the crossroads; he settled down at a table outside to watch the traffic and the chickens and the dirt-smeared children. The owner brought him a cup of muddy coffee and two old guys looked up from their chess game every now and then to scowl at him. Four gangling young men in badly cut suits which bulged over their guns came to sit at the last of the outdoor tables; they watched Krycek out of the corners of their eyes, careful not to stare directly, and carried on a loud conversation about women they'd had and men they intended to kill. Krycek ignored them.
There was nothing but cold silt in the bottom of his cup when a dusty Land Rover pulled up at the crossroads. The chickens scattered as a wrinkled old woman climbed out of the passenger side; dressed all in black and carrying bags which probably weighed more than she did, she mumbled something in Serbian and set off down the road. The driver of the Land Rover got out and watched her go before heading to the cafe.
An American woman, Krycek saw: a woman who was so obviously American that he thought she had to be a spy. It wasn't her clothes, although the boots, jeans and black cloth jacket were certainly American-made, or the mannish sunglasses, or the practical short hair; it was the way she ignored the four young men leering and the two old men scowling, the way she stood, the way she walked straight to Krycek's table.
The young men fell silent when she came and sat across from Krycek; he could feel the tension radiating off them and continued to ignore it. "Who the fuck are you?" he asked the woman. Dark hair, a bony face, no makeup. She might have been a doctor, an aid worker, something like that.
"We met a few years ago in St. Petersburg," she answered. "Don't you remember? Yelena."
His first guess had been right. Those were the code words and that the name. "Right," he answered, "at the immunology conference." That was his side of the exchange taken care of. "Coffee?" he offered.
She shook her head. "Not here." He gave a small shrug and left money on the table.
She gave her report in the Land Rover; clear and concise, he thought. If he had to have a partner, this one might not be a catastrophe. "The man you want is a small-time arms dealer," she told him. "He works out of an electrical store in Socanica."
The set-up didn't sound so bad. Catching the guy wouldn't be a problem. But what the fuck was this small-time guy doing selling material that belonged to the Russian project?
"What is he really selling?" she asked.
"Biological. That's all you need to know."
She gave him a sidelong look. "The Russians lost something, and we're left to clean up the mess?"
He nodded. If only it was that simple. The Project was usually better at keeping track of their stuff. "Just show me where to find this guy," he said. "I'll do the rest."
At the door to the shop, he paused to ask, "Does this guy know you?" She nodded. "To start out, I'm in the market for Stingers. I'll take it from there."
The contact did know her, he saw, and as they sat over tea in the back of the shop the conversation moved smoothly from the video equipment on display to the rocket launchers. From there it was only a small step to "something a little special," and after just enough flattery the man admitted that he knew about something good. "Something dangerous," the man said. "Biological."
Krycek leaned back in his chair. "That shit isn't worth the trouble. Looks great in the labs, and gets you fuck all in the real world."
"This," the man assured him, "is different."
It only took a few more questions to convince Krycek that he'd found the right man. They made an agreement to meet again for a demonstration in three days, after the man had received his delivery.
Now for the messy stuff. As the man reached forward to shake on it, it was no trouble to twist him around and lay him over the desk.
"Tie his hands," he told Yelena. They manhandled the guy into the chair and Krycek stepped back to look at him. Small, sallow, thinning hair that showed a scalp darkened by cheap dye. He was babbling about protection. "It's too late for that," Krycek told him.
The information he wanted was simple. He offered the man the opportunity to tell him right away, just to be fair. It wasn't his fault if other people were idiots.
By the time he was done Yelena's lips were set in a thin straight line and his gloves were stiff with blood. Their man was slumped forward in the chair, bent over a bucket despite the ropes. Krycek pulled the glove from his prosthetic hand and examined it: it was a pain in the ass to keep clean. Satisfied, he worked the glove from his other hand, wincing at the taste of the Serb's blood. He tossed the gloves into the bucket and pulled his jacket back on. "Let's go."
"You're leaving him alive?" Yelena asked.
"He won't cross us again. You got a place to stay the night?"
"I know a bar that rents rooms in Mitrovica."
A hand on his shoulder woke him. Adrenalin fueled a quick blow, the twist of his body -- the gun was in his hand and he had his opponent pinned. His finger tightened on the trigger as the face beneath him came into focus. Yelena.
Her face shone reflected moonlight up at him. "Alex..." she began. One white hand reached up to his cheek.
He rocked back on his heels and stood; safety back on, the gun went into his jeans. As she climbed to her feet, he went to stand next to the window. "What's up?" he asked.
Her answer didn't come in words, but in the sway of her hips as she walked to him and placed her fingers on his lips. He stood still for a moment, then took a step further back into the shadows.
"You have someone," she said.
Did he? Who the fuck knew? "What's your game, Yelena?"
"Just this," she said, and stepped out of the moonlight to kiss him.
If that's the way it's going to be, Krycek thought. Her mouth opened under his, hot and greedy; she moaned something as he pulled her hard against him. She was good, he admitted to himself, eager and pliable and under other circumstances this might have been play, not work. But her moans didn't cover the creak of the floorboards outside in the hall, and when the door burst open he was prepared and had already pushed her halfway across the room. The three armed men who entered seemed to fill up the space, but Krycek kept his eyes on the fourth man.
"Hello, Andre," Krycek said. Even in the middle of the night there was something of the accountant about Andre Drazen, dressed neatly with wire-rim glasses and short salt and pepper hair. He looked as if he would have soft hands.
"Sascha," Andre replied. "How could you come to Kosovo without visiting us?"
Andre glanced at Yelena, then back at Krycek. "It's good that you're here. A terrible thing has happened."
The solemn look on Andre's face might have been hiding amusement. "My mother's cousin was attacked this afternoon. A tragedy. He might have been killed."
"A tragedy indeed," Krycek said. "I wish him a speedy recovery."
"Would you like to come and pass along your wishes in person?"
Krycek's mouth stretched into a smile. "Unfortunately, my business prevents it. I hope he wasn't one of your favorite cousins."
Andre shrugged. "I try to keep them out of trouble, but what can you do? At least he's still alive and will recover. God willing." He paused to stare at Krycek. "He must have involved himself in something very dangerous."
Krycek bent his head in agreement; looking up, he caught something on Yelena's face he couldn't quite interpret. She looked... tenser than he would have thought. As if there was something very important riding on this conversation, something even more important than Andre deciding not to kill them for roughing up that cousin of his. Krycek found himself tensing up as well: what the hell was her agenda? And how did he and his mission fit into it? She glanced at him, and he flicked his eyes back to Andre who, it seemed, was about to get to the point.
"I understand the need to make examples," Andre said. "I'm sure you understand that, too."
"I can give you the man who brought your cousin into this," Krycek said. He was tired of beating around the bush. "How's that?"
"Everything's set up."
"You were going to kill him anyway," Andre observed.
Krycek shrugged. "I'll do the hit. Are you in or not?"
Andre gave a single sharp nod. "We'll be back tomorrow." He turned on his heel, and his men followed him out the door. Krycek listened carefully. One was left standing just outside; there would be another on the stairs, or maybe patrolling outside. Looked like none of them were going anywhere. He turned back to Yelena, saw her take a step backward. But she'd gotten what she wanted: why shouldn't he? Whatever she was planning, he figured she needed him alive for it. "Now..." he purred. "Where were we?"
The sheets were cold. He shifted, seeking warmth and... Where the hell was she?
Eyes opened, blinked. He was facing the window: dirty curtains, the dresser against the wall, dark wood against grayish paint. The prosthesis was lying there, one gun next to it. He twisted his head, caught a glimpse of the stained ceiling, and yes, there was the other, on the nightstand. An indentation in the pillow, already cool. Fuck.
He sat up, stretched, rolled his shoulders and neck. All present and accounted for up here. His clothes were where he had left them, including the jeans on the floor, now cold and dusty as he picked them up. He pulled them on, splashed water from the room's sink onto his face and twisted and cursed his way into the harness.
Yelena was downstairs in the hotel lobby, sitting with Andre and his brother Alexis. The accountant and the pretty one, that's how everyone knew them, Victor Drazen's two strong hands. At the sight of the three of them, something prickled in the back of Krycek's head, something about the setup that didn't feel right. Not dangerous, necessarily, but not what it seemed, which in Krycek's experience amounted to the same thing eventually. The new partner, the Drazen cousin, the missing Russian material... they fit together into a different picture than the one he'd been given. He let his eyes flick over Yelena as he sat down and gestured for a coffee. She was back in her mannish clothes, with that air of untouchability American women could sometimes produce, no trace of the seductive creature who'd turned up in his room the night before. Andre met his eyes easily, all business: if there was something between him and Yelena, it was work, not play.
"We were discussing the meeting. This afternoon?"
"At Batlava," Krycek confirmed. "At the old shoe factory."
"We know it," Andre said.
Krycek didn't expect to recognize the middleman: he would just be a tool who knew enough to find a buyer for what he was trying to sell. The man's eyes started to dart from side to side when Andre stepped out to meet him, but he liked to look of the dollars in Andre's briefcase and placed his own bag on the table. When he took out the documentation and passed it to Andre, Krycek could see the flasks lying on the foam padding beneath it. He put down the binoculars and shifted over to the rifle.
Yelena was with Alexis, over at the other side of the courtyard. The shot was Krycek's to take: he could silence the middleman and lose the trail. The man had been used to bring him here, to bring Yelena into contact with the Drazens, but the odds of him knowing anything useful were slim. He could just wound the dealer: he might be able to question him, get a name which would lead to another name, to another name, to... Why bother? Krycek already knew where it would lead. A plan this convoluted could only have been hatched at the highest levels.
Andre was reading the documentation. The dealer had one hand on the briefcase. Krycek shifted the rifle a few millimeters and tightened his finger. The dealer fell, blood beginning to pool around him. Andre tossed the file back onto the table.
Some days Krycek felt a little too much like an actor in some surrealist drama.
Yelena cared enough for the script to berate him for silencing the dealer. He told her that he already knew who the dealer worked for, which shut her up. She kept an eye on him as they went back to one of Andre's safe houses. There he endured the usual back-slapping and veiled offers--good snipers were always at a premium in Serbia. After a few too many shots of vodka he noticed that Yelena had stepped out onto the porch and followed her. When she turned to see who it was he caught up with her and kissed her hard.
She broke away. "I'm not your whore!"
"You're still for sale," he told her.
She slapped him.
The blow dispelled some of the fog in his head. "Don't take it personally, Yelena. We all do what we have to."
He waited for her response--"You don't know anything about me," something like that--but she just stood there and stared back at him, her lips a shade darker against the pallor of her face. She tilted her head up to him, enough of an invitation for him to kiss her again. Slow this time, he let the kiss linger before opening her mouth under his. She played hesitant, letting him set the pace, letting him explore her mouth, her quick tongue passive and her arms loose around his neck. But when he ran his hand down her shirt to her breast she arched forward with a gasp that started tension building inside him. He pressed his mouth along the line of her jaw and heard her gasp again as he fumbled with her shirt and reached inside her bra. He could feel her nipple hard under his thumb as she released him long enough to undo the rest of her buttons and sighed again when his mouth moved down to her other breast. Her fingers were in his hair, her breathing uneven. His hand moved down from her breast to her belly to the
button of her jeans, twisted and pulled and was rewarded with a wavering "Yes..."
He looked up at her, saw her eyes dark and her cheeks bright and pink. They were alone at this end of the porch. No one would disturb them: they all knew that Krycek had killed a man that day.
"Yes," she said again, more certainly this time, and reached for his jeans. Her mouth was against his again, deceptively warm and yielding, her hands cool and sure. It was his turn to gasp as she ran her fingers over him; he pushed against her hand but that wasn't what he wanted. His hand returned to her waist and then down under her jeans and panties. That was more like it, all the heat and moisture was where he needed to be right then and there and--
"Wait," she gasped into his mouth. He made a noise in his throat and started to push her jeans down over her hips. "There's a place to lie down. Up on the second floor."
He forced his hand to go still. There was no part of him that didn't agree that fucking her right now--on the porch, against the boards, on the ground--was the best possible idea. She saw it and rushed to button her jeans back up. "Show me," he grated out.
It took less than a minute for her to lead him up a flight of stairs at the side of the house. Through the door, as promised, was a cold, bare room with a sloping roof and a narrow bed against the far wall. Yelena did her research, that was for sure.
The thought cleared his head, and when she reached out to him again, he caught her arm and held it away from him. "You used me to make contact with Andre," he said. "If I hadn't killed the dealer today, I could have followed that trail all the way back to our mutual employers. Why?"
She tried to twist out of his grasp. "Why do you care?"
"I like to know why I'm being used."
"We're all being used. Isn't that what you told me? I don't know what they want with the Drazens--I just know they want them." She spat the words out and wrenched her arm away from him.
"All of them?"
She stood still, rubbing her arm. "Victor most of all. But he controls the rest, so..."
Krycek nodded. "It's a pretty elaborate plan."
"You know what they're like," she shrugged.
Yeah. Crazy old men sitting in their offices in Berlin and Washington, giving their crazy orders to people like him and Yelena, no consideration to what they themselves wanted, sending them out here to the ass-end of Serbia--in Krycek's opinion, only about two steps better than Afghanistan, and he'd bet Yelena felt the same--to end up screwing on a mildewed mattress. He was too old for this. But you took what you could, until you could take what you wanted. "I know they don't do anything without a reason," he said.
He could see her considering the problem. "You think it might be something important?"
"Who knows?" She tilted her head to the side, her mouth stretched into a smile that matched his: yeah, it was a fucked-up job, all right. And it was rare to find someone else who could understand that, so he leaned forward to kiss her. "Find out why, Yelena. If you want to survive this business, you need to know why."
She broke away, the long, lazy smile still on her face. "Is that free advice?"
"Nothing is free." He ran his hand over her shoulder and down her back. "But not everything is business."
There might have been an inch of air between their bodies. "What's this? Advice for the lovelorn double agent?"
He grinned. "Careful, Yelena. If that's your name." His hand was resting on her hip.
"Nina," she breathed.
"Nina," he kissed her again, slow and deep. "This is just for us."
There was a slow pulse building in him as he kissed along her jaw, down her neck. Her hands were everywhere, chest and back and the waist of his jeans again, teasing the skin there until he growled something into her collarbone. She made a noise between a laugh and a gasp and he felt something loosen between them: they struggled out of their clothes and made it to the cot, skin on skin in the cool night air. He lay back and met her eyes as she was poised above him. "Just us," she agreed and guided herself in.
Last night had been about all the tricks Krycek knew, the ways to leave her gasping, red-faced and incoherent. Now, though, she was deliberate, slick muscle up and down around him. He kept his eyes on her face, on the flush along her cheekbones and the humor in her eyes at some private joke. It seemed like a long time before the rhythm overtook them: skin brushing against skin, mouths meeting and missing, the taste of sweat, until her weight collapsed on top of him. They lay like that a while, until he ran his fingers along her ribs and she shivered and rolled off of him.
"If I do find out what this was all about, I'll let you know," she offered.
Krycek grinned: in their business, it was practically a love letter. She was resting on an elbow, looking down at him. "They're not so bad, the Drazen boys," he said. "I recommend Andre."
The laughter started in her eyes. Then the corners of her mouth twitched, and then she rolled onto her stomach, her shoulders shaking and her head in her hands. "No," she said when she could speak again. "I don't want to know what you meant, or how you know."
His eyes crinkled as he smiled back at her. "Alexis is too pretty."
"Pretty men," she agreed, eyes on his face, "are more trouble than they're worth."
"Thanks," he said and sat up. The mattress was too narrow for both of them, unless they were right on top of each other. "Guess we should go back down before they get curious about what we're plotting."
"They don't think we're plotting, Krycek."
Her comment got another snort of laughter out of him. Crap, though, his jeans were cold and dirty again. They dressed quickly, then it was back downstairs to the Drazen boys.
At the door, he caught her arm. "I'm heading back out tomorrow early. You ever get sent to Moscow, look me up." And maybe before he left he'd have a word with Andre--he would bet that Nina knew how to take care of herself, but it never hurt to have someone watching your back. He'd learned that the hard way.
She gave him a smile that said thanks, but you know what kind of world we're living in.
Yeah, he knew. Still, he'd had worse trips through Yugoslavia.
Universe belongs to 1013 Productions, Fox Television, and Chris Carter.
24 belongs to Fox Television and the show's
I make no claim to ownership of previously copyrighted materials, nor
do I make a profit from my use of them.
I've never been to Kosovo: pardon the inevitable inaccuracies. The geopolitics of these fictional universes differs from our own.
Thanks to Spica and Bardsmaid for beta-reading.