Pet Rock

by Vanzetti

"What the hell am I supposed to do with this?" Krycek snarled.

The banker remained impassive. "Mr. Arnauld wished for you to have it as a token of his appreciation of your work. Full payment of the agreed fee has already been deposited in your account."

"A token of his appreciation?"

"It is of course worth a great sum of money. You'll find the full documentation in the case." He hesitated. "If you prefer, we could arrange to have it sold discreetly on your behalf."

And cheat me out of half the money, too, Krycek thought. "No thanks. I'll take it with me."

"Then our business is done." The banker rose and nodded. "Good day."

Krycek's mouth tightened as the banker turned his back and walked to the door. If he'd had his gun... no. He needed the bank. And breaking out of it afterwards would be a pain in the ass. He looked down at his bonus; the head stared back up at him out of empty eyes. He slammed the case shut and stood. It was heavy. That's what you get, he thought, for carrying a big rock around. Some gift.

His gun was waiting for him in the bank's entrance hall--it was that kind of establishment--and the man at the desk eyed the bag. "Would Monsieur care to have the case delivered to his hotel?"

He cursed the nosy efficiency of the Swiss under his breath and said that no, he would carry it. The handle shifted in his hand as he set off down the street. Was it even worth going back to the hotel? But if the bankers wanted him dead it would have been easier to do it inside the building: stash him in a vault and who would ever know? Even so, he checked out and took a taxi to the train station.

The case and his bag made an awkward combination as he shouldered his way onto a local train and got off at an obscure spa town--hot springs and decaying grand hotels. One of them took him under a different identity; he rejected the first room they showed him, just to be safe.

When he was alone he tossed his luggage onto the bed and placed the case gently on the table. His fingers, reaching in, touched cold stone and ran over the worn ridges. He snatched his hand back and then, with a twitch of his mouth, reached in and hauled the head out of the case. It slipped from his hand and fell with a thunk the last few inches to the table; he suppressed the urge to jump back from it.

It lay on its ear, rocking gently back and forth. He reached out equally gently to stand it up. The cheek was smooth and cool; the marble had a faintly yellow tinge. The blank eyes stared up at him. A high brow, a line of hair drawn back in a simple bun--he could see it in the mirror-- and above that the helmet pushed back, its crest broken off. The nose was a straight mine down from the forehead and the face wasn't smiling. It didn't look grim, though: the head sat at an angle on its broken neck, giving it a quizzical look. He could imagine her raising one of those eyebrows at him as if to say, "Well, what now?"

He wasn't a barbarian. His babushka had taken him all the way to see the Hermitage Museum and dragged him around the galleries lecturing him until he could tell her what everything was. So he knew what there would have been below the broken neck: intricately folded drapery falling clean to her toes and the breastplate with the Gorgon's head on her chest. In his mind she held a spear, leaning against it. Athena, patron of craft and wisdom and war. His fingers seemed to reach out of his own accord to touch the ridges of her hair again, rubbing the plane where the edge of the helmet met it.

"I could have used your help a couple times," he told the goddess. She didn't answer. He ran a finger along the line of her eyebrow, then lifted his hand and stepped back. It felt... not right. From this angle it did look as if she were smiling at him, and his own mouth lifted in return. Then he shook his head to clear it and opened the file. Marble head of Athena, second century B.C., and a Turkish place-name. Black market, for sure, but he whistled at the estimated value. Not a bad bonus after all. He knew some people who handled this kind of item.

He looked at her again, the folder closed in his hand. The eyes under her brow were blank and smooth, but they seemed to meet his. He put the file down and switched on the lamp; the marble seemed to glow as well. He wondered suddenly where the people who owned this kind of thing kept them. He opened his mouth to say something else and snapped it shut. Talking to a piece of rock could not be a good sign.

She looked content, calm. There was a strength to the firm line of her mouth and jaw, and the high clear forehead spoke to him of wisdom and decision. He sat on the bed and imagined being able to look at her whenever he liked. He imagined that she could see him as well.

When he put the head back in the case, he ran his hand over the smooth marble cheek one final time.


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Thanks to Spica and Muridae for the beta, and to Kelly for the cheering on.
The illegal trade in antiquities is a serious problem and the people who engage in it, as buyers or sellers, should be hung. But Krycek, pretty obviously, doesn't share my scruples.
The X-Files are the property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox Television. All original elements are my own. No infringement of copyright is intended.