City streets, five in the morning
Would have stopped to phone you but I'm almost home.
At my back door there's a porch light that's shining.
No, I just don't mind living here by myself if I leave it on.
--Nanci Griffith, "Working in Corners"
It ought to be the start of a joke: a man walks into a bar. A man walks into a bar. There's a bar like this on every third corner in some cities: linoleum floor, ceiling stained yellow by decades of cigarette smoke, Formica tables, and the bar is only old and wood because no one could afford to replace it. New leather on the five booths that line one wall is the only nod toward gentrification.
The man might be another nod toward gentrification, but not much of one. He's wearing a suit, a good suit, but it's rumpled as if he's been wearing it a few days too long. He's got a long wool overcoat slung over his shoulder and a briefcase in his hand. The briefcase, like the man, looks like it's seen better days: a canvas case which barely zips around the rectangular shape of a laptop and an inch or two of paper. He heads straight for the bar and tosses the coat onto a stool. The briefcase gets placed gently on the floor before he takes a seat. No need to ask: the bartender has a drink in front of him already. Bourbon, on the rocks. He's known here. The bartender calls him by name, Mulder, and Mulder mumbles some kind of reply.
He's on his fourth bourbon, and the bartender is starting to give him anxious looks, when a new man walks in. He pauses in the doorway for a second to scan the room; when he sees Mulder his face doesn't relax in recognition. If anything, he looks grimmer. The other drinkers glance up at him and then away: the careful blankness in his eyes doesn't bear looking at too closely.
He sits down at the bar next to Mulder and orders a drink as well. If Mulder reacts to his voice or his presence, it doesn't show. The new man watches him out of the corner of his eye and opens his mouth as if to say something. He seems to think better of it, though. Instead he finishes his beer in silence and sets the bottle back on the bar.
Mulder only moves when the man gets up to leave. His hand shoots out with uncanny accuracy—he never even turned to look—and grabs the other man by the arm. Only then does he turn his head and they stare at each other for a second. The other man looks down at the white knuckles clutching his black leather sleeve. Now that he's unobserved there is, for the first time, a hint of some emotion on Mulder's face. Only for a second, before it's repressed. "He'll have another," he says to the bartender.
The other man pulls his arm back slightly, but Mulder maintains his grip. "Don't buy me a drink."
"Why not?" Mulder asks. "You can't stop me, Krycek."
"You know why not," Krycek answers.
"Do you want the drink or not?" the bartender asks.
"He wants it," Mulder says, and lets go of Krycek's arm. It's more of a shove, almost a violent motion.
Krycek slumps back onto his stool and contemplates the bottle. "I can't drink this."
"Some people say that if you save a man's life, he's your responsibility forever."
"That's bullshit," Krycek tells the bottle. "What the hell are you doing here, Mulder? Hiding out under your own name? Do you know how easy it was for me to find you?"
"Don't bother telling me you're here to kill me," Mulder says. "Three months in the grave didn't hurt my ability to follow a line of reasoning. You never meant to kill me."
Krycek glances at the bartender, who looks away and finds another customer to serve. "This is stupid," he says. "I should leave."
"You can't leave," Mulder says with the authority of a man on the edge of drunkenness.
"Don't give me orders." There's a flicker of something in Krycek's face: anger, maybe, or irritation. It disturbs, for a second, the dead look in his eyes.
"Then tell me what you're here for, since you're not going to kill me."
"I wanted to see you." It may not have been the response he expected to give: he looks surprised after the words leave his mouth.
It is not the response Mulder anticipated, and Krycek watches him examining the statement from every angle, shaking it like a child with a present, to see what is hiding inside it. "Krycek. I never knew you cared," he says flatly. "You should have just sent flowers."
"Fuck you, Mulder," Krycek says. "Go the hell back to Washington." He pushes himself off the stool and walks away. Mulder stares at his own two hands flat on the wooden surface of the bar; he gets up as the door closes behind Krycek, grabs his coat and briefcase, and follows him out.
Autumn is edging into winter; icy mist carries the orange light of the streetlights further. Krycek is nowhere to be seen, so Mulder starts trudging toward the apartment he has rented. When Krycek steps out of the shadows and starts to walk next to him, he shows no surprise. They walk step in step, down to the corner, where Mulder pauses on the curb. "Spit it out," he says. "Something brought you here, and something's keeping you here."
"Just passing through and heard you were in town. You might want to do something about that." Krycek steps off the curb and heads unerringly in the direction of Mulder's apartment.
Mulder hurries his steps to catch up. "So that scum sucking assassins like you can't track me down at my local bar?" Despite the insult, his voice is flat.
"Coming back from the dead really did a number on you, hunh?"
There is the slightest hesitation in Krycek's step. He jams his hand even further into the pocket of his leather jacket and stares down at the concrete. At the next corner, he turns right.
Mulder stops and watches him start across the street. "Hey," he says. "My apartment is this way."
Krycek turns and meets his eyes. "Mulder, it's late."
The silence stretches out between them. "Too late?" Mulder finally asks.
An awkward shrug is his only answer.
He tries again. "Do you have anywhere else you need to be? Aside from the middle of the street, I mean."
"Do you care?"
"If you get run over? I could pretend to care."
The smile on Krycek's face is like the hesitation in his step, gone before Mulder can be sure it was ever there. "Go home, Mulder. That's all I came to tell you. It's over. Go home."
"You know I can't."
"Because of your father?"
"Because I was missing for three months and dead for three more. I've seen things that..." His voice fails, and he continues in a different tone. "Come out of the street, Krycek."
"What's going on, Mulder? Now that you've been dead and I've been dead you think you understand me? Is that it?"
"I don't think I ever understood you, Krycek."
The anger fades from Krycek's face, and he stands there, one eyebrow half-raised, until Mulder ducks his head as if against a breeze. "Mulder," Krycek says, half a whisper, half a sigh.
"You've seen it too. You know it's never going to be over. Not really. That's why," Mulder whispers. "That's why I can't go back. You know it too."
Krycek remains silent as Mulder takes a step and then another into the street.
Mulder stops about an arm's length away and watches Krycek for a moment longer, as if waiting for some other reply. "It's late, Krycek. Come out of the street."
"You're impossible, Mulder. This... this is impossible."
One more step would bring them close enough to touch. Mulder stands still. "If you say so."
"Of course I say so. I'm..." He looks away from whatever he sees on the other man's expressionless face. When he looks again, Mulder has taken the last step.
"You kissed me once," Mulder says. "Do you remember?"
In the yellow streetlights, Krycek's face looks haunted. "It was a long time ago. Mulder, I'm not sure that man even exists any more."
"He exists." Mulder sounds certain. "We've been on the same side."
"I didn't think you believed that." Krycek's voice is rough.
"I want to believe it. Krycek, I..." His voice trails off. "Come home, Krycek."
The words hang between them. They stare at each other until Mulder looks away. He opens his mouth and closes it without saying anything.
"You know that can't--" Krycek begins.
At the same time Mulder says, "I just thought..." His voice trails off. "It isn't enough, is it?"
"I'm... I'm not sorry I came to see you."
"No." They stand close enough to touch, not touching. Mulder lifts his free hand, awkwardly, and lets it fall. "Well. Watch your back, Krycek."
This time Mulder can see Krycek's smile. "You too," Krycek says. He turns and makes his way across the street and away down the block. Hand in his pocket, head up, he doesn't hesitate or turn back.
Mulder watches him pass under the streetlights, but turns away before the other man is lost to his sight.
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elements are my own. No infringement of copyright is intended.
This story has been in progress (or rather, in lack of progress) for about two years. An earlier version was posted for nailing on Glass Onion; Kristen and Vehemently both gave very helpful comments. I suspect other people did so as well, but it was so long ago that I've forgotten who they were. Bardsmaid also beta'd the earlier version. I doubt that I took anyone's advice as fully as I should have.