Title: The Grey Havens
Author: Cody Nelson
Rating: G
Spoilers: Teeny ones for SR 819.
Summary: A late-night conversation.
Disclaimer: Krycek and Mulder belong to CC and 1013. No infringement intended.

This vignette originally appeared in WHEREABOUTS UNKNOWN, my Alex Krycek APA zine.

by Cody Nelson <codyne@netwizards.net>

There were times when Alex Krycek felt broken inside. Not often--most of the time, he felt nothing but a cool, comfortable emptiness, serene and untroublesome, that left him steady and calm and free to do the things he had to do.

Occasionally, though, he felt as though something hard and sharp had broken loose inside him and come to rest gently against his diaphragm, leaving him feeling sensitized and fragile. And no matter how carefully he held himself, the hard, sharp thing would sometimes shift without warning, stabbing deeply into him, and stop him where he stood, with the air suddenly trapped in his lungs, throat tight, eyes burning. Then he would have to blank his mind and deep-breathe until the pain subsided. He never knew what would cause the sudden shifts: a half-glimpsed line in a discarded newspaper; an overheard phrase; a few bars of an old song blasting from a passing car stereo. Sometimes there was no discernible source at all. But he knew they would come, and he would have to walk slowly and keep his eyes forward for a few hours or days until the broken feeling faded to emptiness again.

It didn't really trouble him. It was an inconvenience, merely, and the price he paid for still being alive. No one could go through everything he'd gone through and not have a few buried griefs that occasionally attempted to rise to the surface. One day this war would end, and if he managed to live through it, there would be time enough and safety to take all his troubles out and live through them. In the meantime, the emptiness was his shield, and the broken feeling his reminder that he was still human.

It was one of the broken times. He had awakened that morning from restless, dream-harried sleep, and dragged through the day under a vague pall of despair. It had rained briefly that afternoon, and the reflections in the shallow puddles in the street seemed to mock him with glimpses of unreachable peace on the other side. That evening, as he'd eaten his dinner in a nearly-empty burger joint, the melancholy strains of Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay" on the jukebox had nearly brought him to tears. Now he prowled restlessly through his two-room efficiency apartment, wondering how many hours would have to pass before the oblivion of sleep would free him.
He sat dully through the eleven o'clock news, then cycled through the channels twice before finally switching off the television. He cleaned his gun with great care, and then cleaned it again. He mended a tear in his favorite gray shirt. There were two small, dark oily spots on it that no amount of detergent could get out. He remembered a time when he'd worn this shirt and used a needle and thread on human flesh, and his eyes filled, and he had to blink away the wetness before he could finish.

He went over to his desk and picked up the small electronic device sitting there. He flipped open the case and stared at the LCD display. "Skinner," it read. A flick of his thumb and a man would die. He felt a strange compulsion to do it--to put an end to the game. He felt another compulsion to drop the device in the mail to the FBI and have done with it. He would do neither. Having an Assistant Director in the FBI under his control was too valuable a weapon to throw away. He didn't know yet what use he would make of it, but if the time came when he needed Skinner's help, he would be glad he had the means to secure it. He put the device in the desk drawer and shut it away.
It had been necessary. It had all been necessary, everything he'd done, and he would not waste time in regret, nor would he let despair overwhelm him. But the night was deepening, and darkness seemed to be creeping into him, and the broken places inside were growing sharper and heavier.
Nearly two a.m., and he was still far from sleep. Too late to go out to a bar, and not a wise thing to do anyway, especially not in this mood. But his own thoughts were poor company tonight. He picked up his cell phone and stared at the number pad.

Who was there who would want to talk to him at this hour? He had no family, no friends, not even a colleague he'd trust.

Then how about an enemy? He dialed a long series of numbers that would reroute his call through several relay points and render it untraceable, then the phone number he hadn't used in four years, but which he'd never forgotten. At least he probably wouldn't wake his old partner and best enemy by calling him this late.

"Mulder." Answered on the second ring, the voice was quiet and rough with the lateness of the hour, if not from sleep. Noncommittal: not angry or irritated by the late-night interruption, but not eager for it either. Perhaps a trace of weariness, of sadness. Or maybe that was just Krycek's projection.

"Hi, Mulder." Krycek's own voice was soft and fragile in his ears. "Krycek." There was barely any change in Mulder's tone, just a slightly greater weariness. It was as if he had been expecting Krycek to call. "What do you want?"

What did he want? It was a good question. Of course, he hadn't gotten as far as figuring out what he would say before punching out Mulder's phone number. "Nothing. To talk."

Silence. Krycek could picture him staring incredulously into the phone, a dozen smart-aleck replies vying for first place out of his mouth. But all he finally said was, "You want to talk?"

Now it was Krycek's turn to be silent. There was no point trying to explain to Mulder about the broken feeling. Even if he understood, there was no reason he should care. There was no reason he should want to talk to Krycek at all.

"Have you ever read The Hobbit?"

"You called me up in the middle of the night to discuss classic fantasy novels?" Incredulous, still, but there was a touch of the old Mulder humor there, too. He was intrigued; he was curious. He was up late and bored.

"Or maybe it was The Lord of the Rings. At the end, after Bilbo came home from his quest in Mordor."

"If it was The Lord of the Rings, it's Frodo, not Bilbo." "Okay, Frodo then. Do you remember at the end, after he gets home, he finds everything changed in Hobbit town, and he's tired, and not really happy? And he's done this great thing, and saved the world, but nobody really understands what he's done, and nobody cares?"

"It's the Shire, not Hobbit town. Yeah, I remember." Mulder had relaxed, his voice taking on the tone Krycek remembered from all those years ago--slightly teasing, willing to talk about anything, his brilliant mind recalling details from endless books and magazines and papers, enjoying the intellectual exercise, enjoying showing off.

"He said something about how the people who fight the battles to save the world end up too damaged to enjoy the world they've saved. I can't remember exactly how he put it."

Mulder's reply was instant, rolling off his tongue as if he had the book open in front of him. " 'But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.' "

The sharp thing inside him moved, twisted, stabbed into him, and he caught his breath and squeezed his eyes shut against the pain. He had to count to ten and take a deep breath before he could continue. "Yeah. Do you think that's true?"

"Sometimes." Mulder's voice had grown thoughtful, now. "It's an age-old situation. The men who fight the wars often find themselves unable to live in peace after it's over. Battle fatigue, shell shock, post-traumatic stress disorder--each war finds a new name for it, but it's basically the same thing. Too much horror, too much death. A human being can only take so much and stay whole."

Krycek sighed. "Yeah. I guess that's just the way it is." There was another long pause. Krycek didn't mind. It was emptiness, and he was comfortable with emptiness. Then Mulder said, "We are at war, aren't we?"

"Yes." A war fought in secret, in back rooms and hidden laboratories, in assassinations and abductions, with an enemy rarely seen and barely understood. "The biggest war in history. A war that's been going on for fifty years, and it's only just begun."

Mulder's voice was unnaturally quiet. "Whose side are you on, Krycek?" "My own." His answer was quick, easy. "I want to stay alive and free. And human. And since I can't do that if the aliens win, I'm on the side of the rest of humanity."

"No matter how many people you have to kill to save them." There was a lazy heat in it, almost sensual, mocking and bitter.

"That's right, Mulder. That's exactly right. If they win, everybody dies. It's as simple as that."
"It must be nice to see everything so clearly." The mocking tone was softened by the hint of envy in Mulder's velvety voice.

"It's not clarity," Krycek said. "It's emptiness." Another pause. Krycek felt himself breathing, three quiet, deep breaths.

" 'I have been too deeply hurt,' " Mulder quoted softly. This time , the words didn't shatter him with pain. The sadness was gentle and almost sweet, and he could live with it. The hard, sharp thing inside him eased."I'm going to go now, Mulder." He stopped, gave a mental shrug, then added, "Thanks."

"Okay." There was something tentative in Mulder's voice. Something almost reluctant. "Krycek?"
Krycek waited. The moment stretched, expanded, until it filled the room, until it was a thing in itself.

"Call again?"

Krycek felt himself smile. "Okay." He lowered the cell phone from his ear, switched it off.

The broken feeling was gone, for now. In its place was something that was no longer quite emptiness. He considered it for a time, then shrugged and stood up, dropping the cell phone onto the desk and heading to the bathroom to get ready for bed.