From ccbailey@facstaff.wisc.edu Sun Oct 13 21:11:181996
Summary: Minnesotans can be quite kind to strangers....and shelter fromthe
cold is the least of it, as Krycek finds out when stranded in the
hinterlands. A Post-Silo story.

Rating: PG-13. Krycek Angst. There's Sex, Drugs, and Rock'n'Roll, so if
you shouldn't be out past 10pm, you shouldn't be reading this story. Usual
disclaimers apply (I'm tired of writing them out).

Author's notes appear at the end. I LOVE NITPICKS, COMMENTS AND
CRITIQUES!!! That said - ENJOY! ccbailey@facstaff.wisc.edu


The Kindness of Strangers Part 1/3
Colleen C. Bailey

****************
Outside White Bear, Minnesota
November 21
4:35pm

White horizon, white sky, white fields. Each inhalation brought a shockto
his system. Alex Krycek never thought that North America could be so cold,
and it was only November. What was this godforsaken state like in February?
The freezing wind crept into his collar, cut through his jeans and ruffled
his hair. Thank god he'd grown a beard, otherwise his chin would be
frostbitten by now. He continued trudging down the county two-laner, a worn
satchel slung over his shoulder. Leather gloves did little to block the
cold, and his fingers were numb on the strap. He concentrated on his feet;
since he couldn't feel them anymore, he wanted to make sure he wasn't
stepping in any potholes.

Figures the damn car would break down out in the middle of nowhere. That'll
teach me to steal older cars, no matter how easy they are to hot-wire. At
least the heater had worked. The farmhouse he had passed miles back was
finally close enough for him to feel relieved. Smoke trickled up from the
chimney, a welcome sign that someone was home. A few trees and scattered
outbuildings broke up the monotonous skyline behind it, peeling red paint
and rusted metal fittings showing the age of the structures. Everything
across the road was dreary flat farmland. Blowing white snow blanketed
everything, and more was coming down.

As he approached the driveway, he noticed there was something colorful
attached to the mailbox. A tree limb, taller than he was and markedly
curved, was propped against it, tied to the supporting post with heavy
twine. Fluttering in the snowy breeze, bright scarves were tied to the
branch, providing a vivid contrast to the white world beyond. Stopping at
the corner, he observed bright mirror bits sewn into one, tiny crystal beads
adorning another, and a string of bells tied to the bent tip of the bough,
tinkling as they swayed.

He looked right - barren fields. He looked left - a small, two-story
farmhouse, sheltered by a few husky pine trees, with this bizarre flag out
front. The mailbox said Braedenhurst Farm. He checked inside; no mail.
There was a nondescript blue sedan parked behind a battered red pickup truck
at the end of the driveway, and a pile of cordwood stacked alongside the
house. He could hear the music of distant wind chimes, but couldn't see
where they were. The sound of an approaching car helped him decide; ducking
his head into the collar of his jacket, Krycek started up the driveway
towards the house.

The front porch steps were blanketed in virgin snow, so he walked to the
back of the house. The tiny stoop was well-swept and salted, and a pathhad
been shoveled to the smaller of the two barns. As he started to knock, he
noticed a small, neatly-typed note tacked to the door: "Log Lady says- did
you forget your log?" He hesitated, wondering what it meant, then decided
it was some kind of inside joke, and rapped his deadened knuckles against
the heavy wood.

He was trying to read the bumper stickers on the truck from where he stood
when his knock was answered and he spun around quickly into the bright smile
of the middle-aged woman framed in the doorway. He realized with a start
that her nose was pierced in two places, tiny gold rings gleaming against
the curve of her right nostril. Not what he expected in a farming community.

"Hi, c'mon in, welcome to the farm." She backed up, holding theinner door
open for him as he stepped over the lintel, automatically knocking his toes
against the last step to shake off any remaining road slush. "I thoughtI
heard a car, but I wasn't sure. Just hang your coat up and leave your shoes
in the hall, there." This over her shoulder as she disappeared intothe
house. He was in a small, dark room. There were hooks along the wall, some
with coats on them, and he could make out several pairs of shoes and boots
on the floor. Bemused, he toe-tugged his shoes off, feeling a trace of cold
water through his socks when he stepped towards the closed door the woman
had gone through.

He walked into the biggest, warmest kitchen he had ever seen. The windows
were very tall, and had calico curtains blocking the dull noon light.
Something was baking; he could smell bread, and garlic, and peppers. There
were cabinets and shelves everywhere; a huge wooden table took up the
left-center of the room, while a black potbellied stove was on a brick
pedestal to the right, emitting muffled crackling sounds and the soothing
odor of woodsmoke. The table was covered with knick-knacks, plates and
mugs, a bowl full of Hershey's Kisses, a variety of kitchen tools, boxesof
tea, and other random items. Celtic music played faintly in the background,
coming from the living room he could through the arched doorway beyond the
stove.

Seated at the table was an odd assortment of people, all looking at him,
their conversation interrupted by his entrance. A heavyset redneck in jeans
and flannel, wool-clad feet propped up on an adjoining chair, one big toe
peeking through a raveled hole. A plump little woman with a long braid,
clad in a flowing, colorful silk blouse and matching full skirt. A skinny,
stoner-haired blond wearing a Ramones T-shirt over a thermal jersey, his
narrow face dominated by heavy, black-framed glasses. An impeccably-groomed
black man, tall and elegant in tortoise-shell spectacles, a pintucked linen
shirt and wool trousers. And the woman who had met him at the door was
standing to his left as he entered the room, in the process of closing the
fridge. She was very thin and wore a heavy knit black tunic and black
leggings. A heavy pendant, dome-shaped and dripping with tiny bells, hung
from a cord around her neck. A black crocheted skullcap snugly covered her
close-cropped hair.

"Do you have any more stuff to bring in? You can dump it in the living
room, if you want, or take it upstairs and stake out crash space. Is there
anyone with you?" He shook his head no, wondering what she was talking
about. Melting snow from his hair dripped inside his shirt collar, and he
rubbed at the back of his neck with still-freezing fingers.

"Would you like tea, or coffee?" she inquired, placing a cartonof
half-and-half on the table. "I've got regular tea or a bunch of herbal
stuff - it's all on the table, help yourself." She gestured at thestove.
"Kettle's always hot, just add some water if it feels low. And there's
always cold stuff in the fridge."

Krycek felt a wave of suspicion - didn't they care who he was? They acted
like they were expecting him. He walked to the stove, feeling the heat
wafting up. Ignoring the kettle for a moment, he held his hands above the
cast iron gratefully, thawing. Turning to warm his back, he faced these
strange people, wondering what to say to them.

"You haven't been here before, have you." She winked at him. "I'mRose,
and this is Harv," pointing at the redneck, "Connie," turningto the other
woman in the room, "and her husband Taylor." The elegant man smiledand
lifted his coffee cup in salute. Alex lifted his hand in response, still
wondering what was going on. "And this is..."

"Langly," the skinny blond stated firmly, glaring at her.

Rose grinned. "My brother. He hates his first name," she explained.
"We're starting to think about lunch - are you hungry?" Withoutwaiting for
his answer, she turned to stir a large pot on the stove. Against his will,
his mouth began watering as the scent of peppers and garlic intensified.
The long pause became awkward, but for once he didn't have a clue as towhat
to say.

"He looks lost, Rose." This from Harv. Connie nodded her agreement.

Rose looked him over more carefully, setting the spoon down on the counter.
"Hey, are you OK? What's your name? Who are you here with?"

He looked into her pale gray eyes, uneasy yet touched. No one had been
concerned about him since....well, since Diane. Months ago. "I....mycar
broke down. I just wanted to use your phone." He waited for their
outburst, feeling vaguely ashamed of himself.

Her eyes widened, and a grin spread like wildfire across her face. "Oh,no!
And I thought you were here for the party. Oh, you poor thing," andshe
laughed. "I'm sorry, you must be so confused."

Langly was grinning, too. "Harsh deal, dude. You must think we're pretty
far out, eh?"

Alex smiled back, relieved. That was exactly what he had been thinking.

Rose picked up a mug, plunking a tea-bag into it, and walked over towards
him, swinging her narrow hips to avoid the kitchen chairs. "You see,we're
having a party this weekend and I just assumed you were a guest. Phil said
he might bring a friend, I thought you were him." She pulled two ofthe
chairs over by the stove and motioned for him to sit down. He did, dropping
his bag by his side. Carefully pouring hot water into the cup, she sat next
to him. "So what's your name?"

"Alex." It came out before he could stop it with a pseudonym.

She handed him the mug and started when their hands touched. "You'reso
cold...." She took his other gloved hand in hers, clasping it firmlyand
peered worriedly at his face. "How far did you say your car was?"

"About three miles."

Her eyes widened. "You walked three miles dressed in just that jacket?"

Taylor added, "You must not be from around here, then."

Connie snorted delicately. "He must not be from the upper Midwest atall!
It's November and he's walking further than from the car to the door!"
Everyone chuckled.

"I'll be OK, it's just pretty windy out." Her slender hands onhis were
warm, as warm as the cup of steeping tea, and his scar tissue ached beneath
the soft black leather. He could feel his toes again, tingling with
returning feeling. He looked for a place to put the tea down; she read his
motions and took it from him. He peeled the gloves off his hands and leaned
down to rub his stockinged feet, to give himself a chance to think about
what to do now. It was so cold outside, his main concern when the car broke
down had been to find shelter. Expecting the distrust he was used to inthe
city, he didn't know how to react to this kind, concerned woman and her
weird friends. He saw that her feet were bare, and she had rings on her
toes. Very weird. He sat up. "I just need to get my car taken careof...."

Taylor spoke up for the first time. "What happened to it? Do you wantme
to come take a look at it? I'm pretty good with cars." He looked downat
himself. "Of course, I should probably change out of my work clothesfirst."

Alex hedged. "No, the electricals all went. I think it needs a mechanicto
look at it."

"Here, I know just who to call." Rose got up and went to the phone.

"No, you don't have to..." He raised his hand in half-protest,wanting to
resist their kindness. Kindness meant trust. Trust was dangerous.

"It's no problem, really." She dialed quickly. "Yeah, I needto talk to
Verne." She smiled at Alex and explained over the receiver, "My
brother-in-law, he runs the garage in town. Harv, would you get the bread
out of the oven?" She concentrated on the phone. "Verne? It'sRose, I
need a favor..."

Harv fiddled with the oven while Connie murmured something to Taylor, andhe
whispered a reply in her ear. They both smiled. Krycek strained to hear:
were they were talking about him?

Taylor stood. "I'm going to go change clothes, I'll be right back."He
strolled into the living room and out of sight.

Stupid, Alex, they don't know you from Adam. They're just some funky
commune or something. There was a feel to the place very like a commune.
He looked around the room again. The fridge was covered with faded
cartoons, newspaper articles, pictures of strangers, a few postcards,
magnets shaped like cows and fruit. A 50's style poster on one cabinet
warned of the horrors of hog cholera, and a rainbow koosh shared a basket
with a tumble of apples and bananas.

He realized that Rose had asked him a question. "Sorry?"

"What kind of car is it?"

Uh-oh. "Aah, brown sedan, vinyl top, 2-door. Early 80's."

Fortunately, she didn't ask for more, just repeated it into the phone.
"Yeah, about three miles east of here. Thanks, Verne. And can you comeby
to pick him up? Sure, he can hang out here until then. OK, bye. Yeah,
I'll be at dinner Sunday. Bye." She hung up and grinned at him. "He'sin
the middle of something, but he'll be by around eight to get you and thecar
and take you to town. OK?" When he didn't respond, she frowned a little.
"He's Triple-A, so if you're Triple-A it won't cost you anything. Isthat
what's bothering you?" She sat down next to him and put a hand on hisknee,
peering worriedly into his eyes.

He stood up and hefted the satchel, feeling flustered. "Can I use your
bathroom?"

****************
The bathroom was small, but cluttered like the rest of the house. The clock
radio on the shelf said it was 5:07 p.m. as he dropped his satchel to the
floor. He had to spend three hours with these people? What if they wanted
to talk? What if they wanted to know what he was doing out here, or whathe
did for a living?

At the same time, Alex felt drawn to them. Living on the run meant just
that - no time to stop, no friends to endanger (he thought of Diane, and
tried not to), never staying too long in one place, never making more thana
casual acquaintance. Using people and things for one purpose: survival.
Despite having recovered his transcripts of the tape, despite having made
two good deals and being on the verge of another, Krycek still lived dayto
day, always anxious of the shadows behind him.

He thought of Dylan, enjoying her no-doubt-temperate L.A. winter. Shouldhe
call her? Their partnership was tenuous at best, based on greed and a
grudging mutual respect. He'd given her a linguistic puzzle she couldn't
resist, and she'd helped him out of a few jams. Like that meant anythingin
the shadow world they inhabited. They'd have parted company long ago, ifit
weren't for her skill at translating the transcripts of the DAT tape he'd
made, and the obscene amounts of cash he scored with every successful sell.
And now they didn't have to give a cut to Kallenchuk. Krycek bared his
teeth in a feral grin at his reflection above the sink. After all this
time, he was still angry at her. Stupid cow, to let Mulder get that close.
Now he had to worry about the Dynamic Duo on his tail, too.

Not to mention the French. And the Mob, although he suspected they'd given
up after his first "disappearance" following the botched car-bombing.That
was old business.

If they even suspected he was still alive. His brush with....he still had
no memory of those few days, the journey from Hong Kong to North Dakotaand
whatever happened in between, and that bothered him immensely. He knew that
he lost the tape. He knew that he barely escaped being buried alive. And
he knew...there was something down there still. And he wanted to stay as
far away from it as possible.

He also knew that contacting Dylan would be an unnecessary risk. There'd
been a snitch at the meeting in St. Paul, which resulted in the deaths of
several would-be buyers, a loss of the down-payment they had brought, and
his subsequent flight from the city. If they traced him here, they could
trace her phone number and bring her down, even if he escaped. Honor among
thieves? No, just protecting future dealings. He still needed her, muchas
he hated to admit it. He had more than 15,000 screen-dumps-worth of Navajo
that needed deciphering back in D.C., and she was the best non-Native
translator he was going to find.

Krycek wanted to hear her yell at him for getting into this situation,
deliver one of her scathing take-downs, a reminder of what the world was
really like - cold, brutal, and uncaring. Bitch. Like the weather up here.
The comfort he felt in this warm haven was seductive, and he couldn't afford
to be seduced.

He rubbed his hands together under the faucet, seeing the scars again,
feeling the hopelessness and the fear and the fatigue. In the mirror, his
eyes had deep shadows under them - it had been a long time since he had
slept well (Diane's place, a little voice said) and the nervous tensionof
always watching his back hadn't helped his boyish good looks. At least the
beard distorted his jawline somewhat, rounding and softening his profile,
aging his face. It would be harder to identify him by his Bureau photograph.

He heard a car in the driveway and glanced out into the swirling snowfall.
The bathroom was above the kitchen, so he had a good vantage point to see
the new arrival. A VW bus, how perfect, he thought. Little curtains in the
windows and everything. The passenger door opened and a black Labrador
retriever jumped out, tongue lolling, and started sniffing at everythingin
sight.

The knock on the bathroom door startled him. "Just a sec," hecalled,
wiping his hands on a towel. Opening the door, he saw Langly standing
there, grinning.

"Hey." He started to move past him, and Langly, after a moment,got out of
his way. "Pretty strange place, huh?"

Alex paused at the top of the stairs. "Yeah."

"Yeah, Rose is my big sister. I've been out here before, but this ismy
first *party* weekend at the farm. I'm from the east coast, we party way
different out there." He stepped into the bathroom and closed the door.

Down the hall, there were two doors; the one on the bathroom side was
closed, and he could hear someone moving around behind it. Taylor, he
guessed; he had not seen him return to the kitchen, and the bathroom had
been empty when he came upstairs. Stepping softly, trying to avoid making
the floor creak, Krycek took a quick look inside the open door. A smallish
bedroom, with a sloping ceiling and two dormer windows. There was a large,
high four-poster bed immediately to the right, with an ornately rosemaled
chest at its foot. Two of the walls sported colorful quilts, and there was
a thick fur rug on the floor. A desk with a very modern PC took up the far
wall between the windows, and everything else was bookshelves. He glanced
up and was surprised to see a shotgun racked above the doorway. His hand
automatically went to his satchel, feeling the Smith & Wesson 659 that
permanently resided in the outside pocket. He backed out into the hallway
and padded back to the top of the stairs.

As he went down the stairs, he went over what he knew. Langly sounded like
a last name, but Rose's last name was Braedenhurst, assuming it was her
place. She acted like it was, so she's married. Verne the mechanic is her
brother-in-law, but she didn't introduce Harv as her husband. No wedding
ring; divorce? Or is the guy in the VW her husband? Connie and Taylor area
couple. Langly's not from around here.

He turned the corner into the kitchen; a knock at the inner door and a blast
of cold air from the shoe room interrupted his thoughts. The dog he had
seen scrambled in first, nails clattering on the hardwood floor, and
proceeded around the table, licking and snuffling at everyone. After
several unidentifiable thumps in the shoe room, a violin case, followedby
the man holding it, entered the room.

END The Kindness of Strangers 1/3
ccbailey@facstaff.wisc.edu
Colleen C. Bailey
"You can't aim to kill when you're laughing"
ccbailey@facstaff.wisc.edu


From ccbailey@facstaff.wisc.edu Sun Oct 13 21:11:23 1996
The Kindness of Strangers Part 2/3

He turned the corner into the kitchen; a knock at the inner door and a blast
of cold air from the shoe room interrupted his thoughts. The dog he had
seen scrambled in first, nails clattering on the hardwood floor, and
proceeded around the table, licking and snuffling at everyone. After
several unidentifiable thumps in the shoe room, a violin case, followedby
the man holding it, entered the room.

"Phil!" The group cry went up, and Alex stepped back and sat downby the
stove again as Connie and Rose descended on the newcomer, relieving himof
the case and hugging him simultaneously. Harv followed him in the door,
hair speckled with snow, carrying a duffel bag and two logs, still
snow-dusted, from the pile outside. The wood he dumped by the stove, the
duffel in the living room. Alex watched, amused, as the hospitality routine
commenced. Moments later, Phil was seated at the table with coffee in his
hand and a plate of cookies in front of him. After a few cautious sniffs,
the dog decided that Alex was OK, and sat next to him with his cold noseon
his leg. He absently dropped his hand to the dog's head and scratched
behind his ears, observing the others.

Harv disappeared into the living room and returned without the duffel. Rose
and Phil were engaging in small talk about the drive down when Langly
reappeared. "Langly, this is Phil," she informed him. "AndPhil, this is
Alex. He's a lost kitten, we gave him shelter from the storm." Philnodded
at him.

"So, I see Roswell has made a new friend." His craggy eyebrowsmoved with a
life of their own over his piercing black eyes. He was not an imposing man
size-wise, but he was older than anyone else in the room, wrinkled and gray,
with a thick blue cardigan over a turtleneck and jeans.

Langly perked up as he straddled his chair at the table. "Roswell?Like
the UFO crash site? Cool." Alex's hand paused, then resumed strokingthe
dog's fur.

Phil sighed and shook his head wearily. "No, not that Roswell. I namedhim
after a colleague of mine. It wasn't until later that I was told about the
whole UFO conspiracy theory. Tabloid bunk, if you ask me. Pure fabrication
to entrap the gullible."

Langly leaned forward in his chair. "Fabrication, hell. The governmentis
encouraging us to think of UFOs as a crackpot theory by perpetuating their
own hoaxes in order to...."

"Langly, will you please come slice these apples for me?" Rosebroke in,
firmly. She steered him towards the counter. "Try not to cut yourself,
OK?" She patted Phil on the shoulder as she resumed her seat besidethe
stove. Beside Alex. "Sorry, he's a bit...obsessive about the government
sometimes."

Langly countered over his shoulder, "Hey, question authority beforeit
questions you."

Phil's mouth quirked, and he answered Rose, "That's OK, weren't weall at
some point?" They smiled warmly at each other, as if at some sharedmemory.
"It's good to see someone his age with some enthusiasm! Anyway, gladto
meet you, Alex." He leaned over to shake hands; his grip was firm.Sitting
back, he dunked a cookie in his cup, munched for a moment. "So, thestorm
blew you to a safe port here?"

"Actually, the electricals in my car died, about three miles from here.As
soon as the tow truck gets here, I'll be gone."

"It's a good thing you didn't walk the other way," Rose interjected."The
Johanssens are the nearest neighbors that way, more than eight miles from
where your car is."

"You didn't stop for the storm?" Phil's eyebrows wriggled again."It's
pretty bad out there, did you have to walk in it?"

Connie walked to the window over the sink and peered out. "Geez, itreally
is coming down, isn't it!" she exclaimed. "Phil, you're luckyyou made it!"

"Oh, me and the bus, we're like the Post Office, y'know? We alwaysget
through. But if you're stranded here now," and he gestured around theroom,
"you're stuck here for the night, at least."

Alex's stomach sank as he peered out a window himself. "Oh, no."It was
snowing hard, and the wind was blowing everything almost horizontal. He
couldn't even see the smaller barn, which should be visible from his postby
the stove.

Rose leaned towards him in a waft of coffee-scented warmth. "Don'tworry,
Alex, you can crash with us if you need to." She laid a hand on his
shoulder, and squeezed gently. "After all, this is a party! Go aheadand
use the phone if you need to. But first," and she hopped up to grabthe
phone herself, "I'll call Verne and tell him not to worry about comingout
today." She dialed, then tucked the receiver between her shoulder andear.

Harv leaned over the table to grab the coffee pot. "So, since we'llbe
neighbors for a while longer, Alex, tell us a little about yourself."

Here it comes. "I'm from here and there, I travel a lot. You know,sales."

Connie chimed in. "Really? I do sales work myself. What field?"

Krycek had been working on a cover story, so the answers came smoothly.He
didn't even have to lie...much. "I deal in information, software,
proprietary stuff. I could probably do most of it over the Internet, butI
like to travel. Government work, some of it, very boring. Nothing but
stuffed shirts and bloated bureaucracies." More than one face grinnedin
sympathy at his rueful expression. If they only knew. "Tell me moreabout
you folks, you're probably much more interesting than me." This witha
smile. Change the subject, let them talk about themselves, everybody loves
to talk about themselves. He looked at Connie. "How did you all meet?"
Rose shot him a warning glance as she hung up the phone, but he pressedon.
"I'd love to hear your story." He gave her his most charming smile.

She launched into a long, tangled narrative about a concert, a co-worker,
and a biker bar. Taylor returned, now wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. With
occasional input from him and Rose, Connie rambled on while Rose and Harv
wandered around the kitchen, pulling out various plates, bowls, bags,
dishes, and utensils. Langly cleared the table according to his sister's
directions, and soon there was an impressive smorgasbord assembled. The
story seemed to never end, but it petered out as the plates piled higher.

Alex took his plate and the beer bottle Harv offered and wandered into the
living room. Book- and CD-lined shelves covered the wall to the right,
beyond the woodburner, and there was a battered couch and coffee table on
the left, alongside the stairs. Connie and Taylor sat on the floor straight
ahead, lounging against a pile of huge pillows, while Phil took the rocking
chair in the far right corner, by the CD player; he put his plate and cup
down and started pulling CDs off the rack to play. Rose was curled up in
the corner of the couch to the far left, and Harv sat with his back to her,
leaning against the couch arm. She fussed with his hair for a moment andhe
twisted around to smile up at her. Langly pulled up a chair in the doorway
to the kitchen, and the only space left was on the couch. Rose patted the
cushion beside her.

So, that's where he sat, placing his food down on the coffee table and
taking an experimental swig of beer. It wasn't labeled, but it was strong
and brown and good. He looked at the bottle with surprise, then shot a
querying glance at Harv, who grinned. "Home brew. My own special blend.
You like?"

"It's great, I haven't had home brew before. Is it difficult?"

Taylor groaned. "Now you've done it, we get the yeast lecture again."Harv
extended a leg and casually kicked him in the thigh, while starting intoa
long discourse on home brewing. Alex listened, eating and asking the
occasional question. The soundtrack changed; Phil had selected bluegrass,
and was tapping his foot along with the sprightly instrumental music. The
rocking chair creaked in time. Alex wondered when Ma and Pa Kettle would
show up.

When setting his plate down on the table mid-meal to reposition himselfon
the couch, he noticed a small cup next to Rose's plate. It held a handful
of pills, many different shapes and sizes. Seeing his interest, she reached
for it and raised her eyes to his. "Bottom's up," she quipped,tilting the
cup in his direction, and lifted it to her lips. Squeezing her eyes shut,
she tossed some of the pills back, then lifted the glass of water in her
other hand to chase them down. Wincing, she swallowed hard, once, twice,
then took another mouthful of pills and another drink. The room was quiet
for a moment; everyone had seen her do this, but everyone was trying to
ignore it. Alex wondered what that had been about as she stabbed a forkful
of warm potato salad from her still-full plate.

Connie started up again, breaking the tension. "As I was saying, weall
ended up at this coffee-house, and I was admiring this new crystal I had
bought," and she pulled a chain on her neck forward to show everyone."It's
done wonders for my concentration while meditating."

Langly snorted. "And you think I'm weird."

"You *are* weird, Langly, you believe in little green men," Connieretorted.

"They're gray, and they're more believable than pyramid power or healing
crystals," he shot back around a mouthful of fresh bread.

The conversation dissolved into a heated discussion of the existence of
extra-terrestrials versus psychic phenomena. Krycek almost choked on his
casserole twice. Langly seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of
conspiracies and UFO information, some of which could have been lifted
directly from the papers he carried in the satchel at his feet. Phil,
Connie and Taylor were enjoying the verbal sparring, while Harv and Rose
exchanged knowing glances and settled in for the long haul.

"What's your opinion?" Rose whispered to Alex.

Startled, he thought about it for a minute, aware that he should be very
careful in his answer. "I guess I'd have to say that, while I don'tbelieve
everything that's being said here, I do believe in the possibility of
extra-terrestrial life." He pushed the memory of oil and darkness outof
his mind. "I'm just more interested in what *is* happening, ratherthan
what might be happening. And of what *is* happening, I'm probably typical
in saying that if it isn't happening to *me* I'm likely to not care."

She gazed at him measuringly. "And what's happening to you right now,Alex?"

He blinked, surprised at her directness, but answered in kind. "I'mhaving
a fabulous dinner with a unique group of people, enjoying good music and
great company, rather than sitting alone in a motel room eating Chinese
take-out and watching bad cable TV. And I sincerely hope," he addedwith a
smile, "that none of you are of extra-terrestrial origin, or that'llruin my
whole night."

She grinned. "Oh, no, we're just your average group of Minnesota farmers,
can't you tell?"

The sound of the others seemed to fade out as he pursued this line of
thinking. "Do you farm this land?"

She looked away. "After my husband left, I didn't have the money, orthe
knowledge, and so now I rent it out to the Untz's. They border my land to
the north, behind the house. It's a little money, not much, but between
that, my job, and a frugal lifestyle, I do OK."

Now he knew where the husband was. Or wasn't. "What do you...."

"Oh, I'm a psychotherapist." She laughed at his expression. "Don'tworry,
I'll only expose your blackest secrets if you pay me three figures and sign
a release form, first."

He grinned, only half-relieved, and made a mental note to keep the
conversation focused elsewhere.

****************
After dinner he went up to the bathroom to wash his hands. Drying them ona
well-worn towel, he paused, listening to see if anyone were on the second
floor. Satisfied he was in no danger of being interrupted, Krycek pulled
open the medicine cabinet.

An impressive collection of vitamins and homeopathic remedies greeted him.
Bee pollen, echinacea, red pepper, Chu Gong, garlic, pennyroyal, ginseng,a
Chinese grocer's warehouse was in that cabinet. He smiled and shut the
door, then reconsidered, staring at his reflection, scratching the black
whiskers on his cheeks thoughtfully with one hand. There was still
something.... He started going through the shelves to the right of the
mirror, then, on a hunch, pulled out the drawer under the sink.

The array of prescription bottles was daunting. He pulled them out one by
one. The labels were complex and depressing. Gemcitabine, two tablets three
times a day. Aredia, do not take if pregnant or nursing. Dexamethasone in
liquid form, next to a syringe and an unbroken pack of needles. Topotecan,
Tamoxifen, Zofran, take with food, avoid alcohol, do not operate heavy
equipment, keep away from children, may cause drowsiness, no more than 12in
a 24-hour period, if fever persists notify doctor, one dose before bedtime,
one tablespoon for nausea, one capsule every four hours for pain. All
prescribed to Rose L. Braedenhurst. He carefully put each bottle back in
its original position.

He was closing the drawer when another thought occurred to him, and he
pulled out a few bottles for re-inspection. These were old prescriptions-
all the drugs had expired months ago, yet there were still refills lefton
many of them. And the bottles looked full.

He returned to the kitchen. Lost in thought as he rounded the corner into
the living room, he almost bumped into Harv, who put a hand out to steady
him. "Hey, careful." Harv glanced over his own shoulder, intothe kitchen.
Alex couldn't see what he was looking at, and stepped the left, to walk
around him. Harv stepped too, and Krycek tensed, wondering what he was
hiding. "So, Alex," he demanded, "Are you now, or have youever been a
member of any law enforcement agency?"

The question was so unexpected after the mellow reception he had received
earlier that he snapped back a sarcastic response. "Yeah, right, Iwas FBI
for three years, what's it to you?" He swallowed, suddenly aware ofwhat he
had just revealed, when he heard group laughter from the kitchen.

Rose appeared behind Harv, hands on his shoulders, swaying slightly. "Harv,
don't you be paranoid, too." She grinned at him. "Are you cool?"

Alex could smell her breath, and suddenly he understood. He grinned back.
"I'm cool enough." Harv stepped out of his way, pulled by Rose'shand on
his shoulder, and Alex entered the kitchen to see a small wooden pipe
sitting on a tray on the table. Connie was blowing smoke at the window,a
dreamy look on her face as Taylor levered new logs into the glowing red
interior of the stove.

Stoners, Alex thought, relaxing. I've stumbled on a stoner party. Relief
was chasing the adrenaline through his veins. Of course they're going to
ask me a question like that. And they're not going to suspect anything
unusual about me; they probably won't even notice if I'm acting strangely.

Connie offered the pipe to him, but he declined. Drugs were not a luxuryhe
could afford. Reaction time and quick thinking were the only things that
had kept him alive through the past year, and he didn't want to start
dulling his edge, no matter how tempting a few hours of blissful ignorance
might seem. She shrugged and passed it to Taylor, who inhaled mightily atit.

Rose glowed at him. "Sure you don't want any? It's a long weekend aheadof
us...." Harv moved to stand behind her, gently rubbing her shoulders.She
sighed and slumped forward in her chair, humming her approval.

In the ensuing silence, Taylor offered the pipe to Langly, who turned it
down with a shake of his head. "I refuse to support a government-subsidized
black market." Rose rolled her eyes.

Harv murmured to Alex, "besides, he can't get any more paranoid."They both
snickered. It was full dark now, as he peered out the window, but the
falling snow gleamed warmly, reflecting the light from the windows.

Phil rose from the table. "OK, kiddies, showtime!" He moved tothe living
room, picking up his case and opening it as he seated himself in the rocking
chair. Tuning the violin, he hummed the notes to himself, then waited while
the others seated themselves around him. Alex grabbed another beer fromthe
fridge before joining them, settling on the couch next to Rose again.
Connie pulled a songbook from a shelf while Harv lumbered up the stairs,
returning with a handful of pennywhistles, which he laid on the table in
front of Rose. Taylor was tuning a guitar, pulled from a shadowy corner,
and Langly was looking grim.

"You're not going to make me sing 'Kumbaya', are you?"

Everyone chuckled, and Phil replied, "no, but we might stoop as lowas 'You
Are My Sunshine' if we get stoned enough." More laughter as Langly'sface
contorted further. "Don't worry, we usually stick to classics."And with
that Taylor struck the opening bars, Phil picked up the tune, and the room
was filled with the lilting strains of "Copshawholme Fair", afact Alex knew
only because Connie had stuck a piece of sheet music on the coffee tablefor
him. With a smile, Rose began singing, Connie providing a counter-melody.

Krycek was dumbstruck. Did people really *do* this sort of thing? Wherewas
the self-brainwashing of the Internet? Where was the TV? No news, no VCR,
no isolation with the one-eyed god? These people interacted smoothly, asif
from long practice. They smiled, they turned their backs without a thought,
they spoke their minds. How could you live with so many people close to
you, touching you, trusting you?

Harv was carrying the paraphernalia in from the kitchen, and Alex was
tempted to ask if they'd drugged the food, too. It was just too surreal.
This was like a Waltons love-in.

The song ended, and Rose reached for the pipe. "Alex, would you pleasegrab
me a glass of water from the kitchen?" He rose as if in a dream, andfound
himself alone in the kitchen. He leaned heavily against the counter by the
sink, staring out into the mindless fall of snowflakes. Krycek needed to
leave this place. Tonight. Before he remembered how life was meant to be
lived.

He returned with a glass for her and another beer for himself; he didn't
remember drinking the first, but his bottle had been empty. The next song
was starting, and Connie again provided sheet music. "The Blacksmith's
Wife." He left the paper where it lay, watching the people in the room.

Phil's violin was old, the varnish scratched and worn, but the strings
gleamed brightly and he wielded the bow with an expert hand. Roswell lay
panting at his side, occasionally licking at his own toes.

Taylor and Connie sat side by side, her hand on his knee not occupied bythe
guitar. They looked so different, yet they obviously had been together a
long time. His notes and her voice complemented each other perfectly, and
their tempo was certainly the result of long practice.

Rose was playing a pennywhistle for this song, and her thin fingers fairly
flew up and down the narrow tin instrument. Her whole body swayed to the
beat, and her eyes smiled at him over her pursed lips. She winked, and he
had to smile back.

Harv was singing the man's part to this song, and as Alex listened closer
and got an idea what meaning the words were hiding, his smile broke intoa
grin. Hammer and tongs, indeed. He glanced at Langly, who still seemed
withdrawn. Their eyes met, and the thin blond shrugged, rolling his eyes.
Alex felt strangely reassured to know he was not the only one unsettledby
this scene.

This song ended too, and there was a great rustling of paper as people
smoked, and laughed, and tried to decide what song to sing next. A martial
tone, this one had, and Harv drummed the floor with his hands as Connielet
forth a surprisingly deep voice, singing about a squire's wife and Black
Jack Davy.

The night wore on. Celtic folk songs, the occasional modern cover, and a
sprinkling of bluegrass. Set break consisted of Phil walking the dog, and
Taylor and Connie retreating to the back porch for a cigarette. When they
came back in, they each had a snow-covered log to add to the stack by the
stove; that cryptic note on the door must be a way to keep the stove
well-stocked.

More music. Krycek joined in for a creepy rendition of All Along the
Watchtower - it had the right hint of paranoia. Langly had retreated
upstairs more than an hour ago - he couldn't keep the beat, much less sing,
and had preferred the company of a book to that of his fellow humans. Rose
had sighed, but smiled as she kissed his cheek goodnight. And started a
quirky round of "Any Old Iron", so simple and catchy that evenAlex could
join in after the first chorus.

And now it was past midnight, and the yawns were starting to seriously
impair their ability to sing in key. Rose mother-henned them up the stairs,
and he saw that the second bedroom had piles of blankets and floor matsfor
guest sleeping. Phil seemed to have standing rights to the couch
downstairs, so he prepared a nest for himself in the corner nearest the
bedroom door, then waited his turn for the bathroom.

Everyone was settling down when he finally emerged, and he padded to Rose's
door unnoticed. A muffled "come in" answered his tentative knock,and he
pushed the door open.

END The Kindness of Strangers Part 2/3
ccbailey@facstaff.wisc.edu
Colleen C. Bailey
"You can't aim to kill when you're laughing"
ccbailey@facstaff.wisc.edu


From ccbailey@facstaff.wisc.edu Sun Oct 13 21:11:28 1996
The Kindness of Strangers Part 3/3

Everyone was settling down when he finally emerged, and he padded to Rose's
door unnoticed. A muffled "come in" answered his tentative knock,and he
pushed the door open.

****************
She was perched in the chair before the computer, wearing plaid flannel
boxers and a loose tank-top. One leg sprawled onto the desk beside the
monitor, and the keyboard was balanced precariously across her knee. The
crocheted cap was gone, revealing not the crewcut he had expected, but a
smooth hairless skull which nonetheless looked right on her. Her eyes were
bright from the reflection of the screen.

"Did you need something, Alex?" she asked, hiding a yawn behindone
delicate hand.

He looked down, then met her eyes again. "I...was hoping we could just...
talk for a while." God, what was he doing up here?

She smiled, and reached for the mouse. "Just a minute while I shutthis down."

He sat on the edge of the bed, and she came to him as if in a dream,
settling herself against the headboard with the comforter pulled over her
crossed legs and a glowing smile reserved for butterflies and small
children. Her limbs were beyond slender; her elbows, knees and wrists were
bony knobs, and her collar-bones jutted forward like an Auschwitz victim's.
If it weren't for her pale, translucent skin, lined with laugh-wrinkles,he
would guess that she was an anorexic 15 year-old.

He hesitated again. "I'm not good at this."

She did not quite smile, but she seemed to understand. "I'm not goingto
push, Alex. But I'm here to listen." Then she patted the cushion beside
her, and he sat against the headboard, and they talked.

And they talked. They discussed their childhoods. They compared their
favorite foods. She explained how she had been drawn to psychotherapy in
the first place, and he spoke about joining the FBI, wanting to save the
world one bad guy at a time. She spoke about her fear of snakes, he talked
about how tough Quantico had been. She shed a tear for her husband, andhe
relived the guilt of betraying Diane. She related a funny story about
growing up on a farm, and he told her jokes about living in D.C. She
described her first pony. He voiced his regrets at never owning a dog. And
they talked.

****************
2:52 a.m.

She sighed and lifted her arms out before her, locking her fingers together
and raising them above her head in a bone-cracking stretch. "Alex,I really
need to get some sleep."

He glanced at the clock with a start. "Oh god, I'm sorry, I didn't
realize..." How had his arm come to be draped around her shoulders?When
had he slid under the covers with her?

Her smile was weary, but wide. "Of course not. It's OK, I don't sleepmuch
anyway, but a farm morning begins around 6 a.m., and I'd like to get at
least a few hours of shut-eye."

"Rose," he started, then stopped as she snuggled closer to him,snaking her
arms around his sides and squeezing him with surprising strength.

She gazed up into his eyes, mere inches away. "Alex, if I were tenyears
younger, you wouldn't have a chance in hell of making it out of this room
before dawn. You're sweet, and funny, and kind, and really good-looking.
The world needs more like you." She gripped his chin gently betweenthumb
and forefinger, shaking it gently as she grinned sleepily at him, then
placed a chaste kiss on his reddened cheek. "Good night, Alex. I'mglad we
had the chance to talk."

She lowered her head to his chest as he squeezed his eyes shut and wrapped
his arms around her, feeling her ribs beneath his arms. He leaned forward
and laid his cheek against the top of her head, feeling the odd smoothness
of her skin. Sliding his hands along her back, he hugged her lightly. He
opened his eyes to place a kiss on the nape of her neck. And froze.

At the base of her neck there was a small vertical scar, about one-eighth
inch in length. He had seen pictures of such scars. He had reviewed lists
of people who had such scars. He had the technical diagrams detailing the
creation of such scars. He had labored to understand the intricate workings
of the hardware involved, only to give up, frustrated at the hints and clues
scattered in the DAT tape material that never added up to an answer.

He struggled to breathe calmly, to slow his heart rate, to not reveal the
deep panic he felt. He had been so careful, he couldn't blow it now.

He held her for a long time, until his panic receded and her breathing
slowed. She was so frail...lifting her gently, he slid out from beneathher
and watched her nestle down into the cushioning warmth of the featherbed.
He wanted to say something to her, to thank her for what she'd done, to
apologize for what he was about to do. She rolled away from him, humming
behind a secret smile as she curled around a pillow. The mark was white
against her pale skin.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Alex sighed heavily, blowing all the airin
his lungs out. Squeezing his eyes shut, clenching his fists, he pushed hard
on the emotions he was feeling, his warmth, his gratitude, his sympathy,
pushed them down and inside, allowing the darkness to reassert itself within
his soul. Krycek opened his eyes to stare at the shotgun above the door,
and drew a slow breath. Silently.

****************
3:39 a.m.

He crept down the stairs, holding her shotgun upright at his side. The
third step betrayed him with a loud creak and he froze, ears straining in
the darkness for the sounds of alarm. None was forthcoming; he let his
breath out slowly and continued down into the living room.

The windows glowed eerily with the star- and moon-light reflected off the
snow outside. The snowfall had stopped, the sky was clear, and the windhad
died. A good omen. Careful to avoid the coffee table, he stepped into the
room towards the kitchen.

A light snapped on, and he pumped the shotgun and turned simultaneously,
every hair standing on end. Phil was sitting up on the couch in a nest of
rumpled blankets, Roswell curled beside him, tongue lolling. He raised his
hands to his shoulders in a helpless gesture. "Easy, boy, it's justme."
Krycek did not lower his aim. He didn't want to waste the old man, but he
didn't want to wake the house. Could he still maintain his cover story?

He lowered the gun without betraying the effort it took. "Sorry, Iheard
something outside, wanted to check it out." He leaned it against thewall
by the couch and sat down next to Roswell, idly rubbing his ears. Roswell
whimpered and twisted to lay his head on his knee. "Why are you stillup?"
With a shock, he realized that his satchel was wedged between the couchand
the wall. Right next to Phil. *damndamndamn* he had left it down here all
that time?

"Heard you come down the stairs. You've been talking to Rose all this
time?" His bright eyes belied his age as he peered at him with thequestion.

His suspicion welled up, and he looked at Phil through half-slit eyes.
"Yeah, I have. Just talking, if it's any of your business. Why?"

Phil smiled down at Roswell. "My dog likes you, Alex. And I like youtoo.
You've got a sharp edge on you, you don't let people in, but Roswell, he'sa
good judge of character. Like Rose." He paused, looked over at him.
"You're leaving, aren't you."

His nostrils flared slightly. Phil sighed. "Alex, I'm no danger toyou.
I'm a nosy old man who loves his friends dearly. I'm going to grab us both
a beer, and then we can chat."

In the time it took for him to get up and grab two cold ones, Krycek knew
that his satchel had been opened, even though nothing was missing. He knew
that the gun was untouched, that Phil was harmless, and he knew that no
matter how hard he tried to deny it, Alex wanted to know about Rose.

"Phil...tell me what's happening to Rose. Is it..."

"No, it's not AIDS." The older man sighed, and shifted on thecouch. "A
much more common ailment. Rose Langly Braedenhurst is dying of cancer, Alex."

He knew she was dying. He had known that. It still bothered him to hear
it. But... "What kind of cancer? I mean, there's plenty of cancer patients
now who can be cured, or at least achieve some kind of remission..."He
stopped when he saw Phil's expression.

"This is her third bout with the disease. When she was 27, she was
diagnosed with breast cancer. After two years of aggressive treatment, she
was declared cured. Then, at 33, it was ovarian cancer. She fought that
too." He swigged his beer and gazed off into the dark corners of theroom.
"That was when Sean left - he'd seen his wife almost dead, and thethought
of losing her again was too much for him. After she beat the rap, he
couldn't bring himself to return, to face her, knowing he had left her alone
to face such a terrible crisis." He sighed. "Rose was convincedit was
because she couldn't give him children. She still beats herself up overthat."

Alex wiped the condensation off his bottle, trying to deny the effect this
story was having on him. "And now?"

"Now, it's metastasized. In her lungs, in her bones. We know it's justa
matter of time. Actually, that's why we're having this party - she wanteda
final get-together, just close friends and family, to remember her by."His
eyes were liquid and dark as he looked at the ceiling, towards her room.
"She doesn't like to talk about it much, we all get too emotional."He
rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger, then gulped at the beer bottle
again. "With the storm over, there should be more people here tomorrow.
You should stay, Alex, if you thought tonight was fun, you should see this
house when there's twenty of us in it!" His smile was unconvincing.

Alex stroked his forehead with one scarred hand. "Why didn't she takethe
medicine she had? Why all the unfilled prescriptions?"

Phil's craggy brows transformed into a sour smile. "Why should she?She
can't be cured. All she can do is choose to live out her days the way she
would most enjoy. Have you ever seen someone on chemotherapy?"

He swallowed. "No....my grandfather died of cancer, but I didn't...Ionly
saw him once, when....at the very end."

"It's not a pretty sight, Alex. It's painful, and disfiguring, and
desperate. She's been through it twice, and it won't help her this time.
And Rose has more courage than that. She knows what's happening to her,and
why."

Alex sat back, staring out into nothing. "She knows why." He thoughtof
the scar on Rose's neck, the translated files in Dylan's office, and felt
harsh laughter bubbling up within him. "Why *does* she think she'sdying,
Phil?"

He gazed keenly at the younger man. "You know why. You've encounteredyour
own demons. You've seen things no one was meant to see. I'll bet you even
knew to look for her mark."

In shock, Krycek mentally noted the distance between himself and the
shotgun. "What are you talking about?"

"The mark. On the back of her neck. Where they put the implant. I looked
in your briefcase. I read what you have there. I know you are aware of the
abductions that take place in this country." Phil leaned closer. "Idon't
know who you are, or where you came from, but I know you're important. I
know you know things."

He glanced at the shotgun again, and Phil smiled. "Killing me wouldonly
wake the others. I'm no threat to you, boy."

"Don't call me that." Reminded of the others, he lowered his voice."You
said you didn't believe in aliens, that you didn't.....you don't believe,do
you." It was not a question.

"Of course not. ET's? Preposterous. But I do know how little concernthe
government has for its citizens. As a body, yes, we vote, we pay taxes,we
maintain the economy, but as individual units, we are no more importantthan
a single cell within the larger organism. Why should they have qualms about
taking the occasional *biopsy*?" He spat the word out like the bitterpill
it was, harsh and unpalatable and ultimately unswallowable. He patted
Roswell, sleeping beside him, then slowly rose, hands spread out to his
sides. "I need another beer."

Krycek followed him into the kitchen. He handed his empty bottle to Phil,
then stepped back against the counter, feeling the edge press against his
thighs. Phil rinsed them out in the sink, and the pipes groaned their
unsettling song in the otherwise-quiet kitchen. He didn't hear the drawer
opening. "I know you need to leave. I wish you could stay; Rose certainly
took a shine to you. And Roswell, like I said, he's a good judge of
character." He half-turned, smiling at the younger man standing close
behind him.

The screwdriver was heavy in his hands. The floor was cool beneath his
feet. Time had become a molasses-crawl of images. Krycek felt the dead
metal and inert plastic against his flesh, and saw the danger, and knewwhat
had to be done. Alex felt Roswell's soft ears under his hand, and Rose's
blue-veined hands warm on his scarred fingers, and heard a pennywhistleplay
sweet and wild in the warmth of fresh bread and woodsmoke. The chocolate
aftertaste of Harv's beer mingled with the sharp illicit tang of Phil's
pipe, and Connie's contralto voice dripped sweet balm over Langly's
puppy-dog smile. He couldn't breathe, couldn't move, didn't want to move,
knew he had to move, could only stare at the old man. The old man who
smiled, and knew, and didn't move either.

****************
4:14 a.m.

Krycek walked carefully down the snowy steps, feeling the wind ruffle his
hair and slide into his open collar. The air was frigid, biting into his
nose and throat as he slid the untwisted hanger wire between the windowand
the door of the blue sedan, grateful that the VW bus did not block the
driveway. Opening the door easily, he threw the satchel onto the seat
beside him. Sliding onto the stiff, frigid vinyl seat, he levered the
gleaming tip of the screwdriver into the steering column and jimmied the
ignition lock off. He loved old cars, they hot-wired so easily. Now if it
would only keep from breaking down until he made it to the next major city
and he could catch a plane for sunnier climes.

He pulled out slowly onto the highway. The moon shone down onto blue snow,
blue fields, blue sky. Flipping the heater to the max and cranking the fan
to Full, he drove away from Braedenhurst Farm and toward the starry horizon.
Bermuda maybe. Or Jamaica. He had eight days before he had to contact
Dylan again, and he needed warmth.


END The Kindness of Strangers Part 3/3
ccbailey@facstaff.wisc.edu

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

I hope you can pardon my occasionally purple prose; having spent two dayson
the bulk of the story, I've been trying to finish the last 10% of this story
for over a month, and I kinda lost it towards the end.

I AM NOT A MEDICALLY TRAINED ANYTHING! Except for CPR, and that doesn't
count. Any medical information in this story is hearsay, made-up, or a
*big* stretch for the purpose of the story. The drug names are real and
connected with cancer treatment, but I have no idea how they are usually
administered.

If you're confused that I switch between calling him Alex and Krycek, well,
there's a reason, read it again.

A very mellow story, for the most part. It started as a vignette, but
demanded more. Like all my stuff; I get a great scene or two, then realize
I have to write a damned story to surround it. Bonus points to people who
can spot the scenes I started with, and the (sometimes lame) filler I hadto
write to connect it all together in a semblance of plot.
Colleen C. Bailey
"You can't aim to kill when you're laughing"
ccbailey@facstaff.wisc.edu