Another in the Cornerstone Series, with love to MJ. Follows after "Saul's Tale" by yours truly, which follows "Mene Mene Tekel Uparshin" by MJ. Rated PG for discussion of adult matters. --Merri-Todd Webster

Naaman's Tale
by Merri-Todd Webster
(17 July 1999)

(And Naaman said, "Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD. In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant this thing." --II Kings 5:17-18)

He's not a bad lad, after all. Funny to say that about someone who does murder for pay, but it's true. If he were just a good shot with a gun, a quick hand with a knife, or just a pretty face, my master would never have taken him on.

The first time I saw him, I thought, This one's different. I've seen a lot of fair-faced lads come and go--they all thought they were a lot bigger in the world than they deserved to be, but they found out--but I knew Krycek was going to be different. It wasn't just that Master said the boy would be working for him; that's been the official word on a lot of these goops. Makes it look better, don't you know. I can't put my finger on it--no, wait, yes, I can. He was dangerous. I took one look at Alex Krycek--dirty as if he'd just come out of a furnace, touchy as a cat with a singed tail--and knew he was a dangerous blighter if there ever was one. Dangerous as Master, almost.

You wouldn't know it to look at him now, but my master is a holy terror. I've been with him for over thirty years now, and I can remember when he didn't sit back and let others do his dirty work. He don't always, even now, you know. He's hard, when he needs to be. He feels nothing he don't want to feel. For all his fine manners, he can turn on you like a knife in your hand, and cut you to pieces, if he has to. He makes a good friend--a good master--and a bad enemy, let me tell you. He doesn't like weakness and won't keep it around him. Not for long--that's why few of those pretty lads lasted with him. His missus is just like him, for all they haven't lived together since before I came to him, and their children all just like mashed potatoes, soft and buttery, whining when things don't go their way. It doesn't figure, but there it is.

At any rate, I spotted pretty soon that this Krycek was about as weak as an adder, and he really was working for Master. Not that he didn't work for him by night as by day, if you know what I mean, but he *did* work by day. Master was teaching him The Business--the real work he does, the work none of those pudding children of his know about. So that's how it is, I says to myself. He's found a proper heir at last.

I got to know the lad a little better one night when he took me out to the pub and stood me a few drinks. With a name like that, I thought he'd be brought up to drink only vodka, but damned if he didn't order an black-and-tan and put away as many of them as I did. I seem to remember telling him that I was a race car driver once, before a bad smash-up that convinced me to look for a safer line of work. We both had a good laugh about my current situation being that "safer line of work". I also might have told him that it was getting caught with my knickers down and one of my pit crew having his way with me that really got me out of racing. Time to quit before my name was on every dirty rag in the United Kingdom, in big red letters. So now you know why I don't mind the master's pretty friends.

But Krycek really showed what he was made of when little Benjie fell out of the yew tree and broke his leg. Master couldn't attend to it himself--I know that could have broken his heart if he'd let it--and I was surprised that he turned to Alex to do it instead. Griffin was there, after all--cold bitch that she is, but she *is* in charge of the children, as much of a mum or a dad as the little tykes ever see. But he turned to Alex and I have to say, he took care of our little boy right. He didn't turn all sugary-sweet just because he was speaking to a child, but he wasn't harsh, either. He was kinder to the boy than I thought he had in him, for all he can bat his eyelashes and charm anybody he wants to, man or woman or stone. He didn't try to charm Benjamin; no, I got the feeling he knew what it was like to be hurting and feel you mustn't cry, no matter what. His kindness was real because it had real hurt behind it. And he spent a lot of time with the boy in hospital that he didn't really have to. I liked Alex better after that.

When it came time for the master to disappear, I wasn't surprised that Alex was one of the few who knew. It made sense, after all, with him taking over the business. I was surprised when he came to Geneva with the missus, though. They seemed to understand one another, just so. The master had kept his boys out of her sight, mostly--sometimes she came to have a look without asking--but he was always careful not to hurt her feelings. I don't think he ever had any of those friends till well after they'd separated. Nor did she do him a bad turn by parading around in the City with her lover, whatsisname. She stayed in the country with her Scot, mostly, and when master and missus had to appear together in public, they always did it properly.

Well, right before she left Geneva, she asked me to bring two brandies and let Mr. Krycek know she would like to see him. Oh, I wanted to be a fly on the wall for *that* meeting! I was sure she'd never spoken to any of the playmates before, but of course she must know he'd taken over the business--she knew all about that, though she wasn't involved in it. Still, the missus went back to the air field, the master went in for his usual bath, and I had another surprise when *Alex* came to tell me master was finished and wanted my help. Seeing the master in his bath now, was he?

He spent the night with Alex, then, and I'll swear before God and man, that's never happened before. Not with a one of them. The other boys were lucky if they got to stay overnight at the big house, instead of having himself come to visit them. So what's going on here? I says to myself. I figured it out when I brought breakfast to the library, as usual, and caught 'em staring at each other like lovesick calves. Oh ho, I thought. The master had thawed at last, and the clever green-eyed lad had the old man's heart. What would happen now?

I've been watching to see what would happen, ever since. Wondering if anything would change. If Alex would disappoint. But Krycek flies back to Geneva from time to time--this house is in his name--and once, an elderly woman with a thick accent and a snow-white bun piled up on her head came to visit, and turned out to be Krycek's mother. She was another holy terror--taught cook to make piroshki, had us all laughing like fools at bawdy jokes. I mind me of Benny Hill in a dress.

Then there was the time they parted at the airport, the last time Krycek left Geneva. Master took a huge risk in coming out in the car. He did it for Alex. Servants don't see or hear anything, of course, but I'll never forget how the master wept after Alex said, "I love you," kissed him goodbye, and got out of the car. I'd never seen anything like that nor thought to. It made me feel queer about being there, about the whole thing.

At any rate, as far as I can see, Alex is doing what master trained him how to do, doing it well and reliable, and that's what matters. And when he does come to visit, master still sleeps in Alex's bed. So it's all right with me, as far as it goes. I take care of my master. And so does Alex Krycek.



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All Nick. All the time.