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London, January 21, 2000

Five days. Six flights. Nine spine-numbing trips on trains. More than forty cups of coffee. (He'd quit counting there, not stopped drinking the stuff.) Now it was a case of one last train and taxi combination and two more flights, including the layover in Atlanta, and then he would be... safe. Not just safe, unreal a word as that might be, but... finished?

The aliens are dead; even the Oil went to powder. Krycek held no doubts on that; he'd made sure to be near two when he activated the nanites through their own ships' communications. Getting to see that had made the two months of beating his brain against alien coding techniques worth the pain and trouble. The satisfaction alone had nearly carried him through this one last assassination spree. Three weeks I think? I started... yeah, on the 30th. Everyone except the aliens was expecting Y2K to be a bitch. Surprise, you bastards. But the flight to Virginia's tonight, so this must be the 21st. I think.

His hands twitched, without reason or rhythm, and he couldn't seem to stop them. Too long now, too many periods of stillness followed by swift, precisely controlled motion, and followed by stillness again as he hid or tried to catnap in train seats or any place he could put his back to solid walls for just a few minutes. Moving from one target to another, killing some, hiring the deaths of others with their own moneys and going on to the next step or next target. Always moving, with sleep a luxury and food just a necessary fuel, through three weeks of insanity and confusion and figuring out which language to use by chameleon's instincts, not thought. Three weeks of minimal sleep and maximal blood and travel, hunting enemies by reflex, by long since memorized names sorted by a shifting set of priorities that he never questioned -- his subconscious ran that part of this hunt and Krycek trusted his own instincts to keep him alive. He'd made it this far, when no one would have bet on him and no other member of his family had survived the same lethal odds and enemies.

But his hands were shaking now, and he didn't know if it was caffeine overload or adrenaline wearing off again, or if he just needed food.... The masonry walls of the London Underground were cold against his back (the only thing keeping him awake, and the only reason he tolerated it), but as he paused he heard the deadly soft whisper of his instincts. Enough. Stop.

He swallowed around some tightness in his throat that seemed to have hollowed his stomach, and wondered if he was delusional. But... that voice had never been wrong before. The Consortium is dying. The major limbs are amputated and Damien's web pages are sending killers against what little is left. Thank God Mulder's hacker friends led me to him. Crazy enough to believe me, good enough to set up pages the Consortium couldn't track or crack, and ruthless enough to help me set up a hit site. Names, skills, recent photos and addresses, and all the reasons to kill them... everything an enemy might want. Maybe I can quit. If I vanish now, in this kind of confusion... vanish long enough and no one will be looking for me. Matthew can and will hide me. And he'll only come looking if I don't show up soon. No idea why, but... he will. Damn.

Krycek considered the tremor in his hands, both the older, stronger right one, and the newer, weaker left hand that still startled him by being there to massage when it ached.... He shoved aside memories of what he'd done to get the bounty hunter to regenerate it, and shuddered. Stopping was no longer an option; it had clearly become a necessity.

Sleep-dep'd, probably underfed (he remembered eating, but not what, or when, or how often), clean enough to pass through city streets without mention or memory because it was a survival imperative, not for hygiene or even his own fastidiousness.... Krycek paused, then, as that inner voice's warning wrangled through his nerves. Too tired. You won't be able to wake up coherently if you fall asleep on the airplane. You might not manage to stay awake in the cab. No.

He didn't dare stop moving, either. Sitting down, or even leaning against a warmer wall, would only lead to fogging out and going to sleep there and then. Who knew when -- or if -- he'd wake up after that? So Krycek forced his mind to work, looking for anything safe in London, any place, any connection... and finally found one linked to his original destination. Matthew's in Virginia, with Ilya. Ilya's family is here. Damien handled their internet security. And Ilya's careful, and he's one of the youngest of them. If I get in without notice, they won't let word get out that I'm there, I think. Not before I got some sleep, at least. After that... they can kick me out after that, but I've got to sleep for at least one night.

He didn't have the energy for other options, or more arguments. He barely managed to work his way through London's underground (not nearly deserted enough to suit him, even at one in the morning) and along the streets to his final destination. Picking the lock took longer than it should have, and much longer than he liked. Running from a roving policeman asking 'Here now, what's this?' would have been too much, Krycek suspected. All the checks he'd written for 'When it's over' had come due, with interest. He was about to crash.

The house smelled good when he got inside. Warm, and comfortable, with a faint smell of wood oil under the scent of home-cooked food. Onions cooked in butter, from the smell of it, and meat slow-roasted for hours, and the smell of good coffee, almost unrecognizable after days of scalded, scorched stuff that had been on burners for too long.... Faint, lingering scents, but definitely there after the cold, moisture-laden wind down the street. The entire place smelled relaxing. It took all his concentration to relock the door and stay quiet as he moved through the house, looking for someplace to sleep and feeling absurdly like Goldilocks.

This couch is too exposed, his brain muttered to him or itself, and not here, same problem. The bedrooms were probably upstairs, but that involved both 'up' and 'stairs' and just walking quietly was starting to be a problem. He prowled out of the lounge, through the kitchen (and resisted the urge to investigate the refrigerator only because chewing would be an effort, too) into a hallway, careful of his weight 'til he knew the floorboards wouldn't squeak, and opened a silent, hinges-well-oiled door into heaven.

Or a haven, at least, the soft voice in the back of his mind commented. Books filled the room, piled here and there where bookshelves were full, or an article was in process at a desk. History, predominantly, and literature, with a scattering of other titles, but all of them in a mix of languages that made Krycek's heart clench in pain with homesickness for a home he hadn't seen in twenty years. English, Russian, French, German, Latin, Polish, Gaelic, Greek -- the mix of languages reminded him of days spent learning to read and study and learn. The smell rolled over him, too: leather bindings and leather polish and a faint touch of dust from the pages, warm wool from the carpets, a hint of smoke lingering in the chimney (not tobacco, just wood), and the faint scent of strong, sweet tea seeping from the couch.

The scents poured through him, pulling a tidal wave of memories with them. Comfort and safety rolled over him, and in their wake came a riptide of exhaustion. He staggered, caught his balance on the couch with his right arm, and gave in, too tired to shove away memories that wouldn't lead to active nightmares and far too tired to try to go on. Here he was, and here, apparently, he would stay.

His backpack slid off his shoulder, down his left arm, and onto the floor, half under the couch, half exposed. The leather jacket he folded as a pillow only from habit -- a pillow which would yield a gun if he needed it. He managed to toe off his boots without dropping them onto the floor, not wanting to wake the house owners when he was too tired to explain what he was doing there. Not that he knew himself.

It didn't matter. Sleep had him now, remorseless, inexorable, and heavy.... That weight tugged at him, turned his limbs to lead, his breathing to something slow and implacable as the roiling edge of sleep, settling him into the leather as if into sanctuary. He spared one last hope for a dreamless night. Then the blackness had him and he was gone.

*~*~*~*~*

Raya opened the door, part of her mind on lighting the fire and most of her mind running over what groceries she needed to pick up today. Then she saw the strange man sound asleep on her father's couch and simply stopped moving. After a moment, though, she'd regained her composure and could study him thoughtfully from the doorway. Even through the stubble and exhaustion, she thought she knew who he was, so she went and lit the fire, then left to make a few phone calls. Shopping would simply have to wait a little while. Not long though; Cory looked as if he could use a few good meals.

*~*~*~*~*

Farrell came in the door, already slinging his camera bag into the hall closet and pulling a knife. The weapon drew a frown of concern from Raya and a raised eyebrow from her father, Vitalya.

"Farrell, what is it?"

The tall man glanced at them and said quietly, "Whoever you've got in there isn't immortal, Raya. Stay out here for a few minutes, would you?"

She nodded and asked simply, "Shall we go find a coffee shop 'til you are done then? So that we may not be hostages against you?"

Farrell considered it for a long moment, then shook his head. "No. I'll deal with him. I may even know who it is." He added in a wry voice, "The blade's out only because I'm feeling paranoid."

Vitalya chuckled. "You, my friend, paranoid? What is the world coming to?"

Farrell gave them an amused glance and went to see who their visitor was. From the doorway, he had to agree; it looked like Cory Raines. A very tired, unshaven Cory -- if you'd never met Cory. He'd met both Cory and Sasha, though. This was definitely Sasha... except that someone took Sasha's left arm off below the shoulder. This man has two arms. Interesting. Because I'd still swear it's Sasha.

Farrell shrugged, then, and slid the knife back into its sheath at the small of his back. No sense giving whoever this was any more weapons than he already had. He settled down into a very wary crouch and placed a careful hand on the man's shoulder.

Green eyes opened, then, bleary but focusing fast, trusting no one and exhausted... then full of recognition. The voice was even huskier than usual. "...Damien's friend. Farrell."

Farrell nodded. "Sasha. What are you doing here?" Exasperation tinged his voice on the last question, an inevitable side-effect of his worry over who had come calling and what harm they meant to the Kutarovs.

Green eyes were already drooping again, though, the man's energy level clearly so low that Farrell wondered how he'd woken at all. "...couldn't stay awake. Ticket to Virginia. Coat pocket." His eyes slid shut, breathing and pulse slowing again. The last words were so soft Farrell barely heard them. "Tell Matthew sorry."

Farrell sighed, eyes closing briefly, then he tightened his grip on Sasha's shoulder to pull him awake again. Green eyes opened, dangerous for that moment, and Farrell said clearly, "Sasha. Answer two questions and then you can sleep." He waited until he saw comprehension and coherence both in that gaze, then asked, "Is anyone after you?"

"No." Not even indignant, that tone, but certain as only a professional spy could be.

Having done that job himself once or twice, Farrell accepted the statement at face value. "You're not looking for help with your cause?"

Sasha actually smiled, then, an unexpected expression that made Farrell wonder for a moment if someone had knocked the air out of his lungs. "Finished. Free agent. Nobody's agent ever again. Sleep now?"

Farrell stared at the retired spy, then stood up and pulled a blanket over him, voice still startled as he said, "Yes. Sleep, Sasha." Farrell glanced at Raya and Vitalya and, with a calm he didn't entirely feel, suggested, "Let's talk in the kitchen."

*~*~*~*~*

The scents woke him, and Krycek fought his body's need to stretch until he could remember where he was. His leather jacket was nearby, but no longer under his head; there were sheets around him, and something heavier -- blankets probably. How did I go from a couch to a bed without waking up? A memory surfaced slowly of brown hair, brown eyes, a familiar voice asking questions. Farrell. Farrell... Jameson. Damien's friend, the very calm one. A smile twitched at the corners of his mouth, then. The one who stood in the doorway while that redhead temper of Damien's exploded, again, and waited it out with me, and never batted an eye while I looked him over. Worth looking at, too.

Big enough to carry me, certainly. A frown twisted his mouth as he considered that. I didn't wake while someone moved me. Even someone I know. No. Getting on that plane could have been lethal. But what am I doing in a bed after breaking into their house? A quick look around the room told him that not only was he in a bed, but his gun was waiting on the bedside table and someone had left clothes and towels on the dresser. He wanted a shower so badly he could almost taste it, but running water would tell anyone else in the house he was awake and Krycek wanted very badly to know what was going on.

So he pulled on the clothes they'd left him, since his own were gone. His hands checked automatically to be sure his gun was loaded, a bullet in the chamber, and the safety in place, before he tucked it into the back of his waistband. He was halfway down the stairs, moving as quietly as ever, when he started wondering when he'd stopped believing that silence meant security. Because there were voices coming from the kitchen. Affectionate voices, fond and familiar with each other, and that sound combined with the welcoming smell of hot, home-cooked food to freeze Krycek in the shadows.

Farrell he recognized even from behind, if only by the width of the shoulders and the not-quite wavy brown hair. The dark-haired man sitting next to him and leaning close as a lover was laughing and teasing him about, "So let me get this straight. You carried a good-looking spy upstairs, undressed him, and tucked him in bed, and I don't even get to be jealous?"

Farrell chuckled. "Is there a good answer to that, Zhenya?"

Zhenya almost purred as he said, "Sure. This one."

Krycek studied the rest of the kitchen while they were 'discussing' any replies, putting names to faces he'd only seen before in Damien or Matthew's computer files. The good-looking man kissing Farrell so enthusiastically was Zhenya Kutarov, one of Ilya's older brothers. The woman smiling at them, both amused and approving, was his mother, Raya. The equally amused man who was standing at the stove with his arms around Raya's waist must be her husband, Andrei. He hadn't looked quite so big in the photos, but the rumbling, almost laughing voice made Krycek relax even more, if only because part of his mind still associated that accent with safety.

"Odd, how all of Zhenya's mischief seems to end in kisses these days."

"Perhaps he learnt that from his father?" came a teasing voice. Krycek couldn't see the speaker from his spot in the doorway, but the worn richness of the voice made him think the man was both older and fond of conversation or stories or both.

Raya laughed. "Or perhaps it runs in the family, Papa, as the mischief does?" She kissed her husband to test that theory and Krycek smiled, a soft huff of laughter escaping him.

Farrell shifted and despite the shadows, Krycek knew he'd been spotted. Idiot. Giving yourself away.... What bothered him the most... was that it wasn't bothering him. He hadn't betrayed his position like this even once in the last weeks, no matter how tired he'd been. But he was walking into that warm kitchen voluntarily before he'd finished looking them over, and not only did he not care, he almost thought it was a good idea.

Farrell smiled at him, a surprisingly sympathetic expression that made Krycek wonder what information his own face was giving away. "Sasha. You don't look that much more awake."

The old, rarely used name sank in, relaxing tight muscles with it. Familiar, and a name Mulder had never spat at him. The Smoker had never wrapped his smoke around those syllables. Skinner had never forced them out from between clenched teeth.... Sasha dropped his longest-running alias like a shirt too shredded to be good even as rags and managed to smile back. "My eyes are open?" He couldn't quite match their easy teasing yet, but the friendly nod of greeting from the older man across the table relaxed him even farther.

Zhenya was studying him and Farrell both, and frowning in some reaction Sasha couldn't quite understand. His first thought was jealousy, but those grey eyes weren't entirely angry. Worried, maybe. Then Raya began putting dishes of stew on the table, and Zhenya and Farrell were bringing black bread -- homemade from the look and smell -- and butter, and Andrei was asking whether he wanted wine or milk with dinner as if having an assassin simply show up on his doorstep was normal.

"Milk," Sasha finally said, giving himself over to this different reality. He added, "Thank you," managing to sound less startled than he felt. Or so he hoped. The older man, the one his memory belatedly labeled as Vitali, gave him a smile much like Farrell's: sympathetic, and far too understanding. It made Sasha wonder what he sounded like, looked like, to get these reactions. But Farrell was sitting on one side of him and Andrei on the other, reassuring this more relaxed self with the comfort of the personalities and his paranoid side with their good sense in putting the two largest men in the room on either side of him.

Even after surrendering, he never doubted he was in another reality, one where his unshaven, not really clean enough, half-awake state only meant that no one expected him to carry conversation. Where Andrei refilled his bowl when he finished his stew before anyone else, and Zhenya handed him a third slice of bread, already buttered, as soon as there was room on his plate. Where Farrell matter-of-factly refilled his milk and, when Sasha couldn't eat anymore, Raya firmly suggested a shower and back to bed and that everything else could wait until morning.

And when Sasha didn't quite stumble down the hall and back to bed, cleaner than he'd been in weeks and warmed through muscle and into bone by hot water, Farrell and Zhenya had changed the sheets. He climbed into a bed that didn't smell like three weeks on the road. Farrell showed him the bottle of multivitamins before handing him one and a glass of water. Zhenya pointed out which door led to their room after the vitamin was washed down, "In case you wake up and need anything."

Through it all, the soft voice in the back of his mind said... nothing. Nothing at all. No warnings of things out of place, of lies or betrayals, of silent communications of mouth and eye that should worry him, of concerns about poisoned food or vitamins that weren't, really--- Nothing. Sasha found himself rolling over and tucking both arms under the pillow and, for the first time in years, voluntarily burrowed into a bed to sleep on his stomach. Just this once, he'd let someone else watch his back.

It might even be a very long 'once.' The soft comment from his usually cynical side slid down into sleep with him. It made a very comfortable blanket.

~ ~ ~ finis ~ ~ ~

Lyrics provided by Skinnerbox; line used marked with * My thanks for the lyrics and sorry if this isn't what you intended. I'm afraid it is what showed up, however.


"Begin the Begin,"
by REM

The insurgency began and you missed it
I looked for it and I found it
Miles Standish proud, congratulate me

A philanderer's tie, a murderer's shoe
Life's rich demand creates supply in the hand
Of the powers, the only vote that matters

Silence means security silence means approval
On Zenith, on the TV, tiger run around the tree
Follow the leader, run and turn into butter
Let's begin again, begin the begin

Let's begin again like Martin Luther Zen
The mythology begins the begin

I can't think clearly, look to me for reason
It's not there, I can't even rhyme in the begin

A philanderer's tie, a murderer's shoe
Example: the finest example is you

Birdie in the hand for life's rich demand
The insurgency began and you missed it
I looked for it and I found it
Miles Standish proud, congratulate me

A philanderer's tie, a murderer's shoe
Let's begin again begin the begin
Let's begin again