Etudes In A Minor Key by Rhi
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Author's Notes:
Disclaimer: Not my song lyrics, and I had way too much fun thinking like the villains. 1013 owns Alex; Rysher: Panzer/Davis owns Connor; the rest of them are definitely mine. Gods help me. Written for the Red Shirt Lyric Wheel.
Rated: PG-13, oddly enough for me, despite the implied relationships. Unless you think horror and squick is a problem, and then I'd suggest you read carefully. This is a sequel to Needs Must and is posted here since Connor's in a good-sized chunk at the end. The URL for the final story in the series can be found in the end notes.

:: Alex ::

He wasn't the wrong damn person when I shot him, that's for sure. I doubt he's the wrong person even now. More likely the old men in their three-piece suits and their nicotine-scented self-righteousness shifted alliances after they put the price on his head.

A 'scientist'. Yeah, I know what that means. Hell, they put the price on his head, made sure I got the offer -- what did they expect? My shots are always clean, and final. And deadly. If I'd really shot that redheaded ditz, she'd have been a corpse, not that wreckage that lingered for days.

There's no price on my head yet. Of course, the old men in their three-piece suits and their delicately balanced cabals don't know I didn't kill exactly the one they wanted, either.


:: Simon ::

"Step into the street by sundown and you're dead," he said, and it sounded so damn melodramatic. But... I had to take him seriously. Yes, he was wearing a leather jacket and black jeans, and yes, he looked like a cheap punk. Except for those dark eyes of his; they've stared at things I never want to see. A bad B-movie had a line once, about "One of these days we will look in our microscopes and find ourselves staring right into God's eyes and the first one who blinks is going to lose his testicles." He didn't blink, this 'call me Alex,' or whatever the hell his name is. It shows.

So I had to take him seriously. I'm under no illusions about what I do, in any case. I know that half of my work is illegal, and the other half is only legal because no one has dreamed of it before to pass laws against it. I never thought my own employers would turn against me, but he showed me the email, and... smiled. Asked me if I wanted to live. What a damn fool question; of course I want to live. Why else would I have spent the last twenty years in sterile labs and waldo gloves and hunched over microscopes until I thought my back would never straighten out again if I didn't want to live?

Cloned limbs, forced re-growth of damaged organs, shaping people to their tasks by doubling muscle mass or changing their skin into vacuum-resistant carapaces -- this black oil has possibilities that are damned near limitless. Twenty years and I'm finally beginning to get somewhere with it, and now they want me dead? Do these idiots even read the reports I take time out of my research to write?

"You're a target just by living," he said. Do tell, dear boy, and did they teach you about two plus two in that same school? I'm amazed he didn't hit me. Of course, that would have hurt less than what he did. This 'Alex' is a right bastard, I'll give him that. And as focused as I am, I suppose. He just... smiled at me, that same unbroken smile I wanted to shatter, and told me that I'd better be able to force-mature a clone. Mine.

No one else could have done it, force-shaped a shifter hybrid to something close enough to my shape that, combined with some of my own blood, it would convince them I was dead. No one, damn it. But while I was working on that, he was downloading my files for transfer -- and corrupting the originals as he finished. He ruined my scientific reputation. 'Evidence' of cover-ups, of 'failed' tests that never failed, damn it, of successes that look only half as good as what I actually managed.

He laughed at me. Told me to quit worrying about it -- I was dead, after all, wasn't I? And my new employers, these Faceless Ones, are impressed enough that I'll work with the Oil, much less that I got the result that my unaltered files show. But Alex laughed at me and said that as far as the Consortium was concerned, I was as dead as the desert nights I'd worked in, and just another notch on his gun. Bastard. I was a legend until I met him....


:: Magda ::

Of course I wear black leather. I wear lace, too, for the sheer shock of the contrast between the frilly blouse and the leather of my vest. No one expects a dominatrix to deal with anything except sex, or so my Sasha always says. He's right, too. Oh, of course I have to deal with the police, but it's not difficult. They expect something to be wrong; once I give them something to focus on, they ignore everything else. No policeman ever believed anyone was innocent, and that includes their partners, their captains, and themselves.

So once they decide that my therapist license, and the legitimate sessions I conduct, are merely a cover for the sex play, well, they feel better. Not even the IRS can touch me; I charge for the sessions as 'therapy' and who can say otherwise? No matter how I look at it, though, my reputation in those dark societies we call 'criminals' is for sex.

Not for spying. Not for harboring an assassin who occasionally needs a place to go to ground and an acquaintance who knows when not to ask questions. Certainly not for holding papers and documents and being prepared to drop them into a mailbox if I don't get a phone call.

You don't go into psychology without a wide streak of curiosity. But I'm not even remotely tempted to open the envelope and read these; I saw his face in the window when he thought I wasn't looking. I don't want to know what brought on that kind of pain and grief.

One morning soon I'm sure I'll walk in to find him asleep on the couch in the apartment that I only use for 'therapy sessions.' It wouldn't be the first time, after all. He has, on occasion, dropped in to discuss one of my 'clients' with me.

Someone more scrupulous about their oaths, about client confidentiality, would protest, would refuse to deal with him again, knowing he's gone through my files. Say, someone who hadn't been rescued by an assassin whose gun is as steady as my whip. I understand why I still have both my eyes. And I understand debts that are never mentioned in words.

Besides, even when he doesn't warn me about my customers, his suggestions are frequently useful. I would have never thought of the corn starch myself; I don't cook.

Damn. Now I'm hungry for borscht.


:: Thomas ::

Have you ever seen the white teeth gleam? Oh, it turns your heart to stone, it does-- What the hell was that for? Sure I can talk like anyone else. I'm drunk, aren't I?

No, no, don't make me sober up, it took me three days to get like this. What do you mean, why? You're blind, aren't you? Well, it was that or stupid, putz. Have you heard the dogs at night, somewhere on the Hill? Yeah, those dogs, the ones in the three piece suits and the concealed harnesses that never really work. They don't conceal a damn thing. Oh, and let's not forget the sunglasses, the other part of that uniform. Pass me another beer, huh?

No, no, hard liquor would just make me pass out and then I'd wake up close to sober. Not a chance. This is just enough of a buzz to make an anesthetic. I'll take it.

You really want my story? Puts you ahead of everyone else. Even the Post won't touch it, and my boss put me on suspension until I decide to lie. He won't believe the truth. Idiot. What does he know?

Fine, fine, fuck. The truth is that four men came through. Well, I guess you can call 'em men. They all had the same face. Ugly, too. No, not a mask, I'd have said mask if I meant mask. The same face. The same person, as far as I could tell. Identical quadrupeds. Quadruplets? Yeah, that was the word. Thanks. Ever been on the ground talking in the face of a rifle butt? You haven't? Good. Don't.

He didn't believe me that they looked alike, and he sure as hell didn't believe me that one of them just... melted until he looked like me. His face... ran like water, like poking your hand in a puddle, and when the ripples stopped I was staring at myself. Watched his hand come down to take my pass key and he had this scar, the one I got playing touch football.

That's what no one believes. Oh, you believe me? Yeah, right.

Thanks. God, that beer is good.

Well, that's just it. There wasn't a single damn thing up there anyone could want, y'know? I mean, c'mon, the place makes pianos! Why the hell they needed a night watchman I don't know, but it was nice easy money. Boss is pissed, too. Says they cleared the place out the next damn day and yanked the contract--

What? Well, yeah, organs, pianos, same thing, right?

Oh. God. Please. You're joking, right? You've got to be-- Never mind. Just pass me the whiskey. No, I didn't mean beer.


Much later

:: Alex ::

Mulder would never understand? That's bullshit. He'd understand; I'm just not sure he'd have done the same things. The difference between us is so damn thin most days. We both saw what was going on, what had to be done, what had to be fought. He walked as far into the shadows as he dared, but that brave, crazy bastard stands in the light most of the time. Deliberately. Yeah, it lets him help people, but it makes him a target, too. He knows it, too. Knows exactly what he's paying to stand there. Me, I worked as close to the light as I thought was safe. I was less of a target, and I got more done. And if I wanted that light more than air some days, well, that was my price and my business. It didn't matter; we had different things to do, even if we never really said that to each other. We didn't divide up the jobs. We didn't have to. He handled his, and I handled mine.

No, we're not that damn different. The thing is, he and I never thought we were.

I'm not mocking him. Someone had to stand out there for the people who didn't know what was going on and what we were fighting. Mulder? He was fighting for five billion people, for everyone else. That sounds nice, and it was enough to kick his butt up out of the sand and out of his ostrich routine. Me, I had a different reason. No one owns me. No one but me. Sure as hell not grey aliens, or shapeshifters, or that black ooze that I'll taste in the back of my throat until I die. That was enough reason to fight. I even had something I wanted to win.

Blue sky, that clear endless blue of late summer, where the clouds actually look blue along the curves until the sunset stains them pink and purple. Sunshine, warm and seeping down until the air's thick with it and my muscles are heavy with the heat and it feels like I weigh twice my own weight against the earth under my back. Lavender filling the air, filling the fields, just lines and waves of it in the French heat. Wine nearby, dense and red and perfuming the air with that dark, rich smell that can almost make you drunk by itself. A partner or lover, someone human I can use for a pillow and trust at my back and sleep on in the heat until the breezes at sunset wake us up and we hike back to the house to make dinner and pet the cat and argue over the paper and whatever books we're reading.

Domestic as hell, I know. So what? Everyone gets a pipe dream. My nightmares are dark enough; my daydreams don't have to match them. I didn't really want much. Just one simple thing: I wanted those bastards off our planet and the human race still alive. We may be going to hell, but we'll make it on our own if that's where we're headed. They don't get to rig the game, that's for damn sure. And my own kind doesn't get to hand us over to them, either.

I'm almost done, though. I waited until the last of the old men had died -- too damn perfect, killing that smoking bastard in a cloud of smoke when my bomb took his car out -- and sent all my information on the younger men to the FBI. Hard as hell to deny a confession laser-printed on standard bond paper with your own fingerprints and signature on the pages. I wasn't going to let them off because of 'unreliable sources of information, your Honor.' Screw that. The shifters owed me favors and I called them in. Some of the younger traitors, the brave ones, killed themselves. The rest, well, jail hasn't been friendly to them. I made sure of that, too.

And the ones where I couldn't nail them? Where I didn't have time or resources to nail them, too? Well, I fought for the world the way it really is. And I'm not Mulder. I don't have to play by the rules all the time. I sold the rest of them out to anyone I thought would deal with them. Extremist groups, organized crime, local gangs, you name it. The old men's cartels made a lot of enemies. It's amazing how much I did just by setting up a web page... and posting names, vital statistics, and pictures.

And when I decided I'd done enough, that more would be that one damn step too far -- and unlike that smoking bastard, I always knew you could walk too far into that river -- then I came here.

I'd forgotten what it was like to feel safe. To be safe, completely anonymous and safe. Why not? The last thing I did was stage my own death, after all. There's even a body buried in the grave, and a marker. No one's looking for me anymore; they think I died in that last spasm of the conspiracy.

I tried to stretch it out, keep it from happening too fast and taking infrastructures and governments down with it. No point in saving the goddamn planet just to push its putative leaders into blowing it up, right? Right. It got ahead of me anyway. I'm only human. That's what I was fighting for, when I get right down to it.

It doesn't really feel like we won, though.

Maybe it's just that I'm so tired. I came here, to a house I never thought I'd get to use, and just fell into the bed. Days and days and days of sleeping fourteen, sixteen hours at a stretch, so damn motionless I'd wake in the same position I went to sleep in. Or dreaming all night and morning without quite being able to wake up. Seeing all of it in disjointed, disconnected pieces that Durer and Bosch would have carved, or Clive Barker would write. Stumbling through the devil-dark, smelling the sulfur springs and the rank, biting, alien scent of my pursuers. Or staring at the dismembered puzzle pieces of my allies with superglue tubes in my hand and the hope that maybe this time they'll hold together. Dreaming all of it, and none of it, until I finally wake, shaken and shivering and sweat-drenched in the pouring sunlight.

Not the deep rich sun of the south of France the way I'd have liked, but the close-grained clarity of mountain sunlight through the aspens. Wyoming is just fine for now. Sooner or later, yeah, I'll move. Easier now. After all, even if the FBI was still looking for me, even if my light twin doesn't really believe I'm dead -- And how could I blame him? I always knew I'd feel it if Mulder died, and if that's not peasant superstition, what is? -- what are they going to do? Look for me? Good luck, lisa. You'll need it to catch a 'one-armed man' who has two arms instead.


Still later

:: Connor ::

Dangerous men do tend to survive. But I always thought this one would either show up on my doorstep with the hound pack in full cry behind him, demanding the favor I owed him, or maybe I'd see his picture under an article about 'John Doe found dead.' I didn't expect to run across him in Bordeaux, strolling along with a lover and looking downright peaceful.

He recognized me, of course. Even saw that I hadn't changed since he'd last seen me, and that made him dangerous again for the moment. So I walked over rather than make the man find an excuse to talk to me. I might not have liked the one he found, after all.

"Connor MacLeod," he said, and didn't quite make it a question. He knew I'd hear everything in his silences. His partner heard all of it, too, though. This one acted like a partner: perfectly ready to guard his back or support any lies. They might not have guns, but I had no doubt he'd come for my throat if I tried to hurt Alex.

Good. No wonder Alex looked content.

"Alex Krycek." I nodded and let him see there was no threat from me. Not this time. "Still making lousy coffee?"

His partner laughed, a quick, half-stifled noise like he hadn't meant to let me hear even that but couldn't help it. Pleasant looking man if you liked the type: hazel eyes, dark hair cut badly, and a face saved from ugliness only by the personality behind it. A thoroughly warped sense of humor from the sound of that laugh, too. Good. It would be good for Krycek to have someone refuse to take him seriously.

Alex glared at both of us for a moment, then gave in and waved at the nearest cafe. "Shall we?"

"Only if you like. I'm not here for anything that should worry you." Entertaining, to watch his lover start moving while the two of us angled for position rather than have a possible enemy behind.... I let him win. It was more fun to watch him wonder why than to win myself.

"What are you here for?" his lover asked.

I grinned and gave them the truth, knowing it would annoy Krycek as much as my name had in Hong Kong. "An estate sale. I've a cousin in antiques and owed him a favor."

"Mulder...." Alex finally shook his head and sat down at the table. The waiter apparently decided that Mulder might be American but Alex and I weren't; the service was good enough to keep us from saying much else until he was gone, leaving behind coffee, pain au chocolat, and breads. Mulder watched me mix chocolate, milk, and coffee like it was a revelation to him, then tried it himself and grinned at Alex.

"He's right. Try it this way." He turned to me and said, "Fox Mulder. Alex doesn't do introductions."

"Wise man." I shrugged and tore into a croissant before adding, "Usually, neither do I."

"What are you really here for?" Alex finally pushed. He hadn't touched his own food or drink yet, but seemed to be calmer now that I had. So. He might yet figure out I meant him no harm this time.

"An estate sale." I tilted my head to study him. Sharp, sharp eyes on the man, and better instincts. He relaxed, finally, and tore into his own food. Took long enough. "Edges still sharp?"

"They might get dull yet," Alex told me and grinned. "Yours?"

"Always." I shrugged. I'll never run out of enemies; no matter how many I killed when they challenged, more always seemed to step in line. But it kept me sharp. The day I stopped watching for attacks would be the day I let my bones fall into dust. I wasn't that tired yet, thanks. As for his enemies, though.... "You're sure you got all of them?"

"You here for me?" he asked slowly, voice, face, and eyes going flat fast enough to convince me he'd always be a professional. Good.

"No. But your friend here will be safer if you don't make assumptions. I did say it took impressive enemies to hone edges as sharp as yours. Never safe to think you've gotten all of them, after all." His chin came up and he smiled; smart enough to use his face to distract people from the speculations in that mind, then. If I'd had his looks, I'd have used them for a shield, too.

"Why the warning?" Mulder asked me. Good job on his part, too: an easy, soothing monotone voice that probably coaxed answers out of hyperactive children and suspicious little old ladies. I'd heard better, though.

"Because I like him," I answered. True enough, I did. Even when I'd had to threaten Alex Krycek, I liked him. He was a rogue by temperament; he'd run guns and dealt in information; he'd probably been a spy and an assassin and God and the Lady know what besides. But who was I to sneer at that? I'd done all of it, too. And I admired competence.

"And because I make lousy coffee?" Alex finally asked, but the edges on his smile had changed, left it warmer. Mulder watched both of us, then relaxed back into his seat. Good man; I hadn't noticed the tension until he let go of it.

"That, too." I chuckled and stood up, digging in my pocket for francs to cover the bill. "Congratulations, by the way."

"Thanks." Alex added, "Odd running into you, though."

Mulder glanced at me, puzzled. "Congratulations for what?"

"Surviving. What else?" I dropped the money on the table next to the basket of breads. "Now, you probably need condolences, but you look happy enough, so I suppose I won't offer them." Mulder snickered and dodged away when Alex raised a roll to throw at him, but neither of them looked serious about it.

Alex just grinned at me. "Now I know why you turned up. You're another bad penny."

I grinned back. "Close enough."

As I turned to go, he mentioned casually, "Oh, about that favor?"

"Aye?" I didn't turn back. "What about it?"

"You still owe me."

Calm, lazy voice on that man. Always easier to deal with professionals, I'd always thought. "True enough. Find me when you need to collect."

"I'll turn up." He might at that, too. What the hell? Life wouldn't be dull at least. I hadn't had to deal with mortal enemies in several years. His would probably be interesting at least.

"You might look in Greenwich Village," I mentioned as I left. He wouldn't know to look for 'Russell Nash,' rather than Connor MacLeod, but that was his problem. He'd manage if it was that important....

~ ~ ~ finis ~ ~ ~

Comments, Commentary, & Miscellanea:

Takes place in the same universe as "Needs Must", apparently. The sequel and final story in the series is "Neap Tide," and is available at http: . It's X-Files only, however, so it is not posted here at the HL archive.

The movie quote, we think, is from The Creators, spoken by Peter O'Toole. Thanks to waterfall for some really interesting lyrics, and to Polly for putting up with my silliness when she runs Lyric Wheels. Lines used marked with *

Most of the names do have a point. Email me if you figure it out. I might even write you a snippet if you're correct. 'Lisa,' by the way, is the Russian, masculine form of 'Fox.' Lisitsa is the feminine.

Alice Cooper, Killer album

I'm a gambler and I'm a runner
But you knew that when you lay down
I'm a picture of ugly stories
I'm a killer and I'm a clown.

Step into the street by sundown *
Step into your last goodbye
You're a target just by living *
Twenty dollars will make you die.

I wear lace and I wear black leather *
My hands are lightning up on my gun
My shots are clean and my shots are final *
My shots are deadly and when it's done. *

You're as stiff as my smoking barrel
You're as dead as a desert night *
You're a notch and I'm a legend *
You're at peace and I must hide.

Tell where the hell I'm going
Let my bones fall in the dust *
Can't you hear that ghost that's calling
As my colt begins to rust
In the dust.

I'm a killer
I'm a clown
I'm a priest that's gone to town

"Have Mercy on the Criminal"
Elton John, Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player

Have you heard the dogs at night *
Somewhere on the hill *
Chasing some poor criminal
And I guess they're out to kill?
Oh, there must be shackles on his feet
And Mother in his eyes
Stumbling through the devil-dark *
With the hound pack in full cry. *

Have mercy on the criminal who is running from the law
Are you blind to the winds of change
Don't you hear him any more?

Praying, "Lord, you gotta help me
I am never gonna sin again
Just take these chains from around my legs
Sweet Jesus, I'll be your friend."

Now have you ever seen *
The white teeth gleam *
While lie on a cold damp ground?
You're taking in the face of a rifle butt *
While the wardens hold you down
And you've never seen a friend in years.
Oh, it turns your heart to stone *
You jump the walls and the dogs run free
And the grave's gonna be your home.