Brighton Beach Holiday
Notes: For Aunt Ursula, whom I will never, ever forget. This is the first story I’ve finished in the XF world in many years. I should have written it ages ago. But here it is. And Ursula is worth it.
*-*-* The snow started falling in little gentle flakes, decorating the windshield like a child’s finger painting, starting out small and detailed, then eventually becoming a big blobby mess. Mulder hated driving in New York City, and he hated driving in the snow. Put them together, it was a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, there weren’t many cars out, as the weather worsened.
It also didn’t help that the streets and addresses in Brooklyn were scattered about like a garage sale. Mulder looked down at the gas gauge and saw he had less than a quarter tank full of gas left. And with the weather, it didn’t look like any gas stations were still open. And New York City wasn’t the easiest place to find them, either.
The house loomed out of nowhere, a great old fashioned affair, with three levels above ground, elegant and Victorian-looking. There was a separate garage, with its own apartment above it, lights on and blinking in the window. Mulder didn’t even register the festive lights on all the houses on the street, where the large mansion sat at the very end, abutting dunes to Coney Island.
Mulder parked his car down the block and walked slowly to the house. He could hear the Christmas music playing from several dozen yards away. Mulder stopped himself a moment and thought about what would ensue if he just burst in on a family celebrating the holidays without probable cause, proper documentation and if Krycek wasn’t really there at all. Then he heard the laugh. Even out in the street, with the snow falling all around him, he could hear the sound ring out around him. No, this was the right place, and the right time.
The soft crunch of accumulating snow grated on Mulder’s taught nerves as he made his way up the steps to the front door. His suit jacket was sprinkled with snow, but he ignored the cold of the melting water stinging his skin. Soon enough, he’d be warm, back in his car, driving a hog-tied and gagged Krycek back to Washington D.C. to stand trial for his traitorous crimes.
Before he stepped onto the porch, Mulder looked through the window and saw something he didn’t expect. Alex was sitting with children huddled around him, large book in his lap, and their rapt attention as he read shocked Mulder deeply. It was so…normal, so homey, so family-like. What happened next shook Mulder to the core of his being, rattling his sense of justice around in his head.
Walter Skinner, his superior, the man he looked up to for strength, the man who fought to get the X-Files reopened, walked into the living room carrying a tray of glasses for the children, who jumped up to grab one each, calling out to “Uncle Walter” and one little girl grabbed him about the thigh, like it was a tree. He put the tray down and hoisted the little girl into his arms, cuddling her close. He sat with her on the couch close to where Krycek sat reading, so they could listen. Mulder couldn’t take any more of this. Sure the children would be frightened, but he had to do his duty, even if his boss wouldn’t.
He stomped up the front steps and went directly to the door, which surprisingly was unlocked. He turned the handle, threw open the front door and with gun drawn, Mulder burst into the living room shouting, “Freeze, Krycek, you’re coming with me!”
Just as predicted, children screamed and jumped up from their spots, but they didn’t scatter like Mulder thought. These children, even the youngest who had been with Skinner, piled onto Krycek’s lap and hugged him tightly. “You can’t take Sasha!” yelled one boy who was a dead ringer for what Mulder decided Krycek looked like at about ten.
“Mulder, what in God’s name do you think you’re doing?” shouted Skinner. “Agent Mulder, holster your weapon and calm down!”
Mulder looked over at his boss who was standing up, and immediately pointed the gun at the floor. More relatives came pouring into the room from other places, men and women, teens and one young woman carrying an infant. They all looked at Mulder with questions on their faces and they began shouting at each other, Mulder, Skinner and Krycek in Russian. Skinner held out his arms and shouted, “Hold it! Everyone stop yelling and calm down. Mulder, hand me your weapon, now.”
Skinner held out his large, meaty hand, with its soft skin and perfectly manicured nails, and Mulder placing his SIG Sauer in that palm was incongruous. But Mulder wasn’t interested in his weapon. He was more interested in why so many people were supporting this criminal, this traitor, this murderer.
“Sir, you’re making a mistake. He killed my father. I have to take him in.”
“Mulder, think about it for a moment. Your father’s murderer was caught, and killed in custody. He’s the same man who shot me. We have the DNA evidence from the finest crime lab in the country? What more proof do you need, Agent Mulder?”
A woman walked into the room and shouted in Russian at everyone standing around. Krycek put down the child he was holding and walked over to her, calling her “babcha” and speaking softly in Russian back to her.
“Great,” a young girl said, “You upset great-grandma! You jerk!” She walked over and kicked Mulder in the ankle.
With a yelp, he stepped back and raised his leg to massage the injured joint.
“Sasha!” Krycek yelled. “Be a good girl, would you? No matter how stupid he’s acting.”
The little girl’s head fell, her chin buried in her chest and she walked to where Krycek was standing. “I’m sorry, Uncle Sasha.”
He kissed the top of her head and brushed a hand down her long hair. “OK, kids, upstairs, into pajamas, faces washed and down here, ready for the rest of the story, hot chocolate and cookies, OK?” There were groans and moans in answer to Krycek’s directive, but they all went, some dragging feet and giving pathetic looks. Krycek smiled as they walked away, but waited until they were all gone to turn a murderous look on Mulder.
“How dare you scare my family? Are you insane?” Krycek began walking towards Mulder.
“Look, as far as I know there’s still a warrant for your arrest!” Mulder sounded almost hysterical.
“Sasha!” came the cry from the kitchen. Mulder didn’t understand the hasty Russian yelled after that, but he could see that it wasn’t pleasant from the way Krycek rolled his eyes and turned to walk into the kitchen, closing the slatted-wood, swinging door behind him. There were hushed, harsh words spoken while Mulder waited with his boss.
“Sir, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I didn’t know you’d be here. How…what?”
“Mulder, my mother was Russian. She and Mrs. Krycek were good friends through the Russian church. And I didn’t want to spend another Christmas listening to my drunk brother-in-law complain about the government. So, now that you know all of my business, why aren’t you with your mother or Agent Scully for the holiday?”
“Sir, I had good information that Krycek was here. I had…I swear to God, sir. I know he did it.”
“He didn’t, Mulder. He has an alibi. A solid alibi. You have to believe me this time You need to trust me.”
Mulder’s face changed, immediately his eyes widened and then became slits of questioning.
“What do you know, sir?” he asked.
“Not here, Mulder. Later on, when the kids are in bed, we’ll go to the apartment and we’ll talk about this calmly.”
“Apartment?” Mulder asked, accepting the glass of red wine Skinner had poured for him.
“Over the garage. The house is full, but the apartment over the connected garage is fully furnished and where we stay. Just relax a while.”
Skinner led Mulder to the couch and gave his shoulder a gentle push. Mulder went down like a sack of potatoes and just sat there. Krycek came out with a plate, filled to the top and some almost spilling over, with silverware and a napkin. He set the plate down before Mulder on the coffee table and said, “My grandmother thinks you’re too skinny. She wants you to eat. My mother wants you to leave. My sisters…well, their husbands may want to hurt you.”
A loud Russian shout came from the kitchen area and Skinner smiled. “Be glad you don’t speak Russian, Mulder. You wouldn’t like what Kissa said she wants to do to Alex’s anatomy.”
Vlad? Alex? What the fuck? Mulder was shocked and confused. But his attention was quickly being drawn to the plate on the coffee table before him. Turkey, mashed potatoes, candied yams, and some other items were all in small piles and Mulder didn’t ponder the recipes. He could tell some of them Russian, but being a true WASP, he had no clue what the dishes were called.
When the children all ran back down to the living room, Mulder had finished eating and was working on a bottle of Stella Artois, as were Walter and Alex. Alex moved to sit on the edge of the hearth before the fire glass while all the children settled in front of him, older kids instinctively letting the younger kids sit closer. Mulder didn’t recognize the book or the title, Snegurochka and Ded Moroz, but figured it was Russian. The tale held the children in rapt attention, and at the end, a Russian phrase was repeated but everyone, including the adults who had floated in to listen and sit around the edges of the room.
This was something Mulder had never experienced in his life, a whole family. Even before his sister was taken, they didn’t do big a big Christmas at either grandparent’s house. No, there was always some cocktail party his parents were going to on Christmas eve, so the Mulder children were left with a bevy of babysitters, mostly old women who enjoyed the brandy in the Mulder household more than the money their father paid them, and the cab ride home. The feelings began to choke up and all Mulder could do was drink another slug of beer to wash it back down. A large hand clamped gently on his shoulder, and Mulder looked up at the grin on his boss’ usually taciturn visage. “This is Christmas, Mulder. This is what you’ve been missing. It’s why you’re never comfortable at Scully’s house. Stick around a couple days, see what this is really about.”
“You have an overnight bag in your car and I know Alex and probably someone else in this house is your size. We’ll deal with it.”
Mulder just nodded and worked on finishing his beer. The children all gave their mugs and dishes to the woman Mulder figured for Krycek’s mother and then they all started up the stairs, the oldest girl trailing last. She looked down at Mulder, narrowing her eyes a moment and all he could think of was, “When that girl is older, she’s going to be trouble.”
With all the children up to bed, the adults settled around to talk and watch the fire with glasses of wine or brandy. A few words were said back and forth, but soon enough, all conversation ceased and everyone looked over at Mulder. He, in turn, looked down at the bottle in his hands and tried his best to ignore everyone in the room.
Skinner had had enough and stood before the group. “Well, in my career, I’ve started off plenty of awkward meetings. This one is about the most awkward I’ve ever been to. Now, I know you all want to know why Agent Mulder decided to break in here on tonight of all nights, but I can assure you, he thought he was doing the right thing.”
“Oh, bullshit!” shouted one of the men who’d been staring Mulder down all night.
“Eric, truly, he did. Someone murdered his father. That was the same man who shot me at my favorite lunch spot earlier this year. Now, he decided to tell another agent, Mulder’s partner Dana Scully, that this was false. He told her that the man that shot her sister was also the man that shot Mulder’s father. And this was just false. The crime lab techs had been over the crime scene with a fine toothed comb, Mulder. If ANY trace of anyone other than Luis Cardinale had been in that bathroom, then they would have found it.”
“When…I mean, how did you find out, sir?” Mulder asked.
“I headed that case. One of my agent’s parents is murdered and you don’t think I was closely watching every step of the investigation. I mean, the police on Martha’s Vineyard were all too happy to let the local bureau office investigate. And that office is under my jurisdiction. So, I made sure I redirected as many resources to that investigation.”
Mulder let this settle in his head a moment. Skinner walked behind him and there was the sound of a bottle tinkling against a glass. A tumbler of scotch was pushed into Mulder’s hand.
“Neat, that’s how I like it. Thank you, sir.”
The room was very quiet until the oldest woman spoke up in heavily Russian-accented English. “Mulder, you will stay. Too much snow.”
She patted the hand of Skinner who walked behind her chair and put his hand on her shoulder. They exchanged words in Russian and Skinner was tasked with helping her from the chair and into a room off the large main room. The rest of the relatives began to go up the stairs, hugging and kissing Alex on the cheek and up to bed. He waited and when the last door closed, he sat beside Mulder.
“OK, this was probably the stupidest thing you’ve ever done, Mulder. And I was your partner for a while, so I know. But if you promise to get off my back, I promise to stay out of your way. And either way, I forgive you.”
“You forgive me? For what?” Mulder’s indignation was thoroughly apparent.
“For scaring the hell out of my family and almost ruining the first Christmas I’ve spent with my mother and grandmother in almost, oh…five year. I’ve been in deep…fuck.” Alex stood up and walked away from Mulder, going into the kitchen. Mulder heard a door on the refrigerator open and close twice, then Alex returned with a tall glass half full of ice that was covered with a clear liquid.
“I would offer you vodka, but it’s not good to mix spirits. Look, I’m CIA. And while I know I should be working in other countries, I have been assigned here by the people I’m working for, trying to bring down, as a matter of fact. The...um…the same people who took your sister, killed your father, killed Scully’s sister and shot Skinner.”
Mulder let this sink in. “Does Skinner know?”
“Yes, and he put himself out there trying to help me. That’s why the Smoking Man was in Skinner’s office. And he was almost killed for it. And you will be too, if you don’t just back off. Let me do the work they hired me to do!”
Alex drained the glass and took it to the kitchen. He came back out and went to the door. “Tell Vlad…Walter, that I’ve gone to the garage apartment. I just need a few minutes alone, OK?”
Then he was gone. And Mulder was stumped. He sat and waited until Skinner came back out a few minutes later and looked around.
“Everyone called it a night, huh? Well, there will be elves in the night getting the gifts out. Did Alex go…”
“To the apartment. He asked for a few minutes alone. He told me he’s CIA. You believe that?”
Skinner put his hands on his hips and shook his head. This was a common stance for the man when dealing with Mulder.
“I’ve met with his handler. Interdepartmental cooperation. I’ve read his full jacket. Mulder, you have no idea what you’re getting involved in.”
“Then tell me! Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me anything?”
“Because you don’t listen! You hear the few things you need to hear, then you run off half-cocked and most of the time, you solve cases based on the death of the UNSUB or through sheer dumb luck.” Skinner stopped a moment to take a breath.
“Yes, everyone knows about your innate ability to make truly startling leaps of understanding from very little information. Sherlock Holmes could do with a lesson from you. But I think you need to pay closer attention sometimes. And you need to trust people around you more.”
Skinner sat on the coffee table in front of Mulder, looking him straight in the eye. “We don’t tell you everything, because you’re used to running things your way. And this situation with the Consortium and Alex’s deep cover, it’s not a place where you can be the golden boy. This is going to be a group effort of people who never get official credit.”
“You know the last thing I ever care about is the credit, sir.”
“No, but you always want the truth. And in this case, Mulder, we may never get to the truth, to the real reasons, other than fear and greed. And I know that’s what you want. The best we may ever get is just ending the Consortium without anyone being brought to justice. And that’s something I know will never sit well with you.”
Mulder nodded his head. He tossed back the rest of the scotch and shook like a dog as it burned its way down his throat. “So, where’s this apartment?”
Something clicked in Mulder’s head. He knew he needed to let this go for now. He could revisit it another day. The two men walked out of the house, and the snow had slowed from when Mulder first arrived. It was piled pretty high, but there would be time in the morning to get the snow blower out. Mulder walked awkwardly to his car and got his bag from the trunk. Standing there on the sidewalk, Skinner put his hand on Mulder’s chest, stopping his forward procession.
“There’s one more thing, Mulder.”
“What? You and Krycek are sleeping together?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Mulder wanted to pull them back. The look on Skinner’s face went from surprise, to anger, to acceptance. The color filling Skinner’s cheeks could have been from the weather or from his embarrassment. Either way, Mulder had learned something about his boss that maybe he just shouldn’t have.
“Yeah, well, you know I don’t sleep. So, I don’t know where you’re going to put me.”
“The apartment has a couch. I’ve spent a night or two on it. It’s not that bad. And the television has headphones, so you can stay up all you want. Just don’t judge me.”
Mulder thought a moment, and pulled something from the back of his head, and heart, that he should tell more people, but starting with his boss was as good as anyone.
“Look, it’s not against regulations to have a same-sex relationship. And I don’t know much about interagency stuff, but who the hell am I to stop you from doing something that makes you happy.”
He tested a small grin up at his boss, and soon they were beaming at each other, and making their way up the snowy steps to an apartment that was lit from inside, and probably far warmer than the outside.
As suggested, the couch was quite comfortable. Alex gave Mulder some sweatpants and a t-shirt to sleep in. “If you leave your clothes together, I can get your shorts, socks and shirt washed. Then, you’ll have clean things to wear home. You can wear my stuff while you’re here.”
“Thanks.” It was a slow reaching out to each other, but it was a start. Mulder didn’t count on the couch being far more comfortable than his own. He’s just put the huge muff-headphones on and started watching a midnight showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” when by the time George discovered the poisoned capsules, he was out like a light.
He didn’t hear the two men in the other room discussing him, nor did he hear them make love that night. He didn’t think about it, either. And he also decided it was a detail he would keep from Scully. While he didn’t think she was particularly judgmental, he didn’t trust her strict Catholic upbringing to let the information keep from coloring her view of the two men, especially Skinner. She looked up to the man as a surrogate father, somewhat skeptically, but he could change a lot of that with some of what he learned that night.
The morning dawned sunny and a bit warmer than the night before. The snow had stopped sometime in the early morning hours, and it was already beginning to melt. There was a note for him on the coffee table which told him to shower, dress and wear the boots left by the door for him. He hurriedly got ready and made his way down to the house. This time, he gently knocked before turning the handle slowly to poke his head through. “Um…may I…”
“Mulder!” The little girl, Sasha, shouted to him and ran at him. She jumped up on him and said, “Merry Christmas!” He hugged her back and let her down quickly, wondering where the change in heart came from.
She pulled him to the tree and grabbed a gift from underneath to hand to him. It was wrapped nicely and the tag read, To Mulder, Love Santa.
“See? After you went to bed, he left this for you. He knew you were good, even if I went to bed thinking you were a jerk. I’m sorry.” Her remorse was real. Someone must have talked to her last night about her behavior. Probably Alex.
“Well, I’m very sorry I interrupted your story time and burst in on your family. It was wrong of me. And my boss has set me straight. And the way your family fed me and let me stay the night was far too kind for what I deserved.”
“You are family,” came the quiet words of Alex’s grandmother. He was sitting on the floor beside her chair, with his head on her thigh. She was petting his lush hair. Alex shrugged one shoulder in defeat, as if to say, “What can I do?”
“Open your present!” Sasha yelled, leading Mulder to the couch to sit beside him while he opened the box. What could there be to give him? Sure, there were probably extra gifts for guests, yeah, something non-descript and useful, probably.
As it turned out, it was an accessories set: a woolen hat, scarf and gloves. They looked very nice, black with designs, maybe faire isle knitting. But what caught Mulder’s attention at what the designs were, foxes playing in a forest. There were little red foxes all over the gloves, hat and scarf, nothing childish, but interesting, and they were expertly done. How could…
“Santa knows everything, Mulder,” came the soft words of his boss. “Even when you’re only good at the end of the year.”
“Thank you, Santa,” Mulder said, smirking over his shoulder. “I’m surprised at this…”
“I didn’t do it. I don’t do presents for agents, even my favorites. I get my secretary a gift to a spa and that’s it. So…don’t look at me.”
Mulder turned to Alex, who shook his head. He’d moved to one of the little boys who was trying to put together a toy car. So the gifter would remain anonymous, but the one thing Mulder would never forget; how it felt to be part of a family, even for one Christmas.