Dedicated to Ursula: writer, friend, pack leader
Mulder tightened the Velcro straps on his tactical vest and tugged down its FBI identifier so the large white letters were obvious on his chest. He wouldn't be entering during the SWAT team's initial breach of the house. His involvement was mostly minimal and supervisory. Still, he had to be there even if it was some bullshit assignment from his point of view.
Skinner had him working cold drug cases, investigating residences of known trafficking offenders. Problem was -- as everyone including Mulder could see -- these suspects used the houses for a short amount of time to package and sell their product, and then abandoned them. There was almost no chance of finding the real people they wanted inside these dilapidated homes. After three previous SWAT team entrances, they'd found nothing more than crackheads and fiends squatting in the run-down husks of buildings. It was a complete waste of time and resources and Mulder knew it was a jerk-off assignment made to punish him.
To make matters worse, the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group Tactical Section had been forced to come out every time he went into the field. The CIRG commander blamed him for the bullshit house entries, and the SWAT lieutenant barely even spoke to him. He was especially unpopular today; most of the team members had been expecting to be spending Christmas Eve afternoon with their families or doing last minute shopping. Instead they were readying their weapons and pulling on helmets.
The earpiece of his radio squawked, alerting him to the first tactical team making their entrance. The house was a brownstone, common in the D.C. area, with three floors and an exit to a small stone patio overgrown with weeds in back. The second team was already placed in the rear yard, prepared to catch anyone trying to make an escape.
Shouts of "FBI!" and "Police!" and "Get down!" echoed down the street where Mulder was standing, and while he didn't want either of the SWAT teams to encounter a dangerous situation, he did hope something would come of this raid. Mulder walked over to the CIRG commander, waiting on the response from Alpha and Bravo SWAT teams.
"House clear," Mulder heard. "Three in custody."
Maybe this would work out better than expected, Mulder thought.
"All suspected drug users. No evidence of manufacturing or distribution. Place is a shithole. Metro can take it from here. Way to go, Agent Mulder," the SWAT agent said sarcastically over the radio. "Merry Christmas."
Mulder sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
* * *
Once again the CIRG commander didn't even bother to talk to Mulder before he left. Most of the team members were already packing their gear and ignored Mulder as he approached the house. Despite not finding anything, he was still responsible for the paperwork. If it was worth it to process those arrested, D.C. Metro would get involved, saving the FBI and Mulder from some of the filing. Getting buried in forms and photocopies made in triplicate was an ideal way to keep him away from the X-Files.
His radio keyed and the SWAT lieutenant sounded in his ear.
"Agent Mulder, one of these suspects claims to know you."
"Tells us his name is John Arntzen."
"I don't know anyone by that name."
"He said you'd say that."
"He also says if I describe him you'll know him right away."
There weren't many people Mulder could guess by mere description. Scully was one of them, and she certainly wasn't in a crack den in the middle of D.C.
"Male, mid-30s, tall, dark hair."
"That could be anyb--"
"Jesus Christ," Mulder cursed.
"Actually, no," the lieutenant said, and Mulder could hear snickering from other SWAT team members over the comm. "But good guess given the season."
There was only one person it could be. Christmas Eve had officially gone from bad to worse.
* * *
The CIRG and SWAT teams had already left, leaving Mulder to deal with the D.C. police. Metro had three men in Flexi cuffs in the living room, but only one of them had his hands cuffed in front. Each of the suspects had been separated from the others. Krycek's eyes flashed when Mulder entered, in recognition and defiance. He obviously hadn't expected to be caught up in a simple drug raid and wrapped up neatly for the FBI. The scowl on his face said as much.
The Metro police sergeant greeted Mulder and introduced himself as Randall.
"Don't know if the FBI is gonna be interested in drug possession and trespassing," Randall said, reading from his notebook.
"Not very," Mulder admitted.
"What about him? The guy that knows you? Arntzen?"
"Yeah..." Mulder met Krycek's eyes. "Nothing on him?"
"SWAT found him alone in the kitchen making a sandwich. Didn't even try to run."
Mulder turned back to Randall and raised an eyebrow. "A sandwich."
Randall shrugged. "He didn't have anything on him if that's what you're wondering. We're holding him for trespassing right now."
"Let me talk to him."
Mulder pulled Krycek away from the others with a sharp tug and pushed him up against the wall.
"Give me one reason not to put a bullet through your head right now, Krycek," Mulder growled, his voice lowered so that only Krycek could hear.
"An unbelievable amount of witnesses?"
Mulder pushed Krycek farther away from where the group of Metro officers was standing, out of earshot. "How did you know I was going to be here?"
"I didn't," Krycek hissed back. "I've been out of...contact with my previous employers for a while now."
"What does that mean?"
"I wasn't waiting for you, Mulder. I live here."
Mulder glanced at their surroundings. There was trash strewn everywhere. Soiled clothing, filthy mattresses, and drug paraphernalia covered most of the open spaces in the house, making walking difficult. Most of the windows on the first floor had been smashed out and the plywood covering them torn off, allowing the inhabitants of the house easy access. The rear yard was overgrown enough that Mulder could see weeds as high as the kitchen windows.
"What are you on, Krycek?"
"Nothing. I've been on the run for months now."
"The same people who want you dead, who now consider me a liability to their cause after I gave you the tip about Wiekamp Air Force base."
That night was seared into Mulder's brain, of course; Krycek easily knocking him to his knees with one blow from his one arm, and then sealing the importance of his visit with a kiss.
"And you chose a crack house?" Mulder asked, incredulously.
"It suited my needs at the time."
The officers from Metro were now herding their two suspects from the house.
"Agent Mulder, that man needs to be transported."
He waved at them to hold off for another moment.
"Look Mulder, we don't have time to go through this right now," Krycek said, his voice taking on urgency as the Metro officers began filtering out. "Would you agree that you owe me?"
"Owe you, Krycek? For what? Being a liar and a murderer? For tossing some semi-reliable information my way?"
"For fuck's sake, Mulder, do you realize how many times you should've been killed by now?" Krycek whispered angrily. "Do you think that's some sort of divine intervention or luck? It isn't! Yes, you owe me, and now you're going to do me a favor before those Metro assholes go through this house and take away the only good thing I've had in my pathetic life for the past three months."
Mulder made a face. "What are you talking about?"
The Metro officers had finished up with the other two suspects and had lost their patience with Mulder because Krycek was now being dragged away from the conversation in handcuffs. Krycek fought them though, and pulled away enough to whisper into Mulder's ear.
* * *
The Metro cops went through the house top to bottom, making sure to collect evidence of the drug paraphernalia and what was left in plastic baggies of crack. Once Mulder signed off on the paperwork and the officers pulled away, he was left alone to ponder what the hell Krycek was talking about in the backyard.
He was standing there in practically chest-high weeds and grass, wondering why he was indulging a man known for stretching the truth to his own purposes. As far as he could see, the patch of overgrown yard hadn't been touched in months, or even years. There was no discernible beginning or end to the mess, nor was there any indication Krycek had hidden something back there.
He began cursing at himself for being such a fool to take Krycek's bait when a glint of something caught his eye. Walking closer to the foundation of the house, he could make out the reflection of a piece of glass from a partially boarded-up window. There must be a basement.
From what he could tell inside the house, though, there was no access. He had followed the Metro cops as they went from floor to floor, and he didn't notice a way to get down there.
Combing his way through the long grass, he began tapping around the broken cement block patio looking for a loose block. Nothing. He came to the edge of the rear of the house, tapping with his foot as he went, when suddenly he struck something hollow by the sound it made. He had to move three large pieces of broken cement until he found the storm door leading down into the cellar.
Not taking any chances, he drew his weapon and carefully descended the steps one at a time, listening intently for any movement or voices. He didn't hear anything, and he could barely see anything either, it was so dark. At last he came to the bottom of the stairs where he touched a cement floor. Mulder pulled his flashlight from his jacket pocket and held it in front of his weapon, illuminating the recesses of the basement.
It was long and deep, with an ancient coal boiler and its huge pipes jutting out in all directions in the center of the room. All of the windows had been boarded up from the inside, no doubt to deter scrappers from ripping up the house's walls to get at the valuable copper piping within. A workbench stood on one side, its wood top warped from years of too much moisture and too little care. The wooden shelves that lined the walls were in a similar state, with many contents that once sat there smashed against the concrete floor.
Mulder inched his way toward the rear of the basement and its near-darkness, mentally second guessing his choice to do this himself. He should have asked one of the Metro cops to stay behind.
His heart pounding now, he came to a large metal door. He pressed his ear against it, straining to hear if someone or something waited for him on the other side. He couldn't hear anything except his own rapid breathing. The door had an old-fashioned latch on it. The room beyond had probably been used as a root cellar at one time. He disengaged the latch and poked his flashlight and gun muzzle through first.
Light came from inside the room when the door was cracked. Mulder slowly opened it, taking care to check his surroundings, but there was no one there. This was obviously where Krycek had been living. It was sparse but comfortable, with a small, neat bed covered in a ripped but salvageable comforter. There was a chair and a table with a battery-powered lantern on it, and a rough hewn wooden shelf that contained several books. Some clothes were folded neatly next to the books, as were an extra towel and some bed sheets. A cereal box was leaned at an odd angle on one of the shelves, and when Mulder shook it he found it contained a Desert Eagle wrapped in a T-shirt.
While the Eagle was a formidable weapon, he wasn't sure that was what Krycek was talking about. Still, he grabbed an empty plastic shopping bag from a pile on the table and placed the huge handgun inside it. This was one weapon that he didn't want getting into the wrong hands.
Other than a kit of toiletries, there wasn't much more evidence of Krycek's life spent in the small room. He placed the few books into the bag with the Eagle and was on his way out of the room when he thought he should check under the bed. Knowing Krycek there could be a body stuffed under there.
He lifted the torn bedcover and was immediately confronted with a pair of two glowing eyes staring back at him. He flinched and dropped the flashlight, which went skittering across the cement floor. Before he could stand up, an Australian Shepherd puppy was on him, sniffing him and licking his face.
* * *
Mulder sat on the bed in disbelief, staring down at the fluffy thing sitting there studying him, her tail wagging intensely.
"You've got to be kidding me."
This must have been what Krycek was talking about. He sighed and looked down at the dog. He knew, as a matter of procedure, that the house would be securely shuttered and locked down to prevent a reoccurrence of its use as a drug den. It was only a matter of time before Metro sent someone out to do that. Leaving the dog here wasn't an option; he might not be able to get back into the cellar.
As he was pondering the situation the puppy hopped up next to him on the bed and sat there expectantly.
Mulder's answer came via a squeaky bark and nuzzling under his hand.
"All right, fine, I'll pet you. But don't get used to this."
The puppy squirmed against Mulder's hip and placed her two front paws on his thigh.
"Someone's spoiled," Mulder said, rubbing underneath the dog's chin.
He chuckled a little at that, wondering how a double-crossing double agent with no regard for human life could be cuddling with a puppy in the basement of a crack house. Krycek had obviously fallen hard from his lofty perch with the men he worked for. It couldn't have been because of that one piece of information he delivered that night to Mulder, could it? Had Krycek really been telling the truth about how often he had protected Mulder and watched out for his best interests? Maybe he really did owe him something. The idea threw a wrench into the way Mulder always regarded Krycek up until this point: killer, opportunist, ruthless, money-hungry. Perhaps there was still a shadow left of the man Mulder used to know when they worked together.
"Back when I thought we could have been friends," Mulder said out loud to the now-sleeping puppy on his lap.
It made him think about those moments on the night of the kiss spent sitting in the dark after Krycek had left, turning over their complex relationship in his head, the way their lives had become entangled and their paths intertwined. He could never understand Krycek's motivations, which made their interactions as mystifying as any X-File. There were only gray answers to what should have been black and white questions.
He dug in his jacket for his cell phone and dialed a number.
"Yeah, I need Intake and Processing for D.C. Metro. This is Agent Fox Mulder, FBI, badge number JTTO47101111. Yes, I'll hold."
He scratched the puppy's cheek while waiting.
"Yes. Desk sergeant, please. Uh-huh. Listen, Sergeant, you brought in a suspect with a trespassing collar this afternoon during my drug bust. The brownstone. Yeah, I know it was a waste of time." Mulder sighed. "Merry Fuckin' Christmas to you too, Sergeant. I was just doing what I was ordered to, and...yeah, I know, but that's overtime money they wouldn't have had, right? Look, I'm calling about that trespassing suspect, John Arntzen. They're not sending him up to Central Detention on a charge, are they? Uh-huh. No, I know the jail is overcrowded. When do you think they'll cut him loose, then? Right. Okay, can I get a message to him? What? Yes, I know you're not my secretary, Sergeant. Would you mind just...yes, okay. Tell him I'm holding his belongings. He'll know where to find me. Yes. Yes, thank you."
Shifting himself from the sleeping puppy, Mulder added the few items of clothing Krycek had on the sparse shelves to another plastic bag. Then he grabbed the one that had the handgun and books in it, tucked the puppy into his coat, and left the basement.
* * *
Although his experience dealing with puppies was limited, the first thing Mulder did when he got back to his apartment was cordon off the kitchen and spread newspaper all over the floor. He probably should have stopped for dog food, but the puppy didn't seem to mind the bologna.
"I wish you had tags, girl. At least I'd know what to call you."
After drinking noisily from the bowl of water Mulder had put down, she huffed a little bark at him.
"Oh no, you don't. You've already been out, and if anyone in the building sees me with you I'm in trouble."
She shook her head and bounced a little.
"I think we both know you should just stay put until Krycek gets here."
The puppy pawed at Mulder's impromptu gate of two folding chairs and a cardboard box and whined.
"Those big blue eyes aren't going to make me change my mind. I don't care if it is almost Christmas."
The puppy's whines grew more insistent and she butted her head against the gate.
"Ugh, fine," Mulder said, and lifted the puppy into the living room. "But no peeing on the carpet. And no barking!"
The minute she was free she ran right over to Mulder's leather couch and settled herself on the pillow lying there.
"Well, okay then." He turned on the TV and began scratching her head. "What do you think about the Knicks this season?"
Pretty soon the puppy was fast asleep and Mulder realized the longest conversation he'd had since Scully went home to see her mother over a week ago was with a dog.
* * *
A faint tapping woke him shortly after the second half. The puppy was sniffing at the apartment door, her tail wagging furiously.
"That's never my first reaction when it comes to Krycek," he commented dryly.
"You got my message, I see," Mulder said as he opened the door.
"I did," Krycek said, scooping the dog into his arms. "Thanks for looking after her."
"You could've just told me you had a goddamn dog in the basement, Krycek."
"I didn't get a chance, Mulder. You were too busy threatening me." He took a step into the hallway. "Can I go?"
Mulder scowled at him. He reluctantly moved back from the door.
"I have some of your other stuff," Mulder said, gesturing toward the living room. "But you're not getting the Eagle back."
Krycek moved past him and put the puppy on the floor.
"I expected that. You didn't find the other one, though."
"Which other one?"
"The one I hid in the loaf of bread when I was making that sandwich." Krycek pulled down the edge of the plastic bag with his prosthesis. "I appreciate the books."
"Why were you there, Krycek?"
"I already told you."
"You're actually homeless?" Mulder asked.
Krycek met his eyes and then looked away. "I'm safer this way."
"Is this because of the information you gave me about Wiekamp Air Force base?"
Krycek gestured to the couch and Mulder nodded permission. He sat down and his dog jumped up next to him. He scratched under her ear.
"Some of it is. They knew it was me the moment you set foot on that base."
Mulder sat down at his desk, opposite Krycek. "Then why expose yourself? Why take the risk?"
"We all know you're the key to everything, Mulder. Me especially."
"I still don't understand..."
"I didn't have to give you that information. I chose to." His dog turned over onto her back and Krycek began rubbing her stomach. "We have history, you and I."
"We do," Mulder agreed. "It could have been made differently though, Alex."
"I doubt that."
"You were a believer. You could have stayed with me on the X-Files."
Krycek smiled wistfully. "Those days are long gone, Fox, and you know that."
They sat there in silence, with Krycek slowly rubbing his dog's belly.
"What's her name?" Mulder asked.
"Gee. Short for Gigi. I was afraid the crackheads might kill her." Krycek scratched her chin. "Gee's been with me for the past few months. Kept me going."
Mulder leaned over to pet Gee. "Speaking of...what are you going to do now?"
"Go underground again, until I know it's safe."
"Well, if you wanted you could stay --"
"No, Mulder," Krycek said, interrupting him. "We've worked too hard keeping you alive all this time. They find me, they find you."
"At least..." Mulder put his hand close to where Krycek was petting Gee. "Stay until tomorrow morning. You can help me set up the tree."
"Since when do you have a tree?"
"I don't know, it sounds like the thing to do. Christmas tree, beer, dog by the leather couch..."
"Only one night. Then we're gone."
"Thank you for taking care of Gee," Krycek said. "For watching out for both of us."
"I owed you."
Krycek smiled. "Merry Christmas, Fox."
"To you too, Alex."