It was a pact he'd begun keeping with himself every year, though he deplored his own sentimentality.
Every Christmas Eve, no matter the weather or the state of the war preparations (and the invasion had been delayed so many times that everyone was wondering whether it was going to happen at all, whether the aliens were waiting until they were off-guard, or whether it had already begun in some subversive, sneaky way they hadn't been expecting), Krycek found himself among the trees at the edge of Mulder's property, waiting for the other man to come out of the house. He had no idea why he did this; just that it was almost a compulsion and gave him a tiny spark of that brightness that seemed to gleam from other people's lives but which had always been so conspicuously absent from his own.
He hadn't shown himself nor spoken to Mulder directly for three years.
And here he came at last. Same old Mulder – but not quite. He was dressed haphazardly and looked unshaven. His hair was a mess. Still, he plodded out in his unlaced boots to the center of the yard, looked up at the stars, and said, "Merry Christmas, Samantha." He stood like that for quite awhile, communing with the Infinite and with the spirit of his sister in his own Mulder way.
Krycek didn't know why his heart turned over in his chest at the sight, but it always did. Maybe he wished he'd had a sibling to care about him the way Mulder did about Samantha. Maybe he envied him – not his sorrow or his loss – but his sense of being connected to someone, even if that person was no longer part of the world. Connections like that weren't severed by time or distance. Maybe – maybe he just liked to look at Mulder being quiet and serene. That happened so rarely, and never around him.
Mulder turned to look at the wooded area where he'd met Krycek three years ago, an annual addition to his routine. Krycek was in a different spot this time, but his heart beat faster anyway. He had no desire to be found and yelled at. He wanted to relish his little bit of stolen holiday peace in silence, without being chased off the property like a stray dog. Just let me be, please; I'm not here to hurt you. I wouldn't; not any more. I never wanted – he shut his thoughts down.
Mulder heaved a deep sigh, scanned the woods again, then headed back towards the house. But something was wrong. Not only was Mulder's state of personal dishevelment unusual; there was no Scully standing in the brightly-lit doorway, either, waiting for him. The house looked dark except for a solitary reading lamp in the living room. He couldn't even see Christmas tree lights.
Krycek took an involuntary step forward, then froze. Mulder had turned around, seen him, and was loping toward him on those long blue-jeaned legs. He should run. He knew he should run. But something prevented him. Some feeling that Mulder might be in trouble, sick or injured or – something (as if he'd accept help from him...though he'd once accepted a kiss, and Krycek still didn't know why). He stood as if rooted to the spot.
Mulder looked even worse close up. "Hey," he said, smiling a pale imitation of his trademark grin through at least a week's worth of beard.
Krycek blinked. "That's – that's it? Just 'hey'? Not 'what the hell are you doing here' or 'get off my lawn'?"
Mulder thought for a moment. "Merry Christmas?" he offered.
For once it was Krycek who exploded. He couldn't stand this. He grabbed Mulder by the front of his coat and whirled him around. "Have you been lobotomized or something? What's wrong with you? Are you under some kind of mind control?" Shit. Shit. This was terrible.
"Nah." Mulder gently – gently; God! He'd never touched Krycek gently before – disengaged the front of his coat from Krycek's balled fists. "Just – stuff."
"Stuff?" Krycek yelled. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Come on inside, " Mulder said. If it was him. This was downright bizarre. A brainwashed clone. A bounty hunter – though he'd thought those had been phased out. Anything would make more sense than Fox Mulder acting like this. It was a trap. That had to be it.
Krycek relaxed slightly. A trap he could deal with. Mulder in some sort of precarious emotional state – he was not sure at all whether he had the tools to deal with that.
He slipped his hand toward the comforting warmth of the weapon in his pocket, just in case.
"Okay." he said.
"Great!" Mulder brightened visibly. Oh no, this was way too weird. The enemy needed to do a much better job on their brainwashed clones, because this was awful. Maybe he could put it down fast and find the real Mulder and – he was following it back toward the house.
The place was a mess. It looked the way Mulder's old bachelor apartment had. Maybe it had been ransacked. Krycek looked around. No holiday decorations at all. Just a lamp on a side table by a reading chair, with a book, a laptop,and a cell phone next to the lamp.
What the hell was going on?
"Want coffee?" Mulder-if-it-was-him asked.
"No thanks." No telling what might be in that. "Hey – uh – I see you haven't put a tree up this year."
"Yeah. I mean no." Mulder plopped into the chair by the reading lamp; gestured toward the comparatively dark sofa. Krycek sat down. Good. He preferred to be in the dark anyway; gave him the advantage.
"Scully always did that," Mulder said, running a hand through his hair and making it look even messier, which should not have been possible.
"Scully's gone missing?" This was getting worse and worse. Both of them gone? "You've called Skinner, right?" he asked, playing along, as if this really was Mulder. Buying time. Gathering information.
"Wait – no. No. I mean," Mulder heaved another sigh. "I think she's left me."
What? Out of all the possibilities that had run through Krycek's brain, this had not been one of them. At all. Ever. You couldn't pry her away from Mulder. He should know. He'd tried. He shifted uncomfortably.
"I don't understand," Krycek said. He didn't. "She'd never leave you."
"That's what I thought," Mulder said. "Technically she hasn't LEFT left; she's staying with a girlfriend from work. From the hospital."
"Oh." Krycek relaxed a bit at the same time that he felt an odd and very out-of-place surge of disappointment. "Then it's okay, right? You guys just have a fight or what?" I can't believe I'm playing relationship counselor for Mulder, of all people. The world has gone mad.
"Ehhh...kind of more than that." Mulder fidgeted. "She's been gone for three months. Said she needed time to think things through. We check in by phone daily, but – I don't know."
Krycek could feel his mouth hanging open. He had no idea what to do or say, an unfamiliar sensation for him.
"It was about William," Mulder began again. Krycek flinched. Right. "She wanted to go looking for him, take him back now that we had a house and were settled. But I - "
"You didn't want him?" Krycek's voice held a slightly dangerous edge. He wasn't sure he liked this. Kids rejected by their parents. He knew how that felt.
"It's not that at all!" Mulder protested. "It's just that – that family is the only family he's ever known. I was trying to think of him – of what he'd want. Strangers marching into his life and taking him away? How would that be good for him?" And then, in a lower tone, "If I'd found out who my real father was earlier in my life, it would not have made me happy. Trust me.
"I think – I think what Scully really wanted wasn't so much me – at least not just me – as a family of her own. And she feels like I'm taking that away from her. But I can't – I can't. It just wouldn't be right. I can't change how I feel." Mulder sunk his head in his hands.
Krycek was so far out of his emotional depth that he almost had the physical sensation of drowning, of needing air. This wasn't something you could solve with a bullet, a knife, a power play, by removing an obstacle, or with a well-timed maneuver. How the hell did normal people live? He wanted to run out of the house and never look back. I mean, what the fuck did you do? He was a trained assassin.
"Uhhh," he said. Great. Good beginning, Alex. "Look, Mulder, I, ah,"
"She also thought," Mulder said into his hands, "That I was a little too obsessed with you."
I am definitely losing my mind, Krycek thought. Okay, so that's what it is. None of this is actually happening. I've fallen asleep in the woods and I'll die of hypothermia.
"Wha-how-" No. Not good. He was still making mouth noises. Or his dream-self was. Shut up, dream Alex.
"C'mere," Mulder said, getting up, but not looking him in the eyes. "Wanna show you something."
He started down the darkened hallway, and Krycek followed him, hand again on his gun. Maybe it was going to be an ambush after all? Those were his three choices: alien ambush, dream/hallucination, or madness. He just wasn't sure which yet.
Mulder opened a closet, switched on an overhead light, and said, "Third shelf down."
"You go in first, and stand where I can see you," Krycek said, suspicion clear in his voice, but Mulder just smiled and did as he was asked.
After visually checking the corners and the ceiling of the small walk-in closet, Krycek marched in and looked at the shelf in question. He couldn't believe what he saw.
"What the hell is this – are these?" he asked. There were three packages on the shelf, all of them wrapped clumsily and in deplorable taste with a liberal use of cellophane tape and mismatched ribbons. And all of them had a tag that said "Alex".
"Christmas presents," Mulder said. "For you. One for each year since I learned you were alive. One for each year you didn't come back."
"Why – why would you – "
"I didn't know if you'd ever had one before," Mulder said, as if it was all so simple. "I kept thinking I'd see you again."
You promised hung in the air between them, an unspoken reproof, and Krycek knew he had, and he'd been there every year, but had somehow been unable to approach. Mulder had looked, if not happy, then content enough. Until now. Whenever the two of them collided, chaos was sure to follow. He'd been reluctant to disturb Mulder's life for Mulder's own sake, no matter how much he'd wanted to. Krycek hated examining his own emotions and they were nothing if not complex where this man was concerned. But now –
"You hate me. You said you hated me," Krycek said in a low tone.
"Then WHY - "
"But that's not all I feel." Mulder ran a hand through his hair again. Krycek said, "Stop doing that, no really, you're making it look worse," Mulder laughed, and both of them relaxed just the tiniest bit.
"You really do look awful," Krycek said. He was convinced it was Mulder now. He wasn't sure why, but only Mulder would do something this sentimental, stupid, and life-messing-up while having all the best intentions.
"Yeah, I know."
"Most people don't buy presents for people they hate."
"I'm not most people. And I told you – that's not all – I don't know if I can explain it," said the man who operated on pure instinct. He sure had some weird ones though.
"Try me," Krycek said, and at that, Mulder slid him a look that made his ears go red. Okay, it was definitely Mulder. He had to watch what he said around Double Entendre Man.
"I hate what you've done. I hate who you've been. But you've also saved my life more than once. And there have been reports of things you've done since you resurfaced - "
Krycek made a scoffing noise. "Don't believe everything you read. I'm no hero. That's your department."
Mulder brightened; looked at him oddly, and Krycek turned even redder.
"You think I'm a hero?"
Goddmmit, this was like being back at the Academy.
"No," Krycek said.
"You're a liar, Krycek," said Mulder, smiling.
"Yep," Krycek said.
This was WORSE than being back at the Academy. He was a killer. He was a spy. He was trouble with a capital Oh No It's Krycek. He was – Mulder was still looking at him funny.
"Stop that," Krycek said, backing away and hitting his head on a shelf. Mulder edged closer. Krycek was backed against a wall. "Ow. I mean it. I have a gun."
"I know you do. You've been fingering it ever since I saw you. But you've got no reason to shoot me."
"How do you know? Maybe I came here tonight with orders to - "
"Doubt it," said Mulder, "We're on the same side now, remember?" He brought his face in so close that Krycek could smell his breath – at least he'd been brushing his teeth – and kissed Krycek lightly.
"What the hell was that?!"
"Payback," said Mulder. "You did it to me. Turnabout's fair - "
"I'll show you payback," Krycek growled, grabbed Mulder, and gave him the most passionate kiss he'd ever given in his life.
It was some time before the two men broke apart.
"Wow," said Mulder, dazed. "Okay. Wow."
Krycek was panting. Mulder's face broke into one of those old familiar broad grins. "I've always wondered what that would be like," he said.
A spasm of mingled pleasure and pain crossed Krycek's face. "Then WHY didn't you ever - "
"Dunno," Mulder said, still grinning goofily. "Didn't think you'd want to."
Krycek unleashed a string of Russian clearly meant to tell Mulder in no uncertain terms what an absolute idiot he was, and then planted another one on him.
"I could do that all night," Mulder said, when they broke for air.
"I got no problem with that," Krycek said.
"Stupid-ass haircut," said Mulder.
"Oh the shoe is SO on the other foot this time, " said Krycek. "Know what we're gonna do?"
"I haven't a clue," Mulder said mildly.
"We are getting you showered, shaved, and changed, and then we are setting up your stupid artificial tree and putting all your stupid ornaments on it."
"Only if you open my stupid presents too."
"Have you ever done either of those things before?" Mulder asked, as they exited the closet. "Put up a tree or decorated it?"
"No. Have you ever wrapped presents before? Those look like crap – I mean, thank you, but they do."
"I'm colorblind," Mulder reminded him.
"Hey, those are all joke presents or bombs, aren't they?"
"Yep," Mulder said.
"You're a liar, Mulder."
"Yep," Mulder said again. And laughed.
"This is going to be the best Christmas EVER," said Krycek, sarcastically.
But it was.