~ Anne Bradstreet, To My Dear and Loving Husband
It began to snow on the afternoon of the 23rd, lightly at first, then with increasing consistency, until all of the valley was covered in a thick, soundless blanket of white. When Alex woke beside his wife the morning of Christmas Eve, it was still snowing.
In Washington there was no snow, only a hard, chill rain , the cold and the dampness seeping into the bones of those brave (or foolish) enough to venture out. On the afternoon of the 23rd, Mulder and Scully boarded a plane for Albany, arrest warrant safely tucked in Mulder's jacket. After a sleepless motel night, they drove south in search of their quarry.
The plows couldn't seem to keep ahead of the snow, and cars slid into ditches and light poles all the way down I-88. A state trooper stopped them to say that the roads were being closed to all but emergency vehicles. Mulder snapped open his badge, and snapped at the trooper: "We're on urgent FBI business." The young officer nodded, embarrassed, and told them to proceed.
"Merry Christmas!" the trooper called half-heartedly as they pulled away.
"I'm Jewish," Mulder yelled back, and, despite his partner's look of disdain, kept driving a little faster than was safe.
Alex got up and got dressed, then built a fire in the living room hearth, with the dog padding tiredly behind him. He went down to the cellar to check the furnace, all was well there. But when he picked up the phone to call his in-laws, there was no dial tone. He frowned. That was not well.
He went upstairs -- the dog looked disinterestedly after him, and plopped down on the hearth rug with a snort. Alex walked quietly into the bedroom, making no sound on the floorboards.
"Anya?" he said softly, touching his wife's shoulder. How beautiful she was, fast asleep, with her hair all spread out across the pillow... "Anya!" he repeated, a little louder.
She stirred, turning her face to him, smiling drowsily as she opened her eyes. "What is it, Alexei?"
"The phones are out. I'm going up to your parents' in a bit, just to make sure everything's all right." He ran his finger down her cheek, smiling. "Just wanted you to know. I didn't want you to wake up and wonder where I was." He started to stand, but Anna caught his arm.
"No, help me up," she said, furrowing her brow. "I'll never get back to sleep now."
Her doctor had fixed the due date at New Year's, and that was only a week away. Advanced pregnancy made sudden movements impossible, and Alex had become recently accustomed to helping her sit and stand. He guided her into a comfortable sitting position, then pulled her gently to her feet.
"Merry Christmas, love," she whispered, kissing him.
He smiled against her lips. "Merry Christmas to you, too. And to you." Impulsively, he bent and kissed the swell of her belly.
Anna laughed. "Silly man." She rubbed her back, sighing, glancing over his shoulder out the window. "Alexei, are you sure you should go out in this?"
"With no phones, there's no way of knowing if your parents are all right. You know the pipes tend to freeze." Alex stroked her hair, pulling her into his embrace. "I'll take the Explorer, I'll drive slow, and you won't worry."
She kissed his neck, holding him tight. "I'll still worry."
"Come on downstairs. I'll make you some tea before I go."
"Good lad." Anna stepped back from him, smiling. "I'll just throw on some clothes, and join you."
Alex went back down, added another log to the fire, put the kettle on. He let the dog out, who was standing patiently by the door; then fixed Anna's tea, two tablespoons of honey, just the way she liked it. It had become a joke between them -- he couldn't even make toast without burning it, but he knew just how to make her tea. Maybe it was because he knew her so well.
"Anya?" he called up the stairs. "Do you need any help?"
"I'm fine!" she yelled back.
He stood at the bottom of the stairwell, shaking his head. Anya was so independent. They'd both lived solitary, self-reliant lives for too long -- now, together, he sometimes found it to depend on her. Not because she wasn't reliable, but because Anya was the first person he'd ever trusted. And trusted with his life. He was unused to the feeling, and knew she felt the same at times.
He watched her come slowly down the stairs, wanting to run up and carry her down, knowing he couldn't -- not physically, and if he could, not without hurting her pride. Both thoughts stung a little.
"Your tea's ready," he said instead.
Anna reached the bottom without incident. She'd put on one of those long, smock-like dresses, a deep forest green colour that set of her dark red hair perfectly.
"You look gorgeous."
She eyed him thoughtfully. "Your eyesight must be going," she replied dryly. "I look like a hippopotomus."
"Go drink your tea."
Alex pulled on his boots, deftly tying them one-handed. (Neat little trick he'd learned, of necessity.) He was trying to decide whether or not to take the dog with him -- Shield loved bounding around on his father-in-law's impressive acreage - - when Anna's concerned voice broke into his thoughts.
"Babe, where's your arm? I only just noticed..."
"Upstairs." He stood, and tugged on his jacket, winding a long scarf around his neck.
"Is anything wrong?" Anna rose slowly, coming to stand beside her husband. She touched his shoulder gently, and he looked away.
Anna took him firmly by the chin, forcing him to look at her. "Alexei, what is it?"
He carefully removed himself from her grasp. "It's the weather," he muttered. "Cold, damp. My shoulder aches... Anya, I won't have you feeling sorry for me."
Her eyes softened. "Yeah, you're such a pitiful specimen. Turns my stomach." There, she did it again. Saved face for him, and let him feel whole.
He rested his forehead on her shoulder, and she cupped his head with one hand, while he lightly stroked her belly. It was all right, wasn't it, to be vulnerable for a moment in the arms of the woman you loved? The woman who held your very soul? "I love you," he said quietly.
"And I you." She kissed his cheek, and then pushed him away. "Now go, make sure my parents have everything they need, and get back to me safely."
"All right." He kissed her back, somewhat more lingeringly. "Should I take Shield? Let him run around?"
"No, leave him here with me. I feel kind creepy here by myself."
"Okay." He kissed his wife once more for good measure, then left.
"Mulder, are you sure you know where you're going?"
He shot a bilious glare at his partner. "Yes," he said through clenched teeth.
Scully wasn't sure how he could tell. They'd gotten off the Interstate half an hour ago, and all she saw was snow. Snow on the trees, roof tops, piled high on the roadside, not to mention the road itself... Snow continually falling from the sky.
"The last time I saw this much snow," she began conversationally, "we were in Alaska."
"Mulder, I have been trapped in a car with you for nearly 3 hours. The least you could do is be pleasant. It's Christmas Eve, for heaven's sake, and you dragged me out here..."
"I'm not missing the chance to put Alex Krycek behind bars," he snapped. "I know where he is now -- after over two freaking years. Frohike has been busting his ass to find him for me. I've got a warrant. And that is it. End of discussion."
"End of discussion."
Sighing, Scully turned her attention back to the blinding white scenery. There was something admittedly beautiful about the mountains, the ones in the distance looking like sugar topped pastries. The one more immediate, flanking the road on her right, looked as though a whisper would bring an avalanche down on their comparatively tiny car, icicles quivering on tree branches as though they waited to fall. On the left, the road dropped away to a river winding through a deep gorge. Her stomach dipped, and she looked back at the road.
Another ten minutes -- 30 mph was the fastest they could go -- and the raod evened out, the mountains drawing back while the river drew closer. They passed a tiny village nestled in a bend in the river, picturesque for its red covered bridge, and the black church spire rising elegently into the sky.
"Looks like a Christmas card, how appropriate," Mulder mumbled, consulting his drirections. Another mile past the covered bridge, and it was the white farmhouse with green trim, the entrance flanked by pine trees... The car crawled on through the snow.
"Here." It came out almost a shout, triumphant. He turned into the circlular drive, barely making it halfway up before the car, tires already protesting, stuck, and would go no further. "Shit." He turned off the engine and gave Scully a wry grin. Unreasonable excitement tickled him. It was time. "Looks like we walk."
Keeping her newly unfavourable opinion of her partner to herself, Scully got out of the car.
They were met on the porch.
"Nice doggie," Mulder said uncertainly, stretching a hand out gingerly for it to sniff. This was the biggest dog he'd ever seen, at least three feet at the shoulder, rippled with muscle. The dog growled low in his throat, making it clear that Mulder's gesture was unappreciated.
"Mulder... that's a damned big Rottweiller!" Scully whispered urgently.
"Thanks for the update," he hissed back.
Apparently insulted at being left out of this exchange, the dog took a menacing step forward, its growl growing in volume.
"Shield! Back off!"
The dog immediately stood down at the sound of the commanding female voice. A red-haired woman of maybe thirty came out the door, wrapping a shawl 'round her shoulders. "Can I help you?"
Both agents found themselves staring at her -- she was obviously very pregnant. Mulder regained himself first, saying, "I'm Agent Mulder, and this is Agent Scully, from the FBI..." They both flashed their badges. "We're looking for Alex Krycek."
The woman's face had been open and animated, and now her features grew taut. With one hand she drew the shawl tighter around her body, the other hand rested on the dog's head, as if for support. "Alexei isn't here right now."
"Is he expected back soon?" Scully asked.
"Yes... May I ask what this is about?"
"If we could perhaps speak with you inside?" Mulder suggested.
"Of course," she murmured. "I'm sorry, you must be freezing." She held open the door for them.
Scully looked around the cozy cluttered kitchen. The remains of tea and a muffin on the big wooden table. Brightly coloured pot holders hung on hooks above the stove, spices were crammed into a counter-top rack. The china in the glass fronted cabinet was very good stuff indeed.
"Ms...?" Mulder began, fishing for the name.
"Mrs." she corrected flatly. "Mrs. Anna Krycek."
Too late, Scully saw the framed wedding photograph on the sideboard. "Mulder..."
"Are you a relation?" he inquired, his pleasantry forced.
The woman's eyes narrowed. "You could say. I'm Alexei's wife."
Mulder felt as though he'd had the wind knocked out of him. Wife. Spies didn't have wives. Murderers didn't have wives. This flew in the face of logic! What had Alex Krycek done to deserve a beautiful woman like this; a wife, a house, a baby on the way... This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen.
"Is something wrong, Agent Mulder?" Anna Krycek's voice was suddenly cold.
He remembered his purpose. No need to think too hard about the details. "We have a warrant for your husband's arrest." He slapped the paper down on the table.
She shook her head slightly. "That can't be. There has to be a mistake."
"I'm afraid not, Mrs. Krycek," Scully said gently.
"No mistake," Mulder said sharply. "Alex Krycek is wanted for murder, espionage, and treason." He ticked each charge off on his fingers.
Scully shot an angry look at her partner. While Mulder wasn't exactly the ultimate people-person, he wasn't handling this well at all.
Anna raised an eyebrow. "Treason? Against whom? Alexei has dual citizenship, his parents were Russian immagrants. He works for the Russian government -- I can show you his diplomatic papers. And even if these charges are genuine, he has immunity."
"These charges antedate any kind of diplomatic immunity he may have secured for himself. The first count of espionage is almost five years old." Mulder's eyes were locked with Anna's. "I'm sorry. But when your husband," he made the word an insult, "arrives home, he will be taken into custody."
As if on cue, the sound of an engine was heard outside. Anna sank into a chair, covering her face with her hands, while Shield trotted eagerly to the door, knowing his master had arrived.
Alex came in through the mudroom at the back of the kitchen, stomping his boots. "Anya!" he called cheerfully. "Who's here?"
Mulder swung around the corner, gun drawn, and Anna screamed. He saw Krycek's eyes widen in shock, then felt a sudden and immense pressure on his arm. The next the agent knew, he was on the ground. The dog Shield stood over him, blood dripping from his jaws. He recognised the look in the animal's eyes without knowing how he knew -- one word from either of the Kryceks, and the dog would rip his throat out.
Alex snatched up Mulder's gun from where it had fallen. "Shield. Back off. Anya, are you all right?"
"Yes..." She motioned to the dog, who obediently came and put his head on her knee.
"What is this?" Alex said angrily. "Jesus Christ, Mulder, are you trying to get yourself killed? Get up!"
Mulder rose shakily, clutching his bleeding right arm. "Scully... Cuff him."
"To what?" Alex snorted. "Here." He handed Mulder back the gun. "What the fuck is going on here?"
Scully looked back and forth between the two, still stunned. "He's right, Mulder. What exactly do you want me to cuff?"
For the first time, Mulder noticed his adversary's distinct lack of a left arm. "What the hell happened to you?"
"My question first. What's going on?"
"None of the above."
Everyone turned and stared at Anna, who'd risen somewhat unsteadily. But while her posture was slightly off-balance, her tone was even. "Alexei, sit down and calm down. Agent Mulder, you're turning white. Sit down. Agent Scully..."
"I'll take care of Mulder's arm," Scully said quickly. At Anna's raised eyebrows she added, "I'm a doctor."
"Well, then, I suppose you're the man for the job," Anna murmured.
Scully helped Mulder out of his coat and suit jacket, then simply ripped open his shirtsleeve. The dog had bitten deeply into his bicep, but the bleeding was slow and steady, not the spurting of an arterial wound. That, at least, was to the good.
"I need something to stop the bleeding. An old towel?"
"I'll get it," Alex said brusquely. He came back a moment later, juggling a towel, some alcohol, a roll of gauze, and tape.
"Thanks," Scully mumbled.
"Sorry 'bout the carpet," Mulder sneered.
Alex ignored him, taking his wife's hand. "Anya, sit back down."
"Don't patronise me, Alexei. What is going on?"
"Yeah, Alexei." Mulder glared up at him, sweating slightly as Scully cleaned the wound. "Tell her."
"I used to work with Mulder at the Bureau."
Anya nodded. "Fine. And?"
"And those were the bad old days. I've told you, I made some very wrong choices then." Alex clenched his jaw.
"Shooting my father in the head for a paycheck was definitely the wrong choice," Mulder growled.
"Christ, Mulder, when are you going to believe me that I didn't do it? I wasn't the trigger man, I never was!"
He looked back to his wife, shaking his head. "You know what I was, Anya."
"Do I?" Her voice grew faint. "You told me that you were once a spy. I said fine, I'm not much of a flag waver. You told me you had seen terrible things. I knew that already, because you wept in your sleep." She drew breath, her voice becoming stronger. "When you worked for the Markovs, I knew they were gansters at best, I knew that the day I met you. All these things I have forgiven you, because I love you, because you're my husband, you're the father of my child. Our child. But Alexei..." A tear slipped from her eye. "I must know," she said in Russian. "Did you kill this man's father?"
Alex shook his head mutely.
"Did you ever kill?"
He nodded slightly.
He nodded again.
"Give me one reason why I should not let them take you."
He swallowed. "Potomu chto ya lubitv ti." Because I love you.
She slapped him.
"No-one's going anywhere," Scully announced, snapping her cell phone shut. "The National Weather Service doesn't forsee this storm ending anytime soon. The State Police plan on arresting anyone stupid enough to venture out onto the roads. In short," and here she paused, surveying the three people in the room. Mulder sat with one eye on the dog, one eye on Krycek; one arm bandaged and in a makeshift sling, the other hand resting nervously on his gun. Anna Krycek stared absently out the window, sitting in the chair she'd dropped into after decking her husband. Said husband stared forlornly at her.
"In short," Scully repeated with emphasis, "we're stuck here, all of us. And we have to make the best of it."
"This sucks," Mulder declared.
"Well, no shit," Alex growled back.
"Shut up. Both of you," Anna said quietly.
Mulder opened his mouth for a sharp retort, then closed it after recieving a killing glare from his partner.
"Alex, will you make coffee?" Anna did not look at him as she made the request, and her use of his English name was cool and formal.
He stiffened, but stood, nodding. "Of course... Anya," he murmured.
Inwardly, Scully groaned. She couldn't have dreamed up a worse scenario for Christmas Eve. Someday, some way, she'd get Mulder for this one... She turned and looked out of the kitchen, through the dining room to where the Christmas tree stood. It was a large fir, filling the house with its piney smell. It had been decorated simply, but with obvious love: gold and silver balls, a red garland, white candles, a few special ornaments. She walked to the tree, surveying it with pang.
Here was a Rottweiller ornament; the dog was obviously a family member, not just a pet. A small ceramic wreath with the words "Our First Christmas". It held a picture of Anna and Alex, cozy in holiday clothes, in front of a blazing fire with the dog. There were some Russian icons. A beautiful gold angel. The star atop the tree was of spun glass, and caught the light through the open curtains, shimmering.
There were packages piled high beneath the tree, and Scully eyes the visible tags. Some were in Cyrillic, but she'd bet her badge that they read "Anya" and "Alexei". Some read "Mama", some read "Papa". Probably parents. There were several labled simply, "to baby, with love."
Scully inhaled deeply, looking away from the gifts, and found her eye immediately drawn to the picture on the mantle. It was another wedding photo, less formal than the one on the kitchen sideboard. Alex and Anna were looking at each other instead of at the photographer, the expression in their eyes demonstrative of something Dana herself had never experienced. A glowing look, like the embers in the fireplace. Damped for caution, but still hot. She shook her head slightly. The course of true love never did run smooth, or so the poets said. Why did the fucking poets always have to be right?
The coffe dripped steadily into the carafe, and Mulder watched it, focusing his energy on counting the drops so that he wouldn't jump out of his chair and beat the ever lovin' shit out of Alex Krycek. The rat-bastard had really out-done himself this time. It was obvious that he'd lied to his wife. Now the poor woman didn't know what to think. Had to suck, finding out on Christmas Eve that you were married to a murderer. Mulder carefully avoided acknowledging to himself the fact that he'd been the instrument of this revelation. He didn't do guilt well, and what annoyed him the most was that he felt a little sorry for Krycek, too.
"Anya." She still wouldn't look at him. "Can I talk to you?" he asked in Russian.
"Why?" she answered, also vo Russki.
"What is to explain?"
"Anya, look at me."
Her voice trembled with her answer. "I don't want to." She pulled herself to her feet, using the table for support.
"Let it be," she answered, and started to leave the room.
In a flash, Alex was in front of her, grabbing her arm. "Wait! Talk to me!"
"Why should I? I have heard all I need to."
"No, you have not. Anya, I... I once was given a choice.I made the wrong decision. I've told you these things." He grasped her hand tightly, locking her eyes with his own. "And for a time, I continued in that way. It was a... dark path. You know this, too. Then, again, I was given a choice. I made the right one, and in so doing, I found you."
"Let go," she whispered, tears welling in her eyes. "Just let me go."
"No. No, I won't. It's your choice now. Can you forgive the man I once was, for the sake of the man you love?"
All eyes were on Anna. Neither Mulder or Scully understood the words of the exchange, but the tones were enough to know that Alex was pleading for her forgiveness. Scully held her breath, the romantic in her praying the answer would be yes. Mulder was divided, partly wanting to see Krycek's hopes destroyed, partly knowing that no man deserved such a tragedy.
And Alex only closed his eyes, holding her hand tighter, their wedding rings pressed painfully together.
"Can you forgive me?" he said again.
Anna's composure broke, and she pitched forward, burying her face in his collar. "Yes, of course," she mumbled through her tears. "You lying bastard, of course I forgive you... I love you..."
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, holding her to him, and his own tears fell silently in her hair.
"Alexei, help me to bed." She lifted her head, tears drying in streaks down her cheeks. "I am so tired, I just need to rest."
"Of course, come on." He turned her toward the stairs, whistling for Shield. Several minutes later, Alex came down alone, looking profoundly weary.
He stood in the kitchen doorway, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. "Mulder."
Scully looked up from the coffee she'd just poured, and fervently wished that she would not, for the second time, have to shoot her partner to keep him from killing Alex Krycek.
"First of all..." Alex swallowed hard. "I was there. But I did not kill your father."
"So you say."
"Well, the man who did is dead. The same man who killed your sister, Scully. And I'm sorry. But I was only the backup and the pick-lock. I'm sure it doesn't... help, but you'll have to take my word on it."
"Your word is worth shit, Krycek." Mulder started to stand, and Scully pushed him back down. He looked at her in shock.
"Mulder. Relax. Let him speak."
Alex rubbed the bridge of his nose, shaking his head. "You know, secondly... This is partly your fault."
Mulder frowned, uncomprehending. "What is?"
"My arm. Remember Tunguska?"
"I remember you left me to die." His voice was bitter.
"Yeah, I got my own back, didn't I?" Alex's voice was equal in its bile. "If I hadn't gone to Russia with you, I wouldn't have to wear my wedding ring on my right hand."
"Pity," Mulder sneered.
"Then again..." Here Alex's tone softened, and he came to sit across from Mulder. "I can thank you as much as blame you. If I hadn't lost my arm, I wouldn't have met my former employer, which would mean that I wouldn't have been sent here, which would have resulted in my never having met Anya." He paused, and drew breath for more.
"I've sold my last secret. I've fired my last shot. I work for the Russian ambassador to the UN, and Anya teaches at the university here. Life is quiet, and it's good. I've done with the Consortium -- if they know where I am, they haven't come knocking. I just want it to be over."
"And now we're supposed to forgive you?" Mulder said sarcastically. "You've mended your ways? You're a new man? Bullshit, Krycek. No-one can change at the drop of a hat."
"It wasn't the drop of a hat, and I don't really give a fuck whether you forgive me or not. But you are in my home. And I am just trying to tell you where I'm coming from. Take it at face value."
"What did you have to do with my abduction?" Scully asked quietly.
"I kept Mulder from getting to you in time." He studied her earnestly, searching her face for signs of belief. "That's all I had to do with it, and I swear I don't know anything else."
She nodded. "Okay," she breathed. "I believe you."
"Scully!" Mulder protested. "You're not actually buying this crap, are you? He's just trying to keep his ass out of jail."
"Actually..." Alex picked up the arrest warrant and skimmed it. "I believe treason is a capital offence. If you get your way, Mulder, I go to the gas chamber."
There was probably a reason why Mulder hadn't killed Krycek, given several previous opportunities. Mulder generally told himself that he needed something from the man at the time, information, what have you, and that was why he spared him. Yet even in the furious aftermath of his father's murder, he hadn't pulled the trigger. And then there really hadn't been anything to stop him, until Scully had shown up. Somewhere, though, in the back of his mind, (a psychologist's mind, which could at times be cruelly analytical) he knew he simply did not have the stomach to kill Alex Krycek. Nor did he truly want him dead. But Krycek was convenient, to blame, to project onto, to hit when the occasion arose.
Mulder shifted his injured arm, staring down the man across the table. "You did betray the government," he said weakly.
"The government you love so dearly?" Alex shook his head. "Like you haven't."
"I never turned my back on my country."
"Neither did I. It just always depended on which country was mine at the moment."
That did it, Mulder cracked a grin. Scully let out the breath she hadn't realised was holding, relieved. No more bloodshed today.
"I still hate you," Mulder muttered, looking away.
"Deal," Alex snapped back.
He jumped to his feet, hurrying to the stairwell. "Anya?" He didn't like the sound of her call, she sounded scared. Anya didn't get scared. "Anya, what is it?"
"Just come up here... with Agent Scully, please."
Unreasonable terror gripped Alex's heart, chilling him. He and Scully fairly ran up the stairs, he leading the way to the large master bedroom at the end of the hall.
She was sitting up in bed, Shield sitting sentry on the floor by her side. "Alexei, come here."
He did as asked, sitting on the edge of the bed. She wrapped her arms tightly around him, and he could feel her heartbeat, fluttering like a tiny bird.
"Alexei," she said softly, "My water broke. The baby's coming."
continued in family
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