Angels At My Back

by David S.


Title: Angels At My Back

Author: David S. david@hegalplace.com

Website: http://www.hegalplace.com/david/

Rating: PG-13 (a couple of naughty words)

Keywords: M/K, Christmas, Romance

Disclaimer: I do not own the X-Files characters, blah, blah, blah, ho, ho, ho. Marshmallow fluff in cocoa is realllllllllllly good.

Summary : It's Christmas Eve and Krycek discovers he's not as alone in this world as he thought. Cue the Peanuts gang singing: Loo, loo, loo, luh, loo, loo, loo, loo...

Archive: You know it. Just let me know.

Dedicated to: The wonderful, talented, handy in bar fights, MSKipperville list. Ya'll are the greatest.

Spoilers: Nope.

Feedback: Well, yeah, that'd be nice. Send feedback, Christmas cards, and fruitcake to: nakedmanatee@yahoo.com

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"We must love one another or die." --W.H. Auden

In a motel room, the kind you rent out by the hour, a small, old television sat, glowing mutely. In the center of the room, he stared at it without committing himself to what was on the screen, instead focusing on the sound of his own breathing. The pain inside of him had ceased to ebb and was now in a tremendous flow, a strong, choppy current with a dark, malignant undertow threatening to pull him under.

The tendrils of that pain, (what was it? heartbreak? was he so weak?) seemed to snake up his legs, coiling up and around his chest. There was some relief in letting it flow through him, accepting it. It was a tender mercy that he was giving himself by doing that. Far harder, and more painful lay somewhere in the struggle.

This can be easy or it can be hard.

Sounds, occasionally muffled, sometimes startlingly clear, traveled through the walls from the rooms on either side of him. On the right, there was a thud now and then, a few yells, a few taunts, a slap, some crying. Sometimes their television would blare up violently, the sound of studio-engineered laughter and applause to muffle the screams. On the left came the sounds of two people going at it, one of them play-acting at enjoying the lovemaking, the other shouting names of derision. Money could buy just about anything.

A thought flitted through his head and he wondered if these sounds, the verbalization of the deadness he was feeling, were somehow drawing themselves to him, like attracting like. He wondered if doing the things they were doing would make him feel better, a catharsis.

It wasn't worth finding out.

The man sitting on the edge of the bed stared hard at the images on the screen. Grinning people, like demons, selling something, what looked like an electric jar-opener. Even though it was on mute, the hard sell was obvious: happy families, gathered around a table, their lives freed up from the task of opening jars.

Next door, somebody was beating somebody.

There was his gun, a Glock next to him, laying on the bed. He fingered it and the metal seemed both cold and hot at the same time. It was a pill. A pill he could take. An amnesia pill. He could forget. Everything. All his failures. Everything. Maybe his absence would make the world better. Maybe that was the catharsis that was needed. Maybe when he was gone, the couple next door would feel different and stop hurting each other.

He could think of one life that would be better off.

"Help me!"

The man known as Alex Krycek picked up the Glock swiftly and stuck the barrel into his mouth. He shut his eyes.

"Help me!"

He put his finger on the trigger and pressed...

"HELP ME!!"

With a sob, he pulled the gun out and threw it onto the bed, his eyes red with tears. The begging sounds continued, a woman crying for help. He glared at the wall for five seconds, then ran out into the hall and over to the next room. He twisted the knob, but it was locked. In a rage, his face hot now, he slammed into the door, once, then twice. The wood buckled, then snapped, and the door flew open, the little metal chain lock pieces scattering across the room.

Inside, a greasy-haired man was standing over a woman who was wearing a slip that used to be white. He was breathing hard and holding a phone receiver in his hand. It was stained with her blood. He looked slightly confused by Krycek's presence. The whole room smelled like an open wound.

Krycek rushed him, hitting him once in the face, then grabbing the phone away from his weakened hand. He took the loose, ripped out wires dangling from the receiver and wrapped them around the man's neck. He pivoted the man around and jerked the wires tightly. Their bodies were close together now, the man's back up against Krycek's front. Krycek's hand gripped the wires and his arm curved around his neck in a hug. It was intimate, the way he preferred to kill someone. The man made gurgling sounds and his arms clawed at Krycek.

The woman, looking more like a feral, bloodied animal than a woman, leaped onto Krycek and began pounding at him. "Let him go, you fucker!" she spat.

She clawed at his face and he let go, backing away, in confusion. "You... You... asked for help..."

"You leave us alone," she snarled. "It's fucking Christmas Eve, for Christ's sake!" She went to the man, who was gasping and pulling the cord from around his neck. "Oh god, Deke, did he hurt you?"

"You're... He... He was beating you!" Krycek stammered.

"He's my husband and it's none of your goddamned business! Now get the fuck out of here!"

Krycek backed out of the room, half-stumbling over his own feet. His face was flush with the heat of adrenaline. He went back to his own room in a haze and resumed his position on the edge of the bed. Something felt off, altered. It was perfectly silent now, both rooms on either side of him having finished whatever tragedy/comedy they were involved in.

He found the remote and unmuted the television, which was now showing some sort of Christmas movie featuring actors that people had really, really liked back in the 70's.

"Huh, it is Christmas Eve," Krycek said aloud.

The good-looking actor, whose name everybody knew, except for Krycek, was sitting at a desk piled with stacks of files. He was grimly going through the papers, glowering at them with disdain. Then, after a few files were moved, a box in shiny paper revealed itself. The actor stared at it, conveying bewilderment.

"Now what's this? A present? But there's nobody I know that would want to give me a present..." The actor looked towards an unseen mark, his face becoming bitter. "Not...anymore..."

Krycek sat, riveted.

"Unless..." The actor pulled at the ribbons and then, with growing excitement, ripped the shiny paper which had snowmen and candy canes on it. He pulled open the now unwrapped box and peered in. He took an actorly moment to gaze and convey the sense of shock, then his face became awash with happiness.

Krycek swallowed.

The actor pulled out a sweater and held it up to his chest, beaming great big. Then he shook his head in wonderment. "I can't believe it. I just can't believe it." Then he looked into the box again and pulled out a card, which he then read aloud.

"Dear Brad,

I'm sorry I hurt you. I know I don't deserve a second chance, but I love you very much. I didn't mean to lie to you. Please let me back into your life.

All my love,

Dennis"

The actor playing Brad looked again off into the distance. He smiled and wiped a tear away. "Oh Dennis," he said, reaching for the phone. A commercial for the Swiffer came on, loud and abrupt, informing the viewers that they were the proud sponsors of Dennis and Brad's Christmas Miracle.

A tear rolled down Krycek's face and he blinked it away and hit the mute button. Pure silence. The fighting sounds were gone. The fake pleasure sounds were gone.

The pain. The pain was gone.

xxxxxxx

He grabbed his leather jacket and his wallet and headed out into the street. It was all clear to him. He could get Mulder a present. He would show Mulder that there was more to him than he thought.

The dark sky was fat and thick with billowy snowflakes. The liquor stores and pawn shops were adorned with Christmas lights. A sign on a peep show theater read "Ho, ho, ho!"

"Christ, I really need to get out of this part of town," Krycek said, and he laughed at himself. The laugh felt good. He had forgotten how good it could feel.

He hailed a cab and told the driver to take him to a mall.

"Are ya sure?" the cabby asked in a raspy, nasal voice. He sounded like Harvey Fierstein. "It's hell there, hell I tells ya," the cabbie said, pulling out into traffic. "Christmas Eve ya know." The cab was decorated with garland and smelled like pine.

"Yeah, I heard," Krycek said, the hint of a smile on his face.

The cabbie was silent for twenty seconds. "Smart-ass," he finally said, then erupted into laughter.

"No, really, I had just heard," Krycek said, but the cabbie couldn't hear him over his own laughter.

"You know what makes a great gift?" the cabbie asked. "Crotchless panties," he blurted, not waiting for a response. "The gift that keeps on giving."

Krycek nodded good-naturedly.

"Unless you're buying for yer ma, then you'd want to give her a calendar with whales on it."

A stab of panic crept in. He really had no idea what to get him. Shit. Crotchless panties were probably out of the question.

"Um, what else would make a great gift?" Krycek asked carefully.

"Mixed nuts!" the cabbie shouted. "Ya know. Those tins of popcorn with Looney Toons characters on them! Oh! Oh! Calendars with whales on `em! I already said that one, didn't I?"

Krycek nodded again. He was trying to memorize everything. Did people really enjoy receiving this crap?

The cabbie pulled up to the mall. The parking lot shimmered in the evening snow with cars. So many cars. "Here we are." Krycek looked at him desperately and the cabbie's face changed, subtly.

"Hey listen, you look like a nice kid who wants to have a nice Christmas. Let you in on a little secret." Krycek leaned in. "It don't mattah what you give, as long as it's from heah." He pointed to his chest. "From the heart." Krycek sat back, absorbing the information. He got out, dug into his wallet and paid the cabbie, who had rolled down his window.

"True story, kid. From the heart. Can't go wrong."

"Thanks," Krycek said, and he felt truly grateful.

He walked up to the main doors which were swarming with bundled up shoppers exiting and entering. It was like a prison riot. With tinsel. Christmas music blared through loud-speakers only to be interrupted by the sound of an employee announcing mechanically that they would be closing in fifteen minutes. This seemed to incite the crowd even further, and frantic, stressed shoppers shoved each other trying to get in.

He didn't have much time.

Krycek surveyed the perimeter of the building to gauge the path of least resistance. If he had his B&E tools, he could have jimmied a security door. But he didn't. So a more traditional way was called for.

There didn't seem to be a crowd near Dillard's.

He started to jog in the slush towards the lit sign. There were a few people coming and going, but for the most part, the Dillard's entrance seemed to be the best kept secret of the mall. He looked at his watch. Less than fifteen minutes to find the perfect gift that would make everything right again between him and Mulder.

As he grabbed the door he heard a weak voice say: "Help me..." He turned and looked around. Under an awning sat a man, bundled in ratty clothes. He had a dirty, grey face and one eye was blackened. There was something hopeless and wild in his eyes. "Help me..." he repeated.

He knelt down in front of him. "Hey," was all Krycek could think to say. He got out his wallet, which was thick with cash and handed him a wad of bills. "You gotta get someplace warm. Get something to eat." He felt stupid, not knowing what to say.

The man's fingers barely held onto the money. He didn't even look at it. "No," he muttered. "No..."

Krycek saw himself reflected in the man's eyes and a chill having nothing to do with the cold traveled through him.

"Oh, hey, look, um, here," Krycek said nervously, giving him a few more bills. The tattered man said nothing and stared at the ground. "Listen, I, uh, gotta go. Please, get something to eat. Get outta the snow." But the man said nothing and Krycek ran into the mall.

It didn't feel good to leave that man in the cold like that but what were you supposed to do? "What am I supposed to do?" he muttered.

An old lady with a walker inched slowly towards a perfume display and turned her head, having heard Krycek. "You got me. I thought I was in the toy store. My grandson wants one of them robots that change form. You know, they're robots. And you twist them... and you turn them... and then, they're like a dinosaur or some such thing." She turned away and picked up a bottle of perfume. "This isn't a dinosaur," she said indignantly.

"Are you with someone?" Krycek said, scanning the aisles for something, anything that Mulder might like.

"This isn't a dinosaur at all. Craig wouldn't like this."

"Where's your family? Are you with friends?" Krycek looked at his watch. Dillard's had a tie display rack with 2 or 3 ties left on it. Mulder wore ties, usually bad ones, so he might not know the difference between a good one or a bad one.

The old lady let out a sigh. It exited out of her like a rattle. Krycek moved closer to her and saw that she was crying. The lady looked up at him. She looked hunched and defeated. "I just wanted to get Craig a gift. Let him know I love him. He doesn't think his Grandma loves him. I wanted to get him something fun."

She put down the bottle of perfume. The loudspeaker interrupted Bing Crosby to announce that they were closing in ten minutes. "And now it's ruined." She began to sob. "It's ruined."

Krycek, against his very nature, gingerly reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. "Hey," he said. She pushed the walker aside and fell into his arms, crying. Unsure, he put his arms around her and patted, somewhat unnaturally. Finally, he let his arms rest around her. "There, there," he stammered. "I'm sure... Craig knows you love him."

The lady let out a wail.

"Hey," Krycek said. "I'm shopping for someone special, too. The mall's closing. Why don't I run up to the toy store and get Craig a gift for you. You don't want to face these crowds. If you wait here, I'll bring it back to you." He tried to smile reassuringly, selling her on the idea. She let go of him and looked up at his face. She smiled back, joyously.

"I can pay you," she blurted.

He began to sprint away. "Don't worry about it. I'll be back!"

She wiped her tears away. "Thank you," she whispered.

He darted up the escalator. The crowds were thinning now, most of them clogging up the check-out lines. He spied a KB Toys and ran in. Up and down the aisles he went. They were mostly bare, except for a few damaged toys that nobody wanted.

"This is the hardest thing I have ever done," Krycek muttered. "Killing the Peruvian Secretary of Defense was a walk in the park compared to this."

Aisle by aisle. Nothing. Even the crappy toys were disappearing. Wait. He spotted a bin near the front up by the check-out line. He pushed his way forward and looked in. It was filled with board games based on reality shows. Ugh.

"Hey lady, you're holding up the line!" a man shouted. He looked up and a woman with thin, stringy brown hair was rifling through her purse. She looked at the cashier pleadingly. "You don't take checks?"

"We don't take checks," the cashier said tiredly.

The woman smiled with embarrassment. "I don't know why the card isn't working."

"Yo lady! The store's closing! Get a move on!"

She glared back, but the fire was weak, more shame than anger. "Can you try it again? Please?"

"Christ," someone muttered disdainfully.

"I already tried it three times, ma'am. My manager says I have to confiscate it." He snatched it out of her hand and gave it to another employee in an apron of a different hue, something obviously denoting authority. "I'm sorry."

Her face became pale. "This... this..." the woman's voice trailed. "I don't know what I'm going to do. I made a promise... I don't know what--"

"Try paying `em once in awhile, lady!"

She blinked back tears and started to move away, abandoning the toys.

"Excuse me, um, dear?" Krycek said to her. She looked at him, uncertain if he was making a joke. "I'm sorry, honey. I lost you. I thought you were in, uh, shoes." He walked up to the front of the aisle. "How much is it?"

"Forty-two fifty-one," the clerk said.

Krycek dug into his wallet and pulled out a fifty. "Keep the change, buddy." He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, honey-pear," he said a little too loudly. "It's my fault. I forgot to pay the Visa this month! You know how forgetful I am."

"I... I can't thank you enough...dear," she said, now smiling. The clerk began to put the toys into the shopping bags. A glint of purple metal twinkled in one of the boxes. Krycek grabbed it out of the clerk's hands. The clerk shot him a look. "Sorry," Krycek said, somewhat chagrined.

"Hey, does this transform into a dinosaur?" he asked the woman quickly.

She nodded slowly and Krycek was half-aware that she probably considered him very, very insane. "Yesss. Yes, it does." She took the bag and moved away from the line and he followed.

"I don't suppose I could buy this off of you, could I? Shit, this probably is somebody's Christmas present, isn't it?"

"I got two, one that turns into a jet, one that turns into a dinosaur. Please, take one, if you want it. You paid for them."

Krycek was silent for a moment. "That would be," he said clutching it tightly, "so great. This is just what I was looking for."

The woman was beaming. She wagged her finger slyly at him. "You can't fool me, you know. I know what you are."

An assassin? Krycek thought. Was it that obvious? "Uh..." he mumbled.

"You're an angel."

Krycek laughed in spite of himself. "Uh, no." He looked at the ground.

"Well, I got a family at home that's going to think differently. You didn't have to do anything... nobody does... but you did." Krycek looked up at her. "But more importantly you were..." She stumbled, searching for the word. The wet in her eyes glistened. "Decent."

"I..."

"You can't fool me."

"Thank you... I... have someplace I need to be..." Krycek backed away.

"Merry Christmas," she said.

He said it back, the words sounding weird in his mouth. "Merry Christmas!" He ran off, feeling very, very strange.

The disembodied mall voice announced with finality that they were now closed and to have a happy holiday. The mall began playing "Happy Trails."

"Fuck!" Krycek shouted, running down the escalator towards Dillard's. "Fuck me, fuck me!" A man with two children glared at him. He ran down to the perfumes clutching the robot. There was nobody there. He did a twirl, scanning the place. A Dillard's employee, looking exhausted and about 13, held open the door.

"We're closed," the employee said with relief, motioning Krycek to the door. "Hallelujah."

"Wait, I'm looking for this old lady... She was in perfumes... She had a walker..."

"I've seen hundreds of old ladies with walkers tonight, bro. It's an epidemic."

"It's very important that I find her."

He shook his head. "I don't know what to tell you," he said unsympathetically.

Krycek visually identified three different pressure points on the kid's body that, with a couple of focused hits, could easily kill the boy. Then he heard her voice.

"I'm out here, young man!"

He looked out and saw the old lady wave to him. She was standing outside on the sidewalk, practically jumping in the snow. He spared the Dillard's employee and went outside. Her face lit up when she saw the robot.

"Oh my goodness," she said repeatedly for the next minute. She took it and hugged Krycek, and when he hugged her back it felt less awkward than before. "Oh my goodness, thank you, thank you, thank you so much! I didn't know people like you existed!"

"People like me," Krycek said doubtfully, thinking of all the crimes he had committed.

"Angels," she said matter-of-factly.

A cab pulled up. "Here's my cab," she said. He guided her to the door and helped her get in the back. Harvey Fierstein was there.

"Hey!" he wheezed, leaning across the passenger side and rolling down the window. "My two favorite customers. Did you go with the crotchless panties?"

"Oh you," the lady said, blushing.

Krycek realized he was giftless. "I didn't do so hot," he said.

"Aw well, hey, I'm sure something will work out. Merry Christmas!" Harvey got back into the cab. Krycek shut the old lady's door. She rolled down the window. "Merry Christmas," she said with love in her voice.

"Merry Christmas," he whispered back. The cab peeled out.

What looked like a nation's worth of vehicles started to empty out the parking lot. A sliver of the moon shone blurrily through the snow clouds, which were now scattering. The snow had turned lazy, a few flakes now drifting here and there, letting the wind carry them wherever. As the cars left, a silence followed, blanketing the mall. Krycek took a deep, cold breath, then released it.

"Help me," he heard a voice whisper. He turned and faced the tattered man.

What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to help?

Their eyes met and once again Krycek saw himself reflected in them. Two was the lowest common denominator, not one. Where had he heard that? Had angels whispered that in his ears? Then it became perfectly clear what he was supposed to do.

Krycek walked over to him and sat down next to him. He took his hand and gave it a squeeze. The man looked at him, his face awash in wonder.

"What's your name?" Krycek said.

The tattered man's eyes began to water. Two solid tears, one on each side of the man's cheeks, ran down. "Joe," he said. "My name is Joe."

"My name is Alex." Krycek smiled. "It's nice to meet you, Joe."

Slowly, they began to talk, one person who could never tell anyone about his life or his feelings, and one person who had never had anyone who would listen.

Hours went by and Joe told him everything, and he listened. And not knowing why, Krycek did the same, and Joe listened. A lifetime's worth of unspoken desires, unconfessed sins, and unrealized dreams.

It felt good to talk about. And then Krycek realized, it had been necessary to talk about. That there was no other way of surviving life without doing so. The snow drifted by along with their words.

The night was quiet and seemed drained of every bad feeling in the world. Joe got up and extended his hand. Krycek took it and Joe pulled him up.

"Thank you, Alex," he said, his eyes looking different now. He looked healed.

"Hey, it's only money, " Krycek brushed the snow off of himself.

"No, you know what I mean. Thank you for talking with me. For looking at me, instead of past me."

"Thank you. It is Christmas Eve, right?" Krycek grinned shyly. This connecting stuff wasn't easy. He stared off into the night. "I thought I would get him a present. Fox Mulder!" He let out a little laugh. "Guess the universe was trying to tell me something."

Joe dug into the pockets of his thick coat and pulled out a gleaming object. "I want you to have this. He might like it." He handed it to him.

Krycek took it and held it up to the light of the street lamp. It was a snowflake cut and carved and shaped out of the aluminum of a Pepsi can. It seemed rough and delicate at the same time. The light caught its edges and they sparkled and danced. It had a tiny string on top.

"I wanted a Christmas ornament," Joe explained.

"It's...it's beautiful," Krycek whispered. "Joe, this is amazing, I can't..."

Joe smiled. "Yes, yes you can, you big goof. Take it. Give it to Mulder. From what you've said, he sounds as lonely as me."

Krycek smiled and he grabbed Joe and hugged him. A spontaneous hug that I initiated, Krycek thought in amazement.

"Merry Christmas, angel," Joe said.

"Merry Christmas, Joe," Krycek breathed.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

He had wrapped the present in a box covered in tin foil and had found a string to tie around it. It looked kinda, well, horrible, but oh well. Then there was the card. He had found a blank Christmas card with a donkey and baby Jesus that said Oh Holy Night! on it, but again, oh well.

In the card he wrote what seemed the most appropriate:

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP

He crept over to the door and set the present down in front of it. A warm feeling of excitement swept over him. A good feeling.

He wondered if he was an angel. He wondered what that even meant. He knew that he had "helped" three people, but in their own way, they had just as much helped him. They were his angels. He suddenly felt loved and protected. Angels at his back.

Maybe like did attract like. Misery attracts misery, goodwill attracts goodwill. He thought about his gun and how he almost swallowed a bullet. At the time it had seemed easier.

This can be easy or it can be hard. He didn't have to think.

He knocked on the door, then ran.

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The End!

Merry Christmas!!! :) :) :) 2003

Note, the 1st: Mad props to that great Christmas tale, "It's A Wonderful Life," the movie that made it just fine and dandy to tell a holiday story where the main character attempts suicide. ;)

Note, the 2nd: I believe the quote about "Two not being the lowest common denominator" is originally from Karl Marx, who was quoted by Tony Kushner in "Angels in America." I could be totally getting that wrong, tho'. (See all the angels references? Aren't I clever? ;)
 

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to David S.