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Like A Two Edged Sword

Winter Night
by Sarah Teasdale

My window-pane is starred with frost,
The world is bitter cold to-night,
The moon is cruel, and the wind
Is like a two-edged sword to smite.
My room is like a bit of June,
Warm and close-curtained fold on fold,
But somewhere, like a homeless child,
My heart is crying in the cold.

The package, flat and slim, landed on the desk in front of Mulder. It was wrapped in shiny white paper, with a blood red ribbon knotted around it and curled into a careless, but somehow elegant bow. He studied it for a moment, then looked up into the bright green eyes of the man who had dropped it before him. "What?"

Alex Krycek pursed his lips. "You know, Mulder, that's a record for verbal stinginess, even for you."

"All right. What's the occasion?"

"Happy birthday."

Mulder scowled. "It isn't my birthday."

Alex crossed his arms. "I didn't think it was. But you won't tell me when it is, and neither will Scully."

Mulder arched an eyebrow. "And of course you're too ethical to look it up in my dossier."

Krycek shrugged, ignoring the implied suspicion of his ethics. "Anyway, you've been acting particularly surly lately. And given your general level of gruffness, that's pretty bad. So I thought I'd just pick a day and go ahead with your present."

"I haven't been that bad."

"You make Walter Skinner look like Richard Simmons." Mulder gave a startled, half smothered bark of laughter, and Krycek smiled. "I know. It's picturing him bouncing around in tank top and baggy shorts, sweatin' to the oldies."

"Um... yeah. Something like that." Fox picked up the package, and turned it over in his hands. "What is it?"

"I don't tell secrets, Mulder," *Not unless I'm very well paid.* "Open it and find out." Mulder held the package to his ear and shook it experimentally. Alex rolled his eyes. "Somehow I knew you'd be a box-shaker."

"Yeah? You don't know me."

Krycek watched as Mulder picked the ribbon loose, and started working his fingers carefully under the folded paper, prying up the tape. *I know you, Fox. I know you better than you know yourself. I'm going to be introducing you to yourself, very, very soon.*

"Hey." Mulder's voice was soft, almost wondering. He looked at the thin book. "Love Songs, by Sarah Teasdale."

"It's not a first edition, but it IS initialed by the author on the fly leaf."

Mulder flipped to the indicated page, and ran his fingers over the inscribed letters. "I'll be damned. Uh... thanks."

"You're welcome."

Mulder sighed, closing the volume. "No, really thanks. I... have been kind of a shit lately, and now this. People... don't usually put a lot of thought into my gifts. Scully gave me a tie last year. Said she had to do something about the goddawful nooses I picked for myself."

"Well, I wasn't going to say anything, but since she did..."

"I'm feeling kindly toward you. Don't spoil it." Mulder flipped through the pages gently. "Lots of good stuff in this one. 'Barter', 'The Gift', 'The Kiss'..."

"May Wind."

Mulder's flicking paused, but he didn't look up at the man standing before him. "Winter Night. There's an appropriate one, even if it is not far gone into autumn. My window-pane is starred with frost, the world is bitter cold to-night..."

"The moon is cruel, and the wind is like a two-edged sword to smite." Mulder looked up at him in surprise. "Yes, it is appropriate. We'll have frost tonight."

"So soon? It hardly seems right."

"Nature isn't always logical, and is seldom what we'd call fair, Mulder. All we can do is accept it. Live with it. Ride it out."

Mulder's eyes followed Krycek as he walked back and sat at his own desk. Why did he always feel like Krycek was saying one thing, but telling him something else?

Reluctantly he laid aside the slender volume of poetry and got back to work on the pile of reports that needed to be finished. But every now and again, his hand would creep unconsciously over to caress the little book. He didn't even notice he was doing it. Krycek noticed, though. He kept his head bent studiously over his own paperwork, so Mulder wouldn't see the faint, smug smile.

The temperature dropped even further that evening. Mulder's breath fogged before him, even in his car, till he got the heater going sufficiently. When he got home, he cranked the thermostat up, cursing himself for his own economy measures in leaving the heat turned so low. He had to walk around in his coat for awhile, waiting for the apartment to warm.

While he waited for the furnace to take the chill out of the air, he went to look out his window. He'd been late getting off: it was already dusk, deepening into twilight.

He was startled to see the thin white rime that glazed the outside of the window panes. Krycek had been right. Frost. He pressed his palm flat against the glass, fingers outspread. It was cold, very cold, but not wet. The air inside had been close enough to that outside that there’d been no condensation.

The new frost was very fragile. After only a few seconds, the heat of Mulder's touch traveled through the plate of glass. The frost dissolve on the other side of the space his hand occupied, leaving a clear space, and letting trickles run down to begin defrosting the rest of the glass.

Gradually, the place warmed. He shrugged out of his coat, then went and got into a comfortable set of sweats, just in case he wanted to turn the heat back down later. Right now he couldn't imagine wanting that, but you never knew when frugality might sneak up and attack you.

By the time he'd changed, the apartment had lost its chill. It was quite warm, bordering on too warm. Mulder went back to the front window, and watched as the frost gave up fighting the heat that was so close, and melted off the window. If things kept up at this rate, in a week or two the frost would stay. The outside would be cold enough to combat whatever heat was inside his walls.

After a moment more, he drew the curtains tight, shutting out the fast approaching night. He couldn't say if he did this because it was too full of things he didn't feel like dealing with, or because it was too empty.

"My room is like a bit of June, warm and close-curtained fold on fold," he murmured, stroking the curtain lightly. Physical warmth, yes. That, at least.

Mulder frowned, shaking his head. He'd better get away from the window. He seemed to be having too many odd thoughts whenever he looked off into the distance these days.

The knock at the door took him by surprise. He put the chain on before he unlocked it, and cracked it open.

Krycek was huddled in the hall, hands stuffed deep in his leather jacket. *Must've taken the time to go home and change. If he got in out of this weather, why in God's name did he go OUT into it again?*

"Mulder, your landlord keeps it like a freaking meat locker out here. Can I come in?" Fox shut the door, reaching for the chain. He hesitated for a moment. Why was Krycek here? What did he want? Curiosity had always been one of Mulder's defining characteristics, so he took off the chain and opened the door.

Krycek stepped past him into the room, relief clear on his face as Mulder shut and re-locked the door. "Thank you. I was freezing my balls off out there."

"Go stand over the floor vent and thaw out, then."

"I think I'll just do that little thing." Alex strode over to the floor vent, and stood astraddle it. He spread his legs slightly, and sighed voluptuously as the heated air blew up under his jeans. "Oh, man, that helps!"

Mulder watched him as he rocked back and forth on his heels, swaying slightly. He unzipped his jacket, and fanned the edges for a moment before removing it, showing that he was wearing only a thin black T-shirt beneath it. His nipples were erect from the cold, thrusting against the soft, dark fabric aggressively.

Mulder found himself thinking that the jacket would have two smells to it right now. The exterior would smell of the outside world: dampness and cold, maybe a little smoke from the leaves that were still being burned. The inside would smell of... Alex. Heat, and his cologne, and the personal, elusive scent of his skin, a scent that Mulder had noticed once or twice when Krycek leaned over him at his desk to make a point.

"What do you want, Krycek? Besides recovering your body heat, I mean."

Krycek shrugged. "Well, if I have to have a reason..." He rummaged in his jacket pocket, pulled out the book of verse, and tossed it to Mulder. "You left your present. Housekeeping has been known to appropriate small items in the past. I know a book of poetry might not be high on the list of 'Items to be Ripped Off at Every Opportunity', buuut..."

Mulder felt embarrassed. So, it was just a nice gesture, after all. Nothing invasive, nothing...personal. "Would you like some coffee?"

"I won't say no." He followed Mulder into the kitchen. It hadn't quite warmed up in there yet, and Mulder was glad he had thought to put on shoes against the chill of the tile floor. As Mulder set the coffee to brew, Krycek went to the sink, peering at the small window in the wall behind it. He leaned forward, touching a fingertip to the pane. "Frost." He looked back over his shoulder at Mulder. "I told you so."

Mulder took in Krycek's stance, bent over a little, legs slightly spread. The jeans were faded, and as tight as a second skin, clearly outlining the cleft of his buttocks. *Damn, you'd never think that body was under those dark suits,* Mulder thought vaguely.

Mulder turned away, pulling two mugs off the row of rings over the microwave. He picked up the carafe too soon, and a thin dribble of liquid hit the hot plate of the coffee maker, hissing and sputtering. He cursed quietly, pouring the brew, and set the glass pot back with a small thump that elicited more hisses and pops from the liquid trapped under it.

Fox turned...

...and nearly sloshed coffee on Krycek, who was suddenly standing very close. *Good GOD, that man is fast! And quiet.* Fox offered the cup silently, and Krycek accepted it with equal quiet.

Instead of holding it by the handle, he cradled it in his palms, warming his hands on it, and sipped like a child, tipping his head to keep his eyes on Mulder. Lowering the mug, he licked his upper lip like a cat. "Good brew. Any special blend?"

"It's... Uh, Jamaican and Kona, mixed. I ground it this morning."

"Mm. Very nice." He drank deeply, then sighed. "Enough to melt the chill out of your bones. Aren't you going to drink yours?"

Mulder realized that he'd just been holding his mug. Had, in fact, let it tip so far in his distraction that it was nearly spilling out. He drank, not really noticing the taste. He leaned back against the counter, trying to be casual. This was his home, damn it. He wouldn't let anyone make him nervous in his own home.

Finishing his coffee quickly, he put the cup aside and watched to see what Krycek would do. Krycek drained his own mug, and reached past Mulder to set it on the counter...

...and left his hand there, braced so that he was leaning in toward Mulder, looking up into his face. Mulder went very still. Krycek put the other hand flat on the counter, on his other side. Now Fox was between his arms, between him and the counter.

The silence spun out. Krycek shifted, moving closer, studying Mulder, green eyes probing hazel. Mulder could feel his mouth going dry, despite the liquid he'd just consumed. He looked down at the smaller man, taking in the slight flush on his face, the tiny points pressing against his shirt front (they hadn't receeded with the warmth of the room), and, lower down, another, larger mound beneath his jeans' fly.

When Mulder managed to speak, his voice was hoarse. "What are you doing?"

Kyrcek sighed. "It looks like I'm misjudging my timeing."

The way Fox saw it, there were four possible reactions right now. A, he could hit Krycek as hard and as often as possible. B, he could laugh. C, he could react by not reacting, and hope the problem would go away. Or D, he could push himself against Krycek, and find out just how warm and firm that bulge was. Mulder had followed a system on tests all through school. Multiple choice? If you were absolutely sure, choose. If you kinda-sorta knew, guess. And if you had no fucking clue whatsoever, either choose C or leave it blank.

"I think you'd better go now."

Krycek bit his lip, then slowly pulled away from Mulder. "My mistake."

He went into the living room, and Mulder watched him through the doorway as he slipped on his jacket zipping it up. "Thanks for the coffee..." His smile twisted. "And the warmth." He cocked his head. "You get cold sometimes, don't you, Mulder? Cold, and lonely?"

He walked away. Mulder listened to his steps retreat, then heard the door open, and close. He gripped the counter behind him and waited for his knees to be absolutely steady before he moved.

After locking the door again, he sat on the couch. The 'Love Songs' book was on the cushion beside him, and he picked it up, letting it fall open at random. It came to rest on 'Winter Night'. Fox reread it, shifting on the sofa. The room was feeling cooler now, somehow, but he was aware of an inner warmth that radiated undeniably from his body's core. The apartment suddenly seemed almost hideously quiet.

When he read the final couplet of the poem, he hastily snapped the book shut, and stared at it.

*But somewhere, like a homeless child, my heart is crying in the cold."

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