Snow Heart, Melt For Me

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by Ursula

Author's Notes

Alex paced the room. He couldn't believe it. One room, one bed, a big fucking mother of a king bed, but still, one bed, and knowing what he knew about Mulder, that was a bad idea.

Mulder was in some kind of frigging weird mood. He threw his luggage down and raced to the bed, pouncing on it with a mad grin. He flung himself back and outstretched his arms widely and said, "Yeah, nice to live it up for a change. So who's really paying for this gig? Spender?"

Alex put his small bag down on the stool intended for luggage and said, "Fuck Spender."

Mulder pretended to consider the idea then shook his head. He said, "No, not my type. I'm serious. Where'd you get the money? What is this running for, two hundred, more?"

Alex snarled, "Why the hell does it matter, Mulder? It's not coming out of your pocket and I didn't steal it so just leave me alone. Believe me. Coming back to Russia with you is not my idea of a vacation. Last time, we were here, seems to me that I came out missing a limb."

Mulder winced and his hazel eyes looked hurt. He said, "I told you that I didn't know what happened. I would have taken care of you."

Alex kicked Mulder's luggage, sending his toiletry bag flying under the starched ruffles of the bed skirt. He said, "Yeah, I know, you probably would have stood there and jacked off, watching me scream. Don't you think I know that it turns you on to hurt me? I could feel how hard you get when you're pounding on me."

Oh, shit, Alex felt the ragged, panicked breaths rattle through his chest. He had to get away from Mulder or his fingers would be twitching for his gun. He snarled, 'I'm going to go set up the meeting so we can get the hell out of here before you do something stupid and I get hurt." He slammed the door as an after thought and marched down the hall, almost knocking one of the maids in his fury.

Alex stared up at the top of the elevator. The roof actually had a mural painted between the rows of fat little gilt cherubs shooting arrows. He snorted. If Cupid showed up for him, it better have a Glock. His last big romantic fling was with Marita, and a royal conniving bitch she had turned out to be! He stopped in one of the shops to replace his leather jacket with a warm coat. His patron had left him plenty of money as well as information he could use to protect Mulder and himself. Despite this and surprising himself, Alex actually missed the old buzzard.

Alex still shivered as he went outside. St. Petersburg in February was very cold. The sidewalks were clear, but the snow banks were huge things. It sure cut down on the urge to jaywalk. Alex navigated around a vast lump he hoped was not a fallen street person and ducked between two large ladies in matching navy wool coats. He could swear one of them pinched him, right on the ass, and they giggled as they marched on.

Alex was supposed to meet Myshko Kobiakovich at one of the larger department stores a few blocks away. Alex fingered the stupid red necktie that he was supposed to wear for the man to recognize him. It was as dumb as the ones that he had worn when he was masquerading as an FBI agent.

The place was crowded. There were lines of customers everywhere although the merchandise nowhere matched the variety found in the least popular discount store in the United States. Sulkily, Alex thought that he would gag if he had to stay here long. The long, heavy unlaundered coats, worn by everyone stunk and Alex wasn't used to it. All the jostling made him uneasy and eager to get back outside or somewhere where he felt that he could see to defend himself.

Alex moved to the candy counter and selected a variety of chocolates to pass the time while he waited. He spotted a bag of sunflower seeds and was amazed. They must have been the only bag in Russia. He bought the large bag and stuffed it in his coat pocket, telling himself that it was only to keep Mulder's mouth eating, not talking.

Alex settled on a bench near the lingerie department, watching the women paw disconsolately through the available goods. A very tall, slim woman was perusing a black lace bra. Alex smirked, thinking she should go for it. Her red painted lips smiled faintly and she decisively joined the long line waiting for the sleepy eyed clerk to ring them up. He continued to watch the tall beauty as she struck up a conversation with the woman next to her, a pretty enough creature but no match for the Russian lily with whom she conversed.

An untidy looking man with a potato-like lump of a nose approached. His round body was padded further with a coat whose texture resembled a mangy bearskin. His red cheeks looked chapped and he swiped at his nose with a mitten-clad hand. Straw blond hair stuck out of his hat like a scarecrow's stuffing of hay. His watery blue eyes noted the red tie and he approached, sitting down without a word.

Alex selected a chocolate and nipped a small hole so he could suck out the liquor contained within. The sharp bite of the brandy contrasted with the rich chocolate and Alex sighed with contentment, his catlike tongue hollowing the treat as he sucked it dry. He was startled to realize that several people were staring at him oddly. It made him almost wonder if he forgot to close his fly or something. Alex noticed that people looked at him that way a lot. He didn't know why. It wasn't just the arm, because for as long as he remembered he got those looks.

The man muttered, "Did we not meet in the Rembrandt room at the Hermitage? I remember that red tie."

Alex sighed and said, "Yes, we both admired the exhibit. Now, can we cut the crap? When can the American and I meet with Avdikii?"

The man was staring at Alex who had selected a new chocolate and was nibbling it reflectively. Alex wiggled on the bench and held out his bag, saying, "God, if you want a chocolate that much, have one..."

The man blushed and said, "Oh, no, thank-you, it was not the chocolate."

Alex decided that who ever was running this Russian resistance group was partial towards idiots. He said, "About the meeting?"

The guy was gaping at him and Alex had the unaccountable urge to squirm. He said, "Kobiakovich, what's with you?"

Finally, the man stammered, "I'm sorry. He's been delayed."

Alex rolled his eyes and demanded, "How long?"

The man replied, "Two days, maybe three days?"

Alex almost screamed. He didn't know if he could endure three days stuck in that hotel room with Mulder, much less in the same bed. Life couldn't get crueler. He raged at the man, swore at him until he was literally tossed out the street by the security guard. He skidded across the sidewalk, ending up falling into a snow bank and jarring his stump painfully. Alex angrily rejected a helpful hand from a passing man and climbed to his feet. God, if he was lucky he would get run over before he had to go back to that hell on earth with Fox Mulder.

The doorman looked at him askance when Alex returned. Alex scowled, daring him to say anything. Alex marched to the front desk to try to arrange another room. He listened to the long involved story about the Moscow Ballet, a convention of Russian-American Shiners, and the unfortunate incident with the plumbing at the sister hotel, which resulted in the entire guest list needing accommodations at the Hotel Grand Europa. Alex next went into one of the bars, wedging into the darkest corner that he could find. He ordered a glass of Staraya Moskva and took a burning drink of it, letting it run fiery numbness down his throat and hopefully into his soul. He ordered a bottle and went up to tell Mulder the news.

As Alex entered the room, Mulder looked up, smiling a greeting. He was eating from a plate of various appetizers and watching TV. This plate lay on his naked chest and his toes were wiggling out the end of the blanket happily. He hadn't shaved and Alex thought that Mulder looked like a sea otter with a shellfish dinner. Alex threw his chocolates and Mulder's sunflower seeds on the table, and put the rest of the vodka in the refrigerator. Alex said, "The fucking meeting is put off for three days and the hotel is still booked solid."

Mulder said, "This marinated salmon is really good. Come here and try a piece."

Alex glanced and it did look good, but he refused to give into Mulder's game. He hung his new coat and reminded himself to have his leather jacket sent out to the specialty service for cleaning. He moved to the vanity, noticing a pair of delicate decorated eggs resting on a stand. He almost picked one up, remembering his mother had a keepsake just like it. Mulder said, "The blue one is for Scully. I thought you might like the green one. It reminded me of your eyes."

Alex almost threw it at Mulder. The only thing that stopped him was a practical thought that Ananov Faberge eggs weren't cheap. He gritted his teeth and pretended that he hadn't heard Mulder. The damn red tie wouldn't come loose. Alex growled curses to himself as he struggled with it. The thing was as contrary as Mulder! The more he worked it, the tighter it knotted until it was a hangman's noose around his jugular. Alex willed away the mounting panic and tried to work a prosthetic finger beneath the thing to stop the binding. He couldn't get a finger in and he could swear his neck was swelling around it.

Mulder got off the bed and came over; hands begin to pick at the knot, brushing Alex's chin gently as he worked. Alex pushed him away, glared at him, and impulsively planted a roundhouse slap on the angulated cheek. Mulder stopped and backed up. He touched his cheek and said in his blandly mild tone, "Ow, that hurt."

Alex had kept going until his back was against the wall. He was breathing in deep gasps; there was blood pounding in his head. He shot out in a harsh and discordant voice, "Then, hit me back. Beat me up. That's what you do."

Mulder took a step closer and replied, "Alex, that's the past and you know as well as I do that I had my reasons. Still, it seems to me that I owe you a couple of free shots. Now, are you going to stand there until you turn blue or are you going to let me help you?"

Alex gave in and nodded. Mulder frowned and tilted Alex's head back with a gentle touch. Alex shut his eyes. He didn't want to feel the way this made him react. Mulder said, "God, the knot is so tight. How the hell did this happen? You and your ties...there, there now, that's better. Almost got it. Hold still. Aha, there, all better."

Alex tried to ignore the message from his knees, which were going on strike and wanted to make him softly lean forward and rest against Mulder's sweet smelling bare chest. He opened his eyes and saw the tie dangling from Mulder's long elegant fingers. He took the tie, crumpled it, and mumbled, "Thanks, sorry I hit you. I'm going to take a shower."

Alex let the water run over him. He reached blindly for the shampoo, holding the bottle clamped under the remainder of his left arm as he struggled to get the cap off. The bottle fell when he succeeded and he cursed again as he leaned down to pick it up. It smelled very nice; it smelled like Mulder. Alex felt his face heat as he imagined that he would be covered with this scent as if marked by his nemesis. The idea made his hand tremble as it rubbed the stuff over his short cut hair. After he rinsed the shampoo, Alex ran the washcloth over his travel worn skin, noting the substantial bruise on his left arm where he had fallen. He knew he was going to have an uncomfortable night for all sorts of reasons.

Alex put on a hotel robe and walked out. He couldn't bear to put on the arm right now. The side of his stump hurt under the scar tissue, a dull demanding ache that he knew would get worse steadily over the next few hours. He grabbed some clothes and dressed back in the bathroom. He remembered when they were partners; he just undressed right in the room, sneakily enjoying Mulder's sultry looks as he gave him a peep show. Despite what he said, he had enjoyed Mulder's overtures in those days. It was an illicit thrill, to have the acerbic agent getting steamed up over his body. Hell, he might have eventually given it a tumble if things had been different.

But they were different and Alex was sure that whatever had made him attractive to the man was all gone. He just couldn't see how he could ever bear to let Mulder touch him even if he was perverse enough to still want this mutilated body. Mulder was about helplessness, pain, and the agony of his own betrayal of the man, whose friendship he had desired.

Alex tucked the empty sleeve up and went back in the room. Mulder said, "I ordered dinner. You didn't look as if you wanted to go out. The salmon with rice pilaf sounded good and I left half of the appetizers for you. Try the stuffed mushroom."

Alex gave up and sat at the table where Mulder had put the platter. He loved the marinated salmon, a smoky, spicy masterpiece full of flavors. The mushrooms were wonderful; one of them was stuffed with caviar. He gave into the sensual pleasure of the food; all that time on the run, all those hardships hadn't blunted him to this luxury. He plucked up a smoked oyster, holding it in his mouth to enjoy the taste and the odd texture. When he opened his eyes, Mulder was sitting across from him, chair turned around so he could lean on his arms, his riveting gaze fixed on Alex.

Alex chuckled, the nervous laugh tickling his throat as much as the oyster had done. "What?" he asked, "Do I have something on my chin?"

Mulder shook his head, causing the rich brown strands of his hair to fall across that noble brow. He smiled, a warm intimate smile that Alex dimly remembered that he had earned once or twice when they had been both FBI agents. He said, "I just like to watch you eat. I always did. You enjoy it so much and the wall goes down."

Alex eyed the remaining artichoke heart and shrugged, engaging in the messy business of eating that, licking up a taste of butter, watching Mulder's own tongue flicker out as if wanted to offer to do that job instead. Well, this was weird; they seemed to be escaping into the past very nicely. Great, Alex thought, as his arm gave a twinge. Nostalgic assassins and manic FBI agents, next, they should polish off that vodka and see if they could harmonize on a stirring rendition of "Those were the days, my friend." or maybe "Auld Lang Syne"

Room service came and spread the food out with a flourish. The waiter looked good in his tight uniform. He had drooping mustaches above a cherry red mouth and a stalwart chin. His big soft brown eyes traveled over Mulder's bare chest with interest. Alex grouchily said, "Put a shirt on Mulder, jeez."

Alex cast a glance at hound dog-eyes, the waiter and saw the brief look of disappointment as Mulder surprisingly obeyed. He resisted a triumphant sneer and merely sat back, trying for his former patron's regal indifference to the activities of the lower class. Mulder sat down also and smiled, as the salmon dinners were unveiled. The smell of the savory fish made Alex's mouth water despite the appetizers he had eaten. Mulder had ordered wine as well and he dismissed the waiter with a large tip and a whisking gesture. Mulder leaned over pouring Alex a glass with an elegance that surprised him.

Mulder smiled and said, "Wine pouring is on the graduate requirements for Oxford. You'll like this."

Alex found the room and Mulder had a nice soft halo effect around them by his second glass of wine. The food was excellent. That salmon must have jumped from the fisherman's net into the oven. The flesh was tender, moist, tasting of the sea without too strong a flavor. The pilaf was faintly nutty, fresh fine herbs complemented the other seasonings in the meal. Even the vegetables were good which surprised Alex, as Russia was known for mushy, blandness in that division. Mulder took the cover off the last dish with a "voilà" revealing a glistening chocolate mound, with a faint smell of almonds and brandy.

Alex sniffed and held out his dessert plate although he commented, "This is a trick, right? I eat this. It's cyanide and Skinner leaps out of the closet to help beat me up while I'm dying?"

Mulder took his own fork and captured a dab of the dessert, closing his eyes in ecstasy as he let the taste command his senses. He grinned and handed Alex the fork, saying, "Now to be sure, you have to choose a place at random for me to taste. Of course, I could have been taking small doses of poison to inure me, but that would be unnecessarily Holmes-like of me, wouldn't it? Come on, Alex, you have to be sure, oh fellow paranoid of my dreams."

Alex took the fork, chose a place and dipped it in. Mulder caught his hand to steady it for it was shaking from the excess of wine or some other occult reason. Mulder guided the fork to his mouth and said, "Mmm, very good. Couldn't be much better."

Alex found himself watching Mulder's lips with fascination. He had never noticed how full that lower lip was, how the whole mouth seemed so soft and sensitive. His face blushed red and the heat ran down his neck, his chest and came to rest with a nagging insistence in his groin. Alex sat back down and devoted himself to finishing the dessert. He was aware that Mulder spent as much time watching him as he did eating, but he wasn't going to comment, no, he wasn't going to give the man an opening for whatever game he was playing.

Alex watched Mulder put the dishes outside the door. They watched TV for a while, Alex giving translations when Mulder asked. It was a Russian production of "Love's Labor Lost", so Mulder only needed a prompt if something came out with an idiom that was inadvertently amusing. After the movie, Mulder went in and showered, coming back out rubbing his hair dry, his manly splendor apparently offered for Alex's perusal.

Alex avoided looking although he was surprised to see the new scars even in his quick, inadvertent glance when Mulder sashayed forth. There were a lot of them since he had last seen Mulder nude. Alex went in to change, to brush his teeth, and to hide from Mulder for a brief respite. Mulder looked disappointed as Alex came out dressed for bed in his thermal underwear. "You used to sleep in the nude." Mulder observed.

Alex said, "I told you...no personal remarks, no dumb ass hair cuts, no doesn't Santa Claus miss his red tie, no staring at my butt."

Mulder munched a sunflower seed and said, "You're taking all the fun out of our honeymoon."

Alex said, "Shit, you are the most annoying man I ever met! No sunflower seeds either."

Mulder rolled the bag shut and said "Gee, and I thought it was so nice that you bought them for me. I seem to remember that when we were partners, you told me that you didn't mind me eating them all the time."

Alex replied, "Mulder, they paid me to say shit like that. They paid me to roll my eyes around and flutter my eyelashes at you. I had to let you feel me up and pretend I was too dumb to notice. Oh, Alex, there's a string loose on your jacket; here let me get it for you. Alex, your tie knot is wrong, let Mr. Wonderful Senior Agent adjust it for you ...fuck, if I had been legit, I would have sued you for sexual harassment."

Mulder decided to take his naked Adonis act under the covers and commented, "Alex, has anyone told you that you've turned into a real bitch as you got older."

That wasn't worth a response. Alex got under the covers and stealthily tried to rub his stump. He could already tell it was going to be a bad night. He had some pain pills in his bag, but hated to take them when he was working and hated worse the idea of taking them in front of Mulder. Instead, he rubbed and hoped he was tired enough to sleep through the night without the terrors. Maybe, despite all, Mulder would help. When his patron was done with him, Alex often was encouraged to sleep in that bed that always smelled like a sunny day. The old man's hand rubbing his back had felt like comfort and he used to sleep well like that until the old fool got his ass blown to hell. Alex bet that was Mulder's fault too....

Mulder lay awake. He was aware of Alex lying tensely as far from him as possible. His breathing sounded rough and, while Mulder would like to imagine it was with passion denied; realistically it was discomfort. Mulder had noticed that Alex had left the appliance off and had been rubbing the remainder of his arm when he thought that he wasn't noticed.

Eventually, he must have drifted off because he woke up at a slight noise. He saw Alex fumbling at a prescription bottle. He stealthy got up and managed to get half way across the room before Alex's instincts warned him. Mulder closed the distance, observing Alex's face flinch and hating that reaction, hated that it was so warranted. Alex dropped his medicine and Mulder picked it up. He sniffed at the glass that Alex had ready and then dipped in a fingertip to taste it. He read the label and said, "Alex, you have to know better. It would be pretty stupid to go through everything that you've been through and then die because you mixed painkillers with alcohol."

Alex sneered and said, "What's your problem? Are you afraid you won't get your jollies if that happens? You always wanted to be the one that killed me."

Mulder set the pills out of reach, noticing that instead of a lid, the bottle was merely stuffed with cotton at the top. "Alex, I won't pretend otherwise, I know I've made a lot of mistakes, but so have you. Now, we're back to working together. I want to start again."

Alex drank the vodka in one gulp, coughing as it hit, his face turning fiery red. When he caught his breath, Alex said, "I'm not that naïve, Mulder. I'm far from innocent. What's this all about? Is it all about wanting to fuck me? Well, why don't you just take what you want? Why not just force me to do it your way the way you always did? Like dragging me to Sky-land Mountain, when I tried to tell you I shouldn't go? Or how about when you beat me up and put me alone in that restroom for the alien to possess? Or, like the way you dragged me on that truck so those men could find me and mutilate me? It's always been about what you wanted, Mulder. Why change it? I'm sure that you could make me do what you want; after all, I'm drunk and crippled, you always like to hit me the most when I'm helpless."

Alex's chest was heaving with emotion and his face was very flushed. He stood with his eyes bright with tears and Mulder didn't think it was all about the alcohol. He did wonder how much was anger and how much was pain. He knew he couldn't argue his points. Alex didn't want to hear. He couldn't hear.

Mulder stepped past Alex to pick up the phone and dialed the desk. Despite the late hour, the call desk operator was cheerful and spoke book-perfect English. Mulder said, "I want a masseur, someone preferably who has worked with amputees. No, not in the morning - now! I'll pay whoever it is for their time at twice the usual charge. Yes, as soon as possible."

Alex had gone over to lean on the window, pushing his forehead against the frosted glass. He said, "Mulder, no one's going to come out in this weather at this hour."

Mulder walked over and saw that it was snowing again. He said, "We'll see. The brochure said, service beyond the call of duty. We'll see if the billing fits the performance."

Alex sighed and walked away to lie on the bed, draped over it with the considerable length of his legs dangling. He openly rubbed his arm. Mulder said, "Let me try, Alex. I won't touch you any place that you don't want to be touched. Here, let me help you take off your shirt."

Alex gripped his shirt collar with his one hand as if Mulder might rip it off and said, "No."

Mulder said, "Okay, I'll try it with your shirt on. Scully says I have good hands when I want to be gentle."

Alex finally nodded, a small, constrained movement that barely reached his neck. He sat up, hanging his head and letting Mulder start at his shoulders. The muscles tightened and then gradually loosened as Mulder concentrated on the massage. Gradually, Mulder moved lower, but as he approached the juncture, Alex drew a swift breath and said, "No, not there, don't touch it."

Mulder moved higher and then lower along Alex's back. He wanted badly to pull the shirt away so his hands could explore the naked back, feel the slide of the muscles beneath the warm skin. Mulder sighed and respected his word, knowing if he pushed too hard he would lose even this fragile truce. The phone rang about a half hour after his call and the desk informed that the masseur was now available.

Alex got up and put on some sweat clothes. Mulder hastily dressed as well. Alex looked at him and said, "What?"

Mulder said, "It was my treat. I have to pay for it and besides; I might learn something. We're working together now. I should know how I could help you."

Alex bit off his word with vicious abruptness. He said, "We're not working together. I am out to save my own ass and I think that the aliens are more dangerous than you are...marginally."

Mulder sighed and shook his head, "Okay, Alex, it that's the way you want it, but, I happen to think there's more. I seem to recall you risking that..." He censored his comment, removing the "Pretty" and finished by saying, "your ass."

Alex tacitly agreed by not complaining when Mulder followed him into the elevator. The fitness center was darkened except for the main area and the small room where the masseur would work. He was a burly fellow, with tattooed arms and huge hands, but he seemed to know what he was doing. Mulder observed that the world was a strange place. Now, he would have paid twice what this man was earning to be the one to touch Alex so intimately, but this masseur for all his expertise might as well be pummeling a steak to tenderize it. Mulder absorbed the information, the pattern of the strong man's hands on Alex's arm. He asked a few questions to cement his understanding of this therapy, surprised that Alex allowed him to discuss the amputation. Mulder felt as if he had scored a point in this vitally important game, pleased by how relaxed Alex looked when they returned to their room.

Alex undressed and didn't bother to put anything on this time, leaving his clothes heaped on a chair. "Good night, Mulder." he said, as he slid under the covers.

Mulder went in the bathroom to run a shower, biting on a clean washcloth to conceal the sounds he made as he comforted himself with his usual fantasies about Alex. As he leaned, recovering against the shower wall, he reflected that he had sadly underestimated the resources needed in his campaign. He had really thought it would be easier to get his way. He was beginning to wonder if he had been mistaken about his interest being returned.

The next day, Alex groaned and hid his head under the pillow. He said he was going to spend the morning in bed and was obviously nursing a hangover. Mulder went out, seeing a few sights and just soaking up a rare morning of total, pointless leisure. Playing tourist was not all bad although it was getting him nowhere, but out of Alex's hair.

When he returned to the room, Alex was nicely dressed in his own jeans and a green sweater, Mulder's blue-green Icelandic sweater. Alex looked as if he was waiting for Mulder to start calling him names. Mulder said, "That never looked as good on me. I wonder why I even brought it? It suits you much better."

Alex looked at him quizzically and put on his leather jacket. He said, "You want a tour of the city? I spent a lot of time here when I was putting myself together."

Mulder withheld the intense smile that might have chased Alex off. He said, "Sure, if you're not busy?"

They took a cab to the Hermitage, a museum converted from one of the Tsar's palaces. Alex looked cheerful enough this morning, pointing out the vast golden dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral swelling over the city as they stood on the marble stairs outside of the palace. He commented, "If we have time, we'll go there too, but right now we should see the Hermitage. You can spend days there."

Alex produced a student card to get out of paying for his entrance and pulled off his trick with childish glee. Inside, he eagerly tugged on Mulder's arm and ran up the grand stairway. Mulder smiled in wonder and ran up after Alex, who led him out onto a balcony. Alex swept his hand out over the room below and whispered, "Just look"

Mulder squinted at the view, marveling at the thousand details, friezes, gilded and carved portals, gargoyles peering from crossbeams and angels trumpeting from corners. Then he focused on the painting revealed in huge sweep below. Although not an art fancier, Mulder had a typical art survey course in his undergraduate studies and recognized the painting as Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son".

Alex whispered, "I wonder, after the fatted calf and the feast, what did they do later? Did they really forgive him or would the resentment resurface? You ever read Thomas Wolfe, I know his novels are kind of out of style, but there's that bit about "You never can go home again."

Mulder nodded. Alex said, "I figured it was true. Lost, and by the wind mourned, you never can go back again." Alex's eyelashes shaded; his eyes darkened by them. He added, "Don't know if even the wind would mourn me."

Mulder said, "I would." He brushed his fingers lightly over Alex's where they clutched the rail of the balcony. Mulder sighed and said, "I always did, mourn when you left."

Alex looked back, leaning against the rail. The grand room in the background, the masterpiece of art centered below, these suited him even as he stood there in his plain black denim jeans and that worn and battered jacket. Alex drew himself together, the mask slamming down. He asked, "You grieved because Scully wouldn't let you kill me."

Mulder shook his head and replied, "You should know that wasn't entirely my fault. I was drugged."

Alex swung around and he stared back at the painting. Mulder said, "It's about forgiving, Alex. It's about the relationship being more important than the regrets."

Alex turned back slowly and asked, "Do you really mean that?"

Mulder nodded and replied, "You bet that I do."

Alex sighed and said, "I'll think about it. Come on. There's a lot more that you have to see."

They explored the Hermitage until closing and ate at a place nearby that Alex said was known for its cheap, plentiful, and good food as well as its artistic clientele. Mulder looked around and saw subtle signs of cruising, wondering if Alex knew that many of the patrons were gay. A handsome young man with sad, dark eyes greeted Alex. He was a classic type, nose the rival of Mulder's nose and his full lips also echoing Mulder's. He was tall and slender, waist like a wasp, his open shirt revealing a tangle of black curls. Alex said, "Mulder, this is Otek Nornitskii, I met him at the hospital after my accident. He was recovering from uh..."

"An argument with a drunken brute of a lover, who troubles me no more." The man said in heavily accented English as he sat down uninvited.

A flicker from Alex's eye indicated that he knew more about the lover's decision to leave Otek alone then the young man might want. Otek reached, taking a bite of a pastry from Alex's dish. He ate it with the exaggerated movements of a man trying to call attention to the talents of his mouth. Alex seemed amused and looked ready to settle at this place for the night. Mulder stood and handed Alex his jacket. He said, "You promised me that we would see the cathedral."

Otek scrambled up and said, "I could show you both the sights as only a native could."

Mulder said, "No, Alex will do just fine. He's bragged about how well he knows the city and now he has to prove that he wasn't exaggerating. Come on, Alex."

To his surprise, Alex stood and accepted Mulder's help with his coat. Mulder met Otek's eyes in a meaningful stare and the young man bowed in concession to the trump. However, Otek kissed Alex's cheek with a resounding wet sound of smacking lips. As they left, Alex said, "Otek is very affectionate."

Outside as they waited for a cab, Mulder muttered, "I saw. I bet he took really good care of you in your time of troubles and did his best to take your mind off them."

Alex said, "Grow up, Mulder, believe me, I was in no shape to think about anything like that. I was very sick. That wasn't a hospital amputation you know. I had nothing for the pain and no antibiotics until I was transferred to the hospital here. The doctors said I was lucky to live. I didn't think so at the time."

Alex abruptly turned away as if ready to flee. He slipped on the icy sidewalk and Mulder caught him before he fell. Alex started to pull away, but stopped when Mulder said, "I'm sorry for what I said. I was jealous."

Alex's nose did that soft crinkle as he telegraphed his amazement. He asked, "Why? I mean, if you want some guy like that, why not, Otek? Hell, even I know that Otek is a nice looking guy."

"Otek is handsome, but Alex, you're beautiful. My God, don't you know that?" Mulder said, almost laughing at Alex's expression.

"Scully should get your glasses prescription checked, Mulder." Alex said, glancing at Mulder's arm in a subtle request to be set loose.

Mulder obliged, reluctantly. The cathedral was closed when they got there, but they stood in the square with a few others, looking up at the shimmering dome, the brilliance of the gold still distinct against the night sky. Fresh snow was falling and it sparkled with starlight and the reflections of the city. In a show of spontaneous respect, the few people nearby were silent. Mulder looked from the beauty of this monument to God and Man and then, to the beauty of the man beside him. Alex was a glory that must fade; yet in Mulder's eyes, he was no less than the other works that surrounded them.

Alex shivered and said, "Sorry, Mulder, I should have worn my other coat. I don't know why I put this one on."

Mulder opened his own coat and said, "Share with me."

Alex shook his head and said, "You'll freeze."

Mulder urged, "Come on." and Alex shrugged and entered the warmth that Mulder offered. Mulder didn't feel the cold at all with Alex pressed against his side. They stayed like that until they caught a cab. Alex was silent, thinking or maybe just tired after the long day. Mulder felt he had won ground, a lot of ground, but he wanted to win the war.

When they arrived in their room, he observed, "You let Otek kiss you."

Alex said, "On the cheek, Mulder."

Mulder said, "Let me then. I owe you a kiss back anyway."

Alex finally nodded. Mulder leaned close. His lips brushed the rough stubble on Alex's cheek. "Your face is so cold." Mulder remarked. He rubbed his hands to warm them and lay a hand on either side of Alex's face, covering the icy lobes of his ears. Mulder said, "I want to touch you now. I remember you saying in that cell 'don't touch me again'. I won't, Alex, I won't touch you against your will, but I'm asking, pleading, that you give me a chance. I think you do feel something for me. Why would you have kissed me if you didn't? Let me kiss you, Alex..."

Alex looked afraid, but he nodded and let Mulder slide his leather jacket off, placing it carefully over a chair. Mulder touched his gun holster and said, "You don't need this, Alex."

Alex smiled, not a pleasant smile and replied, "Do I know that for certain?" but he held the gun out just as he had done before, the trigger dangling from his fingers.

Mulder took it, checking the safety out of ingrained habit and laid it aside. Alex didn't protest as Mulder freed him from the confines of the gun harness. Mulder took Alex's cold cheeks in his hands and tilted his head. Alex took a quick deep breath and he looked, 'my God, how young he looked' Mulder thought.

Mulder thought that when their lips met; it was with recognition as if Alex was the other half of his soul that he had lost. He found magic and wonder, but he knew that this was in its way a humble mystery. This love was a thing not just given to the beautiful and seldom to the overly wise, but that was all right, Mulder realized, because he was very willing to take a blithe step into space, a fool in love with a mage.

Alex shivered as the lips, soft and insistent, claimed him with a rush of feeling that made him giddy. Mulder made a noise, eager, desperate, and almost hurting. One of Mulder's hands splayed possessively along the back of his head as the other dragged his hips near so that their groins pressed hard against each other. When Alex would have ended the kiss, Mulder made such a greedy, protesting sound that he had to allow him to continue...that and the fact that the world had narrowed to those lips against his, that tongue caressing him inside his mouth, the hands connecting them, holding him up when all he could think about doing was lying down to see if more yet of them could touch.

Mulder's hands moved to the front. His eyes intense, pleaded for more. He struggled to speak and his voice was rough with his desire. "Oh, Alex, let me..."

Alex didn't trust his voice to speak and, if he could have spoken out, who would have given voice, that world-wearied and maimed creature or this new being that fluttered like Psyche inside his chest? He nodded and let Mulder draw off his shirt, stand back and just look for a moment while Alex ducked his head in shame to be seen; his infirmity naked to Mulder's gaze. Mulder's hands undid the straps and it felt like being set free as Mulder laid his arm aside. Mulder's lips were a blessing whisper on his shoulder and then they pressed lower, right above the gorges and ridges of his sorrow. Alex protested, "Don't."

Mulder stopped for a moment and Alex said, "Just not there."

Mulder nodded and carefully unbuttoned Alex's fly. Alex sat down to pull off his boots, but Mulder guided him over to lie on his back. Alex felt the hands brushing the hairs on his legs, sliding the rough denim over his too sensitive flesh. Alex heard the thud of his boots and the softer slip of his jeans following. It was a struggle to breath. He opened his eyes, watching Mulder undress. They rolled together on the bed, and it felt like fighting. They were struggling, flesh twisting against each other as kisses were exchanged like gunfire, as hands touched so gently on the flesh, but flayed away at the soul.

Alex didn't know what he had expected, but it wasn't this. This was not the sophisticated caress of his old patron, dainty and almost repulsed at his own desire. Nor did Mulder do what he expected, lie on him and hurt him in the pursuit of his pleasure. This was a wild groping, a sweating incandescence of desire. His orgasm startled him and seemed to surprise Mulder as well.

Mulder whispered, "Yeah, just like that." He guided Alex's hand down and it seemed that Alex barely touched him before Mulder cried out and his face fell heavily forward, damp hot breath along Alex's throat.

So tired and feeling strange about this all, Alex waited, anxiously, anticipating hate now that Mulder had taken it all, ripped away his safety and exposed his desire. He may as well have bared his throat to the slaughter as give into this.

Mulder just stood and said, "Be right back. Don't you dare move."

Mulder returned with a wet cloth, cleaning the come from their bodies. Alex felt the slide of the warm, rough textured material against his cock, and caught his breath. Mulder tossed the cloth away and slid in beside him, collecting him to pull him close. Alex fell asleep, his head pillowed on Mulder's chest, soothed by listening to Mulder's heartbeat.

The thin sun of the Russian winter was illuminating the mess of their clothes on the floor. Alex looked at the clock and his sleepy consideration of what else Mulder might want to do fled. He swore and sat up. Mulder pulled him back down. "No reason to go." He said.

Alex said, "I don't want to, Mulder, but our meeting with Avdikii is supposed to be soon. I have to find Kobiakovich to set it up."

Mulder looked unaccountably guilty and he said, "There's no Avdikii."

Alex asked, "What? What do you mean?"

Mulder said, "I had the gunmen track down Kobiakovich. I bribed him to give you that information."

Alex felt angry and he was very confused. He asked, "Why?"

Mulder said, "Look at the calendar."

Alex looked and Mulder said, "Read the date."

Alex said, "February 14, 2001?"

Mulder said, "That should mean something."

Alex thought and a dim memory of tiny candy hearts and silly greeting cards crept from his long forgotten childhood. He asked, "You mean to tell me that you tracked down and bribed one of my best sources, you sent me on wild goose chase across the world, and had me blow all this money on the finest hotel in St. Petersburg just to seduce me on Valentine's Day?"

At Mulder's nod, Alex said, "Mulder, you are so fucked. Really, really fucked."

Mulder said, "Alex, that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me. Now, get the hell over here and demonstrate."

Alex hesitated. He asked, "Are you joking?"

Mulder shook his head. Alex swallowed hard, his throat tightening, and said, "You have to show me."

"I will." Mulder said. He asked, "Are you over your mad?"

Alex returned, "Yeah, I guess."

"Happy Valentine's Day, Alex." Mulder replied.

Alex's response was drowned in a kiss.

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