Rated NC 17, but only just. Let's err on the side of caution for once.

Beta by Frankie, who can spot those new paragraphs before they are even born
and by Orithain who is also a sounding board, inspiration and sergeant in
the comma police.

Disclaimer: They don't even come visit me any more.:(

Feedback. I need feedback..If I don't get feedback I'm likely to sulk, and
when I sulk, I drink, morosely, and then I post huge incomprehensible essays
to all the lists I'm on..and I fart too...

Spoilers: Terma and vaguely Dreamland.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Shaken and then Stirred"

by Dr. Ruthless

*************************************************

The evening was fun, but I'm glad to be opening the door into my own space.
I really hate parties. Every year I say I'm not going to do this. Every year
the needs of others suck me in, and every year I have at least one stinking
hangover.

Tomorrow is going to be hangover day. Thank God it's Saturday and I don't
have to get up early. It wasn't too bad as parties go, Scully looked good
and dances really well. The dance on the tabletop was my particular
favorite! Nice underwear! Cute buns! She'll be feeling it tomorrow too!
Skinner now, he's an interesting guy. He was fascinating to watch his
strength is amazing. Who would have thought he could balance Scully like
that. He must have drunk a gallon of rye. He didn't show any effects at all
until he toppled like a felled cedar, to lie on his face at Scully's feet.
Guess he's still there. I don't want to be around when he wakes up.

Funny, I don't usually have this kind of trouble getting my door open. I
think my key has grown or something.

Finally! Home again! No messages! That's unusual, but it's nice that I can
just chill out for once. Ouch! Smashed my knee on the coffee table. Maybe
I'm a little the worse for wear too. I should drink some water or something
to dilute the effects of the alcohol. What was in that punch anyway? It
certainly boosted our Christmas party!

Hmmmm....there's something on the floor... an envelope. It looks as if it's
been pushed under the door while I was out. Nothing on it, no address or
anything like that.

Holy shit! It's a photograph. It's my worst nightmare! Jeffrey Spender,
wearing leather and straps, bare-ass naked with a bunch of flowers hanging
out of the great divide! Is this a Christmas card? Good grief! I wonder
whether he's sending these out to everyone? Oh for heaven's sake, I hope
he's not interested in me playing his little games with him. Soft and gentle
even when hard is my watchword. I don't need violence to get off!

Back up there! I take that back. Amend it to "I don't usually need violence
to get off." There's one exception, and I don't want to think about him.
Dammit! I'm thinking about him now, and that means I'm toast. It will take
me weeks to get him out of my mind again. There's only one man I've ever
wanted to batter 'til he was broken, then lick the stains from his soul.
Alex Krycek, he's sealed into my memory as my promise of heaven and
knowledge of hell. He makes me want to smash him to pieces. He makes me want
to force him up against the wall and lose myself in the blood of him.

What does that say about my character? I don't know. I've given up trying to
rationalize my feelings for Krycek. I just want to forget him.

There's nothing worth watching on the TV. You'd think that with Christmas
this close there would be cute cartoons or something. Do I want to watch the
"World's Greatest Mysteries"? I do not! Fuck it, its too much trouble to get
up. Leave it!

I wonder who's sending me photos of Spender, and why.

********************************

It's four am and the hangover has come home to roost. My head is pounding.
No, it's someone at the door. Someone's pounding on my door at four am and I
have a headache. Merry fucking Christmas!

Maybe they'll go away. No, I don't think they will. Damn!

I open the door, see who it is, and then close it again very quickly. At
least I try to close it. He's got his foot in the door and my reaction times
are shot to hell. Too much whisky! I'm not the fine tuned fighting machine I
usually am. Shit!

Alex Krycek, man with a mission, bursts through my door as if it's his
right. He shoves me back out of his way, and he's in. Closing the door he
leans on it and fixes me with a sardonic smile. OK, I'm drunk, but I'm not
that drunk. I know he's not supposed to be here. I blink at him.

He looks the way I feel. His eyes are glitter bright and his skin is hectic
with colour. He looks tousled. He looks more than tousled he looks fucked!
He's got that telltale flush that comes from good sex. He smells of it. I
can smell sex on him the way a shark scents blood. He's wearing jeans; he
always wears jeans these days. These jeans have seen better days. They are
worn, frayed, one knee is going in holes and the other leg shows damp
patches and rusty stains on it. His leather jacket is open, showing his
once-white shirt and a dark heather tweed vest with some dark stains on it.
His knuckles are taped, and there's a cut on his cheek. His earring trembles
in the light from my lamp, flashing and sparkling in sympathy with his
movements. His smile is wide on his mouth, teeth gleaming, tongue poking
through pinkly to wet his lips before retreating once more. Something in my
chest thuds painfully.

//How come he didn't just pick the lock and let himself in? He's done it
often enough before.//

"So you're knocking now, huh, Krycek? How come you didn't just break in as
usual?" I'm not in the mood for this. He looks at me, a little hurt, but I'm
not playing tonight.

"Awww, Mulder, I was being polite. I came here directly from getting you
your Christmas present. You weren't in and I had to wait outside for ages.
Can I help it if I fell asleep for a while?" He pulls out a flask and takes
a swig from it. Then he wipes off the top and offers it to me. The smell
tells me its vodka. I take it reflexively and drink, before I realise I'm
out of my mind. I hand it back.

"Krycek! Close the door on your way out!" I lurch to the kitchen and grab a
glass of water, drinking it as I wander sluggishly back to my couch. There
is a silence.

"Mulder! I thought you'd be pleased to see me. Did you have a good party?"
He's still there. I sigh. Why me? Why not Scully or Skinner? They're going
to have bad heads too. Why do I always get the extra little piece of bad
luck?

"What do you want, Krycek?" I'm very aware that this guy is a loose cannon.
The last time he was here, he kissed me. I don't want to go there. I've
spent too much time thinking about it already.

The man saunters around the coffee table, placing each foot with care.
Watching him move, I think of tigers. He prowls. He's dangerous, deadly, and
beautiful. I want him to leave. He doesn't leave, he fetches up beside me on
the couch, sitting uninvited, sprawling back into the cushion and sighing
softly.

"What? What do you want from me Krycek? Why don't you go bother someone who
gives a damn? I'm tired, I'm hungover, and the last thing in the world I
want to do is get into anything with you." I'm bringing the message home
with short jabs of my finger and it surprises me no end when he grabs the
finger I'm poking at him, holding it.

"I just came to wish you Merry Christmas, Mulder. What's the matter, didn't
you like your present?" He raises an eyebrow and delicately makes a gesture
with his head towards the coffee table on which sits the photograph of
Spender. I'm sure my eyes bug out for a second, because he laughs at me.
Releasing my finger, he picks up the photo and looks at it, shaking his head
and smiling.

"You've gotta wonder about a man who would give up that amount of dignity
for a thrill, haven't you?" He's smiling again, inviting me to join the
conspiracy as he holds out the photo for my inspection. "Don't you think he
looks kinda cute?"

"Krycek, I'm not in the mood for a slumber party. Thank you for your efforts
in bringing Miss December to my attention, but he's really not my type. Next
time you decide I'm going to host a sleepover, give me a call and I'll buy
in some milk and cookies. Now will you just leave so I can get some sleep
here." I'm trying not to look at him, because he's close to me, dangerously
close, and I can smell his musky smell. He's a slut. Everything about him
screams of perfidy. He'll use me and I don't want to be used by such as him.

"Mulder, I always come back to you. I don't want to. I have to. This morning
I woke up and realised that my life is shit! I'm going through the motions
not doing what I want, not having what I need. I decided that today was the
day I would go for it. I went out hunting tonight and found a present for
you. Now I'm here, and I'm going to make the most of it. I really want you,
Mulder!" This speech, not surprisingly, succeeds in pulling my eyes to his
face. His pupils are dilated and his breathing is ragged. His speech is
slightly over careful, each word articulated as if it might somehow turn
into something else. His face is flushed, and as I look at him, a crimson
tide rises up from his collar to flood over his cheeks. He's blushing. Not
only that, he's drunk. "You don't know what it's like to go through life
without anyone. You've got people who like you. You've got Scully. I've only
got being on the run, and wanting you to keep me going. Well, no more! I'm
going for what I want. I want you, Mulder."

"Krycek, You've been drinking. Why don't you go home? I'm not kidding you. I
don't want you here." I'm uneasy. I want him gone. I'm too fragile just now
to have some wild card come into my life and mess me about. I don't have
anything left. No family, no life, no X-Files. I'm going to be here eating
TV dinners on Christmas Day. I don't need this Lord of Misrule playing with
my psyche.

His eyes have closed. During the brief moment between his speech and mine,
the bastard has fallen asleep. His lashes are curling onto his cheek. The
stubble of a day old beard darkens his lip, cheek and chin giving him a
piratical appearance that is enhanced by the absurd earring. His mouth is
slightly open, and while I am watching he snores gently. I don't know why it
touches me, but it does. He's not as clean as he could be, he smells like
ancient sin, and I know he has no morals, no scruples. It seems inevitable
that I should have the Antichrist asleep on my couch on Christmas Eve.
Cursing myself out, I toss a blanket over him and stumble off in search of
my bed.

I hate my bed, but tonight I'm just too tired and too full of booze to care.
I strip down to my underwear, fall into bed and crash.

*********************************

My dreams are dark and bitter. This is nothing new, my dreams are always
dark and frequently bitter. I am chasing a giggling Spender down corridors
lined with filing cabinets, screaming that he has my X-Files. After me runs
a creature I can't see, but I know it wants my life from me. Spender is
always ahead, and he's stripping off his clothes as he runs, tossing flowers
back to me. Suddenly I crash into an invisible barrier. I can't break
through it. The beast behind me puts hands on my shoulders, spinning me
around, and I see that it's Krycek. I jolt awake, my heart pounding
violently, and I'm instantly aware that he's here in this room with me. He's
lying beside me in an untidy heap, still clad in his denim and leather. His
arm is thrown across my chest and he has his face nuzzled into my shoulder.
He has taken off his boots. I should be grateful for that I suppose. I ease
myself out of the bed, staggering off to the bathroom in search of relief
from an achingly full bladder. What's happening to me. Is he real? I feel as
if I'm being brainwashed. Maybe the aliens have got me and at this very
minute they're experimenting on me.

My morning erection taken care of, bladder empty, I grab water from the
fridge, and lurch back to my bedroom. Looking at him sleeping, I can't
believe how young he looks. I can't understand how the things that this man
has done don't show on his face. His profile is pure. Silky dark eyebrows
fly above the widely spaced eyes, now covered by lids fringed heavily in
dark lashes. His nose tilts up at the end, and the long upper lip leads into
a mouth that is molded with bowed upper and full lower lip. Soft lips they
are, parted and helpless as he sleeps. His cheekbones cut through to cast
planes of shadow. His chin is small and almost weak. This face looks so
childlike. He is beautiful, and deadly, and in my bed.

I creep back under the covers, chewing aspirin and swigging from my bottle
of water as I go. The bed moves as I get myself in. That's the only thing
about waterbeds, you can't be surreptitious in one, it just isn't possible.
I'm beginning to think I've made a mistake when he snakes out his arm and
pulls me close to him once more. I can't have him chasing me out of my own
bed. I shake him.

"Krycek! Come on! It's time to go home. Party's over. Let's move it shall
we?" Impossibly heavy lashes flicker once, and then open to reveal cool
green doorways into hell. The arm around me tightens and those soft,
expressive lips smile once, and move forward to fasten themselves onto mine.

My chest is tight. I can't breathe. His lips are sliding over mine, his head
turning as he burrows into my mouth, tongue plunging between my lips as I
jerk my head in protest. He's kissing the soul from out of my body. I'm
struggling to get out from under him as his kiss continues, paring the flesh
of my resolve away from my bones. As he continues to claim my mouth, hand
playing with my hair, my ear, my neck, I am aware again of what I have known
for as long as he has been in my life. I want him, but his price is too high
for me.

Finally, I get my hand between his chest and mine and I heave, breaking the
kiss and escaping from the torture of his warmth. I see myself in that
damned mirror overhead. My lips are swollen slightly, and I look guilty. I
look as if I've made love and enjoyed it. Why me? Why does it always have to
be me? I grit my teeth and spit out words at this rat-bastard that thinks he
can fuck with my mind.

"Get out of this apartment, now! Get out of my life. Is there anything I
need to explain to you about that?" He is smiling again. He has a curious
smile on his face. It's not his usual sneer. I'm feeling very uneasy again,
and he brings his hand up to trace across my lips.

"Are you aware that you should be carrying a license for those?" I'm totally
baffled. What's he babbling about? I look my question at him. "Your lips.
I've always wanted to do that. I've always wanted to kiss you full on the
lips." Dammit, he swoops in fast and locks on again while I lie gaping at
him. His mouth is soft and tender, and tastes surprisingly good for a man
who probably spent last night drinking to excess, and who is still showing
the after effects of whatever sins he got up to. For a moment I return his
kiss, it feels so good at last to have him invading my mouth, teasing with
his tongue, sending shivers through me that wake up my cock and start it
defying gravity. I can't think how many times I've jerked off thinking of
this very event. Now that it's happening to me I have to stop it. I have to
get away quickly before he finds out that I want him as much as he seems to
want me.

I need to put a stop to things before he finds out that I want him so badly
I dream about him at nights, and masturbate to his face in my mind. I fight
madly, and he breaks off the contact, but remains in front of my face,
inches from my lips.

"Get off me and go! Get out now!" He doesn't move, he just smiles. I pull
back my fist to punch him, and like a striking snake he has me by the wrist,
imprisoning my hand. This seriously impairs my movement and prevents me from
gaining the purchase necessary to shove the bastard off me. I scream in
frustration, and drive my forehead up to smack his chin. His lip splits and
he drips bright blood on my chest, but still he smiles.

"Mulder, come on Mulder, its time for us to be together. I love you,
Mulder." I feel like I'm the victim of some weird brainwashing project. He
smiles patiently at me as I spit my venom. "I know you. I know how you feel,
Mulder. I've watched you for as long as I've known you. I just don't want to
wait any more."

"What do you mean, 'it's time?' Just go away Krycek, I don't wanna deal with
you." I'm blowing him off when what he said just now suddenly sinks home. He
loves me. Oh God. I trail to a stop and am back to gaping all over again.
"Get off me Krycek, I think it's time we had a talk, you and I."

Looking at him then, his eyes shining green magic in the half light, blood
drooling from his lower lip down his chin, hair standing in spikes, I wonder
if he's real. Nobody imagines something like this on Christmas Day surely.
He pulls back from me, releasing my hand and sitting up on the bed. I pull
myself up 'til I'm leaning on the headboard, and we look at each other.

"Krycek, you smell like a tomcat. You were obviously out on the tiles last
night. What makes you think you can come in and play with my head like this?
Why don't you just give it up? I've never heard of anyone who loved somebody
behaving the way you do towards me. You killed my father, you betrayed my
partner and me, you've caused me untold pain since I met you. Now you say
you love me! What is that, Krycek?"

He shakes his head in that typically Krycek jerk of frustration, chin raised
in defiance like a little boy before the principal. His face closes up and
for a minute I think I've won and he will leave. He huddles into himself,
and suddenly appears smaller, less intimidating than before. There's a long
pause, and the eyes that he raises to mine are lost, windows into a soul
screaming for release from the fire.

"Mulder, we can't always choose what we want. I know there are things I've
done. Sometimes I hate myself. That's the trouble. I'm good at destroying
the things I hate. Help me out here." His voice dies away, smoky, sensual
voice, always carrying with it the promise of intimacy. I can't play this
game with him. He holds all the cards. He enrages me, makes me betray myself
more surely than he ever betrayed me. I hate what I become when he presses
my buttons. I don't want to think of myself as a brutal, out of control
sadist. I look at the blood on his face and I know that I put it there. I
owe him something for the blood I've spilled. I touch my finger to the blood
and bring it to my lips, tasting the thick, salty fluid. He is sleazy, he is
a self confessed turncoat and he is probably diseased. He is waiting for me
to speak as if I hold the power of life and death over him. I suddenly
realize that it's possible that I do.

"I can't afford you, Krycek. You are too expensive. You would cost me my
self esteem." My words cut him. I watch him flinch and his misery appalls
me. This is blackmail. He wants my soul from me and I know how he's used his
own. "You seem to think that sex is the answer to everything, but it isn't.
It isn't even part of the answer. If you hate who you are, sex won't help. I
can't make you love yourself, Krycek. You have to do that. Hell, I wouldn't
even know where to tell you to start."

Again he pauses. He is shivering, and his eyes have clouded over. I want,
how I want to take him in my arms and kiss away his fears as if he were my
child. If I could only soothe away his night terrors I would, but the
monster under this bed is real, and it will devour us both if I let it.

"Mulder, Fox, I need your help. I can still be someone you could love. Help
me." I groan. What can I do? How could I ever change this sorry set of
circumstances?

I think hard. How can I help him? Can I save him or will he drag me down
with him? My stomach does a flip, and I want to believe, oh how I want to
believe. I take a deep breath.

"We're going to need to work on you, aren't we? You can't just slide into my
life like this. You can't expect to climb straight into my bed. That's not
the way real people do things."

He puts out his hand, taking hold of mine and bringing it into his cheek.
His eyes glow. His hands are scratched and there's blood under the nails. I
let him have my hand, and he rubs it against his cheek, closing his eyes and
nestling into it as if he were a cat.

"What do you want me to do? I promise I'll try." He gives a forced, sad
little smile and once again I feel a flip in my stomach. I have already
begun to pay. I open my arms to him, and he falls toward me. His head
pillows on my shoulder and I lean my cheek against his hair, feeling the
feathery shortness like petals against my lips. Rocking him slightly, I rub
my cheek against him, and say a prayer that we will survive this ride.

"OK, Alex, I think the first thing we should do is get you clean. You smell
like a tomcat. I don't know what you were doing last night but you need a
shower." I know I'm inviting intimacy here. However, if I'm going to get
into a counseling session with this sorry piece of humanity that is
snuggling into my arms, I need to establish some kind of
non-confrontational, non-judgmental modus operandi. I'm not the one who
should be doing this for him. I can't even help myself. How can I save him?

The man in my arms turns up his face to me, and once again I'm drowning in
his eyes. His smile is gentle and he looks tired. The look he is giving me
is one of love, of trust. It makes me breathe in sharply and I feel a slash
of desire that pierces me from the back of my neck down to my cock. I can't
stop myself. Fool that I am, I bend my head down that couple of necessary
inches and rest my lips on his. He sighs, opens his lips to me and I feel
the blood sing in my ears as I slide my tongue into his mouth. Gently, very
gently at first, our lips meet, slowly brushing to lock and hold as I fall
into the kiss I've been fighting. He slides his tongue along mine. He
permits me to explore the recesses of his mouth, and only after an eternity
spent delving into the moist depths of it does he put up his hand to my
face, stroking my cheek gently as he maintains that tender kiss. My heard is
thudding, and I can see what he means. We were born to be together this way.
How did we ever split apart? Kissing him is like a knife slicing pieces of
my heart and serving them up for him to eat. I press down on him, and
intensify the pressure of my lips on his.

//More heart, take it all, damn you!//

His hand sneaks around my neck and suddenly I realise that it's too late for
regrets, too late to do anything except hold on tight to him and pray we
make it. I run my hands down his body, sliding them under the leather jacket
to hold him close to me. He moans softly and I echo the sound into his
mouth. He is still using his tongue to caress mine, each movement sending
shivers down my back as I hold on. I don't know whether to be happy or
afraid. Slowly, after a millenium, I pull back to look at him. His skin is
flushed, his eyes are closed, the thick dark lashes curling sweetly onto his
cheeks. His lips are parted and he shows just a glimpse of white teeth, pink
tongue curled like a leaf gleaming wetly. He is mine.

Green eyes open slowly, languorously. He gazes at me through his impossibly
thick lashes, smiles, and I am lost. How did I ever think I could fight him?

"Come on Krycek." My voice is thick with a need I don't want to admit and I
cough to clear the sound of it. "We need to get you in the shower." He
uncoils himself and stands in one graceful movement. He begins to shuck off
the clothes he is wearing, letting them fall on my floor like a discarded
skin. His shirt comes off revealing the flat slabs of muscle that lie on his
back, over his shoulders and across his chest. I gaze in despair at his
ruined left arm. I can't believe it. How has this happened to him? He was
perfect and now he is not.

"What happened, Krycek?" He looks at me with disbelief.

"Don't you know? You were there. You told them to" His voice, always husky,
is quiet and flat. He truly believes this.

"No! I swear to God I didn't know. I would never expect someone to pay a
price like that. Oh, God, Krycek! It was Tunguska, wasn't it?" I cast my
head from side to side, as if merely looking for it will bring me an answer.
He waits for me, patiently naked, gleaming white and beautiful in the
darkened room.

"It was Tunguska, Mulder. They chopped it off there, and you left me to
them." I utter a cry of loss, or guilt, or misery. He was perfect, and now
he is not. God help me, it feels as if it is my loss, not his.

I crawl from the bed to him. Holding him in my arms feels like coming home.
There's still a matter of his morals, his habits, his sex-life to address,
but I know now I have to be the one. We're bound together and it's too late
to break out now.

Getting to the shower is difficult, but not impossible. I know that I want
him, but I'm not going to give in and take him unless it's on my terms. I
know this fragile peace is going to need much nursing. It is like a tiny
match flame burning behind cupped hands. Without protection it will
extinguish itself, leaving only a useless piece of char. If nurtured,
sheltered, and fed, it will grow to be a fire. It will warm the hearth or
rage out of control devouring everything in its path. I have no way of
knowing yet which we will become, but I need to go carefully. This is not
something I'm used to. I am usually first to charge in and take what I need.
I require practice now.

My arm around his shoulder, I lead him into the bathroom, pointing out the
soap and shampoo, the razor and the shaving foam. He starts the water
running, and I delve into my cupboard to find him a couple of warm, dry
towels. I want to watch him as he soaps and cleanses himself, but I feel as
if I'm a moth beside a candle flame, so I leave the room and go off to see
about feeding us both breakfast.

Foraging through my slender larder for the fixings, I come up with bread for
toast, 2 eggs, orange juice in tiny amounts, and coffee. I have no milk and
no tea. I know he drinks tea. I can't find any butter, so I throw on my
clothes, grab my jacket and run out of the apartment to search for
groceries.

*************************************

On my return, I can hear him singing. He has a sweet, tuneful voice, and I
listen to him as he joins in with the radio. He has found oldies station,
and the old Jefferson Airplane hit White Rabbit is playing. Grace Slick is
howling her heart out, and he's right along there with her, matching her
note for note. He sings like someone who knows the pain of last chances. His
husky speaking voice translates to a deep, sensual growl when he sings. He
should be famous. My belly flip-flops again when I think of the destruction
of him.

Going back into the kitchen, I find him spooning coffee into the filter, and
I watch him deftly measuring and pouring. He is naked, prowling around the
unfamiliar kitchen, finding the utensils he needs, wearing his skin like an
Armani. He is tall, with powerful legs, deep muscles on his back and chest
tapering to small waist and flat stomach. His genitals are at rest,
snuggling in their cloak of dark curls. He is pink and scrubbed, clean
shaven once again with damp hair that glistens in the light. He looks around
and spies me watching him. A smile washes over the intent face, and he
bounds over to greet me, hand held out to take the paper sack from me.
Delving through the contents, he purrs with delight as he produces tea,
apple juice, butter and milk, muffins from the local bakery and half a dozen
oranges.

I'm mesmerized watching him make the toast, scramble eggs, peeling and
separating oranges into segments and laying out plates and glasses ready for
us to eat. He moves like a wild animal on the prowl, and his concentration
is complete. Finally, aware that he can cope better than me in a kitchen, I
head to the bathroom to have my own shower.

***************************************

Dressing in sweats and T-shirt, I look for something to cover his nakedness
until I can do the laundry. I'm aware that I am slimmer than he is. His
build is more that of a boxer than a runner, but I round up some loose pants
and a T-shirt that will not be too tight. I take them back to the kitchen
where he has just finished spooning eggs onto the toast and extend the
clothes to him. Again, his face lights up in a smile, and he lays his hand
briefly against my face before taking the bundle from me and putting on my
clothes.

As we sit down together at my table, I am amazed to find that I feel
content. I have no knowledge of what the future will bring, but today, I am
suddenly no longer alone. I laugh out loud.

"What?" He pauses, fork half way to his mouth, crumbs on his lip like a
dusting of freckles.

"I'm just thinking how strange it is. Yesterday I was totally alone, and
now, all of a sudden I'm not." It feels so strange. I don't know how to do
this.

He rises from his chair, fork forgotten, moves around to where I'm sitting,
and stoops to kiss my mouth hard, his teeth clunking against mine as he
hurries. I can feel him tremble, and I put my arms around him to let him
know it's OK. The kiss is brief, and he pulls back, searching my eyes, his
face haunted by memories of hurts endured.

"I love you." He speaks it as if it is the only truth in a black world.

"Merry Christmas, Alex." I whisper to him then, and his smile comes up like
sunlight over mountains. I am warm.
------------------------------------------------------------------------