Archive: Yes to the Basement and All Things Rat, others please ask--I rarely say no.
Title: Winter, Fire, and Snow I: Precipitation, part six
Author: Merri-Todd Webster
Series/Fandom: XF
Pairing: M/K, M/Sk
Rating: PG-13
Feedback to: lonchura@yahoo.com
URL: http://lonchura.tripod.com/
Warnings & Spoilers: Christmasy schmoop warning.
Comments & Thank-yous: No, this isn't finished yet. No, I don't know when it will be. "Winter, Fire, and Snow" is going to be a long one, so you're getting it in parts. Sorry--complain to my Museboy. Quiet guy, looks a lot like Krycek with a perm. Thanks to JiM, as always.

Winter, Fire, and Snow I:
Precipitation part six
by Merri-Todd Webster
(5 January 2000)

Alex Krycek woke with a start, as though someone had run cold fingers over his bare belly. His hand slithered at once to the gun tucked under the corner of his pillow; tensed, he waited for some sign, some repetition of what had waked him. Nothing. There was a deep silence, a white silence that seemed strange for the city, or even the 'burbs. It made him think of the winter he had spent at the family dacha, ages ago, when he was, what, three? four? and of the deep, deep snow there, at the edge of the forest.

Taking the gun, he got out of bed and walked silently through the silence, not putting on his robe, though goosebumps rose on his bare arms and back, not stopping in the bathroom, though he was aware now that his bladder was full. He passed down the hallway like a ghost or a drift of fog, checking the bathroom and Mulder's room and finding them empty. Avoiding the creaky spots on the stairs with the precision of habit, he went downstairs into the living room, knowing what he would find.

It *was* snowing. He found Mulder sitting by the big bay window in the living room, staring into the night. Mulder was wearing thick socks and a plaid flannel bathrobe. He sat with his legs tucked up, arms around his knees, his body parallel with the windowpane and his face turned toward it. Outside the glass, a single streetlamp between naked trees showed a steady fall of soft white flakes, already covering the ground so that lawn and sidewalk were indistinguishable.

There were no lights on in the room, except for the Christmas lights: tiny white lights on the tree and around the window and the top part of the door. Mulder had insisted on decorating, insisted on the lights, insisted on a real tree that nearly brushed the ceiling with its tip. Krycek had helped him, glad to see the man rouse from his depression a little. There'd been many nights over the past three weeks when Mulder, unable to sleep, had crashed on the couch for a few hours, falling asleep in front of some old late-night Christmas movie, his face bathed in the delicate glow of the tiny lights. Krycek would hear him get up, find him there on the couch, then go back to his own bed and lie awake until he heard Mulder come back upstairs some time before sunrise. The man wept so quietly Krycek wouldn't have heard it unless he'd been listening for that sound.

Three months ago, Walter Skinner had walked out. Disappeared, really. Krycek had done his damnedest to find him--despite Mulder's refusal to do so--and had finally concluded that the man had to be alive and well because no dead person could hide so expertly from his investigators. Krycek had been there when Mulder found the handwritten note on the refrigerator: "You don't need me any more, Fox. Be well. --W." Damn the bastard. Had he really thought Mulder didn't need him? Or had he just been jealous of Mulder's growing friendship with Krycek, and unable to cope?

Since coming back from Antarctica, Mulder had rebuilt himself. Brick by brick, moment by moment, a man building a house while living in it, he had constructed a new identity, using inner resources nobody could have guessed he had. He was no longer Fox William Mulder, who had lost his beloved sister at age twelve when she was abducted by aliens. He was Fox Mulder, a clone of the original Mulder, and an improvement on the original--the champion of the X-Files, friend of Scully, lover of Skinner, and a man with his own life, a life in which he was loved. A large part of that rebuilding had been done with Alex's help--with his memories of Samantha Mulder, his childhood best friend, the sister Mulder loved but had never really known. They'd spent hours talking about Sam, playing the games she used to play--Stratego and chinese checkers--reading the books she'd loved--_Harriet the Spy_ and _Winnie the Pooh_. Alex had just been glad to finally do something for Fox Mulder, something that didn't look like it was going to kill him, and glad, too, to finally be able to talk about Sam, and his parents, and all the things he'd made himself forget. He hadn't really noticed the way Skinner slowly receded from his lover's life, until the man was gone. Then he had tried, clumsily, to compensate for Skinner's absence as much as he could, even if it only meant cooking dinner once in a while, or suggesting a Christmas shoppping trip, or sitting on the bed in the hour before dawn while Mulder shook with sobs.

"Mulder."

At the sound of his name, Mulder's head turned. His eyes were large in the eerie white glow produced by the mingling of snowfall and Christmas lights. "I'm okay."

Leaving the gun on the newell post, Krycek went to Mulder and sat down on the edge of the windowseat. Mulder pulled back his feet an inch to make room. "No, you're not. You're waiting for him, aren't you?"

Sighing, Mulder dropped his head, covered himself with his arms for a moment. "I can't shake the feeling." He looked out into the snow again. "The feeling that he's going to come back. He's going to just show up at the door, at any minute." He grinned wryly. "In the middle of the night, probably, like you did."

A few months ago, Alex Krycek would have said that no one ever comes back, that the puppy you lost never shows up at the door, that the lover who walked out on you will certainly not show up at Christmas during a snowstorm, like something in a fucking Frank Capra movie. Now, he was not so sure. All the clones were dead, and the shadows of the world were no longer quite so full of people who wanted to kill him. And Fox Mulder no longer hated him. Alex Krycek had become Fox Mulder's friend.

Maybe offering some hope was allowed, when you felt some hope yourself.

Hesitantly, Alex reached out and cupped his hand around Mulder's shoulder. The man was surprisingly warm--there was a draft coming through the window that Walt would have fixed the day after he noticed it. Mulder ignored things like that. "Mulder. Stop torturing yourself. If--" he stumbled-- "*when* Walter comes back, he won't show up in the middle of the night like a stray dog." Or a stray Krycek, he did not say. "He'll let himself in in the daytime, like the normal, sensible person that he is."

Mulder nodded, slowly, then swung his legs past Alex and got up. Stretched, with a noisy yawn. He padded over to the tree. A small heap of presents had been placed under the fragrant boughs. Krycek had avoided looking at them. Mulder bent, rummaged around for a moment, then pulled out a package and turned to the other man. "Merry Christmas, Alex."

Alex shook himself after a moment, realizing he'd been staring open-mouthed at the small package wrapped in shimmery green and gold paper. His fingers were shaking a little as he began to open it.

It was a set of keys on a very plain keyring. He recognized them as the keys to this house.

Even before Skinner left, Alex had been spending a lot of time at the house, hanging out with Mulder. After Skinner left, he had more or less moved in, but he had not asked for a key, nor had Mulder offered him one. He had simply contrived to get home only when he knew Mulder was there, and to break in, when necessary, in a way that left no traces. But he had not left Mulder alone. He had slept with one ear tuned to the man's grief. He had taken him Christmas shopping and helped him decorate the house, Mulder's and Skinner's house. And he had ground his teeth, silently, in envy of what he would never have, even as he hoped that Skinner would come back, for Mulder's sake.

"You shouldn't have to break in," Mulder said in his expressive monotone.

"Mulder, I... I don't know what to say." He looked up at the other man, frowning in confusion.

Mulder reached down and tugged Krycek to his feet. "Say, 'Merry Christmas, Mulder'."

Krycek started to obey, but the words were smothered by Mulder's mouth.

In the few times Alex had allowed himself to imagine what kissing Mulder would be like, he had not envisioned anything like this. If he ever got such attention from Fox Mulder, it would undoubtedly be hard, rough, demanding, a struggle for dominance in which he would probably give in, as he always did, because any love is good love and it was give in or shoot the bastard.

This kiss was nothing like that. It was as quiet and slow and peaceful as the snowfall outside the big bay window; it was... tender. It was a kiss between two friends who were just beginning to consider that there might be more than friendship between them.

It was the thought of that friendship, and all it had come to mean to him, that made Alex draw back, gently. He didn't want Mulder to think that he didn't want the kiss; on the other hand, he didn't think he wanted this to go any further. Well, he did, but now was not the time.

He looked into Mulder's eyes, aware that his own guard was completely down, that Mulder could see how much he wanted him, wanted Mulder to need him, wanted to be more than friends. And Mulder nodded, once, let go of Alex's arms, and went back to sitting in the windowseat, his eyes on Alex. After a moment, Krycek joined him there.

"It is Christmas, you know," Alex observed. His voice was husky in his own ears. "It's after midnight."

"Yeah, it is." Mulder looked out the window as a single grey car crept past.

Alex shuddered. It was nothing--it was just a sudden draft of cold through that gap that Walter would have fixed. "Jesus, let me put some clothes on--"

He padded back upstairs, taking the gun with him and putting it away. When he returned, wearing a borrowed sweatsuit and his socks, Mulder had turned on the radio and disappeared. Not sure what to do, Krycek settled in the armchair, then moved to the couch. Vaguely familiar strains of Baroque music filled the quiet room, something he knew was Christmasy although he couldn't name it.

The announcer was saying they had just played the Christmas Concerto of Arcangelo Corelli when Mulder reappeared, from the kitchen, bearing hot chocolate on a tray. Grinning like a kid, Alex helped himself to a cup of the cocoa and a couple of Aunt Fanny's Pecan Twirls. Mulder's cupboards were never without those things.

Mulder put the tray on the coffee table and sat down at the other end of the couch. He stuffed a whole pecan twirl into his mouth and followed it up with a big swallow of cocoa. The radio station, feeling eclectic at the holiday season, perhaps, began playing the jazzy version of "O Tannenbaum" from _A Charlie Brown Christmas_.

When it grew light, they were still sitting there, talking of Christmases past--of winter in Russia, and the gifts left by the Three Kings; of visits with the Scully family, and Mrs. Scully's warmth. Scully had promised to come over in the afternoon, along with some other folks; Mulder had been persuaded to get a ready-cooked spiral-cut ham, and Alex had promised to help with the cooking of a green bean casserole.

They were so busy talking about plans for the afternoon that they didn't notice a car which might have been familiar. It drove by once, twice, three times, perhaps searching for a parking space, perhaps unsure whether to stop. Mulder had taken the empty cups and the tray back out to the kitchen when the car pulled into the driveway.

Krycek froze, hearing the car pull to a stop. He wanted to get up and look out the window, to see if it was Skinner, but all his self-protective instincts told him not to. Why had he taken the damned gun back upstairs?

Mulder came back and stopped dead in his tracks, jaw dropping, as Skinner got out of the car and crossed before the bay window, in plain view.

And knocked.

Mulder looked at Krycek. Krycek looked at Mulder. "Let him in, Mulder," Alex said hoarsely.

Mulder went to the door.