Fire and Ice

Summary: It's easy to see how similar they are; most people never get close enough to find out just how deep their differences run.

A/N: Ridiculously self-indulgent. Because I love to write rambling, inconclusive pieces.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

by Robert Frost

Alex has known Neal for long enough to acknowledge that, though they enjoy each other's company and often pull jobs together, they have almost nothing in common. What is funny about that is most people who meet them (and learn some of their history) tell them 'like calls to like' or other such nonsense.

She and Neal are nothing alike; they're as different as fire and ice.

Those who know one or other of them well enough to begin to realize this often stumble over a different conundrum: if one is fire and one is ice, which is which?

They usually guess wrong.

Neal burns brighter and hotter than anyone she has ever met. His witty, laughing exterior is nothing but a thin veneer of calm pulled on to hide a passionate burn of emotion. The face he shows to the world is not the face he wears when he is alone (or with her, or with Mozzie, for that matter). No; his rational analysis and logical methodology are nothing more than cleverly constructed lies built to protect his true motives.

Neal Caffrey will never do anything his heart does not tell him to do. Logic means nothing to him, though he pretends otherwise—and very well, at that. She sees how it could be easy to mistake Neal for ice.

He's not, of course, and it's a mistake she's never made. His mind doesn't work that way. Dealing with Neal takes a certain amount of delicacy; fervor, but not too much, and a willingness to bend and bow to Neal's lofty ideals. She's seen him toss aside jobs that would make him millions on behalf of a few starving children, or take on a job in which he pays out of pocket in order to secure the future of a young newlywed couple.

Some of the others in their profession see this as a weakness. "Restrictions," they scoff, and continue to keep deluded, expectant eyes on him. Alex likes the fact that he's kept some of his moral fiber—heaven knows none of the rest of them have. But sometimes, she thinks maybe it isn't the best thing for him.

It's what is pushing him to continue to search and sacrifice for a woman who has done nothing but leave and stir up trouble from afar. (When Alex thinks about Kate, there's a strange sort of ringing in her ears that makes it difficult to concentrate and think rationally). It's what pushed him into the alliance with the FBI that is a constant source of frustration for him.

She can tell by the tense lines of his back, and the stiff set of his shoulders. What they've done is almost blasphemous, in her eyes; they've muzzled a wolf and tried to make it play nicely with the golden retrievers and German shepherds.

But despite these handicaps, Neal has succeeded in maintaining his drive. He soldiers on with as much fire as the day she met him; only now, he hides it more carefully. Sometimes even carefully enough to make her almost, almost forget and drop her guard; she hasn't yet. She's seen what happened to those who pushed him too hard—the burns remain invisible, intangible scars that will never heal.

Alex, on the other hand, is ice through and through. On the outside she maintains a friendly, open smile and is no stranger to seduction. Men find her attractive, and when she's in a good mood, she encourages them with smiles and maybe a wink. They press phone numbers and e-mail addresses and, now, Facebook account names, all of which she accepts. Sometimes she even lets them take her home.

But inside, she's so numb she wonders occasionally if she really feels anything at all. She can't truly bring herself to care for any of these people, who fade back into obscurity the moment they leave her sight. All but one, anyway, and she refuses to let herself dwell on that.

Loneliness is a cold mistress, but at least it is a constant one.

It's part of what made her such a good thief, and what keeps her in business as a fence. She doesn't get personal. She doesn't do background checks, or rules, or off-limits. If some millionaire spent ten years tracking down a carving of some Greek god, brags to the press about how valuable it is, and then just as loudly bewails its loss…well, he should have upgraded his security, then, shouldn't he?

(Besides, he'll get over it. His kind love to bask in the attention of the media; they can kiss it better.)

There are moments when sometimes she wishes she could feel that same, empty, aching loss. When she wishes anger made her burn, and that sorrow would scorch her the way it does everyone else. But then it actually happened (her scars haunt her to this day), and she stopped romanticizing pain. Stopped, so that the next time she looked Kate in the eyes, she wouldn't give any sign of that jealous, internal pain.

People tell her she has no pity. Sometimes she agrees. They call her a coldhearted bitch. She gives them an affirmative smile and picks their pockets in retaliation. Once, she was called a siren. She let it slide, because it was clever, but made a note never to sleep with anyone who taught mythology again.

And, if she wanted to wreak havoc, she could do it as well as Neal. Perhaps it wouldn't be so flashy, and certainly not as painful—ice numbs, and kills you in your sleep—but she could. And they would be powerless to stop her.

She knows this even as she agrees to help Neal find Catherine's music box (again). She knows that his FBI contacts dismiss her as a threat, when she stands beside Neal, and she lets them do it. They're fools to allow her such a long leash. But the one person who matters, he sees the truth. He knows she is dangerous, and he watches her, from the corners of his eyes.

She'd like to think that caution isn't the only motive behind his constant attention, but she's a realist too. Until there is corroborating evidence, she'll hold her peace. She can't let him get too close, not before she's ready. Or else she might melt away, and there will be nothing left.