Not My Lover *NC17* 2/2
Deslea R. Judd
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name on it.
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
RATING: NC17 for sex and language.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Mytharc Ascension to Requiem.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: romance, angst, mytharc, Krycek/Covarrubias.
SUMMARY: In a world of changing allegiances, only Alex and Marita will have the strength and permanence with which to lead the Russian project. But will they have strength to survive the American agenda? Tells the mytharc from Alex and Marita's perspective.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com/
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. email@example.com
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Top 3 Finalist, Spooky Awards 2000, Outstanding Krycek Characterisation and Outstanding Other Series Character Romance. Commended in the B.I.T.T. Awards 2001. Cover Art was a finalist in the 2000 F.O.X. Awards (Outstanding Krycek Story Cover Art)
My labs were empty.
The doors to the five anterooms were open. No Georgia at the desk. No scientists in either of the two laboratories. No Gibson.
I raced into our room, took in at once the empty bed. There was no sign of a struggle, but there was a hypodermic needle on the floor. With rising panic, I crouched to pick it up, and saw traces of clear fluid in the barrel. I doubted it was pure saline.
Diana Donovan's voice came from behind me. It was gentle. "Alex."
I looked up, my heart pounding. "Diana," I said in a husky voice. "What happened?"
She came into the room, a little awkwardly, and I remembered she hadn't been out of the hospital very long. "Max is gone. Car bombing." She said sadly, "He was very good to me. Like a father."
"I'm sorry," I said hollowly. I felt like leaping to my feet, lunging at her, pushing her against the wall by her slender white neck, screaming at her to tell me what happened to Mare. I didn't do it, partly because I didn't have that kind of energy in me, and partly because I already knew she was gone.
Diana said quietly, "The alien rebels found out about the vaccine when Mulder used it in Antarctica. They demanded the handover of the scientists and the immunes. If we hadn't complied, they would have given their information to the colonists. Colonisation would have begun at once." She sat down on the bed in front of me.
"We?" I echoed angrily, rising from a crouch to my feet, my face dark with rage.
She should have looked afraid, but she didn't. She just looked up at me with that odd empathy in her eyes, and I remembered that she had lost a spouse not so long before. "I didn't do this," she said softly. "I found out about it after the fact." Oddly, I believed her.
"What will they do to her?" I demanded harshly.
She bowed her head. "They killed her, Alex."
I sank into the chair and closed my eyes in agony. "How?" I whispered.
She said reluctantly, "They burnt her." I flinched.
"You saw?" I whispered at last.
She shook her head. "One of my men did - my right hand man. I don't have any reason to suspect his account." She reached down, took my hand in hers and held it out, and put something into my palm. I stared down at it numbly.
Mare's wedding ring.
It was covered in soot, stained in delicate ebony trails where it had been licked by flames. The yellow sapphires were dulled, their settings littered with ash. Staring at it, I couldn't breathe.
Diana's voice was gentle. "She's gone, Alex."
And then suddenly I could breathe, but the breaths were deep and laboured. "Leave me," I burst out, gesturing blindly.
Her hands were on my shoulders. "Alex, I've been widowed, I know what this is like. I don't think you should be alone-"
I shook her off. "Leave me!" I roared. "Leave me!"
Nodding wordlessly, she rose and left the room; and when I heard the double doors close behind her, I screamed in pain. I kept screaming, cries of a mortally wounded animal, until I was hoarse; and then I was silent.
But still I screamed in my heart.
I was still there when Spender came the following day.
I heard him come into the labs, heard him quietly giving orders to his men to continue the work. I heard him introducing scientists to one another, telling them where to find things, and telling them that they were to report to me. He instructed them not to enter the bed-sitting room nearest the door - those were Mr Krycek's quarters. I ignored it all; he would come to me if he wanted to. If he dared.
At last, he appeared in the doorway. "Alex?"
I didn't look at him. "What do you want?" I asked morosely.
His voice was surprisingly level - no arrogance, no cynicism. He said simply, "I want to give you something."
"What is it?" I said dully.
"It's your wife."
I turned to face him, and stared at the box he held out. "Her ashes, Alex. I thought you might like to bury them, or scatter them."
I tried to scatter them. I took them to the plains of Ateni, her birthplace, place of our marriage. Such a grey place, and yet it had given us so much. I shook the box, and let the wind take her; but then I screamed in pain, and I ran after her, scooping up whatever ash I could find on the ground, holding it to myself. In the extremity of it I collapsed to the ground on my knees, holding what fragments of her I could, and I wept, begging her to stretch out her hand to comfort me from wherever she might be.
But she was silent.
I continued to work on the vaccine.
I didn't really know what else to do. Spender had given me continued control of the operation, so I stayed there more or less by default. I had nowhere else to go, except for Mare's apartment - mine, I supposed now - but that was much too painful to bear. Co-operating with Spender wasn't something that sat easily with me, but I had no reason to hate anymore. Everything that gave my life the layers of meaning that hate required was gone.
Not that my co-operation was total: I was passing intelligence to the Tunisians. There was no real method to my madness - I was just hedging my bets. I had the vague idea of eventually working on the vaccine away from Spender; but I couldn't seriously contemplate it for the time being. It all seemed too hard. I remained an American at heart, and I was choosy about the intelligence I passed on.
Before his death, Donovan had delivered the vaccine to Mulder in time to save Scully - she was ill, but nowhere near as ill as Mare had been, and that puzzled me. The Antarctic installation collapsed when the anchored UFO broke free, decimating a good part of the polar environment; the Australian government - with the backing of adjacent stakeholder Norway - pressured for ongoing investigation into the incident, and as a consequence the X Files were reopened. That was largely political appeasement, however: we had major conflicts with Australia already over wheat export concessions. The Bureau was quite happy for the X Files to be non-productive; so Spender was able to displace Mulder and Scully, replacing them with Diana Donovan and an unwitting Spender Jr.
With the X Files in his pocket, only Skinner remained as a wildcard, and Spender was anxious that he be controlled. I won't belabour the details of how I took him. It was all very political and technological, and I have little patience for either. The short version is this: Spender had been playing with nanotechnology - microscopic machines that behaved as pathogens. He had agreed to give the technology to the Tunisians; in exchange, he got the Tunisian vote for control of the vaccine project after Donovan's death. Once the vote was cast, Spender privately decreed that the deal should not proceed, and in any case I was determined to stop it. But neither Spender nor I could be seen to be the ones who prevented it.
The work on the technology was comparatively open, approved and funded in top-secret congressional sittings, and as a consequence the handover of the technology had to be more or less by the book. Spender had arranged for a senate resolution, SR819, which would allow the granting of money and medical technology to third world countries as a humanitarian measure. The technology was to be handed over under the provisions of that bill; if we stopped the bill, we could stop the handover.
In the end, I killed two birds with one stone. I infected Skinner with the nanocytes, manipulated he and Mulder into exposing the bill, damn near killed him, then brought him back. No more bill, and Skinner was under my control. I have to admit that I felt a little pride about that operation: it was clean and efficient, had a low body count, and I had my desired results in less than thirty-six hours. Mare would have praised me - and then she'd probably have slapped me, for Skinner. I never really got the friendship between those two, but it was strong.
But I felt something; that was the thing. Seven long months without her, and while I wasn't healing - I would never heal - perhaps the flow of blood was finally ebbing. The agony was losing some of its bite - or so I thought.
It had only just begun.
I stared down at my lab table, strewn with facsimile copies and folders and medical charts. I remembered that fog just after Mare died, when my world fell apart. In a way, this was not much different. It hurt less, but it was just as shocking.
Diana Donovan came and peered over my shoulder. "What's the matter?"
I picked up a picture of Cassandra and waved it at her. It was an old picture - she'd still been married to Spender then. "She's the matter," I snapped, flinging it down again. I laid three charts side-by-side, and pointed. "Look at the dates and then look at the metabolic readings."
She did as I asked, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear in a way that reminded me eerily of Mare. Her eyes widened, and she froze. For long, long moments, she stared, her body still, her face deathly white, her strong, chiselled features lined with horror. "They've done it," she said harshly. "They've really done it."
I nodded. "A successful alien-human hybrid." I said quietly, "As soon as the alien colonists find out about this, she'll be handed over, and it will begin."
She looked at me squarely. "My husband died to prevent this," she said fiercely. "So did Max. I'm not letting it happen now."
"So did my wife," I said gravely. "What did you have in mind?"
She answered my question with a question. "Where are we on the vaccine?"
"Nowhere," I said wearily. "Even if we piggy-back it off another vaccine, people will stop complying as soon as the first lots of after-effects are reported. It's just not a viable candidate for mass vaccination."
Diana made a sound of frustration. "What about the water supply?"
I shook my head. "The dosage is too precise. It's not the sort of thing you can take in small quantities over time for a cumulative effect. We might get twenty percent of the population immune, but we'd also have forty percent unaffected and forty percent mortality."
"Forty percent mortality?" Diana repeated, horrified.
I nodded grimly. "Mostly the very young, the very old, and the infirm. Might be a good thing in Darwinian terms, of course," I added wryly.
She shook her head. "No, that's not acceptable."
"No, it isn't," I agreed. We were silent for some time, but at last, I suggested, "What about killing Cassandra? I know it's unpalatable-"
She cut me off. "She's protected. Spender will never kill her. She's the mother of his child." At my doubtful look, she insisted, "I know you think of him as heartless - you have reason to - but I'm telling you, Alex; that is one thing he will never allow."
"So what will he do?" I demanded. "Hand her over and take his chances on colonisation?"
"I think so," Diana said softly. "I know they never really intended to succeed on a hybrid - it was to buy time - but once they realise they could see their families again-" she broke off. "Think about it, Alex. If it were you, and letting it happen meant you could have Marita back. What would you do?"
"I don't know," I said harshly, but it was a lie.
Diana wasn't fooled. "Yes, you do," she asserted. "The same as I'd do for my husband. You'd say damn the world. Because you want her back, and you'd give up the world to do it."
I nodded slowly; admitted, "Yeah." I looked at her, pinned her down with my gaze. "How long do you think we've got?"
"Until Spender has the same intelligence we have?" I nodded. "A couple of hours, maybe. Openshaw won't tell him until they've tested - he'll want to be sure. The group will probably meet overnight. It could be in motion as soon as tomorrow evening." She spoke clinically, her eyes dull, her voice dead. I thought a part of her had already given up.
I watched her reflectively; at last, said, "Diana?" At her glance, I asked in a low voice, "Do you want the vaccine?"
She shook her head morosely. "You're going to need me, Alex." She looked very tired. "I think you should offer it to the scientists, though."
"Yeah." My cellphone rang, and I removed it from my pocket, opening the flip. "Krycek." I listened, hanging my head at the message being conveyed. I made vague sounds of thanks, then hung up, my face very white. I looked at Diana once more. "That was Spender."
"He knows?" she said fearfully.
I shook my head. "No, it isn't that." At her querying look, I said softly, "There's been another firestorm."
She did a double take at that. "Rebels?"
I shrugged. "Apparently. Openshaw is dead. They're all dead."
"Including Cassandra?" she said hopefully.
I shook my head. "They killed everyone but her."
Diana's jaw dropped a little. She demanded, perplexed, "Why? Their whole ideology is that the hybrids are a dilution of their race! Why let her live?"
"To lead them to the group?" I hazarded.
She nodded slowly. "That's a point. Kill the group to make sure the hybridisation stops."
I frowned - that didn't fit together. "But they know we're working on a vaccine. Surely they know we never really planned to go through with the hybridisation," I argued, trying to make sense of it.
Diana thought on this, but then she shook her head slowly. "Alex, I don't think they want to stop colonisation. They still want to colonise - just without hybridisation. If they can somehow cancel the deal, they will have the power among their own kind to take control of the invasion. They don't want us to have a vaccine any more than the colonists do." I nodded slowly. I hadn't thought of it that way. "Besides," she said hesitantly. "They don't know about the vaccine."
"What do you mean?" I demanded. "They demanded the immunes! That's why they wanted Mare-" I stopped suddenly, staring at her accusingly.
"I only found out a few days ago, Alex. I didn't think it would achieve anything to tell you," she said apologetically. "Gibson, Marita - it was just Spender clearing the board. But he wanted you to keep working on the vaccine for him, so he blamed the rebels. He convinced me, and that convinced you."
I felt the horror rise in my chest. "Son of a-"
Long, white hands on my arm. "Don't do this, Alex. He can't know you're against him. We have to try to stop this thing. Agreed?" Breathing deeply, I got control of myself. I nodded, my gaze locked on hers.
I waited for Jeffrey.
The group's offices at New York were deserted. The smell of cigarette smoke and aged liqueur was already lifting. A fine layer of dust seemed to have settled. The musty smell of marching decay was already gaining ascendancy, marking the passing of an age. Testosterone seeped through the leather and embedded itself in the wood panelling. It hung in the air like a vapour. It was a very male room, and as far as I knew, Mare had been the only woman ever admitted, besides domestic staff. The thought filled me with both pride and disgust. Feminists the elders were not.
Where the hell was Jeffrey?
I held him in my mind's eye, appraisingly. A weak, weaselly creature, not at all cut out for the work, and best left to a life of puckering up for his paycheck; but just recently Spender had insisted on his initiation. He could be groomed, the proud father had proclaimed, and I was just the one to do it. The irony that he entrusted me with his child when he had killed mine was not lost on me.
But Jeffrey had shown surprising mettle, disavowing his father when he learned of the experiments on his mother. He was the only person left who knew enough to help, but not enough to think to sell out. Perhaps - just perhaps - if I could get him to Fort Marlene, between us we could prevent his mother from being handed over.
I would give him five more minutes.
I frowned, thinking of Diana. She was pursuing her own path, pretending to help the older Spender as they prepared to surrender Cassandra. Or was she really helping him? Had she decided to give up the fight to save herself and Mulder? I didn't know, and I didn't much care. If she had, I couldn't blame her, in the circumstances.
There was a noise, and I rose, watching the door expectantly. "Jeff?" I called. He came in, closing it softly behind him. He was green. Some of that was the reflection of the light from the bottle green leather chairs. Most of it, though, was just Jeffrey being green.
"You're looking for your father," I said quietly. "He's gone. They've all gone."
"What do you mean?" he demanded, his face working. It was the look of a man who was in over his head, and sinking fast. The question now was whether he could swim. He had done it before when I'd thought it beyond him; perhaps he would again.
"Well, they've abandoned these offices," I said, waiting for it all to fall into place for him. I was careful to keep my voice even: Jeff was a bit like a rabbit sometimes, easily startled.
"But they've been here for fifty years!" he protested. Dammit, Gibson was less trouble than this. "Where did they go?"
"To West Virginia," I replied. "They'll begin medical preparations to receive the hybrid genes." Then, pointedly, "Except for your father. He's gone to get your mother."
He looked startled. He'd gone from rabbit to deer-in-the-headlights. "No one can get to her. I've got her secured away."
"Secured away?" I said, in disbelief at his naivete. "He's already had his doctors looking at her."
He protested, "I've got her under guard!"
"She's probably being prepared as we speak, Jeffrey."
I'll say this for Jeffrey: he took a while to latch on, but when he did, he was okay at putting things into action. I had a van waiting, and we drove to Fort Marlene, exchanging intelligence along the way. He knew a lot more than I'd expected, and it occurred to me that he might be worth cultivating as an ally, if by some miracle this catastrophe could be averted.
We parted company at the installation; him to try to find his mother, me to salvage whatever work and vaccine I could. If I couldn't save the world, I could sure as hell save myself, and whatever unfortunates I happened to find along the way. I threw him the keys to the van and told him to use it if he found Cassandra. I didn't really think he'd find her, and he didn't.
He found Mare.
There was a rebel at Fort Marlene.
My labs had been ransacked. Vaccine gone, pathogen samples destroyed. My blood pumping, I backed out of there and ran to Purity Control, three floors up at the other end of the building.
I passed through half a dozen security checkpoints without incident; but at the last, I was stopped. "This is an emergency!" I protested. "I have top-level clearance!"
"I'm sorry, Mr Krycek," the guard said evenly, "but the computer says you've been specifically denied access to this part of the installation."
My jaw dropped. "By who?"
He tapped a few keys. "CGB Spender."
"That's ridiculous," I said incredulously. "I'm his offsider. What's the reason code?"
More tapping. "X14 - classified miscellaneous."
"What does that mean?" I demanded; but I already knew the answer. It meant there was something in there that he didn't want me to see.
"I don't know." He shrugged a little. "It's within his authority. Take it up with him."
I shook my head. "There's no time. Besides," I added, raising my weapon. "His authority just expired."
I shot the guard, cleared my file from the screen, and continued down the hall.
The EBE was gone.
Disbelief is too insignificant, too unimportant a word. My world was taken, shaken, and its fragments tossed awry, falling to the floor in formations I had never seen before. And some part of me screamed her name.
It was all for nothing.
The vaccine was pointless...useless. There would never be opportunity for its distribution. Whatever happened with Cassandra, with the alien genome gone, the hybridisation deal was cancelled. The rebels would gain ascendancy among their own kind and lead the invasion; and this time there would be no opportunity for survival, even as drones. Colonisation would take place, the thing I had sold my soul to prevent. And her death was in vain.
Even as I fled the room, I was swallowing cries of rage. Eight months, she'd been gone, and rarely had I spared her a tear. But now I felt some part of me rip, violently, leaving unimaginable pain in its wake. The mundane matter of survival drove my body and my mind; but my heart and soul were far away, in Ateni, with what remained of my wife. My body stalked purposefully down halls; my soul ran through the plains, gathering her ashes, and cried her name.
"Krycek! I'm trying to get out of here."
I came out of my reverie, disorientated, trying to locate the source of the words. I looked about, and there, in another, anonymous doorway stood Spender the younger. He was looking at me expectantly.
"What are you talking about?" I asked at last, bewildered, and trying not to show it. In a thousand ways, Jeffrey was just a boy, after all.
"We can't get past security. They won't recognise my authority to remove a patient."
I stared at him, uncomprehending. Security? Authority? These words were meaningless now. Patient? I looked past him into the room, trying to make sense of his words.
I stared at the woman in shock. Not my wife, but some shell of her, hair coarse like straw, lips cracked, eyes lined with red. And so pale. So pale. Not ivory, but alabaster. No one could be white like that and live.
Not my wife.
She stared back at me, dully, her fire gone, her eyes dead to me.
Not my wife.
Jeffrey's voice intruded. "My father did this to her. She wants to tell her story."
I turned on him. "You sorry son of a bitch. You don't get it, do you?" I accused. "It's all going to hell. The rebels are going to win. They took it!"
"They took what?" the boy demanded. Mare stared at me in shock, understanding. Suddenly, her eyes lived again, lived with pain and dread. It was more than I could bear to look at, and I turned and fled from her, stalking on down the corridor, leaving her behind.
It was then that I heard her cry, harsh and anguished.
I stopped - stopped for a full five seconds, when there were none to spare. She must have heard my footfalls cease, because she called again, pitifully, "Alexi."
And then I was back at the door at a run. "Mare?" I rasped, oblivious to Jeffrey. I pulled her to face me, my palm at her cheek. "Mare?" I whispered, disbelieving, teasing a lock of her cornsilk hair, so coarse between my fingers. "What did they do? What did they DO TO YOU!" I shouted, and she flinched. Jeff's hands were on my arm, and I shook him off, walking away in fury. I couldn't think, dammit!
"We have to get out of here," Jeffrey said softly. His voice was kind. I nodded, his words galvanising me into flight.
"Bring her," I ordered. "Bring her!"
Gibson was alive.
Mare directed us to where he was detained. He was weak, and I carried him, walking in purposeful strides. Jeff and Mare kept up, but I could see her weakening. She was so horribly pale. I didn't know how she could stand, let alone walk. But she did, drawing on resources I couldn't imagine she could still possess.
My credentials got us out of the installation easily enough; and, fearful even now that we would be stopped, I led them hurriedly to the van. I bundled Gibson into the back, and leaped into the front with Jeff and Mare. "Drive," I barked at Jeffrey, slamming the door, and he complied.
I collapsed back into the seat and drew Mare to me, holding her close against me, my face in her hair. I breathed deeply, and even though her scent was faintly tinged with stale sickness, my body recognised it as hers, moulding itself against her effortlessly.
I pulled back to look at her, transfixed; and she did the same, her face upturned. I stared down at her, searching those colourless, translucent eyes for any sign of the woman I had known; and when I saw her within them, I felt warmth radiate through me. My body was alight with celebration; my veins were flooded with it. She was a shadow of herself - her fire extinguished, her beauty a memory - but it didn't matter: she was my wife.
I had to kiss her.
I bent my head to hers, cradling her cheek with my hand. I kissed her dry, cracked lips, felt them crumble against me. It was heartbreaking, and yet as I felt her lips part for me, felt her sweet, soft warmth from within, it was as though she healed. Cold, terribly cold hands flew to my face, chilled fingertips stroking my cheek in wonder, and I felt them grow warm. Dull eyes grew bright; deathly white skin infused with blood. Her voice lost its monotone, became alive, as she whispered against me, "Alexi."
"Mare," I breathed, meeting her gaze. "Mare."
"Say it again. Mare."
"Mare," I complied. "Marita, Mare, my wife, Mare." I pushed back that straw-like hair in wonder.
"Alexi," she whispered again; and buried herself against me, and she spoke no more.
A single moment in time, ageless; but when it passed, Jeffrey was watching curiously from the corner of his eye. "Alex?" he said questioningly.
I stroked her hair absently. "She's my wife."
"And the boy?" he demanded. "Is he your son?"
I shook my head. "No, he really is the child the Praise family. We were surrogate parents to him at one time, that's all." I said harshly, "I thought she was dead. I thought they both were." My arm tightened around Mare's sleeping form protectively.
He thought on this for a while. "What happens now?" he asked at last.
"We ride it out. See who lives, see who dies. Play our allegiances accordingly." I pinned him down with my gaze. "All bets are off now, Jeffrey. Whatever powerbase forms, it will be based on knowledge, not age or affiliation or any of the usual denominators. You and I and Mare can be part of that."
He turned his eyes back to the road. "I want the truth known."
"The truth, the truth. You're as bad as Mulder, Jeff," I said irritably. "The truth is, someone still has to fight the colonisation threat even after the rebels kill whoever they're going to kill. The date is no longer set, but that doesn't help us. It just leaves us further in the dark." I shook my head. "Truth is admirable, but right now it's an indulgence. We need people who can fight the future."
"Maybe we can have both."
I shot him a questioning look, but he said no more.
"She was beautiful."
Jeffrey was looking at our wedding photo, curiously. It was only three years since that had been taken, but she looked so damn young. A twenty-four-year-old with childlike features, and old, old eyes that had already seen too much.
"She still is," I said gravely, drawing the quilt up over her. She stirred suddenly, upset, but I stilled her with a touch. "Hush, Mare," I said firmly, holding her by the wrist. She breathed a sigh, and the tense lines of her relaxed. I frowned. It looked like nightmares might be par for the course for a while. I passed out of the bedroom into the lounge. "Do you want a drink?"
"Yeah," he said with feeling, following me. He sat with an exhausted thud. "What's wrong with the boy?"
I scanned the bar appraisingly. I passed over two open bottles of wine - they'd been there for a year, since Mare had last lived here - and pulled out a bottle of bourbon. "I gave Gibson the vaccine in June of last year," I explained. "Between that and his vitals I think he's in what we call recovery plateau. It's basically a relapse that lasts about three weeks - I think he's on the tail end of that. After that comes recovery Phase 2, which lasts about four weeks." I handed him his drink, and he gulped from it convulsively. "Give it a month, Jeff, and he'll be running around like any kid."
He grimaced slightly at the sudden assault on his throat. "What about Marita?" he asked when it had passed.
My expression darkened. "I honestly don't know how to classify Mare. From her condition, I think it's likely she's been in a near-continuous cycle of pathogen and vaccine - probably testing the formulas I made, actually," I realised bitterly, "since she was taken eight months ago. The human body just wasn't meant to take that."
"But what's wrong with her, exactly?" he demanded, bewildered.
"The vaccine slows the body's systems," I said, taking a long draw on my drink. "That's fine if you take it once, or even twice - a healthy subject can eventually come back from that. That takes about nine months. But keep on taking it-" I stopped, drinking again. "Mare's heart rate is low enough to kill her, and the only reason she isn't dead is that everything else is slow, as well. Her body temperature, digestion, circulation, everything." Jeffrey nodded, understanding. "We've thought for a couple of years now that metabolism is the key. People who have received the vaccine in extreme cold, where the metabolism is naturally slowed, have not shown the usual recovery problems - Agent Scully in Antarctica, for instance." I shook my head. "That means something, but I'm not entirely sure what. It does make a weird sort of sense, though - the alien race are from a colder climate than us."
Jeffrey frowned. "But Mulder didn't get sick, either, and he got it in Tunguska."
I looked at him in sudden admiration. "And just how did you know that? His files were burnt. Nothing was salvaged."
"Mulder's smarter than that. He backed up every three months to microfilm. We didn't lose much."
I laughed. "Crafty son of a bitch," I said admiringly, not sure if I meant Mulder or Jeffrey. Probably both. "So you spent all that time you were meant to be doing nothing, reading up on the X Files."
"Something like that," he agreed, draining his drink. He said reprovingly, "You were a bad boy, Krycek."
"Yeah." I didn't argue the point.
Returning to his earlier thread, he demanded, "So why didn't Mulder get sick?"
I rose and topped up my drink, and did the same for Jeffrey without being asked. "That I don't know," I said, perplexed. "I have this nagging feeling that it's caught up with his exposure to the retrovirus, but I haven't worked it out yet."
We drank in silence for a while, but at last, he said softly, "What are you going to do about Gibson?"
I gave a low sigh. "His parents are dead - they asked too many questions about his disappearance. I honestly don't know."
"What's the deal with him?" Jeffrey asked. "I mean really? Mulder thought he was some kind of evolutionary leap towards our alien progenitors. I didn't believe him, but now-"
"Mulder was right," I conceded, "but I don't think he really got the significance of his belief. When our progenitors left us, the races on each planet developed along different lines. That was inevitable, given vastly different environments." I sat back, warming to my theme. "The colonists believe they have natural sovereignty over us because they are our ancestors, but I don't believe that. Over millions of years we've established ourselves as a separate race, dominant over our environment - for better or worse - in our own right." Jeffrey looked quite daunted, and I gave a sudden, rueful laugh. "I'm sorry, Jeff. I majored in political philosophy. Now and then I've got to show it."
"No, it's food for thought," he said reflectively. "So where does Gibson fit into that?"
"Let me tell you a story," I said, stretching my legs out before me. "A few years ago, some researchers were working with monkeys on an uninhabited island. They taught these monkeys how to use cutlery and build shelters and all sorts of things - human tasks," I explained. Jeffrey nodded, his brow creasing. "Another island nearby - but too far away for any of the research monkeys to have made their way there - had its own monkeys. Here's where it gets interesting: those monkeys spontaneously developed the same skills among themselves." He sat back, bemused. "They spontaneously evolved in their abilities and caught up to the research monkeys on the next island."
"And Gibson is like one of those monkeys?"
I nodded. "In a purely functional sense, he's the human equivalent of the alien race. He's caught up with them in every relevant way. The ways he hasn't, like the capacity to withstand radiation, are specific to the Martian environment. He's still human," I added. "Biochemically, he's identical to the rest of us."
Jeffrey breathed out in a rush. "Oh, boy." He drained his drink with a grimace, and held out his glass for more with a rueful look. I topped him up with a secretive grin. "What did you mean when you said Mulder didn't get the significance?"
"Well," I said hesitantly, "if we can catch up functionally, why not biologically? What if we've worked so hard to prevent the creation of a hybrid, and then one happens spontaneously? If that happened, and the colonists were to find out-" I shook my head. "I simply don't know enough about how they interact to predict what would happen then." Jeffrey was very pale, and I figured he was probably feeling bad enough already about his mother; so I relented. "Don't worry too much about it for the moment, Jeff. It'll probably never happen."
"Still a bad thought," he said thoughtfully.
"Yeah." I drained my drink and set it aside. "As for what happens to Gibson, the only thing I can think of is hiding him in a boarding school. Somewhere he can have something approaching a normal life." At his reproachful expression, I said, "Don't look at me like that, Jeffrey. I've killed thirty-nine people. Those people didn't die so that Mare and I could adopt him and lope off into the sunset. There's work to be done." I frowned; admitted, "I love Gibson. But he will never be safe as long as he's with us."
He nodded reluctantly, and we sat in reflective silence. At last, he said quietly, "I'm going to blow it open."
"What?" I wasn't sure I'd heard him correctly.
"When I give my report to Skinner. I'm going to tell everything I know - I won't mention you three," he added at my expression. "I'm going to recommend that Mulder and Scully be reassigned to the X Files."
"Why?" I demanded.
"Like you said," he said ruefully. "We need freedom fighters."
"Your career won't be worth shit."
Wry shrug at that. "It never was."
I nodded slowly. Funny how both he and I had been led into the work after being stymied at the Bureau. "Will you come and work with me?" I asked at last.
"If they let me live," he said tightly.
I shrugged a little at that. "I doubt there will be much of the group left to spare any of us a thought."
"My father will survive," Jeffrey said dryly.
"Why do you say that?" I queried, interested. His expression darkened.
"Guys like him usually do."
Spender was alive.
Diana Donovan made contact that night to relay the news of a firestorm in West Virginia. The elders, their families, and Cassandra Spender had all been killed outright. Details were unclear, but it seemed that the rebels had taken control of the colonists' base and started the fire to prevent the handover. Diana and Spender were the sole survivors.
The rebels did not attempt to invade, although they clearly had the upper hand. Diana speculated that they and the colonists were at war on their own planet to gain control of Project Earth - that the conflict was not yet resolved. They were divided in resources and purpose, and that meant we had time...but how much was anyone's guess.
Jeffrey was killed as he had predicted; his father, seen leaving the building afterwards. That made a grotesque sort of sense: Spender loved his son too much to leave his disposal to a mere hired hand. Mulder and Scully were reassigned to the X Files as per Jeffrey's recommendation. Anxious to rebuild my sources of information, I threatened Skinner with the nanocyte controller, and had him install surveillance equipment in their office and his own. Skinner and I settled into a comfortable routine: I arrived, he glared, I threatened him with the controller, he growled, I made a cutting remark, and we settled down to chat. It was yet another of those ironies of the work that he detested me, and I considered him to be a peculiar kind of friend.
On the home front, Gibson recovered more or less as I had predicted, and he acceded readily to my suggestion of a boarding school. Perhaps perceiving my dilemma, he offered no protest. I believe - or like to believe - that he understood the practical necessity, and my genuine wish for a normal life on his behalf. He was duly enrolled in a Jesuit school in Maryland, and I left him reluctantly, with a promise that we would stay in touch.
That left only Mare.
She improved; that was something. Her hair became softer. Her eyes were no longer rimmed with red. Her skin became supple once more. Her muscles were no longer wasted. And yet still her vitals were deathly slow; still she was in the grip of terrible malaise. Sitting up, even with help, took Herculean effort; walking was out of the question. She stayed awake for only an hour at a time; talking cut that time by half.
It was awful to watch.
With the shock of her condition receding, my desire to shelter her and heal her, though strong, gave way in part to more selfish dreams. I wanted to have the kind of life with her that we used to have. I wanted to hold her, not only as I'd hold a crumbling leaf, but as I'd held her before - forcefully, intensely - and to be held in the same way. I wanted to make love to her gently; I wanted to take her powerfully, or have her take me. I craved her strength and her power nearly as greatly as she did.
Still, she was alive, and I believed she would stay that way - that counted for a hell of a lot. I nursed her as best that I could, but I was worried by her vital signs. They weren't improving, and that meant her body wasn't coming back. It had accepted its own weakness as the status quo. If that were true, she could stay this way indefinitely.
Mare probably intuited that in herself, but I was careful not to voice it. If the thought upset me, it would truly horrify her. To me, she was still my wife, however I longed for what had been. But to her, she was not truly herself unless she was strong, because that was such a big part of who she understood herself to be. It hurt me to see her this way, and I prayed that she could be strong once more.
But there was another who needed her to be strong, too.
Mare was bleeding.
I sat up on the side of the bed in bewilderment, looking down at my track pants. They were rust-coloured and sticky, stained with encroaching blood. I looked at myself in a panic, but I wasn't cut.
I flung back the covers; saw the stain seeping out from her sleeping form. I stared at her in horror, registering the dead white of her face and the tinges of blue at her lips; and then fear jolted me into action. I shook her in a panic. "Alexi?" she said weakly, stirring. "What is it?"
I said urgently, "You're bleeding really badly. We have to get you to a hospital. I need you to help me if you can." I grabbed my prosthesis and hurriedly put it on.
"Bleeding?" she murmured, bewildered. She asked vaguely, "Am I cut?" Her eyes began to drift closed again.
"I don't think so," I said, rising. "I think it's internal. Fresh blood, too much to be menstrual." Pulling on my sweater, I picked up the telephone receiver, then realised we hadn't had it reconnected.
Her eyes opened very wide. "Oh, my God," she said, turning her head from side to side, looking for me, disoriented. "Alex-" I was hunting for my cell phone, and she reached out with effort, grabbing me. "Alex, there's something-"
I found my cell. "What is it?" I said absently, turning it on.
"Alex, I'm pregnant."
I closed the flip in a single movement. "You're what?" I hissed.
She nodded. "Nearly four months," she whispered through laboured breaths, her eyes closed.
"Tests?" I demanded urgently, dropping to my knees at her side.
"No - the other," she said vaguely. "The other way."
"Rape?" I whispered unhappily, stroking the hair back off her forehead, a lump forming in my throat.
"No," she said, struggling for consciousness. "I consented."
I stared at her in utter disbelief. "You what?"
"I - it was-" she was drifting again, and I rose, backing away.
"No," I said thickly, "no."
"Alex - please help me -" and then she was out once more.
I turned and ran.
I walked for hours.
One foot after another, my cheeks wet with rain and sweat and tears. It was unimaginable - unthinkable. The thing before me - this terrible, incomprehensible thing was just too big for me to even begin to coalesce. My pain was a rending tear through my body; my anger a dull throb in my head. They consumed me.
I felt cheated. For so long, I had accepted the celibacy that her condition demanded without question; but she had allowed someone else to touch her. It was a betrayal and repudiation and rejection all rolled into a single act. I remembered the pervasive bond between us, the aggressively possessive need, the sweetness of owning her and of having her own me; and I recoiled. She was mine, and someone had taken her; I was hers, and she had taken another. It cut to the heart of the bond between us, the physical joining of man and wife.
I was haunted by terrible, terrible images. Mare with a faceless man, writhing beneath him, twisting on top of him, engulfed in hot, gasping need. Had she held him close, or pushed him back so she could watch him? Torturously, I imagined her arching her neck, leaning into him, running nails down his back, branding him as hers. Side by side with those were other images, images of myself in that time - Christmas, I calculated - staring into my reflection in beautifully decorated shop windows, looking for any glimmer of light that might tell me I could survive my agony and grief. Wearing her ring on its chain, as well as my own. Waking on Christmas day to the memory of a wife and child now lost; unaware that she lived, and was engaged in the business of making a child with another. I marked all these images with pounding footsteps, imprinting them in the rainwashed sidewalk and leaving them behind.
As the dull thud of my footfalls marked the passage of minutes and hours, I came to see the incongruity of it all - first dimly, then in sharper relief. The Mare I saw in those images was the strong, untamed woman I had made love to more than a year before; not the weakened Mare I had lost nine months ago, and certainly not the frail Mare I knew now. In her weakened state, the very concept of sex was all but meaningless, and a part of me understood that. Mare's version of consent could mean anything from a disoriented failure to say no, to saying yes to someone who promised freedom if she complied; but it couldn't mean the extremity of desire - her condition all but precluded it. But what that meant, either factually or for me in making sense of it, I couldn't see clearly enough to tell.
And so I walked. Trembling with rage and anguish, I walked in the sleet until I ached, until the angry fire in my veins melted and turned to ice, until I shivered with cold and overwhelming sorrow. And then reason asserted itself enough to replace all the other images with one more, one that was touching and bitter and deeply sad: Mare, motionless, her face to one side, her eyes distant; her faceless companion labouring over her, heedless of her disquiet. I didn't know exactly what had happened nor why it had happened, but reason and intuition told me that this was more or less how it had happened. My fury finally gave way to desperate sadness, to unwilling compassion, to deep and abiding love.
It was growing light by the time I was calm. By the time three passers-by had looked at me in fearful horror, I had come to myself enough to understand that something was terribly wrong. I looked down, and realised I was covered in blood.
I stopped still for a long, long moment, staring at it; and every lingering vestige of betrayal and fury left me in that instant.
She was my wife, and she was helpless. Her child - a child I would raise as my own, because it was hers - her child was helpless. And I would be there, because I loved her, and she was dead, but now she was alive.
And I would find a way to live with whatever had happened in between.
"...when you have a type, get me blood..."
She was so white. So horribly, deathly white. White like alabaster. I'd thought that once before, but I hadn't seen real alabaster then.
"...ultrasound coming through..."
So frail, so ethereal. Too fragile and flimsy to be part of this world. Like an angel, slipping away, being called home, taking flight and leaving her body behind.
"...we have to go in. It's a mess in there..."
Hair like spun glass, splayed across the pillow, fading from gold to the impossibly pale silver with which she'd been born. Why do I always think of that which is exquisite and precious with her?
"...she must have been haemorrhaging for hours..."
I had left her to bleed. This most precious of gifts to me, and I had turned my back on her, and left her to bleed, like a stray in the gutter.
"...I need an OR. Emergency D&C..."
I was faced with the awful truth of my cowardice and its heavy price, and I could not escape the blinding truth and the searing shame; for this was my doing.
"...hope she's got kids at home - she's not having any more..."
Out of her death to me came a life, and out of her life came death; and from that death came the lifelessness of sterility. And it was my doing.
"...her vitals are dropping, Doctor..."
I loved her, and I had taken the one thing she wanted above all else. The thing we had prized in a future otherwise devoid of dreams: that what we shared might one day be incarnate in a life so precious.
"...damn it, she needs blood!"
With my selfish anguish and my blind, stupid jealousy, I had stolen from her. I had stolen her child, her maternity, and perhaps her life.
I was her husband, and she was helpless, and I had walked away when she needed me the most.
And now she lay, robbed and dying for my cowardice.
"...get me adrenaline, stat..."
And even if they got her back...even if by some miracle she lived...
Even if God saw fit to return to her that which I had stolen...
"...she's back. Get her to surgery, we've got to stop that bleeding..."
How could I ever face her again?
I abandoned her.
She survived; but when I learned that she would live, I fled, compounding my sin with foolish weakness and the cruelty of silence. I had believed my absence to be a penance; I understand now that it was merely one more act of cowardice in a string of them.
I returned to Fort Marlene. My credentials were still valid, and the funding for my quarters and my labs would remain for eight more months. In the next funding cycle, there would be no one to sign off on my presence there; but for now it was my safe haven. Spender never approached me: it would have served him little purpose, for I used it as a way station rather than for the work - perhaps he knew that. I would have shot him on sight for what he did to Mare, and perhaps he knew that, too. Or perhaps, with his colleagues gone, he was living with his own confusion.
Mare got strong again, I knew that much; and I knew that she returned to the United Nations, and that she wore my ring and bore my name. That was comforting - and bewildering. Gibson relayed factual messages about his holiday arrangements and his financial arrangements; but there was no other contact. She did not seek a divorce, and nor had I expected that she would: she didn't believe in it.
Diana Donovan was my constant companion in this time. It was an alliance born of mutual loneliness, and there was not a shred of romantic feeling between us; but we stuck together with lover-like compulsion. It was a little like a bad marriage: no sex and constant bickering. But it was companionship in a life otherwise devoid of it; and in its own way, it kept me going during those bad, bad months when my life was in pieces.
Things heated up in November. The spontaneous hybridisation, about which I had only speculated, occurred in Mulder. I acted as best I could to salvage the situation, but I was hampered by my own numbness; I reacted to the unfolding events, but I couldn't begin to form a useful plan. Suffice it to say that Diana, Scully, Skinner, Spender and I were all running hither, thither and yon trying to get our own desired outcomes. Spender wanted to get the hybrid genes for himself; Diana, Scully and Skinner wanted to stop him and save Mulder's life. I wanted to stop him too, because I hated him and I thought he was wrong, and I didn't much care at that point whether Mulder made it or not. Like most things in that time, the whole thing pretty much washed over me; but it was important because of its outcome: it pulled me out of my morose inertia and prompted my decision to work on the vaccine once more.
It all started with a book - a book only Diana, Spender and I had known about. It shed some light on the affair, and Diana sent it to Dana Scully in a bid to help Mulder; Scully contacted Skinner, believing him to be responsible.
The call worried me. I knew only too well that Scully's digging could bring the incident to Spender's attention; and that would be death for Diana. Acting on the spur of the moment, I gave Skinner a dose of nanocyte trouble to keep Scully occupied while I made my arrangements. Diana was playing with fire, and if she was doing it that openly, then her time was short.
I made some calls, and when I was done, I called Diana on her cell. I took no time for niceties. Roughly, I demanded, "Can you speak freely?"
"Just one moment; the reception's bad. Hold on." Sound of a door closing; then Diana said quietly, "I can now. What is it?"
"You've got to get out," I said urgently. "Stupid thing to do, Diana, sending that book. You may as well have sent a telegram to Spender saying 'I have a fucking big mouth, so shoot me'." I sounded angry, because I was. She'd put herself on the line for a man who would never love any woman the way she wanted, and she knew it. What's worse was she'd put the work on the line, at a time when there were few workers left.
"Did you call just to insult me?" She was annoyed; I could imagine her arranging her features into her Hard Faced Bitch look. I never understood that - she was a beautiful woman. A woman who should always smile - not that she had much to smile about now.
I relented. "No. There are travel papers and tickets waiting for you in locker C24 at Dulles. Use your credentials to have it opened. You're going to Tunisia first thing in the morning. In the meantime, I want you to stay in well-lit, well-populated areas. Do not go back to your apartment. Do not call the London house. Do not call the Bureau. Understood?"
She burst out, "My children-"
I cut her off. "Already arranged. Their nanny is bringing them to meet you." At her silence, I insisted, "Look, Diana, give Scully whatever she needs to save Mulder. But you have to get the hell out."
There was a rustling sound. I think she was nodding. She was silent for a long moment; but then she said in a low voice, "Alex, I know you must still have vaccine-"
I cut her off, frowning. "Now is hardly the time-"
"Give it to my kids," she said, her voice flint-edged with desperation. Then, more quietly, "If I don't make it, give it to my kids - please."
I closed my eyes. "Diana, you don't know what you're asking," I said wearily. "The rebels destroyed everything I had. I have access to a sample, but I'd have to synthesise a supply." I said unhappily, "You're basically asking me to restart the work."
Her voice was grave. "I know exactly what I'm asking." In a low voice, she persisted, "Will you do it? Please?"
After a long moment, I gave a frustrated sigh. "All right. All right!" She breathed a low sigh of relief. "But you *better* make it."
She didn't; she was dead within the day.
I didn't like it, but I'd promised.
I didn't wait for news of Diana's death. Rather, I assumed the worst, and acted accordingly. I went first to Michael Kritschgau, who I knew had copies of Scully's data on the latest downed UFO. The location of the UFO alone would sell for a considerable sum; the medical data I intended to patent and then sell. A patent on the complete human genome was the medical community's Holy Grail. It would be worth many hundreds of millions of dollars...and that might be enough to create a real, widespread vaccine program.
My next stop was Crystal City. I had given my oil stock to Donovan when Mare was first infected, but there were two left - hers, and the spare, in safe keeping with Skinner. I could have legitimately asked Mare for hers; but that was a thought I couldn't bear. So I went to Skinner.
"Come on in, Alex," he said with that slurred magnanimity of the very old and the very drunk. He looked the former and smelled the latter. I passed him, waving his breath aside. "Have a drink."
"Looks like you've already had enough for both of us," I said mildly.
"What are you going to do, use the Palm-Pilot-Of-Death on me?" It always bothered me that Skinner wasn't afraid of me. He should have been, with the power I had over him; but he wasn't. He said irritably, "You've already done that once today." He shut the door, went to the kitchen, and came back with a beer.
"Yeah, sorry about that," I said through the hutch. "Damage control."
"Do I want to know?" he asked, handing it to me. I shook my head. He said wryly, "Then I won't ask." I took a long, grateful drink and sat down; he did the same.
We sat in an oddly companionable silence for a while; but at last, he said curiously, "Why are you here, Alex?"
"You have something that I want," I said cryptically.
"My looks?" he said with a straight face, taking a mouthful of beer. "Or my charm?"
"I'd take your charms, but I'm a married man," I said deadpan. That should fuck with his head a little.
Give him his due, he kept his cool. "I don't take Mulder's leavings." I opened my mouth to say that ruled out a reconciliation with Scully, but thought better of it, in the circumstances.
"I want the oil stock."
Skinner looked at me piercingly. "That oil stock belongs to Marita, and you're separated." He shook his head vigorously. "No way."
"Your loyalty is commendable, but it's also misplaced," I said, annoyed. "It belonged to both of us, and I used mine on her. That stock belongs to me."
He shook his head. "No way, Alex. I'm not giving it to you. I'd rather face down a bad case of nanocytes than your wife."
I laughed a little at that. "She's a wildcat, all right," I admitted goodnaturedly. "But I'm not leaving here without that stock."
He shrugged, rising. "Then you may as well hunker down and have another beer." He held one out.
"I don't want your fucking beer, I want the stock," I snapped irritably. I took the bottle and looked at it. "What is this shit, anyway?"
"Stella Artois. It's Belgian. You and your American beer - what kind of a Russian are you, anyway?"
"Latvian," I corrected, annoyed. "And I'm an American." I took a mouthful. It wasn't bad, actually. "Give me the stock."
He shook his head regretfully. "Sorry, Alex. It's not going to happen."
I stared at him in disbelief. "Walter, with one wave of my stylus I could have you in hospital!"
"Yeah, yeah," said Skinner, drinking. "And with a wave of your sword you could cut my head off and with a wave of your remote control you could reprogram my VCR. And all that crap." The bastard was laughing at me. "But you still wouldn't know where it was, would you, Alex? That sounds to me like I have you over a barrel."
"How about this?" I hissed. "I put you in intensive care and keep you there until you tell me where it is? I seem to recall last time was pretty painful for you. You sure you're up for a second round?" He went pale - I had him rattled now, and that was good.
"Perhaps we can reach a compromise," he said at last.
I sat forward. "I'm listening."
"The stock for the controller."
I shot him a reproachful look. "You'd really give me Marita's stock for that? That's very disloyal, Walter," I said in mock earnest.
"You're an asshole, Alex. Do we have a deal?"
I shrugged, conceding defeat. "Yeah, I'll deal." I drained my beer and set it aside, breathing out in a rush of relief.
He rose and left the room, and I heard the dim clicking sound of turning tumblers. A wall safe, I speculated. He came back a few moments later and stood a few feet from me, holding the stock. "You first," he said quietly.
I shrugged. "Fair enough." I'd kill him for the stock if I had to; but I didn't think Skinner would double-cross me - that wasn't his style. I pulled the controller out of my pocket and handed it over without a fight.
He looked down at it, experimented with the stylus a little. He winced in pain and nodded, convinced of its authenticity by its effect on him. He threw me the oil stock. I caught it and put it in my pocket, its weight comforting against my body.
He was watching me, his expression an odd one of grim satisfaction. "What are you so fucking happy about?" I said, annoyed.
"Besides having my life back?" he said mildly.
Skinner shook his head indulgently. "Alex, Alex, Alex." He met my gaze. He said kindly, "You could have had it all along. She *wanted* you to have it. You only had to ask."
I stared at him in stupefaction. "You dirty old son of a bitch," I said in amazement. He just shrugged, and I said with grudging admiration, "I didn't think you had it in you." He just laughed.
I glared at him, but only for a moment; and then I laughed too.
I went to Tunisia alone.
I'd still been at Skinner's apartment early the next morning, drinking amiably with him, when the call came. Diana was gone, but before her death, she had given Scully the means to save Mulder. Mulder was alive, but sans hybrid genes; apparently Spender had succeeded in stealing them surgically. What that meant in the scheme of things was anyone's guess. I doubted that Spender even had a plan anymore; he was merely reacting to events in the same way as I.
There was nothing useful I could do in America, and I had to go to Morocco later that week in any case; so I stuck with my own plan, such though it was, and flew to Tunisia. Regretfully, I broke the news of Diana's death to her children. That was an awful, awful thing to have to do. I wasn't quite sure what to do about them; but I took them to the house in Tangier and gave their nanny money for their immediate care. While I was there, I put the oil stock in the safe - better that than to have it on me when I met my buyer.
I went back to Tunisia and met with my contact there, ready to sell the location of the downed UFO; but we were ambushed by two of Spender's men. They killed my buyer outright, and I was thrown into a Tunisian prison. The charges were trumped-up, and it was yet another irony along the way that I served time for things I didn't do rather than for the things I did.
I thought of Mare often. She had to know that something was wrong: I was supposed to meet Gibson for the summer holidays in just a few days time, and the Donovan nanny would make contact when the money ran out. I wondered whether she knew where I was - or whether she cared.
I got my answer five days into my ordeal. On that day, I was dragged before the warden and accused of plotting to escape. My punishment was that of solitary confinement by night, my cell close to the warden's post, lest I try to escape once more. I was innocent of the charges, but I felt a cautious jubilation: solitary by night represented safety in a place where rape could come on a whim, and death for the sake of a piece of bread. And when the warden signed off on the arrangements, the light caught a chain around his wrist, a chain I recognised. It was too thick to be a woman's, but too fine to be a man's; and I knew its design because I had chosen it myself.
It was Mare's.
From the ashes of death rises a flame of life.
A truthful statement, however painful; and it characterises my life as it is now. Life after death is always searing, always bittersweet; and yet deeply, profoundly precious. I have to cling to that.
It's all I have left.
I mourn the life that had throbbed so insistently within me, though I had sought it only as a desperate means to an even more desperate end. I mourn because I had held it in my heart, had bequeathed it with hopes and dreams. I mourn because every life is precious, even when its burden is great. I mourn because I had embraced it, whatever it might cost.
But after the life was no more, I woke to my own rebirth. I woke to a heart that beat strongly beneath my breast, to blood that coursed powerfully through my veins, its slow trickle a painful memory. I got strong, and that was good; because I woke to a life alone. And if that life seemed infinitely poorer, it was still life; and I had spent too long in the grip of a living death not to cherish the kindly warmth of growing strength.
I feel my husband's absence like an ache, his abandonment like a bleeding wound in my soul; but I endure the pain, because it is of my own doing. My reasons for my actions, once so compelling, seem weak; my justifications, no longer justified. The compromises I made to survive took our unity and tore it asunder, and I knew that when I made them. I had hoped that Alexi would embrace me once more, and shelter my child as his own; but I did not expect it: that was not my right. He had helped me in my helplessness, proving once again a love that had never required it; but if he felt unable to remain by my side, I could hardly reproach him for that. I missed him, in my arms and in my bed and in my work and in my heart; but I faced the solitude, stared it down, and went on anyway.
It feels good to be able to do that. Bittersweet, certainly, but good; because after more than a year of powerlessness, my union with him - however fractured - is not that of dependence, but of choice; a choice renewed in every thought and every act. It is ironic that in the extremity of our brokenness, my commitment to my marriage is stronger than ever. I have not seen Alex since that night, but I bear his name publicly, wear his ring proudly, because our marriage is more than the functionality of a shared life: it is the union of souls that no sin can break. He is still my husband; I am still his wife.
And whatever else passes between us, we will always be one together.
"Why don't you tell him?"
I looked up from a sheaf of essays written in straggling hand. "What are you talking about?" I asked in bewilderment. Irritably, I drew myself up on the hard dormitory bed. Apparently, Alex and I paid fourteen thousand dollars a year for Gibson to sleep on a concave lump of rock.
"I'm talking about Alex," Gibson said, slurping noisily from his milkshake. "About the baby." I winced: his knowledge bothered me. My shame aside, I was the closest thing he had to a mother, and he was approaching puberty. His awareness of what I had done seemed vaguely inappropriate. My admiration for Patricia Praise was growing daily. However had she managed to rear this all-seeing, all-knowing child without leaving him irrevocably damaged?
I set the essays aside, frowning. "We've talked about this, Gibson," I counselled. "You must discipline yourself. It's very invasive to root around in people's thoughts without their permission." I said gravely, "There are responsibilities that come with your gifts."
His eyes flared in protest, the effect exaggerated by his glasses. "But-"
I held up a hand. "No buts. That's my private business - mine and Alexi's. Just because you can see my thoughts, doesn't mean you have the right or the experience to comment on them." He nodded, chastened; and I relented, leaning across his desk to touch his hand.
"He feels guilty," he said softly.
I wondered what that meant; but I resolved not to ask. "Please don't say any more, Gibson. If he wanted me to know that, he would tell me himself."
"But you both think the wrong thing about each other," he burst out, his face flushed with real distress. "You each think the other feels one thing, when you both feel something different. You've got it all wrong!"
How I wished I could ask what he meant! But I had drawn a line, and too many people had screwed with Gibson's boundaries, and I wasn't going to be one of them. "It doesn't matter," I insisted. "That's for us to work out." I rose, and came around behind his chair, bending to embrace him. I said gently, "You don't have to be the adult anymore."
He buried his head in the crook of my arm. He wasn't crying, but he was doing that shaking, crying-on-the-inside thing that boys do. In a way, that was worse. "I wish things were different." He didn't only mean Alex and I - the things that hurt Gibson just weren't that simple - but I think for him Alex and I getting back together signified a whole lot of other things about family and normalcy - things that he had been denied over the last year. And in a way, that was true of me, too.
"I do too," I said softly, swallowing hard. "But things aren't as simple for grown ups as they sometimes look." I pulled away and ruffled his hair. He was getting taller - more like a teenager than a little boy. He looked up at me, and I shot him a smile. "Let's think of happier things. Have you given any more thought to the summer?" He smiled a little at that. "I got you a passport - your name will be Jeremy Gibson. That should be easy to remember at Customs."
Gibson nodded vigorously. "I talked to Alex. He said summer was fine and that he would take me at Christmas instead." I gave a nod of agreement, but then he surprised me. "I want to go to the house in Tangier."
"Tangier?" I queried. "How do you know about Tangier?"
Gibson looked shamefaced. "Alex thinks about it when he thinks of you. I really want to see it. It's really nice." I mentally noted the fact that Alex thought of me, then chastised myself. I didn't want to turn Gibson into some kind of mutant spy.
I sighed, frowning. "I don't know, Gibson. Alexi built that house for us. I don't know if I should see it now. I don't know if he'd even want me to."
"Alex already said that it was there, and that we may as well use it," he argued. "And you said you'd take me anywhere." I felt myself weakening: I had wanted to give him a nice holiday to make up for the time I was away from him, as if anything could. Dammit, maternal guilt ruled my life - and I wasn't even his mother. "Please?"
I sighed heavily. "All right. One condition."
"Not one word about Alex and I while we're there. Agreed?"
He gave a little smile that made me frown suspiciously; but said only:
"I promise not to say a word."
"I'm going to wring his neck."
"Gibson, or Alex?"
"Both," I said grimly. I swabbed at Skinner's elbow absently. "Alex for talking about it and Gibson for asking to go there. He thinks I'll go there and get all sentimental about the beautiful house Alex built for me and come home and make the man talk to me. It's not going to happen." I slid the needle home a little harder than necessary.
He looked down at his arm ruefully. "Just mind your temper, Marita. That's a big needle you're playing with."
I shot him a look. "I can have Olga do it, if you prefer," I suggested, smirking mischievously.
Skinner shook his head hurriedly. "Six foot one of brute Russian efficiency? No, thank you." He said accusingly, "I thought Kazakhstanis were delicate little things."
"Most of them are." I withdrew the needle, and he shuddered, shooting me a reproachful look. "Better, big boy?" I teased.
"Much." He nodded towards the blood sample. "Do you really think you can do something with that?"
I shrugged. "It's possible. If I had the software that controlled them, it would be a piece of cake. Without it, I'll be working in the dark - but you never know." I pressed a fresh swab into his elbow and put his opposite hand over it. "Keep that elevated, or it will bruise." Washing my hands, I returned to my earlier theme. "Apart from the fact that Alex won't talk to me, I'm really pissed with him about this nanocyte business, too."
Skinner leaned his arm on the kitchen bench, propping it up. "Far be it from me to defend Alex Krycek, but I don't think this is really his doing. He was working for Spender when he infected me."
I turned away and opened the refrigerator. I pushed aside a couple of vials of vaccine. "Do you think he's working for him now?" I said curiously, putting his blood sample in the space I'd made.
He shook his head, taking the swab off his elbow experimentally. He flexed his arm. "He's just using whatever leverage he still has - he wants to stay in the loop." I sat down on the kitchen stool beside him, topping up my tea from the pot. He said reflectively, "Work for Spender after what he did to you? Not a chance. You don't know what Alex was like when you were gone."
I half-turned to face him. Hesitantly, I asked, "How was he, Walter?"
He frowned. "Alex came to me the day after he found out - well, you know, thought he found out you were dead. He was almost incoherent." I tried to imagine how I'd have felt if I'd thought Alex was dead, and found I couldn't. It hurt to try. "Then, when he came back from Ateni, he was very quiet and distant. You could hear it in his voice. It was really low and raw - like he'd swallowed glass or something." I felt my throat tightening, imagining him like that.
"Why did he go to Ateni?" I asked softly.
"Spender gave him ashes. He scattered them," he said, and I flinched a little. "I thought you knew," he went on, and I shook my head, drawing my lips tightly together, unable to speak.
"You sound like you felt sorry for him," I said at last.
"I did," he said simply. "I don't like him - you know that. But I did." He shook his head. "After all that, Marita - and to find you alive - I just can't understand why he left you. It doesn't make any sense." His tone was protective - and perplexed.
I bowed my head. "Please don't think too badly of him, Walter - well, not on my behalf, anyway," I added ruefully, nodding at his arm. "Alexi was right to walk away. I betrayed him, in a way, to save myself. I did this - not him."
He shook his head. He said scathingly, "But to do it right after you lost the baby-" he stopped short, realisation flooding over his features. He looked at me intently. "Marita?"
Reluctantly, I met his gaze. I nodded, my face hot with shame. "I was already pregnant when I came home," I said quietly. I looked away. "I don't have any excuses - I'm not even sure I have reasons anymore. I thought I had to do anything to survive - that it was all up to me." I blinked back tears impatiently. "Maybe adultery isn't the real sin here. Maybe it's arrogance. Maybe I should have been the best person I could and had the humility to just let it unfold." I finished regretfully, "Maybe that's what I've done wrong all along." Skinner's look was kind; but he said nothing, only looked at me with great compassion. I said thickly, "Please don't see me like-" I broke off. I was going to say, 'like I see myself'.
"I don't." He took my hand in his. "I'm sorry it happened - and that he can't be open to hear your side of it."
I smiled wanly. "He will. I believe that." I squeezed it and let go. Rising, I went to the centrifuge and watched, composing myself.
"Don't touch it - Olga will raise hell." I gave a weak laugh, silently thanking him for letting the matter drop. He went on, "Where did you find her?"
"She worked for Alexi and I in Norylsk. She was in Riga seeing her family when the firestorms hit, so she lived to tell the tale."
"Did you have any trouble over there?" he queried.
I shook my head. "They dropped the charges against us some time ago. Apparently Mikhail - Alexi's second-in-command, the one who framed us - left some pretty damning diaries."
He nodded in understanding. "So who's paying for her?"
"The Secretary General is paying for Olga and the ongoing costs. Your report and Senator Sorenson's verbal testimony was enough to convince him I wasn't a lunatic, but he didn't put his money where his mouth was until he'd done a little digging on his own. He gets only a certain amount of money from the United Nations every year before he has to account for it, so the trick at the moment is staying under that threshold."
"What about the house?" he asked, looking around the room appraisingly.
"Sorenson paid for the fitout from his philanthropy budget. The house is mine - it was my mother's." I scanned the hybrid kitchen/laboratory critically. "A Kazakhstani scientist working on a Russian-made vaccine in her kitchen. She'd be rolling in her grave." The telephone rang, and I picked it up, holding up a hand to Skinner apologetically. "Marita Krycek," I said, balancing it between my cheek and my shoulder to rinse my cup.
"It's Olga Aspinadayanova. I need you downstairs - we've had some developments." I frowned, setting the cup aside.
"I'll be right there."
It was heartbreaking.
I cradled a limp baby monkey in my arms, smoothing back its fur. It snuggled into me weakly, its eyes growing dull. Olga watched dispassionately, with a touch of bewilderment; and part of me hated her for her stoicism. I didn't have the coldness of heart for this work - but I was the only one left to do it.
I looked at the wall, at cage after cage of expiring creatures, looming over me as though in accusation. Finally, I demanded, "What the hell happened?" I drew the monkey closer.
"As you know, I decided to trial adrenaline with the vaccine." I nodded - that decision had been prompted by my own inexplicable recovery from the vaccine's after-effects. The adrenaline I'd been given when I flatlined had been identified as a possible reason. "I didn't overdose," she went on. "The dose I chose would normally have returned a mildly subnormal metabolism to normal levels."
The monkey was still - whether comatose or dead, I wasn't sure. I returned it to its cage sadly. "What did they die of, then?"
"The vaccine itself," Olga said clinically. "The animals showed the same biochemical behaviour as the dying pathogen. It poisoned the pathogen, and it poisoned them, too."
I stared at her in sudden realisation. "The malaise keeps them alive," I said incredulously. "The decreased metabolism slows the uptake of the vaccine to safe levels while it kills the pathogen." I looked to her for confirmation, and she nodded. "But then the body can't come back - it can't rebuild the metabolic rate - not for a long time, anyway."
Olga handed me a sheaf of papers. "That's the raw data - some of it - but that's it in a nutshell, yes. I'll have a written report to that effect ready for you to take to the Secretary General tomorrow." I nodded, frowning. "If I may make a suggestion, there are ways around this problem once the pathogen is eliminated. Adrenaline injections, gradual warming to stimulate natural metabolic behaviour - there are possibilities."
My frown deepened. "It's a start," I conceded. "We can start vaccinating people now - the handful of people in the know, at least - but it's still not suitable for mass vaccination. We can't treat every vaccinated person that way - imagine the drain on medical resources. The World Health Organisation would never agree to it. And even if they did, people won't come forward for the vaccine once reports of the after-effects start to trickle in."
Olga said hesitantly, "They might - if they knew of the threat."
"That is one thing the UN will never agree to," I said pensively. "Their secret taskforce on interplanetary defence were unanimous that the leaking of the alien threat would result in civil breakdown."
"Do you think they're right?"
I shrugged. "Who knows?"
Olga gave a low sigh. "We have another problem, too. The animals in the other room - the ones who got the vaccine first, then the pathogen two days later - they'll all dead, too." I made dismayed sound. "The pathogen killed them."
My jaw dropped. "I don't understand - the vaccine has its problems, but killing the pathogen has never been one of them." I frowned. "Do we know how it works? I mean in the preventative sense?"
Olga sat down on a stool. "Well, it isn't, strictly speaking, a vaccine at all. It's more like a delayed-release poison that sits in the body, dormant, waiting to be triggered."
My brow creased. "How is that possible?"
"We don't know that with any certainty," she admitted. "My guess is that a small number of vaccine cells somehow graft themselves somewhere in the body, and when the pathogen is detected they reproduce at a rapid rate."
My head hurt. Science was not one of my strengths. "How do the cells detect the pathogen?" I asked wearily.
Olga shrugged her shoulders. "I'm still guessing, but I imagine that Dr Charne-Sayrre bound the cells to weak pathogen antibodies - like a magic bullet that zooms in on the pathogen and leaves everything else alone. That's why the vaccine levels drop again as soon as the pathogen is dead."
"What did you say?" It came out in a hiss.
"I said, the vaccine levels drop-"
"No, before that," I said, rising. "About Benita."
"I said she bound the cells to weak pathogen antibodies."
"No, not pathogen antibodies," I said in realisation, my heart racing as I started to put it together. "Variola antibodies. Benita was a variola expert, and variola is a mutation of the pathogen." I could feel my blood pumping as it all fell into place. "It grafts itself to the cowpox protein in the smallpox vaccination scar. That's why it works as a cure for everybody, but a preventative only for those who have the scar."
Olga nodded slowly. She looked at me with new respect. "It's possible - probable," she amended by way of concession. "I'll run more tests - this time on animals vaccinated for smallpox."
"You do that," I said jubilantly. "I'm going to call the Secretary General. We have to revive the Smallpox Eradication Program. Not just Stateside - everywhere." I watched her steadily. "By the time we're ready to get this vaccine out there, I want every man, woman and child already vaccinated for smallpox."
Olga looked at me dubiously. "Do you really think he'll do it?" I shot her a gleeful look.
"By the time I'm finished with him? Hell, yeah."
"How did it go?"
I cleared my throat, and said theatrically, "Ladies and gentlemen: we know almost nothing about this terrorist group. We do not know their aims. We do not know their sympathies."
"Because they don't exist," Skinner pointed out over the low hum of his razor.
"Shh!" I glared at him reprovingly and went on, "What we do know is that they have smallpox supplies, and that they are prepared to use them. We know that they have already used them in Payson, South Carolina. We have compelling evidence - not just evidence, people; *compelling* evidence," I added in my normal voice, and he laughed "- from the FBI that this attack was intended to be a test in preparation for a large-scale bioterrorist attack. The group we have dubbed The Syndicate-"
"Duh-duh-duh-DUH!" he chimed in forebodingly.
"- will strike again. Our only defence is the revival of the Smallpox Eradication Program, supported financially and politically by the World Health Organisation." I said in a mock whisper, "This is where it gets really tear-jerky." I cleared my throat again, and went on, "When you consider your vote, I ask that you consider how many people in your family, how many children are not currently protected against this threat." Skinner was grinning, and I said wearily, "And a whole lot more."
"Bravo." He gave a little clap. "What else did you tell them?"
I shook my head, laughing. "Not a thing. I reiterated the same points for an hour." I nodded towards his bare chest. "Would you put a shirt on? You're making me cold just looking at you."
"What do you expect, business attire? You're the one who rocked up unannounced at seven a.m.," he pointed out, but he complied. "Did they notice?"
"Who knows? Maybe they just voted yes to shut me up."
He grinned at that, buttoning his shirt. "So when does it all begin?"
I rubbed my hands together gleefully. "That's the best part. There's a press conference in Geneva in -" I checked my watch "- one hour." He passed into the kitchen, and I raised my voice to be heard through the hutch. "The smallpox vaccine is being manufactured as we speak, and the first supplies go out in the middle of next week."
"Very quick," he commented, clinking cups and spoons industriously.
"They're afraid the so-called terrorists will speed up their plans if they don't hurry. Can't think where they got that idea," I added innocently.
Skinner laughed, coming back into the lounge with two cups of coffee. I made a face when he handed me mine. "I know you don't like the stuff, but you need it," he insisted. He peered at me appraisingly. "You look tired, Marita."
"Just jet lag," I said dismissively.
"Can you get some sleep?" He sat down opposite me.
I shook my head. "I'm only passing through - well, detouring around," I amended at his dubious look, "but I wanted to let you know how it went. I'm driving to Bethesda to get Gibson, and then we're off to Spain for a couple of days, then across to Tangier. More flying," I added irritably. I eyed him critically. "You don't look so hot yourself, Walter. Big night?"
Skinner laughed. "You're not going to believe this," he said, gulping down a mouthful of coffee, "but I sat up all night drinking with your husband."
My brow creased doubtfully. "Alex?" I said in disbelief. "How did that happen?" I looked at him, perplexed. I tried to picture those two as drinking buddies, but the image just wouldn't form.
"I'll have you know, Alex and I get along very well when we aren't trying to kill one another," he retorted primly. I gave a bark of laughter at that. He explained, "I put one over on him, in a manner of speaking, and he accepted defeat like a man." He sipped at his coffee, and continued, "He drank to me, and then I drank to him, and then he drank to me, and then I-"
"I get the picture," I said, very much amused. I drank some of the awful coffee. It hit my taste buds bitterly. "I'll bite," I said, grimacing. "What did you do that was so wonderful that it warranted such mutual admiration?"
He sat back with a smug little smile. "I got the nanocyte controller."
My jaw dropped. "How did you manage that?" I demanded admiringly.
He admitted shamefacedly, "Alex wanted the oil stock. I told him I wouldn't play ball unless he gave me the controller."
I shot him a reproachful look. "I told you to *give* it to him."
Skinner's expression was innocent. "You didn't say I had to give it to him *free*." I set down my drink and sat back, annoyed. He asked tentatively, "Are you angry?"
Relenting, I shook my head, sighing. "Of course not." I could hardly blame him for wanting his life back, after all - and he had ultimately fulfilled my instructions. "Can you keep the controller safe until I get back? I want to find a way to kill these damn nanocytes once and for all."
He finished his drink. "That would be great," he agreed, rising. He took his cup to the kitchen.
"You must feel good," I called.
He shrugged a little, returning to the lounge. "I did," he said, "but I'm regretting the drinking binge. I've got a hell of a day ahead." He sat once more. At my enquiring look, he elaborated, "There's this guy called Michael Kritschgau-" he broke off when I rolled my eyes. "What?"
I shook my head, waving my hand dismissively. "Oh, he's that asshole who convinced Mulder the alien threat was a hoax a few years ago. Caused Alex and I no end of trouble. Go on."
"Oh. Anyway, he has these computer files belonging to Dana. UFO data, and according to her, a map of the entire human genome." I raised my eyebrows at that, but didn't comment. "His apartment was set on fire last night, and his laptop is missing. She's off playing ministering angel to Mulder-" his nose wrinkled in distaste at that, and I remembered he and Scully were fighting again "- so I have to find an agent to investigate. That's going to be fun - I'm down nine staff, what with maternity leave and sick leave and vanishing lobotomised mutants." I thought this last must refer to Mulder, but decided it just wasn't worth pursuing.
"What about Diana Don- Diana Fowley?" I corrected. "She's at a loose end now that she's off the X Files."
"Diana's dead," Skinner said grimly.
"What?" It came out in a hiss.
"Murdered overnight. That's my second headache."
I sat back in stupefaction. "Those poor kids," I said softly, my good humour forgotten.
He stared at me. "What are you talking about?"
"She was a widow," I said absently. "Three kids."
A flicker of compassion crossed his features. "I didn't know."
"You weren't meant to. Her husband was a Consortium man." I said, thinking aloud, "I wonder what happens to them now. That family has been dropping like flies."
It was a question that would be answered sooner than I thought.
"Just five more minutes."
I looked at Gibson in bewilderment. "Gibson, it's just an arrivals lounge. There's nothing to see here. We've already hung around here for an hour." He looked at me reproachfully. I said more gently, "I really want to get to the house. I'm hot and I'm tired. Please." He shot me a baleful look, but he came along more or less willingly.
I thought about it as we clambered into a taxi, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that something was wrong. He was at a prime age for prepubescent petulance; but somehow that didn't strike me as a likely explanation. Gibson was still too insecure after his ordeal to risk being truly defiant. I shot him a sidelong look, and he seemed preoccupied...worried. My brow creasing, I mentally willed him to talk to me; and he turned at once to face me. It seemed so nicely fortuitous that I forgot, for a moment, that he was telepathic; but then I realised that my thought had prompted his response.
"What's wrong?" I asked him at last.
His shoulder's were hunched. He wouldn't meet my gaze. "If I tell you, you promise you won't be angry?" he asked, his voice pleading.
I frowned. "I promise to try not to be angry," I said cautiously. What on earth could he have done?
"I kind of lied to you about this summer." He shifted uncomfortably.
"What do you mean?" I demanded, bewildered.
Wincing, he admitted, "Alex thinks *he's* looking after me at the house for the holidays."
"Gibson!" I hissed, mortified.
"I'm sorry! I just thought if you two were in that house he made for you, you'd talk about the - about whatever you have to talk about -" I groaned in disbelief "- and then everything would be the way it was at Fort Marlene." I hung my head in my hands in dismay. "I want him back, Marita. I want you to be happy again." He suddenly sounded very young, and I sighed and put my arms around him, though I didn't feel like it. "Are you very angry?" he asked worriedly, his voice muffled against my shoulder.
I made a sound of frustration. "I'm *furious*!" He stiffened against me, and I kissed his hair, relenting. "But it will pass." I pulled back from him. "All right, Cupid, when is he meeting us?"
He was very pale. "That's the problem. He was supposed to meet us at the airport."
I shrugged. "Maybe he was delayed. Maybe he's going to meet us at the house."
He shook his head. "He didn't know you would be here. He thought I was flying unaccompanied." I shot him a look, and understood at once his concern. Alexi would never have intentionally risked leaving Gibson unsupervised in a foreign airport; nor would he have risked the boy being handed over to the authorities as abandoned.
"What's your sense?" I demanded. He said urgently:
"He's in trouble."
"I feel very badly about this, Ma'am."
I looked up as the older woman put a cup of tea in front of me. One thing about the English, they have their priorities straight. When the shit hits the fan, crack open the Twinings.
I shook my head. "It's not your fault, Gladys. My husband clearly intended to be back in time to meet us and tell us you were at the house. Thank you," I added, motioning to the cup. I took a sip gratefully. I motioned to Gibson and the Donovan children. They were petting a very reluctant cat in the gazebo. "How are they coping?"
"I really couldn't say, Ma'am. They were quite distraught initially, but now they're just shocked. They've become accustomed to loss, especially Samuel - the youngest," she added by way of explanation.
I nodded slowly. "That's right - their father and grandfather in the last three years, as well. And now their mother." Gladys nodded. "Those poor kids."
"Your husband was very gentle with him when he told them. I think that helped - as much as anything can help." I nodded wistfully. That sounded like Alex. She went on, "I hate to worry you with this, but - what happens to us now?"
I gave a shrug. "I really don't know. I'm going to have to make some calls and find out about Diana's estate. I can't imagine who she gave guardianship to - there's no-one left," I added ruefully. I gave a weary sigh. "Are you willing to stay here for now? I'll make sure you continue to get whatever Diana was paying you." It didn't occur to me to question why I considered these latest Consortium orphans to be my responsibility; I just did.
"Yes, I'm happy to stay here," she said easily. "My children are grown, and I've never been out of England before."
"All right." I finished my tea. "Can you tell me exactly what happened?"
Gladys nodded. "I got a phone call from Mr Krycek earlier this week. He told me that Mrs Donovan was in danger and that she was going to Tunisia, and that I was to bring the children to meet her."
"Didn't you think that was a little odd?"
She shook her head. "Mrs Donovan herself had told me more than once that this could happen. She was a very brave woman, though I do think, you know, that women should leave such dangerous work to the men." I suppressed a grin. "Anyway, we arrived in Tunis, and your husband met us. He told me privately that Mrs Donovan had passed away, and that he had a house in Morocco, and that we should stay there until he could work something out. I telephoned the FBI, and an Assistant Director there confirmed her death."
"Skinner," I supplied, nodding.
"That's right. So we came here with him, and then he broke the news to the children. He gave me some money for our immediate needs and said he had to go back to Tunisia, but that he would be back in two days. He said he had to pick up his son from the airport. That's all I know."
"He called Gibson that?" I said, pleased. "His son?" Gladys nodded, and I smiled a little. I asked, "How long was he here, and where did he go while he was here?"
"A few hours. He used the bathroom and shower, went to the master bedroom for a few minutes, and the second bedroom for an hour or so. I think he was getting it ready for the boy. Other than that, he was out here with the children and I."
I nodded, rising. "Will you excuse me?"
"Of course, Ma'am."
I went to the master bedroom and opened the built-in wardrobe. Pulling back the carpet on the floor, I found the metal plate Alex had once described and lifted it, revealing the safe beneath. I tried our wedding date, my New York zip code, and his cellphone number, to no avail.
I finally got lucky with his old FBI badge number. Peering inside, I reached in and drew out the oil stock - the one Alex had gotten from Skinner. That made me frown - his decision to leave it here meant he had gone to do something at least potentially dangerous, and if it was in Tunisia, it was probably an intelligence sale. He'd been doing that for a year now - Diana had made the necessary introductions. I wondered fleetingly whether they'd been lovers, then decided it hardly mattered now.
Setting the stock aside, I drew out a laptop computer. I wondered what Alex was doing with it - and why he thought it necessary to leave it in the safe. I turned it over, saw the engraved security panel, and frowned.
Frowning, I put the laptop back in the safe, put everything back as it had been, and went out back. "Gladys?"
"Would you mind watching Gibson, as well as the others? I hate to impose-"
"Not at all. You're going to make some enquiries about your husband?"
I nodded. Then, thinking of Gibson, I said softly, "Tell me, are you able to use a firearm?"
"You mean like a handgun?"
Gladys nodded. "I do, actually - Mrs Donovan thought it was wise for me to learn. But I don't have one."
I nodded, and drew mine from my waistband. I held it out to her by the barrel, and she took it, frowning. I said meaningfully:
"Just in case."
I went to the library.
Reading through three days' worth of Moroccan and Tunisian newspapers, I identified four gangland-style hits. I eliminated two on the basis of the country of origin of the weapon, and a third on the basis of the physical description of the victim. The fourth hit was of interest: a Tunisian diplomat, killed in Tunis by an American weapon, the model of which I recognised as that issued as standard to Spender's men. It was possible that Alex could have killed his buyer with an old weapon from his days working for Spender - but that made no sense; he would have returned to Tangier in that case. The other possibility was that Spender's men had ambushed Alex and his buyer.
Frowning, I left the library and travelled south to Casablanca. No point in making myself too easy to trace: Tangier was the one place Alex and I had that wasn't compromised. I checked into a hotel and telephoned Spender.
"Ms Covarrubias," he said. There was a hiss of static on the line as he exhaled - probably smoking. "I wondered when you would get in touch."
"My name is Krycek." I flicked idly through a hotel bible. Three things were certain in life, I reflected: death, taxes, and the Gideons.
"Ah, yes. I suppose there's little point in concealing your marriage now that your enemies are dead." Make that four, I amended: Spender being a prick.
"Most of them," I said coldly. "Where's my husband?"
"Why should I tell you that?" he asked with interest.
"Because you owe me," I snapped. "You owe me for my children. You owe me for my marriage."
"Your marriage - yes, I heard Alex was displeased with the surprise you brought home." I winced, but said nothing, determined not to be goaded. "Some debts are not enforceable, Marita. But I could be persuaded to give you the information, if I were to get something in exchange."
Surprise, surprise. "What did you have in mind?"
Sound of a flicking lighter. "You may have heard that I'm down an assistant."
I laughed, genuinely amused. "And you want me to take the job? No way. Your offsiders have an alarming death rate. Diana was a comparative veteran." I put the bible back in its drawer and took out a couple of complimentary mints.
"Yes, but you have somewhat more value than most of your predecessors." He went on thoughtfully, "I hear you've had the Smallpox Eradication Program revived."
I balanced the phone between my cheek and my shoulder so I could unwrap a mint. "You're not getting within a mile of the work on the vaccine. Even if I allowed it, there are others now who wouldn't. Your glory days are over." I popped it into my mouth.
I expected him to argue, but he said reflectively, "Maybe that's true. But I still have other projects, and you have connections, and that's something that could be helpful to me."
I frowned, but decided that it might be better to cede partial defeat on this one. "All right," I said at last, swallowing my mint. "Where is he?"
"Before I tell you, a condition." More exhaling. I wondered if he didn't know it was rude to smoke into the phone, or if he just didn't care.
"What is it?" I asked wearily.
"I don't want him freed," Spender replied. He insisted, "I want Alex where I can lay my hands on him."
"And what if I free him anyway?" I demanded, feeling cautious optimism. Apparently Alex was somewhere from which escape was an option. But his response chilled me.
"I might have to tell him the truth about your child."
My reflection in the dresser mirror caught my eye. I was very pale; there were bright spots of red high on my cheeks. "You have no right-"
"I have every right. I have a vested interest, after all."
I decided not to pursue this unpromising line of argument. "Fine," I said coldly. I twisted the mint wrapper between my hands viciously. "Tell me where he is."
"He's in a prison in Tunis."
"Which one?" He laughed at that.
"The worst one."
I left him there.
I confirmed Spender's story of Alexi's imprisonment, and I bribed an official to extend him some protection; but I left him there. I left him because I knew he was safe, and I left him because he'd tolerated worse conditions in Norylsk; but mostly I left him because I was too weak to tell him the truth and too cowardly to let Spender do it for me.
I stayed in Tangier for three weeks, in the end, caring for Gibson and the Donovan children. Diana's estate left Alex their legal guardian; I had power of attorney over his affairs, just as he did for me, so that made the children mine. Although that was a legal reality rather than an absolute one, I took it seriously, and did what little I could for them. I considered taking them home to New York and rearing them myself, but they were more or less settled; so I decided to leave them there in Gladys' care. Better that they didn't get too attached to me; after all, I could die too.
Gibson regarded me watchfully during this time, and I knew he disapproved of my decisions - both concerning the other children and concerning Alexi - but he didn't broach the issue. Slowly, very slowly he was learning to accept and trust in my judgement. Instead, he threw himself into the business of getting to know his new surrogate siblings. He was very close to them, especially Shane, who was not much younger than he. Elizabeth was distant, and that worried me, but I was in no position to help. Samuel was very clingy, and that was bittersweet: he had been born after his father's death, about the time Alex and I had expected our own.
Gibson remained in Tangier as well. Spender had known of my attachment to the boy, and his renewed interest in Alex and I worried me. Working for Spender would increase the risk of Gibson being found by a factor of ten. After several heated discussions late at night, Gibson reluctantly accepted my decision; so I returned to New York alone, a childless mother yet again.
My work with Spender was mercifully limited. It seemed that Mulder had spontaneously mutated before I went to Tangier, and that Spender had stolen the hybrid genes by some kind of surgical intervention. It was that which Skinner had been referring to with his lobotomised mutant remark before I left. Instead of survival, the operation had left Spender facing his own death. He was determined to die with his boots on, pursuing the work to the bitter end; but the work, as he understood it, no longer existed. He was left with pursuing nonsense leads in the hope of building something of meaning before he died, and my work was limited to stamping on the occasional spotfires he left behind. The man disgusted me on a thousand levels, but his predicament struck me as very sad. He was like a child, grasping blindly at anything that seemed like a good idea at the time, with no comprehension of the big picture.
My real work, the work on the vaccine, continued in leaps and bounds. I took the laptop from Tangier and laboriously reassembled the human genome information, breaking down the deleted data into individual bytes and transposing the data, then reassembling it into something comprehensible. A lot of it was pointless, irritating work - I reassembled not only the data, but Michael Kritschgau's private e-mail, his internet cache, and his downloaded porn. This last left me turning my head to one side in chagrined disbelief on more than one occasion. But at last, it was done, and I had a map of the complete human genome. Once Olga had verified the information as well as she was able, I patented it in Alexi's and my name; but I made no attempt to licence its use. That would come later, when all this was over. Right now my priority was using the information to perfect the vaccine.
Christmas came - a time Alex and I had always made for one another, no matter how far apart we were - and that brought his absence into sharp relief. The sorrow, always lingering, became acute; the pain, my constant companion. The jubilation I felt at our moderate successes on the vaccine was muted: this was his work, too, and he should be here to share it. My strength lay in computers and politics, and his in science and security; this work, which at last was coming together into something that might really make a difference, could not have happened without both of us. Our marriage had united our strengths, given us clarity and permanence with which to succeed where so many others had failed; and now that our marriage was in pieces, the work, fruit of our union, brought me sorrow as well as joy. In this time - this time of strength and of profound loneliness - that was true of many things.
It was the little things that seemed to matter the most. Memories that were mere fragments of a life became focal, considered and analysed in torturous detail in the silence of the night. I thought of Alexi, and I remembered the one I'd had before him - and the one after, but I tried not to think of that - and how he had moved above me, his body pulled back from mine, supporting himself with rigid arms. Even before we had loved one another (had there ever been such a time?), it would never have occurred to Alex to do such a thing. Making love was not an athletic activity; it was a joining. He would cover me with his body and his weight, skin on skin, heart over heart, breath to breath, filling the space in my heart as well as the one in my body. He would allow me to engulf him in every way, to hold him in my arms and within myself. My body screamed to be touched after so long alone, but more than anything, I craved that joining of the soul. I wished we had made love after my return, just once; because then the other would not be my most recent memory. It would be my husband's hand I felt on my neck and on my breast and on my thigh, and not those other hands.
The other - a painful memory, one I tried not to let in; but sometimes it seeped in anyway, pervading my mind and my body like a poison. I doubt he'd even wanted me, in my sickened state; but I had offered my body as a concession in exchange for one of his own, and he was not the sort of man to give without extracting something in exchange. He accepted my offer simply because he could, unaware that I wanted something else, something that he could give me in this act: the means to live. What had been done to me wasn't the horror of rape, but it left bile in my throat and ice in my veins, even now. More than anything, it left the raging fire of shame. And in those moments when the memory caught me unawares, I would pray for forgiveness - from my God, from my husband, from myself.
But sometimes it felt as though that was beyond the power of all three.
"What do you mean, you're out of ideas?"
Olga's expression was unhappy. "What you're seeking just can't be done with any of the pharmaceuticals currently available. You want something that will do nothing for twenty hours and then just magically kick in. These things don't come with a built-in time clock, you know."
I turned the pages of the report rapidly. "What's wrong with metabolic stimulants?"
Olga shook her head. "Adding metabolic stimulants to the formula is useless - people's bodies will come back too soon, and they'll die from the vaccine." Her tone left no room for argument, and I didn't try - I knew she was right, and she was tiring of playing teacher to a layperson. We were both on a hair-trigger of nerves after weeks of twenty-hour days.
"What about delayed-release metabolic stimulants?" I asked at last, with no idea of whether such a thing existed.
She shook her head. "There's no such thing. Sustained release, maybe, but not delayed release. You're not hearing me, Marita," she accused angrily. "What you're asking for is not possible. It requires a kind of precision which is outside the realm of the pharmaceutical. It's more like - I don't know, artificial intelligence."
I stared at her in shock - stared at her for a full five seconds, thunderstruck. I started to laugh, my blood pumping, my body alive with realisation. "Olga, you're a genius." She watched me with utter bewilderment, and the last thing I heard as I bolted out of the lab was her beleaguered sigh:
I jumped, startled. "What?" I hissed. I hadn't been aware of going to sleep. I looked around, disorientated. I was at my mother's, in the downstairs lab, and the jubilant voice belonged to Olga. My laptop was open before me, networked with the nanocyte controller and Michael Kritschgau's hard drive by a mass of leads. I blinked rapidly, and it all started to come back. "How long have I been asleep?"
"Six hours. You hadn't slept in two days - I didn't like to disturb you."
I shook my head to clear it. "Did you say it worked?" I was dimly aware of the noises in the background. Animals jumping and scratching and calling to one another. It sounded strange, and after a moment I pinned down the reason why. I was used to the quiet that usually followed the tests.
Olga was nodding. "Half got the vaccine administered after the pathogen. They all eliminated the pathogen, and were ill in the ways we've seen before for twenty hours. Then the nanocytes kicked in to boost the metabolism, and they came back."
I could feel my excitement building. "What about the others? The ones who got the vaccine first?"
"Same story. When the pathogen is introduced, the antibodies reproduce at a rapid rate and attack. The metabolic rate plummets to protect the body. Then, when the pathogen is gone and the free-floating antibodies have died, the nanocytes kick in and rebuild the metabolism." She looked at me curiously. "You really did it."
I was grinning like a gleeful idiot. "We did it," I corrected. "Thank God." I gave a low sigh of exhilarated relief. "Any side effects beyond the twenty hour recovery period?"
"Yes," Olga said, and at my stricken look, she held up a calming hand. "The metabolic kick-start seems to kick-start a one-off regenerative process, as well."
I frowned. "Explain."
"Well, for one thing, the vaccination scars are healing over. The cowpox protein is still there," she added at my look of alarm, "but the soft tissues are regenerating. That may make it difficult to tell those who have been vaccinated apart from those who never got a smallpox vaccine, but that's a relatively minor issue. More significant regeneration is taking place, as well: one of the monkeys was missing about two inches of a finger where a cage door had slammed on it."
I glared at her, temporarily diverted. "I expect better care of these animals than that."
"It didn't happen here," she said hastily. "It was at the breeder's. Anyway, it's growing back. Quite fascinating, because something like that doesn't regenerate in the normal scheme of things. It grows once, in utero, and then that's it. If you lose it, it's gone forever."
"Could bigger parts of the body be restored?" I asked, thinking of Alex.
"You mean like a limb?" she queried. "I doubt it. I think we're talking about a mild, one-off regeneration of small areas. We have other monkeys with more significant injuries, and they haven't healed. If I had to guess, I'd say we're looking at tissues and organs with a diameter of perhaps a few inches at most. Tonsils, glands, that sort of thing. We might see a rush on repeat circumcisions."
I laughed. "Will it cure disease?"
"No, but it will repair some of the damage. In some cases it will buy people time."
I rose from my stool awkwardly. "How the hell did I *sleep* there?" I marvelled. I stretched, my joints cricking in symphony. Olga winced. I rolled my head a little. "God, that hurts. Okay, so the nanocytes work in apes. Do they work in humans - and without doing any harm?"
"I couldn't say without a human subject."
"We need-" I broke off when my cell phone rang. "Sorry, Olga; hang on." I opened the flip. "Marita Krycek."
Spender's voice echoed through the phone. "Where are you?"
I made a face. "New York," I said with long-suffering weariness. "What do you want?"
If he heard my irritation, he chose to ignore it. "Practically next door," he said brightly. "I'm at the Summervale Inn in Pennsylvania. I'd like you to meet me."
I balanced the phone between my cheek and my shoulder. "Can it wait?" I said, ignoring Olga's reproving look. She'd been pestering me about the habit for a while. The words 'strained neck' were a recurring theme; she mouthed them now.
"I'm afraid it can't." I waited for the telltale static of exhaled smoke, but it didn't come. Could it be that he wasn't smoking?
"What the hell do you want, Spender?"
He said calmly, "I've drugged Dana Scully. I would like you to change her into more comfortable clothes."
He betrayed no awareness of the strangeness of his words. It was such an innocently peculiar request. Feeling slightly surreal, I snapped, "What am I, a fucking nursemaid? Do it yourself."
"I don't think that's appropriate," he said primly.
I thought about it. "All right," I said at last, "I'll come. Give me an hour." I rang off, and turned to Olga.
"I think we just got our human subject."
"This is a mind-fuck!"
Spender wrinkled his features in distaste. "You can be terribly uncouth, Marita," he said reprovingly. "It doesn't become you."
"You bring out the worst in me," I said coldly.
"That wasn't always the case."
I stared up at him in disbelief that he genuinely believed that, but decided it just wasn't worth pursuing. Instead, I said incredulously, "You seriously believe that when this woman wakes up and finds her clothes have been tampered with, she will feel safe with you?"
"If her underwear isn't disturbed, yes, I think she will." I shook my head incredulously. It was a logic that only Spender could have come up with. Not for the first time, I wondered if the inflammation in his brain might be affecting his intellect. He was not a stupid man, even now; but the lines that connected some of the greater complexities were going down. "I will have had her vulnerable and exposed, and yet I will not have taken advantage of her," he went on. "That counts for a lot."
I said disgustedly, "It does, doesn't it?"
He shot me a look, but said nothing; and then he left the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.
I watched him go, perplexed; then returned my attention to the task at hand. Dana Scully lay on the bed, dressed in a crisp business suit, two hours into a drug-induced slumber that should last for fifteen. I went dutifully to her overnight bag and withdrew her pyjamas - awful pink satin things. Painstakingly, I undressed the older woman, lifting each limb with care, until at last I had her laid out before me in her underwear. I looked at her lingerie approvingly: sensible white things befitting a woman on a mission. I noted the recording apparatus in her bra, and I decided to leave it there. I didn't know exactly what either of them were up to, but if Scully was out to outsmart Spender, I'd go along with it.
With my ear tuned to the sounds of movement behind the door, I withdrew a leather pouch from my pocket and opened it. Working quickly, I found a dark freckle on the fleshy part of Scully's thigh; drew vaccine up into a needle, and eased it into her flesh there, counting on the freckle to disguise the point of entry. I injected her with pathogen next. I opened her eyelids and took a cursory glance to be sure there was no telltale sheen of oil over her eyes; but the efficacy of the vaccine was not in question, and in any case, Scully was already immune. The question was, after her metabolism dropped in the course of killing the pathogen, would her body recover?
I packed up my pouch, looking nervously at the door, and gently swabbed away the spot of blood on Scully's leg. If all went well, I reflected, she would wake feeling ill, and she would probably accuse Spender of drugging her. She would write off the seven hours of malaise that followed to the after-effects. Of course, if things went wrong, she might stay ill; but I didn't really believe that would happen. I was pretty sure of my ground.
And at last, my faith was justified.
She and Spender went on with their odd little intrigue; and I gathered later that whatever the aim had been, Spender had won, but that the victory gave him no advantage. But that wasn't the point: the point was, Scully had the nanocytes in her body, and they did their job, and she suffered no ill-effects. I followed up with a test on myself, partly for scientific veracity, and partly in the desperate hope that my shredded uterine tissue would regenerate, allowing me to bear children once more. The four children I reared from afar had not eased my pain, but rather made it acute.
It wasn't enough testing - not by a long shot - but I was convinced enough of the vaccine's safety to take it to the Secretary General, my powerful ally. He, in turn, was convinced enough to create a top-secret taskforce within the World Health Organisation to formally test the vaccine and verify our findings.
Within a month, we had some preliminary results on the table, and a top-secret extraordinary meeting of the United Nations was called. I travelled to Geneva in my new capacity as Under-Secretary General and made a marathon thirteen-hour presentation, supported by presentations by Skinner, Senator Sorenson, Olga, and a small handful of surviving Consortium employees and abductees.
During the heated discussions that followed, several representatives admitted independent knowledge of the colonisation threat. That swayed the balance, and they voted in favour of the world vaccination program and an accompanying program of disinformation. The timetable for the release of the vaccine, subject to favourable testing outcomes, was less than twelve months. I signed over the manufacturing rights to the vaccine for an amount which was token in pharmaceutical terms, but which was enough to keep Alex and the children and I in comfort for the rest of our lives.
We'd done it.
We'd really done it.
On our last night in Geneva, Skinner came to me.
I knew what he wanted when he passed into my hotel room; I had known for a while, and that knowledge left me torn. It had been more than a year since I had last been touched; more than two since a man had truly made love to me. When he embraced me, I clung to him, consumed with ravenous, devastating need. He felt so substantial in my arms, so warm; and how I longed to be warm.
Cautiously, tentatively, he bent his head to mine and kissed me, a first kiss, steeped in fondness and caring. I tilted my head to meet him, opening my mouth beneath his, letting him taste me. For long, long moments, I relished what it was to be wanted and adored; but when he pulled away, I made no attempt at pursuit. We stood there, gazes locked for a long, silent moment. I felt deep sadness.
He swallowed painfully, and at last, he touched my cheek with tenderness. "It's not there, is it?" he said in a raw whisper, his hold on me loosening.
I could have let myself off the hook right then, denied that there was a choice to be made; but I didn't. There were truths here that I needed to honour with words. "It is," I admitted wistfully. "I want you, Walter. Maybe I even love you a little. But..." I trailed off, helplessly shaking my head.
"Alex," he supplied. His voice was kind.
I nodded. "Yeah," I agreed softly. I stroked his cheek with the back of my hand, and he leaned into it, his eyes closed painfully. I said gently, taking his hand in mine, "Alexi and I aren't over just because he's not my lover. He's the other half of my soul." Tears started to slip down my cheeks - a lot of them tears for Alex, but some of them for Walter, and some of them for myself, because I wanted to be held, and it hurt like hell to give that up. "I dishonoured that once, and even if he never touches me again, I can't do that again. I'd like to prove that I'm better than that."
He brushed away my tears, watching me steadily. He nodded in understanding. His eyes were unnaturally bright, and it hurt me to know that I had hurt this man, this faithful man I loved second only to one. He bent to kiss me once more, and I allowed it; and when he pulled away, he gently detached himself from me. "I love you, Marita," he said, still holding my hand.
"I love you, my friend," I whispered, squeezing it tightly before finally letting go. I watched as he went to the door, but as he turned the handle, I called his name. He turned back to me, his expression a question.
"Go to Dana," I counselled. I spoke not as a rejecting lover, but as a friend; and I prayed he heard it that way. "You loved her longer and better than you've ever loved me. You two have unfinished business."
He nodded slowly. "Maybe I will," he said gravely. He looked away, and started to turn the doorknob again, but then he turned back once more. "Do you remember that night Alex and I sat up drinking together? The night before you came back from Geneva?"
"Yes, I remember."
He said, his brow creasing, "There was something that he said that's stayed with me, and I think I finally know why."
"What was it?" I said curiously.
"He said - very flippantly, he said it - he said, 'I'd take your charms, but I'm a married man.'"
I looked at him blankly. "You knew he was bisexual," I said in confusion, not at the words but at why Skinner considered them significant.
He made a dismissive gesture. "Of course I did. You're missing the point." I looked at him, perplexed. "He said he was a married man," he said emphatically. "He still thinks of himself as your husband, Marita." He opened the door. "I don't think Dana and I are the only ones with unfinished business."
He left then, and I waited until his footsteps receded, and then I sank down on the lounge and wept. I wept for myself, and for Walter, and for Alex, sitting in a filthy jail cell for my cowardice; but more than anything, I wept because I feared I would never be held again.
Spender made his proclamation, not with a bang, but with a whisper. He was grey now, his body failing him. He was not as sick as I had been when he'd held me captive, but he looked remarkably similar - same red eyes, same cracked lips. It was not in me to feel pity for him, but nor could I feel the vengeful jubilance I had expected in anticipation of his final days.
I watched him warily. Even now, defeated and helpless, he struck me as someone capable of profound evil. He sat innocently in his wheelchair, but that did not ease my worry; it merely meant that the evil was momentarily in check. In a way, his helplessness frightened me more: Spender no longer had anything left to lose. That made him dangerous - more dangerous.
"Who's back?" I demanded at last.
Spender nodded to his nurse, who discreetly withdrew. After the door shut behind her, he said calmly, "The alien colonists are back."
I wondered fleetingly about the possibility of dementia. "The colonists are dead. The ones who were here died at the rebels' hands, and the ones on Mars couldn't have gotten here so fast." I spoke very evenly and calmly, unsure of my ground.
"They aren't from Mars. They're survivors from Antarctica."
"Antarctica?" I said in disbelief, my eyes wide.
Spender nodded. "Apparently your vaccine not only kills the pathogenic lifeform, but the humanoids as well." I nodded - Alex and I had already known that. "The UFO that broke anchor when Antarctica fell had one hundred and three colonists on board. They all became ill, and most died."
"Most?" I echoed with mounting fear.
Spender nodded. He looked satisfied. Could it be that the man thought this was a good thing? "The craft continued on autopilot for almost a year. When the six survivors recovered enough to restore contact with their own kind, the hybrid project had fallen, and Mars was at war over who should control the planned invasion."
I nodded slowly. His data matched Alexi's speculations and my own about the outcomes of the fall of the colonists. I was no longer humouring his demented ravings: the danger was real. "What did they do?" I asked finally in a deathly quiet voice.
"If they can make a hybrid and bring it home, they will have the political sway to take control from the rebels." I gasped, comprehending. "They've been working secretly in Oregon for five months now, trying to recreate what happened in Mulder last year."
"Have they succeeded?"
Spender shook his head. "No. Their craft collided with an air force plane last night. They fear the rebels will become aware of them, and so they are gathering up their subjects. They plan to move to another location once they have cleaned up the evidence of their actions."
I thought about this. "How do you know all this?" I demanded at last.
"I have been monitoring their transmissions home for some time."
I rose and walked to the window. I breathed out heavily, trying to make sense of what all this meant. A touch of condensation formed on the glass, and I wiped it away, absently. Spender watched me; I watched him watching me in the reflection. His expression was an odd mix of calculation and affection. It was an expression I had seen once before; but I shunted that memory aside hurriedly. I wouldn't think about that - not today.
At last, I turned back to face him. "So what does all this mean for us?"
He looked mildly annoyed at my lack of foresight. "It means we can find them and join them," he said, as though this were the obvious course of action. I could think of no strategy less appealing, save for surrender. "It means we can save ourselves."
"Save yourself, you mean," I said coldly. "If they take you home as the prized hybrid, they'll heal you and you will live."
"Don't you want to survive it, Marita?" he asked, truly puzzled. "You could join me. Be my consort."
With effort, I passed over the astoundingly repugnant implications of that. I demanded angrily, "Be queen of a race which will no longer exist? What's the point of that?"
He made a conceding gesture, but pointed out, "It's life." I watched him in stony silence, and at last, he said, "We can even bring Alex if it's that important to you. The crown prince. He can play Lancelot to your Guinevere." His tone was lightly mocking, but I could see he was serious.
I frowned. "And if I say yes - then what?"
"We find that ship, and join them on their journey home."
I thought - thought for some time. I thought about the vaccine, and how its distribution, unknown to Spender, was mere months away. I thought about the colonists, near enough to invade before then; and the warring groups on Mars, who were not. I thought about Alex - Alex, who wasn't immune. And slowly, the seeds of a plan began to grow in my mind.
We could really end this thing.
If I couldn't have my marriage, then at least I could have that - for myself, for my children, and for the man I loved.
"You say I can have Alex?" I demanded, my eyes bright.
"Certainly, you may have Alex." I watched him steadily.
"Then my answer is yes."
I know you have been wondering.
About Mulder and whatever became of him. About us, and what we did that brought about the new beginning we all share. I know you wonder about your daughter, and whether she is really yours - or whether she is even Dana's. And as Mare and I face our life anew, we have decided that you should know the truth of it.
We think of you often, Walter, especially now that we have Elena. It is for this reason that we have decided to send you these journals, to explain how it all came about. It is our gift to you in this precious time - a time that we finally share.
Before I go further, I will say this. On the day that we said goodbye, when Mare told you she had vaccinated Dana, we lied about when and how that came about, in a bid to preserve the friendship between us. The truth of it is elsewhere in these pages. However, the bare fact remains: Dana received the vaccine, and she received its regenerative properties; and that is how your child came to be. You need not hold any fears about her parentage, nor about her future.
The vaccination program progresses well, and I have enjoyed my work and the novelty of respectability; but Mare and I have resolved to resign our posts and remain in Tangier. Gibson's safety is paramount; no less important is the tranquillity we seek for all our children. Elizabeth and Shane aren't really ours, even now; but we have hope that that will change, as it has with Samuel. Even if it doesn't, though, we will still find ways of being a family - we always do.
I think you and Dana would like it here; and I hope that one day, when the wounds among us have healed enough, you will see it. It is a rambling house with an odd menagerie of children and pets - Mare even brought one of the lab monkeys - and the garden is beautiful. We spend most of our time out there with the sounds of the water and the warmth of the sun: after so long in darkness, we crave the light. Our happiness is undeserved, and that makes it all the more precious.
Mare is reading over my shoulder, and she sends her love as always. I know she is special to you as she is to me, and I believe you would find joy in seeing her as she is now. She runs about with the children in bare feet and white seersucker dresses, her hair long and unfettered; and her eyes are finally free of the shadows she has carried as long as I've known her. She's free now, as we all are.
And that alone has made it all worthwhile.
"Your release has been arranged."
I turned my head sharply at the words. They drew my attention with their language and their content; but most of all, with their sound. They were spoken in a high, clear voice - a female voice, an American voice, a strong voice.
A voice I'd thought I would never hear again.
Unbelieving, I pushed my way forward, parting a way through a sea of inmates, my footfalls reverberating in my mind. Her voice cut through my carefully nurtured oblivion; and as I approached her, I was cruelly aware of my broken state. I steamed filth and stench; my pores were dripping with it. It clung to the fine whiskers that protruded mercilessly from my flesh; it was embedded in the fibres of my clothes - clothes I had worn for a year. My sleeve was knotted, evidence of a loss I preferred to conceal. I had left her as she lay in the twilight between life and death; now, as I pushed my way to the front of the cell, she found me broken, and she was strong. I hated myself, and I hated her for leaving me here, and I hated her for seeing me this way.
"Marita Covarrubias," I hissed, deliberately using her maiden name. "The last time I saw you, I left you for dead."
I regretted it even before the hurt flickered over her eyes - it was a cruel, unnecessary thing to do, and part of me knew that even before she drew herself up and cut me down as I deserved. "Alex, if it was strictly up to me, I'd leave you here to rot, too," she said, her dismissal mercilessly efficient; and it stung, though I had no right to expect anything else.
The guard opened the cell, sliding the barred gate aside; but I didn't even see him. I saw only the sudden absence of barrier between us. I stepped out, advancing on her, my gaze locked on hers. Her scent washed over me. Mine must have washed over her, too; but she didn't step back. I didn't think she would. She only asked in Arabic to be escorted to the shower, her voice mildly neutral, her eyes never leaving me.
We walked to a room that passed for a bathroom in silence, and when the guard left us, she nodded towards a bench. There were toiletries and clothes waiting - and my prosthesis. Still, she didn't speak; still, she betrayed no reaction to me; but I noticed that the jeans were in my normal cut and the toiletries were in my usual brands. Even under her steely gaze, it comforted me to know that someone knew me so well.
She made no move to leave, which I supposed was fair enough, given we'd been married nearly five years. As for the idea of asking her to go - that opened a whole new can of worms. The only thing that made me more uncomfortable than her seeing me this way was the idea of her perceiving my discomfort about the fact. So I went to the sink and shaved, clipped my nails, cleaned my teeth - anything to delay exposing myself to her. But soon, there were no tasks left; and my desire to be clean was fast outstripping the problem of her scrutiny. She'd left me here, after all; let her live with what it had done to me.
So I stripped, horribly aware of the wasting in my muscles and the dark shadows in the hollows of my stomach and my chest. She watched me steadily, her expression inscrutable; but she closed and unclosed her fingers compulsively, and I was bitterly pleased that I could still touch her that way. I felt my self-awareness and discomfort melt away: it wasn't really her seeing that bothered me, but the thought that she mightn't care.
I stood under the hot spray, relishing the feel of it, cleaning myself unselfconsciously. I looked at her appraisingly, making no attempt to hide the fact. Before I'd come here, I'd known she was strong again; but I hadn't seen her, and to do so now was something that gave me real warmth. Despite the bitterness I'd felt towards her over the last year - and there hadn't really been a lot of it - I had always wanted that for her.
The wasting was gone. She was svelte, but toned...powerful. Her hair was longer, the way it had been when we were first married; and it was glossy. I remembered plunging my hands into that hair on our wedding night, cradling her, plundering her with my mouth. I closed my eyes, flinging my head back to face the shower spray, banishing these images. I was hard, and I wondered if she'd noticed; then decided I'd rather not know.
"Who sent you?" I demanded at last, determined to focus on something else. Something other than my wife, and how I wanted to stalk across the room in three strides and take her; never mind the guard outside, never mind her crisp white clothes, never mind that she almost certainly despised me, and with good cause.
"The smoking man," she said, and that didn't surprise me: she had to have been in contact with him to find me in the first place. The surprise was in the words that followed. "He's dying."
I stared at her, slack-jawed, thunderstruck. She didn't elaborate. Instead, she said quietly, "Did you have any trouble in here?"
I shook my head. "No. By day I could take care of myself, by night I was in solitary." I wiped streaming water from my face; said pointedly, "I guess that birthday bracelet was money well spent."
She retorted coolly, "Actually, I wanted them to treat you worse, but you know how bad my Arabic is." She walked past me, tossing her hair in a show of false bravado, moving towards her bag.
Quick as lightning, I reached out and pulled her against me, holding her roughly by the arm. She gave a cry of protest as the spray hit her, drenching her in an instant. Her face was upturned, and I lowered my lips to hers. "You're full of shit, Marita," I hissed, my mouth brushing her as I spoke. The length of her body was moulded to mine, wet and cool; our skin was almost touching, only a sliver of wet fabric between us. My hardness brushed her stomach, not pressing into her, but not held away, either.
The tension was incredible.
Her breaths came in shallow gasps; bright spots of colour rose on her cheeks. Water coursed over her, clinging to her hair and her eyelashes in tiny droplets. Her eyes were gleaming, her mouth open a little; and her breaths came in irregular, shallow pants. I could feel my body crying out to hers as though for a missing part of myself. I thought I would have to either thrust her away or have her right then - I could have done it in an instant, just by pulling aside her skirt and lifting her onto me; and I think that she would have allowed it - but I did neither of those things. Instead, my hold on her loosened, and I burst out in genuine laughter.
"What?" she demanded, affronted, breathlessly confused.
"It's good to see you, Mare," I sighed, grinning amiably - and whatever else had happened between us, it was. My body still throbbed for her, but the tension was dissipating - both physical and otherwise.
She shot me an unwilling smile. "It's good to see you too, Alex," she admitted, her voice suffused with genuine warmth. She stepped away, chagrined. "You made me wet, you son of a bitch."
I pulled the crude lever, shutting off the water, and went to her, taking the towel she held out. "Sorry."
"No, you're not," she said good-naturedly. She sat down on the bench, wiping her hair with a towel for a few moments; but soon discarded the idea as futile. I slipped on my prosthesis and fastened the strap across my chest, and flexed the hand experimentally. I still had the muscle control to operate the myoeletric sensors, much to my relief.
She handed me a shirt. Her dress was drying in the heat, but I could still see the damp lines of her underwear. She regarded my groin appraisingly. "You're going to need a shoehorn to get your trousers on," she said clinically.
"Don't be crass." I pulled on my jeans and turned away to fasten them, not wanting her to see me wrestle with the task, and I could hear her breathing become erratic as she struggled heroically against sounds of mirth. Shooting her a filthy look, I sat down at her side; but she gave me a gorgeous smile in response. I returned it ruefully. "How are the children?"
"Good," she said, pushing aside a dripping tendril of her hair. She flicked the water from her fingers at me irritably. "Gibson's been missing you. He's in Tangier now, with the others. We're going to have to spend some time with them when this is over." I was going to ask what she meant by 'this', but decided it could wait. "Samuel is okay, but Elizabeth and Shane are still pretty traumatised. They're struggling."
I nodded slowly. "What's the guardianship situation?"
"You're guardian under Diana's will," she said, and that didn't surprise me. It had come down to Mulder or me, and Mulder hadn't known they existed. "I've been exercising power of attorney to make decisions about their care." Then, hastily, "I'll hand over the reins to you now, of course."
"Don't be silly," I reproved. We were silent for a long moment, and I was conscious of renewed tension. It was the first time we'd referred, even obliquely to our separation. Hastily, I asked, "What does Spender want?"
"What he *wants*," she said deliberately, "is for us to locate a group of surviving colonists so that he can offer himself as a hybrid and be healed." My eyes widened, both at the news of survivors and at the implications of Spender's plan. She gave a grim smile. "But what he's going to get is another matter."
I regarded her curiously. "You've got a plan." How tantalising it was to see her like this - calculating, planning, acting. She exuded power and latent strength. I'd loved to watch that even before she was sick; I loved it a thousand times more now.
"I've got better than that," she said with sudden, shy pride. "I've got a vaccine."
I stared at her, thunderstruck. "One that can be distributed?" I said sharply. She nodded with a childlike grin - gleeful and ear-to-ear - and I hugged her impulsively, holding her close against my body. Pulling back to hold her by the shoulders, I said with awed satisfaction, "You did it, Mare!"
"*We* did it," she corrected; and then we both became aware that I was holding her, and we broke apart abruptly. She cleared her throat, and went on hurriedly, "The World Health Organisation has already approved a timetable for its distribution." I looked at her with admiration. I had the political background, but she had an instinct for it that I didn't. It was fascinating to watch. She went on deliberately, "We only need eight months. As far as I know, these colonists are the only ones that could pose a threat between now and then - no-one else could get here in time."
I stared at her, comprehending the danger. "We've got to find them," I said urgently. She nodded gravely:
"Let's end this thing once and for all."
There was war amid the silence.
We didn't speak in the plane. Instead, she drowsed, and I watched her intently. My muted anger at her for leaving me in that hellhole was not diminished by time; nor was my remorse. I waged an inner war over her, like a forbidden land with suspect treaties and conflicting claims. My love and my anger fought for supremacy over her - over me - and love was winning.
I wanted to kiss her tenderly. I wanted to kiss her hard, aggressively, possessively. I wanted her to forgive me. I wanted her to hate me, so that I could hate her. And underneath it all was a desire to drag her into my arms and never let go. How much of that was love, and how much the headiness of her scent after two-and-a-half years' celibacy, I couldn't have said.
We disembarked in Casablanca. Our connecting flight was not til morning, so she proposed a hotel. Eager to sleep in a proper bed, I gratefully agreed.
The concierge asked for a name, and Mare said smoothly, "Marita Krycek." I shot her a glance; but she had said it automatically and was unaware of the fact. By the time she looked up, my expression was carefully neutral once more. She asked for a twin room without consulting me, and I didn't argue the point. I waited to be told they had only doubles; but that didn't eventuate. Evidently, my life had not yet become a cheesy soap opera. I'm not sure whether I was disappointed or relieved.
We settled in the room, and I sank gratefully into a hot bath, soaking up the little luxuries of freedom. Mare came in with a drink - Dom Benedictine, my favourite - and handed it over wordlessly, her expression neutral. "It's not poisoned, is it?" I asked dryly, taking the glass. At her filthy look, I mumbled an apology.
"Don't get excited," she reproved, sitting on the edge of the tub. "It was the first thing I laid my hands on in the minibar." At my doubtful look, she snapped, "Oh, damn it, Alex, it is poisoned. Just shut up and drink." I laughed and did as I was told. It was my first Benedictine in a year. If it were poisoned, it would be worth it.
We drank in silence, but at last, she spoke. "I'm sorry I left you in that place," she said matter-of-factly. I looked at her, frowning, querying. "Spender threatened me if I got you out," she said by way of explanation, and I nodded in sudden understanding. She met my gaze, then gave a low sigh. She said contritely, "But I shouldn't have left you there. It was a cowardly thing to do."
I waved my hand in dismissal of this. "Forget it," I said easily. "Chalk one up for bad karma." At her dubious look, I sighed; said gravely, "I blame him, Mare, but I don't blame you." That wasn't entirely true - or hadn't been, at any rate - but threats or not, I was prepared to let her off the hook for it. After all, I abandoned her first.
"Thank you," she said softly. She rose to leave, but she stopped at the door. "I have something of yours," she said abruptly. She pulled something from her pocket and left it on the handbasin, silver and gleaming.
Not silver. White gold.
My wedding ring.
She turned and left, closing the door gently behind her.
I rose in a single movement, water sliding off me in a rush, and stepped out of the bath, staring at it. I remembered them ripping it from my hand at the penal colony a year before; and I remembered Mare handing over twenty thousand dinari there earlier that day, and thinking that it was an overly generous bribe just for my release. Looking up at the closed door, I wondered what she would think if I left it off. I wondered what she would think if I put it on. And then I decided I didn't care what she thought. I was her husband, and that hadn't changed.
With a reflective sigh, I put it on, and I have worn it ever since.
We were fighting.
I'd tell you what the fight was about, if I could remember. Something stupid, undoubtedly. The air was thick with renewed tension when I came out of the bathroom; Mare was morose and petulant, and the next thing I knew we were squabbling like children. We were on a hair-trigger, both of us; ready for war, ready for love, navigating a precarious tension between the two.
At last, fed up, I started for the door, with no clear idea of where I would go. The bar, maybe. "I don't need this, Marita," I snapped in frustration, grabbing the doorknob.
She grabbed my arm, turning me around roughly. "Damn it, Alexi-"
She stopped, realising her mistake. In using the old name she had revealed something of how she thought of me. She pushed me away abruptly. "Alex," she corrected breathlessly.
I pulled her back to me, just as abruptly, lowering my face to hers. I kissed her, hard; and she kissed me back with a sound of longing, her mouth warring with mine, aiming to conquer rather than surrender.
She lifted her hands to my hair, threading fingers through it, holding me to her. She pressed herself against me, so warm, so powerful, so exquisitely strong. She pushed me against the door, pulling my shirt out of my jeans, her hands sliding up my back, shooting a line of lazily-growing fire over my nerves.
I stroked down her shoulder to her breast, my hand firm on her, yielding no more than she did. "Mare," I breathed into her mouth, sliding my hand back up over her neck, teasing her hair relentlessly with my fingers. I engulfed her mouth with mine, determined to subdue her and bend her to my will; not tamed, only kept in check. My wanting was urgent, aggressive; but against sanity, against even instinct, I felt my avid need for her recede in the face of something more. My hold on her became less fierce, and my mouth slowed, kissing her forehead, then her lips once more.
Her hands flew to my face, fingertips dancing on my cheeks, as our kiss grew tender. I tasted her lips, dipped my tongue between them delicately, cherishing her. I cradled her head, soft hair threaded between my fingers. No longer was I duelling with my opponent; I was loving my wife, the woman I had given my life to; and I was lost to her all over again. I gave myself over to her, sighing in rueful surrender. I slid my hand into the top of her shirt at the back, pulled it aside, kissed the soft whiteness of her neck. She gave a low sound, and I stayed there for a long moment, breathing her scent, intoxicated.
Suddenly, she tore away. "Damn it, Alex," she shouted, "I won't be your whore!" She pulled her shirt back in place, and stalked out onto the balcony. I watched her go unhappily, and sank morosely into a chair, my head in my hand.
At last, I rose, and followed her out there. She was sitting on the chaise lounge, smoking. I hadn't seen her do that in years. She didn't look at me when I sat at her side; but we sat there in an oddly companionable silence, looking out over the streets of Casablanca. I could see the lights of El Jadida dimly in the distance.
"I don't think of you that way," I said, at last. "No matter how hurt I've been, I've never thought of you that way. Never," I repeated at her sharp look. "What happened back there wasn't just being alone all this time. It wasn't just sex." I finished in a low voice, "It's never just sex between us."
"No, it isn't," she agreed softly.
I took one of her cigarettes without asking. We sat there, smoking; but at last, she said curiously, "What did you mean at Forj Sidi Toui? About leaving me for dead?"
I hung my head remorsefully. "I shouldn't have said that, Mare."
"No - I said things I shouldn't have, as well," she said apologetically. "But you meant something by it, and I would like to know what it was."
I looked at her, perplexed. "What I did to you," I said in self-reproach. "The way I left you."
"Left me?" she echoed in bewilderment. "You saved me, Alex. I was dying. You got me help just in time."
I said painfully, "You were dying because I walked off my anger for five hours instead of staying to help you. You were dying because I was a self-absorbed coward." At her stunned look, I said, "You didn't know that?"
Slowly, she shook her head. "I remember asking you to help me, and then I remember waking up in the hospital, after it was all over, and you weren't there." Her voice was even, but low, and tinged with sadness.
"You lost your child because of me," I confessed, my face hot with shame.
She watched me for a long moment. She was frowning thoughtfully. "Please look at me, Alex," she said at last. Her voice was gentle. Reluctantly, I complied, and she said softly, "You don't seriously think I could have carried to term in the condition I was in, do you?"
I shrugged uncertainly, my shoulders hunched. I said in a low, raw voice, "Your fertility-"
"Probably doomed the moment the placenta tore away," she said implacably. "That wasn't your doing."
I said harshly, "You could have died, Mare."
She stared at me in realisation. "You've been blaming yourself," she said with wonder - and compassion.
I hung my head, swallowing hard. "I couldn't face you, Mare. Not after what I cost you." My voice was thick with pain.
"That's why you stayed away?" she gasped, her cheeks wet with sudden tears. At my silent nod, she said in anguish, "I thought it was because of the child." Her eyes were wide, unnaturally bright.
I stared at her, stunned. "No," I whispered, shaking my head. "I made peace with that the night it happened." She bowed her head, the lines of her body slumped, her cheeks glistening with silent tears in the light of the moon. "I never intended any harm to you or your child, Mare. I hope you can believe that, even if you can't forgive."
She met my gaze once more. "I do forgive you, Alex," she said softly. She took my hand in hers and threaded her fingers through mine. I held it tightly.
We stayed that way, silently watching the stars. "Alexi?" she said at last. At my look, she went on in a low voice, "I'd like to tell you about the child...about why it happened."
I shook my head. "I don't want to know." I spoke more sharply than I'd intended, and she drew back a little. "I don't need to know," I amended more gently, squeezing her hand reassuringly.
"Maybe not," she whispered. "But I think I need to tell - if you're willing to hear," she added hesitantly. I didn't want to hear it, but I had abandoned her too many times already; so I nodded. She explained, "I'd been in the tests for five months. The scientists were talking - they thought I was asleep."
"What did they say?" I asked; but I thought I already knew the answer. There were discussions I'd had about my own prisoners at Norylsk - sick prisoners who had been tested to the very brink of death. I understood the danger to her in that time, perhaps better than she had herself. The full weight of my own wrongdoing hit me then, and I flinched with sudden agony.
She was staring at the floor, struggling for composure, and she didn't notice. "That my body was so decimated that my results were unreliable. They didn't know what was the vaccine and what was drug interactions and what was my illness anymore."
"They were going to list you for termination," I said slowly, squeezing her fingers tightly.
"Yeah." She looked at me; said reflectively, "I remembered what you said about me being valuable because I was fertile - that they would want to know whether the immunity was hereditary." I sighed heavily, my eyes closed in sudden pain. I wasn't sure whether to be thankful or to hate myself. "I didn't even know if I could get pregnant," she said helplessly. "I was so sick. But my cycle was still normal, so I thought - maybe-" she broke off, shaking her head miserably.
"How did you do it?" I asked quietly, without reproach.
She looked away for a long moment. She said, oddly reserved, "I asked a guard if I could see Gibson." Looking at me once more, she explained, "I said that I understood it was a concession, and that I would reciprocate with one of my own. That's how I knew where to find him when you got us out." She went on, her voice low and raw, "He - it wasn't violent or - or rough - but it-" she broke off, shaking her head, impatient with her own weakness. "I can't," she said suddenly. All at once, I drew her close, laying her head on my shoulder, holding her tightly, sadly. I buried my face in her hair. She clung to me, said in a dull voice, "I'm sorry, Alex."
I shook my head; pulled away, quoting softly, "We all do what we have to do to survive, Mare." I stroked back her hair. "We are man and wife. Your sins are my sins." She smiled faintly in the moonlight, remembering that day in Tunguska. "There is no room for punishment between us."
She nodded in acceptance of this. "I love you, Alexi." She drew up my fingers to her lips; brushed them pensively. "I never stopped."
"I love you," I rejoined. "You're still my wife." I looked at her, meeting her gaze. "You're still my life."
She rested her head against mine, forehead to forehead for a long moment; then rose, our hands still entwined. She tugged gently, and I got up. "Let's get some sleep," she whispered.
I nodded, and I followed her, but I was troubled. Something about her account didn't hold water. I had a sudden feeling she was holding something back, but decided not to pursue it. Mare had been in a war, and you don't push people who've been in a war.
That didn't stop me from speculating, of course. Her story held up, but the way she'd looked away when she identified a guard as the father troubled me greatly. I remembered her when I found her, frail, marred by her illness. I'd wanted her then as now, but I was her husband: she was always beautiful to me. To another man, an objective man - and I would never say this to her - she wasn't, in that time, a woman to be touched with desire. With pity, or horrified self-loathing, perhaps, but not desire. It took a particular mentality to accept an offer such as she had proposed, and that mentality wasn't something I could reconcile with a strapping young Marine. It was the mentality of a man drunk on power above all else, a man who would accept such an offer just because it was one more opportunity to exercise that power.
I froze, biting off the end of that awful, awful thought; but it wouldn't leave me. I stared at her retreating back; imagined his hand on it, imagined her staring at him - this man who had killed her mother and her child - and the strength it must have taken to allow it without weeping or screaming.
No. Absurd. Unthinkable. Why did it matter who it was anyway? And then the answer, inescapable in its logic and mortally sad in its meaning:
Because it mattered to her.
I blinked. "Yes, Mare?" I couldn't quite keep the raw compassion from my voice.
"What is it?" I realised I'd stopped still near the lounge, my hand still in hers.
I watched her steadily. "Nothing. It's nothing," I said softly.
She held my gaze for a long moment, watching me appraisingly, her expression doubtful; but she shrugged. "Okay." She looked over at the two single beds, side by side. "The floor?" she said questioningly, and I nodded absently. She started moving cushions and pillows to the floor, and I followed suit, watching her, still troubled.
We knelt on the floor, and she started to take off her clothes, but I took her hand, staying her. "Mare?" She looked at me, her expression querying. "I don't need to reclaim you like some macho caveman," I said in a low voice. "I'd like to think I'm better than that."
Her look was gentle. "You are better than that," she said softly. "But I want to be reclaimed. I want to be yours. I want you to be mine." She was smiling.
"I am," I said ruefully.
She slid her arms around my shoulders. She leaned into me, and kissed me with warm, tender lips. "Then make love to me. Take what's yours."
So I did.
I looked on him in horror.
Mare had warned me that he looked bad, but I hadn't been prepared for this. He was still the man who killed my child, who took my wife and son away; but he was also wretched...pathetic. I watched him, transfixed, disgusted and dismayed in turns.
"I heard about your incarceration," Spender said mildly, oblivious to my reaction.
"You had me thrown in that hellhole," I snapped bitterly. It was the least of his sins; but if I let myself think of the others, I would kill him with my bare hands.
"For trying to sell something that was mine, was it not?" he retorted in a rattling whisper. "I hope we can all move forward...put the past behind us. We have a singular opportunity now."
"A singular opportunity?" I said dumbly. He believed Mare and I were estranged, and it was better that he continued to believe that. If he thought he could play us against one another, perhaps we could make that to our advantage. Better that he thought she'd left me in the dark.
"There's been a crash in Oregon. An alien craft has collided with a military aircraft..."
I tuned out. I already possessed the information, and my attention had been caught by something else. Something about Mare, and how she carried herself - not quite at my side, but a half-step behind, subtly putting me between herself and Spender. Her breathing was shallower than usual, something only a husband would notice. Her face was as inscrutable as ever, but there was an odd harshness in the lines of her cheek and her chin, something overly controlled. The question that had occurred to me fleetingly the previous night, like a snake raising its head, suddenly came to me again, this time at full force. And this time, I could not nervously dismiss the idea as absurd. This time, reluctantly, sadly, I was sure.
It was Spender.
It was Spender to whom Mare had offered herself. It was Spender whom she had taken into herself, taking life from him - this man who had only ever brought death - in a desperate bid to save her own. And she had carried his child willingly, nurturing it in spite of its paternity and in spite of her frailty, carrying it for four months against all odds through sheer power of will. It made me deeply, mortally sad.
"...our chance to rebuild the project," he finished in pitiful glee. I couldn't speak, or move; because if I moved, I would kill him - I was certain of it. I wanted to kill him; I wanted to hurt him; I wanted to bring him down the short distance left to his knees. I wanted all those things; all those things any man wants - any decent man - when another man violates the most precious thing in his world. But more than anything, I wanted it all to be over. I wanted to take her home to Tangier, to shelter her and help her to forget. Neither before nor since have I hated so much and loved so much in a single moment.
"How do you know someone hasn't already recovered it?" Mare was saying, saving me from the need to respond. Her voice was cold. Spender looked at us smugly.
"It's never quite so easy."
I hated leaving her.
I hated knowing that she would be with him in my absence, that she would sit stiffly in that apartment in the furthest chair from him that she could, that she would endure his presence with cold revulsion. It brought out all my protective instincts. I toyed with the idea of taking her to Oregon with me, but that would reveal our unity to him; and we needed his information. He was giving it out piecemeal in a bid to protect himself and his plans.
Mulder and Scully were in Oregon, too, looking for a missing policeman who had been abducted. The colonists were swiftly collecting up their test subjects, and the Bellefleur population was dropping at an alarming rate. Time was running out before the ship could be located; before it moved on with its subjects in tow.
Mare hacked into the FBI's e-mail server and was able to add to our information. There was a location in the woods, near where the policeman had gone missing, in which Scully had experienced a strange collapse. "She speaks of a sense of being lifted and shaken," she said absently, and I could hear her fingers tapping at lightning speed over her keyboard. "She's not certain whether that's actually what happened, though. She's very noncommittal here. I won't tell you what Skinner wrote back - it's personal - but he's pretty worried."
I frowned, thinking it over. "I was on the phone to Spender earlier on. He says the craft is shielded by some kind of energy field."
"I was there," she said, her tone noticeably cooler. Then, in a worried voice, "Do you think Scully might have run into the field?"
"More like tripped over it, by the sounds of things," I mused into the phone.
"It didn't let her in," she said slowly. The keyboard tapping had stopped. "That's bad news. I'd already stolen one of her implant chips from the Pentagon. She's an abductee - I was sure she'd get aboard."
I said grimly, "So was I."
"So how do we breach it?" she demanded urgently. "What could it be looking for in the people it lets in, besides implants?"
It was a good question, and not one I'd considered in exactly those terms. "Something involving electrical impulses," I hazarded. "Something with set fluctuations that an energy field can detect."
"Brain waves?" Mare wondered. She said thoughtfully, "Spender's operation was around the frontal lobe when he took the hybrid genes from Mulder."
I damn near choked. "What did you say?" She started to speak, and I amended, "No, I know what you said - I mean, are you saying it might let Mulder aboard?"
There was a moment of dead silence; and then she said slowly, "Why, yes...yes, I think it might."
"We could end it," I said breathlessly. "*He* could end it."
"He could," she agreed slowly. "You still have a stiletto somewhere, and there are explosives...there are ways." She sounded wary. "But Alexi," she asked, very gently, "are you sure you want to do this?"
She'd cut to the heart of it, as she always did. I hung my head miserably. "No," I said morosely, "but it has to be done. It's gone too far, Mare. Too many people have died. It has to end here."
There was a rustling sound. I could picture her nodding. "That's true," she conceded.
"Mulder has no family, no children - just the work," I said, urgently. "And the work is about to end. Maybe he was born for this - to die so that others can live."
Her voice was gentle. "Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?"
"Mare, please-" I stopped short, my breath catching in my throat.
"I'm not trying to be unkind," she said softly. "Think whatever you need to think to get through - and for what it's worth, I think you might be right. But you loved him. I don't begrudge that - I never have. You don't have to go through this alone."
My face felt very hot - with shame, with pain, with sorrow. "You're very good to me, Mare," I said thickly.
She gave an indulgent sound. "I love you, Alex," she sighed. "Try to get some sleep."
But sleep was a long time coming.
"Why me and why now?"
A lesser man might have asked first where the alien craft came from, or how we knew about it; but not Mulder. Trust him to get right to the heart of the matter in a single stroke. And I would have told him; but Skinner was there, and this was one quest Mulder had to face alone.
But he was waiting for an answer; so I gave him another truth, a lesser one. "I want to damn the soul of that cigarette-smoking son of a bitch." I said it with venom, and Mare shot me a worried glance; but didn't comment.
Mulder, Mare, Skinner and I turned in unison, confronting Scully as a single unit; and for a long moment, she stared at us, transfixed. I hadn't seen her in several years, and for just a second she appeared to me as her sister - the sister I carried with me, along with the rest of my victims. I blinked, and the illusion passed.
Mare broke the silence. "Agent Scully, we haven't met. I'm Marita Krycek." Abruptly, Mulder turned to face me, putting it all together at last; but I ignored him, moving to Mare's side, sending an unobtrusive but firm message. I wanted to get the speculation over with as quickly and quietly as possible.
"Hello," Scully said evenly, but she didn't offer her hand. She went on, discernibly colder, "Hello, Krycek." Dimly, I heard Mulder conducting a muted telephone conversation in the background.
"Good to see you, Scully." She raised her eyebrows at that, but didn't comment; only looking from Mare and I to Skinner, and back again. I wondered how much he had told her in bed - and how much he hadn't. I was pretty sure that the identity of his best friend's husband fell into the latter category. She looked pissed.
Mulder put the phone back in its cradle. "All right, people," he said in a high voice. "The Gunmen will be here in an hour with some data for us, so we have some play time." He shot us a look. "We should all stay close together," he said warily. "There's safety in numbers."
We all nodded, and we passed the next little while in Skinner's office, chatting. Skinner handed around drinks, and he and I talked amicably. Our friendship, if you could call it that, had always been on a provisional basis; but, bound by a common fondness for Mare, we'd become skilled at co-existence. Scully and Marita exchanged small talk for a while. I'm not quite sure what small talk women exchange, but they were similar in temperament, and they seemed to get along all right. Mulder watched Marita and I in turn, his expression wary.
The dark man had said once that anyone could see that Mare and I were committed to one another. Mare told me about it because she'd thought it was a peculiar choice of words. I had to admit that he was right. Watching ourselves in an attempt to perceive us as Mulder and Scully perceived us, I noted with amusement the multitude of little ways we gave ourselves away. We didn't use endearments, but there were other things - the way when Skinner absent-mindedly passed me a drink from my left, Mare automatically reached for it and passed it to my hand on my right, still talking, unaware that she'd done it. Scully's eyebrows shot up in trademark fashion at that. It felt very peculiar; but it also felt good. The number of people who knew us as husband and wife was small. In being perceived that way, I felt the shy pride I'd felt in Russia as a newlywed. It was so ridiculously sweet to feel that way, but I didn't mind - not really. Ridiculously sweet was an improvement on most things I felt that day.
I'm not sure how it happened, but eventually, Scully and I wound up talking. Mare was talking to Skinner, I think, and Mulder was on the phone with the Gunmen; and we were the odd ones out. We talked awkwardly for a few moments about the weather, then fell silent.
"You were there with Luis Cardinale when he shot my sister, weren't you?" she asked presently. I started to protest, but she said, "I'm not going to slug you, Krycek. I just want to know."
I watched her for a long moment; but finally, I nodded. "Yes, I was there."
She deliberated for a few moments; but at last, she asked, "I just- really need to know, Alex. Did she - did she suffer?"
I didn't want to answer, but dimly, I recognised that it was important do so. It was something that cost me only remorse - remorse I already lived with - but that would give so much. After a long moment, I shook my head. "It was dark. She never saw us. She wasn't afraid. She didn't even cry out, and she was unconscious before she hit the ground. She didn't suffer."
Scully nodded. "Thank you." She gave a low sigh, but betrayed no other reaction.
"Try not to think too badly of us," I said softly. "We've been on the same side, all along."
"You killed people," she said, not so much in accusation as a statement of fact.
"So have you."
"Never an innocent," she countered, looking at me.
"I've killed a few so a much greater number could live," I said. "I know that's not your ethic, and maybe it isn't the right one; but it's an ethic nonetheless." I looked across the room at Mare thoughtfully. "We've all lost so that the world could live - a world that will never care," I added bitterly. "Every quest has casualties, and we had no more choice in our quest than you did in yours."
That seemed to touch her for a moment, but then she frowned. "What do you know of loss?" she demanded. "And I don't mean your arm. We're all maimed here, one way or another."
I nodded, acknowledging the truth of this. "Two children," I said softly. Scully flinched, and I knew she was thinking of Emily. "They had Mare in the tests. She was gone for eight months. She was a prisoner of war," I said distantly, thinking of Spender and the child, "and she suffered like one. And she didn't have the mercy of amnesia." Scully glanced over at her with a fleeting look of empathy. "They told me she was dead," I said softly. "That cigarette smoking son of a bitch even gave me ashes and told me they were her." She was looking at me once more, her brow creased with horrified compassion. I looked at her, suddenly really seeing her. I said sharply, "I know what you think of me, Scully, but I love my wife."
"I can see that," she said quietly. She asked curiously, "How long have you been married?"
"Five years in February." She looked genuinely surprised, and I gave a rueful laugh. "I know what you're thinking. How does a guy like me wind up with a woman like her?" I shot her a wry smile.
"Actually, I was thinking that a man who remembers his wedding anniversary can't be all bad."
She laughed at my expression, and then she rose, and left me.
I looked up as Mulder sat down at my side. He was holding a folder emblazoned with the UN logo. It had a broken security seal. He was ashen.
"Mare told you?" I said, nodding to the folder. Mare shot me a glance from across the room, then made a beeline for Skinner and Scully, engaging them in conversation, carefully positioning herself so that they faced away from us. I gave her a nod of thanks.
Mulder looked confused for a second, but then realised I spoke of Marita. "Yes. There's a working vaccine - it goes out in eight months." He said dryly, "Bet you cashed in on that."
How could he know me so well and so badly at the same time? I shrugged indifferently. "Nowhere near as much as we could have. Enough to take care of Mare and the children, that's all."
Mulder stared at me in disbelief. "You have children?"
I nodded. "Four of them." I nearly laughed at his expression, and I watched him wrestle with the math before relenting. "They're adopted."
"You *adopted* children?" He looked at me as though I had suddenly morphed into - well, a little grey alien, I suppose.
I did laugh then. "I'm not the monster you think I am, Mulder."
He shook his head. "No, I never thought that," he said reflectively. "Many things, but not that." He looked at me sharply. "This alien ship - it's a threat, isn't it?"
I nodded. "They're the only ones close enough to start colonisation before we can get the vaccine out." I cautioned, "If they were to find out about Spender-"
"I understand." He toyed with the folder for a moment, then met my gaze. "You know, in Oregon, there was this place where Scully was struck down. Like the energy field you described. She was denied access to the craft. It didn't want her," he realised. "*They* didn't want her."
I half-turned to face him. "But you, Mulder - you had the hybrid genes," I said earnestly. "I think it will let you in."
He stared at me, thunderstruck. "You want me to go aboard and stop it. You want me to kill the colonists." He looked to me for confirmation, and reluctantly, I nodded. I said gravely:
"I think you might be the only one who can."
"They're looking at us like we have two heads."
Mare laughed, turning with me. "Let's give them something to look at, then," she said, leaning up to kiss me tenderly. I shot her a smile, tucking a stray tendril of hair back off her face, but said nothing. I was troubled.
The evening had been Mulder's idea - dinner and drinks before he and Skinner left on a late flight to Oregon. He'd made it sound casual, but I wasn't deceived. Mulder knew the lay of the land. It saddened me to think of it; but it was better that he went prepared. Mulder was going to die with his boots on, facing his quest head-on - and perhaps that's the best way to die. He was dancing with Scully across the floor, his gaze fond; and I thought he was saying goodbye to her in his heart.
"Penny for your thoughts," Mare said softly.
"Not sure they're worth that much." She laughed a little at that, and out the corner of my eye I saw Skinner cut in on Mulder and Scully. Mulder passed us, watching curiously. I met his gaze for a fleeting moment. "What about yours?"
She hesitated, moving fluidly with me; but finally, she spoke in a low voice. "I was wondering why we haven't made love since we got here," she said at last. She said tentatively, "Is it about-"
I put a finger to her lips. "It is," I conceded, "but not in the way you think." At her bewildered look, I said gently, "I want us to be away from all this when we do that - away from Spender." Her breath caught in her throat, her eyes widening, and I ran my palm over her cheek. She leaned into it, her eyes closed in sudden pain. "It *was* Spender, wasn't it?"
Her eyes grave and hurting, she nodded; and I drew her close. "I'm sorry, I'm so damn sorry," I whispered into her hair. "I'm sorry you went through it all, I'm sorry I didn't look for you, I'm sorry I gave up."
She broke then, weeping in silent, wracking sobs. She shook against me, almost imperceptibly. "I closed my eyes," she whispered. "I thought that would make it easier - that I could imagine that it was you - or at least that it wasn't him. But he didn't smell like you or taste like you and I felt so ashamed-" she broke off miserably.
"You have nothing to be ashamed of, Mare. Nothing at all." Her hair muffled my voice. I pulled back, wiping her tear-streaked cheeks with my fingers. "*Nothing.*" I don't know if she believed that - or if she believes it even now - but she nodded, and she let me draw her close, let me press her against me protectively.
We danced in silence for a long time, but at last, I said quietly, "I would have raised it, Mare. I would have loved it because it was yours."
"I know that, Alexi," she said, looking up at me with a sad little smile.
At last, she pulled away, her eyes a little red but otherwise betraying no sign of the recent storm. "I'm going to clean myself up," she said, touching my cheek tenderly. She motioned to Mulder, sitting with the Gunmen, watching us. "I think there's someone you should talk to." I nodded to him; cautiously, he returned it. She said with an odd undertone, "You two have unfinished business."
"You don't mind?" I said piercingly.
She shook her head, smiling faintly. "No."
I kissed her forehead and released her. I watched her leave, and then I went to him. The Gunmen looked up at my approach; but Mulder just stood, and wordlessly led me to a far booth. He sat opposite me, playing with his drink morosely; presently, a waiter brought one for me. It was a Dom Benedictine.
"You remembered," I said, oddly touched. He said nothing. Frowning, I withdrew a stiletto weapon from my pocket and set it down before him, along with a couple of vials of vaccine, vials of nitric acid and glycerine, and some lengths of colour-coded wire. "It was all I could get together on short notice. You should be able to do something with what's there." He nodded, bundling together the items and putting them away, careful to put the acid and glycerine in separate pockets. Still he said nothing.
We drank in silence for a long time; but at last, he set his drink down on the table. His voice was grave. "This is a suicide mission, isn't it?"
"I think so." I watched him, feeling deeply sad.
He nodded, frowning. He toyed with a coaster, turning it over and over in his hands. Finally, he said in a low voice, "We were on the same side all along, weren't we?"
"We were," I agreed, "but you chose a higher path."
"I'm not so sure of that anymore." He sounded bitter.
I shrugged. "It doesn't matter anymore. What you're about to do will cancel every debt left behind. Be sure of that." I didn't know if that was true, but I hoped it was. I watched him for a long moment; said quietly, "I really loved you, Mulder." I didn't know if that even mattered to him anymore, but it mattered to me. And though I love my wife, I suspect it will always matter.
"I really loved you, Alex." His voice was grave, and a little sad.
I leaned forward across the table and firmly kissed his lips, intimately yet chaste; and when I pulled away, there were tears for both of us - not many, but a few. I covered his hand with mine for a long moment, and then I got to my feet and walked away without looking back; leaving my past to return to my future.
Mare was watching.
She was leaning on the bar near the Gunmen, playing with a cocktail umbrella. "Better?" she said softly; and I nodded, taking her hand in mine. How is it that she can know what I need better than I do myself? I leaned in and kissed her, long and lingering.
I said apologetically, "I know how it must have felt to watch that-"
She cut me off. "You have no idea how it felt to watch that." Her voice was calm...almost mild. Could it be that she was smiling? "We've come through a fire together, Alex, and for a long time that man you were when you were with Mulder got lost." I nodded, frowning. "Seeing you with him - it's as though that's all starting to come together again."
I bowed my head. "Maybe that's true," I said; and haltingly, clumsily, I expressed a little of the guilt and remorse that had begun to come into sharp focus. She listened, as she always listened; and she was my comfort.
At last, she kissed my fingertips lightly. "I love the man you were, Alexi," she said thoughtfully, "but I love the man you're growing into even more."
I think I like him better, too.
Spender was devastated.
"We've failed, then. Perhaps you never meant to succeed."
I looked on the old man coldly. In the face of Mulder's explosive death, splattered in accusatory pictures of light and fire across the newspaper, Spender's wretched pathos at the loss of his shot at immortality struck me as horribly offensive. Looking at him, I was struck yet again by his peculiar detachment from the richness of humanity. One way or another, I reflected, all four of Spender's children - Jeffrey, Samantha, Mulder, and Mare's child - all had died at their father's hands. Even the gift of creation - the most divine gift of all - even that could not remain sacred in the face of Spender's particular brand of darkness.
"Anyway...the hour is at hand, I presume," Spender said in a low voice. I looked on him steadily, Mare at my side; and then I went to him.
I took the handles of his wheelchair in my hands. I remembered running from the burning car and the missile silo. I remembered shooting the dark man so that he wouldn't kill my wife. I remembered her tears for her mentor and for her mother.
I pushed him forward. I remembered Skinner, meeting me at Dulles with the news of the miscarriage. I remembered Diana breaking the news of her death. I remembered scattering ashes I'd believed were hers.
I shouted at the nurse when she tried to stop me. I remembered finding her, broken and frail. I remembered Jeffrey, saying grimly that he expected to die. I remembered breaking the news of Diana's death to her children.
Mare stepped in the nurse's path, holding her back with a single venomous stroke. I remembered her tears as we danced the night before. I remembered Scully an hour earlier, as she told us of her pregnancy, terrified of that which should bring joy. The thirst for blood was roaring in my ears - the thirst for vengeance. And though I had not the benefit of my peers, I was certain that this sentence was just.
"This is for a lot of people," I said solemnly, wheeling him down the corridor. "It's for Larissa Covarrubias, and for Mulder, and for Diana Donovan, and for our children," I told him, my voice dull and raw. "But most of all, it's for raping my wife."
"Rape?" he said mockingly as Mare fell back in step with us. "Is that what she said?"
"You had the power of life and death over her," I hissed. "That makes it rape no matter what she said."
He frowned at that, but whatever flicker of conscience he'd had was gone in an instant. As we reached the top of the stairs, he said calmly, "As you do to Mulder and to me, you do to all of mankind, Alex." I suppose that was his idea of dying an honourable death. It made me mad, that he could inflict such horror on so many, and that he still had the nerve to try to die with dignity.
Steeling myself, I gathered my strength, and pushed him away from me, flinging him down the stairs. He crashed to the floor, tangled in his wheelchair, tumbling violently over and over again, his eyes glazed from the first strike of his head. Mare and I watched in cold horror as he came to rest; then, hand in hand, we walked down the stairs and stepped over his body together.
We walked until we reached the light of outdoors. Then, we stopped, and I drew her close, right there on the sidewalk; and we were laughing and crying at the same time, rejoicing in our freedom, mourning what we had lost, regretting what we had become. And then we went home, man and wife for better or worse, and we made love.
It was over. We had survived, and we had been avenged.
And I will never kill again.
"I look small," Mare said critically.
"Small short or small thin?" I queried, linking my hand with hers over her stomach. It was still a little rounded, even now. I liked it, the way I liked her hair long. It made her look softer. Samuel clambered up onto the arm of the lounge and balanced there precariously. "Careful, Sam."
"Both," she mused, stretching her legs, sliding them against mine teasingly. I tickled the underside of her foot with my toes, and she shooed me away, laughing.
"I'm being a superman, Mama," Samuel declared.
"You'll be a splatman in a minute," Mare reproved.
This set him off in a paroxysm of giggles. "Splatman! Splatman!" He clambered down over both of us and ran off outside, yelling, "Splatman!"
"We're just splats on the highway of life," I sighed.
Gibson wandered in, munching an apple absent-mindedly. "What are you watching?" he asked; then, before we could answer, he sighed, "Oh, not *that* again," with a heaven-help-me face.
"Spoilsport," I countered. "Go play with Elizabeth if you don't want to watch."
He shook his head. "She keeps asking to play chess," he complained.
Mare enquired, "What's wrong with that?"
Gibson made a face. "She's learned to shield her thoughts. Sticks up pictures in her head of the sky or brick walls or -" he shuddered "- Leonardo DiCaprio." I laughed uproariously. "I keep losing."
"It will do you good to lose now and then," I said mildly.
He made a face. "Ugh! You've been reading those parenting websites again, haven't you? Dear Abby, my son is an omnipotent telepath, what should I do?"
"Are you going to stay and watch, or not?" I demanded, smirking.
He shrugged. "Yeah, I'll stay." He settled down on the floor in front of us.
I held out the remote control and flicked up the volume. "We're on."
-- "United Nations Under-Secretary General, Marita Krycek and Alex Krycek of the World Health Organisation will read from a prepared statement. They will accept questions afterwards."
Gibson frowned. "I still say that's a rotten hairdo, Marita."
She reached down and ruffled Gibson's hair. "And what are you, Leonardo DiCaprio?" she teased. He shot her a filthy look, but laughed anyway.
-- "...seven year covert operation involving the FBI and the World Health Organisation reached its conclusion in New York. Members of an international pressure group known as The Syndicate were apprehended and charged with a total of 9,327 offences related to biological warfare..."
"You're thin there," he said clinically, turning to look Mare over thoughtfully. "No stomach at all, and a month later you'd sprogged."
Mare's eyes narrowed in mock irritation. "Sprogged?" she echoed. "Has Shane been teaching you British slang again?"
"Experienced the miracle of birth," I corrected loftily.
"Hey, I've watched birth videos. The only miracle is getting something that big out of something that small."
"He's got a point, you know, Alex," Mare grinned.
"Would you like to watch Elena's birth video?" I offered ingeniously. Gibson shot me a look of abject horror, shaking his head urgently. I laughed.
-- "...seized a stockpile of biological agents from their headquarters. The centrepiece of this stockpile is a new bioweapon created by the group, dubbed Dmitri Syndrome, for the first known fatality. A vaccine was also found. We understand that the group intended to release the weapon and then demand a ransom..."
Gibson shifted, looking up at me. "Dmitri wasn't the first fatality. He didn't even die of the oil," he protested. I wished he didn't know quite so much about our work - it was a bit like living with an omnipresent demi-god.
"Well, we had to call it something," I pointed out. "The whole idea of misinformation is to give wrong information to get a desired response."
-- "...voted to take the preventative step of launching a worldwide vaccination program. The first stocks of vaccine have already been distributed to every country in the world and are available now. The success of this program depends entirely on the participation of the public..."
Gibson frowned. "So talking about The Syndicate is giving wrong information to get people to have the medicine."
I shrugged. "Basically, yeah."
"Why not just tell them about the aliens?"
Mare explained, "Lots of people wouldn't believe. They might not take the vaccine."
-- "...concerns that the vaccine has been fast tracked without reference to proper protocols. Can you comment?"
-- "Certainly, we have fast tracked the program. I think that's appropriate, given the nature and severity of the threat. But the FDA and other authorities have considered the seized data at length..."
"I like this bit," I said gleefully.
Mare tilted her head up to look at me. "Egotist."
-- "...weren't you wanted on multiple counts of murder and treason until very recently?"
-- "I can answer that. Those charges were laid in co-operation with the FBI as part of the covert operation. They have now been dropped. Mr Krycek has sacrificed much, not least of which being his good reputation for the greater good. The international community owes him a debt..."
I smirked. That bit got me every time. "You laid it on pretty thick, you have to admit."
She shrugged. "You're my husband. I'm allowed to be biased."
-- "...do you have any data on genetic effects of the vaccine?"
-- "Yes. The first child was born to a vaccinated woman this week..."
Gibson said curiously, "You don't say very much in this, Alex."
"Mare's the political brain, not me. I'm more of an action man," I added, lifting my arm and flexing a bicep theatrically.
"Or a splatman," said Mare, dissolving in laughter. I smacked her hand playfully with a look of mock reproach.
-- "...is it true that the child's name is Liberty?"
-- "I can say only that the child is female and that she was born to an American couple..."
"Liberty," Mare said disgustedly. "I thought Walter, at least, had better taste."
"Elena is much more dignified," I agreed.
-- "...you're the man and woman of the hour. How does that feel?"
-- "I think that denigrates the innocent victims of this operation. The real heroes are those who gave their lives..."
I pointed the remote and flicked the television off suddenly. Mare shot Gibson a look, her eyebrows raised, speaking to him silently. He nodded, got up and walked away, leaving us alone. Having a telepathic child was handy - sometimes.
Mare's hands closed over mine. She drew it up to her lips and kissed it tenderly. "You know, there's only so long you can beat yourself up about this."
I shook my head morosely. "I killed forty two people, Mare."
"And saved all the rest."
"A few years ago I might have thought that was enough," I said quietly. "I don't now. And neither do you."
She sat up, turned to face me. She looked at me thoughtfully for a long moment; then admitted, "No. But we can only keep trying to be the best people we can be. The best parents," she added, nodding out the window to Gibson and Shane, playing ball in the fading light.
I sighed. "Maybe."
"I think Elizabeth is thawing," she said, deliberately changing the subject. "I was in her room this morning. You know that photo Gladys took of us all at the hospital with Elena? She's got it taped to the wall."
I nodded thoughtfully. "That's good, I guess."
"Baby steps, Alex," she counselled.
In this brave new life of ours, those are words to live by.
I shook my head, said absently, "Juice is fine." Mare was nursing, and I didn't like to drink in front of her when she couldn't. I flicked off the lights and went to her side, taking the glass she offered. "Thanks."
"Come outside," she whispered, leading me. "It's a beautiful night."
"I was hoping to make love to you," I said mildly, following anyway.
She shot me a gorgeous smile over her shoulder. "You can."
Smiling faintly, I followed her, out over the lawns, down to the gazebo. We settled there on the oversized chaise, overlooking the water. The ocean was rough, and the sky was dark. The sound of rolling waves was soothing. Gently, I drew her against me, and she leaned into me with a sigh; turning a little to touch my cheek with her fingertips.
And then her kiss was cherishing me, not an invasion, but a caress. Her taste was silk; it was snow; it was wine. A kiss as though the first, a declaration of passion, of abiding love. I held her, hand entangled possessively through her hair, locks of molten silver between my fingers. "Mare," I breathed against her lips. Her touch was scorching, branding me, claiming me as her own; and I could only draw her up in pursuit, claiming her in return. I cradled her face with my hand, kissing her cheek and her hair and her ear with fascinated tenderness. I left a trail of caresses down her throat, and she gave a shocked moan of wracking need. My fingers traced the curves of her, strong and fine. My need was a white-hot flare, caressing and giving and demanding all at once.
And then suddenly the turbulence subsided, replaced with slow wonder. She met my gaze, and we stayed there a long moment, our faces inches apart, expressions a war of urgency and tenderness. "Love me, Alexi," she said softly; her voice low, ragged with desire.
"I do," I murmured. "Oh, Mare."
She leaned up to me, her mouth forming an exquisite smile in the dim light; and I put my hand on her as she asked, my mouth upon hers. She arched for me as I teased her throat, her breast with my palm. She unbuttoned her dress; and I parted its folds, exposing her to the cool night air. She gave a single cry of aching need, her breath coming in ragged sighs. She pulled my shirt over my head, discarding it; and then I felt her long, slender palms stroking me with gentle relentlessness. I slid questing fingers down to the dank warmth of her, and found her slick and ready, waiting for me to unite with her, waiting to draw me in, to own me as hers forever.
She gave me a gentle kiss and sank back on the chaise, one hand stretched out to me. I took it in my own and leaned down to her, meeting her, my lips on hers. I was swamping her, engulfing her; yet she welcomed me, wanting me, trusting me. She teased my body with her fingertips, and my fingers lifted to her breast, caressing the swell of flesh there; but it was done absently. Our eyes fixed on one another, we beheld one another in love, desire, and finally strength. And even in our nakedness, our gaze remained locked, lovemaking in its own right. I leant into her, truly mystified that she could engender such love in me. I felt bewilderment, and deep gratitude, that such a thing could have been revealed to me; and I kissed her with awe. She slid her arms around my neck, drew me down to her, tasting me as I tasted her.
I held her close, and my body found hers unerringly, waiting patiently until she opened up for me, until her body made space for me within her. And then I was inside her, moving with her in a rhythm as old as time, her body rising to meet me, her arms wound around me, holding me to her. I teased at her hair tenderly, treasuring her, worshipping her.
The heat within her was delicious, the strength of it exquisite. And when she came, she cried out, her passion a prayer of hope. I filled her, filled her with a giving over of myself that could never be erased; body against body, soul against soul.
When it was over, and we came to rest, we lay together, my body cradling hers, my arm around her, crossed protectively over her stomach. We were silent, but the silence was not a parting, but a final joining of pure understanding of one another.
And in the silence, there was love.
"Why do you let me touch you?"
Mare opened her eyes. I was teasing her hand lazily with my fingertips. "Well," she said slowly, a little taken aback, "because you're my husband. Because there's a space in a woman's body for the man who fills the space in her heart," she added, her brow furrowing. She was struggling. "I'm not making a lot of sense."
"You're making perfect sense," I mused. "But Mare...my hand is covered in blood."
"And washed in tears," she said in a low voice. I wondered what that meant, but I didn't ask. "You're still thinking about the press conference."
"Yeah." For no other reason than an odd feeling that it was vaguely relevant, I wondered aloud, "How did we wind up adopting four children?" At her look, I said, "It's not a rhetorical question - I really want to know."
She looked perplexed, but she indulged me, thinking it over. "I think," she said slowly, "that it happened the same way everything else happened. Because when you see something that has to be done, you do it, no questions asked. When these children came to us in need, you made the hard decisions that needed to be made, because that's just what you do."
"What does that make me?" I demanded. "Some kind of hero?" My voice was bitter.
She shook her head. "It makes you someone capable of great evil - and great good," she added with gentle emphasis. She gave a rueful laugh. "You know, everyone thinks it's their job to save the world, and we were in the odd situation where that was really the case." I laughed a little at that. She went on gravely, "Now that it's not, we've got to have the humility to be the best people we can be, and just let it all unfold." She had a wistful look, as though in memory. "I have to believe that's why we were spared, Alexi - to find a way of being something more, something better than the people who did those things."
I said nothing, but only cradled her, kissing her hair, breathing its scent, because I didn't know whether such a thing was possible. Even now, as I write this, Mare asleep at my side, my precious Elena at her breast - gifts I could never have deserved - I still don't know if it's possible.
But I know we can try.
Deslea R. Judd
May 29 - October 8, 2000
Lawrence James Judd
May 7, 1946 - March 27, 2000
SEE ALSO AUTHOR'S AFTERWORD, AND WATCH MY WEBSITE http://fiction.deslea.com FOR A PREQUEL AND MISSING SCENES.
Not My Lover - Afterword
Deslea R. Judd
Gentle Reader - thank you for coming with me this far, and I hope you've enjoyed the ride. I thought I would take this opportunity to explain a little of what I was trying to do in writing Not My Lover. It could be argued that if you can't figure that out by reading it, I didn't do such a hot job; but one of the perks of writing is that as an author I can indulge in this kind of rambling post-mortem. You can skip it if you like - you're not missing anything vital.
For those of you who stayed, I've got to say, Not My Lover is probably my favourite work to date for a host of reasons. I've found it incredibly satisfying to write and read on a number of levels. First and foremost, of course, is the exploration of two incredibly complex, rich characters - not to mention ones which are hopelessly underused on the show on which this story is based! Alex Krycek and Marita Covarrubias, portrayed so richly by Nicholas Lea and Laurie Holden, are very complex characters - primarily due to the efforts of their performers. I consider this to be less a work based on The X Files, though certainly the X Files storyline is integral, and more a work based on the work of Lea and Holden.
This story veers radically away from my usual style. It deals with murky characters with very flawed motives. Nonetheless, it echoes my earlier work with Scully and Skinner in that, in this interpretation of the X Files canon, Alex and Marita are people who share a great love, and live that out in partnership while seeking that which is right as they understand it. You won't find dark-and-dirty Ratboy and Blondie here - rather, you will find radically flawed yet deeply convicted people who understand their own particular shade of grey as a kind of good. It is, in part, an exploration of what good and evil might really mean in the context of the colonisation threat. Is good, absolute good? Is it the greatest good for the greatest number? And is the only real evil that of doing nothing?
It was something of a challenge to me to write the kind of story that I wanted to write in the face of several on-screen betrayals between the characters, but it was important to me to remain consistent with what was portrayed. There are only two instances, as far as I can see, in which the work absolutely does not mesh with the established story. The first is the killing of X (on the show, he was killed by the Grey Haired Man), which I felt was both significant enough to the story and insignificant enough to the canon to warrant a little inconsistency. The second inconsistency is the age and gender of the Donovan children: the children seen in Fight The Future are a little too old to be Diana Fowley's children, and they are two girls and a boy rather than vice versa. A further inconsistency is the wearing of wedding rings by both Alex and Marita, which is not borne out in the show, but which I felt was an acceptable adaptation.
I especially like Not My Lover because it's a story that honours marriage. Alex and Marita marry very early, in the first chapter; and there's an ongoing theme to the effect that it's the strength and the permanence of their marriage that enables them to serve as a counter-Consortium. Their work and their family are so bound up together that they couldn't have succeeded otherwise. Although it's explored in a humanistic rather than a religious context here, the underlying theme is definitely grounded in my understanding of marriage as a Catholic. I am indebted to discussions with other Catholic authors as far as this aspect of my work is concerned, especially my dear friend Mary Mastrangelo, with whom I've discussed the issue of Catholicity in writing over several years.
I chose my language very carefully in creating this emphasis - for instance, Alexi and Mare refer to each other as "my husband" and "my wife" far more frequently in their journals and dialogue than people do in real life. That was quite deliberate. Both speak of marriage and lovemaking very strongly as owning one another, belonging to one another, possessing one another in a way which is somewhat antiquated - even offensive to some in the current era. I felt that this was acceptable despite its political-cultural connotations because of its mutuality, and because there is a clear undertone that their mutual ownership originates in each partner's allowing that ownership. For each of them, the decision to marry meant embracing an identity of mutual belonging which was otherwise missing in their lives, and which ironically they weren't able to live publicly until their separation in Chapter 6. This accounts in some way for their emphasis on the fact of their marriage in their words. Similarly, Marita's embrace of her husband's name, and their wearing of wedding bands even at times when that was unwise, were not in the story for sentimental purposes (neither character strikes me as likely to indulge in conventional sentiment). They are there because my perception is that both characters found something genuinely meaningful in those symbols above and beyond the arbitrary symbolism passed on culturally. I think all of this is quite in character. I see Marita, in particular as a quite conservative young woman in many respects, bordering on old-fashioned; and Alex strikes me in the same way. This is borne out on the show by such details as the clothes they wear and the language they use.
Flowing on from this is the issue of children. Children are immensely important in Not My Lover - Mare is pregnant three times, and the couple adopt four children over the five year period covered by the story - but I wouldn't class Not My Lover as 'babyfic', as that genre has become known in X Files fandom. It is not until the final scenes that they are able to live as a family with their children. I had several reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest is the existential question: why, when so many died, did these two remain standing, able to go forward with their lives in the safety their actions created? Aside from the fact that the writer wanted them to, it seemed to me that there needed to be some natural justice that allowed it. In the end, I decided to use the light/darkness in Alex to create that justification. It has always seemed to me on the show that this is a profoundly convicted man who has his own cause and is committed to it at all costs. Alex has been seen in only a handful of outfits. There is nothing to suggest that he has a home, a car, or personal effects. His prosthesis is not the most aesthetic or high-tech available by any means. All that is despite the fact that he clearly has access to great amounts of money - from selling secrets on the digital tape, from working for the Tunisians. This is not a man in it for the money. He's in it because he has an agenda, and he will do whatever is needed to get what he believes in. The same fundamental generosity and commitment in his personality that allows him to choose poverty and homelessness for what he believes in also leads him to darker deeds - the killing of those who stand in the way of his cause. I decided that these same traits should lead him to take care of Gibson Praise and the Donovan children when they crossed his path, though not necessarily in a way that was paternal. That would come later, in the unseen period in Tangier. In this way, Alex and Mare's generosity set the scene for the future they longed for, as well as in some way justifying their survival. I felt this was in character because, as extreme people, neither would shirk at extreme acts of kindness. These are not people afraid of commitment - rather, they thrive on it, in all its guises.
I tried to make the characters as three-dimensional as possible by giving them character quirks and habits. Mare smokes and cusses when she's under stress. Alex likes Dom Benedictine, and he's more likely to cuss when he's amused. Mare wedges the telephone between her shoulder and her ear, even when it's not strictly necessary. Alex likes to tuck Mare's hair behind her ear, which I think is a benignly possessive gesture. Gibson and Alex tease one another mercilessly, and Gibson is endearingly misguided in his scheming to reunite the couple in Chapter 6, while Mare struggles to teach him to trust her to take on the adult responsibilities. This mirrors her own struggle, and Alexi's, to surrender her need to try to take on the world and with humility allow the world to assert its natural order. I also like their friendship with Skinner - it's a very normal thing, one partner disliking another partner's best friend, or vice versa, and although this was on a grander scale, the principle remained. The image of Alex and Walter chatting stiffly by the Christmas tree because they both cared for Marita amused me a great deal, as did their amicable drunkenness after Walter got the best of Alex. I'm not sure how in character this would be in the American context, but certainly in my country, this would be a natural response to a ceasefire among men with a long history.
I see Marita as a very strong woman. I like her in Chapter 6 very much, where she finds herself alone and bereft, but still finds it within herself to face her future with, I think, a great deal of dignity. I liked the themes I pulled in about her becoming strong again, and the whole picture of her being very desolate but still being her own person who has a lot of inner power and ability to do things. I see that chapter as balancing the terrible ways in which she was used and coerced in earlier chapters, and most especially in her sexual encounter with the Cigarette Smoking Man. This is only described in retrospect, and I think that was important: it was not, in my opinion, an encounter to be viewed, in that it was very ugly on many levels. I didn't want the reader to picture the physical reality of Spender and Marita naked together on a hospital gurney. What I wanted was for the reader to picture the incredible strength of will possessed by Marita, both in enduring the event and in facing the reality of what she had done. For both Spender and Mare, it was consenting intercourse, and Mare's sense of shame is magnified by the fact that she proposed the encounter. It is Alex, later, who is able to pinpoint that Mare's actions were forced, if not physically by Spender, then by the reality of her situation, and that in that sense it was more akin to rape. I think Mare redeems the humiliation of what was done to her, by outsmarting Spender to become pregnant so that she would be allowed to live, by willingly nurturing the resulting child, and with her dignity in the aftermath.
I was actually a little torn about this storyline. As I wrote to Rachel Anton, I'm not convinced that it's in character for Spender, who I consider to be rather old-fashioned, both on the show and in the story. In an earlier version of the chapter, Mare got pregnant to a guard because a pro-life scientist was smuggling out pregnant test subjects to protect them from forcible terminations. I liked that story, but it didn't seem to gel - it seemed to require too much freedom of movement within Fort Marlene, and too much involvement with other captives and the scientists. In the end, what really tipped the scales was that Spender called her Marita in Requiem; and he is not someone who often uses people's given names - previously he had called her only Miss Covarrubias. The other reason I pursued this explanation for her pregnancy was that Alex had been growing more and more scrupulous about the taking of life. He reported a body count of thirty-nine after One Son, and when he came out of prison eighteen months on, that had risen only to forty-one (two victims in Amor Fati). He already had ample reason to make Spender his final kill, but I wanted to emphasise the idea that killing Spender was, to his mind, an act of justice rather than strictly one of murder, though he does still include it in his final body count of forty-two. The realisation that Mare's child was fathered by Spender formed the impetus, and I think the difference between him killing and not killing, given his growing qualms. Alex discussed as early as the first chapter his feelings about killing, and it's clear that he doesn't do it lightly; but I think he thought a lot about that during his unseen period in prison in Tunisia. I suspect that he has a dossier for each person he's killed, and that he tortures himself sometimes, reading them - just one of those images that occurs to me.
There were several scenes that I wanted to write but which the points-of-view narrative, or else the plot emphasis, would not allow. One of these is Skinner meeting Alex at Dulles with the news of Marita's miscarriage. Another is Marita visiting Gibson at Fort Marlene immediately after her sexual encounter with Spender, whereupon I imagine she attempted to shield her thoughts from him but failed. Others relate to Alex dealing with the loss of his arm in the six months or so following the event, and the introspection I imagine he went through in the penal colony in Forj Sidi Toui. There were other scenes which I deleted, including one alternate scene in One Son, where Marita gave Mulder a note for Alex in which she told him what she had done, and Mulder giving Alex the note in an alternate scene from Requiem. In the end I felt it added little to the plot or its expression, and I omitted it. Another scene that wound up on the cutting room floor was one where the couple worried that an ill Marita had cancer as a result of her exposure to the alien craft in North Dakota, unaware that she was in fact pregnant. In another missing scene, an imprisoned Alex befriended a Jesuit priest who had stolen food for his villagers, and the priest told him a hypothetical moral problem from his theological studies, that of Mrs Bergmeier. Mrs Bergmeier was a German POW in World War II with a sick husband and children at home. She learned that pregnant women were sent home as liabilities and was faced with the dilemma of whether to break her marriage vows and attempt to become pregnant. In this version, Alex had not yet made peace with Mare's second pregnancy, and he was bothered by the story; but I decided in the end that it was more powerful for Alex to understand and forgive Mare almost immediately, and abandon her solely out of his own overwhelming guilt.
It won't surprise most of my readers to learn that my background is in moral theory, and this story is definitely a tug-of-war between utilitarianism and virtue ethics. To grossly generalise the issues, utilitarianism is an end-justifies-the-means, greatest-good-for- greatest-number ethic, and that's very much the ethic Alex and Marita pursue in this story. But as time wears on, they become more and more aware of the truth of virtue ethics, which allows only for good ends and good means. Their concrete situation, at least in their perception, does not allow for the living out of that ethic until the colonisation threat has been averted, but they each speak of a vague longing for a better path - one which, in the end, they are finally able to embrace. I hope that you, Gentle Reader, can see the richness and complexity of Alex and Marita that I have come to embrace in the course of writing this protracted little morality tale. Thanks for reading.
All my love, Deslea
Watch for a Not My Lover prequel, Not My Lover: Enigma, and for missing scenes, over the coming year. When these are complete they will be bundled together as a special edition. In the meantime they will be available at my website, http://fiction.deslea.com.
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