Welcome To The Harem

Restitution by Deslea R. Judd (Part 2 of 4)
Summary: Sometimes, to face the future, you have to face the past. Krycek/Marita, angst, romance, Herrenvolk-The Truth tie-in, resfic.

Restitution 2/4 (Chapters 3+4)
Deslea R. Judd
Copyright 2003

DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my name and headers.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Herrenvolk to The Truth.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Angst, romance, mythfic, resfic, Skamperfic, Krycek/Marita.
SUMMARY: Sometimes, to face the future, you have to face the past.
CONTENT WARNING: This work includes references to rape.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. deslea@deslea.com.


They arrive at Marita's apartment in Maryland that evening.

"Why do you keep this place?" he wonders, glancing around while she locks and chains the door. "Doesn't look like you've been

here in years."

"I don't use it often," she concedes, throwing her keys and wallet on the hall table. "The odd night here and there, when I have to see Spender. That's all. I haven't really lived in since you were here." She walks past him, into the lounge room. "Your weights are still here, if you want them."

"Am I that out of condition?" he wonders.

"You know what I mean. I've made an appointment with your specialist. You'll need a new socket, at least. He can see you tomorrow. The orthotist has cleared his schedule. He thinks he can give us twenty-four hour turnaround."

He follows her in. Makes a grunting sound that she thinks is his version of thanks.

She drags a drop-sheet off the lounge and folds it up. Dumps it unceremoniously on the floor. He follows suit with the chairs and table. He drops down onto the lounge, watching her throw open the windows. She stands there, breathing the cool night air.

"This place isn't all that secure," he says. "Mulder has the address."

"Does he?" she says. Frowns.

"Yeah. He got it from the Federal Employee Database. Same time as he got the New York one. I saw him write it down."

She shrugs. "By the time he knows we're on the scene again, we'll be gone. It'll be fine."


"You didn't tell me that when we were here last time."

"Didn't have the heart, after the trouble you went to. And I didn't care too much anyway."

Well, that makes sense. She turns away from the window to face him. "Do you want to get some dinner?"

He shakes his head. "I'll pass. You eat, though."


A loose thread on his jacket seems to capture his attention. "It's just going to take a while to get used to food again."

"I shopped before I flew out. There are protein shakes in the refrigerator."

He grimaces. "You think of everything."

"You make that sound like a bad thing."

"Sorry," he says. "It's this place. Mixed feelings."

She swallows down the hurt that rises in her throat. She tries to convince herself that he can't be expected to feel the way she does about that time, but she's only partly successful.

Perhaps he sees her conflict in her face, because he says, "Marita, I didn't mean it like that."

"I knew what you meant. It's okay."

"It was hard for me. Even with you here."

"I know."

"It doesn't mean it wasn't special."

She hates hearing him defend himself to her. "Alex, can we stop talking about this?"

"All right. Are you going to eat?" He sounds mildly annoyed.

She shakes her head. Thinks about arguing with him, but lets it pass.

"Do you want to get an early night, then?"

She shrugs. "Fine."

They go to her bedroom, neither of them in particularly good temper, but the ripple of tension fades as they undress. They undress matter-of-factly, and separately. Not like lovers. Like long-married spouses.

They get into bed in silence, and he puts his head on her shoulder, his arm across her body. It comes to an abrupt end near her navel. She strokes it, tracing her palm over it, listening to the rain on the window. Feels slight pressure beneath her breast when he instinctively tries to draw her closer with the limb he no longer possesses.

"Why did you do it?" he murmurs against her neck.

"Do what?"

"Come and get me. Back then, I mean."

"Don't know. I just needed to."

She doesn't know, but she can guess. She loved him, even then. Of course she did.

"How did you know?" he wonders. "I never did ask you."

"Peskow told me." The shock, the terrible anguish of that night has eased with the passage of time, and she smiles a little in the dark. "He called you my young man."

She can hear the smirk in his voice. "Thank God for ageing assassins with a soft spot for young love."

"You're glad I came, then? Despite everything?"

"God, Marita. Do you need to ask?"

She shrugs. Doesn't answer.

Neither does he. But he presses her again, and she knows the answer anyway.


Peskow scared the hell out of her.

She never felt completely safe in the New York apartment after what they did to her there, and she would have moved if she'd thought it would help. But they would still have known where she was, and she gained a certain grim satisfaction from knowing they hadn't driven her from her home.

But still, she was easily shaken. She was sensitive to the comings and goings of her neighbours. She learned to identify them by their paces. Variations in their movements or their routine could leave her held tight and trembling by the door until she was sure the intruder had moved on. Her occasional, unwelcome visitors did nothing to alleviate her brittle nerves.

Fox Mulder came a few days before Peskow. She's proud of the way she handled herself. She believes even now that he had no idea how badly he scared her. She even touched him when she had to wake him, and forced herself not to draw back when he jolted awake. She took her time moving away from him, hoping she looked calm and imposing. She flaunted her power, the speed with which she could get him the documents he needed, and she told him never to call on her at home again. And he never did.

So she was already on edge when Peskow knocked at her door. For a long moment, she held his gaze through the gap in the door. Wondering if she, too, was to be part of the Russian cleanup. She didn't think so, but why else would he be here?

Perhaps he saw something of her fear in her features. "Marita, please."

She sighed. Nodded. She closed the door and grabbed her gun from the hallstand. Put it in her pocket. Its weight was comforting against her hip.

She unchained the door, opened it, and let him pass.

He sat down on her couch without asking. Normally, she would have been affronted, but it was a relief, not having to deal with the social niceties. He looked up at her. His old, lined face was kind.

"Please come and sit with me, Marita."

She stood there, hugging herself and frowning for a moment before she complied. "What is it, Vassily?"

"It is about your young man."

"You mean Alex?" she said. "What is it?"

"I try to talk to him on the telephone. They tell me there was an accident," he said. She looked down at his wrinkled hand on hers. She barely registered his words. This man she'd thought was here to kill her was patting her as though she were a frightened child. It was surreal.

"An accident?" she said. Her first, nightmarish thought was that Alex was dead, but she didn't really believe it. Not Alex. "He isn't-"

"No. But he is badly hurt. I thought you would want to know."

"Why, yes," she said vaguely, "yes." A little shaken by how strongly it affected her. Her first instinct was to go to him, to be with him, but that was absurd. Yes, he had helped her, but still. Hell, he would probably be well before she even got there. "How bad is he?"

"Marita, his arm is gone. It's - I do not know the word -"

"Gone?" she echoed. "I don't-" and then she broke off. Horrified. She had heard of this in the resistance, but she hadn't believed it. No-one could be driven to that - could they?

She stared at him. Breathing hard and fast. Shivering all over.

"Amputirovano?" she whispered. "Amputated?"

"Yes," he said. "I am sorry."

She sat forward. Hands over her mouth. Fighting down - something. Something hard and fierce. Not tears, exactly.

Maybe screams of rage.

"They take so much," she whispered. "So much."

She felt paper. Felt it being pressed into her hand. She took it mechanically.

"His coordinates, Marita."

She stared down at it. "I should go there," she said. "Shouldn't I." It wasn't a question.

His hand closed on her shoulder. "Good luck, Marita."

She nodded. "Thank you," she said. Halting. Numb.

She was still staring at the piece of paper when he let himself out.


She wept a lot on the flight to Krasnoyarsk.

She drew stares, clearly Western woman with her fashionable clothes and her tear-streaked face. The flight from there to Tunguska was easier; she pulled some strings and took a charter helicopter. She landed in the grounds of the gulag unannounced, and it was only later that it occurred to her that she was lucky not to be shot on sight.

As it happened, however, someone knew she was coming. That was Peskow's handiwork, she supposed. Her demands to see Alex were met with cooperation, and if she offended them with her fierce desperation, they didn't show it. They were kind to her, at least by the standards they lived with.

"He is delirious," one of the guards told her in stilted English, leading her to the infirmary. "The stump, it is infected."

"What happened?" she demanded in his own language.

"There was a fight with the American he brought here," he said, pausing to search through his keys. "The American stole a truck and got away. He took Comrade Krycek with him. We found him in the woods like this the next day." He glanced over his shoulder, as though fearing being overheard. "There are peasants, you see. They do not understand. We only test the criminal, but they are afraid. So they cut off their arm." He said regretfully, "We think they meant to help him."

She held her head in her hand for a long moment. Swallowing tears. "Mulder," she said bitterly, looking back up at him. "It's always Mulder, one way or another."

He unlocked the door, opened it, and let her pass. "I do not understand."

"The American you speak of," she said as he locked it again behind them. "He leaves a lot of bodies behind him, that's all." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I want to take Comrade Krycek back to America for treatment. Will your superiors object?"

"Nyet. They would prefer it. We do not have the facilities to care for him."

"But he'll still have a place here when he returns?"

"Yes. We are not like the people you work for. We keep our word," he said severely. She flushed, accepting the rebuke. He nodded to a pair of double doors up ahead. "Would you like to see him now?"

Marita indicated that she would, and the guard took his leave of her. She took a deep breath, and then she went through the doors into the makeshift infirmary.

The sound of her footsteps reverberated in her ears.

She had walked through Chechen battlefields at twenty-one, through the bodies of the fallen. Some of them were people in her own corps. She hadn't cried then, nor for a long time after coming home. She told herself she wouldn't cry now. And she didn't, but when she drew aside the sheet to reveal his butchered stump, she sank down shaking onto the bed.

"Oh, Alex," she whispered.

He opened his eyes. Unbelievably, he smiled.

"You're sitting on my arm," he said. He sounded dazed.

"I'm not-" she glanced down. She was sitting where his arm should have been. Looked back up at his vacant face. Wondered whether it was delirium, or phantom pain, or both. "Sorry."

"S'okay. They took it, you know."

"Yeah," she whispered. "I know."

He closed his eyes once more.

She swallowed hard. "Alex?" she said, passing her hand over his forehead. It was hot. Too hot.


"I'm going to take you back to America. You can still come here when you're better," she said, stroking his cheek with the back of her hand.

"I've missed you, Marita," he mumbled.

She smiled in spite of herself. Kissed his forehead. And then she brought him home.


He cried when they wheeled him off to surgery.

She's seen him shed tears, but the surgery was the only time she saw him really cry. But his residual limb was too scarred, too misshapen, too deprived of a blood supply to heal. If he ever hoped for a prosthetic, a second amputation was the only way.

For three days, he didn't speak to her. Just sat there, staring dully at the wall. She didn't try to draw him out. She just stayed by his side, reading and sleeping and watching TV, ready to be there when he wanted her.

Finally, he did.


She was nearly asleep on the little fold-out bed, but she blinked against the dim fluorescent light and sat up.


He watched her. Didn't speak. Finally leaned over and took a lock of her hair between his fingertips.

"Nothing," he said at last. "Get some sleep."

She didn't press him. Just sank back down on her bed.

They watched each other, eyes grave. But sleep was a long time coming.


He came home six days later.

He didn't want her to strap his stump. He didn't want her to do anything for him, in fact, and he argued about it bitterly. Finally, she spat that he'd seen her goddamn *cunt* when it was butchered, so she could see his stump. He sank back in his chair, and he stared at her, pale and silent while she did what needed to be done.

"I'm being a prick, aren't I?" he wondered when he found his voice.

She went on strapping. "Pretty much."

"Would it help if I apologised?"

"Not particularly."

That crooked grin rose in his features. "Would it help if I did my rehab exercises like a good little boy?"

She looked at him. Still fastening his bandage. Bit back a grin. "Maybe."

He looked over the side of the chair, down at her calves. "Got any legwarmers?"

She arched an eyebrow. "Pardon?"

"Well, if I have to exercise, so do you. Unless you object," he challenged.

"Not at all," she said primly. She got to her feet, dropped a kiss on his head, and walked to the door.

He stared after her. "What the hell was that for?"

She said over her shoulder, "Because I'm going to work you into the ground." Sweetly.

He laughed, and she smiled, and then she fled, because she was trembling with relief, and she didn't want him to see her cry.


It was five more weeks before he admitted, haltingly, to his fear that no woman would want him any more. The irony was that by then, she knew that she loved him, and she wanted him badly.

"You're wrong, Alex," she said. She didn't say any more than that, but her hands slowed on his stump. Grew gentle. Her heart felt heavy and weighted in her chest.

He turned his head. Stared at her. She fastened the bandage. She didn't look at him.

He pulled away from her when she was done. "I don't want your pity, Marita," he said in a low voice. "Or your obligation."

Anger flared within her. "You take that back, you son of a bitch. I thought I'd never feel this way about anyone again." He frowned. Clearly perplexed. "How *dare* you try and take that away from me."

He looked at her for a long, long moment. Tangled confusion and anger in his features. Finally, seemingly at a loss, he got to his feet and walked out.

She flinched when the door banged shut behind him.


She wakes to his hand in her hair and mumbled, fragmentary words of love in her ears. She's tired, but it's been a long time since they made love in this room, and she can't bring herself to mind. His tenderness is slow and heavy, and she can tell that he's half- asleep himself. She returns his kisses, awkward misdirected things that they are, and suspects they'll probably fall asleep again before he can make love to her.

"Want you, Marita," he mumbles.

In his sleepy, docile state, it sounds like an endearment. She laughs. Ruffles his hair. "How is that different from any other time?"

He groans. "Don't. I'm half-asleep here."

She laughs again. Runs her hand down his arm. It glides smoothly past the end of his stump and down his side.

He catches her hand with his. Looks at it, brow furrowed in a clear effort to concentrate. "Why didn't you mind, Marita?"

So he's been thinking about it too.

"I don't know," she says. "I just loved you. I thought you were beautiful. I still do." Her eyes mist over in that sleepy-emotional way she has. She thinks that he springs these things on her late at night because he knows her defences are down.

"I think you liked it. Because they hurt me too."

She doesn't want to believe that. She wants to believe that she loved him for more than that. She starts to pull her hand away.

He pulls her back. Kisses her, slow and tender. Without reproach.

She realises that even if that was the truth of it, it doesn't matter any more.

They're still sleepy, but they make love after all.


It was nightfall when she found him.

He stood there waiting for her in her bedroom in the dark, a silhouette in the light of the moon. Watching rain drizzle down the windowpane. He didn't look at her when she came into the room.

"Are you mad at me?" he wondered.

"No," she said dully. And she wasn't. She just felt overwhelmingly sad.

"I'm not trying to hurt you," he said. "I'm just trying to - to -"

"Please don't." She didn't even know what he wanted to say, but she was pretty sure she didn't want to hear it. She went and put her arms around his shoulders from behind. Rested her cheek against his shoulder. "Alex, it isn't either of those things. Pity or obligation."

"Isn't it?" he asked, turning his head to look at her.

She shook her head. Ran her fingers through his hair. "I just wish you could accept that."

He hunched his shoulders and didn't answer. But he didn't pull away.

"Alex, do you remember how you found me that night? What they did to me?" He didn't answer, but his hand found hers. Squeezed her compulsively. "Is that what you see when you look at me?"

He turned around in her arms. "No," he said. Stroked her hair. "God, no."

"Then why, *why* would this -" she cradled his stump in her hand through his sleeve "- be all I see in you?"

"I don't-" He broke off, shaking his head. Swallowing hard. He didn't argue when she took his face between her palms and kissed him, and soon his lips were as insistent as hers.

He touched his forehead to hers, looking down between them when she unbuttoned his shirt. "Have you - since -"

She shook her head.

"We don't have to."

She held his gaze in the dark. "I want to."

It wasn't as easy as that, of course. Her body had a memory of its own, it seemed, and she seized up when he tried to touch her, even while she ached for him to do it.

He was patient with her. There were a few false starts that night, and a few frustrated tears. Finally, though, he was between her thighs, he was inside her, and it was okay. Then, as arousal outstripped fear, it was good. Then glorious. She cried out his name in sheer relief when she came.

She felt selfish afterwards. It was a first for him, too, and that fact went largely unacknowledged by her. But she thinks now that her unwitting self-absorption salvaged what might have been a disaster. He was so concerned for her fears that night that he forgot about his own.

She loves him for that.

There were more firsts to come. He was so gentle with her, and she pressed him to go harder on her. She hated the idea that those bastards could dictate how they made love. Finally, he loosened up, and sometimes it was harder than she really liked, but it exhilarated her, too. Like a celebration of freedom. A reclaiming.

Not that the instinct to fear would ever entirely leave her. There was still a moment of reflexive seizing up when he pushed her against a wall, even now. But then hunger would wash over her, because it was Alex, and he only ever touched her on her terms, and she wanted him so much.

They were parted all too soon.

Once he had his prosthesis, they really couldn't justify his continued absence from the Russian project. And Marita's own excuses for her absence from her professional duties, both legitimate and otherwise, were wearing thin.

So they left the Maryland apartment, and until now they had never been here together again. She volunteered for United Nations projects in the former Soviet Union, and a sympathetic Peskow pulled some strings to get Alex onto courier detail for all-too-rare trips to the States. They conspired to be together whenever they could.

It wasn't nearly enough, but it was the best they could do.


Their trip to Alex's specialist is brief. A new cast is made of his stump - it changed along with the rest of his body during his imprisonment - and then they have the rest of the day to kill. As Marita had predicted, a new socket is needed, and it won't be ready until the following morning.

They return to the apartment and screw until lunchtime - partly desire and partly sheer lack of options. He is used to having the use of his arm, and while he is able to function without it, it pisses him off. And she has no wish to spend the day with a fractious Alex.

"So what's on the agenda?" he asks her over take-out at lunchtime. If he notices her careful choice of food, he doesn't mention it. Just sits there with his chopsticks, dipping his dumplings. He eats lightly, which she supposes is to be expected, but she hopes his appetite will improve. She'd felt bones on him that she'd never been able to feel before, and that somehow feels like more of a maiming than the loss of his arm.

"Shopping," she informs him. "You need some clothes." In fact, she bought him some before she went to Tunisia, but she thinks now that they might be too big.

"Okay. What then?"

"Nothing today," she says. "Tomorrow we get your arm, then head over to the Watergate."

"He's still living there?" he says. "I figured he'd move out once he offed Diana."

She shakes her head. "He moved his nurse into her apartment, and he still lives down the hall. Guess his name is still on her lease."

Alex snorts, a sound of distaste. "I suppose one sidekick is as good as another in his mind."

"We're all expendable," she says. "Spender included, these days."

"He's really that out of the loop, then?"

She nods. "They're sending him on wild goose chases to keep him out of their hair. The latest is some crashed UFO. He doesn't think I know about it."

"So what do we do?"

"Follow the trail of breadcrumbs until he gives us your dose of the vaccine. Then we give what we have to Mulder and Scully, and get the hell out." She could live without even doing that much, but giving the information to Mulder would piss the old man off, and that alone is reason enough to do it. And she still feels a sense of obligation to Mulder, despite everything. It's the one thing she can still do for Nelson. Probably the last thing she will ever be able to do for him, in fact.

Alex nods. Thinks it over. "How will we verify the vaccine's authenticity?"

"We'll get it by requisition order." She doesn't look at him.

He stares at her. "From Fort Marlene?"

She nods. Looks down into her food.

"Have you ever been back there?" he asks at last.

"Once. The resistance freed Jeffrey. I drove the van, told them where to go. That sort of thing." He nods. "I haven't been inside." She remembers the last time they were there together, and swallows hard. There's a haunted look on his face when she finally meets his gaze again. He's very pale.

"Well," he says at last. Coughs into his hand. "Shopping?"

She rises. Gets rid of their take-out. "Yeah."


"Nice threads."

"Hope you're buying them," he parries. He looks pleased anyway.

"As long as I get to take them off you when we get home." She kisses him while the shop assistant rings up their purchases. The assistant smiles to herself.

"Thank you, Ma'am," the girl says, handing back her VISA card.

Marita smiles her thanks and tucks it into her pocketbook. She pulls out three other cards and hands them to Alex. "I had the banks cancel your old ones."

"Is there anything left on them?" he wonders. "I thought the prison guards would have cleaned them out, for sure."

"They made a good dent, but there's still some in there, and I transferred some more from the Swiss account. You won't need me to keep you for a while yet."

"Thanks." He puts them into his jeans pocket. "All I need now is a wallet, and I'll feel like a reputable member of society again."

"We'll make that the next stop, then," she says. "I only want you being disreputable with me."

Shopping for a wallet is quicker than for clothes. He's not so fussy about that. He chooses a plain black leather wallet similar to the one taken from him in Tunisia, and, to her great amusement, insists on a trip to a photo booth to get a picture of the two of them to put inside. It's all the funnier for his lack of appreciation for the humour of it.

"I wish they'd left my wallet," he says afterwards, tucking their picture inside. "Your letter was in there. I wish they'd left that."

Her good humour fades.

"Oh," she says. Swallowing hurt. Sees it in his face, too.

"Well," she says after a moment. "Some things are probably best forgotten anyway."

His eyes are grave. "It meant a lot to me, Marita. Especially back then."

She feels the heat of shame rise up in her face. "I don't want to talk about it."

He stares at her. "You're not still beating yourself up over that, are you? You don't really think you had any choice?"

She hunches her shoulders. "Can we not talk about this? Please?"

He sighs. Watches her for a long moment, then takes her by the hand. Tugs her back into the photo booth. "Look. Whatever it is that you're doing to yourself in that head of yours, will you stop it? For me?"

She forces a smile. Grasps for something to say. Her gaze falls on the little vanity mirror on the wall. "You made me get a photo when my hair was a mess, you bastard."

He snorts laughter through his nose. "Then we're even. Come on." He strokes her hair and kisses her. And then he takes her home.


Of course, letting go is never really so simple, no matter how neatly they put the lid on the fallout. She has never completely forgiven herself, and she doubts she ever will. The ugly truth is that she wasn't strong enough. She didn't love enough. And that truth will haunt her until the end of her days.

She had never really accepted the inevitability that the Syndicate would learn of her involvement with Alex. They had been together for close to a year, and she was lulled by their apparent failure to register on Spender's radar. Incredibly, she worried more about the daily trials of a long distance relationship than what would happen if they were ever found out. In retrospect, she is horrified by her own naivete.

She underestimated the toll their separation took on Alex, though. That last day in Kazakhstan, she had no inkling of his plans. If his kisses were more urgent, she wrote it off to pent-up need after months apart.

"I missed you," he gasped into her hair as she pulled at his clothes. It was such a stupid thing for them to do, so close to the burn site. She could still smell the bodies, and she hated herself for wanting him, but she needed him so much. Especially now.

"We can't," she managed between kisses. "It isn't safe. It isn't right." Still tugging at his shirt a little.

He nodded. Pulled back a little. Flushed. He took her hand and held it still. "I know. I just-"

"Yeah." Reluctantly, she loosened her grip on the fabric. Smoothed it back into place. Hands trembling with arrested need. "I hate being so far away."

He stroked her hair. "Same." He looked over his shoulder, out at the clearing through the trees.

She followed his gaze. Her men were still working, writing notes and taking pictures. She hadn't been missed. His were more concerned with the teenaged boy they'd found at the scene.

"What does he know?" she said. Nervous. This whole thing frightened her. Who had rounded up the abductees to begin with? And why had they been killed?

He shook his head. "I don't know. But I'm going to find out."

"Be careful, Alex. He could be valuable, depending on what he knows."

"You think someone might try to steal him?"

"They're going to want to know what he saw. Any one of my men could be Syndicate people checking up on me. I can't afford to suppress the information - it could expose us."

"You're right," he said. Looking over his shoulder at the men again. Said absently, "They'd want him. Maybe enough to risk it."

"Yes," she said. "And there's not really any risk to them in trying, is there?"

He looked at her once more. Frowning. Almost as though he didn't know what she was talking about. Then, the lines in his brow cleared. "No," he said after a moment. "You're absolutely right."

"We should get back," she said. "Before they miss us."

"You need to fix your make-up first," he grinned.

She smiled a little, and she pulled out her compact and did as he said. Wiped a smear of lipstick from his mouth, as well.


"Yes?" she said, tucking her compact back into her pocket.

"I want you to get out of Kazakhstan. Today."

She stared at him. "Why?"

"I just - I have a bad feeling about all this. It's probably nothing, but it would make me feel better. Will you?"

She thought about it. She didn't really need to stay. "I'm sure it's fine, but if it will make you feel better -"

He nodded. "It really would."

She shrugged. "Okay, then."

He drew her close. "We'll be together again soon, Marita. I promise."

She held onto him, and hoped that it was true.


In the end, she wasn't fast enough.

She was politely detained at the airport in Astana, and driven to the Russian Federation consulate nearby. She was given a tastefully-appointed apartment there, but there was a guard outside the door. She wasn't given a reason for her detainment, but she could guess. They suspected her of reporting to the Syndicate.

"We do not want any unpleasantness," the man said, sitting casually on the fourteenth-century writing table. He had introduced himself as Anatoly Melnikov, but she didn't believe he was Russian-born any more than she was. No, Melnikov was something worse: a Russian loyalist by belief. There would be no understanding or mercy for her from this man. He would condemn her, she sensed, for her alliance with the American project. And she couldn't really blame him.

"Nor do I," she said. "But you must understand, my men will report that I have been apprehended. It is in everybody's best interests for this to be resolved as quickly as possible. The United Nations does not take kindly to the detainment of its peacekeepers."

"You have not been mistreated, Miss Covarrubias, have you?"

She was forced to concede that this was the case.

"You cared for Alex Krycek after he was wounded last year. We understand that you are on terms of intimacy with him," he said. "Is that the case?"

She stared at him. Alex? It was about Alex?

"Yes," she said. It was pointless to deny it.

"Are you aware, Miss Covarrubias, that Alex Krycek absconded from Tunguska Gulag this afternoon with the boy he apprehended from the site?"

She sat back in her seat. Stupefied. "He what?" She brought her hand to her mouth. Genuinely appalled. "I - I had no idea."

"And you don't know whether he had vaccine in his possession?"

She searched Melnikov's face for guidance. Admitting to knowledge of the vaccine might save her, if she was already suspected of helping Alex. But if she wasn't - if they were just going through the motions - it might be a very efficient way of getting herself killed.

"I don't know anything," she said truthfully. "I haven't spoken with him. I don't know what he was doing or what he was planning."

"You were both noted missing from the crime scene for a time, Miss Covarrubias. Clearly you spoke to him. You don't honestly expect me to believe he didn't confide in you."

"No," she said. "We didn't speak."

"Then what were you doing?"

"We had sex," she lied, doing her best to look embarrassed. "I was so relieved to see him. We just-"

"All right, all right, I don't need to know." He looked mildly disgusted. "Where would he have gone? Back to the States, to be with you?"

Of course he would, she realised. Why else would he have done it? But if she said so, they would wait for him. It occurred to her that they might hold her in hopes of exchanging her for the boy.

"No," she said. "Not to be with me, anyway." She injected as much misery into her voice as she could. In the circumstances, it wasn't difficult. "He doesn't love me, you see." She broke into sudden tears. They weren't what he thought they were, but they were real, just the same.

Melnikov made a sound of annoyance, sighed, and left her there.


They believed her.

It seemed that they took into account Alex's history of selling intelligence, combined with her respectable position, and decided that he was working on his own. Either that, or her detainment was not worth the possibility of United Nations intervention. After twelve days, she was released from her tastefully-appointed room with the apologies of the Kazakhstani government.

Melnikov was not pleased.

"We believe the boy carries the oil-borne virus, Miss Covarrubias," he said as they drove to the airport. "If you see Alex, please remember that you have a higher duty here. You have a distinguished humanitarian service record. I know I can count on you to make the right decision."

Marita let him go through the motions. Clearly, he'd argued for them to hold her, and lost. This was his last-ditch effort to use her, or convert her, or something. She made agreeable noises in all the right places. But it was his parting words that chilled her.

"He could infect Alex, too, you know."

She stared at his departing form, and she was still white and trembling when her plane took off.


There was an arrangement of wisteria waiting for her when she got home.

It came from a local florist. There was no note. She didn't need one. They weren't her favourite flowers, but she did like them, and Alex knew it. It was enough to make her let out a long, low sigh of relief.

She discounted the possibility that he had travelled by air. That would be impossible if he really had the boy with him. She made a shortlist of marine arrivals in New York from the Russian Federation, and zeroed in on one in particular, a commercial freighter that had left Vladivostok three days after she was detained, due to arrive in New York Harbor late that night. There was just enough time, if he'd driven nearly non-stop, and his cellphone would be in range by now - hence the flowers.

It was all she could do not to go to the terminal. But it was nightfall, and she was afraid of being followed. Afraid she was watched, even now, by Melnikov's men. She passed a sleepless night, but there was dawning hope, too. She believed in Alex. She believed that if anyone could make it all work out, he could.

She checked in with the Syndicate the following morning. She joined them in their stuffy, smoke-filled room on East 46th Street and made her report. Longing for it to be over so she could go to him. She wasn't sure what she wanted more - to chew him out for scaring her like that, or to kiss him over and over again. She suspected she would find a way of doing both.

Alex telephoned with his demands while she was there. Marita never knew exactly what they were, but she could guess. Either he demanded to be allowed to work on the Syndicate's vaccine, or he demanded the vaccine data, in order to trade his way into the resistance. Either way, the Duke wasn't happy. He stared her down when Alex rang off, and she shrank back. Sensing the danger.

He adjourned the meeting minutes later.

"Miss Covarrubias," he said as the men prepared to leave. "I'd like a word with you."

A gnawing feeling sprang up in the pit of her stomach. "What is it, Sir?" she said, working hard to keep the alarm from her voice. Watching as the other men filed out of the room. He waited until the last of them had gone, and that only served to frighten her more.

"I understand that you were detained in Kazakhstan," he said when they were alone.

Her eyelids flickered. "There was a misunderstanding. It's been resolved."

"In fact, you were under suspicion of collusion with Alex Krycek, were you not?"

"That's correct. Our troops arrived at the burn site at the same time. We were seen together." Her throat felt very dry.

"That may be," the Duke said, pouring brandy from a decanter. "Would you like one?"

She doubted she could have gotten it down, let alone kept it there. "No, thank you."

He set the decanter down again and drank. "But it prompted me to make some enquiries. You and this Krycek have been on personal terms for some time, it seems." He watched her, frowning. "I'd have thought you might have reconsidered the consequences of working against the interests of the group, Miss Covarrubias. Especially after what happened the last time."

Did he know that they raped her? She thinks, in retrospect, that he probably didn't. The Duke would never have agreed to that.

But she wasn't thinking clearly back then. Terror washed over her. She stood there, breathing shallow, hitching breaths.

"What do you want from me?" she whispered.

He looked at her, irritated, as though mildly surprised by her stupidity. "I would have thought it was obvious. I want the boy."

Hand the hostage over to them? God. She couldn't. Her mind raced for alternatives. "I could give him to Mulder," she said rashly. "Then you could get him from Mulder instead."

"Miss Covarrubias, you're not in a position to make counter-offers."

The horrible part was, he was absolutely right. She groped for something. Anything. "But then - then you'd be the only one to know what he knows. Before the others."

The Duke's drink paused midway to his mouth. She'd hit a nerve she hadn't known was there.

"How does that benefit you?"

She flushed. Haltingly, she said, "I think he could forgive that."

He frowned. Finished his drink. "I must say, Miss Covarrubias, there's no accounting for taste. But your suggestion is an intriguing one. I accept."

She let out a long, shaky sigh of relief.

"But you will be followed," he warned. "Don't consider double-crossing me, young lady. You will pay dearly for it. And so will he."

God, hadn't they suffered enough?

"No, Sir." She had to get out of there. She had to.

"Very well. You may go."

She made to the bathroom before she threw up. She retched until her stomach was empty, and she stayed there, kneeling before the elegant old-fashioned toilet, leaning her head against the ceramic. Weeping hysterically. Tears she had been holding in for over a year left her in a flood.

She couldn't go through that again. She just couldn't. Not even for Alex.

She just couldn't. She just-

She wept. And wept. And wept.


"You're tense."

Her thighs were clenched. Harder than they'd been since their very first time. She willed herself to relax, but she was too tight. She could see the taut lines of her tendon beneath his hand.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. Staring out the little porthole window of the captain's quarters. She'd wanted him down in the bowels of the ship, but the search for more comfortable surroundings had given her time to think about what they'd done to her, and what she had to do in order to stop it from happening again.

"Don't be." He kissed her hair. Gentle. Concerned. "Please tell me what's wrong."

"Nothing," she said. "I don't know. I'm sorry."

He closed his arm around her. "We shouldn't do this, Marita. Not when you're like this. You're too dry. I don't want to hurt you."

His words made her grow cold. She was under no illusions about the gravity of her betrayal. He might never forgive her. This could be the last time she would be able to touch him this way. "Oh, Alex, please-" she burst out, and then she broke into sudden tears.

He drew back a little. "They didn't do something to you, did they?"

She held her head in her hands. "It's just all hit me. I'm sorry."

He was perplexed, but he held her until the sobs had been and gone. When she was calm again, she kissed him, and they made slow, diffident love, and he fell asleep with his head on her breast.

She extricated herself, easing him back onto the pillows. Smiled through tears when he mumbled her name. She went to the captain's little desk.

She wrote it all out for him on sheets of paper with the shipping company's letterhead. She left the letter in his jacket, where he would find it when it was too late for him to do anything about it. The letter was streaked with tears.

She kissed his sleeping form when she left him.