Welcome To The Harem

The Best Ones by Malograntum Vitiorum
Summary: Women are like cigarettes. They cost so much, and you pay it, just to make yourself sick. And in the end, you have no one to blame but yourself. CSM and others.

Title: The Best Ones
Author: Malograntum Vitiorum
Email: malograntum@morosophy.com
Disclaimer: I own as many X-Files characters as I do cigarettes.
Archive: Harem (and most anywhere else, just ask first)
Rating: PG-13ish for language
Summary: Women are like cigarettes. They cost so much, and you pay
it, just to make yourself sick. And in the end, you have no one to
blame but yourself.
Notes: All section headings are cigarette advertising taglines from
various decades; the brands referenced are L&M, Chesterfield, Senior
Service, Pall Mall, and Strand, in that order. The title is from the
classic 1960s Silva-Thin Cigarettes slogan: "Cigarettes are like
girls. The best ones are thin and rich."
Spoilers: Er, everything, especially One Breath, the cancer arc,
Talitha Cumi, Two Fathers/One Son, X-Files: Fight the Future, Sixth
Extinction/Amor Fati, Requiem, and the questionably-titled The Truth.
Acknowledgements: I'm so glad Eo's a beta.


The Best Ones
By Malograntum Vitiorum

"There's a little Eve in every woman."
--1960s ad for Eve Cigarettes


I. Just what the doctor ordered

While Bill Mulder was still alive, the family was collateral. With
Bill gone, there is no reason to keep her around, this volatile woman
who has come so close so many times to blowing the cover off of their

Nature has done them all a great favor, done what he could never
bring himself to do. Now the shell that once held her fiery
personality lies here breathing through a tube, barely alive. She is
no longer really in there, he knows. Left alone, her vital signs will
soon cease, worn out by a desperate life and cut off from the
passionate will that kept her going when a lesser spirit would have
given up.

This was not brought about by any action of his. He did nothing, and
to take care of this problem for good, he needs do nothing more.

The alien looks at him expectantly, insofar as its manufactured face
can have such an expression. It thinks it is here to finish her off,
but she could finish as well without their help.

Carefully, as if it might crumble, he takes her hand. It has the
heaviness of strength, muscle beneath the skin that he can feel even
though she doesn't respond to his touch. He looks the man-shaped
monster in its false eyes.

"Mend her."

II. --somehow I just like to give you a light

("I must die or they all die. No! No...")

They speed away from the base as he tries to still the echoes in his
head. Fowley drives, staring steadily at the gravelly road ahead. If
he wanted, he could turn to watch the scene that flickers with
deceptive distance in the side mirror. He closes his eyes. Not
thinking about what's behind him. Fire and death. It's all going to
hell. No--it isn't going.

It's gone.

And he can still hear Cassandra in his head, see her wide bright
eyes, as big as the first day he met her. Looking through his weak

Begging him to kill her.

Everything he's worked for is ash now. Everybody is dead. Burnt alive
in that hangar, a few miles behind them now.

(It was to save you.)

They're on the freeway--he doesn't remember how they got there.
They're doing ninety. He doesn't know where they're going. Fowley is
silent now. Crying, he realizes.

What right does Fowley have to cry? She can't conceive of the scale
of what just happened. She's put a little time into this project,
ten, maybe fifteen years. This is his life. This is everything.

(I saved you.)

The scene is before him as vividly as if he were still at the hangar.
Charred bodies. Nearly everyone he's known in the past fifty years.
The...children. Their hope.

Her skin burned off the bone. Golden hair curled, brittle, black. Her
eyes.... He sees it with strange clarity. She would have looked
unblinking at her doom, faced it with calm. Sorry for those who died
with her, but welcoming her own end. Knowing.

(I came in hopes that we might speak of the future...not the past.)

Fowley has stopped crying now. One of them has to be collected when
the next thing happens. There will be a next thing.

Now that she is gone, he wishes that he believed in a better place
for her to go.

III. A product of the master mind

"You're dead."

She blinks, not yet fully conscious. Her hair falls across her face
as she pushes herself up weakly to a sitting position. "What?"

"Don't overexert yourself, you've been heavily sedated."

She rubs her eyes. Doesn't look too surprised. "Am I here so you can
play with me before you kill me?"

"Don't misunderstand me. I'm not threatening you. You're already
dead. A body that will be positively identified as your own was found
shot through the head in your apartment this morning. Mulder will
mourn your passing, Scully will grant you a grudging posthumous
respect, and neither of them will doubt that you were indeed killed
in retribution for helping to save Mulder's life." He allows himself
a moment of self-satisfaction. He holds all the cards again, after

She looks down at herself groggily, slowly processing the
information. Examines the sweatshirt and jeans that she was given in
exchange for the suit now worn by a substitute corpse. (For a brief
flash he remembers her in happier times, standing in the doorway in a
black negligee.)

(Funny--when did she own a black negligee?)

"And why wasn't I?"

He tosses the memory aside and smiles. "Sure you want to tempt fate
like that, Diana?" Takes a drag from his cigarette, exhales slowly.
"You've disobeyed me. Caused me a good deal of trouble in the long
term. But after so many years of service, it would be foolish of me
to...take you off the payroll for a single infraction."

She pushes her hair out of her face and gives him a skeptical look.
"What's going to happen?"

"I'm reassigning you to a less glamorous, but no less vital, branch
of the project. An assignment that will provide you with
less--temptation. You'll get to see an old friend again, in fact."

"If I'm working with Alex Krycek, tell me now so I can shoot myself."
Already joking with him, she has no idea how close she came to death
last night. (But he learned his lesson last winter about shooting in
anger, didn't he?)

When he discovered her betrayal, he punched the wall almost hard
enough to break his hand. Paced back and forth, furious, in the
sterile, empty room. He was finally through with Mulder, after all
these years, and it hadn't been a vulgar shot to the back of the
head, this was a good and noble death that he had given Mulder, a
martyr's death in the best cause. Perfect. It was finally over. And
she'd denied him this, this closure.

He smoked one cigarette, then a second, before allowing himself to
pick up the phone. The solution came halfway through the second
cigarette. He always did do his best thinking under pressure.

She's still waiting for an answer, he realizes. He feels...funny all
of a sudden. His head feels--


His head jerks up. Where did that come from? It feels as if she
spoke, but all the words seemed to come at once...

He keeps his expression still. "I'll give you the details later." He
stands up slowly, puts out his cigarette on the nightstand.

(Fox stretched out like Christ on the cross, needing her help)

What...? The image flickers across his consciousness like a
subliminal frame in a movie reel. Then he sees others, going faster
now, different angles or other scenes:

(a house in the suburbs with Diana and the kids, Deep Throat and
Samantha next door)

(one last look back at her ex-husband before leaving him to die)

//is he all right? looks like hell//

"I'm fine," he snaps, pressing his hand to his temple. He only
realizes that she didn't say anything out loud when he sees her
expression--and hears the next thing that she doesn't say.

//oh, shit, it worked//

He gives her what he hopes is a terrifyingly nonchalant smile. "Now.
I don't suppose you'll be trying to pull any more fast ones anytime

IV. Wherever particular people congregate

The phone rings four times before she picks it up. He wonders if
she's screening her calls, then remembers that this is supposed to be
her cell phone number. Those can't be screened, can they? The
technology moves so damn fast these days. So damn fast.

"Hello?" Even in that single word, she sounds stronger and clearer
than he's heard her in years.

"Marita." He leaves the word hanging there. The silence lasts several seconds.

"What do you want?" She keeps her voice even, but he can hear the
effort and preparation that it takes for her to do so.

"I'm dying. Come to Washington."

There is another long silence. He can see her in his mind's eye,
keeping her expression as still as a photograph. He wonders what a
natural reaction looks like on her--when she's lucid and standing on
her own feet, that is.

"How did you get this number?"

"Marita, you know me well enough not to ask that question." He
doesn't actually remember the answer. Did Fowley track her down? It
was only this morning that he got the number. He ought to remember.

"Why are you calling me now?"

"Haven't we been over this? I want you to come to Washington. And to
bring a friend on your way. Well, to be honest, it's a little out of
your way, but I think you'll find it well worth the detour."

Her reply is a sullen silence. Waiting for him to get down to brass tacks.

He absent-mindedly brings his cigarette to his lips, as he still does
sometimes, before remembering the tracheotomy. He holds it in his
mouth for a moment anyway. Old habits. "You're going to Tunisia to
get Alex Krycek. Then you're coming out here to help me. We're going
to recover what we've lost."

"You can't be serious. If Krycek sees me again, he'll probably kill me."

"Oh, I don't know about that. You two were almost inseparable for a
time, weren't you?"

A surprised, derisive laugh. "Listen, if you want my help, Krycek's
out of the picture. It's a deal-breaker."

"Marita. Do you know how many times over you ought to be dead?" No
response. He wants her here in front of him so he can look her in her
icy eyes. "Considering my past experiences with--both of you--I think
I've been more than fair."

"I don't owe you anything." Her voice seems to snap closed.

"Is it really a question of debt, Marita?" What answer is he looking
for? He listens to her silence, trying not to think of the horrible
moment last week when an especially long pause on the phone made him
forget, just for a second, whom he was talking to.

He wishes he could still fucking *read minds.*

V. You're never alone with a Strand

He has begun to have visions.

Perhaps it's a natural consequence of living like a wise old mountain
man. After a while, one begins to forget one's true self.
One...ventures into mystical territory.

Or perhaps it's because his mind is slowly crackling and folding in
on itself from the damage he did to his brain two, three, fifty years
ago. Whenever it was. He knows he's outlasted his welcome here in the
anonymous desert, but he's no longer sure by how long.

In his decaying mind, she lies in one of the many hospital beds that
have held her over the years. He can see the tumor beneath her skin
(between the superior conchea and the sinoidal sinus--the terms
appear to him like labels in a medical diagram); she's pale and weak
and beginning to cry. He is seized with an almost painful sense of
awe. Carefully, reverently, he holds out the microchip. She prays
silently, taking no notice of him. The cancer fades away as if erased.

She floats on the other side of a thick sheet of ice, immersed in
cold organic gel. The thing is living, growing in her belly. When it
matures, it will destroy her, clawing through her flesh to make its
way into the world. The purpose of her suffering has nothing to do
with her and everything to do with Mulder; she is his only anchor to
sanity. Her eyes open and light upon him. He feels naked, though he
is in a warm suit and she wears only a cross.

He stands on the shore, holding a rope. On the other end is a small
boat in which she sits calmly. He knows he should let go. He thinks
she should be afraid of him letting go. Neither of them makes a move.
A century passes in this silence.

(If he does let go, which of them will float away?)

Something pushes through the vision and brings reality to him.
Someone holds out food--hot soup in a wooden bowl. A solemn woman
with dark, leathered skin and long black braids is offering him food.
Is it Greta? No, she's...dead, isn't she? Well, it isn't Greta. She
was a blonde.

She feeds him the soup, this woman he does not know. Can he no longer
hold a spoon himself? Perhaps he can't. The spoon is metal and very
old. The soup is lukewarm.

He tries to thank her, but it takes a few tries to get his voice
working. He keeps forgetting the tracheotomy. He hasn't been able to
talk the old way for years. He thanks her and calls her Greta, even
though he just figured out that she was someone else. He's about to
apologize for calling her Greta, but he has some soup instead and

When he's done, she dabs at his chin and takes the empty bowl away.
He's afraid that she won't come back, but she does. She adjusts the
shawl around his shoulders and kisses him on the forehead.

He finds he can lift his arms after all, and he reaches up to hold
her gently around the waist, and he knows her at last. He is ashamed
to have mistaken her, even with his failing memory. When he was
younger--just a few years ago--he thought her long dead. Thought he'd
seen her die. But here she is, of course, to take care of him in his
weakened age. Returned to him, as he always knew she would, and
looking so young--almost younger than he--so much stronger than he
remembers her from his childhood.

"I've been having dreams." She says nothing in return, just holds him
and listens as she did when he was a boy. "Terrible dreams."

She rocks him gently, speaking comfort to him so softly he can't make
out the words. He should never have left her. "Mom," he whispers, and
for the first time in a great many years, he starts to cry.


Malograntum Vitiorum

Quem deus vult perdere prius dementat.