Welcome To The Harem
And So It Ends by Deslea R. Judd
Summary: Marita, Diana and Alex against the colonists. If they hadn't had the vaccine, it might have been a fair fight. Post-Requiem, R, Krycek/Marita. NOTE: IN PROGRESS, PENDING REVISION.
And So It Ends *PG13* 1/2
Deslea R. Judd
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name on it.
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
RATING: PG13 for implied sex and language.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: After Requiem.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: romance, angst, colonisation, Krycek/Covarrubias.
SUMMARY: Alex, Marita, and Diana against the Colonists. If they hadn't had the vaccine, it might have been a fair fight...
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. firstname.lastname@example.org
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky 2001 Eligible.
"Need I remind you that it was your idea to bring me here?"
"I have days," he said with a glare, "when I wish I hadn't."
Diana snorted. "That doesn't surprise me. You're your own worst enemy, Alex."
He opened his mouth to point out that people who had to be rescued from assassins shouldn't throw stones, then thought better of it. Their bickering was nothing more than misplaced exhaustion. There was no need to make it worse. Instead, he retorted mildly, "Not my worst. Just one of the crowd."
That broke the tension, and she laughed. "True enough. Speaking of which," she went on, tapping away at the keyboard, the monotonous clatter droning away in his ears, "do you have any intelligence yet on our opposite numbers?" She nodded to the photo on the desk. "Marita's pulling much too much money from the WHO. Whatever the hell she's doing, it's got official sanction. International sanction," she amended, pushing back a tendril of coffee-coloured hair, tucking it behind her ear. It struck him as a very feminine gesture, and femininity wasn't something he normally associated with her. Diana had gotten softer since Mulder's body had been found among the wreckage of the downed UFO off the Oregon coast. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing.
"God knows what Spender had her working on before he died," he said pensively. "It could be anything. And she could be anywhere. None of my operatives have found her. She's not in Russia, and she's not in the Middle East." He frowned. "It's not like her to run something without telling me. And it worries me that it's at that high a level."
Diana gave a weary sigh. "If she's working under the auspices of the United Nations, she could be anywhere on the planet." She shook her head slightly, her brow creased, and swivelled in her chair to look up at him. "The latest IP traces have her in the European Union, but I wouldn't attach too much significance to that. It's probably just a cloaking server. I did find out one interesting piece of information, though." She met his gaze, but didn't elaborate.
Alex looked down at her, and waited; but at last, he said in exasperation, "Well, are you going to sit there looking enigmatic, or are you gonna tell me?"
She bit back a grin, and relented. "She accessed my autopsy report pretty much as soon as Spender got her out of the tests. She knew my death was faked - and she covered for us. She's been a step ahead of us all along," she said - not without admiration. "I guess she thinks she can use us."
"Wouldn't be the first time," he said bitterly.
She mused idly, "It's remotely possible that she's being used herself, of course."
"By who?" he queried. "There's no-one left."
Diana shrugged. "The colonists are still around - and the rebels. Scully and Marita are the only abductees left. If they wanted to run something, who else would they-"
She broke off. He was ashen, the lines of his face rigid.
"What did you say?" he asked in wary stupefaction.
She looked at him blankly. "Which part?"
"The part where Marita was an abductee."
"You didn't know that?" she said in disbelief.
He didn't answer; only demanded, "When?"
"How could you not know that?" she said with incredulity.
"When?" he insisted, more harshly this time.
"I gave you more credit than that, Alex. Didn't you even have her investigated when you started sleep-"
"If you don't tell me when she was abducted," he hissed, his face suddenly inches from hers, "I'm gonna wring that pretty white neck of yours; I swear to God."
She was totally unintimidated, which in other circumstances might have been a reason to kill her. She put her finger to his chest and pushed him lightly away. "Ninety-three," she said easily. "She was in Chechnya with the UN investigating Russian atrocities. She stumbled across an old Soviet testing facility. She got out fifty-odd test subjects, but got caught herself. They gave her the implant to wipe her memories. She got them back eventually, but by then they'd gotten rid of all the evidence. Spender was furious," she laughed mirthlessly, turning back to the computer. "He thought Marita was going to be his key to getting the Russian intelligence."
"That's it," he said thoughtfully. "It makes perfect sense."
"What?" she asked absently, still peering at the screen. "What makes sense?"
There was no answer; and when she looked up, he was gone.
"We have things to discuss."
He knew he should play it cool, but watching her, sitting there - her head inclined as she shuffled through papers, her hair drawn up, the delicate slope of her neck exposed - he wanted her. It drove him mad, because after all that had happened, his wanting made no sense. It was uncontrolled...a wildcard. And Krycek was not a man who liked wildcards.
Marita looked up at him, regarding him coolly, seemingly unsurprised. "Right now?"
He was before her in three strides, pulling her up by the arm, holding her close to him. "No. Later." That didn't seem to surprise her either. She didn't resist; nor did she give in. She stood there, very still, looking up at him unblinkingly, exquisite sea-green eyes framed with delicate lashes. Stare at those too long and you could fall into them. That was the last thing he needed.
"I see you're still your subtle self," she said mildly, at last. "How did you find me?"
"Diana told me about what they did to you here in 1993," he said, suppressing a twinge he felt at the thought. He'd felt it more than once on the series of flights he'd taken to get here; but so far he'd managed to shunt it aside. "The UN is active here, and the lab here has all the right facilities without being under US control. I figured if you were working against colonisation, you might come back."
"So she is alive, then?"
"Of course she's alive. Did you think I was going to let another freedom fighter get killed? They're kind of an endangered species."
"Tell me about it," she said wryly.
"And as an endangered species, I would hope you'd be more careful," he went on reproachfully. "I walked straight in."
"You were allowed to," she said calmly, waving down to her desk. He half-turned, and saw a bank of surveillance monitors. Their wedding picture was there, too, in a gleaming silver frame; but he didn't attach any significance to its presence. It was there because Marita believed that was appropriate to a married woman. He doubted she even noticed it anymore. It was part of her landscape. She went on, "We're still allies."
"Are we?" he asked mildly.
"Husbands come and go, but ideology is forever. Especially when you consider the alternative." She looked down at his hand, still gripped around her wrist. "You've made your grand statement of ownership, Alex. Let me go."
A little shamefacedly, he complied. "Speaking of marriage, thank you for not divorcing me."
She shrugged easily; straightened the picture automatically. "Your having access to a diplomatic passport is in all our best interests. That's as true now as it was then."
"True enough." He turned his attention to the computer, peering at a nondescript login screen. "So what are you running here, Marita? There's too much money and too many people involved for this to be another half-assed scheme. This is the real thing."
"I've got a vaccine," she said, looking up at him with just a trace of pride. Then, pointedly, "One that doesn't half-kill the recipients."
He whistled admiringly. "Well done. How did you manage that?"
"I developed it at Fort Marlene when I was in the tests. I had my own supply of antibodies," she said grimly, holding out a slender white arm, the veins in her wrist exposed. He wanted to take that cool flesh in his mouth and suck it, wanted to feel it grow soft and warm beneath his lips. Part of him wondered clinically if that was so he wouldn't have to think about Fort Marlene, but he gritted his teeth against that one. "Not to mention a vested interest in finding a cure."
"And now you're distributing it," he said pensively, dragging his gaze from her wrist, lingering on her slender white neck for a long moment before meeting her gaze once more. "How?"
"Through the water supply, where there is one, and within food drops in areas where there isn't." She leaned forward and hit a few keys on the keyboard, calling up a map. It had large colour-coded regions. "Developing regions first. We've already done Africa, Asia and South America. Once the Eastern bloc is done, we're onto the first world - Oceania, Western Europe, and North America last."
She leaned forward again, clicking on her mouse to call up more maps, these ones with dates and population figures. Traces of scent - perfume, tinged with something more personal, more initimate - they drifted into his nostrils, tantalising yet almost imperceptible. He cursed her - and himself. Taking a deep breath, he shook off his distraction and peered at the computer screen, concentrating hard, his brow furrowed. He asked finally, "Why developing regions first?"
"We have a pressure of time," she said, still leaning forward, her face glowing in the unnatural white light of the screen. "That means we vaccinate the hardiest first. People used to living tough and making do with limited resources. People who've already come out on top of natural selection. If colonisation happens in the meantime, at least survival won't be in the hands of yuppies who shriek at the idea of life without a cellphone," she said grimly. "You're already immune," she added, looking up at him. "I put it in the first drink I gave you at the hotel in Tunisia."
"Even though I like my cellphone?" he challenged with a smirk.
"You survived the silo, Tunguska, and Tunisia." She turned back to the screen. "You kinda paid your dues."
"Thanks," he said grudgingly. "Who's funding you? It can't be the US government if they're last. They'd be demanding to go first, like the good world citizens they are."
She laughed at that, closing down the maps. She opened a spreadsheet and pointed to a few figures. "We've siphoned off some of their money to make up funding shortfalls, but no. They're in the dark. It's the UN."
He nodded slowly. "So why didn't you bring me and Diana aboard?"
She stopped fiddling with the readouts, and her head drooped a little, just for a moment. She breathed out, not quite a sigh. "Letting you in if you came to me was one thing," she said at last, "but I wasn't going to fall over myself to bring you in, in the circumstances."
He shifted uncomfortably, looked slightly away. They had never really spoken of her betrayal, or his; and he was in no hurry to do so. If by some wild chance she had had a reason for hers, he might have to face his uneasy suspicion that his was the worse of the two. Thankfully, she relented, though, briskly changing the subject. "Nonetheless, Alex, you're welcome here - both of you." She went back to fiddling with menus, closing screens, logging out. "You in?"
"I am. Can't speak for Diana, but I'd say she will be too."
She nodded her approval. "Good." She went on curiously, looking up at him, "What have you two been up to these last few months, anyway? I mean besides monitoring me?"
"That was about it, actually," he admitted with a sudden, wide grin. "You're a hard woman to track." His look was admiring - almost deferential. Not quite.
"I've worked hard to become so," she said with a sudden smile, nodding at the grudging compliment. Then, still smiling, "You screwing her?"
"I'm a married man," he pointed out. "Besides, I don't like brunettes."
"You can't prefer blondes," she said wryly, straightening up. She was close - too close. His pulse rate shot up in an instant. "You're not a gentleman."
"And you're not a blonde," he said in a low, husky voice.
"Fuck you," she said demurely, her lips mere inches from his. He didn't know if she'd wanted him when she started to speak, but she wanted him when she finished, as though he'd transmitted his wanting to her in an instant. Her breath was suddenly ragged; her hands were rising aimlessly, as though she wanted to touch him but didn't quite know how. She repeated lamely, "Fuck you, Alex," and she drew out his name in a long, soft hiss; and then his mouth was on hers.
She breathed out in a long sigh, her lips parting for him in an instant, her hot breath mingling with his. Hard to believe this had started as a joke, something they should do because, what the fuck, it was their honeymoon, such though it was. Hard to believe that but for political expediency and a few glasses of wine, he might never have known - known - what? His hand was on her neck, fingers teasing up into her hair, and the thought was lost with everything else. She found his jaw with searching fingertips, ran them over the smooth lines of his neck, then down to his stomach. He felt them easing towards his belt, not pulling up his shirt or tracing the skin beneath; but getting ready to. He knew her, knew what she would do to him almost before she did; could almost feel her palms against his flesh already. It seemed to him that there was a glimmer of something intangible between them - something both less and more than touch - but it faded before he could work out what it might be.
She pulled back at last, a slight rise of pink in her cheeks, but otherwise looking as though nothing had happened. Even her lipstick was unmarred - and he just bet she'd brought some horribly expensive formula with her from America that promised never to kiss off. It pissed him off - made him want to drag her down onto the desk and kiss her thoroughly, until it was all gone. Maybe even afterwards, just for good measure.
"That wasn't what I meant," she was saying, her voice mild. But she didn't seem pissed - that was a good sign.
"But you could let me take it that way, couldn't you, Marita?" he said with an endearing smile.
She put a hand to his chest, smiling in spite of herself. "Alexis."
"Don't call me that."
The smile was suddenly held rigid as she struggled against laughter. "I'm serious."
"So am I, Maritanovich."
"That's not a name." She was smothering laughter, as well she should: as comebacks went, that one didn't. It might've helped if it had really been her name.
He snorted. "Neither's Alexis."
She was laughing openly now. "Tell it to your mother, Romanov Boy."
"At least it's historical," he said petulantly. He was going down - no question.
"He was assassinated!"
There was nothing else for it but to kiss her. He found her in an instant, engulfing her, and he made a low sound when she responded in kind. "God, I missed you," he murmured reverently. He felt her fingers teasing at his hair, and he realised that was what he'd missed the most.
At last, she pulled away, licking her lips. She hazarded kindly, "No comeback?"
He shook his head ruefully.
Her look was resigned. She said wearily, "I suppose you'll have to kiss me again, then."
So he did.
"I heard about Mulder."
Diana's features tightened, and she nodded. "Yeah."
Marita touched the older woman's arm. "I'm sorry."
Slight dip of her head. "Thank you, Rita," she murmured. Marita didn't have it in her to comment on the hated nickname at that moment.
"We're glad to have you aboard," she said at last. "Have you been shown to your quarters?"
Diana nodded, composing herself. "Yes," she said, her voice stronger. "I was just going to unpack, unless you need me."
Marita shook her head. "No, not right now. There's a meeting at 0700 tomorrow. I'll need you then. I've left a report in your room on what we've done so far - I'd like you to look over that before the meeting."
Diana nodded. "Will do. See you then." She shot Marita a grim smile, and left.
Marita watched her go, then returned to her desk. She shot a look at Alex, at his own, facing her. He had said nothing during this exchange, but he was watching her. His expression was disapproving.
She stared him down, waiting; and at last, he spoke. "You shouldn't encourage that, you know."
"Her grief. It's a weakness."
"She loved him, Alex. Would it kill you to be humane?"
"Love is a weakness, too."
She snorted. "What a load of twaddle." He was about to comment that packing those Absolutely Fabulous videos had been bad for her vocabulary, when she went on scathingly, "And what the hell would you know about love anyway?" She shook her head irritably, looking down at some papers.
He glared at her, and rose, pushing back his chair with a loud scraping noise. She looked up in surprise, just in time to see him storm out. Her brow creased as Diana returned, catching the door as Alex pushed past her. "What's up his nose?"
Marita shook her head. "Just throwing a hissy fit because I was right and he was wrong. Don't worry about it," she added, more easily than she felt.
"Oh. Look, I've been looking over this report and I had some questions about the logistics of the food drops to the Pacific Islands..."
Marita listened, and she did the things that had to be done; but the nagging feeling that she'd missed something important wouldn't leave her.
"All right, I'll bite. What did I do?"
He shook off her hand. "Nothing. Forget it."
"How can I forget it when I don't remember it?" she said, not unkindly. She didn't wait for an answer; only went to the dresser and shrugged out of her jacket. She took off her earrings and necklace. The clips in her hair went, too, and as it tumbled over her shoulders, she knew what she looked like, knew the effect she was having on him. It wasn't particularly calculated, but she knew. And when she heard his ragged sigh, she was glad.
"You know, Marita," he said without rancour, "sooner or later your looks will fade and you won't be able to use them to placate me."
"I don't believe you'll still be here when that happens," she said, suddenly morose. There were no tears, but she could taste salt in the back of her throat.
He was behind her then, his arm around her shoulders, and she touched his hand with hers. "Well, now, that depends."
"On what?" she asked; but her question was without conviction; because he was nuzzling the back of her neck. And maybe because she was afraid of the answer. If he came out with something like 'How well you can suck,' she might have to kill him. If he answered for real, she might have to kill him anyway.
His breath was hot beside her ear. "On whether I stay when this is all over."
She blanched; turned to face him in disbelief. "You want to stay?" she said with cautious optimism.
He shrugged. "I don't know." Then, hesitantly, "Maybe."
She worked to keep her voice neutral. "I'd like that."
She slid her arms around his neck, and kissed him; but this was a very different kiss - more tender than anything that had passed between them before. And to her surprise, he responded in kind; sliding fingers up into her hair, then down to cradle her jaw as he teased her with his lips. "Ya loo bloo tbyah."
"What does that mean?" she murmured. Her Russian training was the United Nations course in business use, not personal.
"It's an endearment," he breathed, teetering on the edge of the lie, and was rewarded with a gorgeous smile. He kissed her once more, breathing her name; and it was like a caress against her skin; and she opened her mouth to receive him; to draw him in and make him part of her. Then, when they were naked together, he looked at her with gentleness in his eyes and made her feel like something precious. And when she touched him, it was with reverence - something she'd never felt for a man. And when he took her, she felt adored. But when it was over, she wondered whether the things that had passed between them that night would ever be theirs again.
She loved him.
It wasn't a sentimental thought. Marita wasn't prone to those. It was a statement of fact, with all the emotional content of a street sign. And on this instance, as with most of them, she thought it with mild irritation; a touch of pique. Loving Alex, given half a chance, would take over her soul. And that was an indulgence she couldn't afford.
She peered into the mirror, carefully blotting her lipstick. She could see him reflected through the door behind her, sprawled out on the bed, his arm and leg crossed over his body, as though she were still spooned there with him. She reached across herself, touching her hand to her shoulder gently; then looked down at herself and realised what she was doing. She dropped it again, as though she'd been burnt. She looked at herself; drew her hair up into a knot and pinned it. She knew he liked it like that - he liked to see her neck - but she told herself that wasn't why she did it that way. And after all, he liked it down, too; so it didn't really matter what she did.
There was a small comfort in that.
She looked at her reflection disgustedly. Comfort. What kind of a thing was that to seek? Oh, she knew that it was a human need, as real as that for food or drink or air; but that was in ordinary times. In times of war, comfort was for the weak. And make no mistake, she was in a war. They all were.
Not for the first time, she wondered what would become of them if they were able to avert the coming invasion and escape with their lives. In a way, she hoped they didn't. To die with him, her mission accomplished - that was acceptable. But for them to drift apart, for her to rebuild alone - that was unthinkable.
Not that I can't live without him, she thought hurriedly.
No, it wasn't that. She wasn't that weak. But there was nothing left that she really wanted to do without him. She supposed she and Diana might run away together and start a real estate agency or a preschool or something horribly mundane like that; but why? Why did survival matter, when the things she wanted to do with her life were either done or out of reach? What was the point? God might know; Marita did not.
"I'll find one," she whispered, touching her finger to her reflection thoughtfully. "I have saved ninety-three lives. I have been instrumental in peace treaties that saved thousands. I am Marita Covarrubias, and damn if I'm going to stand here and pine for a man like Alex Krycek." As motivational talks went, it wasn't exactly Dale Carnegie; but it would have to be enough.
She tucked a wisp of hair back, clipped it, and stood very straight. She looked at her reflection approvingly; then turned and walked out the door.
There was work to be done.
"How are we doing?"
Marita turned her head, then turned back to the computer. "Hello, Diana," she said absently. "How was Transylvania?"
There was a slight swishing noise as the older woman took up her position beside her. "Surprisingly ordinary. Was that some kind of weird joke at my expense?"
Marita laughed. It wasn't a sound she made often. "It wasn't, from my perspective, but God knows about Alex." She motioned to the far corner. He was puzzling over a sheaf of maps. "You know what he's like."
"Even vampires need vaccine," he said solemnly, but absently. He was trying to work out how to immunise the Gaza strip without starting a war. They had Arrafat onside - that was expected. Arrafat was a pragmatist. There were half a dozen other leaders who were not so happy about saving their enemies along with themselves. He figured if he could get three, the other three would cave in.
"Well, I gave it to you, Alex. Kind of set a precedent," Marita quipped, but the banter was forced. She was looking over the satellite transmissions, and she was worried. She wasn't sure if she should confide in them just yet, though she imagined Alex would draw it out of her that night in any case. She never could hide things from him.
Diana smiled faintly. "How are we doing?" she repeated.
"Fine," she said evenly. "We're ahead of schedule. We're already up to Hungary."
"What are you looking at?" Diana asked, coming around to the computer.
"I'm monitoring the TV broadcasts," Marita said thoughtfully. Then, slowly - because, command decision or not, she needed to know what they thought - she admitted, "I'm worried about these flickers in Sydney."
"Localised anomalies," Diana shrugged. Alex looked up for a long moment, meeting Marita's gaze, his expression a query. With the faintest nod, she beckoned to him, and he came over, and positioned himself at her other side. Their hands brushed, and to his surprise, she slid her fingers around his. He squeezed them companionably as though this were the most natural thing in the world; but he wondered whether it was to take reassurance, or give it. Either way, his worry went up a notch.
"No," said Marita at last, "if we flick to Papua New Guinea, same thing. Different formations, same problem. Same with Indonesia and the Cocos Islands. It's the satellite feed."
Alex understood; Diana did not. "So, what? They're screwing with our satellites? What is this, Independence Day?"
Marita shook her head. "No. No race that advanced would use something as primitive as our technological resources. It's just flight activity. They're congregating."
"They're getting ready to strike," Alex said morosely. His hold on Marita's hand tightened.
"We have to speed things up," Marita said pensively. "Given their position, I'd say they'll strike in Oceania first. They'll probably land in the Great Sandy Desert."
Diana frowned. "Australia's done, isn't it?"
"Everywhere with a water supply," said Alex. "We'll lose some of the desert dwellers who drink from wells, but probably well under 1% of the population."
"Still eighteen thousand people," Diana said uncomfortably.
"I'm not happy about it either, but we knew we couldn't cover everyone. We've done better than we'd dared hope," said Marita; but she sounded as though she was trying to convince herself. "We're going to come out with a low body count and a more-or-less intact social structure. As global invasions go, that's the best outcome we could have managed."
"I want to do North America," Alex said abruptly. He extricated his hand from Marita's, and passed it over his forehead wearily. "It can't wait."
Diana shifted. She looked unhappy. "We can't change the schedule. We have commitments to the governments and the water authorities in the EU. If we don't meet those commitments, they'll impede us - especially if they get wind of the fact that there's abnormal satellite activity. They'll think we're holding out on them, favouring the States - and they'll be right," she added. "It could start a war."
Marita nodded reluctantly. "Be pretty funny if we went to all this trouble to save everyone from the colonists and then killed each other over the vaccine." But she didn't sound amused. She sounded bitter.
Alex leaned back a little, out of Marita's line of vision, and caught Diana's eye. He nodded to the door. Her brow creased, but she took the hint and left. She mumbled an excuse, and Marita waved her off, hardly noticing. She was staring at the Sydney television feed once more. She looked troubled.
They stood there in companionable silence for a long moment, their hands linked once more. "We can find a way," he said at last. She turned to him, and let him draw her close without protest. His voice was low...harsh. "There's got to be a way."
She pulled back; slid her hands up to his face, cradled it between her palms. "Alex," she said gently, "I know how you feel about this. We're all Americans. But you know what the US government is like. If we'd let them have it first, they'd have tried to control it."
He swallowed hard. "I know that. But I'm not talking about a government, Marita. I'm talking about a nation." He was upset - she could hear it in his voice; could almost smell the salty scent of tears. She felt bewilderment, because this was an Alex she had never seen - not after the silo, not after Tunguska. "A nation that sheltered my family from the Soviet regime. Yours, too." She bowed her head. "Are you really going to let them die?"
She grazed his jawline with her fingertips. "Alex," she whispered, "my hands are tied. I don't know how to make this happen. The unit can't be in two places at once. And Diana's right - if I divert the team to the States, war will break out." She met his gaze, and a tear streaked down her cheek. That didn't upset him so much as the way she whispered; the way her voice was an almost inaudible breath. "I wish I could give this to you, but I don't know how."
"Then let me go," he said urgently. "Give me vaccine and let me try. Please."
"I've never seen you like this," she said in wonder, at last.
He stroked her hair, tangled his fingers through it possessively, twisting it absently. "Marita, we've had a lot of water under the bridge. You betrayed me," her brow creased at that, "and I abandoned you and all that. But please. I'm fighting for my country here. My homeland. *Our* homeland." She looked troubled. "I've never asked you for anything." Then, thickly, "You're my wife."
She slid her arms around his neck, rested her forehead against his. "Only in name," she protested weakly; but a watery smile touched her lips.
"Not only in name," he asserted, running his fingers down her neck, down over her breast, resting his hand at her waist and then sliding it up her back.
"That's not what I meant." But she said it mildly, blinking back more tears.
"It's not all I meant. We're a team." He brought his hand back up to cradle her jaw. "Aren't we?"
Wordlessly, she nodded; and then she was kissing him, tenderly, comfortingly. He held her tightly, his breathing ragged - not with arousal, but emotion. And she loved him for it, so she kissed him again; let what she felt for him seep through in her touch. There was no holding back; no bid to stay strong; just her cherishing the man she loved.
"You can have the vaccine, Alex," she whispered at last.
He stroked back a tendril of her hair from her face. "Thank you."
When they were done, and they lay there together on the lounge, Marita lifted her head, resting her chin on his chest, looking at him. "Alex?" she said softly.
"Mmm?" he murmured, teasing his fingers through her hair absently.
"What did you mean when you said I betrayed you?"
His eyes flew open. He stopped stroking. "You know what I meant."
"No, Alex," she said earnestly, "I really don't."
It made him mad, that she could still try to lie to him after all this time. He hadn't really forgiven, but he'd let it go, to a large degree, and it angered him that she couldn't show a bit of integrity about it, that she couldn't acknowledge it. It was insulting. He felt the rage boiling up in him; felt an urge to wound, to hurt. He sat up abruptly, pushing her aside, not all that gently. "Marita, don't play dumb. It belittles us both."
She looked genuinely bewildered, genuinely distressed, and he couldn't help but admire her performance, even through his irritation. She gasped, as though in disbelief, or perhaps in shock. "Alex, please!" she insisted. "Talk to me!"
He rose. Pacing morosely, he shook his head. "We can't talk if you're going to keep up this charade, Marita. I know what you've done and I wish to God that I could hate you for it, but I can't. That's my weakness," he admitted with self-reproach. "But I still know what you are."
She grew angry. "And what am I?" she demanded harshly.
"You want to do this?" he said bitterly, turning to face her. "Fine. You're a traitor and a thief and a whore. And I might be all those things too, but I've never been them with you."
She stared at him for long, long seconds. She was shaking, her head moving from side to side in negation. "You finally did it," she said in wonder. "I never thought you could."
He stared at her, his expression a question mark.
"Not even when you left me in that place to die. I never thought you could make me hate you, but you finally went and did it." She pulled her clothes around her, her cheeks bright with humiliation. "You made love to me when you thought those things about me?" she demanded. "You're a bigger whore than I ever could have been."
He backed away, just a little. Whatever he'd expected of her - tears, denials, apologies - he had never anticipated this...this outrage, this righteous anger. He experienced a moment of doubt then, but he dismissed it. She was a better actress than he'd given her credit for - nothing more.
"Get out," she said hoarsely, the tears flowing freely. "Take your goddamn vaccine and get the hell out."
He stared at her, held her gaze with unadulterated fury for a long moment; and then he did as she said.
"Are you all right?"
Marita turned to the older woman wearily. "I don't want to have a girly talk right now, Diana," she sighed exhaustedly. "Save it for the Cabbage Patch Kids mothers' club, okay?"
Diana frowned. "Look, I don't know what happened and I don't want to know, but it serves none of us for you and Alex to be at loggerheads. He's working in the dark over there, without backup."
Marita shook her head in dismissal of this. "I wouldn't leave him without help if he needed it. He knows that."
Diana hesitated. She said uneasily, "I'm not so sure."
She looked up in alarm. "What are you talking about?"
Diana leaned forward and flicked to the television feeds. She entered a few keys, and straightened. "Marita, there's satellite interference on the North American television broadcasts. The first target isn't Australia anymore, if it ever was. He can't not know that."
Marita breathed out shakily. "Oh, my God."
"There's more," she went on implacably. "One of my men finally decoded Spender's hard drive. Under the old agreement, the initial release of the pathogen was supposed to be on February 10 in New York. Densely populated; major travel terminal - it would spread all over the globe like that." Diana snapped her fingers. "They'll probably stick with the old plan, even with the Consortium gone. All their strategy is based on it - why reinvent the wheel?"
"That makes sense," Marita said slowly. "February 10 is only two days away - we have to let Alex know so that he can target the vaccine accordingly."
Diana said gently, "It's not as simple as that, Marita."
"I don't understand," she said with mounting fear.
"You know how, before those transmissions, Alex was supposed to escort a food drop to Kirabati? How he had to have some shots?" Marita nodded dumbly. "We sent off some bloodwork to see if they took, and I had Olga test for immunity to the alien pathogen, too." Diana was speaking very slowly, very carefully; and she wanted to reach out and grab her by the neck and shake the truth out of her. "We got the bloods back, Marita. Alex isn't immune."
She felt the blood drain from her face. She dropped to her seat with a dull thud. "What are you talking about?" she demanded in a low, harsh voice, looking up at the other woman. "I gave him the vaccine in Tunisia!"
"Right after he'd spent a year half-starved in prison," Diana said gently. "I'm betting he didn't keep down his first real meal - or his first real drink."
Marita was shaking her head. "But - it's in the water supply here," she protested.
Diana went to Alex's desk; lifted an Evian bottle for her to see. "He drinks bottled water, remember?"
She hung her head in her hands. "We used to joke about it," she said painfully. "He said having seen how easy it was to contaminate the water supply, he sure as well wasn't going to drink it." She looked up again. She was very white. "Oh, my God."
"He hasn't been in contact, but we think, from Scully and Skinner's movements, that he might be in the Pentagon."
"That would make sense," she said absently. "He's trying to use Spender's old contacts to make this happen."
Diana nodded slowly. "Do you want me to go after him, Marita?"
She shook her head. "No. I'll go myself."
"I'd like to come with you, Rita."
Marita shook her head. "Diana, once the colonists realise the populace is immune, they'll start bombing. They'll retaliate before they leave. America is going to be a dangerous place to be for a while. I think you should stay here in the compound."
"I'm coming, Marita." Her voice left no room for argument.
She opened her mouth to argue, but then she shut it again. "All right," she said quietly, at last. "Thank you." Diana nodded, and then, tactfully, she left.
Marita waited until the door snicked shut, and then she buried her head in her hands, and wept.
SECOND HALF STILL TO COME...