Welcome To The Harem

Not My Lover by Deslea R. Judd Part 2 of 9
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 S3-7 from Alex and Marita's perspective. There is a prequel, Not My Lover: Enigma (in progress) but the stories can be read independently.

Not My Lover *NC17* 2/7

Deslea R. Judd
Copyright 2000

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. deslea@deslea.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)

Story so far: After stealing the digital tape (Paper Clip), Alex and Marita obtain the data necessary to work independently on a vaccine for the alien pathogen, the so-called Black Cancer. After rescuing Alex from the missile silo (Apocrypha), Marita smuggles him to Kazakhstan, where they use the money from the sale of the MJ- 12 secrets (Piper Maru) to launch the operation. They are married in Russian Georgia. Now, Marita prepares to return home to the Consortium.


Not my lover.

That's what he said of me in Kazakhstan as I prepared to leave him. "Fare thee well, Lover," I had teased; then, more seriously, the back of my hand stroking his cheek, "'til next we meet."

"Not my lover," he said softly. "My life, my wife."

He meant it as homage, I know; but I felt some twinge of pain. Our joining could never be total as long as we lived the life we lived. I craved the simple pleasure of sharing our joy with others, of consummating our marriage in a shared life. It was the one thing I feared I would never have. These last few weeks, living openly as man and wife with the Russians had not assuaged my unhappiness, but rather refined it.

He must have seen my pain, my dilemma, because he brushed my eyelashes with his fingertips, wiping away tears not even shed. "Survival first, perfection later," he counselled wistfully.

I nodded resignedly; and I straightened, resolute. I turned from him to the wind, and climbed the steps into the little seven-seater. I looked over my shoulder at him, and our eyes met for just a second. I thought of this gloomy land, and how I loved it for what it had given me.

The pilot began to close the door; but I stayed his hand, sensing before I saw that he was running towards the craft. "Alexi!" I cried into the howling wind.

"Mare!" He raced up the steps, and I started down them to meet him. He clasped me in his arms. "I don't want you to go!" he exclaimed, wryly, as though amused by his weakness.

He pulled back, and I was laughing even through my tears. I held him, my hands at his neck. "God, Alex, I don't want to go," I said ruefully.

"I've got to find that vaccine," he said urgently. "Being away from you is killing me, and you're not even gone yet."

"You'll find one," I told him firmly. "I have faith in you."

He said softly, "You're the only one who ever has." He stroked my hair, tucking it back behind my ear, and rested his forehead against mine. "I love you, Marita Krycek."

I held his face between my palms, our foreheads and noses touching, his mahogany eyes inches from mine. The air between us was hot with our breaths, his closeness suffocating; but I couldn't bear to pull away. "I love you," I whispered. My lips found his, cherishing him, my first love and my last.

We stayed that way for a long moment, before the pilot cleared his throat. "Comrades Arntzen," he said in Russian, using our diplomatic names, "we have to leave if we're to reach St Petersburg by nightfall." We turned, two identical stricken faces. He said to Alex sympathetically, "You could accompany us and return in the morning if you like - there is room."

We looked at each other longingly, but reluctantly, we both shook our heads. "You're needed here," I said softly. He kissed my forehead, and I wrenched myself from his arms. His smile was bittersweet, and I felt it reflected in my own. "Be well, Alexi."

"And you."

So saying, he backed down the steps, and I moved back into the craft, allowing the pilot to shut the door. The older man motioned towards the seat at the window, his expression kind. I thanked him in halting Russian, but sat towards the aisle. To watch him recede into the distance as we took off was more than I could bear just then.

Never had I felt so acutely the cost of our sacrifice as I did then.

Not my lover.

The words haunted me as I stared at my wedding ring in the middle of the night - a ring I could never wear publicly. I replayed in my mind over and over again our marriage, the pictures and tapes of which I could see only when I dared venture to my safety deposit box in a bank vault in Manhattan. I replayed making love and other tender moments, too, the way a woman does when she loves a man; but our marriage had become talismanic in my mind, symbolic of all that we shared and all that we had sacrificed.

We wrote often by e-mail, and sometimes in conventional letters, too. The longer he spent there, the more flamboyantly Cyrillic his handwriting became. They were sometimes cryptic, always detailed - not only for the exchange of information for the work, but because we found they helped us to live with our separation. Phone calls were a rare and risky exercise, and while we occasionally used them for light-hearted banter or phone sex, we more often reserved them for bonding. Love talk, be it silly or sentimental, dominated those.

It was funny, really: Alex had killed Bill Mulder half a year earlier, only to become him, sole advocate for the development of a vaccine. Meanwhile, I continued in my work at the United Nations for Spender and the dark man, gradually aligning myself with the Englishman, Donovan. I hoped to attach myself to Donovan when the dark man's time was over, little dreaming at that point the part I would play in his demise.

I searched for the definitive expert in the variola virus, the most biochemically similar pathogen to the alien organism, and found one in Benita Charne-Sayrre. I recruited her and converted her to our cause; and she pursued it with fervour. We made a formidable team, maintaining low concentrations of the alien organism in delicate balance in human subjects, patients in Benita's nursing homes. Benita tested the vaccines on her patients; then Alex did more thorough testing on an array of unlucky subjects in Tunguska and Norylsk, subjects infected with the organism at full strength. I risked introducing her to Donovan, and Donovan did the rest, recruiting her into his work, as well. Benita got double the pay, and we got double the information. It was a win-win situation. It wasn't until later that I found out that Donovan was getting a piece of the action, too...in more ways than one.

I look back on it all with anger and dismay. I trusted all the wrong people. I should have trusted the dark man. Instead, I trusted Benita, believing that her scientific ideology would lead her to give us her allegiance. But that was not my worst mistake, for that one still reaped considerable reward.

My worst mistake was trusting my mother.

I watched her, smoking.

"I wish you'd tell me what's troubling you," my mother said pensively. She pointed to the delicate silver cigarette case on the table, the intricate bronze lighter, both new. "Those things aren't going to solve the problem. Neither are the joints I found in the bedroom."

"Oh, Mother, honestly," I said in exasperation. "Everyone does a little weed now and then. What's the big deal?"

My mother had little time for bullshit and even less for misdirection, and now was no exception. "Everyone does it? What is this, high school? I don't care about the weed. I care that you're doing dumb stuff you haven't done in years. I'm not a fool, Marita. Something's wrong."

I sighed heavily. "Mother, believe me, you don't want to know. It could compromise you."

She shot me a look. "I can look after myself, thank you very much. I've been tangoing with Spender and his friends since before you were born. You think an ex-KGB girl can't handle those assholes?"

My anger flared. "Is that why you pushed me into working for them too? What kind of a mother does that?" I demanded in a low voice.

She laughed at that. "Honestly, Marita, you'd think I sold you into prostitution to hear you talk. And for the record, no one forced you into anything. You went to nice schools, and you could have had a perfectly respectable life on the outside. You took one look at the eighty grand a year you would have made on the outside and decided that a quarter million with the group was preferable." Shamefaced, I made a gesture of concession, and she went on, "Now, I'm sure old grudges aren't what's worrying you, so what about you filling me in?"

I put out my cigarette and held another to my lips. I picked up the lighter, but reconsidered under my mother's withering gaze. I pushed it away irritably, and it slid across the table with a clatter. She caught it neatly and set it down. With a look of defeat, I put the virgin cigarette in the ashtray. She shot me a satisfied look, not unkindly. She waited.

"Have you heard of a man named Krycek? Alexei Nicolai Krycek?" I said at last.

My mother nodded. "Sure. He's a Russian-born child of Cold War immigrants. They came out here when he was three. He showed promise in criminology and political theory at college, but he wasn't given a lot of opportunity to shine at the FBI. He was pretty dissatisfied, so when Spender approached him he came over to the Group. They used him as a hired gun for a while, but the general consensus was that he made a bad hitman - they should be dumb, unprincipled and obedient, and that's not Krycek. He caused a lot of trouble last year when he got away with a digital tape of the MJ-12 documents. He was indirectly responsible for a French salvage attempt of a UFO a couple of months back - sold the location of the downed escort submarine, I believe."

"That's right," I said nervously.

"You were monitoring him at one time for the black man, weren't you?"

"I wish you'd use his name," I said, diverted by an old argument. "'The black man' sounds really racist."

"Rubbish," my mother dismissed. "The man's black, isn't he? Should I deny what I see? You call him 'the dark man' yourself. And I've never been able to pronounce his name."

"This, from the woman who has fired people for mispronouncing Covarrubias," I snorted. "'Dark man' is not the same at all - it's about his personality, not his skin. He's been very good to me. It wouldn't kill you to play nice."

"Fine, Marita, consider it done," she said, irritably, and utterly without conviction. "Now, what's this about Alex Krycek?"

I cast my eyes heavenward for a long moment. This was the only person I had to confide in? I experienced a moment of doubt, but dismissed it. She was my mother, after all. If I couldn't trust her, who could I trust? Our bickering was mother-daughter malaise, a phenomenon as old as time, nothing more.

I watched her for a long moment, but at last, I reached into my shirt, and withdrew my gold chain. I unfastened the clasp and detached my wedding ring from it, handing it to her. I watched her turn it over in her hands, and hold it up to the light, looking at the inscription inside. She handed it back at last. "Those are yellow sapphires embedded into it, aren't they?" she said, bemused. I nodded. "One thing about Krycek," she reflected, "he doesn't do anything by halves."

I laughed ruefully. "No, you're right about that."

"How long have you been married?" she asked curiously. "It was this year, I can see that. Was it when you went to Europe?"

I nodded. "It was, but we didn't go to Europe. The photos I sent were done by one of my men. We were married in Russian Georgia, near where you and Papa lived before you defected." More quietly, I added, "Papa died two years ago. I saw his grave."

She betrayed no reaction to this news. Instead, she demanded, "Jesus, Marita. Why Russia, of all places? You're a Covarrubias. You could have been in danger."

I shook my head. "I'm not a Covarrubias anymore," I said, not unkindly, "and Russia isn't the same place now. Those old grudges don't matter anymore."

"They will always matter," my mother said darkly. I sighed, ready to argue the point, but she held up a hand, forestalling me. "Where is he now?"

"He's still there," I said. Then, cautiously, "I don't know exactly where at the moment."

She looked at me piercingly. "You're holding out on me," she accused. "Being separated because your husband is in hiding is unfortunate, but it's not enough to do this to you," she said, touching the lighter. "You're made of stronger stuff than that." A new thought occurred to her. "You're not pregnant, are you?"

I felt a sudden pang of sadness, because that was one dream that would be out of reach for years to come. I said nothing of this - my mother, singularly unsentimental about parenthood, would not have understood - and said only, "No, Mother, I'm not pregnant."

"That's a small mercy," she said wryly. "What, then?"

I hesitated, but under her gaze, my resolve faltered. Haltingly, I admitted, "We're working on a vaccine."

"With the Russians?" she demanded, horrified.

"Minor co-operation, but it's mostly our own operation."

My mother gave a sharp, cynical laugh. "You silly girl. Silly, stupid girl! If by some miracle you manage to make one, they'll take it. They'll keep us all hostage."

"It's not like that anymore. We're working in the Republics - we're protected by their disorganisation and disunity." Then, anger flaring once more, I railed, "What should we have done, Mother? Left it to the goddamn Americans? They made the hybridisation deal with the alien race to get the alien genetic code, and what are they doing with it? Nothing! Only Donovan is working on a vaccine, now that Bill Mulder's gone! They're chasing their tails hybridising everything that moves, taking ova from women like Dana Scully and making doomed children in a fruitless bid to save their own lives! Our only protection is a vaccine, and the Americans aren't *doing* anything!"

She stood then, furious. "This country gave us shelter from the regime! I don't care what you think of their efforts, you have no right to deal with the Russians! No right! This Krycek, is he a Communist?" she demanded.

"Alexi loves this country!" I shouted, rising. "We *both* do!"

My mother paced. "You could be charged with treason. And that's nothing to what the Consortium will do to you if they find out you're playing double agent. God, Marita, what a mess." There was genuine sympathy in her voice, and I felt my anger dissipating.

We stood that way for a long moment, a silent standoff, but suddenly, my mother slumped, her fury gone. "Marita, Marita, Marita," she said in exasperation. I was suddenly overtaken with real mirth - whether rooted in anxiety or relief, I couldn't have said. I collapsed in my chair in floods of hysterical laughter, and my mother, not unreasonably, looked as though I'd lost my mind. "What the hell's the matter with you?"

"Nothing," I sputtered. "It's just -" I broke off, choking back even more laughter, tears streaming down my face. She watched me, looking even more perplexed. Finally, I blurted, "You just look like you really need a cigarette."

She gave a short bark of laughter, and came back to the table. She sat down, calm now, and opened the cigarette case. She got out two.

"I think we both do."

When my mother finally left late that night, I felt easier in mind than I had in months. She had even, wonder of wonders, hugged me when she'd said goodbye. "I love you, Marita," she had told me, and I had heard that from her only a handful of times in my life.

My relief was short-lived. Two hours later, a series of loud knocks at my door woke me. When I opened it, there was my mentor, the dark man, dishevelled and visibly upset. I let him in, a dull ache in the pit of my stomach. "Sir?" I said, confused. He was wet - it had been raining outside. And clearly, he had walked here - probably from the group's offices in Upper Manhattan. That was miles away. My panic levels rose a notch.

"Marita, do you have some suicidal tendencies that didn't show up in your psych evaluation?" he demanded furiously. "Larissa Covarrubias has always been one of the key campaigners against dealing with the Russians. Whatever made you think you could trust her?"

My breath caught in my chest. "She's my moth-" I broke off. "Wait," I said suddenly, "You - knew?"

"Of course I knew. I brought you and Alex together in the first place, and I was, thank God, one of the few people who ever saw you together. Anyone could see you were committed to one another," he added, and it occurred to me fleetingly that it was odd phrasing - very deliberate and specific. "I didn't know the specifics, of course, but I knew. Who do you think leaked the location of the missile silo to you when Alex was trapped?" he demanded.

I put my hand to my mouth. "That was you?" I whispered. I went to him, and embraced him. I kissed his dark cheek tenderly. "Thank you," I said gently. "Thank you so much."

Taken aback, he pushed me just far enough away to look at me curiously. "I can't believe you two got married," he said incredulously. "Alex Krycek, family man. Who'd have thought it?"

I smiled broadly. "How about that?" I laughed. Suddenly, my laughter became tears, and I sat down miserably. "My own mother. Fucking hell!" I blurted in frustration. "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!"

The dark man took off his coat and hung it up. He sat down before me uninvited. "Does your mother let you use language like that, Marita?" he chided gently.

I looked up at him through my tears in disbelief. "The dark man cracks a joke. The Apocalypse is near."

"Something like that." His expression darkened. "Marita, your position is severely compromised here. You need to go back to Russia."

I shook my head. "I need to stay in the American loop," I said in frustration. He looked unhappy, but didn't argue the point. "Who did she tell?" I demanded.

"Just me for now, but that won't keep," he warned. "You have no more than a week before Teena Mulder either recovers from her stroke or dies, and Spender is back on deck. And when your mother does tell him, it will come out that I shielded you." I started to speak, but he held up a hand. "Now, I can take care of myself. All I'm saying is, your protection won't last. You'll be in custody for treason within the week, and probably dead in your cell a few days after that, unless you strike pre-emptively." He shot me a smile, dead white and chilling against his dark skin, which I knew was meant to be affectionate. "For what it's worth, I'm proud of you, Marita. You've become a player - and in the best of possible ways."

"That means a lot to me," I said fondly, a bittersweet lump in my throat. I loved this strange man, this mentor who had guided and sheltered me; but why could I not have heard those words from my mother? I shook my head to clear it of these useless thoughts. "If I talk to her - maybe I can convince her not to talk," I said; but my voice was without conviction.

"The only way you'll stop her from talking is with terminal force," the dark man said quietly. "I know that's hard to hear, but true just the same."

Drawing my breath in sharply, I shook my head. "No, I can't. Not my mother." I looked at him, stricken. "Could you?"

He conceded, "Probably not."

"Besides, I promised Alexi I would never kill," I said softly. "He said he would do it for me if it was ever necessary - but I can't ask him to kill my mother." The dark man gave a wry sound. "What?" I asked.

He shook his head. "Nothing. I just - Alex surprises me sometimes. So much evil and so much good wrapped up in the one man." He misread my startled look as anger, and said, "I'm sorry. We're discussing your husband."

"No, actually, I think that's true," I agreed.

He watched me for a long moment. "Let me make a proposal," he said at last. I nodded. He continued, "Let me decide what force is required. It will be my decision and my responsibility to carry out." I had been bracing myself for the word 'execute' there, and I was glad he didn't use it.

"In other words, I don't have to get my hands dirty," I said bitterly.

His look was kind. "I wouldn't put it like that. This is a difficult decision. It must be made and enacted by someone objective. That's what a mentor is for." At my doubtful look, he said, "I have to go to Washington tomorrow. You can reach me on the cell phone. Please just think about it."

"All right," I said reluctantly. "I'll think about it."

In the end, my decision counted for nothing.

Ideology, my mother explained when I confronted her the following day. Ideology that could see her only child put to death for treason. "You know nothing of ideology!" I yelled at her furiously. "Ideology is saving the world at the expense of political boundaries! Don't you understand that in the face of this threat we are one world?" She was weeping but unrepentant when I left her, disowning her in my heart.

I spent two long torturous hours sitting in the rain on the shore at Staten Island, not far from my mother's home. In the end, it came down to a choice between my mother and Alexi. I could frame it as self-preservation, or as protecting the dark man, and there was some truth to those pictures; but I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never have killed my mother to save myself, or even my mentor. It went against my every instinct. But I understood in an instant the truth of the rite of marriage: the act of forsaking all others, of leaving my family to form a family of my own - a family that had been far more true than the one from which I had come. If I let my mother live, Alexi would see his wife in the gas chamber for the crimes we had committed together, if only in the narrow boundaries of the law. It would destroy him, and it would be the end of the life and the work we had shared, and sacrificed so much to make happen. Our work could save the world - it wasn't as simple as preserving our marriage or my life - but they were so bound up together that in another way, our marriage was what it really came down to.

I knew then, amid anguish and betrayal, what torment it is to want to die but to seek desperately to live for the love of another. I loved and hated and loved him, thousands of miles away, for a dilemma of which he knew nothing. I thought of the feminist mantra, that I was a woman with my own heritage and that that heritage was something I owed a loyalty to; but again and again I came face to face with its falsehood. I had made this life with this man, given myself over and accepted his gift of himself, chosen of my own free will to surrender my understanding of myself as a Covarrubias, separate from him. It was not a surrender he had ever asked of me; it was one I had made in the silence of my heart, a linear outcome of the truth that we were one. And finally, I understood that I had chosen him in my heart long ago.

At last, I made the call to the dark man, in Washington passing information to Mulder, and told him to do as he chose. Then I went back to the beach, knelt there in the sand, and wept.

When I woke, it was early morning. I was wet and cold, having slept straight through the assault of the rain on my body. Shuddering, I made my way to the car and drove back to Manhattan. By the time most people were arriving at their places of work, I was immaculately dressed and ready to face the day, my appearance giving no hint of my ordeal. Certainly, it gave no hint that I expected to receive word of my mother's death. But the bearer of that news was not whom I expected.

The first hint that things had gone terribly wrong came at nine that morning. Spender arrived at my office at the United Nations - something he had never done before. That fact alone was enough to frighten me. That he had dragged himself from Teena Mulder's bedside to do it was enough to fill me with utter terror. I steered him into an anteroom, and sat before him, my heart beating with painful force. I seated myself closest to the door, and I was very aware of my firearm at my side.

"I must apologise for my inhospitable behaviour when you arrived, Sir," I said evenly. My throat felt very dry. "I felt it best to move you somewhere more discreet."

He waved this aside. "Not at all, Ms Krycek."

I felt very cold. "My name is Ms Covarrubias."

He wasn't perturbed. He said easily, "I was under the impression that you weren't a Covarrubias any more. At least that's what your mother says. She's very upset."

"There's no reason for her to be," I said coolly. Damn my indecision! I'd been too late, and now both my mentor and I would pay.

Spender lit a cigarette. "Well, strictly speaking, she isn't - now." I closed my eyes painfully. He went on, "It may not console you, but it will at least relieve your mind to know that she died of a cerebral haemorrhage last night at my hotel in Providence - not long after we spoke, in fact." My eyes flew open as I realised that she had fallen victim, not to the dark man, but to the man before me. At my horrified gasp, he added with some gentleness, "There was no pain."

I bowed my head for a long moment in silent agony. I made no sound, and he let me be, sitting back, watching me, smoking.

After perhaps ten seconds, I took several deep breaths, and composed myself. I sat upright, and I faced him, head held high, resolute. He sat there, impassive, until I was quite ready. At last, I said with deceptive calm, "What now?"

He shrugged. "I have great respect for the institution of marriage, Ms Krycek - or do you prefer Ms Covarrubias? I can't keep up with you young women." His voice was mildly disapproving.

"I prefer Ms Krycek, but Ms Covarrubias is more appropriate," I said in a level voice, determined not to be goaded.

"Very well, Ms Covarrubias. As I was saying, I have great respect for the institution of marriage. I'm married myself," he added, and I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from pointing out that he'd taken not only a wife of his own, but a few other men's, as well. "I don't have to ask you to give your husband to me, and I'm not going to. Just keep walking the line, and no-one gets hurt."

I watched him coolly. "I presume there is to be a loyalty test?" I said; deathly quiet, because I already had an idea of what it would be. I had already heard about the photos of Spender and Teena at Quonochontaug, and the Elder's opinion that the leak was from within. The dark man's deception was not far from being exposed, if it had not been exposed already.

Spender held up his hands in a what-can-I-do gesture. "Well, you know, Ms Covarrubias, I know that you're loyal to your husband and the Russian project. I need to know that you're also capable of being loyal to me."

I nodded slowly, unsurprised. I knew how the game worked. "All right," I said resignedly. "I'll bite. What's the test?"

Spender lit a cigarette. "Would you like one?" he offered. "I'm told you're smoking again."

"I quit," I said in a tightly controlled voice.

He gave a slight, deferential nod. "Good for you." He dropped a sliver of ash on the table, right in front of a No Smoking plaque. "Your mentor has been busy in Washington," he said idly. "I hear he's been feeding information to Mulder. Do you know anything about that?"

"Not at all, Sir," I lied. "Could he be playing Mulder for his own purposes? Serving the interests of the group?"

"That's quite likely, of course," Spender allowed, "but some of the information is quite removed from the interests of the group. Your mentor apparently has other loyalties."

"So do I," I pointed out.

"Yours can be used." I was silent, and Spender continued after a moment, "I have suspected your mentor for some time, and to some extent I have been using him; but now the group has become aware of his activities. I am under some pressure to eliminate him." His brow flickered for a moment, and he didn't need to tell me that he needed to reconsolidate his position after losing the digital tape and concealing the fact.

"And I'm the lucky winner," I said coldly.

Spender raised an eyebrow at that. "Yes, you are. You get to live. And so does your husband."

"For now," I retorted.

He shrugged. "I could kill you both now," he pointed out. "You think I don't have men in Russia? You started your work after you got the information off the tape. Obviously your base of operations is Tunguska. I could have Alex with a phone call." I kept my expression neutral, but I knew I was unnaturally pale. "And for what? Your mentor still dies. Martyrdom is honourable. Futile martyrdom is just stupid."

"You know nothing of honour," I said in a low voice.

"Be that as it may, there is an offer on the table. Do you accept?"

The dark man's face swam before me. I blinked twice to clear it.

"Yes, Sir."

I will never forget his face.

The elevator doors slid open, and he saw me, my gun trained on his chest. A fleeting look of disappointment crossed his features, followed by resignation. We stood there for agonising seconds, staring at one another, frozen. I stood firm, but there were tears streaming down my cheeks.

I heard footsteps. I flinched; half hoping it might be some other henchman of Spender's, here to finish us both; but then I knew who it was.


I felt waves of relief that he was here, of shame at what I had almost done...at what he would do for me. And then he was at my side, and his hands were pressing mine, easing them down, gently coaxing the weapon from my fingers. I relinquished it gratefully.

**I'll do it for you. Promise me you'll never kill, Mare.**

His left arm slid around my shoulders, drawing me close. His right rose the weapon abruptly, and fired it. My heart breaking, I saw the dark man's chest explode with blood; saw him stagger back, his expression one of supreme surprise. And then, I broke away, and ran to his side.

"Forgive me," I begged. I could hear Alexi tapping his foot anxiously, and I could sense him darting his eyes back and forth, wondering who might have heard, who might be calling the police. "Forgive me, please."

The dark man stared at me a moment; then, laboriously, he gave a slight movement that might have been a nod. He tried to speak. I leaned closer. "Benita...Donovan...compromised." I turned my head, meeting Alexi's gaze. "He's...playing you. Same goals," he managed, blood starting to bubble from his mouth, "different allegiance." With painstaking effort, he croaked out, "Go." My tears were flowing freely now; and I shook my head, determined to be with him until it was over. He looked imploringly at my husband.

Alex came, and, gently yet firmly, he led me away.

We didn't speak for several hours.

Wordlessly, we returned to my hotel, and I sat numbly in a chair while Alex destroyed the clothing we had worn at Mulder's. When he returned, we went to bed in our clothes, settling in one another's arms. Silently, he cradled me, kissing my hair, until I was ready to talk. It was the early hours of the morning when, finally, I spoke.

"How did you know?"

"Benita Charne-Sayrre," he murmured into my hair. "I've been back in the country for nearly a day now, and when I couldn't reach you in New York, I contacted her."

"She knew I was to kill him?" I demanded angrily. That anyone knew of this shameful thing was intolerable.

"Not exactly. Donovan heard of your mother's death - the group had a minute's silence for her, if you can believe that. When he got word that your mentor was also to die, he thought that was a shade too convenient. He expressed his suspicions of you to Benita." His voice was gentle. "I thought Spender might have found out about our work somehow, and killed them to protect you."

I nodded. "That's about right." My voice was thick with pain.

"I was certain there would be a price, a loyalty test," he continued. "I knew from Benita that Mulder was with Jeremiah Smith. When I saw the X on Mulder's window, I was sure you were there, waiting." He stroked back my hair from my face. "Why didn't you tell me, Mare?" he demanded, his voice incredibly gentle. "Why didn't you tell me you were in trouble?"

"My mother," I said brokenly. "She was going to hand me over for treason. If you'd come home, you might have been tried too. There was no time to call you - I didn't know you were in America. Spender offered me a way out, and I took it." My voice lowered. "Thank God you're here, Alexi."

He held me close, then, his head resting against my own. "I'm always here," he soothed. I felt my face grow hot with shame at the horror I had brought down on us - all for trusting the wrong people. I clung to him, craving his warmth. I felt so cold.

"My own mother," I said at last, my voice muffled by the wool of his sweater. "She would have seen me dead, all in the name of the goddamn Project."

"I believe they call it patriotism," he said dryly, cradling me. "They didn't make you kill her, did they?" he asked without reproach, pulling back to look at me.

"No, he spared me that, at least. I only found out this morning." My voice was bitter. "He knows about you and I, and about the vaccine, and he's guessed we're using Tunguska. He'll shield us...as long as I stay loyal."

"You mean as long as it's expedient," he retorted, smoothing back my hair. I touched his lips, my nod a concession. I waited for his anger - anger I'd have felt if he had compromised us this thoroughly - but none came. Instead, he kissed my forehead, as though sensing my guilt and pain. "You're cold," he said presently. He drew me closer.

I feared I would never be warm again.

I wept when I saw the photographs of the crime scene. So much blood. How much blood is there in the human body? It never seems so much until it's yours.

Or until you're the one that spilled it.

The dark man had scrawled a legend in his own blood at Mulder's door. **SRSG**, the letters read accusingly - letters which led Mulder to me. At first I thought the letters were intended to implicate me; but as the full extent of Benita Charne-Sayrre's betrayal became clear, we understood it to be an aid. The dark man knew before we did that Mulder's help would be essential - so essential that he delivered Mulder into the hands of the Consortium through me.

I thought of him a lot in those days. He knew, obviously, far more of my work with Alexi than my mother or I had told him. If he had gleaned such information in his final days, he clearly had used his time well.

And he had never told a soul.

Instead, he had passed his information to we, his killers, and allowed us to do with it what we chose.

Of all of us, I think now, only the dark man knew what ideology really meant.

Not I, and not my lover.