Welcome To The Harem

Not My Lover by Deslea R. Judd Part 6 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.

There was a rebel at Fort Marlene.

My labs had been ransacked. Vaccine gone, pathogen samples destroyed. My blood pumping, I backed out of there and ran to Purity Control, three floors up at the other end of the building.

I passed through half a dozen security checkpoints without incident; but at the last, I was stopped. "This is an emergency!" I protested. "I have top-level clearance!"

"I'm sorry, Mr Krycek," the guard said evenly, "but the computer says you've been specifically denied access to this part of the installation."

My jaw dropped. "By who?"

He tapped a few keys. "CGB Spender."

"That's ridiculous," I said incredulously. "I'm his offsider. What's the reason code?"

More tapping. "X14 - classified miscellaneous."

"What does that mean?" I demanded; but I already knew the answer. It meant there was something in there that he didn't want me to see.

"I don't know." He shrugged a little. "It's within his authority. Take it up with him."

I shook my head. "There's no time. Besides," I added, raising my weapon. "His authority just expired."

I shot the guard, cleared my file from the screen, and continued down the hall.

The EBE was gone.

Disbelief is too insignificant, too unimportant a word. My world was taken, shaken, and its fragments tossed awry, falling to the floor in formations I had never seen before. And some part of me screamed her name.

It was all for nothing.

The vaccine was pointless...useless. There would never be opportunity for its distribution. Whatever happened with Cassandra, with the alien genome gone, the hybridisation deal was cancelled. The rebels would gain ascendancy among their own kind and lead the invasion; and this time there would be no opportunity for survival, even as drones. Colonisation would take place, the thing I had sold my soul to prevent. And her death was in vain.

Even as I fled the room, I was swallowing cries of rage. Eight months, she'd been gone, and rarely had I spared her a tear. But now I felt some part of me rip, violently, leaving unimaginable pain in its wake. The mundane matter of survival drove my body and my mind; but my heart and soul were far away, in Ateni, with what remained of my wife. My body stalked purposefully down halls; my soul ran through the plains, gathering her ashes, and cried her name.

"Krycek! I'm trying to get out of here."

I came out of my reverie, disorientated, trying to locate the source of the words. I looked about, and there, in another, anonymous doorway stood Spender the younger. He was looking at me expectantly.

"What are you talking about?" I asked at last, bewildered, and trying not to show it. In a thousand ways, Jeffrey was just a boy, after all.

"We can't get past security. They won't recognise my authority to remove a patient."

I stared at him, uncomprehending. Security? Authority? These words were meaningless now. Patient? I looked past him into the room, trying to make sense of his words.


I stared at the woman in shock. Not my wife, but some shell of her, hair coarse like straw, lips cracked, eyes lined with red. And so pale. So pale. Not ivory, but alabaster. No one could be white like that and live.

Not my wife.

She stared back at me, dully, her fire gone, her eyes dead to me.

Not my wife.

Jeffrey's voice intruded. "My father did this to her. She wants to tell her story."

I turned on him. "You sorry son of a bitch. You don't get it, do you?" I accused. "It's all going to hell. The rebels are going to win. They took it!"

"They took what?" the boy demanded. Mare stared at me in shock, understanding. Suddenly, her eyes lived again, lived with pain and dread. It was more than I could bear to look at, and I turned and fled from her, stalking on down the corridor, leaving her behind.

It was then that I heard her cry, harsh and anguished.


I stopped - stopped for a full five seconds, when there were none to spare. She must have heard my footfalls cease, because she called again, pitifully, "Alexi."

And then I was back at the door at a run. "Mare?" I rasped, oblivious to Jeffrey. I pulled her to face me, my palm at her cheek. "Mare?" I whispered, disbelieving, teasing a lock of her cornsilk hair, so coarse between my fingers. "What did they do? What did they DO TO YOU!" I shouted, and she flinched. Jeff's hands were on my arm, and I shook him off, walking away in fury. I couldn't think, dammit!

"We have to get out of here," Jeffrey said softly. His voice was kind. I nodded, his words galvanising me into flight.

"Bring her," I ordered. "Bring her!"

Gibson was alive.

Mare directed us to where he was detained. He was weak, and I carried him, walking in purposeful strides. Jeff and Mare kept up, but I could see her weakening. She was so horribly pale. I didn't know how she could stand, let alone walk. But she did, drawing on resources I couldn't imagine she could still possess.

My credentials got us out of the installation easily enough; and, fearful even now that we would be stopped, I led them hurriedly to the van. I bundled Gibson into the back, and leaped into the front with Jeff and Mare. "Drive," I barked at Jeffrey, slamming the door, and he complied.

I collapsed back into the seat and drew Mare to me, holding her close against me, my face in her hair. I breathed deeply, and even though her scent was faintly tinged with stale sickness, my body recognised it as hers, moulding itself against her effortlessly.

I pulled back to look at her, transfixed; and she did the same, her face upturned. I stared down at her, searching those colourless, translucent eyes for any sign of the woman I had known; and when I saw her within them, I felt warmth radiate through me. My body was alight with celebration; my veins were flooded with it. She was a shadow of herself - her fire extinguished, her beauty a memory - but it didn't matter: she was my wife.

I had to kiss her.

I bent my head to hers, cradling her cheek with my hand. I kissed her dry, cracked lips, felt them crumble against me. It was heartbreaking, and yet as I felt her lips part for me, felt her sweet, soft warmth from within, it was as though she healed. Cold, terribly cold hands flew to my face, chilled fingertips stroking my cheek in wonder, and I felt them grow warm. Dull eyes grew bright; deathly white skin infused with blood. Her voice lost its monotone, became alive, as she whispered against me, "Alexi."

"Mare," I breathed, meeting her gaze. "Mare."

"Say it again. Mare."

"Mare," I complied. "Marita, Mare, my wife, Mare." I pushed back that straw-like hair in wonder.

"Alexi," she whispered again; and buried herself against me, and she spoke no more.

A single moment in time, ageless; but when it passed, Jeffrey was watching curiously from the corner of his eye. "Alex?" he said questioningly.

I stroked her hair absently. "She's my wife."

"And the boy?" he demanded. "Is he your son?"

I shook my head. "No, he really is the child the Praise family. We were surrogate parents to him at one time, that's all." I said harshly, "I thought she was dead. I thought they both were." My arm tightened around Mare's sleeping form protectively.

He thought on this for a while. "What happens now?" he asked at last.

"We ride it out. See who lives, see who dies. Play our allegiances accordingly." I pinned him down with my gaze. "All bets are off now, Jeffrey. Whatever powerbase forms, it will be based on knowledge, not age or affiliation or any of the usual denominators. You and I and Mare can be part of that."

He turned his eyes back to the road. "I want the truth known."

"The truth, the truth. You're as bad as Mulder, Jeff," I said irritably. "The truth is, someone still has to fight the colonisation threat even after the rebels kill whoever they're going to kill. The date is no longer set, but that doesn't help us. It just leaves us further in the dark." I shook my head. "Truth is admirable, but right now it's an indulgence. We need people who can fight the future."

"Maybe we can have both."

I shot him a questioning look, but he said no more.

"She was beautiful."

Jeffrey was looking at our wedding photo, curiously. It was only three years since that had been taken, but she looked so damn young. A twenty-four-year-old with childlike features, and old, old eyes that had already seen too much.

"She still is," I said gravely, drawing the quilt up over her. She stirred suddenly, upset, but I stilled her with a touch. "Hush, Mare," I said firmly, holding her by the wrist. She breathed a sigh, and the tense lines of her relaxed. I frowned. It looked like nightmares might be par for the course for a while. I passed out of the bedroom into the lounge. "Do you want a drink?"

"Yeah," he said with feeling, following me. He sat with an exhausted thud. "What's wrong with the boy?"

I scanned the bar appraisingly. I passed over two open bottles of wine - they'd been there for a year, since Mare had last lived here - and pulled out a bottle of bourbon. "I gave Gibson the vaccine in June of last year," I explained. "Between that and his vitals I think he's in what we call recovery plateau. It's basically a relapse that lasts about three weeks - I think he's on the tail end of that. After that comes recovery Phase 2, which lasts about four weeks." I handed him his drink, and he gulped from it convulsively. "Give it a month, Jeff, and he'll be running around like any kid."

He grimaced slightly at the sudden assault on his throat. "What about Marita?" he asked when it had passed.

My expression darkened. "I honestly don't know how to classify Mare. From her condition, I think it's likely she's been in a near-continuous cycle of pathogen and vaccine - probably testing the formulas I made, actually," I realised bitterly, "since she was taken eight months ago. The human body just wasn't meant to take that."

"But what's wrong with her, exactly?" he demanded, bewildered.

"The vaccine slows the body's systems," I said, taking a long draw on my drink. "That's fine if you take it once, or even twice - a healthy subject can eventually come back from that. That takes about nine months. But keep on taking it-" I stopped, drinking again. "Mare's heart rate is low enough to kill her, and the only reason she isn't dead is that everything else is slow, as well. Her body temperature, digestion, circulation, everything." Jeffrey nodded, understanding. "We've thought for a couple of years now that metabolism is the key. People who have received the vaccine in extreme cold, where the metabolism is naturally slowed, have not shown the usual recovery problems - Agent Scully in Antarctica, for instance." I shook my head. "That means something, but I'm not entirely sure what. It does make a weird sort of sense, though - the alien race are from a colder climate than us."

Jeffrey frowned. "But Mulder didn't get sick, either, and he got it in Tunguska."

I looked at him in sudden admiration. "And just how did you know that? His files were burnt. Nothing was salvaged."

"Mulder's smarter than that. He backed up every three months to microfilm. We didn't lose much."

I laughed. "Crafty son of a bitch," I said admiringly, not sure if I meant Mulder or Jeffrey. Probably both. "So you spent all that time you were meant to be doing nothing, reading up on the X Files."

"Something like that," he agreed, draining his drink. He said reprovingly, "You were a bad boy, Krycek."

"Yeah." I didn't argue the point.

Returning to his earlier thread, he demanded, "So why didn't Mulder get sick?"

I rose and topped up my drink, and did the same for Jeffrey without being asked. "That I don't know," I said, perplexed. "I have this nagging feeling that it's caught up with his exposure to the retrovirus, but I haven't worked it out yet."

We drank in silence for a while, but at last, he said softly, "What are you going to do about Gibson?"

I gave a low sigh. "His parents are dead - they asked too many questions about his disappearance. I honestly don't know."

"What's the deal with him?" Jeffrey asked. "I mean really? Mulder thought he was some kind of evolutionary leap towards our alien progenitors. I didn't believe him, but now-"

"Mulder was right," I conceded, "but I don't think he really got the significance of his belief. When our progenitors left us, the races on each planet developed along different lines. That was inevitable, given vastly different environments." I sat back, warming to my theme. "The colonists believe they have natural sovereignty over us because they are our ancestors, but I don't believe that. Over millions of years we've established ourselves as a separate race, dominant over our environment - for better or worse - in our own right." Jeffrey looked quite daunted, and I gave a sudden, rueful laugh. "I'm sorry, Jeff. I majored in political philosophy. Now and then I've got to show it."

"No, it's food for thought," he said reflectively. "So where does Gibson fit into that?"

"Let me tell you a story," I said, stretching my legs out before me. "A few years ago, some researchers were working with monkeys on an uninhabited island. They taught these monkeys how to use cutlery and build shelters and all sorts of things - human tasks," I explained. Jeffrey nodded, his brow creasing. "Another island nearby - but too far away for any of the research monkeys to have made their way there - had its own monkeys. Here's where it gets interesting: those monkeys spontaneously developed the same skills among themselves." He sat back, bemused. "They spontaneously evolved in their abilities and caught up to the research monkeys on the next island."

"And Gibson is like one of those monkeys?"

I nodded. "In a purely functional sense, he's the human equivalent of the alien race. He's caught up with them in every relevant way. The ways he hasn't, like the capacity to withstand radiation, are specific to the Martian environment. He's still human," I added. "Biochemically, he's identical to the rest of us."

Jeffrey breathed out in a rush. "Oh, boy." He drained his drink with a grimace, and held out his glass for more with a rueful look. I topped him up with a secretive grin. "What did you mean when you said Mulder didn't get the significance?"

"Well," I said hesitantly, "if we can catch up functionally, why not biologically? What if we've worked so hard to prevent the creation of a hybrid, and then one happens spontaneously? If that happened, and the colonists were to find out-" I shook my head. "I simply don't know enough about how they interact to predict what would happen then." Jeffrey was very pale, and I figured he was probably feeling bad enough already about his mother; so I relented. "Don't worry too much about it for the moment, Jeff. It'll probably never happen."

"Still a bad thought," he said thoughtfully.

"Yeah." I drained my drink and set it aside. "As for what happens to Gibson, the only thing I can think of is hiding him in a boarding school. Somewhere he can have something approaching a normal life." At his reproachful expression, I said, "Don't look at me like that, Jeffrey. I've killed thirty-nine people. Those people didn't die so that Mare and I could adopt him and lope off into the sunset. There's work to be done." I frowned; admitted, "I love Gibson. But he will never be safe as long as he's with us."

He nodded reluctantly, and we sat in reflective silence. At last, he said quietly, "I'm going to blow it open."

"What?" I wasn't sure I'd heard him correctly.

"When I give my report to Skinner. I'm going to tell everything I know - I won't mention you three," he added at my expression. "I'm going to recommend that Mulder and Scully be reassigned to the X Files."

"Why?" I demanded.

"Like you said," he said ruefully. "We need freedom fighters."

"Your career won't be worth shit."

Wry shrug at that. "It never was."

I nodded slowly. Funny how both he and I had been led into the work after being stymied at the Bureau. "Will you come and work with me?" I asked at last.

"If they let me live," he said tightly.

I shrugged a little at that. "I doubt there will be much of the group left to spare any of us a thought."

"My father will survive," Jeffrey said dryly.

"Why do you say that?" I queried, interested. His expression darkened.

"Guys like him usually do."

Spender was alive.

Diana Donovan made contact that night to relay the news of a firestorm in West Virginia. The elders, their families, and Cassandra Spender had all been killed outright. Details were unclear, but it seemed that the rebels had taken control of the colonists' base and started the fire to prevent the handover. Diana and Spender were the sole survivors.

The rebels did not attempt to invade, although they clearly had the upper hand. Diana speculated that they and the colonists were at war on their own planet to gain control of Project Earth - that the conflict was not yet resolved. They were divided in resources and purpose, and that meant we had time...but how much was anyone's guess.

Jeffrey was killed as he had predicted; his father, seen leaving the building afterwards. That made a grotesque sort of sense: Spender loved his son too much to leave his disposal to a mere hired hand. Mulder and Scully were reassigned to the X Files as per Jeffrey's recommendation. Anxious to rebuild my sources of information, I threatened Skinner with the nanocyte controller, and had him install surveillance equipment in their office and his own. Skinner and I settled into a comfortable routine: I arrived, he glared, I threatened him with the controller, he growled, I made a cutting remark, and we settled down to chat. It was yet another of those ironies of the work that he detested me, and I considered him to be a peculiar kind of friend.

On the home front, Gibson recovered more or less as I had predicted, and he acceded readily to my suggestion of a boarding school. Perhaps perceiving my dilemma, he offered no protest. I believe - or like to believe - that he understood the practical necessity, and my genuine wish for a normal life on his behalf. He was duly enrolled in a Jesuit school in Maryland, and I left him reluctantly, with a promise that we would stay in touch.

That left only Mare.

She improved; that was something. Her hair became softer. Her eyes were no longer rimmed with red. Her skin became supple once more. Her muscles were no longer wasted. And yet still her vitals were deathly slow; still she was in the grip of terrible malaise. Sitting up, even with help, took Herculean effort; walking was out of the question. She stayed awake for only an hour at a time; talking cut that time by half.

It was awful to watch.

With the shock of her condition receding, my desire to shelter her and heal her, though strong, gave way in part to more selfish dreams. I wanted to have the kind of life with her that we used to have. I wanted to hold her, not only as I'd hold a crumbling leaf, but as I'd held her before - forcefully, intensely - and to be held in the same way. I wanted to make love to her gently; I wanted to take her powerfully, or have her take me. I craved her strength and her power nearly as greatly as she did.

Still, she was alive, and I believed she would stay that way - that counted for a hell of a lot. I nursed her as best that I could, but I was worried by her vital signs. They weren't improving, and that meant her body wasn't coming back. It had accepted its own weakness as the status quo. If that were true, she could stay this way indefinitely.

Mare probably intuited that in herself, but I was careful not to voice it. If the thought upset me, it would truly horrify her. To me, she was still my wife, however I longed for what had been. But to her, she was not truly herself unless she was strong, because that was such a big part of who she understood herself to be. It hurt me to see her this way, and I prayed that she could be strong once more.

But there was another who needed her to be strong, too.

Mare was bleeding.

I sat up on the side of the bed in bewilderment, looking down at my track pants. They were rust-coloured and sticky, stained with encroaching blood. I looked at myself in a panic, but I wasn't cut.

I flung back the covers; saw the stain seeping out from her sleeping form. I stared at her in horror, registering the dead white of her face and the tinges of blue at her lips; and then fear jolted me into action. I shook her in a panic. "Alexi?" she said weakly, stirring. "What is it?"

I said urgently, "You're bleeding really badly. We have to get you to a hospital. I need you to help me if you can." I grabbed my prosthesis and hurriedly put it on.

"Bleeding?" she murmured, bewildered. She asked vaguely, "Am I cut?" Her eyes began to drift closed again.

"I don't think so," I said, rising. "I think it's internal. Fresh blood, too much to be menstrual." Pulling on my sweater, I picked up the telephone receiver, then realised we hadn't had it reconnected.

Her eyes opened very wide. "Oh, my God," she said, turning her head from side to side, looking for me, disoriented. "Alex-" I was hunting for my cell phone, and she reached out with effort, grabbing me. "Alex, there's something-"

I found my cell. "What is it?" I said absently, turning it on.

"Alex, I'm pregnant."

I closed the flip in a single movement. "You're what?" I hissed.

She nodded. "Nearly four months," she whispered through laboured breaths, her eyes closed.

"Tests?" I demanded urgently, dropping to my knees at her side.

"No - the other," she said vaguely. "The other way."

"Rape?" I whispered unhappily, stroking the hair back off her forehead, a lump forming in my throat.

"No," she said, struggling for consciousness. "I consented."

I stared at her in utter disbelief. "You what?"

"I - it was-" she was drifting again, and I rose, backing away.

"No," I said thickly, "no."

"Alex - please help me -" and then she was out once more.

I turned and ran.

I walked for hours.

One foot after another, my cheeks wet with rain and sweat and tears. It was unimaginable - unthinkable. The thing before me - this terrible, incomprehensible thing was just too big for me to even begin to coalesce. My pain was a rending tear through my body; my anger a dull throb in my head. They consumed me.

I felt cheated. For so long, I had accepted the celibacy that her condition demanded without question; but she had allowed someone else to touch her. It was a betrayal and repudiation and rejection all rolled into a single act. I remembered the pervasive bond between us, the aggressively possessive need, the sweetness of owning her and of having her own me; and I recoiled. She was mine, and someone had taken her; I was hers, and she had taken another. It cut to the heart of the bond between us, the physical joining of man and wife.

I was haunted by terrible, terrible images. Mare with a faceless man, writhing beneath him, twisting on top of him, engulfed in hot, gasping need. Had she held him close, or pushed him back so she could watch him? Torturously, I imagined her arching her neck, leaning into him, running nails down his back, branding him as hers. Side by side with those were other images, images of myself in that time - Christmas, I calculated - staring into my reflection in beautifully decorated shop windows, looking for any glimmer of light that might tell me I could survive my agony and grief. Wearing her ring on its chain, as well as my own. Waking on Christmas day to the memory of a wife and child now lost; unaware that she lived, and was engaged in the business of making a child with another. I marked all these images with pounding footsteps, imprinting them in the rainwashed sidewalk and leaving them behind.

As the dull thud of my footfalls marked the passage of minutes and hours, I came to see the incongruity of it all - first dimly, then in sharper relief. The Mare I saw in those images was the strong, untamed woman I had made love to more than a year before; not the weakened Mare I had lost nine months ago, and certainly not the frail Mare I knew now. In her weakened state, the very concept of sex was all but meaningless, and a part of me understood that. Mare's version of consent could mean anything from a disoriented failure to say no, to saying yes to someone who promised freedom if she complied; but it couldn't mean the extremity of desire - her condition all but precluded it. But what that meant, either factually or for me in making sense of it, I couldn't see clearly enough to tell.

And so I walked. Trembling with rage and anguish, I walked in the sleet until I ached, until the angry fire in my veins melted and turned to ice, until I shivered with cold and overwhelming sorrow. And then reason asserted itself enough to replace all the other images with one more, one that was touching and bitter and deeply sad: Mare, motionless, her face to one side, her eyes distant; her faceless companion labouring over her, heedless of her disquiet. I didn't know exactly what had happened nor why it had happened, but reason and intuition told me that this was more or less how it had happened. My fury finally gave way to desperate sadness, to unwilling compassion, to deep and abiding love.

It was growing light by the time I was calm. By the time three passers-by had looked at me in fearful horror, I had come to myself enough to understand that something was terribly wrong. I looked down, and realised I was covered in blood.

Mare's blood.

I stopped still for a long, long moment, staring at it; and every lingering vestige of betrayal and fury left me in that instant.

She was my wife, and she was helpless. Her child - a child I would raise as my own, because it was hers - her child was helpless. And I would be there, because I loved her, and she was dead, but now she was alive.

And I would find a way to live with whatever had happened in between.

"...when you have a type, get me blood..."

She was so white. So horribly, deathly white. White like alabaster. I'd thought that once before, but I hadn't seen real alabaster then.

"...ultrasound coming through..."

So frail, so ethereal. Too fragile and flimsy to be part of this world. Like an angel, slipping away, being called home, taking flight and leaving her body behind.

"...we have to go in. It's a mess in there..."

Hair like spun glass, splayed across the pillow, fading from gold to the impossibly pale silver with which she'd been born. Why do I always think of that which is exquisite and precious with her?

"...she must have been haemorrhaging for hours..."

I had left her to bleed. This most precious of gifts to me, and I had turned my back on her, and left her to bleed, like a stray in the gutter.

"...I need an OR. Emergency D&C..."

I was faced with the awful truth of my cowardice and its heavy price, and I could not escape the blinding truth and the searing shame; for this was my doing.

"...hope she's got kids at home - she's not having any more..."

Out of her death to me came a life, and out of her life came death; and from that death came the lifelessness of sterility. And it was my doing.

"...her vitals are dropping, Doctor..."

I loved her, and I had taken the one thing she wanted above all else. The thing we had prized in a future otherwise devoid of dreams: that what we shared might one day be incarnate in a life so precious.

"...damn it, she needs blood!"

With my selfish anguish and my blind, stupid jealousy, I had stolen from her. I had stolen her child, her maternity, and perhaps her life.

"...she's flatlining..."

I was her husband, and she was helpless, and I had walked away when she needed me the most.


And now she lay, robbed and dying for my cowardice.

"...get me adrenaline, stat..."

And even if they got her back...even if by some miracle she lived...


Even if God saw fit to return to her that which I had stolen...

"...she's back. Get her to surgery, we've got to stop that bleeding..."

How could I ever face her again?

I abandoned her.

She survived; but when I learned that she would live, I fled, compounding my sin with foolish weakness and the cruelty of silence. I had believed my absence to be a penance; I understand now that it was merely one more act of cowardice in a string of them.

I returned to Fort Marlene. My credentials were still valid, and the funding for my quarters and my labs would remain for eight more months. In the next funding cycle, there would be no one to sign off on my presence there; but for now it was my safe haven. Spender never approached me: it would have served him little purpose, for I used it as a way station rather than for the work - perhaps he knew that. I would have shot him on sight for what he did to Mare, and perhaps he knew that, too. Or perhaps, with his colleagues gone, he was living with his own confusion.

Mare got strong again, I knew that much; and I knew that she returned to the United Nations, and that she wore my ring and bore my name. That was comforting - and bewildering. Gibson relayed factual messages about his holiday arrangements and his financial arrangements; but there was no other contact. She did not seek a divorce, and nor had I expected that she would: she didn't believe in it.

Diana Donovan was my constant companion in this time. It was an alliance born of mutual loneliness, and there was not a shred of romantic feeling between us; but we stuck together with lover-like compulsion. It was a little like a bad marriage: no sex and constant bickering. But it was companionship in a life otherwise devoid of it; and in its own way, it kept me going during those bad, bad months when my life was in pieces.

Things heated up in November. The spontaneous hybridisation, about which I had only speculated, occurred in Mulder. I acted as best I could to salvage the situation, but I was hampered by my own numbness; I reacted to the unfolding events, but I couldn't begin to form a useful plan. Suffice it to say that Diana, Scully, Skinner, Spender and I were all running hither, thither and yon trying to get our own desired outcomes. Spender wanted to get the hybrid genes for himself; Diana, Scully and Skinner wanted to stop him and save Mulder's life. I wanted to stop him too, because I hated him and I thought he was wrong, and I didn't much care at that point whether Mulder made it or not. Like most things in that time, the whole thing pretty much washed over me; but it was important because of its outcome: it pulled me out of my morose inertia and prompted my decision to work on the vaccine once more.

It all started with a book - a book only Diana, Spender and I had known about. It shed some light on the affair, and Diana sent it to Dana Scully in a bid to help Mulder; Scully contacted Skinner, believing him to be responsible.

The call worried me. I knew only too well that Scully's digging could bring the incident to Spender's attention; and that would be death for Diana. Acting on the spur of the moment, I gave Skinner a dose of nanocyte trouble to keep Scully occupied while I made my arrangements. Diana was playing with fire, and if she was doing it that openly, then her time was short.

I made some calls, and when I was done, I called Diana on her cell. I took no time for niceties. Roughly, I demanded, "Can you speak freely?"

"Just one moment; the reception's bad. Hold on." Sound of a door closing; then Diana said quietly, "I can now. What is it?"

"You've got to get out," I said urgently. "Stupid thing to do, Diana, sending that book. You may as well have sent a telegram to Spender saying 'I have a fucking big mouth, so shoot me'." I sounded angry, because I was. She'd put herself on the line for a man who would never love any woman the way she wanted, and she knew it. What's worse was she'd put the work on the line, at a time when there were few workers left.

"Did you call just to insult me?" She was annoyed; I could imagine her arranging her features into her Hard Faced Bitch look. I never understood that - she was a beautiful woman. A woman who should always smile - not that she had much to smile about now.

I relented. "No. There are travel papers and tickets waiting for you in locker C24 at Dulles. Use your credentials to have it opened. You're going to Tunisia first thing in the morning. In the meantime, I want you to stay in well-lit, well-populated areas. Do not go back to your apartment. Do not call the London house. Do not call the Bureau. Understood?"

She burst out, "My children-"

I cut her off. "Already arranged. Their nanny is bringing them to meet you." At her silence, I insisted, "Look, Diana, give Scully whatever she needs to save Mulder. But you have to get the hell out."

There was a rustling sound. I think she was nodding. She was silent for a long moment; but then she said in a low voice, "Alex, I know you must still have vaccine-"

I cut her off, frowning. "Now is hardly the time-"

"Give it to my kids," she said, her voice flint-edged with desperation. Then, more quietly, "If I don't make it, give it to my kids - please."

I closed my eyes. "Diana, you don't know what you're asking," I said wearily. "The rebels destroyed everything I had. I have access to a sample, but I'd have to synthesise a supply." I said unhappily, "You're basically asking me to restart the work."

Her voice was grave. "I know exactly what I'm asking." In a low voice, she persisted, "Will you do it? Please?"

After a long moment, I gave a frustrated sigh. "All right. All right!" She breathed a low sigh of relief. "But you *better* make it."

She didn't; she was dead within the day.

I didn't like it, but I'd promised.

I didn't wait for news of Diana's death. Rather, I assumed the worst, and acted accordingly. I went first to Michael Kritschgau, who I knew had copies of Scully's data on the latest downed UFO. The location of the UFO alone would sell for a considerable sum; the medical data I intended to patent and then sell. A patent on the complete human genome was the medical community's Holy Grail. It would be worth many hundreds of millions of dollars...and that might be enough to create a real, widespread vaccine program.

My next stop was Crystal City. I had given my oil stock to Donovan when Mare was first infected, but there were two left - hers, and the spare, in safe keeping with Skinner. I could have legitimately asked Mare for hers; but that was a thought I couldn't bear. So I went to Skinner.

"Come on in, Alex," he said with that slurred magnanimity of the very old and the very drunk. He looked the former and smelled the latter. I passed him, waving his breath aside. "Have a drink."

"Looks like you've already had enough for both of us," I said mildly.

"What are you going to do, use the Palm-Pilot-Of-Death on me?" It always bothered me that Skinner wasn't afraid of me. He should have been, with the power I had over him; but he wasn't. He said irritably, "You've already done that once today." He shut the door, went to the kitchen, and came back with a beer.

"Yeah, sorry about that," I said through the hutch. "Damage control."

"Do I want to know?" he asked, handing it to me. I shook my head. He said wryly, "Then I won't ask." I took a long, grateful drink and sat down; he did the same.

We sat in an oddly companionable silence for a while; but at last, he said curiously, "Why are you here, Alex?"

"You have something that I want," I said cryptically.

"My looks?" he said with a straight face, taking a mouthful of beer. "Or my charm?"

"I'd take your charms, but I'm a married man," I said deadpan. That should fuck with his head a little.

Give him his due, he kept his cool. "I don't take Mulder's leavings." I opened my mouth to say that ruled out a reconciliation with Scully, but thought better of it, in the circumstances.

"I want the oil stock."

Skinner looked at me piercingly. "That oil stock belongs to Marita, and you're separated." He shook his head vigorously. "No way."

"Your loyalty is commendable, but it's also misplaced," I said, annoyed. "It belonged to both of us, and I used mine on her. That stock belongs to me."

He shook his head. "No way, Alex. I'm not giving it to you. I'd rather face down a bad case of nanocytes than your wife."

I laughed a little at that. "She's a wildcat, all right," I admitted goodnaturedly. "But I'm not leaving here without that stock."

He shrugged, rising. "Then you may as well hunker down and have another beer." He held one out.

"I don't want your fucking beer, I want the stock," I snapped irritably. I took the bottle and looked at it. "What is this shit, anyway?"

"Stella Artois. It's Belgian. You and your American beer - what kind of a Russian are you, anyway?"

"Latvian," I corrected, annoyed. "And I'm an American." I took a mouthful. It wasn't bad, actually. "Give me the stock."

He shook his head regretfully. "Sorry, Alex. It's not going to happen."

I stared at him in disbelief. "Walter, with one wave of my stylus I could have you in hospital!"

"Yeah, yeah," said Skinner, drinking. "And with a wave of your sword you could cut my head off and with a wave of your remote control you could reprogram my VCR. And all that crap." The bastard was laughing at me. "But you still wouldn't know where it was, would you, Alex? That sounds to me like I have you over a barrel."

"How about this?" I hissed. "I put you in intensive care and keep you there until you tell me where it is? I seem to recall last time was pretty painful for you. You sure you're up for a second round?" He went pale - I had him rattled now, and that was good.

"Perhaps we can reach a compromise," he said at last.

I sat forward. "I'm listening."

"The stock for the controller."

I shot him a reproachful look. "You'd really give me Marita's stock for that? That's very disloyal, Walter," I said in mock earnest.

"You're an asshole, Alex. Do we have a deal?"

I shrugged, conceding defeat. "Yeah, I'll deal." I drained my beer and set it aside, breathing out in a rush of relief.

He rose and left the room, and I heard the dim clicking sound of turning tumblers. A wall safe, I speculated. He came back a few moments later and stood a few feet from me, holding the stock. "You first," he said quietly.

I shrugged. "Fair enough." I'd kill him for the stock if I had to; but I didn't think Skinner would double-cross me - that wasn't his style. I pulled the controller out of my pocket and handed it over without a fight.

He looked down at it, experimented with the stylus a little. He winced in pain and nodded, convinced of its authenticity by its effect on him. He threw me the oil stock. I caught it and put it in my pocket, its weight comforting against my body.

He was watching me, his expression an odd one of grim satisfaction. "What are you so fucking happy about?" I said, annoyed.

"Besides having my life back?" he said mildly.


Skinner shook his head indulgently. "Alex, Alex, Alex." He met my gaze. He said kindly, "You could have had it all along. She *wanted* you to have it. You only had to ask."

I stared at him in stupefaction. "You dirty old son of a bitch," I said in amazement. He just shrugged, and I said with grudging admiration, "I didn't think you had it in you." He just laughed.

I glared at him, but only for a moment; and then I laughed too.

I went to Tunisia alone.

I'd still been at Skinner's apartment early the next morning, drinking amiably with him, when the call came. Diana was gone, but before her death, she had given Scully the means to save Mulder. Mulder was alive, but sans hybrid genes; apparently Spender had succeeded in stealing them surgically. What that meant in the scheme of things was anyone's guess. I doubted that Spender even had a plan anymore; he was merely reacting to events in the same way as I.

There was nothing useful I could do in America, and I had to go to Morocco later that week in any case; so I stuck with my own plan, such though it was, and flew to Tunisia. Regretfully, I broke the news of Diana's death to her children. That was an awful, awful thing to have to do. I wasn't quite sure what to do about them; but I took them to the house in Tangier and gave their nanny money for their immediate care. While I was there, I put the oil stock in the safe - better that than to have it on me when I met my buyer.

I went back to Tunisia and met with my contact there, ready to sell the location of the downed UFO; but we were ambushed by two of Spender's men. They killed my buyer outright, and I was thrown into a Tunisian prison. The charges were trumped-up, and it was yet another irony along the way that I served time for things I didn't do rather than for the things I did.

I thought of Mare often. She had to know that something was wrong: I was supposed to meet Gibson for the summer holidays in just a few days time, and the Donovan nanny would make contact when the money ran out. I wondered whether she knew where I was - or whether she cared.

I got my answer five days into my ordeal. On that day, I was dragged before the warden and accused of plotting to escape. My punishment was that of solitary confinement by night, my cell close to the warden's post, lest I try to escape once more. I was innocent of the charges, but I felt a cautious jubilation: solitary by night represented safety in a place where rape could come on a whim, and death for the sake of a piece of bread. And when the warden signed off on the arrangements, the light caught a chain around his wrist, a chain I recognised. It was too thick to be a woman's, but too fine to be a man's; and I knew its design because I had chosen it myself.

It was Mare's.