Welcome To The Harem
Not My Lover by Deslea R. Judd Part 8 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.
THIS CONTINUES CHAPTER 6.
On our last night in Geneva, Skinner came to me.
I knew what he wanted when he passed into my hotel room; I had known for a while, and that knowledge left me torn. It had been more than a year since I had last been touched; more than two since a man had truly made love to me. When he embraced me, I clung to him, consumed with ravenous, devastating need. He felt so substantial in my arms, so warm; and how I longed to be warm.
Cautiously, tentatively, he bent his head to mine and kissed me, a first kiss, steeped in fondness and caring. I tilted my head to meet him, opening my mouth beneath his, letting him taste me. For long, long moments, I relished what it was to be wanted and adored; but when he pulled away, I made no attempt at pursuit. We stood there, gazes locked for a long, silent moment. I felt deep sadness.
He swallowed painfully, and at last, he touched my cheek with tenderness. "It's not there, is it?" he said in a raw whisper, his hold on me loosening.
I could have let myself off the hook right then, denied that there was a choice to be made; but I didn't. There were truths here that I needed to honour with words. "It is," I admitted wistfully. "I want you, Walter. Maybe I even love you a little. But..." I trailed off, helplessly shaking my head.
"Alex," he supplied. His voice was kind.
I nodded. "Yeah," I agreed softly. I stroked his cheek with the back of my hand, and he leaned into it, his eyes closed painfully. I said gently, taking his hand in mine, "Alexi and I aren't over just because he's not my lover. He's the other half of my soul." Tears started to slip down my cheeks - a lot of them tears for Alex, but some of them for Walter, and some of them for myself, because I wanted to be held, and it hurt like hell to give that up. "I dishonoured that once, and even if he never touches me again, I can't do that again. I'd like to prove that I'm better than that."
He brushed away my tears, watching me steadily. He nodded in understanding. His eyes were unnaturally bright, and it hurt me to know that I had hurt this man, this faithful man I loved second only to one. He bent to kiss me once more, and I allowed it; and when he pulled away, he gently detached himself from me. "I love you, Marita," he said, still holding my hand.
"I love you, my friend," I whispered, squeezing it tightly before finally letting go. I watched as he went to the door, but as he turned the handle, I called his name. He turned back to me, his expression a question.
"Go to Dana," I counselled. I spoke not as a rejecting lover, but as a friend; and I prayed he heard it that way. "You loved her longer and better than you've ever loved me. You two have unfinished business."
He nodded slowly. "Maybe I will," he said gravely. He looked away, and started to turn the doorknob again, but then he turned back once more. "Do you remember that night Alex and I sat up drinking together? The night before you came back from Geneva?"
"Yes, I remember."
He said, his brow creasing, "There was something that he said that's stayed with me, and I think I finally know why."
"What was it?" I said curiously.
"He said - very flippantly, he said it - he said, 'I'd take your charms, but I'm a married man.'"
I looked at him blankly. "You knew he was bisexual," I said in confusion, not at the words but at why Skinner considered them significant.
He made a dismissive gesture. "Of course I did. You're missing the point." I looked at him, perplexed. "He said he was a married man," he said emphatically. "He still thinks of himself as your husband, Marita." He opened the door. "I don't think Dana and I are the only ones with unfinished business."
He left then, and I waited until his footsteps receded, and then I sank down on the lounge and wept. I wept for myself, and for Walter, and for Alex, sitting in a filthy jail cell for my cowardice; but more than anything, I wept because I feared I would never be held again.
Spender made his proclamation, not with a bang, but with a whisper. He was grey now, his body failing him. He was not as sick as I had been when he'd held me captive, but he looked remarkably similar - same red eyes, same cracked lips. It was not in me to feel pity for him, but nor could I feel the vengeful jubilance I had expected in anticipation of his final days.
I watched him warily. Even now, defeated and helpless, he struck me as someone capable of profound evil. He sat innocently in his wheelchair, but that did not ease my worry; it merely meant that the evil was momentarily in check. In a way, his helplessness frightened me more: Spender no longer had anything left to lose. That made him dangerous - more dangerous.
"Who's back?" I demanded at last.
Spender nodded to his nurse, who discreetly withdrew. After the door shut behind her, he said calmly, "The alien colonists are back."
I wondered fleetingly about the possibility of dementia. "The colonists are dead. The ones who were here died at the rebels' hands, and the ones on Mars couldn't have gotten here so fast." I spoke very evenly and calmly, unsure of my ground.
"They aren't from Mars. They're survivors from Antarctica."
"Antarctica?" I said in disbelief, my eyes wide.
Spender nodded. "Apparently your vaccine not only kills the pathogenic lifeform, but the humanoids as well." I nodded - Alex and I had already known that. "The UFO that broke anchor when Antarctica fell had one hundred and three colonists on board. They all became ill, and most died."
"Most?" I echoed with mounting fear.
Spender nodded. He looked satisfied. Could it be that the man thought this was a good thing? "The craft continued on autopilot for almost a year. When the six survivors recovered enough to restore contact with their own kind, the hybrid project had fallen, and Mars was at war over who should control the planned invasion."
I nodded slowly. His data matched Alexi's speculations and my own about the outcomes of the fall of the colonists. I was no longer humouring his demented ravings: the danger was real. "What did they do?" I asked finally in a deathly quiet voice.
"If they can make a hybrid and bring it home, they will have the political sway to take control from the rebels." I gasped, comprehending. "They've been working secretly in Oregon for five months now, trying to recreate what happened in Mulder last year."
"Have they succeeded?"
Spender shook his head. "No. Their craft collided with an air force plane last night. They fear the rebels will become aware of them, and so they are gathering up their subjects. They plan to move to another location once they have cleaned up the evidence of their actions."
I thought about this. "How do you know all this?" I demanded at last.
"I have been monitoring their transmissions home for some time."
I rose and walked to the window. I breathed out heavily, trying to make sense of what all this meant. A touch of condensation formed on the glass, and I wiped it away, absently. Spender watched me; I watched him watching me in the reflection. His expression was an odd mix of calculation and affection. It was an expression I had seen once before; but I shunted that memory aside hurriedly. I wouldn't think about that - not today.
At last, I turned back to face him. "So what does all this mean for us?"
He looked mildly annoyed at my lack of foresight. "It means we can find them and join them," he said, as though this were the obvious course of action. I could think of no strategy less appealing, save for surrender. "It means we can save ourselves."
"Save yourself, you mean," I said coldly. "If they take you home as the prized hybrid, they'll heal you and you will live."
"Don't you want to survive it, Marita?" he asked, truly puzzled. "You could join me. Be my consort."
With effort, I passed over the astoundingly repugnant implications of that. I demanded angrily, "Be queen of a race which will no longer exist? What's the point of that?"
He made a conceding gesture, but pointed out, "It's life." I watched him in stony silence, and at last, he said, "We can even bring Alex if it's that important to you. The crown prince. He can play Lancelot to your Guinevere." His tone was lightly mocking, but I could see he was serious.
I frowned. "And if I say yes - then what?"
"We find that ship, and join them on their journey home."
I thought - thought for some time. I thought about the vaccine, and how its distribution, unknown to Spender, was mere months away. I thought about the colonists, near enough to invade before then; and the warring groups on Mars, who were not. I thought about Alex - Alex, who wasn't immune. And slowly, the seeds of a plan began to grow in my mind.
We could really end this thing.
If I couldn't have my marriage, then at least I could have that - for myself, for my children, and for the man I loved.
"You say I can have Alex?" I demanded, my eyes bright.
"Certainly, you may have Alex." I watched him steadily.
"Then my answer is yes."
COMING IN PART 7: (ALEX) SURVIVAL, VENGEANCE, AND PENANCE
Not My Lover *NC17* 7/7
Deslea R. Judd
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. email@example.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 are working on a vaccine for the alien pathogen, the so-called Black Cancer. Their 1996 marriage (after Apocrypha) protected them from Spender's wrath for a time; but their clandestine operation in Tunguska cost the lives of her mother, Larissa, the dark man, X (Herrenvolk), and their accomplice, Benita Charne-Sayrre (Terma). They made Mulder immune with their new vaccine, believing that he would be pivotal to the resistance (Tunguska); but he reacted differently to the other subjects. The vaccine leaves the subject seriously ill and is not suitable for distribution, but they theorise that metabolic differences between the races might be the key.
After Spender exposed Marita to smallpox (Zero Sum), she miscarried; but was befriended by Skinner while under forced quarantine. The alien rebels destroyed the Russian operation (Patient X), leaving the couple - and an unwitting Skinner - with the only stocks of the pathogen and vaccine. After Marita was infected with the pathogen, Alex handed over his supply to save her and joined forces with the Englishman, Donovan, synthesising new improved formulas of the vaccine. While Marita recuperated, the couple lived at Fort Marlene and befriended Gibson Praise (The End), but she and Gibson were taken by Spender after Donovan's death (Fight The Future). Believing them to be dead, Alex continued to work on the vaccine for Spender, but passed intelligence to the Tunisians (SR819) and conspired with Diana (Fowley) Donovan to halt hybridisation.
After the rebels destroyed the American operation and all his stocks of vaccine, Alex found Marita and Gibson, seriously ill (One Son), and nursed them, severing ties with Spender and hiding Gibson in a boarding school. When she haemorrhaged, Marita revealed that she was several months pregnant after consenting intercourse during her imprisonment. The details are unclear. Devastated, Alex fled, but returned to help her hours later. Because of the delay, she lost her child and is unable to have children due to uterine scarring. Consumed with guilt, Alex abandoned her; but the death of Diana Donovan (Amor Fati) led him to begin the work once more, in order to fulfil his promise to vaccinate her children. He exchanged the nanocyte controller for Skinner's copy of the vaccine, and attempted to sell Michael Kritschgau's data to fund the work; but Spender's men caught him and had him thrown into a Tunisian prison (Amor Fati/Requiem).
After she recovered, Marita took Gibson to Tangier and found the Donovan children. She realised that Alex was missing and agreed to work for Spender in exchange for his location. She ensured Alex's safety, but left him there on Spender's instructions, on pain of the revelation of the truth about her child. She worked on the vaccine with the United Nations, and convinced the World Health Organisation to revive the Smallpox Eradication Program, as the vaccine needed it to work. She remedied the vaccine's after-effects by modifying Skinner's nanocytes and adding them to the formula, which has one-off regenerative properties as a result. She tested it successfully on Scully (En Ami) and herself. Promoted to Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, she convinced the UN to launch the vaccine program; the timetable for release is under twelve months. Skinner declared his love for her, but Marita counselled him to return to Scully. Now, Spender has revealed the existence of a small group of colonists who survived the rebel attack. They are working on hybridisation in Oregon, but their craft has crashed (Requiem). Spender wants Marita to find the craft so that he can offer himself as a hybrid, be healed, and survive. Marita, knowing that the colonists are the only ones close enough to be a threat before the vaccine gets out, has other ideas.
I know you have been wondering.
About Mulder and whatever became of him. About us, and what we did that brought about the new beginning we all share. I know you wonder about your daughter, and whether she is really yours - or whether she is even Dana's. And as Mare and I face our life anew, we have decided that you should know the truth of it.
We think of you often, Walter, especially now that we have Elena. It is for this reason that we have decided to send you these journals, to explain how it all came about. It is our gift to you in this precious time - a time that we finally share.
Before I go further, I will say this. On the day that we said goodbye, when Mare told you she had vaccinated Dana, we lied about when and how that came about, in a bid to preserve the friendship between us. The truth of it is elsewhere in these pages. However, the bare fact remains: Dana received the vaccine, and she received its regenerative properties; and that is how your child came to be. You need not hold any fears about her parentage, nor about her future.
The vaccination program progresses well, and I have enjoyed my work and the novelty of respectability; but Mare and I have resolved to resign our posts and remain in Tangier. Gibson's safety is paramount; no less important is the tranquillity we seek for all our children. Elizabeth and Shane aren't really ours, even now; but we have hope that that will change, as it has with Samuel. Even if it doesn't, though, we will still find ways of being a family - we always do.
I think you and Dana would like it here; and I hope that one day, when the wounds among us have healed enough, you will see it. It is a rambling house with an odd menagerie of children and pets - Mare even brought one of the lab monkeys - and the garden is beautiful. We spend most of our time out there with the sounds of the water and the warmth of the sun: after so long in darkness, we crave the light. Our happiness is undeserved, and that makes it all the more precious.
Mare is reading over my shoulder, and she sends her love as always. I know she is special to you as she is to me, and I believe you would find joy in seeing her as she is now. She runs about with the children in bare feet and white seersucker dresses, her hair long and unfettered; and her eyes are finally free of the shadows she has carried as long as I've known her. She's free now, as we all are.
And that alone has made it all worthwhile.
"Your release has been arranged."
I turned my head sharply at the words. They drew my attention with their language and their content; but most of all, with their sound. They were spoken in a high, clear voice - a female voice, an American voice, a strong voice.
A voice I'd thought I would never hear again.
Unbelieving, I pushed my way forward, parting a way through a sea of inmates, my footfalls reverberating in my mind. Her voice cut through my carefully nurtured oblivion; and as I approached her, I was cruelly aware of my broken state. I steamed filth and stench; my pores were dripping with it. It clung to the fine whiskers that protruded mercilessly from my flesh; it was embedded in the fibres of my clothes - clothes I had worn for a year. My sleeve was knotted, evidence of a loss I preferred to conceal. I had left her as she lay in the twilight between life and death; now, as I pushed my way to the front of the cell, she found me broken, and she was strong. I hated myself, and I hated her for leaving me here, and I hated her for seeing me this way.
"Marita Covarrubias," I hissed, deliberately using her maiden name. "The last time I saw you, I left you for dead."
I regretted it even before the hurt flickered over her eyes - it was a cruel, unnecessary thing to do, and part of me knew that even before she drew herself up and cut me down as I deserved. "Alex, if it was strictly up to me, I'd leave you here to rot, too," she said, her dismissal mercilessly efficient; and it stung, though I had no right to expect anything else.
The guard opened the cell, sliding the barred gate aside; but I didn't even see him. I saw only the sudden absence of barrier between us. I stepped out, advancing on her, my gaze locked on hers. Her scent washed over me. Mine must have washed over her, too; but she didn't step back. I didn't think she would. She only asked in Arabic to be escorted to the shower, her voice mildly neutral, her eyes never leaving me.
We walked to a room that passed for a bathroom in silence, and when the guard left us, she nodded towards a bench. There were toiletries and clothes waiting - and my prosthesis. Still, she didn't speak; still, she betrayed no reaction to me; but I noticed that the jeans were in my normal cut and the toiletries were in my usual brands. Even under her steely gaze, it comforted me to know that someone knew me so well.
She made no move to leave, which I supposed was fair enough, given we'd been married nearly five years. As for the idea of asking her to go - that opened a whole new can of worms. The only thing that made me more uncomfortable than her seeing me this way was the idea of her perceiving my discomfort about the fact. So I went to the sink and shaved, clipped my nails, cleaned my teeth - anything to delay exposing myself to her. But soon, there were no tasks left; and my desire to be clean was fast outstripping the problem of her scrutiny. She'd left me here, after all; let her live with what it had done to me.
So I stripped, horribly aware of the wasting in my muscles and the dark shadows in the hollows of my stomach and my chest. She watched me steadily, her expression inscrutable; but she closed and unclosed her fingers compulsively, and I was bitterly pleased that I could still touch her that way. I felt my self-awareness and discomfort melt away: it wasn't really her seeing that bothered me, but the thought that she mightn't care.
I stood under the hot spray, relishing the feel of it, cleaning myself unselfconsciously. I looked at her appraisingly, making no attempt to hide the fact. Before I'd come here, I'd known she was strong again; but I hadn't seen her, and to do so now was something that gave me real warmth. Despite the bitterness I'd felt towards her over the last year - and there hadn't really been a lot of it - I had always wanted that for her.
The wasting was gone. She was svelte, but toned...powerful. Her hair was longer, the way it had been when we were first married; and it was glossy. I remembered plunging my hands into that hair on our wedding night, cradling her, plundering her with my mouth. I closed my eyes, flinging my head back to face the shower spray, banishing these images. I was hard, and I wondered if she'd noticed; then decided I'd rather not know.
"Who sent you?" I demanded at last, determined to focus on something else. Something other than my wife, and how I wanted to stalk across the room in three strides and take her; never mind the guard outside, never mind her crisp white clothes, never mind that she almost certainly despised me, and with good cause.
"The smoking man," she said, and that didn't surprise me: she had to have been in contact with him to find me in the first place. The surprise was in the words that followed. "He's dying."
I stared at her, slack-jawed, thunderstruck. She didn't elaborate. Instead, she said quietly, "Did you have any trouble in here?"
I shook my head. "No. By day I could take care of myself, by night I was in solitary." I wiped streaming water from my face; said pointedly, "I guess that birthday bracelet was money well spent."
She retorted coolly, "Actually, I wanted them to treat you worse, but you know how bad my Arabic is." She walked past me, tossing her hair in a show of false bravado, moving towards her bag.
Quick as lightning, I reached out and pulled her against me, holding her roughly by the arm. She gave a cry of protest as the spray hit her, drenching her in an instant. Her face was upturned, and I lowered my lips to hers. "You're full of shit, Marita," I hissed, my mouth brushing her as I spoke. The length of her body was moulded to mine, wet and cool; our skin was almost touching, only a sliver of wet fabric between us. My hardness brushed her stomach, not pressing into her, but not held away, either.
The tension was incredible.
Her breaths came in shallow gasps; bright spots of colour rose on her cheeks. Water coursed over her, clinging to her hair and her eyelashes in tiny droplets. Her eyes were gleaming, her mouth open a little; and her breaths came in irregular, shallow pants. I could feel my body crying out to hers as though for a missing part of myself. I thought I would have to either thrust her away or have her right then - I could have done it in an instant, just by pulling aside her skirt and lifting her onto me; and I think that she would have allowed it - but I did neither of those things. Instead, my hold on her loosened, and I burst out in genuine laughter.
"What?" she demanded, affronted, breathlessly confused.
"It's good to see you, Mare," I sighed, grinning amiably - and whatever else had happened between us, it was. My body still throbbed for her, but the tension was dissipating - both physical and otherwise.
She shot me an unwilling smile. "It's good to see you too, Alex," she admitted, her voice suffused with genuine warmth. She stepped away, chagrined. "You made me wet, you son of a bitch."
I pulled the crude lever, shutting off the water, and went to her, taking the towel she held out. "Sorry."
"No, you're not," she said good-naturedly. She sat down on the bench, wiping her hair with a towel for a few moments; but soon discarded the idea as futile. I slipped on my prosthesis and fastened the strap across my chest, and flexed the hand experimentally. I still had the muscle control to operate the myoeletric sensors, much to my relief.
She handed me a shirt. Her dress was drying in the heat, but I could still see the damp lines of her underwear. She regarded my groin appraisingly. "You're going to need a shoehorn to get your trousers on," she said clinically.
"Don't be crass." I pulled on my jeans and turned away to fasten them, not wanting her to see me wrestle with the task, and I could hear her breathing become erratic as she struggled heroically against sounds of mirth. Shooting her a filthy look, I sat down at her side; but she gave me a gorgeous smile in response. I returned it ruefully. "How are the children?"
"Good," she said, pushing aside a dripping tendril of her hair. She flicked the water from her fingers at me irritably. "Gibson's been missing you. He's in Tangier now, with the others. We're going to have to spend some time with them when this is over." I was going to ask what she meant by 'this', but decided it could wait. "Samuel is okay, but Elizabeth and Shane are still pretty traumatised. They're struggling."
I nodded slowly. "What's the guardianship situation?"
"You're guardian under Diana's will," she said, and that didn't surprise me. It had come down to Mulder or me, and Mulder hadn't known they existed. "I've been exercising power of attorney to make decisions about their care." Then, hastily, "I'll hand over the reins to you now, of course."
"Don't be silly," I reproved. We were silent for a long moment, and I was conscious of renewed tension. It was the first time we'd referred, even obliquely to our separation. Hastily, I asked, "What does Spender want?"
"What he *wants*," she said deliberately, "is for us to locate a group of surviving colonists so that he can offer himself as a hybrid and be healed." My eyes widened, both at the news of survivors and at the implications of Spender's plan. She gave a grim smile. "But what he's going to get is another matter."
I regarded her curiously. "You've got a plan." How tantalising it was to see her like this - calculating, planning, acting. She exuded power and latent strength. I'd loved to watch that even before she was sick; I loved it a thousand times more now.
"I've got better than that," she said with sudden, shy pride. "I've got a vaccine."
I stared at her, thunderstruck. "One that can be distributed?" I said sharply. She nodded with a childlike grin - gleeful and ear-to-ear - and I hugged her impulsively, holding her close against my body. Pulling back to hold her by the shoulders, I said with awed satisfaction, "You did it, Mare!"
"*We* did it," she corrected; and then we both became aware that I was holding her, and we broke apart abruptly. She cleared her throat, and went on hurriedly, "The World Health Organisation has already approved a timetable for its distribution." I looked at her with admiration. I had the political background, but she had an instinct for it that I didn't. It was fascinating to watch. She went on deliberately, "We only need eight months. As far as I know, these colonists are the only ones that could pose a threat between now and then - no-one else could get here in time."
I stared at her, comprehending the danger. "We've got to find them," I said urgently. She nodded gravely:
"Let's end this thing once and for all."
There was war amid the silence.
We didn't speak in the plane. Instead, she drowsed, and I watched her intently. My muted anger at her for leaving me in that hellhole was not diminished by time; nor was my remorse. I waged an inner war over her, like a forbidden land with suspect treaties and conflicting claims. My love and my anger fought for supremacy over her - over me - and love was winning.
I wanted to kiss her tenderly. I wanted to kiss her hard, aggressively, possessively. I wanted her to forgive me. I wanted her to hate me, so that I could hate her. And underneath it all was a desire to drag her into my arms and never let go. How much of that was love, and how much the headiness of her scent after two-and-a-half years' celibacy, I couldn't have said.
We disembarked in Casablanca. Our connecting flight was not til morning, so she proposed a hotel. Eager to sleep in a proper bed, I gratefully agreed.
The concierge asked for a name, and Mare said smoothly, "Marita Krycek." I shot her a glance; but she had said it automatically and was unaware of the fact. By the time she looked up, my expression was carefully neutral once more. She asked for a twin room without consulting me, and I didn't argue the point. I waited to be told they had only doubles; but that didn't eventuate. Evidently, my life had not yet become a cheesy soap opera. I'm not sure whether I was disappointed or relieved.
We settled in the room, and I sank gratefully into a hot bath, soaking up the little luxuries of freedom. Mare came in with a drink - Dom Benedictine, my favourite - and handed it over wordlessly, her expression neutral. "It's not poisoned, is it?" I asked dryly, taking the glass. At her filthy look, I mumbled an apology.
"Don't get excited," she reproved, sitting on the edge of the tub. "It was the first thing I laid my hands on in the minibar." At my doubtful look, she snapped, "Oh, damn it, Alex, it is poisoned. Just shut up and drink." I laughed and did as I was told. It was my first Benedictine in a year. If it were poisoned, it would be worth it.
We drank in silence, but at last, she spoke. "I'm sorry I left you in that place," she said matter-of-factly. I looked at her, frowning, querying. "Spender threatened me if I got you out," she said by way of explanation, and I nodded in sudden understanding. She met my gaze, then gave a low sigh. She said contritely, "But I shouldn't have left you there. It was a cowardly thing to do."
I waved my hand in dismissal of this. "Forget it," I said easily. "Chalk one up for bad karma." At her dubious look, I sighed; said gravely, "I blame him, Mare, but I don't blame you." That wasn't entirely true - or hadn't been, at any rate - but threats or not, I was prepared to let her off the hook for it. After all, I abandoned her first.
"Thank you," she said softly. She rose to leave, but she stopped at the door. "I have something of yours," she said abruptly. She pulled something from her pocket and left it on the handbasin, silver and gleaming.
Not silver. White gold.
My wedding ring.
She turned and left, closing the door gently behind her.
I rose in a single movement, water sliding off me in a rush, and stepped out of the bath, staring at it. I remembered them ripping it from my hand at the penal colony a year before; and I remembered Mare handing over twenty thousand dinari there earlier that day, and thinking that it was an overly generous bribe just for my release. Looking up at the closed door, I wondered what she would think if I left it off. I wondered what she would think if I put it on. And then I decided I didn't care what she thought. I was her husband, and that hadn't changed.
With a reflective sigh, I put it on, and I have worn it ever since.
We were fighting.
I'd tell you what the fight was about, if I could remember. Something stupid, undoubtedly. The air was thick with renewed tension when I came out of the bathroom; Mare was morose and petulant, and the next thing I knew we were squabbling like children. We were on a hair-trigger, both of us; ready for war, ready for love, navigating a precarious tension between the two.
At last, fed up, I started for the door, with no clear idea of where I would go. The bar, maybe. "I don't need this, Marita," I snapped in frustration, grabbing the doorknob.
She grabbed my arm, turning me around roughly. "Damn it, Alexi-"
She stopped, realising her mistake. In using the old name she had revealed something of how she thought of me. She pushed me away abruptly. "Alex," she corrected breathlessly.
I pulled her back to me, just as abruptly, lowering my face to hers. I kissed her, hard; and she kissed me back with a sound of longing, her mouth warring with mine, aiming to conquer rather than surrender.
She lifted her hands to my hair, threading fingers through it, holding me to her. She pressed herself against me, so warm, so powerful, so exquisitely strong. She pushed me against the door, pulling my shirt out of my jeans, her hands sliding up my back, shooting a line of lazily-growing fire over my nerves.
I stroked down her shoulder to her breast, my hand firm on her, yielding no more than she did. "Mare," I breathed into her mouth, sliding my hand back up over her neck, teasing her hair relentlessly with my fingers. I engulfed her mouth with mine, determined to subdue her and bend her to my will; not tamed, only kept in check. My wanting was urgent, aggressive; but against sanity, against even instinct, I felt my avid need for her recede in the face of something more. My hold on her became less fierce, and my mouth slowed, kissing her forehead, then her lips once more.
Her hands flew to my face, fingertips dancing on my cheeks, as our kiss grew tender. I tasted her lips, dipped my tongue between them delicately, cherishing her. I cradled her head, soft hair threaded between my fingers. No longer was I duelling with my opponent; I was loving my wife, the woman I had given my life to; and I was lost to her all over again. I gave myself over to her, sighing in rueful surrender. I slid my hand into the top of her shirt at the back, pulled it aside, kissed the soft whiteness of her neck. She gave a low sound, and I stayed there for a long moment, breathing her scent, intoxicated.
Suddenly, she tore away. "Damn it, Alex," she shouted, "I won't be your whore!" She pulled her shirt back in place, and stalked out onto the balcony. I watched her go unhappily, and sank morosely into a chair, my head in my hand.
At last, I rose, and followed her out there. She was sitting on the chaise lounge, smoking. I hadn't seen her do that in years. She didn't look at me when I sat at her side; but we sat there in an oddly companionable silence, looking out over the streets of Casablanca. I could see the lights of El Jadida dimly in the distance.
"I don't think of you that way," I said, at last. "No matter how hurt I've been, I've never thought of you that way. Never," I repeated at her sharp look. "What happened back there wasn't just being alone all this time. It wasn't just sex." I finished in a low voice, "It's never just sex between us."
"No, it isn't," she agreed softly.
I took one of her cigarettes without asking. We sat there, smoking; but at last, she said curiously, "What did you mean at Forj Sidi Toui? About leaving me for dead?"
I hung my head remorsefully. "I shouldn't have said that, Mare."
"No - I said things I shouldn't have, as well," she said apologetically. "But you meant something by it, and I would like to know what it was."
I looked at her, perplexed. "What I did to you," I said in self-reproach. "The way I left you."
"Left me?" she echoed in bewilderment. "You saved me, Alex. I was dying. You got me help just in time."
I said painfully, "You were dying because I walked off my anger for five hours instead of staying to help you. You were dying because I was a self-absorbed coward." At her stunned look, I said, "You didn't know that?"
Slowly, she shook her head. "I remember asking you to help me, and then I remember waking up in the hospital, after it was all over, and you weren't there." Her voice was even, but low, and tinged with sadness.
"You lost your child because of me," I confessed, my face hot with shame.
She watched me for a long moment. She was frowning thoughtfully. "Please look at me, Alex," she said at last. Her voice was gentle. Reluctantly, I complied, and she said softly, "You don't seriously think I could have carried to term in the condition I was in, do you?"
I shrugged uncertainly, my shoulders hunched. I said in a low, raw voice, "Your fertility-"
"Probably doomed the moment the placenta tore away," she said implacably. "That wasn't your doing."
I said harshly, "You could have died, Mare."
She stared at me in realisation. "You've been blaming yourself," she said with wonder - and compassion.
I hung my head, swallowing hard. "I couldn't face you, Mare. Not after what I cost you." My voice was thick with pain.
"That's why you stayed away?" she gasped, her cheeks wet with sudden tears. At my silent nod, she said in anguish, "I thought it was because of the child." Her eyes were wide, unnaturally bright.
I stared at her, stunned. "No," I whispered, shaking my head. "I made peace with that the night it happened." She bowed her head, the lines of her body slumped, her cheeks glistening with silent tears in the light of the moon. "I never intended any harm to you or your child, Mare. I hope you can believe that, even if you can't forgive."
She met my gaze once more. "I do forgive you, Alex," she said softly. She took my hand in hers and threaded her fingers through mine. I held it tightly.
We stayed that way, silently watching the stars. "Alexi?" she said at last. At my look, she went on in a low voice, "I'd like to tell you about the child...about why it happened."
I shook my head. "I don't want to know." I spoke more sharply than I'd intended, and she drew back a little. "I don't need to know," I amended more gently, squeezing her hand reassuringly.
"Maybe not," she whispered. "But I think I need to tell - if you're willing to hear," she added hesitantly. I didn't want to hear it, but I had abandoned her too many times already; so I nodded. She explained, "I'd been in the tests for five months. The scientists were talking - they thought I was asleep."
"What did they say?" I asked; but I thought I already knew the answer. There were discussions I'd had about my own prisoners at Norylsk - sick prisoners who had been tested to the very brink of death. I understood the danger to her in that time, perhaps better than she had herself. The full weight of my own wrongdoing hit me then, and I flinched with sudden agony.
She was staring at the floor, struggling for composure, and she didn't notice. "That my body was so decimated that my results were unreliable. They didn't know what was the vaccine and what was drug interactions and what was my illness anymore."
"They were going to list you for termination," I said slowly, squeezing her fingers tightly.
"Yeah." She looked at me; said reflectively, "I remembered what you said about me being valuable because I was fertile - that they would want to know whether the immunity was hereditary." I sighed heavily, my eyes closed in sudden pain. I wasn't sure whether to be thankful or to hate myself. "I didn't even know if I could get pregnant," she said helplessly. "I was so sick. But my cycle was still normal, so I thought - maybe-" she broke off, shaking her head miserably.
"How did you do it?" I asked quietly, without reproach.
She looked away for a long moment. She said, oddly reserved, "I asked a guard if I could see Gibson." Looking at me once more, she explained, "I said that I understood it was a concession, and that I would reciprocate with one of my own. That's how I knew where to find him when you got us out." She went on, her voice low and raw, "He - it wasn't violent or - or rough - but it-" she broke off, shaking her head, impatient with her own weakness. "I can't," she said suddenly. All at once, I drew her close, laying her head on my shoulder, holding her tightly, sadly. I buried my face in her hair. She clung to me, said in a dull voice, "I'm sorry, Alex."
I shook my head; pulled away, quoting softly, "We all do what we have to do to survive, Mare." I stroked back her hair. "We are man and wife. Your sins are my sins." She smiled faintly in the moonlight, remembering that day in Tunguska. "There is no room for punishment between us."
She nodded in acceptance of this. "I love you, Alexi." She drew up my fingers to her lips; brushed them pensively. "I never stopped."
"I love you," I rejoined. "You're still my wife." I looked at her, meeting her gaze. "You're still my life."
She rested her head against mine, forehead to forehead for a long moment; then rose, our hands still entwined. She tugged gently, and I got up. "Let's get some sleep," she whispered.
I nodded, and I followed her, but I was troubled. Something about her account didn't hold water. I had a sudden feeling she was holding something back, but decided not to pursue it. Mare had been in a war, and you don't push people who've been in a war.
That didn't stop me from speculating, of course. Her story held up, but the way she'd looked away when she identified a guard as the father troubled me greatly. I remembered her when I found her, frail, marred by her illness. I'd wanted her then as now, but I was her husband: she was always beautiful to me. To another man, an objective man - and I would never say this to her - she wasn't, in that time, a woman to be touched with desire. With pity, or horrified self-loathing, perhaps, but not desire. It took a particular mentality to accept an offer such as she had proposed, and that mentality wasn't something I could reconcile with a strapping young Marine. It was the mentality of a man drunk on power above all else, a man who would accept such an offer just because it was one more opportunity to exercise that power.
I froze, biting off the end of that awful, awful thought; but it wouldn't leave me. I stared at her retreating back; imagined his hand on it, imagined her staring at him - this man who had killed her mother and her child - and the strength it must have taken to allow it without weeping or screaming.
No. Absurd. Unthinkable. Why did it matter who it was anyway? And then the answer, inescapable in its logic and mortally sad in its meaning:
Because it mattered to her.
I blinked. "Yes, Mare?" I couldn't quite keep the raw compassion from my voice.
"What is it?" I realised I'd stopped still near the lounge, my hand still in hers.
I watched her steadily. "Nothing. It's nothing," I said softly.
She held my gaze for a long moment, watching me appraisingly, her expression doubtful; but she shrugged. "Okay." She looked over at the two single beds, side by side. "The floor?" she said questioningly, and I nodded absently. She started moving cushions and pillows to the floor, and I followed suit, watching her, still troubled.
We knelt on the floor, and she started to take off her clothes, but I took her hand, staying her. "Mare?" She looked at me, her expression querying. "I don't need to reclaim you like some macho caveman," I said in a low voice. "I'd like to think I'm better than that."
Her look was gentle. "You are better than that," she said softly. "But I want to be reclaimed. I want to be yours. I want you to be mine." She was smiling.
"I am," I said ruefully.
She slid her arms around my shoulders. She leaned into me, and kissed me with warm, tender lips. "Then make love to me. Take what's yours."
So I did.
I looked on him in horror.
Mare had warned me that he looked bad, but I hadn't been prepared for this. He was still the man who killed my child, who took my wife and son away; but he was also wretched...pathetic. I watched him, transfixed, disgusted and dismayed in turns.
"I heard about your incarceration," Spender said mildly, oblivious to my reaction.
"You had me thrown in that hellhole," I snapped bitterly. It was the least of his sins; but if I let myself think of the others, I would kill him with my bare hands.
"For trying to sell something that was mine, was it not?" he retorted in a rattling whisper. "I hope we can all move forward...put the past behind us. We have a singular opportunity now."
"A singular opportunity?" I said dumbly. He believed Mare and I were estranged, and it was better that he continued to believe that. If he thought he could play us against one another, perhaps we could make that to our advantage. Better that he thought she'd left me in the dark.
"There's been a crash in Oregon. An alien craft has collided with a military aircraft..."
I tuned out. I already possessed the information, and my attention had been caught by something else. Something about Mare, and how she carried herself - not quite at my side, but a half-step behind, subtly putting me between herself and Spender. Her breathing was shallower than usual, something only a husband would notice. Her face was as inscrutable as ever, but there was an odd harshness in the lines of her cheek and her chin, something overly controlled. The question that had occurred to me fleetingly the previous night, like a snake raising its head, suddenly came to me again, this time at full force. And this time, I could not nervously dismiss the idea as absurd. This time, reluctantly, sadly, I was sure.
It was Spender.
It was Spender to whom Mare had offered herself. It was Spender whom she had taken into herself, taking life from him - this man who had only ever brought death - in a desperate bid to save her own. And she had carried his child willingly, nurturing it in spite of its paternity and in spite of her frailty, carrying it for four months against all odds through sheer power of will. It made me deeply, mortally sad.
"...our chance to rebuild the project," he finished in pitiful glee. I couldn't speak, or move; because if I moved, I would kill him - I was certain of it. I wanted to kill him; I wanted to hurt him; I wanted to bring him down the short distance left to his knees. I wanted all those things; all those things any man wants - any decent man - when another man violates the most precious thing in his world. But more than anything, I wanted it all to be over. I wanted to take her home to Tangier, to shelter her and help her to forget. Neither before nor since have I hated so much and loved so much in a single moment.
"How do you know someone hasn't already recovered it?" Mare was saying, saving me from the need to respond. Her voice was cold. Spender looked at us smugly.
"It's never quite so easy."
I hated leaving her.
I hated knowing that she would be with him in my absence, that she would sit stiffly in that apartment in the furthest chair from him that she could, that she would endure his presence with cold revulsion. It brought out all my protective instincts. I toyed with the idea of taking her to Oregon with me, but that would reveal our unity to him; and we needed his information. He was giving it out piecemeal in a bid to protect himself and his plans.
Mulder and Scully were in Oregon, too, looking for a missing policeman who had been abducted. The colonists were swiftly collecting up their test subjects, and the Bellefleur population was dropping at an alarming rate. Time was running out before the ship could be located; before it moved on with its subjects in tow.
Mare hacked into the FBI's e-mail server and was able to add to our information. There was a location in the woods, near where the policeman had gone missing, in which Scully had experienced a strange collapse. "She speaks of a sense of being lifted and shaken," she said absently, and I could hear her fingers tapping at lightning speed over her keyboard. "She's not certain whether that's actually what happened, though. She's very noncommittal here. I won't tell you what Skinner wrote back - it's personal - but he's pretty worried."
I frowned, thinking it over. "I was on the phone to Spender earlier on. He says the craft is shielded by some kind of energy field."
"I was there," she said, her tone noticeably cooler. Then, in a worried voice, "Do you think Scully might have run into the field?"
"More like tripped over it, by the sounds of things," I mused into the phone.
"It didn't let her in," she said slowly. The keyboard tapping had stopped. "That's bad news. I'd already stolen one of her implant chips from the Pentagon. She's an abductee - I was sure she'd get aboard."
I said grimly, "So was I."
"So how do we breach it?" she demanded urgently. "What could it be looking for in the people it lets in, besides implants?"
It was a good question, and not one I'd considered in exactly those terms. "Something involving electrical impulses," I hazarded. "Something with set fluctuations that an energy field can detect."
"Brain waves?" Mare wondered. She said thoughtfully, "Spender's operation was around the frontal lobe when he took the hybrid genes from Mulder."
I damn near choked. "What did you say?" She started to speak, and I amended, "No, I know what you said - I mean, are you saying it might let Mulder aboard?"
There was a moment of dead silence; and then she said slowly, "Why, yes...yes, I think it might."
"We could end it," I said breathlessly. "*He* could end it."
"He could," she agreed slowly. "You still have a stiletto somewhere, and there are explosives...there are ways." She sounded wary. "But Alexi," she asked, very gently, "are you sure you want to do this?"
She'd cut to the heart of it, as she always did. I hung my head miserably. "No," I said morosely, "but it has to be done. It's gone too far, Mare. Too many people have died. It has to end here."
There was a rustling sound. I could picture her nodding. "That's true," she conceded.
"Mulder has no family, no children - just the work," I said, urgently. "And the work is about to end. Maybe he was born for this - to die so that others can live."
Her voice was gentle. "Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?"
"Mare, please-" I stopped short, my breath catching in my throat.
"I'm not trying to be unkind," she said softly. "Think whatever you need to think to get through - and for what it's worth, I think you might be right. But you loved him. I don't begrudge that - I never have. You don't have to go through this alone."
My face felt very hot - with shame, with pain, with sorrow. "You're very good to me, Mare," I said thickly.
She gave an indulgent sound. "I love you, Alex," she sighed. "Try to get some sleep."
But sleep was a long time coming.
"Why me and why now?"
A lesser man might have asked first where the alien craft came from, or how we knew about it; but not Mulder. Trust him to get right to the heart of the matter in a single stroke. And I would have told him; but Skinner was there, and this was one quest Mulder had to face alone.
But he was waiting for an answer; so I gave him another truth, a lesser one. "I want to damn the soul of that cigarette-smoking son of a bitch." I said it with venom, and Mare shot me a worried glance; but didn't comment.
Mulder, Mare, Skinner and I turned in unison, confronting Scully as a single unit; and for a long moment, she stared at us, transfixed. I hadn't seen her in several years, and for just a second she appeared to me as her sister - the sister I carried with me, along with the rest of my victims. I blinked, and the illusion passed.
Mare broke the silence. "Agent Scully, we haven't met. I'm Marita Krycek." Abruptly, Mulder turned to face me, putting it all together at last; but I ignored him, moving to Mare's side, sending an unobtrusive but firm message. I wanted to get the speculation over with as quickly and quietly as possible.
"Hello," Scully said evenly, but she didn't offer her hand. She went on, discernibly colder, "Hello, Krycek." Dimly, I heard Mulder conducting a muted telephone conversation in the background.
"Good to see you, Scully." She raised her eyebrows at that, but didn't comment; only looking from Mare and I to Skinner, and back again. I wondered how much he had told her in bed - and how much he hadn't. I was pretty sure that the identity of his best friend's husband fell into the latter category. She looked pissed.
Mulder put the phone back in its cradle. "All right, people," he said in a high voice. "The Gunmen will be here in an hour with some data for us, so we have some play time." He shot us a look. "We should all stay close together," he said warily. "There's safety in numbers."
We all nodded, and we passed the next little while in Skinner's office, chatting. Skinner handed around drinks, and he and I talked amicably. Our friendship, if you could call it that, had always been on a provisional basis; but, bound by a common fondness for Mare, we'd become skilled at co-existence. Scully and Marita exchanged small talk for a while. I'm not quite sure what small talk women exchange, but they were similar in temperament, and they seemed to get along all right. Mulder watched Marita and I in turn, his expression wary.
The dark man had said once that anyone could see that Mare and I were committed to one another. Mare told me about it because she'd thought it was a peculiar choice of words. I had to admit that he was right. Watching ourselves in an attempt to perceive us as Mulder and Scully perceived us, I noted with amusement the multitude of little ways we gave ourselves away. We didn't use endearments, but there were other things - the way when Skinner absent-mindedly passed me a drink from my left, Mare automatically reached for it and passed it to my hand on my right, still talking, unaware that she'd done it. Scully's eyebrows shot up in trademark fashion at that. It felt very peculiar; but it also felt good. The number of people who knew us as husband and wife was small. In being perceived that way, I felt the shy pride I'd felt in Russia as a newlywed. It was so ridiculously sweet to feel that way, but I didn't mind - not really. Ridiculously sweet was an improvement on most things I felt that day.
I'm not sure how it happened, but eventually, Scully and I wound up talking. Mare was talking to Skinner, I think, and Mulder was on the phone with the Gunmen; and we were the odd ones out. We talked awkwardly for a few moments about the weather, then fell silent.
"You were there with Luis Cardinale when he shot my sister, weren't you?" she asked presently. I started to protest, but she said, "I'm not going to slug you, Krycek. I just want to know."
I watched her for a long moment; but finally, I nodded. "Yes, I was there."
She deliberated for a few moments; but at last, she asked, "I just- really need to know, Alex. Did she - did she suffer?"
I didn't want to answer, but dimly, I recognised that it was important do so. It was something that cost me only remorse - remorse I already lived with - but that would give so much. After a long moment, I shook my head. "It was dark. She never saw us. She wasn't afraid. She didn't even cry out, and she was unconscious before she hit the ground. She didn't suffer."
Scully nodded. "Thank you." She gave a low sigh, but betrayed no other reaction.
"Try not to think too badly of us," I said softly. "We've been on the same side, all along."
"You killed people," she said, not so much in accusation as a statement of fact.
"So have you."
"Never an innocent," she countered, looking at me.
"I've killed a few so a much greater number could live," I said. "I know that's not your ethic, and maybe it isn't the right one; but it's an ethic nonetheless." I looked across the room at Mare thoughtfully. "We've all lost so that the world could live - a world that will never care," I added bitterly. "Every quest has casualties, and we had no more choice in our quest than you did in yours."
That seemed to touch her for a moment, but then she frowned. "What do you know of loss?" she demanded. "And I don't mean your arm. We're all maimed here, one way or another."
I nodded, acknowledging the truth of this. "Two children," I said softly. Scully flinched, and I knew she was thinking of Emily. "They had Mare in the tests. She was gone for eight months. She was a prisoner of war," I said distantly, thinking of Spender and the child, "and she suffered like one. And she didn't have the mercy of amnesia." Scully glanced over at her with a fleeting look of empathy. "They told me she was dead," I said softly. "That cigarette smoking son of a bitch even gave me ashes and told me they were her." She was looking at me once more, her brow creased with horrified compassion. I looked at her, suddenly really seeing her. I said sharply, "I know what you think of me, Scully, but I love my wife."
"I can see that," she said quietly. She asked curiously, "How long have you been married?"
"Five years in February." She looked genuinely surprised, and I gave a rueful laugh. "I know what you're thinking. How does a guy like me wind up with a woman like her?" I shot her a wry smile.
"Actually, I was thinking that a man who remembers his wedding anniversary can't be all bad."
She laughed at my expression, and then she rose, and left me.
CHAPTER 7 CONTINUES IN PART 9