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Not My Lover - Enigma by Deslea R. Judd Part 5 WIP
Summary: This is a WORK IN PROGRESS. The death of Marita's protector and a startling discovery about her past leads her to the brink of darkness in her search for the truth. But can she let in the one man who would stand at her side? Alex and Marita's account of Seasons 1 and 2. Prequel to Not My Lover, but stands alone.


"'I miss the Dark Man.

"'I wish he was here, and I wish I could talk to him about Elena. Michael was very clear about the need for secrecy, but I wish he'd let me tell the Dark Man. I feel very unsure of my ground without his guidance. Michael means well, but his attachment to Larissa Covarrubias clouds his judgement sometimes.' That was in May 1984." I turned to Marita, who lay at my side. "I wonder why he didn't want the Dark Man to know about Elena?"

"I've given up wondering why Michael did anything," she said morosely, still staring at the ceiling. She kicked off her shoes, moving a little on the bed to do so. It was the first time she'd moved since we'd returned to her suite with our bounty. She'd sat on the bed and then sank back, still wrapped in my too-big jacket like a child. But her peaceful stance belied her cloudy gaze. Mare was troubled.

"That's understandable," I said thoughtfully. Actually, I had wondered why she hadn't shown any bitterness towards Michael sooner. The man had loved her and sheltered her, that's true; but he had also deceived her profoundly. Still, I supposed, death was the great redeemer.

Mare said abruptly, "Go back to where she and Elena met." She rolled onto her side and took her drink from the nightstand where I had set it down an hour earlier. She looked at me over the top of her glass, and I saw that the cloudiness was gone from her eyes, replaced with a purposeful gleam. Whatever shocked paralysis had gripped her, it was gone now, and she was ready to get down to business. I was relieved.

"Okay." I started flipping pages. "That's the red notebook." I set the one I was holding down and took the one she offered. "Here it is. 'Michael came to see me tonight. Thank God he called ahead, or he'd have found me with Matheson.'"

"Jeez, that scum gets around," Mare said irritably. "How old is Samantha here?"

"Nineteen, I think."

"Thank God for small mercies. Go on."

"'Matheson had some interesting information about the cloning project, by the way, but I daren't write it here. It's been recorded safely and given to the Dark Man in the usual manner. He asked where I got it, and I said he didn't want to know. He looked upset. I have a horrid feeling he knows what I do here. I never wanted him, of all people, to know that.'" Mare's cheek twitched a little. She swallowed hard. Frowning, I continued, "'Michael had a girl with him. Twelve or thirteen - she wasn't precisely sure herself. Apparently he found her at a UFO crash site. She wouldn't tell me her name, but Michael says it's Elena.'"

"She stowed away," Mare mused. "Or they were taking her somewhere. Michael gets the call, and because she looks like me, he knows who she must be. That all hangs together. He either told the group she died, or never said there was a survivor at all."

I checked the dates. "This could be Groom Lake," I said thoughtfully. She looked at me, askance. I elaborated, "We studied it in political ethics. The Air Force seized close to 100,000 acres of land without due process. There was a congressional enquiry into the matter in 1984. The Air Force guy said, basically, that no, they didn't have any legal right to do it, but the decision had been made at a much higher level. He demanded, and got, a closed session before he would explain further. No-one outside that hearing knows what the justification was for the seizure, or why it was ordered at such a high level."

"Sounds like a UFO crash," Mare agreed. "So Michael tells Mother that he's found her other daughter. She wants to get to know her, and she doesn't want anyone to find out. Or maybe she's worried I'll be mistaken for Elena - by the Colonists, or by Spender or someone. Maybe all of the above."

I turned onto my side to look at her. "So she pushes you to accept the Oxford offer and says she'll take care of the paperwork refusing your Harvard offer. Then she sends Elena to Harvard as you."

"In a science program," Mare said grimly. "She was grooming her to go into the work - which she probably did. But where?"

"Spender's camp - as a resistance double, probably. That was what Samantha was doing, after all. She studied cloning and eugenics - she was preparing to go into hybrid research, but Michael and your mother had her reporting back."

She stared at me, brow furrowed, rising up on one elbow. "But that would mean half the Consortium knew she was recovered. Why would they keep it from me?"

I shrugged. "Maybe your mom thought you'd be angry about the lies. Maybe she thought it was best left alone."

Mare thought on this for a moment, her expression dubious, but then she shook her head. "No. My mother and I aren't on those terms. There must be something else." She knelt up and leaned over me to get to her drink, her hand on my hip, seemingly oblivious to my proximity. "Maybe the Colonists don't know she was recovered - maybe that's the reason for the secrecy, rather than anything to do with me."

"What were you told when you were shipped off to England?"

She pulled away and settled back down into the bed, drink in hand. "That my mother had done something that put her in danger. That it was important for me to stay hidden - hence the alias. But don't ask me why she didn't keep me as me and give Elena the alias - surely that would make more sense."

I shrugged. "Maybe she thought that the Colonists would suspect the switch. Maybe she thought sending you away was safer than keeping you there." She held out her empty glass, and I took it from her and put it on the floor beside the bed.

"That would mean she was prepared to put Elena in the firing line to shield me." She swallowed hard. "It's not a nice thought."

"But understandable. She'd raised you. She hadn't seen Elena in eleven years."

Remorse washed over her features. Her head drooped suddenly. "God."

I set the diaries aside and slung my arm over her side, teasing my hand over her shoulder blade. "Mare, you haven't done anything wrong. It isn't your fault."

She shook her head. "God, Alexi," she sighed, "what a mess."

"We're going to fix it, Marita," I said. "Whatever the hell they did, we're going to make it right."

She pulled away, a weak smile playing around her mouth. "Do you know, no-one's ever said that to me before?"

"What?" I asked, uncomprehending.

"That we're going to fix it. They say, 'I'll fix it, Marita. Don't you worry about a thing.'" She laughed, a wounded sound of irony. "I like it, Alex. It feels good to be a grownup."

"I never saw you as anything else."

She gave a wry grin. "You're in the minority."

"Marita, you are smart and funny and clever and capable and strong and - and beautiful. You don't need them, or your sister, or me to be okay. I'll help you with this, but this is your fight, and I know that, and I know that you're going to win."

She looked unaccountably close to tears. "Thank you, Alexi."

I reached out to stroke back her hair, but she stiffened. "Don't," she said in an undertone. I drew back, and I tried not to look hurt; but I mustn't have succeeded, because she reached out for my hand. "No, Alex, I don't mean it like that," she said, tugging me close to her again.

"Then how did you mean it?"

She started to speak, then stopped a couple of times. Finally, she said, "Alex, I don't always know what I want."

"Don't you?" I demanded. "Or is it that you've never been allowed to have what you want?"

She was very pale. "I don't know. Maybe."

We were silent for long moments. "Is it about what I do, who I work for?" I asked finally. "Because Marita, if you want some nice ordinary man who'll give you three kids and life in the suburbs, I can understand that. I'll back off, if you want me to."

"No," she said sharply. "No, don't do that. It isn't that." Then, hesitantly, "Could you just give me time?"


She leaned in and kissed me, slow and tender, and I held her close, cradling her shoulder with my palm. It was a gentle kiss, soft and reverent, giving and taking with almost chaste adoration. It was long and deep and wet, and, easing her back, I thought I could kiss her that way forever.

Our bodies, however, had other ideas.

The ache for her hit me thick and fast, and I felt warm threads of desire spiraling out through me like a drug. The gentle kiss turned fierce and hungry. She shook with need; her breaths came quick and shallow, and her hips pressed against mine, searching for me with an instinct as old as time. It was the irresistible pull of body to body, flesh to flesh, and it washed over both of us with stunning force. Our legs were entwined, and our hands searched blindly, grasping for whatever fabric or flesh they could. With an agonised gasp of longing, she pushed me away, and she said with a ragged sigh, "Please go, Alex. Please."

Mutely, I nodded, unable to speak, and I rose, moving a little unsteadily on my feet. As I reached the door, she took my hand in hers and squeezed it - such a harmless gesture - and then we were in one another's arms all over again. My mouth was on her neck, finding warm flesh there and taking it between my lips. She made high, keening sounds of need, cradling my head there with her hand. "I want you," I sighed against her. The feel of her was so bright it hurt; and the idea of ever being without her was cold.

"God! Alex," she sighed, almost on the point of weeping. "I want- I want-" and then the words were lost in her cries of need. She thrust her fingers through my hair, urging me on against her throat. She cried out, "Oh, God, please go, please go now-" and then there were tears streaming down her cheeks.

I tasted salt. I pulled back at once, shocked and bewildered. "Mare?" I said breathlessly, and I smoothed away her tears with my fingertips. "I'm so sorry," I said, and I had no idea what I'd done wrong, but I was. It hurt to see her like that.

She smiled weakly through her tears. "It's not you - I swear it's not you. Just leave me, please."

Perplexed, I kissed her forehead, and I left her there.

I didn't sleep well that night. My body ached with need, and my heart ached for Mare. I was able to attend to one ache with my hand, but that left just the other, and that was somehow worse. Every time I closed my eyes, I relived her pulling me to her and pushing me away, weeping that she wanted me and weeping that I should go. I drank and I smoked and I tossed and I turned, and I woke feeling no more refreshed than when I lay down.

I rose at dawn and headed down to the rink. I skated off the worst of my tension, but my disquiet remained. Stroking around the rink in laps, I ticked over the events of the last twenty-four hours. They were suggestive, but what they suggested was painful to contemplate. I felt physically hurt, physically ill at the possibilities presented in my mind.

I wasn't sure whether she would be at training, but she was there, looking tired and pale, her hair pulled back in a severe ponytail. She wore my jacket, but she didn't offer to give it back. I was glad.

We warmed up in silence for a while, but at last, she spoke.

"They made a pact."

I looked at her questioningly.

"Samantha and Elena. They made a pact when Elena first got there that they would both try to infiltrate the hybrid project and bring it down. That they would work on a weapon against the alien invasion."

"You stayed up reading the journals?"

She shot me an agonised glance. "I couldn't sleep."

I admitted, "Neither could I."

Bright pink spots rose in her cheeks, and her eyes grew moist. Her voice tinged with humiliation, she began, "Alex-"

"It's okay," I said. "Don't." I stroked her cheek with the back of my hand, and she leaned into it, eyes closed. She gave a long, shuddering sigh, then nodded.

We heard footsteps, and she pulled away, wiping her eyes. She managed a wan smile. Karen rounded the corner, her booming voice several steps ahead of her. "Come on, people. We all warmed up?"

"No-one should be that happy this time of the morning," Mare muttered, getting to her feet, and I laughed. A little cautiously, she laughed too. She held out a hand and drew me up.

"Let's go."

"Do it, Alex!"

I stared down at Marita, thrashing beneath me.

"Do it!" she shouted again, pushing against me. I held her down, her arms stretched out over her head; but her legs were working me hard. She was strong - damn strong.

"Work her, Alex," came the firm voice of our trainer. "You're not doing her any favours by going easy."

I turned my head and hissed, "I'm not, damn it!"

Marita used the opportunity. Her knee pounded into my crotch, and it exploded in white-hot agony. She threw me over onto my back and held me down. I'd been aroused earlier on, but now that adrenaline was driven into more basic instincts. I pushed back, pushed her hard, slammed her hard into the mat and held her fast. She pushed back, wrists thrusting my hands upwards, and I fought to hold her. "Do it," she said again. "I need-" she was labouring for breath.

"What do you need?" I panted.

"I need to know," she whispered. "How far I have to go."

With all the strength I had left, I forced her wrists back down. "Not far," I gasped out. I collapsed against her, breathing heavily, relief radiating through my body. I half expected her to make a last stand, but she didn't.

"And that's a wrap. Good work, team. See you tomorrow." I waved half-heartedly at Karen, and I felt Mare do the same. I bowed my head to her shoulder. The door snicked shut, and then we were alone.

At last, after long, long moments, I lifted myself up onto my elbows. I met her gaze. We held each other that way, her eyes sea-green, clear like cut glass, staring up at me unblinkingly. She didn't smile, or frown, or speak with her eyes or her lips. She just *was*, ageless and perennial.

And how I wanted her.

I'm only a man, after all; and my body was alive with her. She'd been held against me, her presence engulfing me, her energy pulsing all around me. For long, long moments, we had been one together, feeding on one another's adrenaline, caught in parallel rays of trust and power in a way that was oddly like mating. And now, looking at her, it was like being inside her.

We stayed there, gazes held for a long, long moment; and then I closed my eyes, my breathing harsh with need. I could imagine her leaning up to me, and taking my face between her hands. I could imagine moving her body with mine; sliding hands over her body and plunging them into her hair. I could imagine her rolling me, raising herself up over me, kissing me hard, taking control. I could imagine sliding into her. And when I looked down at her once more, her eyes were shining.

"I should get off you," I said. My voice sounded ragged.

"Yeah," she breathed. She blew at a stray tendril of hair that had caught in her mouth. It didn't move, and I brushed it back, my fingers brushing her cheeks. She shot me a gorgeous smile, and that undid me.

I touched her cheeks once more with my fingertips, searching the oh, so smooth lines of her face, as if to reassure myself that she was real. I traced from the edge of her eyebrow down to her jaw, leaning in a little. She turned her face to mine, her lips parted a little, classic position to kiss and be kissed; but neither of us did so, only staying there, exploring one another in the heat of a shared breath. Last night, there had been fiery passion; but right now, I wanted only to cherish - to revere, rather than to plunder. Her hand was rising from the floor, tentatively finding my side; and when she touched me, when she breathed my name, I was glad.

"Mare," I said in wonder. "Oh, Mare."

She moved, just a fraction, soft garnet lips seeking mine.

And then I heard footsteps.

I sank my head back against her shoulder with a groan of frustration, and I heard her curse softly as the door opened. I rolled off her with a sigh. We lay there, side by side, flushed and resigned as Diana rounded the corner.

"Oh, Marita, good. Karen said I'd find you here. Heavy training session?"

I suppressed a smirk.

"Just finishing up. What is it?"

"I just wanted to talk about Elizabeth's baptism. If this is a bad time-"

Marita shook her head with a sigh. "It's fine. Just give me a few minutes to shower and change, okay?" She rose, and I took the opportunity to sit up, cross-legged like a schoolchild, my crotch concealed by my loose track pants. I wasn't hard, but I wasn't really soft, either, and there was something a bit disconcerting about having an obvious hard-on in the presence of your beloved's best friend who was also your ex-lover's ex-wife.

Mare just read this over my shoulder. She thinks it's the funniest thing I've said in ages.

"I'm beat," I said, because it was a moment where it seemed something should be said. "She gave me a run for my money."

Diana was frowning. "I'm surprised she's doing this, actually. Marita can be funny sometimes."

"About what?"

"I don't know...about being safe, I suppose."

I thought about it. I remembered the locker room at the ice arena, and what had happened last night, and I thought that made sense. "Well, she hasn't got much to worry about," I said dryly. "She's strong...strong as a man. Maybe stronger."

The animation suddenly left Diana's face. "Don't tell her that," she said sharply. She looked ashen.

"Why not?" I demanded, confused.

"Because -" she hesitated, her expression softening. "Because Rita should learn not to be so safe. She needs to learn to take risks sometimes."

I watched her dubiously. I didn't doubt the basic truthfulness of her words, but Diana Donovan wasn't the sort to casually discuss anyone's psyche with a third party. She was more discreet, more circumspect than that. I had the uncomfortable certainty that I'd missed something important. It couldn't have been clearer if she'd had the words "THAT WAS CLOSE" tattooed into her forehead.

She seemed discomforted by my scrutiny, because she looked down at her hands and started fiddling, twisting her wedding ring compulsively. I felt momentary pity, and I saw no value in pursuing the matter for the moment; so I said, "I think that's probably true."

Diana looked back up at me nervously. She nodded, slowly regaining her normal composure. "Listen, I'm sorry about coming in when I did."

So she had sensed it after all.

"Forget it," I said with resignation. "It's probably just as well."

"What do you mean?"

"It would be a mistake. She's too young."

"I was married at her age. And you're only a couple of years older."

I held her gaze. "I'm not talking about years, and you know it."

Diana's features were softer than usual, compassionate and warm. "She has a woman's heart, Alex. If she has a child's fears, it's because she's been encouraged to do so by people who wanted her to be helpless for reasons of their own."

I looked up at her, my brow furrowed; and at last, I made a decision. "She wants this," I said with certainty. "But she's scared to death." I sighed; then, with great reluctance, I gave voice to my growing fears. "Diana, was she raped?"

Diana bowed her head, her shoulders slumped sadly; and for an instant, I believed I was right. Exquisite pain crashed over me in waves, lodging deep in my belly and radiating out; but then she shook her head. "I understand why you ask, Alex, but no. Not to my knowledge, and I think she would have told me if she was."

The pain lessened, just a little. "What, then?"

"Well, Marita didn't have the healthiest of experiences."

"Of sex?"

"Of anything."

I nodded, thinking it over. "So what do you think I should do?"

Her shoulders drooped. She suddenly looked very old. "Do I look like an expert to you? My first husband was gay and my second husband is Consortium, for Chrissake."

"Sorry," I mumbled. I was suddenly quite sure she knew about my affair with Mulder. They were divorced, but it still had to bite.

She sighed. "No, I'm sorry. I'm in a foul mood and it hasn't got anything to do with you." I shrugged in acceptance of this backhanded apology. "Look, I don't know what you should do. What I do know is that you can't decide on the basis of what you *think* is best for her. Do you really think she needs yet another protector?"

"And what about you?" I flared. "Aren't you protecting her? Whatever it is that you're not telling, do you really think she's that weak?"

She laughed at that, a little sadly. "Marita?" she scoffed. "No. But I am."

"You're one of the strongest people I know."

"You don't understand," she burst out. "You damn men don't understand anything." At another time, that might have offended me; but I had the sense that the comment wasn't really about me. "My parents are dead. Fox-" she broke off, shrugging helplessly. "Rita is the only one left who - who-"

"Who knew you before?"

She nodded, pain etched into her expression in harsh lines. "I don't know if I can hurt her the way I'd have to hurt her to tell her what I know."

"She needs to know, Diana." Then, deliberately, I challenged, "Do you really think she needs yet another protector?"

I expected anger, but instead, she gave a crooked little smile. "She could do worse than you, you know, Alex," she said amiably. I smiled back - the genuine companionship in her expression was infectious. But then her smile faded, and she said grimly, "But do as I say - not as I do."

She turned then, and left me to consider.

"What happened to you?"

Mare looked at me blankly for a moment, closing the door behind me, but then her expression cleared. "Attack of the balding assassin."

"Say again?"

She sat on a stool in front of the dresser and began to brush her hair. "Have you come across a guy named Fordham?"

"Once or twice. He's quite mild-mannered, as assassins go."

"Well, he also has a hair fetish." I shifted uncomfortably. It was the first time she had spoken of what she did here in this room with her - submissives? Bottoms? Clients? What the hell did she call them, anyway? "But he didn't have the skill to be a hairdresser, so he figured he'd go kill people for a living instead."

"He did quite a number on yours," I noted. "Give me that." I took the brush from her and began to tease out the odd-looking braid.

"Thanks," she said, settling back. I pulled up another stool and sat down behind her.

"What do you do in here with them, anyway?" I asked hesitantly.

"As little as possible," she said with a twisted little grin that I could see reflected in the mirror. It was odd, seeing her reflected that way, her features swapped around the opposite way. It was like looking at a different person. Odder still to think that she saw herself that way all the time. "I stalk around in leather with a riding crop with Matheson. He sits on that wooden chair on the dais and jerks off, while I threaten to whip his hide if he doesn't tell his latest homoerotic fantasy with sufficient enthusiasm."

"He'd love that," I grinned.

"Yeah," she said, with just a trace of disgust. Her mouth curled into something hard and hurtful. "So are you going to ask me to do that for you, now, Alex?"

I kept my expression neutral, but I felt anger - and hurt. Was that what she thought of me? How fucked up was that? But I watched her in the mirror, saw the rigid way she held herself, the fear in her eyes, and then I understood, at least a little. What she'd asked wasn't really about me. It was about how she was accustomed to being treated. One way or another, Mare had been used her whole life.

I shook my head, not looking at her, deliberately keeping my attention on her hair. "I wouldn't do that to you, Mare. Not when it's not what you want." I felt her shoulders go slack and the lines of her body soften. With feigned carelessness, I wondered, "What *do* you want?"

"I want to be a woman," she said fiercely. "I don't want to play these bullshit games in this ridiculous room. Look at it, for God's sake. There's a tiled platform for a bathroom. If you use it, you're visible from every vantagepoint in the room. It's a fucking altar for prostitutes, made by men who see women as things. It's disgusting."

I agreed with her, but I didn't say so, only nodding as I worked on her hair. At last, she said in a much mellower voice, "You know, I get the creeps when that guy touches my hair."

I let go of her hair abruptly, mumbling an apology; but she turned in her seat. "No, Alexi. It's different when you do it. You don't want anything from me."

I smoothed back the hair from her forehead. "That's not entirely true, Mare. I do want you."

"But that's not why you're brushing my hair."

I shook my head. "No."

"That's the difference. It's a gift." She picked up the brush and handed it back to me. "Would you? Please?"

I did.

I love to listen to her speak.

Back then, as now, it was not something she did often. Mare has an economy with words, and in those days she revealed little. When she did speak, what she had to say was always important, always honest. I understood why she spoke so little: she had little capacity for deceit. Her silence was her only protection.

But she spoke to me.

She spoke of her upbringing, of being sheltered and loved; but also of being used and controlled. She spoke in facts, not in feelings; and yet her eyes flashed emerald when she was happy, and - far more often - aventurine when she was not. There was a simplicity about her account that was deeply moving.

It wasn't often that she spoke in this way. But somewhere along the line, brushing her hair - something that began as a mere gesture and became a ritual - somehow that became a time of rest...a safe space in which she would talk. Brushing her hair was mating without mating, intimacy without the terrors that intimacy held for her. Sometimes we would sit there, her resting back in my arms for hours, talking not to each other but to each other reflected. It might not have been the fodder of romance novels, but it was adoration and reverence, and in those moments, I felt peace.

I made no attempt to draw her out, but let her tell me whatever she chose. Her bewilderment on being exiled to England. Her loneliness, her fear and distrust of the older men there, her very private homesickness to which only Diana had been privy. She spoke bitterly of the arranged engagement into which Larissa had coerced her. She spoke resignedly of Michael's ongoing deceit about the work, and wistfully of his almost fatherly kindness. Hesitantly, she spoke of his gentleness in those early days of their relationship; of him taking her virginity when she was eighteen, and how she had feared that she would not be able to live with their relationship anymore after that. I developed an unwilling respect for Michael as she spoke; a sense that he had brought her through the fire of confusion and youth as well as anyone could have in the circumstances she lived with. Side-by-side with that was a lazily growing hatred for him, for Larissa, for the Dark Man. Little wonder fear and compromise and sex had gotten twisted up together in her mind.

"You know, I don't want pity," she said one day. I never knew what sparked that comment; but she must have seen compassion in my expression reflected before her more than once. "I'm a wealthy woman with a loving family. If I've had crosses to bear, that makes me no different to anyone else."

I wondered if she really understood how radically she had been used; how radically compromised her experience of normal relationship or sexuality or companionship had been. I don't think she fully understood that until we had children of our own. Lacking that foreknowledge, though, I only nodded noncommittally; said, "I don't pity you, Mare."

"Then what do you-" she stopped.

"Feel?" I challenged lightly, laying a hand on her shoulder. She looked at me in the mirror and gave an oh, so cautious nod. "Affinity," I said after some thought.

She put her hand over mine and turned her head a little, leaning her cheek against it. She didn't speak, and she didn't move for a long, long time.

I wondered if anyone had had affinity with her in her life.

Language is the mirror of the soul.

That particular pearl of wisdom came from my rhetoric professor, a man well-versed in the eloquence of his craft. He was a Jesuit priest, equal parts icon and heretic, and he had captured my imagination in a way no other philosopher had. He'd been on loan from Harvard Divinity School, and the faculty was in no hurry to give him back.

But if language was the mirror of the soul, I was in trouble. Because in my own mind, never before had I had a term for the sexual act. I had euphemisms by the truckload ? 'wanted him', 'had her', 'needed it' ? but never a term that fitted my perception. 'Fuck' was crass. 'Intercourse' was clinical, bordering on silly. 'Make sex' - a term coined by a Jordanian friend in high school - appealed to my sense of humour; but that didn't fit either. My reserve was, undoubtedly, a hangover from my mother's reticence on the subject; but that knowledge didn't bother me. There were worse parental legacies, most of which I'd been spared.

What bothered me was the thought, unbidden, that I wanted to make love to Mare. A troubling thought, because never before had I had used that phrase in the silence of my heart. But 'making love' were the only words that fitted what I wanted with her, though I had only a vague idea of what that might really mean. Wanting Mare was not a bad thing, though it complicated things more than I cared to admit. Even loving her, if it came to that, was not a bad thing: she was a woman of strength and character, and while I could do worse, I doubted I would do better. But the idea that she changed me ? actively changed my perceptions ? that was troubling. It was an intrusion, much like the intrusion of being penetrated ? not unwelcome, but always exposing. No-one had ever touched me that way before ? not even Mulder. Part of me relished it, like a breath of fresh air through my soul; but I was still troubled.

Watching her now, talking to Diana at the bar, it occurred to me that maybe I could heal her. It was a conceited thought, of course, and part of me recognised that even at the time; but still, the idea wouldn't leave me. Soft-focus images arose in my mind of laying her out in cushions on her bed, of going slow with her and pleasing her until her fears evaporated.

I shook my head a little, amused by my own naivete. Mare was right. I was a closet romantic - and an adolescent one at that. Pity about that whole hired killer thing on the side.


Cardinale intruded on my thoughts, slapping me hard on the back. Asshole.

"Hello, Luis," I said. I suddenly felt very weary - not an unusual response to the appearance of my so-called partner.

"You here to see the Mistress Marita?" he said, nodding to the bar.

"Something like that."

"Pretty piece of ass you got there, Alex. Pity you got to share it with Fordham," he said with a cackle, hands at his hips, giving a little thrust.

To this day, I don't know why it bothered me the way it did. Maybe it was the contrast of his vulgarity with the beauty I'd imagined just seconds before. Maybe it was the cumulative effect of similar incidents. Maybe in that moment, I saw in him what she lived with and why she had the demons she did. Whatever the reason, I saw red, and I hauled off and punched him across the jaw. "You're not fit to eat the dirt she walks on," I spat, grabbing him by the lapels and pushing him to the wall. He pushed back, and next thing I knew, we were on the floor.

"Boys, boys, boys." Shit. Marita.

We looked up at her. She stood there over us, legs apart, hands on her hips. She lifted a shapely leg and nudged us apart with her toe. I lay there on my back, Cardinale at my side, suddenly conscious of the onlookers. So much for staying emotionally detached from her in the public sphere. I hoped Marita could get us out of it, because I had no fucking idea.

Marita rested her foot on Cardinale's throat, her heel nudging his adam's apple. It moved frenetically, bobbing up and down in time with his breathing. She bent down to face him, as though to chastise a naughty child. "Now, Senor Cardinale, let's get one thing straight. The only person allowed to discipline Alexi here is me. If I catch you on my turf again, I'll rip your fucking throat out. Do I make myself clear?"

He nodded. "Yes," he gasped, "I got it."

She took her foot away and straightened in a fluid movement. She turned to me, her expression stern. "As for you, Alexi, someone hasn't been playing nicely with others."

I stared up at her. "No, Marita."

"I can't have you boys having your petty squabbles in my house. You understand that, don't you?"

"Yes, Marita." I felt humiliation well up in me, less from Marita's scolding and more because Diana, behind her, was clearly fighting an attack of the giggles. Fuck. What a fucking mess.

"I'm going to have to punish you, Alexi. Get on your feet." I complied.

Marita nodded to the door, and, my cheeks bright with embarrassment, I followed her.

When we got to her room, Marita broke.

She leaned against the door and laughed, both hands over her mouth, tears streaming down her cheeks. She sank to the floor, head buried somewhere between her knees. I watched her, perplexed.

"I can't believe you got into a fight over my honour," she sputtered, lifting her head to look at me at last.

I felt my cheeks flush with mortification. "It was a stupid thing to do."

She wiped her eyes with her hands. "The Dark Man will have some choice words, I'm sure."

"I'm surprised you don't think it was macho and presumptuous." I felt like an idiot. Of all the stupid-

"No-one's ever defended me before, Alex. I liked it."

Okay, maybe not so stupid. Anything that could make her smile like that couldn't be all bad. I managed a smile of my own; even managed a chagrined laugh when she started sputtering again.

At last, she got ahold of herself, and by then, I was sitting on the floor at her side. She sighed. "Are you okay?"

I said ruefully, "I hurt my hand."

She laughed. "Poor Alex," she said, and she got up on her knees and straddled me. She took my hand in hers, raised it to her mouth, and kissed my knuckles, taking each one between tender lips and releasing it, then moving on.

"I want better for you than this place," I said, stroking my free hand down her arm. "I don't want people looking at you like that. You're so much better than that."

She put my hand down; asked diffidently, "Are you asking me to stop doing what I do here?"

I shook my head. "No. But sometimes I wish there was another way." Her head was bowed, and I used my fingers to lift her chin so that she faced me. "We both know this isn't how you want things to be."

"I don't know how I want things to be," she said in a low voice.

I squeezed her fingers between mine. "I think you do."

She watched me for a long, long moment, her eyes thoughtful; and at last, she nodded. Hesitantly, she leaned forward and touched my face with her free hand, her brow creasing with a thousand hopes and fears, her breath hot on me. I opened my mouth ? whether to speak or kiss her, I wasn't sure ? but I stopped myself. Too many people had made decisions for Marita, overridden her when they should have given her freedom, and I wasn't going to be one of them. It had to be her decision.

So we stayed there, poised excruciatingly on the edge of something bigger than either of us, breathing in rhythm, gazes locked on one another. Entranced, I touched her, tracing a thumb over her eyebrow, then down her cheek, over her jaw to her chin. "Oh, Mare," I whispered, my voice thick with longing.

Her breath caught in her chest, hitching; and then she breathed out shakily. She was trembling, just a little; but it was not with fear ? not this time. This time, it was desire, barely contained, overtaking her with its intensity. "Alexi," she breathed, and the sound of it was like a caress against my skin. And at last, she bridged the wafer-thin gulf between us, closing her mouth on mine, tentative, questing, yet oh, so purposeful and deliberate. Her lips were soft and warm between mine, and yet they seared against me, burning me, marking me, blazing a trail of exquisite fire across my need.

I kissed her in return, first tenderly, then ravenously; and she met me with need of her own, taking my head in her hands, pressing herself closer against me, swamping me. It was delicious. I reached up to her, my palm in the middle of her back, and I pulled her closer still, bringing her down, pressing her body against mine. I was hard, and she brushed me as she settled against me, and she gasped, pulling away for only a split second before pressing herself down against me once more.

She lowered her face to mine, ravishing my mouth with hers. I slid my hands up beneath her shirt, dragging my palms over her flesh possessively, and she shuddered, moaning into my mouth, something I felt rather than heard. I slid my fingertips over her skin near the swell of her breasts, deliberately avoiding them, and she moved impatiently, pressing herself into my hands, shifting agonisingly in my lap. Still we kissed, drowning in one another's need. Her hands were on me, sliding over my chest and my arms, gently, inquisitively. They were just palms, just warm flesh, no different to that of the handful of others who had touched me this way; and yet it was like being touched for the first time.

She rocked against my lap, her hips moving with mine, mouth sliding over my flesh. I wanted her naked, but I didn't want to let her go, so we stayed there, bodies moving together, clutching at one another, sighing one another's names. Somehow I got her shirt open, and she gave a long low moan as the air hit her there, and she pressed herself against my chest. Her mouth found my ear, my jaw, and I choked out her name. She had my shirt open and my jeans unzipped, and, God, she was touching me there for the very first time.

I slid a hand under her skirt, ripping her stockings with my fingers. I ran them over the thin satin that cradled her sex, then slid a finger under the elastic, pushing the damp fabric aside. With a cry of need, she pressed herself down into my lap; and then we were two bodies on the edge of becoming one, just a teasing stroke away from it. We were nestled together, cradling one another's faces, cherishing one another, her body opening up for me, ready to draw me in.

At last, she broke away, her face flushed with desire, and I looked at her, my eyes bright; but then my exhilaration faded. Her expression was grave...haunted. I knew what was coming next, even before she stammered, "I-I can't." Damn it, she was shuddering for me, she was slick and ready against me, her pupils were dilated with uncompromising need; but she could sit there, her warmth still pressed against my aching, questing need and say that she couldn't. I understood, but against all my better instincts, I felt real fury. It would take just a single movement to make her mine anyway, and I thought that she would probably allow it if I pressed her; but if I did that, I would lose her. I would be one more person taking from her, and I couldn't do that.

She watched me, watched me wrestle with my own darkness, and she must have seen me come back to the light, because she relaxed against me. "I'm sorry," she said at last, grief etched into her features; and looking down between us, I saw her open shirt and the way my jeans were wet with her and I felt like screaming with frustration.

I knew I should say something comforting and reassuring, but I couldn't. I didn't have that much generosity in me in that moment. I nodded, lifting her off me as gently as I could, fighting for neutrality. I went to the bathroom and stripped off my damp jeans and pants; and I stayed there, bringing myself to a miserable, unsatisfying release, until I had some semblance of self-control once more.

When I was done, I rummaged around the laundry hamper. I'd changed in her room after combat training more than once; there was bound to be something. At last, I found an old pair of track pants. I pulled them on and opened the door quietly, hoping against hope that she would be gone. I really didn't think I could deal with her just then. But she was there, lying on the bed, her eyes closed, rumpled skirt and panties lying discarded on the floor, just her shirt pulled around her, covering her to her thighs. One hand was held hard between closed legs, moving almost imperceptibly; the other she held across her body, sliding it lightly over her shoulder, hugging herself with the tenderness of a lover. She was otherwise almost totally still, her every response taut and restrained, and it occurred to me that she must be so tired of living like that. She was close, I could see it in the lines of her; but still she betrayed nothing. Her moans were almost inaudible, yet their pitch was keening, almost like grief; and then I realised she was weeping.

"Alexi," she sighed miserably, "oh, Alexi."

In that moment, all my anger melted away; because however I grieved for her, she grieved for me, and herself, much more. I finally understood just how deep her fear and her conflict ran, and I think a lot of my hope died in that moment.

She came, my name on her lips, and that should have excited me. Instead, I felt aching sadness. There was something deeply troubling about her fruitless attempts to console herself, to be her own source of comfort. What I felt was beyond pity, beyond compassion, and how I wished she would let me in. She lay there, very still, pulling her shirt around her, her eyes still closed; and I went to her, settling on the bed at her side.

"Hey," I whispered, touching her hand.

"Hey." She didn't open her eyes, but she turned onto her side, facing me. When she finally looked at me, her expression was regretful, yet resolute. I was grateful for that ? I couldn't have stood it if she'd offered an apology, like she'd run her trolley into mine at the market. It was as it was, and I wasn't sorry it had happened. I only wished-

"Are you angry?" she asked diffidently.

"No." I stroked her hair back from her face. At her disbelieving look, I admitted, "I was. It's passed." She nodded pensively, and I ran a thumb over her lips. She kissed it, her expression thoughtful.

"It's never been just me before," she said at last, so quietly that I had to strain to hear. "It was my mother, and at school it was Diana, and then there was Michael. I've always had a protector. To be cut adrift like this-" she broke off.

"It's frightening," I supplied.

"Yes, it is," she agreed. "But it's also...compelling."

I nodded slowly. "I don't want to take any of that away from you, Mare." I ran my hand down her arm, slid my fingers between hers. She held them tightly. "I just want to be with you." There it was, naked truth, and it was more than a little frightening; but after all I'd seen, it was not in me to play pointless games with her, scoring points, engaging in strategy. I wanted her, ached for her, and to tell her so cost me nothing. And it could give so much.

She frowned a little, but didn't respond; and nor had I expected that she would. Instead, she turned away, and I waited sadly for her to rise and leave me; but she didn't do that, either. Instead, she pressed her body against mine, moulding herself to me, letting me spoon myself around her. And when I put my arm around her, she slid her hands over my own. "I want that too," she whispered at last.

But I no longer believed that was something she could do.



AUTHOR'S NOTE: Needless to say, you won't reach either Alex or X at sia2ra@hotmail.com. I took the user ID myself just to be safe, but I won't be checking it. Sorry *g*. I can't remember whether hotmail was in operation in 1994 - I know it was by 1996 - so please forgive me if I've made a continuity error there. I'm pretty sure I still have better continuity than Chris Carter.