Welcome To The Harem
Not My Lover - Enigma by Deslea R. Judd Part 9 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.
THIS CONTINUES CHAPTER 5.
As it happened, I didn't leave straight away after all.
Walking to the parking lot, it occurred to me that that neither Mare nor I would be there for combat training the following day. Karen would probably have left her studio for the day, but I could always leave her a note.
I made an about-face and detoured to the gym. I pushed through the double doors into the weights area, and trod up the stairs to Karen's studio. Rounding the corner, I heard voices. Raised voices.
"He is an athlete!" I heard Karen say. "He's skated every day since he was fourteen years old." For a fleeting moment, I wondered who she was talking about, but of course, she was talking about me. I was practically the only skater in the place. "She does aerobics once a month," she was saying. "She should not be able to beat him. She shouldn't even come close."
I drew closer, and risked pushing the door ajar. In the mirror, I saw Diana and Karen at the far end of the studio in workout gear, and I suddenly realised how Diana had known what Mare and I were doing in here all those months ago. She hadn't sensed it - she'd seen it before we broke apart. I made a mental note to be more careful in here in future.
"She wouldn't be if you hadn't let her train with him! I never said you could do that!" Diana was wiping sweat from her face, still talking. "The whole idea of training him was so he could protect her! So she'd never have to protect herself!"
Karen stared at her. "Do you know how screwed-up that sounds? Leaving her helpless with the work she does?"
My thoughts precisely, but Diana's reply was enlightening. "She isn't helpless - that's the problem! If she ever had to call on it - if she ever had to use it-" she broke off.
Karen said quietly, "What is she, Diana?"
Diana looked away. "It's better if you don't know."
"Better for you, you mean."
"No - for you." Then, with foreboding, "You know, there aren't many of us left. Who know about it, I mean."
There was a long pause; the lines of Karen's body were tense. At last, she said, "She doesn't know, does she?"
Diana shook her head.
"What about him?"
"I wonder, Karen. Sometimes, I think he knows something, or senses it. It worries me."
"Are you going to have him terminated?" I held my breath - that possibility hadn't even occurred to me.
"I probably should, but no. He's Elizabeth's godfather. And I couldn't do that to Rita - she loves him." Even as I slotted the fragments into the puzzle alongside the information I already held, I felt a little rush of warmth at Diana's assertion of Mare's feelings - along with a flare of irritation that Mare couldn't tell me that herself.
"Yeah." Karen leaned back against the wall with a sigh. "What do you want me to do about the training?"
"I don't know. How's he doing?"
"He can hold his own. I think he'll be fine. Do you want me to cut them loose?"
Diana thought on this for a moment. "For physical training, yeah. Keep them going on the covert skills. Time is short."
"Why?" Karen demanded. "What do you have planned for them?"
"It's more a matter of what they might have planned for themselves."
"You think they're going to turn rogue?"
Diana shrugged uneasily. "I don't know. I would, if I were them." She looked away. "Sometimes I think that might be for the best."
With that, Diana pushed away from the wall and walked off in the direction of the locker room, and I left them.
"How'd it go?"
Mare's voice was sleepy. "We've got a direct line in to Mulder's. That guy is the most domestically challenged man I've ever met."
I settled back, bringing the phone up onto the bed with me. "You've never met him."
"Okay, he's the most domestically challenged man I've never met, then." I laughed a little at that. Her voice grew gentle. "I miss you, Alex."
"Miss you too, Mare." Miss her - God, that was an understatement. After all that had happened the last few days, being away from her was the last thing I wanted.
She smiled - I could hear it in her voice. "When will you be back?"
"Tomorrow or the day after. I just have one more person to talk to, and then I'm done here."
There was a rustling noise. She was pulling the covers around her. "Did you find anything?"
I shook my head. "Not really. I didn't really expect to."
"No, me either," Mare admitted. We fell silent for a moment, then she said, "You in bed?"
"Yeah." Then, more quietly, "I hadn't realised how much I was used to having you here. I keep-" she broke off.
"It's silly. I keep - you know, holding myself. Like it's you." She laughed a little. "I feel silly telling you."
"I've been looking for you, too, Mare," I confessed. "My arms feel empty."
"I hate this place, Alexi. When you're here with me, all I see is the safety and the warmth we have in this room. But today, I was walking around the zones and I realised how horrible it really is. I felt like I was drowning in the deceit and the manipulation that people do here. I hate it."
I nodded in recognition. "I feel it too, Mare." I went on with slow emphasis, "The warmth is us - what we have together. It doesn't matter where we are, you know."
She was silent for a long moment.
"Alex, are you asking me to turn rogue with you?"
Was I? Even now, I'm not really sure. "I don't know. But we can't keep this up indefinitely. We're going to get caught." The discussion between Diana and Karen was fresh in my mind.
"What if I say no?" she wondered. She sounded fearful. "What if I won't? What if I can't?"
"I'm not going to leave you, if that's what you mean. I'm not giving you an ultimatum. But sooner or later, either they're going to kill me or I'm going to have to run." She breathed out into the phone - a shattered, wounded sound. "When that happens, you need to know in yourself whether you're willing to run with me."
"Alex," she whispered. "I don't - I don't know..."
I regretted raising it, hearing her quiet and fearful like that, and so soon after the fight. "Hey," I said. "Hey, we don't need to work that out now. Just think on it, okay?"
I heard a rustling that might have been a nod against her pillow. "Okay."
That was heavier ground than I'd meant to get into over the phone. I changed the subject. "Look, why don't you get away until I get back? It would do you good to be out of that place for a while."
"Where would I go, Alex?" she asked. She sounded genuinely curious.
"I - I don't know," I faltered. "There's Michael's apartment upstate. Save you the commute to work."
"I'm not at work much for the next month or so," she said. "I'm working on a submission for a congressional inquiry. I've arranged to do most of it from home." Clearly, she felt that was a good thing, but I wasn't so sure. I felt more and more that the Den wasn't a good environment for her.
"You could take a couple of days off, then," I suggested. "Go away with Diana and the baby, if she's free. Isn't there someplace you go? You know - just to be quiet and have space?"
"Well, yeah," she admitted. "There's Wolfe Pond Beach, up on the Island. I used to go there to think all the time."
"Well, there you go then," I said. "You could stay at your mom's."
"My mother's? I thought you wanted me to go somewhere that would do me *good*." Her voice was tinged with reproach.
I frowned. "Are you two fighting? I thought you just weren't talking much." A new thought occurred to me. "Is she pissed about you living at the Den?"
There was more rustling, and the creaking of mattress springs. I imagined her propping herself up on her elbow. "No, she's been curiously silent about that, actually."
"She hasn't said anything at all?" I said in disbelief. Larissa was both too conservative and too controlling to let that pass.
Mare gave a wry laugh. "All she said was that I should be careful. Be safe. Stay on the Pill."
I felt the blood drain from my face. "She said that?"
"Pretty much. I was surprised. I was braced for a lecture."
"Maybe she's finally realised you've grown up," I said, but the assertion sounded hollow.
She snorted. "That'll be the day."
I gave a thin, forced laugh. "I've got an early start, Mare. Can I call you tomorrow?"
"Sure," she said easily. "Sleep well, Alexi."
"You too, Mare. Goodnight."
I put the phone back on the bedside table and rolled onto my back. I stared at the ceiling. In the dim light of the moon I could just make out the peeling paintwork. There was a gnawing sensation deep in my belly, inching out through my body in a leisurely, aching crawl.
Samantha was right. About Michael, about Larissa, about Mare. Michael and Marita's whole relationship had been stage-managed with the specific intention of keeping her on the Pill. Jesus Christ, no wonder she was so fucked up. Every aspect of her life had been strategised and orchestrated, right down to her sex life and the taking of her virginity when she was eighteen. Probably would have been sooner if not for New York's statutory rape laws. Larissa must have been so fucking grateful when Marita moved into the Den after Michael's death. God forbid she retreat into grief-induced celibacy and quit her pills.
I wondered how they'd gotten Elena to stay on hers. Maybe they never knew of her preference for women - it made sense that Elena might have concealed it, as part of her concealment of her relationship with Samantha. Maybe she quit them, and learned to control her strength and her emotions in other ways. It comforted me to think so. If that were so, that meant Mare could do the same - and that she needn't share in the tragic outcomes of the American Eves.
I hoped so. But there was no way to be sure, and laying there in the dark of the night, I was afraid.
"How was Syracuse?" Mare wondered as I closed the door behind me.
"A wash-out," I said. I didn't want to talk about Syracuse. All I wanted to do was hold her.
"I missed you," she said, rising from her seat at the dining table. Samantha's diaries, the laptop, and a reel-to-reel audio player were lined up neatly before her.
"I missed you," I echoed, drawing her into my arms, lingering for a long moment. "Anything interesting your end?"
She shook her head. "No. Mulder's been out of his apartment for a couple of days. I called the Hoover and Skinner's secretary said he'd been called away on a family emergency. No idea what that's about." She kissed me, then pulled away and went back to her seat.
"But you're still monitoring?"
She nodded. "We might get something off the incoming calls. You never know. I was just about to check his email."
I sat down beside her. "Want me to keep scanning the tapes?"
"No problem." I took the headphones put them on my head.
They didn't stay there for long. After a few moments she spoke. "Here's something."
"What is it?" I wondered, setting the headphones down again.
"A report from Dana Scully to Walter Skinner. There's been another Gregor death. In Germantown, Maryland. A Dr Dickens. It's him, though - she attached an image." She paused, eyes darting back and forth as she read down the computer screen. "They have some CIA guy helping them. Ambrose Chapel. Scully expresses some doubt over his bona fides." She shut the program down and opened another. "Let me run him through the Federal Employee Database - see what I can come up with."
"Good thinking," I said. I pulled my chair closer and peered over her shoulder.
A standard profile appeared on the screen, and I scanned it. Abruptly, Mare sighed. "Why am I not surprised?"
"What is it?" I wondered, bewildered.
She pointed, her fingertip hovering over the screen. "This Chapel guy used to report to Michael."
"Michael? As in your Michael?"
She nodded. "His last assignment was escorting some kind of sensitive equipment to Mattawa, Washington last spring. He's been on leave ever since."
"The Fallen Angel team," I said. "It was in Mulder's files. It was supposedly an EBE, retrieved from the wreckage of a downed UFO. Michael actively sabotaged Mulder's investigation. Mulder believed the EBE had been executed when he reached Mattawa under some kind of international agreement."
"Security Council Resolution 1013," she supplied. "Maybe this Chapel guy is helping our EBE. Hell, maybe he is the EBE. Maybe Chapel died on the Fallen Angel detail and this guy's been posing as him. The Dark Man did say he could take any form."
I stared at her. "What are you saying - that the Fallen Angel wreckage was our guy as well?"
She shrugged. "Makes more sense than there being two different rogue UFOs in the space of months. I mean, they don't exactly grow on trees. And he seems to have a tendency to crash," she added with a grin.
"Maybe," I said. She had a point.
"It doesn't matter much one way or the other, really," she said. "What matters is, our guy is running around killing Gregors, and he's zeroing in on this part of the country - and we know Elena is here as well, or was a few days ago."
"We have to find the rest of the Gregors," I said. "We have to warn her."
"But how?" she asked. "Mulder's away."
"Scully," I mused. "Have you got a wiretap on Scully?"
She nodded. "The Dark Man arranged it before he left."
"Left?" I echoed. "Where did he go - Tunisia?"
She shook her head. "Not sure, but I think it was local. He took his car. He got a call, went all enigmatic, and took off. You know what he's like."
"Tell me about it," I said fervently. "So who's watching Scully - you, or his men?"
"His men - shadow ops that not even Spender knows about. They'll make contact if we get anything. They're covering Mulder, too, now." Sure enough, looking at the pile of reels at my side, I saw that the dates ended the day before. Clearly, the Dark Man had decided that we needed backup. I was glad.
"Good," I said. "Is there anything else I can do?"
Mare shook her head. "I don't think so. There's not much we can do until there's activity with Mulder or Scully." The phone rang just then. "That might be them - I haven't given anyone else this number."
I was closer, so I answered it. "Yes?"
The voice that came through the receiver was punctuated with traffic noise. Surveillance van, I thought. "Sir? It's Unit 3, at Alexandria. Is this a secure line?"
"Yes, go ahead," I said, nodding at Mare, whose eyebrows were raised in query. I held up three fingers, and she nodded in recognition.
"I've just had a call come through on Fox Mulder's line. It sounds important. Would you like me to patch the recording through?"
"Yes, please," I said, flicking the speaker button. "Go ahead, Unit 3."
Scully's voice filtered through the speaker. "Mulder, it's me. I just left my apartment and I don't think I've been followed. I'm going to be staying at the Vacation Village Motor Lodge off the I-90 in Germantown. Now, by the time you reach me, I should have some very important information for you regarding this case."
Mare and I exchanged glances. "Germantown," I said. "She's going back to look into the Dickens case."
"Say again," the operative's voice echoed through the speaker. "I didn't copy."
"It doesn't matter, Unit 3. Thank you." I rang off.
Mare was already back at the laptop, tapping keys, brow furrowed. I came and stood at her side. "I've got an address here - from her report to Skinner," she said. "3243 Edmonton."
"Was that where this Dickens guy died?"
She shook her head. "No - it was on his briefcase. Where he worked, maybe."
"That's an industrial district, I think," I said. "I don't think there'd be an abortion clinic out there."
"It's the only Germantown lead we have."
I sighed. "Okay. Let's go."
"What a mess."
Mare stepped gingerly around a green puddle on the concrete floor. It looked like antifreeze. You had to clean that up after you put it in your car, I remembered - it tasted sweet, so animals liked it, but they died horribly afterwards. But why would there be antifreeze inside an abandoned warehouse?
Mare was a step ahead of me, physically and otherwise. "Look out for those green pools," she called over her shoulder. "They're acid."
"How do you know?" I wondered, side-stepping a bench with a centrifuge on it. The centrifuge was broken. So was the bench.
"Scully mentioned it in her report. It ate through one of her shoes."
"Okay. Mental note not to step in acid, then." I moved cautiously around some black steel barrels. "Someone's turned this place over already."
"Apparently," she said. "But the real question is, did they find what they were looking for?"
I snorted. "I'll let you know when I work out what *we're* looking for."
"We'll know it when we see it," she said mildly, but I didn't think she was as certain as she sounded.
"I hope so."
Ahead of me, Mare stopped short with a sound of disgust. "My God."
I stopped too. "What is it?"
She stooped, then rose, holding up a sealed plastic bag for my perusal. It had a tube coming out of the top. There was a mess of blood and green tissue inside, and something that looked horribly like a foetus in shape. It was twitching. Just for an instant, I felt overwhelming sadness and pity, so deep that I rocked on my feet.
We both stared at it for a long moment, and at last, she spoke. "Please tell me that isn't what I think it is."
"It can't be human. Nothing human could live in that."
"You call that living?" she demanded. "Poor thing."
"Maybe we should kill it," I suggested. "I doubt it's got much to look forward to."
"I don't think I can," she said.
"I don't think I can, either," I admitted. Killing an adult was one thing. Killing something that tiny and helpless was quite another. "Maybe it's already dead. It's detached from whatever that tube was connected to, after all. Maybe it's in rigor mortis." It helped to think so.
She put it down where she'd found it. "Maybe." There was a sound outside the warehouse, and she grabbed for my hand. I caught it, and drew her back into the shadows behind the barrels. She whispered, "What was that?"
"Not sure," I said. I drew my weapon.
The door opened, and a figure slipped in. Light flitted over a familiar face before the door snicked shut behind her. Beside me, Mare relaxed a little. "It's Dana Scully."
I felt a momentary pang. It was the first time I'd seen Scully since her ordeal, in which I'd had a substantial role. I felt fleeting satisfaction that she'd survived it. Her hair was longer and thicker than before, and although she was thinner than I remembered, she wasn't gaunt or pale. That pleased me.
We watched as she picked her way through the mess. She inspected the same bag Mare had dropped. She stared at it, and she jolted visibly when she saw the twitching thing inside it.
Just then, there was a sound - a movement behind one of the barrels on the other side of the room. Instinctively, Mare and I inched further back, but Scully took off after the sound. "Wait!" she called. Then, more dimly, "Stop! Federal Agent! Put your hands against the wall!"
"You won't shoot me," we heard a man say.
I braved a look through the gap in the door as he turned around. After a moment, I drew back. "It's him," I whispered. "One of the Gregors."
"We are the last remaining," we heard him tell Scully. "Unless you protect us, we're already dead."
Mare and I looked at one another in the dim light. "Go," I whispered. "We're not going to be able to get to them with her around." She nodded. We slipped out the door without a sound.
"What now?" Mare asked, looking over her shoulder as we drove away. We passed the federal marshalls coming the other way.
"Mulder," I suggested. "We might get something from his phone taps, or the email. Scully's going to have to explain herself to Skinner pretty quick - protective custody doesn't come cheap."
"More hack work then," she said with a sigh.
"That's about the size of it," I said ruefully. "It's going to be a long night."
But as it happened, we got answers sooner than either of us could have anticipated.
We stopped for dinner in Silver Spring, so it was late by the time we got back to Westminster. Mare had only just checked Mulder's email, and reported that the Gregors were in safe custody in Tileston, when the phone rang. She was closer that time, so she answered, and she listened for several moments before looking up at me, her hand covering the mouthpiece.
"What's happened?" I wondered, crossing the room to stand beside her.
"The executioner guy," she said. "The one who's after the Gregors. He's got Scully. Mulder's frantic."
"He's back, then?"
She nodded. "Yeah. He's got a woman with him. He seems to think she's Samantha. I assume that's the family crisis."
I raised my eyebrows. "Carolyn?"
"Most likely." She let go of the mouthpiece and said into it, "Okay. Patch the recording through, please." She flipped the switch to speaker, and a woman's voice filled the room.
-- "I know this is hard for you, Fox."
-- "No, it's not hard. It's unbelievable."
"That stinks," I said in a low voice - low enough to follow what was happening on the recording. "Thinking he's got her back when she's long dead. That poor bastard."
Mare nodded. "Yeah, it's tough." Her tone was kind. I supposed she of all people knew what it was to search for a sister.
-- "No, no, you've explained only what you had to! I know next to nothing about these people you call your parents or about the man who wants to kill them."
"The Gregors?" I whispered. Marita shrugged.
-- "The men you've been seeking are the progeny of two original visitors, clones who have been attempting to establish a colony here since the late 1940's." Mulder's voice came, muffled, and then she continued, "The community, by necessity, is dispersed. There are clones identical to my parents living in virtually every part of the country. Through hybridization, they've been working to erase that aspect which has forced the community to scatter...their identical natures."
"That explains a lot," Mare said, frowning.
-- "And this man...why has he been sent to kill them?"
-- "The experiments weren't sanctioned. It was considered a dilution of their species, a pollution of their race. So a bounty hunter was dispatched to destroy them and terminate the colony."
"We know all this," Mare said abruptly. She spoke into the phone. "All right, that's fine, Unit 3. Keep us posted on the Scully situation." She rang off.
"Well, we had it mostly right, then," I said. "This executioner - what did she call him? A bounty hunter? He's after the Gregors for their unsanctioned work. Carolyn went to Mulder to try and flush the Bounty Hunter out, but now the Bounty Hunter knows about her instead."
"So he took Scully to try and barter for Carolyn," Mare supplied. "And meanwhile Elena is still as far away as ever."
"She's probably in hiding," I said. "I don't think we'll find her until all this dies down. And that may be just as well, for her safety - and yours."
She sighed, a sound of defeat. "It's just so frustrating, Alexi." Pulling away, she passed through the living area into the alcove that served as Samantha's bedroom. She sat down on the bed, her shoulders slumped. The lines of her face were tired and drawn.
I followed her and sat down beside her. "Mare, you can't give up. We're closer than ever. She was in this very room, for God's sake." I put my arm around her shoulders, and she leaned against me, sighing again.
"Why did she take so long?" she said at last.
"I don't understand."
"We've had those diaries for nearly six months now, Alex. Why hasn't she sought me out before?"
I shrugged. "She probably only just found out they were gone. I doubt she checks the locker every day. She's probably been away somewhere - maybe working with Strughold in Tunisia. She probably only came back because of this business with the Bounty Hunter."
Mare nodded, pulling away a little. "Maybe," she conceded. "Do you think she could be hiding out on the grounds somewhere?"
I shook my head. "No. Maybe before she searched our room, but she'd have left right after that. She must have known we'd put together that it was her."
"But how? I mean, she can't have foreseen-" she broke off, faltered, then went on awkwardly, "well, the way we argued about it."
"No," I agreed. "I'm sure she didn't realise that it - that - that it was a first," I stumbled. "But there was the different clothes, different hair - she must have known there was a risk. I doubt she would have stayed to assess the fallout."
"True," she murmured, and then she fell silent. It was the first time we'd alluded to what had happened between us that day.
"It's frightening," I said at last. "Knowing someone was in our room."
"Yeah," she said. "Mind you, she probably feels the same about us."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we're working out of Samantha's suite. I'm sure Samantha's suite was just as intimate to them as ours is to us." She patted the bed with her hand. "They probably made love on this very bed."
"I suppose. I never thought about it that way." I thought on this. "Do you think she visited here?"
"Probably," Mare said, "but if she did, she covered her tracks. I've bug swept since then and haven't found anything." She seemed fairly complacent about it all. Clearly, she'd already considered this possibility and dismissed it as irrelevant.
"Where would she go, then? Where is she now?"
"I don't know. Maybe trying to get the Gregors-" she stopped, looking at me in recognition. "They're at the Federal stockade."
I got to my feet and held out my hand. She took it, and I pulled her up.
Mare's voice intruded on my thoughts. I looked up from the road atlas and saw that the car had slowed to a crawl. Beside me, she was peering out over the steering wheel, and I followed her gaze. I saw the faint glow of flashing red and blue lights emanating from the distant figure of the Federal stockade.
"Crime scene," I said. "Looks like she's been and gone."
"Either that, or the Bounty Hunter got the Gregors," she said grimly.
I squinted, trying to make out more detail. "There's an ambulance and a coroner's van," I said as we drew closer. "I'm plumping for the Bounty Hunter." Or else Elena had been killed trying to spring the Gregors, but I didn't say so.
"Looks like it," she agreed. "Turn on the scanner. We might get something off the radio coming out of Tileston PD." She turned the car around and drove back the way we'd come.
I did as she said, still looking over maps. "I wonder if there's been any developments about Scully," I said.
She picked up her phone. "I'll call the Dark Man's boys and see." She hit a speed dial number and waited.
I watched her. "Who do they think we are, anyway?"
"They don't," she said with a sardonic grin. "They're paid not to think. Oh! - Unit 3, this is Unit 1. Can I get an update on the Samantha Mulder situation?"
She was silent for a few moments, but then, quite suddenly, she slumped in her seat. It was as though she were a marionette whose strings had been abruptly severed. She nodded with vague sounds of comprehension for a few moments, and then she rang off. She pulled over to the side of the road and switched off the ignition, resting her head in her hands. "Damn it," she said, her voice muffled through her hands. "Damn, damn, damn."
I watched her for a few moments. "What's happened?"
"It's over," she said in defeat.
I said it again. "What's happened?"
She lifted her head from her hands to look at me. Her face was red, and her eyes were bright with tears. When she spoke, her voice was tinged with fatigue and frustration. "They did a trade - Carolyn for Scully. They're dragging around Memorial Bridge in Bethesda now - it looks like Carolyn's gone."
"The Bounty Hunter killed her?" I demanded. "Why?"
She wiped her eyes. "He might not have intended to. There was a struggle. But let's face it - if he got to the last of the Gregors already, he wouldn't need Carolyn anymore."
"No, I suppose not," I said reluctantly. "So he did get the Gregors, then?"
She nodded. "Yeah. They're gone. Just puddles of green acid in each cell." She sniffled a little.
I pulled her into the crook of my arm. "Oh, Mare."
She gave a long, shuddering sigh. "We're never going to find her, Alex." Then, her voice so low I had to strain to hear it, "Maybe we should just drop the whole thing."
I pulled away to look at her in surprise. "What's brought this on?"
She shook her head miserably. "I don't know. We just seem to be so near and yet so far. It's like it isn't meant to be."
I smoothed back the hair from her forehead, frowning. It wasn't like Mare to be this dispirited. "Let's just wait for Mulder's report to come through the system," I said. "We can pick up the trail from there. He could have found something in Scranton or Syracuse that we don't know about."
She sighed. "Maybe. I just feel like-"
"Like she's part of...you know. Where I've been. Not where I'm going."
I held her gaze. Wondering what she was trying to say. "Where are you going, Mare?"
She shook her head again, looking away from me. She leaned her head against the car window. "I don't know, Alexi. I just don't know."
We sat there for a long time. At last, I said, "Is it with me?"
She turned to face me again, and she still looked wretched and worn, but there was a shadow of a smile there, too. She nodded. "Yeah. It's with you."
"That's worth something, then, isn't it?" Pitifully little, perhaps, compared to all she'd lost...but something.
"It's worth everything." She reached over and squeezed my hand. "Would you take me home, Alex?"
Down the years, I have been credited, rightly or wrongly, with being a superb liar. For myself, I doubt that's the case. Certainly, I have never been able to lie to Mare. That night, when finally I held her, all the love and fear and worry I'd been holding in since the fight came rushing to the fore. It left me in an outpouring of desire and desperation and need.
"What?" she whispered at last, pulling away from my ravenous kisses. "Alexi, what is it?" She held me back, just a little, her palm on my chest until, reluctantly, I pulled away.
"I don't - I -" I slumped, head bowed, at a loss. She watched me for a long moment, and then she drew my head down to her shoulder, holding me there against her warmth. I circled my arm around her waist. "I just - I need to hold you, Mare."
She kissed my brow, lines of worry etched in her expression. "Is it about the fight?"
"In a way." That wasn't completely true, but it wasn't a lie, either.
"Do we need to talk about it?"
I shook my head. "There's nothing to say." I traced my hand over the swell of her breast and cradled her there. My breath hitched. I felt rising pressure - in my throat, in my heart - and I didn't really know why. "I just need to show you - show you -" and I broke off then, because it was an incomplete thought, a fragment, and I honestly had no idea what I was trying to say.
"What you can't say," she said. "What you think I don't want you to say."
I stared up at her in comprehension. She'd got it - she'd understood the thing that stuck in my throat and fuelled my desire even before I did. The thing that left me wound tight with frustrated urgency and need.
"You can say it, Alex," she whispered. "When we're like this, you can say it."
I felt a pang. In that moment I felt utterly transparent - as though she could see straight into my heart. "I love you, Marita," I said, voice low and raw. "God, I love you."
"I know." Her eyes were bright. Her lips closed over mine, and she whispered against my mouth, "Show me, Alex." She tugged a little, drawing me down to her. "Show me."
I moved with her, fitting my body to hers. I slid my hand down between us, testing her. I gave a little hiss of surprise when I found her ready. I'd hardly touched her. "You're so damn-" wet, I thought, but I didn't say it.
"I want it, Alex," she sighed. Utterly high on desire, utterly vulnerable. "I want it so much. All - all of it." she broke off, and I understood that she didn't mean just the sex. "I just get scared."
I rested my forehead against hers. "There's nothing to be afraid of. What we have is good, Mare. Maybe the only good thing there is in the world for people like us."
"I know," she said. "I know that, Alexi." Then I found her warmth, and Jesus! It felt good to be there - to be part of her. To be whole.
For the first time in a long time, I felt free.
I looked up from my drink. "Hello, Diana."
I felt a short, sharp stab of resentment at the sight of her. I hadn't forgotten her easy discussion of the possibility of my execution. I knew it wasn't personal, and I'd probably have done the same. And unlike Diana, I probably would have erred on the side of caution and gone through with it. Still, it didn't fill me with goodwill.
"I haven't seen you for a few days," she said, dropping down on the stool beside me. She caught the bartender's eye. "Cointreau, straight, please. He'll have another."
"Thanks," I said, letting him top up my drink without protest. "I've been away."
"Yeah, Marita said." She took her drink, inspected the little pink straw, and dropped it on the bar with a look of disgust. "Who the hell serves liqueur with a straw?"
"Is that a rhetorical question?" I wondered. Diana snorted, but didn't make a comeback. Unusual for her. "How are you holding up? Mare said you'd been up at the Vineyard."
"Yeah. I'm okay - drained. Bill and Teena are both pretty cut up about it all."
"I'll bet." I drank a little. "Did you see Mulder?"
Diana shook her head. "I made sure we didn't cross paths. I didn't want to have to lie to him, to say I was sorry and all that when I knew perfectly well she'd been dead for ages. It would have been too horrible."
"I can understand that. Did you take Elizabeth?"
"Yeah. I think it helped, having the baby there. They fussed over her - it was better than everyone sitting around being sad."
"Sad?" I said, surprised. "But surely they knew the woman wasn't really Samantha." I was careful not to call Carolyn by name. I didn't want Diana to know how much I knew.
Diana pressed her lips into a thin, disapproving line. "Apparently not. It seems that our cigarette smoking friend thought he was being kind by withholding the fact that she killed herself. They thought she was still in deep cover."
I stared at her. "How did he manage that?"
"Well, we've lost touch a bit the last few years, since I remarried," she explained. "And they've both stayed pretty removed from the Group since Bill retired. So they never found out. It didn't unravel until Bill phoned Spender to tell him his daughter had turned up - that was when Spender told them the truth. And by then, of course, the woman had taken off with Fox and gotten herself killed anyway."
"That's disgusting," I said, but I felt like a hypocrite. After all, I was keeping some pretty important secrets from the woman I loved myself.
"Yes, it is. Teena's furious. Says she never wants to see him again."
"She's said that before."
"I think she means it this time."
"Don't blame her." I finished my drink. "Poor old Mulder. He thinks the woman was Samantha, I suppose?"
Diana nodded. "Yes. They couldn't really have told him anything else, and I think they feel it's best if he uses this episode to come to terms with her death. Maybe he can find some peace and move on."
"I hope so," I said. "Is he still on bereavement leave?"
"Yes," she said. That explained why his report hadn't come through yet, then. "No-one seems to know where he is, but I think the time to himself will do him good." I nodded, and her mood brightened. "Enough about Fox. What about you? What have you been up to?"
"Just ordinary stuff," I said, and for the most part - since Carolyn's death - that was the truth. "Mare and I have both had a lull on the work front, so we're just hanging out...reading...watching TV. Quiet times."
"You're rebuilding," she supplied. I looked at her in query. "Alex, you must realise that women talk."
I shot her a rueful grin. "What did she tell you?"
"Not a lot. I know you had a fight. I know it was a big one."
"I said something she wasn't ready to hear."
"I see." I thought she did.
"Anyway...we're getting through it. Rebuilding, like you said."
"I'm glad." She said, deliberately casual, "Has she said anything about this business with Fox?"
I watched her out of the corner of my eye. She was trying to find out what we knew. Whether we had made the connection between Carolyn's death, the Gregors, and Elena. Just for an instant, I wondered whether she knew where Elena was, but I dismissed the idea at once. If Elena had any sense she'd be working totally alone at this point. Besides - if Diana were in touch with Elena, then Elena would have told her that we had the diaries. She would already know that those connections had been made.
"What do you mean?" I said finally.
"Well, you know," she said, fumbling. "He's part of your past."
"You're not suggesting that she's jealous." I didn't think she was suggesting anything of the sort, but I thought saying so might unsettle her and make her let something slip.
"No," she said hastily. "Actually, I think Fox is far less important than you think he is."
"Say again?" I said, momentarily sidetracked.
"Well, I think you hold onto the memory of Fox because of what he symbolises - the life you left behind. Not because of who he was to you." I didn't entirely understand what she meant back then, but I do now. She was right. And she understood it so completely because she did it herself - with Mulder, and maybe with Mare, as well.
"Maybe that's true," I said. Then, deliberately on the offensive, I said, "Or maybe you spend too much time trying to second-guess people."
She stared at me. "Where did that come from?"
I drained my drink. "Well, you seem to spend a lot of time predicting the future and trying to mould it to your specifications."
She turned to face me fully, frowning. "Alex, is this about Rita's sister?"
I ignored her, changing tack before she could rally. "Did you know Marita is smoking again, Diana?"
"Wha- no, I didn't know that." There were pink spots on her cheeks. She was confused - exasperated.
"There's a link between smoking, the Pill, and pulmonary embolism," I said. "You haven't had to worry about birth control since you got married, so you might not know that - but it's true." She drew back in her seat a little. The lines of her face fell away, leaving a blank slate. She was shutting down - working not to betray anything. Firmly on the defensive. Perfect.
"I don't - I don't understand where you're going with this. You're talking in riddles."
I moved in for the kill. "Her doctor's gonna take her off them, Diana. It's only a matter of time. If you don't want to deal with the consequences of that, then you better have a backup plan for me when that happens."
She was very pale. "What do you know?"
"I know enough." Telling her I knew about the Eves might sign my death warrant, but the threat I'd pointed out to her was real enough. And what if we ever wanted children?
"Then you know it's best this way. You know it would hurt her to know. More than not knowing." She leaned in, voice persuasively low. She was getting back in control. I'd have to push her again, before she regained her composure. "Are you really going to tell her what they did to her to make yourself feel better, Alex? Are you really that selfish?"
"I might not have a choice! Elena was in this house!" I was showing my hand, but at this point, that was a chance I was willing to take. If it pushed her over the edge, if it made her tell me what she knew-
"Elena was here?" she hissed. "When?"
"A couple of weeks ago. Before I went away. She's long gone now."
Diana was beyond pale now - she looked physically ill. "Does the Dark Man know?"
I frowned a little, puzzled by her reaction. "Yeah - we told him before he left. Haven't seen him for a while. I think he's running his own inquiry."
"That's pretty normal for the Dark Man," she said uneasily. She rummaged in her purse and put a twenty on the bar. Her hands were steady, but the fact that she paid revealed how unsettled she really was. The drinks went on her swipe card. She didn't have to pay.
Her manner worried me. I wanted information - I didn't want to scare her to death. I tried to diffuse the situation. "Does that guy have a name?" I wondered, striving for levity.
"I'd tell you, but I'd have to kill you." The banter was forced.
"That's not funny." A month ago, maybe, but not now.
"It isn't meant to be. I have to go."
She turned and hurried away, leaving me bewildered.
CHAPTER 5 CONTINUES IN PART 10.