Not My Lover cover art by Deslea

Not My Lover *NC17* 5/7

Deslea R. Judd
Copyright 2000

ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name on it.
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
RATING: NC17 for sex and language.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Mytharc Ascension to Requiem.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: romance, angst, mytharc, Krycek/Covarrubias.
SUMMARY: In a world of changing allegiances, only Alex and Marita will have the strength and permanence with which to lead the Russian project. But will they have strength to survive the American agenda? Tells the mytharc from Alex and Marita's perspective.
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff.
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) has protected them from Spender's wrath so far; but their clandestine operation in Tunguska has 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 generally renders the subject seriously ill in the aftermath and is therefore not currently suitable for distribution.

After Spender exposed Marita to smallpox (Zero Sum), she miscarried; but was befriended by Skinner while under forced quarantine. Shortly afterwards, the alien rebels destroyed the Russian operation, but the Russians believe Alex is responsible. The couple - and an unwitting Skinner - now possess the only stocks of the pathogen and vaccine. They want to exchange the boy and the pathogen for the surviving American research in order to continue their work, but first, Marita takes the boy to Mulder - with Alex's blessing - to convince him of the alien threat. Before she reaches him, she is infected with the pathogen. Now, Alex picks up the tale.


I blame myself.

Looking at her, so white and still, a mess of tubes and leads, I feel the searing heat of shame and the stunning shock of grief. This is not the first time she has lain in a sickbed in this place, but it is the first time she has been truly at their mercy. And I blame myself, because her illness - her frailty, her brokenness - and most of all, the evil possession that makes her a prisoner in her own body could have been prevented.

My mistakes were twofold. The first was in acquiescing to her demand that I leave the boy's implant in place. What she insisted was, certainly, the right thing. But it was not the safe thing - for the boy or for us. Marita has a history of choosing what is right over what is safe, necessary counterpart to my ruthlessness. But I knew that in the wake of the firestorms, it was ruthlessness that would keep us alive. If I had overruled her, she would have submitted to my judgement, just as I sometimes submitted to hers. But instead, I did as she asked; and ultimately, the boy died regardless.

I don't feel so bad about that. He'd been living on borrowed time from the moment he saw the firestorms in Kazakhstan anyway.

My second mistake, far greater, was in allowing her to take the boy to Mulder, unaccompanied. We were fooled by his harmlessly docile demeanour, fruit of the inactive pathogen. But the greater force of the implant could overcome that docility. It was something I had never considered: we had never tested the pathogen on an abductee. And when confronted with the irresistible draw of the rebels, the boy blindly, instinctively sought to remove that which prevented his compliance: the pathogen, and my wife.

Would you have made the same choices if you had foreseen this, Mare? When you held his sobbing face to you like a mother and let him fall asleep with his head in your lap, when you found the telltale mark of the abductee, would you have still argued for his life? Knowing that your choice would leave you helpless, your eyes coated with delicately trailing oil, your veins blue-black with it? Knowing that your choice would leave you at their mercy?

Damn it, I think you would.

I really think you would.

I returned to the ship in a good mood.

I was exhilarated by the prospect of freedom, of something approaching a normal life; but the compelling frenzy of it had been tamed. Mare and I had spent our urgency and our tense excitement in each other; and there was peace in the aftermath. When she left me there on the wharf, I felt great hope, and a pervading sense of calm. For the first time in a long time, I felt genuinely good.

That was until I reached the cell.

The smell assaulted my senses as soon as I walked in, its weight washing over me. It was a civilised smell, a cultured smell, so distinct amid the filth of this place. I looked around me in alarm, because I identified it at once. It was the sort of scent a man used as his signature.

A man like Donovan.

"Well?" came a gravelly voice behind me. "Where's the boy?"

"Donovan," I said in a hiss, turning to face him. I swallowed a little at his firearm; there was a good possibility that he knew I'd ordered the hit on his beloved Benita. I already knew he'd ordered the death of the hitter, Vassily Peskow; Peskow had died badly. Did he want the vaccine badly enough to keep his need for revenge in check?

"Where is he?" he demanded again.

"Somewhere safe," I said angrily.

"Is that right?" he said mockingly. "It's good that you think so highly of your accomplice." He came to me, pulling out a pair of handcuffs. "We'll soon see if your faith is warranted."

So saying, he cuffed me to a pipe, and he left me.

"You're probably thirsty."

I looked up at Donovan coldly. "Remind me to complain to the captain about the service."

He dipped a cloth into a bucket of water. "You may have that opportunity. This ship is bound back to Vladivostok tomorrow. I gather there'll be quite an enthusiastic homecoming." He wrung out the cloth over my mouth; I moved my head, struggling to drink, then spat the liquid out, disgusted. It was vinegar.

"Do you have the boy?" I demanded. I'd had all night to stew about the fate of the boy. As for Mare - I hadn't dared contemplate her. After this, would they let her live?

"No. Ms Covarrubias took him," he said, and I felt a rush of relief wash over me. They hadn't caught her, then. "Your alliance with her was as misguided as ours, but it appears she was unaware of the consequences of her deception." My eyes opened very wide as I realised that he believed she had double-crossed me. Hot on the heels of that, I realised that Benita had never told him we were married. If that were true, and I could convince him that Marita was acting in their interests-

"You were clever," Donovan went on. "Infect the boy to ensure infection of anyone who tried to learn what he knows, who would cheat you." His words hit me like a slap. I felt a chill of panic, from my stomach, spiralling out.

Mare was infected.

"Then where's the boy?" I snapped, stalling for time. How could I get her back without letting him know he had me over a barrel? Without revealing that she was to me as Benita had been to him? I needed to think.

"Dead. Victim of another mysterious holocaust. Unable now to tell what he knew or saw."

"Then you got no choice but to deal with me," I insisted. If I could deal with him - if I could convince him I wanted to kill her myself -

"I'm afraid there's no deal to be made."

"I'm the only one who knows what those incidents are," I argued, my heart hammering in my chest. "What they mean. I know what that boy saw."

Donovan said scornfully, "You've as much as told me what I need to know."

"You know nothing," I snapped, my fury a poor camouflage for fear. It was beginning to overtake me; I could feel it in my stomach and my chest. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins; and, given no release, it was painful. My capture made fight/flight a torturous little instinct to have.

"If the boy was your trump card, why infect him unless you could also cure him with a vaccine developed by the Russians? One that works," he amended, and I realised in a flash that he knew nothing of the Russian pathogen - that its properties made it valuable in its own right. "It would mean that the resistance to the alien colonists is now possible."

"You're dreaming!" I spat. What did this mean? Could I deal with just the pathogen? Could I keep something back for us to continue the work, and still get her out alive?

"Do you have the vaccine?" he demanded furiously.

"You need what I know," I insisted. If I could only think - but there was no time; Mare had been gone twenty hours, and the vaccine had to be administered within twenty-six.

His face was working, contorted with desperate urgency. "Do you have the vaccine!" He kicked the bucket into me, furiously, and began to walk away; and I felt a great swell of relief. His need was not for revenge - it was for the vaccine. That meant there could be a deal.

"Give you the means to save Covarrubias after what she did?"

He turned, still shaking. "The means to save yourself."

He stalked out, and I panicked; because when push came to shove, the work meant nothing. She was everything.

"All right!"

There was a moment of dead silence as his footsteps came to a halt. I called out, "I'm going to give you what you want, Donovan."

Slow, satisfied steps. "Is that right?" he enquired, appearing in the doorway once more.

"One condition," I warned sharply.

Donovan shook his head. "You're not in a position to make conditions, Mr Krycek."

"I'm in a position to make this one," I countered in a low voice, "because if you don't meet it, I'll take my chances in Vladivostock."

He opened his mouth, probably to argue, but decided against it. He started again. "What is it?"

I watched him steadily; said with a mildly interested calm that I didn't feel, "You use it to save Marita." I held his gaze, unblinking, hoping against hope that he would not perceive my desperation. I prayed it seemed idiosyncratic - an indulgence to a man accustomed to having his number one babe at his beck and call - and not heaven and earth to a man utterly, irrevocably in love.

"Save Covarrubias? After what she did?" he mimicked, his brow creasing.

I made a gesture of concession. "You got me. I knew she was taking the boy to Mulder," I admitted easily.

That shocked him. "Why?" he asked, genuinely puzzled. I said in confusion, "To convince him again of the alien threat. To get him to stop the handover of the captured rebel." At his look of horror, I said in realisation, "You didn't know, did you? You didn't know they were going to give him up."

"Give me that vaccine," he insisted; but his face was flushed with anger and dismay. I had hit a nerve. I shook my head, demanded:

"Take me to her."

She seemed so still.

I walked to her, feeling every footstep like a heartbeat. I touched her face for a long, lingering moment, then opened one of her eyes, catching my breath at the telltale sheen of oil over the iris. I looked into its emerald depths, searching for any sign of the Mare I knew; but it was absent. Only one person had ever seen me shed tears in adulthood - Mare - but on that day, Donovan came close to being the second. I fought them, and won - just.

The older man's voice came from behind me, dimly, implacably. "Give me the vaccine." Still watching her numbly, I nodded, reaching into my jacket. I removed the oil stock, unscrewed the bottom segment, and turned to him, holding it out. He took it, but I didn't let go.

"Save her," I insisted, staring at him, eyes blazing.

He tugged on it uselessly, his hand closing over mine. "What is she to you, Krycek? You wouldn't do this for a business partn-" he stopped short, his grip loosening, and I felt his forefinger moving over my hand curiously. He looked down, and I followed his gaze to my ring finger; saw the realisation spread over his face at the white-gold band with the yellow sapphires, so incongruous with my casual garb. And I remembered that Mare's would have been on her chain around her neck when they found her.

"She's your wife," he said in disbelief.

"Save her," I hissed, my voice thick and harsh with pain.

He nodded slowly. "All right." I let the stock go.

"And one more thing." At his questioning expression, I insisted, "I'm not leaving her side."

That was how I came to live at Fort Marlene.

"They're gone."

I came out of the anteroom, passing Donovan blindly. I went to Mare's side and stood, looking at her morosely.

"She's comatose. There's no radiation, no dominance." Nodding, I lifted her arms, one at a time, rearranging the sheet so that she was covered to the neck. It was a cold room. Behind me, Donovan went on in a worried voice, "Is it a different strain?"

I shook my head absently. "No. Biochemically it's identical." Reaching up, I tilted the overhead light away from her eyes. "Benita believed it was injured, for want of a better term, in the Tunguska crash. She thought it was roughly analogous to what we would call brain damage. Basic survival functions - infection and propagation - but no higher or conscious activity."

Donovan was watching me with interest - whether at my ministrations or because of my information, I didn't know, and didn't much care. "That's why you were able to create a vaccine. Why you were able to test successfully."

I nodded. "We could test without the lifeform being aware of it, without risk of retaliation." I turned to face him.

"Did any survive the holocaust?"

I nodded. "I have a sample. I'm going to give you that, too," I revealed, surprising myself. "No deals - just direct co-operation."

"Why?" He seemed genuinely interested.

I shrugged. "My operation has fallen to the rebels. I can't do it alone, and I won't do it with anyone who would use it for money or power." He caught the inference, that I knew enough of him to know that he wouldn't do that, and nodded, frowning. "The work must continue. The politics are secondary. Agreed?"

"Agreed." He looked at me piercingly; said in his gravelly voice, "Do you want to be part of it?"

I stared at him, demanded, "What kind of a question is that?"

"A real one. If you say no, you and your wife can have a normal life," he pointed out. "Say yes, though-"

I shook my head. "We can't have a normal life. Not til the vaccine is in circulation. Ideology aside, Mare is the only immune female - maybe the only immune, full stop. Think about it." His eyes widened, and then he nodded.

We were silent for a long moment. "Your aims and mine are more aligned than I'd thought, Alex," Donovan said at last. At my enquiring look, he said in a low voice, "You were right about Mulder."

"I don't understand," I said, confused.

"The group are going to hand over the rebel," he revealed; and his level voice couldn't totally disguise his anger and defeat at the fact.

I stared at him in shock. "Despite the vaccine?" I demanded in disbelief.

Sight nod. "Despite the vaccine."

I frowned, turning away, pacing. Those stupid, stupid men! I turned to face him once more. "What can I do?"

"Don't let it happen."

It happened.

I went to Mulder, and I convinced him of the alien threat. He went to the exchange, but the rebel was handed over regardless. However, because of his intervention, the rebel was killed outright, without revealing what he knew. The immediate threat had been averted.

The next three months passed in a blur. Mare regained consciousness in April, just in time for her birthday; but she was terribly, terribly weak. We remained at Fort Marlene, my days spent keeping her company - reading to her, talking to her, involving myself in her rehabilitation. I worked in the adjacent vaccine lab with two trusted scientists when she slept.

Donovan turned out to be, not exactly a friend, but certainly a companionable ally. He proved surprisingly sensitive, arranging a more comfortable bed/sitting room for her after she woke, and - after walking in on us asleep together on her cramped bed - even arranging for a double bed. There was no question of making love - she was far too weak for that - but being able to hold each other as we slept was an incredible comfort to both of us. She was not exactly a prisoner; but nor was she free to come and go, even if she had been able. He understood, as I did, the danger. It was something that had not yet occurred to Mare.

"Alexi?" she said tentatively in May.

I pressed her bent leg firmly against her body with my hand, and her foot up with my prosthesis. She winced slightly, but bore the pain stoically. I looked at her, holding it. "Yeah?"

Her face relaxed and she breathed out in a rush when I let go. "I want to get out of here."

I straightened her leg, massaging the joint of her knee with my thumb. I was very conscious of having only one hand to work with. "You're not well enough."

"I can walk when I really have to, I can wash myself, I can toilet myself," she protested impatiently. I flexed her foot back and forth, rolling it at the ankle. "So what's the problem?"

I rotated each of her toes in turn. "You're not well enough," I repeated implacably. I was frowning, but I don't think she could see it.

"That feels good," she sighed. "It's so good to feel the blood moving." I shot her a smile. She went on, "I am well enough, Alexi. You can help me, and I can make do for myself at home when you're out. You care for me pretty much full-time here anyway."

I went to her side, and she put her arm around my shoulder. I lifted her so that she sat up. "You can make do for yourself," I conceded, putting the cover over her to the waist. I handed her book to her and, grabbing my own, sat at her side. "But can you keep yourself safe?"

She was starting to open hers, but she stopped, frowning. "What do you mean?"

I shifted to face her, my gaze locking on hers. "Do you have any idea how valuable a commodity you are?" I demanded, piercingly.

"What are you talking about?" she said in bewilderment.

"Marita, don't you understand? You're Eve," I said urgently. "The first woman!" Her jaw dropped a little, her brow creasing. "You think being under Donovan's nose is bad? Wait 'til someone like Saddam Hussein finds out there's a fertile, immune woman!"

She stared at me - stared at me for a long moment in utter stupefaction. At last, she protested in a low voice, "We don't even know if the immunity is hereditary yet."

"No, we don't," I agreed. "And I can think of a dozen tinpot dictators who would love to find out." I smoothed back her hair, tucking it behind her ear like a parent, and she smiled faintly; but it was a weak, worried smile. "They could take you. They could demand ransom. Or they might just make you pregnant and see what happened." I didn't use the word rape, but the slight catch in her chest told me that she understood the implication.

"God," she said in a whisper.

I stroked her cheek with the back of my hand. She leant into it a little. "I don't want you scared, Mare, but I want you safe. We're not leaving here until you can take me down from ambush. And I'll fight you harder than I've ever fought you before. I'll fight you as hard as I'd fight to get you back."

She nodded slowly. She was very white. "All right." I leaned in and kissed her forehead. Pulling away, she said, "But will you talk to the occupational therapist? Tell her I want to work more intensively?" I nodded, looking up as Donovan appeared behind her in the doorway. I made a vague greeting gesture. He returned it, but didn't enter. "I want to be well, Alexi," she said insistently. Then, thickly, "I hate this place."

I took her hand in mine. "I know. I'll talk to her." I squeezed it a second, then let go.

Donovan cleared his throat, and Mare turned, composing herself. "Hello, Maxwell."

"Good afternoon, Marita. How are you feeling today?" he asked, not unkindly.

"Strong," she said firmly. "I walked up the corridor this morning. No walker."

He smiled, almost paternally. One thing I had to say for Donovan: his closeness with his grandchildren meant he had the fatherly thing down pat. "That's excellent, Marita. I'm very pleased." He turned to me. "Alex, can I borrow you for a few minutes?"

"Sure. I'll be back," I said to Mare. She nodded, shooting me a smile, and settled down with her book; but she still look troubled. Frowning, I rose, and followed Donovan into the corridor.

"What was that all about?" he asked me in a low voice, nodding towards the room. He asked with genuine solicitude, "Is there something I can do to make her more comfortable?"

I shook my head. "It's nothing like that. Mare has some bad memories of this place. We both do." At his querying look, I explained quietly, "We were pregnant last year. Spender knew." I swallowed hard, fighting to keep the awful, overwhelming sadness of that time out of my voice, but not quite succeeding. "He sent her into the smallpox test zone in Payson. They kept her quarantined here until she lost the child."

He stared at me, slack-jawed with horror. "Dear God."

I could feel my hand clenching with anger. "Controlling, murdering son-of-a-bitch. I'm glad he's gone." My voice was bitter.

Donovan looked worried. "Then you're not going to like what I'm about to ask you to do."

"What do you mean?" I demanded. Donovan looked uncomfortable.

"It's Spender - he's alive."

I didn't like it, but I went along with it.

Spender was indeed alive, and I was sent to his hideout to bring him back. Bring him back? When I'd have happily sent him to hell?

I damn near did it, too.

I had an accomplice, of course; but he was inept, and he paid for his ineptitude with his life. Spender and I were alone, and when I had him at gunpoint, I held him for a long moment - one of the longest moments of my life. I thought of Mare, weeping for her mother. I thought of her at the dark man's side, begging his forgiveness. I thought of her, exposed to radiation rescuing me from the missile silo. I thought of her buried in my arms, our child dying within her. And I wished - vehemently, bitterly, I wished that I could squeeze my finger around the trigger.

But I didn't do it, because Donovan was our ally, our protector; and if he wanted Spender back, then I would do it.

So I brought him back.

To this day, I don't understand why the group wanted him. I wasn't privy to that information: as far as the group was concerned, I was Donovan's right hand. A senior lackey, but still just a lackey. They knew nothing of my work on the vaccine. They believed I had stolen it and surrendered it in exchange for my life, nothing more. Donovan feared that if they knew I had been responsible for its development, I could be in danger. He believed my apparent insignificance would keep Marita and I safe.

As far as Spender went, while it's true that we had little control over the FBI without him, it seemed to me that the recovery of a child, even a child gifted with precognition - and especially a child guarded by a Consortium plant - should have been simple. But then, perhaps the plant was the problem. Diana Donovan - Diana Fowley, I corrected myself - was a mother of three. Her eldest was only a little younger than Gibson Praise. I don't think she would willingly have handed him over. Whatever the case, Spender retrieved the boy. He and Donovan exchanged words, and Donovan bundled the boy into the car, and got in himself.

"I've got a nice, straight shot," I said in a low voice.

"No. He's useful," Donovan countered. He looked at me meaningfully. "And you may need him in the future." I frowned - we had discussed the danger to him more than once. Donovan's days were numbered, and we both knew it.

We drove on, and in the rearview mirror I saw the boy's face darken as we passed Spender. "What's the matter, kid?" I asked, interested. The boy apparently didn't like him, which meant he probably had good instincts.

"That man hurt the lady," he said reproachfully.

"The redhead?" I said curiously. Scully had been guarding him too, I remembered. It didn't occur to me that he might mean Diana - I thought Spender was smarter than that. She and Donovan were thick as thieves.

"No, the other one. Agent Fowley."

Donovan said nothing, but I saw his hands tighten in his lap. I thought sympathetically that he was thinking of his grandchildren. "That's disgusting," I said with feeling. "You don't take women with little kids. Not if there's another way."

The older man looked at me curiously. "A more antiquated sentiment than I'd have expected from you, Alex."

"I know where to draw the line," I retorted. "Mothers are usually off-limits. So are kids, always," I added pointedly. "So if you want this kid dead, you're going to have to find someone else." I went on grimly, "Apart from anything else, Marita would kill me."

Donovan shot me a look, then laughed. "You're a fraud, Alex. You act so tough-"

"I love my wife, and I'm proud of it," I snapped. "You got something to say about that?" He remained silent. I insisted, "I don't kill kids." He looked at me with interest, then revealed:

"I have no intention of killing Gibson Praise."

"Why are you sad, Alex?"

I stared at the screen intently. "What?" He waited while I zapped a few aliens. Silly-looking green things. Don't these people read alien lore? One of them took out my avatar effortlessly, and I gave the boy the joystick in disgust. "You're in my head - don't you know?"

Gibson shook his head, his face blue-green in the light of the screen. "In your head isn't the same as in your heart."

I nodded slowly. That made sense. "My wife is very sick - I suppose you knew that part," I hazarded, and he nodded. "I just miss the things she used to do. She always used to sing in the shower, and she's an awful singer - just awful," I added with a grin. A flicker of amusement passed over the boy's features. "But she doesn't sing anymore, and I miss that. She had a birthday a little while back and I got her this gold bracelet, because she was too tired to enjoy anything else, you know?" He nodded, and I went on, mostly to myself, "She's too tired to laugh or smile or joke or make lo-" I bit off the end of that, but he knew what I was going to say, of course. "Sorry. This is nothing to tell a kid."

He shrugged. "When you see into grown up heads, you don't stay a kid for very long." On-screen, his avatar exploded in flames, and he handed me the joystick once more.

"No, I guess you don't."

"They're very dark," he said presently. "Why are grown ups so dark?"

I shifted, trying to manoeuvre the joystick the way I wanted, without success. I frowned. "I don't know," I said at last, handing over to him. He took it, but didn't play. "But not all of them are like that."

"You mean like your wife."

I glared at him. "Get the fuck out of my head, kid. Yeah, like my wife." I watched him for a moment, then relented. "You're a good kid, Gibson. You don't deserve to be dragged into this." He looked up at me, his expression oddly adult.

"Neither do you."

The next few weeks passed without incident. Gibson was ensconced in quarters at Fort Marlene, and I made an effort to settle him in. Donovan received my suggestion of a tutor for him with favour. In time, we hoped, the boy could be persuaded to take a role in the project - in which case, the group might allow him to live. But that would not be on the agenda for several years. Meantime, we endeavoured to keep him happy and stimulated, and to ease his separation from his family.

Mare and I talked about the boy at some length. I was aware of his value as a commodity, but both Mare and I believed he could not be used. The boy was strong: he would only be used if he allowed himself to be used out of his own ideology. But we both agreed that he should be protected, on both strategic and humane grounds.

I brought him to meet her, and they got along well. Mare thought so much about the baby we'd lost, living in that place; and it was good for her to be able to take an interest in another child. I wouldn't call her relationship with Gibson maternal, exactly, and certainly I wasn't paternal; but we both enjoyed him, both felt fiercely protective of him.

It seems odd to think of those days as domestic bliss, but in a way, they were. For me, it was a welcome interlude of stability after four years of chaos. I usually knew where I would spend my days and my nights, and those places were clean and civilised. I wasn't called upon to undertake unsavoury work. Mare and I slept together and read together and ate together - things we had never been able to do for more than a few weeks at a time before. We had a loose network of associates - my scientists and assistant, and Donovan and Gibson - and we had an identity as husband and wife. It was something loosely resembling a normal life.

Mare said once that there were certain things that only normal people could have - things that didn't happen for people like us. I'd told her, a lifetime ago, that they could happen - that we could make them happen.

But I was wrong.

"Leave us."

I looked up, my brow creasing. My assistant looked to me for my approval, and I nodded. "That's fine, Georgia." I looked at Donovan. He was pacing, fidgeting. I had never seen him so shaken. "Sit down, Maxwell," I said quietly. "You're making me nervous."

"You should be nervous," he said in a low voice, but he complied. He waited until the door snicked shut, then spoke. But his words were ones I could never have predicted.

"It gestates."

I blinked, staring at him in bewilderment. "What?"

"Fossilised pathogen has turned up in Texas," he said gravely. Then, deliberately, "An infected man grew an extraterrestrial biological entity in his abdominal cavity."

My eyes opened very wide, and I sat back in my chair, stunned. "Oh, God." I brought my hand to my mouth, breathing deeply; I could feel the blood draining from my face.

"It gets worse," Donovan went on implacably. "The EBE disembowels the host in the course of being born. It goes on to perpetuate itself by infecting whomever it finds." He looked at me piercingly; said in a low voice, "You know what this means?"

I could feel the bile rising in my chest - anger, fear, and betrayal all at once. I said in mounting horror, "It means infection isn't just slavery - it's digestion and elimination. They've lied to us all along!" Donovan was nodding, his expression a grimace of fear. I got to my feet and paced; then turned back to him at last. "What now?" I demanded. "Are there plans in place to fight?"

Donovan said in a controlled voice, "My colleagues do not yet understand the need to fight the future." At my stunned look, he said tightly, "They're going to turn over the man and demand an explanation."

I stared at him in utter disbelief. "You're kidding."

"I only wish I were, Alex."

I breathed out heavily, thinking fast. I started pacing again. "All right," I said decisively. "We'll get Mulder and Scully on board. You can get Diana and Senator Sorenson. I can probably get Skinner - he hates me, but he's fond of Mare. We'll have a crisis meeting - see if between us we can't dig up enough skeletons to pressure the group. The X Files have been shut down. They don't have anything to lose. With them on board, we could take it to the Senate - make them justify their decision and formulate a defence strategy." I could feel the blood pumping, my sense of control returning - but Donovan was shaking his head.

"It's not as simple as that."

"What do you mean?" I demanded fearfully.

Donovan was grimacing again. An insane voice in my mind remarked that if the wind changed he'd stay like that. "They fear Mulder will expose them in exactly the way you suggest. To prevent that, they've taken Scully. She's infected." I closed my eyes for a long moment, dismayed.

"God. Where is she?"

"The installation in Antarctica."

I stared at him. "We have to give Mulder the vaccine - there's no other way." I was starting to feel a bit like a caged rat.

He protested, "There's a UFO on anchor there. If the vaccine gets into the treatment system, it will also get into the craft. It could alert the alien race to our work." His voice was rising: he was close to raw panic, and coming from such a controlled man, that fact frightened me more than anything else.

"We might have to risk that. We can't go public, even just to Congress, without her - Mulder's seen as a crank. Skinner won't back him without her, and I'm betting your buddy Sorenson won't come to the party without Skinner. Losing Scully will destroy everything." I looked at him. "You think a resistance of eight is bad? A resistance of a man who doesn't exist, a man wanted for murder and treason, and a single immune - that's worse."

He sighed heavily, pondering my words, and he saw that I was right. With three feds, an FBI executive, and a senator, we could achieve what we needed to achieve. We could fight the future, and there was even a small chance we might come out alive. But without-

"Where are we up to on lag times for the vaccine?" he said at last.

"It can be successfully administered within ninety-six hours now. Maybe a hundred for Scully," I added. "She'll seroconvert more slowly in the cold." I went to a locked cabinet, and opened it, removing five vials. I separated one and put it in a pouch with a needle, and put the other four in a second. I handed them to him. He looked at the second pouch questioningly. "For Diana and the kids," I explained. "Once you've given Mulder the vaccine, get them somewhere safe and make them immune. I'm going to do the same for Gibson. There's no guarantee we're going to be able to stop this."

He nodded slowly. "Thank you, Alex."

I held out my hand. "Go safely, old man." He shook it.

I never saw him again.

My labs were empty.

The doors to the five anterooms were open. No Georgia at the desk. No scientists in either of the two laboratories. No Gibson.

No Mare.

I raced into our room, took in at once the empty bed. There was no sign of a struggle, but there was a hypodermic needle on the floor. With rising panic, I crouched to pick it up, and saw traces of clear fluid in the barrel. I doubted it was pure saline.

Diana Donovan's voice came from behind me. It was gentle. "Alex."

I looked up, my heart pounding. "Diana," I said in a husky voice. "What happened?"

She came into the room, a little awkwardly, and I remembered she hadn't been out of the hospital very long. "Max is gone. Car bombing." She said sadly, "He was very good to me. Like a father."

"I'm sorry," I said hollowly. I felt like leaping to my feet, lunging at her, pushing her against the wall by her slender white neck, screaming at her to tell me what happened to Mare. I didn't do it, partly because I didn't have that kind of energy in me, and partly because I already knew she was gone.

Diana said quietly, "The alien rebels found out about the vaccine when Mulder used it in Antarctica. They demanded the handover of the scientists and the immunes. If we hadn't complied, they would have given their information to the colonists. Colonisation would have begun at once." She sat down on the bed in front of me.

"We?" I echoed angrily, rising from a crouch to my feet, my face dark with rage.

She should have looked afraid, but she didn't. She just looked up at me with that odd empathy in her eyes, and I remembered that she had lost a spouse not so long before. "I didn't do this," she said softly. "I found out about it after the fact." Oddly, I believed her.

"What will they do to her?" I demanded harshly.

She bowed her head. "They killed her, Alex."

I sank into the chair and closed my eyes in agony. "How?" I whispered.

She said reluctantly, "They burnt her." I flinched.

"You saw?" I whispered at last.

She shook her head. "One of my men did - my right hand man. I don't have any reason to suspect his account." She reached down, took my hand in hers and held it out, and put something into my palm. I stared down at it numbly.

Mare's wedding ring.

It was covered in soot, stained in delicate ebony trails where it had been licked by flames. The yellow sapphires were dulled, their settings littered with ash. Staring at it, I couldn't breathe.

Diana's voice was gentle. "She's gone, Alex."

And then suddenly I could breathe, but the breaths were deep and laboured. "Leave me," I burst out, gesturing blindly.

Her hands were on my shoulders. "Alex, I've been widowed, I know what this is like. I don't think you should be alone-"

I shook her off. "Leave me!" I roared. "Leave me!"

Nodding wordlessly, she rose and left the room; and when I heard the double doors close behind her, I screamed in pain. I kept screaming, cries of a mortally wounded animal, until I was hoarse; and then I was silent.

But still I screamed in my heart.

I was still there when Spender came the following day.

I heard him come into the labs, heard him quietly giving orders to his men to continue the work. I heard him introducing scientists to one another, telling them where to find things, and telling them that they were to report to me. He instructed them not to enter the bed-sitting room nearest the door - those were Mr Krycek's quarters. I ignored it all; he would come to me if he wanted to. If he dared.

At last, he appeared in the doorway. "Alex?"

I didn't look at him. "What do you want?" I asked morosely.

His voice was surprisingly level - no arrogance, no cynicism. He said simply, "I want to give you something."

"What is it?" I said dully.

"It's your wife."

I turned to face him, and stared at the box he held out. "Her ashes, Alex. I thought you might like to bury them, or scatter them."

I tried to scatter them. I took them to the plains of Ateni, her birthplace, place of our marriage. Such a grey place, and yet it had given us so much. I shook the box, and let the wind take her; but then I screamed in pain, and I ran after her, scooping up whatever ash I could find on the ground, holding it to myself. In the extremity of it I collapsed to the ground on my knees, holding what fragments of her I could, and I wept, begging her to stretch out her hand to comfort me from wherever she might be.

But she was silent.

I continued to work on the vaccine.

I didn't really know what else to do. Spender had given me continued control of the operation, so I stayed there more or less by default. I had nowhere else to go, except for Mare's apartment - mine, I supposed now - but that was much too painful to bear. Co-operating with Spender wasn't something that sat easily with me, but I had no reason to hate anymore. Everything that gave my life the layers of meaning that hate required was gone.

Not that my co-operation was total: I was passing intelligence to the Tunisians. There was no real method to my madness - I was just hedging my bets. I had the vague idea of eventually working on the vaccine away from Spender; but I couldn't seriously contemplate it for the time being. It all seemed too hard. I remained an American at heart, and I was choosy about the intelligence I passed on.

Before his death, Donovan had delivered the vaccine to Mulder in time to save Scully - she was ill, but nowhere near as ill as Mare had been, and that puzzled me. The Antarctic installation collapsed when the anchored UFO broke free, decimating a good part of the polar environment; the Australian government - with the backing of adjacent stakeholder Norway - pressured for ongoing investigation into the incident, and as a consequence the X Files were reopened. That was largely political appeasement, however: we had major conflicts with Australia already over wheat export concessions. The Bureau was quite happy for the X Files to be non-productive; so Spender was able to displace Mulder and Scully, replacing them with Diana Donovan and an unwitting Spender Jr.

With the X Files in his pocket, only Skinner remained as a wildcard, and Spender was anxious that he be controlled. I won't belabour the details of how I took him. It was all very political and technological, and I have little patience for either. The short version is this: Spender had been playing with nanotechnology - microscopic machines that behaved as pathogens. He had agreed to give the technology to the Tunisians; in exchange, he got the Tunisian vote for control of the vaccine project after Donovan's death. Once the vote was cast, Spender privately decreed that the deal should not proceed, and in any case I was determined to stop it. But neither Spender nor I could be seen to be the ones who prevented it.

The work on the technology was comparatively open, approved and funded in top-secret congressional sittings, and as a consequence the handover of the technology had to be more or less by the book. Spender had arranged for a senate resolution, SR819, which would allow the granting of money and medical technology to third world countries as a humanitarian measure. The technology was to be handed over under the provisions of that bill; if we stopped the bill, we could stop the handover.

In the end, I killed two birds with one stone. I infected Skinner with the nanocytes, manipulated he and Mulder into exposing the bill, damn near killed him, then brought him back. No more bill, and Skinner was under my control. I have to admit that I felt a little pride about that operation: it was clean and efficient, had a low body count, and I had my desired results in less than thirty-six hours. Mare would have praised me - and then she'd probably have slapped me, for Skinner. I never really got the friendship between those two, but it was strong.

But I felt something; that was the thing. Seven long months without her, and while I wasn't healing - I would never heal - perhaps the flow of blood was finally ebbing. The agony was losing some of its bite - or so I thought.

It had only just begun.

"Dear God."

I stared down at my lab table, strewn with facsimile copies and folders and medical charts. I remembered that fog just after Mare died, when my world fell apart. In a way, this was not much different. It hurt less, but it was just as shocking.

Diana Donovan came and peered over my shoulder. "What's the matter?"

I picked up a picture of Cassandra and waved it at her. It was an old picture - she'd still been married to Spender then. "She's the matter," I snapped, flinging it down again. I laid three charts side-by-side, and pointed. "Look at the dates and then look at the metabolic readings."

She did as I asked, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear in a way that reminded me eerily of Mare. Her eyes widened, and she froze. For long, long moments, she stared, her body still, her face deathly white, her strong, chiselled features lined with horror. "They've done it," she said harshly. "They've really done it."

I nodded. "A successful alien-human hybrid." I said quietly, "As soon as the alien colonists find out about this, she'll be handed over, and it will begin."

She looked at me squarely. "My husband died to prevent this," she said fiercely. "So did Max. I'm not letting it happen now."

"So did my wife," I said gravely. "What did you have in mind?"

She answered my question with a question. "Where are we on the vaccine?"

"Nowhere," I said wearily. "Even if we piggy-back it off another vaccine, people will stop complying as soon as the first lots of after-effects are reported. It's just not a viable candidate for mass vaccination."

Diana made a sound of frustration. "What about the water supply?"

I shook my head. "The dosage is too precise. It's not the sort of thing you can take in small quantities over time for a cumulative effect. We might get twenty percent of the population immune, but we'd also have forty percent unaffected and forty percent mortality."

"Forty percent mortality?" Diana repeated, horrified.

I nodded grimly. "Mostly the very young, the very old, and the infirm. Might be a good thing in Darwinian terms, of course," I added wryly.

She shook her head. "No, that's not acceptable."

"No, it isn't," I agreed. We were silent for some time, but at last, I suggested, "What about killing Cassandra? I know it's unpalatable-"

She cut me off. "She's protected. Spender will never kill her. She's the mother of his child." At my doubtful look, she insisted, "I know you think of him as heartless - you have reason to - but I'm telling you, Alex; that is one thing he will never allow."

"So what will he do?" I demanded. "Hand her over and take his chances on colonisation?"

"I think so," Diana said softly. "I know they never really intended to succeed on a hybrid - it was to buy time - but once they realise they could see their families again-" she broke off. "Think about it, Alex. If it were you, and letting it happen meant you could have Marita back. What would you do?"

"I don't know," I said harshly, but it was a lie.

Diana wasn't fooled. "Yes, you do," she asserted. "The same as I'd do for my husband. You'd say damn the world. Because you want her back, and you'd give up the world to do it."

I nodded slowly; admitted, "Yeah." I looked at her, pinned her down with my gaze. "How long do you think we've got?"

"Until Spender has the same intelligence we have?" I nodded. "A couple of hours, maybe. Openshaw won't tell him until they've tested - he'll want to be sure. The group will probably meet overnight. It could be in motion as soon as tomorrow evening." She spoke clinically, her eyes dull, her voice dead. I thought a part of her had already given up.

I watched her reflectively; at last, said, "Diana?" At her glance, I asked in a low voice, "Do you want the vaccine?"

She shook her head morosely. "You're going to need me, Alex." She looked very tired. "I think you should offer it to the scientists, though."

"Yeah." My cellphone rang, and I removed it from my pocket, opening the flip. "Krycek." I listened, hanging my head at the message being conveyed. I made vague sounds of thanks, then hung up, my face very white. I looked at Diana once more. "That was Spender."

"He knows?" she said fearfully.

I shook my head. "No, it isn't that." At her querying look, I said softly, "There's been another firestorm."

She did a double take at that. "Rebels?"

I shrugged. "Apparently. Openshaw is dead. They're all dead."

"Including Cassandra?" she said hopefully.

I shook my head. "They killed everyone but her."

Diana's jaw dropped a little. She demanded, perplexed, "Why? Their whole ideology is that the hybrids are a dilution of their race! Why let her live?"

"To lead them to the group?" I hazarded.

She nodded slowly. "That's a point. Kill the group to make sure the hybridisation stops."

I frowned - that didn't fit together. "But they know we're working on a vaccine. Surely they know we never really planned to go through with the hybridisation," I argued, trying to make sense of it.

Diana thought on this, but then she shook her head slowly. "Alex, I don't think they want to stop colonisation. They still want to colonise - just without hybridisation. If they can somehow cancel the deal, they will have the power among their own kind to take control of the invasion. They don't want us to have a vaccine any more than the colonists do." I nodded slowly. I hadn't thought of it that way. "Besides," she said hesitantly. "They don't know about the vaccine."

"What do you mean?" I demanded. "They demanded the immunes! That's why they wanted Mare-" I stopped suddenly, staring at her accusingly.

"I only found out a few days ago, Alex. I didn't think it would achieve anything to tell you," she said apologetically. "Gibson, Marita - it was just Spender clearing the board. But he wanted you to keep working on the vaccine for him, so he blamed the rebels. He convinced me, and that convinced you."

I felt the horror rise in my chest. "Son of a-"

Long, white hands on my arm. "Don't do this, Alex. He can't know you're against him. We have to try to stop this thing. Agreed?" Breathing deeply, I got control of myself. I nodded, my gaze locked on hers.


I waited for Jeffrey.

The group's offices at New York were deserted. The smell of cigarette smoke and aged liqueur was already lifting. A fine layer of dust seemed to have settled. The musty smell of marching decay was already gaining ascendancy, marking the passing of an age. Testosterone seeped through the leather and embedded itself in the wood panelling. It hung in the air like a vapour. It was a very male room, and as far as I knew, Mare had been the only woman ever admitted, besides domestic staff. The thought filled me with both pride and disgust. Feminists the elders were not.

Where the hell was Jeffrey?

I held him in my mind's eye, appraisingly. A weak, weaselly creature, not at all cut out for the work, and best left to a life of puckering up for his paycheck; but just recently Spender had insisted on his initiation. He could be groomed, the proud father had proclaimed, and I was just the one to do it. The irony that he entrusted me with his child when he had killed mine was not lost on me.

But Jeffrey had shown surprising mettle, disavowing his father when he learned of the experiments on his mother. He was the only person left who knew enough to help, but not enough to think to sell out. Perhaps - just perhaps - if I could get him to Fort Marlene, between us we could prevent his mother from being handed over.

I would give him five more minutes.

I frowned, thinking of Diana. She was pursuing her own path, pretending to help the older Spender as they prepared to surrender Cassandra. Or was she really helping him? Had she decided to give up the fight to save herself and Mulder? I didn't know, and I didn't much care. If she had, I couldn't blame her, in the circumstances.

There was a noise, and I rose, watching the door expectantly. "Jeff?" I called. He came in, closing it softly behind him. He was green. Some of that was the reflection of the light from the bottle green leather chairs. Most of it, though, was just Jeffrey being green.

"You're looking for your father," I said quietly. "He's gone. They've all gone."

"What do you mean?" he demanded, his face working. It was the look of a man who was in over his head, and sinking fast. The question now was whether he could swim. He had done it before when I'd thought it beyond him; perhaps he would again.

"Well, they've abandoned these offices," I said, waiting for it all to fall into place for him. I was careful to keep my voice even: Jeff was a bit like a rabbit sometimes, easily startled.

"But they've been here for fifty years!" he protested. Dammit, Gibson was less trouble than this. "Where did they go?"

"To West Virginia," I replied. "They'll begin medical preparations to receive the hybrid genes." Then, pointedly, "Except for your father. He's gone to get your mother."

He looked startled. He'd gone from rabbit to deer-in-the-headlights. "No one can get to her. I've got her secured away."

"Secured away?" I said, in disbelief at his naivete. "He's already had his doctors looking at her."

He protested, "I've got her under guard!"

"She's probably being prepared as we speak, Jeffrey."

I'll say this for Jeffrey: he took a while to latch on, but when he did, he was okay at putting things into action. I had a van waiting, and we drove to Fort Marlene, exchanging intelligence along the way. He knew a lot more than I'd expected, and it occurred to me that he might be worth cultivating as an ally, if by some miracle this catastrophe could be averted.

We parted company at the installation; him to try to find his mother, me to salvage whatever work and vaccine I could. If I couldn't save the world, I could sure as hell save myself, and whatever unfortunates I happened to find along the way. I threw him the keys to the van and told him to use it if he found Cassandra. I didn't really think he'd find her, and he didn't.

He found Mare.

There was a rebel at Fort Marlene.

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

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

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

My jaw dropped. "By who?"

He tapped a few keys. "CGB Spender."

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

More tapping. "X14 - classified miscellaneous."

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

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

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

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

The EBE was gone.

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

It was all for nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Not my wife.

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

Not my wife.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Gibson was alive.

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

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

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

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

I had to kiss her.

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

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

"Say it again. Mare."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Maybe we can have both."

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

"She was beautiful."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And Gibson is like one of those monkeys?"

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

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

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

"Still a bad thought," he said thoughtfully.

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

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

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

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

"Why?" I demanded.

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

"Your career won't be worth shit."

Wry shrug at that. "It never was."

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

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

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

"My father will survive," Jeffrey said dryly.

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

"Guys like him usually do."

Spender was alive.

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

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

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

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

That left only Mare.

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

It was awful to watch.

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

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

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

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

Mare was bleeding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Alex, I'm pregnant."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I turned and ran.

I walked for hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mare's blood.

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

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

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

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

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

"...ultrasound coming through..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

How could I ever face her again?

I abandoned her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She burst out, "My children-"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I want the oil stock."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sat forward. "I'm listening."

"The stock for the controller."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

I went to Tunisia alone.

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

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

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

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

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

It was Mare's.