Not My Lover cover art by Deslea

Not My Lover *NC17* 7/7

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) protected them from Spender's wrath for a time; but their clandestine operation in Tunguska cost the lives of her mother, Larissa, the dark man, X (Herrenvolk), and their accomplice, Benita Charne-Sayrre (Terma). They made Mulder immune with their new vaccine, believing that he would be pivotal to the resistance (Tunguska); but he reacted differently to the other subjects. The vaccine leaves the subject seriously ill and is not suitable for distribution, but they theorise that metabolic differences between the races might be the key.

After Spender exposed Marita to smallpox (Zero Sum), she miscarried; but was befriended by Skinner while under forced quarantine. The alien rebels destroyed the Russian operation (Patient X), leaving the couple - and an unwitting Skinner - with the only stocks of the pathogen and vaccine. After Marita was infected with the pathogen, Alex handed over his supply to save her and joined forces with the Englishman, Donovan, synthesising new improved formulas of the vaccine. While Marita recuperated, the couple lived at Fort Marlene and befriended Gibson Praise (The End), but she and Gibson were taken by Spender after Donovan's death (Fight The Future). Believing them to be dead, Alex continued to work on the vaccine for Spender, but passed intelligence to the Tunisians (SR819) and conspired with Diana (Fowley) Donovan to halt hybridisation.

After the rebels destroyed the American operation and all his stocks of vaccine, Alex found Marita and Gibson, seriously ill (One Son), and nursed them, severing ties with Spender and hiding Gibson in a boarding school. When she haemorrhaged, Marita revealed that she was several months pregnant after consenting intercourse during her imprisonment. The details are unclear. Devastated, Alex fled, but returned to help her hours later. Because of the delay, she lost her child and is unable to have children due to uterine scarring. Consumed with guilt, Alex abandoned her; but the death of Diana Donovan (Amor Fati) led him to begin the work once more, in order to fulfil his promise to vaccinate her children. He exchanged the nanocyte controller for Skinner's copy of the vaccine, and attempted to sell Michael Kritschgau's data to fund the work; but Spender's men caught him and had him thrown into a Tunisian prison (Amor Fati/Requiem).

After she recovered, Marita took Gibson to Tangier and found the Donovan children. She realised that Alex was missing and agreed to work for Spender in exchange for his location. She ensured Alex's safety, but left him there on Spender's instructions, on pain of the revelation of the truth about her child. She worked on the vaccine with the United Nations, and convinced the World Health Organisation to revive the Smallpox Eradication Program, as the vaccine needed it to work. She remedied the vaccine's after-effects by modifying Skinner's nanocytes and adding them to the formula, which has one-off regenerative properties as a result. She tested it successfully on Scully (En Ami) and herself. Promoted to Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, she convinced the UN to launch the vaccine program; the timetable for release is under twelve months. Skinner declared his love for her, but Marita counselled him to return to Scully. Now, Spender has revealed the existence of a small group of colonists who survived the rebel attack. They are working on hybridisation in Oregon, but their craft has crashed (Requiem). Spender wants Marita to find the craft so that he can offer himself as a hybrid, be healed, and survive. Marita, knowing that the colonists are the only ones close enough to be a threat before the vaccine gets out, has other ideas.


I know you have been wondering.

About Mulder and whatever became of him. About us, and what we did that brought about the new beginning we all share. I know you wonder about your daughter, and whether she is really yours - or whether she is even Dana's. And as Mare and I face our life anew, we have decided that you should know the truth of it.

We think of you often, Walter, especially now that we have Elena. It is for this reason that we have decided to send you these journals, to explain how it all came about. It is our gift to you in this precious time - a time that we finally share.

Before I go further, I will say this. On the day that we said goodbye, when Mare told you she had vaccinated Dana, we lied about when and how that came about, in a bid to preserve the friendship between us. The truth of it is elsewhere in these pages. However, the bare fact remains: Dana received the vaccine, and she received its regenerative properties; and that is how your child came to be. You need not hold any fears about her parentage, nor about her future.

The vaccination program progresses well, and I have enjoyed my work and the novelty of respectability; but Mare and I have resolved to resign our posts and remain in Tangier. Gibson's safety is paramount; no less important is the tranquillity we seek for all our children. Elizabeth and Shane aren't really ours, even now; but we have hope that that will change, as it has with Samuel. Even if it doesn't, though, we will still find ways of being a family - we always do.

I think you and Dana would like it here; and I hope that one day, when the wounds among us have healed enough, you will see it. It is a rambling house with an odd menagerie of children and pets - Mare even brought one of the lab monkeys - and the garden is beautiful. We spend most of our time out there with the sounds of the water and the warmth of the sun: after so long in darkness, we crave the light. Our happiness is undeserved, and that makes it all the more precious.

Mare is reading over my shoulder, and she sends her love as always. I know she is special to you as she is to me, and I believe you would find joy in seeing her as she is now. She runs about with the children in bare feet and white seersucker dresses, her hair long and unfettered; and her eyes are finally free of the shadows she has carried as long as I've known her. She's free now, as we all are.

And that alone has made it all worthwhile.

"Your release has been arranged."

I turned my head sharply at the words. They drew my attention with their language and their content; but most of all, with their sound. They were spoken in a high, clear voice - a female voice, an American voice, a strong voice.

A voice I'd thought I would never hear again.

Unbelieving, I pushed my way forward, parting a way through a sea of inmates, my footfalls reverberating in my mind. Her voice cut through my carefully nurtured oblivion; and as I approached her, I was cruelly aware of my broken state. I steamed filth and stench; my pores were dripping with it. It clung to the fine whiskers that protruded mercilessly from my flesh; it was embedded in the fibres of my clothes - clothes I had worn for a year. My sleeve was knotted, evidence of a loss I preferred to conceal. I had left her as she lay in the twilight between life and death; now, as I pushed my way to the front of the cell, she found me broken, and she was strong. I hated myself, and I hated her for leaving me here, and I hated her for seeing me this way.

"Marita Covarrubias," I hissed, deliberately using her maiden name. "The last time I saw you, I left you for dead."

I regretted it even before the hurt flickered over her eyes - it was a cruel, unnecessary thing to do, and part of me knew that even before she drew herself up and cut me down as I deserved. "Alex, if it was strictly up to me, I'd leave you here to rot, too," she said, her dismissal mercilessly efficient; and it stung, though I had no right to expect anything else.

The guard opened the cell, sliding the barred gate aside; but I didn't even see him. I saw only the sudden absence of barrier between us. I stepped out, advancing on her, my gaze locked on hers. Her scent washed over me. Mine must have washed over her, too; but she didn't step back. I didn't think she would. She only asked in Arabic to be escorted to the shower, her voice mildly neutral, her eyes never leaving me.

We walked to a room that passed for a bathroom in silence, and when the guard left us, she nodded towards a bench. There were toiletries and clothes waiting - and my prosthesis. Still, she didn't speak; still, she betrayed no reaction to me; but I noticed that the jeans were in my normal cut and the toiletries were in my usual brands. Even under her steely gaze, it comforted me to know that someone knew me so well.

She made no move to leave, which I supposed was fair enough, given we'd been married nearly five years. As for the idea of asking her to go - that opened a whole new can of worms. The only thing that made me more uncomfortable than her seeing me this way was the idea of her perceiving my discomfort about the fact. So I went to the sink and shaved, clipped my nails, cleaned my teeth - anything to delay exposing myself to her. But soon, there were no tasks left; and my desire to be clean was fast outstripping the problem of her scrutiny. She'd left me here, after all; let her live with what it had done to me.

So I stripped, horribly aware of the wasting in my muscles and the dark shadows in the hollows of my stomach and my chest. She watched me steadily, her expression inscrutable; but she closed and unclosed her fingers compulsively, and I was bitterly pleased that I could still touch her that way. I felt my self-awareness and discomfort melt away: it wasn't really her seeing that bothered me, but the thought that she mightn't care.

I stood under the hot spray, relishing the feel of it, cleaning myself unselfconsciously. I looked at her appraisingly, making no attempt to hide the fact. Before I'd come here, I'd known she was strong again; but I hadn't seen her, and to do so now was something that gave me real warmth. Despite the bitterness I'd felt towards her over the last year - and there hadn't really been a lot of it - I had always wanted that for her.

The wasting was gone. She was svelte, but toned...powerful. Her hair was longer, the way it had been when we were first married; and it was glossy. I remembered plunging my hands into that hair on our wedding night, cradling her, plundering her with my mouth. I closed my eyes, flinging my head back to face the shower spray, banishing these images. I was hard, and I wondered if she'd noticed; then decided I'd rather not know.

"Who sent you?" I demanded at last, determined to focus on something else. Something other than my wife, and how I wanted to stalk across the room in three strides and take her; never mind the guard outside, never mind her crisp white clothes, never mind that she almost certainly despised me, and with good cause.

"The smoking man," she said, and that didn't surprise me: she had to have been in contact with him to find me in the first place. The surprise was in the words that followed. "He's dying."

I stared at her, slack-jawed, thunderstruck. She didn't elaborate. Instead, she said quietly, "Did you have any trouble in here?"

I shook my head. "No. By day I could take care of myself, by night I was in solitary." I wiped streaming water from my face; said pointedly, "I guess that birthday bracelet was money well spent."

She retorted coolly, "Actually, I wanted them to treat you worse, but you know how bad my Arabic is." She walked past me, tossing her hair in a show of false bravado, moving towards her bag.

Quick as lightning, I reached out and pulled her against me, holding her roughly by the arm. She gave a cry of protest as the spray hit her, drenching her in an instant. Her face was upturned, and I lowered my lips to hers. "You're full of shit, Marita," I hissed, my mouth brushing her as I spoke. The length of her body was moulded to mine, wet and cool; our skin was almost touching, only a sliver of wet fabric between us. My hardness brushed her stomach, not pressing into her, but not held away, either.

The tension was incredible.

Her breaths came in shallow gasps; bright spots of colour rose on her cheeks. Water coursed over her, clinging to her hair and her eyelashes in tiny droplets. Her eyes were gleaming, her mouth open a little; and her breaths came in irregular, shallow pants. I could feel my body crying out to hers as though for a missing part of myself. I thought I would have to either thrust her away or have her right then - I could have done it in an instant, just by pulling aside her skirt and lifting her onto me; and I think that she would have allowed it - but I did neither of those things. Instead, my hold on her loosened, and I burst out in genuine laughter.

"What?" she demanded, affronted, breathlessly confused.

"It's good to see you, Mare," I sighed, grinning amiably - and whatever else had happened between us, it was. My body still throbbed for her, but the tension was dissipating - both physical and otherwise.

She shot me an unwilling smile. "It's good to see you too, Alex," she admitted, her voice suffused with genuine warmth. She stepped away, chagrined. "You made me wet, you son of a bitch."

I pulled the crude lever, shutting off the water, and went to her, taking the towel she held out. "Sorry."

"No, you're not," she said good-naturedly. She sat down on the bench, wiping her hair with a towel for a few moments; but soon discarded the idea as futile. I slipped on my prosthesis and fastened the strap across my chest, and flexed the hand experimentally. I still had the muscle control to operate the myoeletric sensors, much to my relief.

She handed me a shirt. Her dress was drying in the heat, but I could still see the damp lines of her underwear. She regarded my groin appraisingly. "You're going to need a shoehorn to get your trousers on," she said clinically.

"Don't be crass." I pulled on my jeans and turned away to fasten them, not wanting her to see me wrestle with the task, and I could hear her breathing become erratic as she struggled heroically against sounds of mirth. Shooting her a filthy look, I sat down at her side; but she gave me a gorgeous smile in response. I returned it ruefully. "How are the children?"

"Good," she said, pushing aside a dripping tendril of her hair. She flicked the water from her fingers at me irritably. "Gibson's been missing you. He's in Tangier now, with the others. We're going to have to spend some time with them when this is over." I was going to ask what she meant by 'this', but decided it could wait. "Samuel is okay, but Elizabeth and Shane are still pretty traumatised. They're struggling."

I nodded slowly. "What's the guardianship situation?"

"You're guardian under Diana's will," she said, and that didn't surprise me. It had come down to Mulder or me, and Mulder hadn't known they existed. "I've been exercising power of attorney to make decisions about their care." Then, hastily, "I'll hand over the reins to you now, of course."

"Don't be silly," I reproved. We were silent for a long moment, and I was conscious of renewed tension. It was the first time we'd referred, even obliquely to our separation. Hastily, I asked, "What does Spender want?"

"What he *wants*," she said deliberately, "is for us to locate a group of surviving colonists so that he can offer himself as a hybrid and be healed." My eyes widened, both at the news of survivors and at the implications of Spender's plan. She gave a grim smile. "But what he's going to get is another matter."

I regarded her curiously. "You've got a plan." How tantalising it was to see her like this - calculating, planning, acting. She exuded power and latent strength. I'd loved to watch that even before she was sick; I loved it a thousand times more now.

"I've got better than that," she said with sudden, shy pride. "I've got a vaccine."

I stared at her, thunderstruck. "One that can be distributed?" I said sharply. She nodded with a childlike grin - gleeful and ear-to-ear - and I hugged her impulsively, holding her close against my body. Pulling back to hold her by the shoulders, I said with awed satisfaction, "You did it, Mare!"

"*We* did it," she corrected; and then we both became aware that I was holding her, and we broke apart abruptly. She cleared her throat, and went on hurriedly, "The World Health Organisation has already approved a timetable for its distribution." I looked at her with admiration. I had the political background, but she had an instinct for it that I didn't. It was fascinating to watch. She went on deliberately, "We only need eight months. As far as I know, these colonists are the only ones that could pose a threat between now and then - no-one else could get here in time."

I stared at her, comprehending the danger. "We've got to find them," I said urgently. She nodded gravely:

"Let's end this thing once and for all."

There was war amid the silence.

We didn't speak in the plane. Instead, she drowsed, and I watched her intently. My muted anger at her for leaving me in that hellhole was not diminished by time; nor was my remorse. I waged an inner war over her, like a forbidden land with suspect treaties and conflicting claims. My love and my anger fought for supremacy over her - over me - and love was winning.

I wanted to kiss her tenderly. I wanted to kiss her hard, aggressively, possessively. I wanted her to forgive me. I wanted her to hate me, so that I could hate her. And underneath it all was a desire to drag her into my arms and never let go. How much of that was love, and how much the headiness of her scent after two-and-a-half years' celibacy, I couldn't have said.

We disembarked in Casablanca. Our connecting flight was not til morning, so she proposed a hotel. Eager to sleep in a proper bed, I gratefully agreed.

The concierge asked for a name, and Mare said smoothly, "Marita Krycek." I shot her a glance; but she had said it automatically and was unaware of the fact. By the time she looked up, my expression was carefully neutral once more. She asked for a twin room without consulting me, and I didn't argue the point. I waited to be told they had only doubles; but that didn't eventuate. Evidently, my life had not yet become a cheesy soap opera. I'm not sure whether I was disappointed or relieved.

We settled in the room, and I sank gratefully into a hot bath, soaking up the little luxuries of freedom. Mare came in with a drink - Dom Benedictine, my favourite - and handed it over wordlessly, her expression neutral. "It's not poisoned, is it?" I asked dryly, taking the glass. At her filthy look, I mumbled an apology.

"Don't get excited," she reproved, sitting on the edge of the tub. "It was the first thing I laid my hands on in the minibar." At my doubtful look, she snapped, "Oh, damn it, Alex, it is poisoned. Just shut up and drink." I laughed and did as I was told. It was my first Benedictine in a year. If it were poisoned, it would be worth it.

We drank in silence, but at last, she spoke. "I'm sorry I left you in that place," she said matter-of-factly. I looked at her, frowning, querying. "Spender threatened me if I got you out," she said by way of explanation, and I nodded in sudden understanding. She met my gaze, then gave a low sigh. She said contritely, "But I shouldn't have left you there. It was a cowardly thing to do."

I waved my hand in dismissal of this. "Forget it," I said easily. "Chalk one up for bad karma." At her dubious look, I sighed; said gravely, "I blame him, Mare, but I don't blame you." That wasn't entirely true - or hadn't been, at any rate - but threats or not, I was prepared to let her off the hook for it. After all, I abandoned her first.

"Thank you," she said softly. She rose to leave, but she stopped at the door. "I have something of yours," she said abruptly. She pulled something from her pocket and left it on the handbasin, silver and gleaming.

Not silver. White gold.

My wedding ring.

She turned and left, closing the door gently behind her.

I rose in a single movement, water sliding off me in a rush, and stepped out of the bath, staring at it. I remembered them ripping it from my hand at the penal colony a year before; and I remembered Mare handing over twenty thousand dinari there earlier that day, and thinking that it was an overly generous bribe just for my release. Looking up at the closed door, I wondered what she would think if I left it off. I wondered what she would think if I put it on. And then I decided I didn't care what she thought. I was her husband, and that hadn't changed.

With a reflective sigh, I put it on, and I have worn it ever since.

We were fighting.

I'd tell you what the fight was about, if I could remember. Something stupid, undoubtedly. The air was thick with renewed tension when I came out of the bathroom; Mare was morose and petulant, and the next thing I knew we were squabbling like children. We were on a hair-trigger, both of us; ready for war, ready for love, navigating a precarious tension between the two.

At last, fed up, I started for the door, with no clear idea of where I would go. The bar, maybe. "I don't need this, Marita," I snapped in frustration, grabbing the doorknob.

She grabbed my arm, turning me around roughly. "Damn it, Alexi-"

She stopped, realising her mistake. In using the old name she had revealed something of how she thought of me. She pushed me away abruptly. "Alex," she corrected breathlessly.

I pulled her back to me, just as abruptly, lowering my face to hers. I kissed her, hard; and she kissed me back with a sound of longing, her mouth warring with mine, aiming to conquer rather than surrender.

She lifted her hands to my hair, threading fingers through it, holding me to her. She pressed herself against me, so warm, so powerful, so exquisitely strong. She pushed me against the door, pulling my shirt out of my jeans, her hands sliding up my back, shooting a line of lazily-growing fire over my nerves.

I stroked down her shoulder to her breast, my hand firm on her, yielding no more than she did. "Mare," I breathed into her mouth, sliding my hand back up over her neck, teasing her hair relentlessly with my fingers. I engulfed her mouth with mine, determined to subdue her and bend her to my will; not tamed, only kept in check. My wanting was urgent, aggressive; but against sanity, against even instinct, I felt my avid need for her recede in the face of something more. My hold on her became less fierce, and my mouth slowed, kissing her forehead, then her lips once more.

Her hands flew to my face, fingertips dancing on my cheeks, as our kiss grew tender. I tasted her lips, dipped my tongue between them delicately, cherishing her. I cradled her head, soft hair threaded between my fingers. No longer was I duelling with my opponent; I was loving my wife, the woman I had given my life to; and I was lost to her all over again. I gave myself over to her, sighing in rueful surrender. I slid my hand into the top of her shirt at the back, pulled it aside, kissed the soft whiteness of her neck. She gave a low sound, and I stayed there for a long moment, breathing her scent, intoxicated.

Suddenly, she tore away. "Damn it, Alex," she shouted, "I won't be your whore!" She pulled her shirt back in place, and stalked out onto the balcony. I watched her go unhappily, and sank morosely into a chair, my head in my hand.

At last, I rose, and followed her out there. She was sitting on the chaise lounge, smoking. I hadn't seen her do that in years. She didn't look at me when I sat at her side; but we sat there in an oddly companionable silence, looking out over the streets of Casablanca. I could see the lights of El Jadida dimly in the distance.

"I don't think of you that way," I said, at last. "No matter how hurt I've been, I've never thought of you that way. Never," I repeated at her sharp look. "What happened back there wasn't just being alone all this time. It wasn't just sex." I finished in a low voice, "It's never just sex between us."

"No, it isn't," she agreed softly.

I took one of her cigarettes without asking. We sat there, smoking; but at last, she said curiously, "What did you mean at Forj Sidi Toui? About leaving me for dead?"

I hung my head remorsefully. "I shouldn't have said that, Mare."

"No - I said things I shouldn't have, as well," she said apologetically. "But you meant something by it, and I would like to know what it was."

I looked at her, perplexed. "What I did to you," I said in self-reproach. "The way I left you."

"Left me?" she echoed in bewilderment. "You saved me, Alex. I was dying. You got me help just in time."

I said painfully, "You were dying because I walked off my anger for five hours instead of staying to help you. You were dying because I was a self-absorbed coward." At her stunned look, I said, "You didn't know that?"

Slowly, she shook her head. "I remember asking you to help me, and then I remember waking up in the hospital, after it was all over, and you weren't there." Her voice was even, but low, and tinged with sadness.

"You lost your child because of me," I confessed, my face hot with shame.

She watched me for a long moment. She was frowning thoughtfully. "Please look at me, Alex," she said at last. Her voice was gentle. Reluctantly, I complied, and she said softly, "You don't seriously think I could have carried to term in the condition I was in, do you?"

I shrugged uncertainly, my shoulders hunched. I said in a low, raw voice, "Your fertility-"

"Probably doomed the moment the placenta tore away," she said implacably. "That wasn't your doing."

I said harshly, "You could have died, Mare."

She stared at me in realisation. "You've been blaming yourself," she said with wonder - and compassion.

I hung my head, swallowing hard. "I couldn't face you, Mare. Not after what I cost you." My voice was thick with pain.

"That's why you stayed away?" she gasped, her cheeks wet with sudden tears. At my silent nod, she said in anguish, "I thought it was because of the child." Her eyes were wide, unnaturally bright.

I stared at her, stunned. "No," I whispered, shaking my head. "I made peace with that the night it happened." She bowed her head, the lines of her body slumped, her cheeks glistening with silent tears in the light of the moon. "I never intended any harm to you or your child, Mare. I hope you can believe that, even if you can't forgive."

She met my gaze once more. "I do forgive you, Alex," she said softly. She took my hand in hers and threaded her fingers through mine. I held it tightly.

We stayed that way, silently watching the stars. "Alexi?" she said at last. At my look, she went on in a low voice, "I'd like to tell you about the child...about why it happened."

I shook my head. "I don't want to know." I spoke more sharply than I'd intended, and she drew back a little. "I don't need to know," I amended more gently, squeezing her hand reassuringly.

"Maybe not," she whispered. "But I think I need to tell - if you're willing to hear," she added hesitantly. I didn't want to hear it, but I had abandoned her too many times already; so I nodded. She explained, "I'd been in the tests for five months. The scientists were talking - they thought I was asleep."

"What did they say?" I asked; but I thought I already knew the answer. There were discussions I'd had about my own prisoners at Norylsk - sick prisoners who had been tested to the very brink of death. I understood the danger to her in that time, perhaps better than she had herself. The full weight of my own wrongdoing hit me then, and I flinched with sudden agony.

She was staring at the floor, struggling for composure, and she didn't notice. "That my body was so decimated that my results were unreliable. They didn't know what was the vaccine and what was drug interactions and what was my illness anymore."

"They were going to list you for termination," I said slowly, squeezing her fingers tightly.

"Yeah." She looked at me; said reflectively, "I remembered what you said about me being valuable because I was fertile - that they would want to know whether the immunity was hereditary." I sighed heavily, my eyes closed in sudden pain. I wasn't sure whether to be thankful or to hate myself. "I didn't even know if I could get pregnant," she said helplessly. "I was so sick. But my cycle was still normal, so I thought - maybe-" she broke off, shaking her head miserably.

"How did you do it?" I asked quietly, without reproach.

She looked away for a long moment. She said, oddly reserved, "I asked a guard if I could see Gibson." Looking at me once more, she explained, "I said that I understood it was a concession, and that I would reciprocate with one of my own. That's how I knew where to find him when you got us out." She went on, her voice low and raw, "He - it wasn't violent or - or rough - but it-" she broke off, shaking her head, impatient with her own weakness. "I can't," she said suddenly. All at once, I drew her close, laying her head on my shoulder, holding her tightly, sadly. I buried my face in her hair. She clung to me, said in a dull voice, "I'm sorry, Alex."

I shook my head; pulled away, quoting softly, "We all do what we have to do to survive, Mare." I stroked back her hair. "We are man and wife. Your sins are my sins." She smiled faintly in the moonlight, remembering that day in Tunguska. "There is no room for punishment between us."

She nodded in acceptance of this. "I love you, Alexi." She drew up my fingers to her lips; brushed them pensively. "I never stopped."

"I love you," I rejoined. "You're still my wife." I looked at her, meeting her gaze. "You're still my life."

She rested her head against mine, forehead to forehead for a long moment; then rose, our hands still entwined. She tugged gently, and I got up. "Let's get some sleep," she whispered.

I nodded, and I followed her, but I was troubled. Something about her account didn't hold water. I had a sudden feeling she was holding something back, but decided not to pursue it. Mare had been in a war, and you don't push people who've been in a war.

That didn't stop me from speculating, of course. Her story held up, but the way she'd looked away when she identified a guard as the father troubled me greatly. I remembered her when I found her, frail, marred by her illness. I'd wanted her then as now, but I was her husband: she was always beautiful to me. To another man, an objective man - and I would never say this to her - she wasn't, in that time, a woman to be touched with desire. With pity, or horrified self-loathing, perhaps, but not desire. It took a particular mentality to accept an offer such as she had proposed, and that mentality wasn't something I could reconcile with a strapping young Marine. It was the mentality of a man drunk on power above all else, a man who would accept such an offer just because it was one more opportunity to exercise that power.

Supposing Spender-

I froze, biting off the end of that awful, awful thought; but it wouldn't leave me. I stared at her retreating back; imagined his hand on it, imagined her staring at him - this man who had killed her mother and her child - and the strength it must have taken to allow it without weeping or screaming.

No. Absurd. Unthinkable. Why did it matter who it was anyway? And then the answer, inescapable in its logic and mortally sad in its meaning:

Because it mattered to her.


I blinked. "Yes, Mare?" I couldn't quite keep the raw compassion from my voice.

"What is it?" I realised I'd stopped still near the lounge, my hand still in hers.

I watched her steadily. "Nothing. It's nothing," I said softly.

She held my gaze for a long moment, watching me appraisingly, her expression doubtful; but she shrugged. "Okay." She looked over at the two single beds, side by side. "The floor?" she said questioningly, and I nodded absently. She started moving cushions and pillows to the floor, and I followed suit, watching her, still troubled.

We knelt on the floor, and she started to take off her clothes, but I took her hand, staying her. "Mare?" She looked at me, her expression querying. "I don't need to reclaim you like some macho caveman," I said in a low voice. "I'd like to think I'm better than that."

Her look was gentle. "You are better than that," she said softly. "But I want to be reclaimed. I want to be yours. I want you to be mine." She was smiling.

"I am," I said ruefully.

She slid her arms around my shoulders. She leaned into me, and kissed me with warm, tender lips. "Then make love to me. Take what's yours."

So I did.

I looked on him in horror.

Mare had warned me that he looked bad, but I hadn't been prepared for this. He was still the man who killed my child, who took my wife and son away; but he was also wretched...pathetic. I watched him, transfixed, disgusted and dismayed in turns.

"I heard about your incarceration," Spender said mildly, oblivious to my reaction.

"You had me thrown in that hellhole," I snapped bitterly. It was the least of his sins; but if I let myself think of the others, I would kill him with my bare hands.

"For trying to sell something that was mine, was it not?" he retorted in a rattling whisper. "I hope we can all move forward...put the past behind us. We have a singular opportunity now."

"A singular opportunity?" I said dumbly. He believed Mare and I were estranged, and it was better that he continued to believe that. If he thought he could play us against one another, perhaps we could make that to our advantage. Better that he thought she'd left me in the dark.

"There's been a crash in Oregon. An alien craft has collided with a military aircraft..."

I tuned out. I already possessed the information, and my attention had been caught by something else. Something about Mare, and how she carried herself - not quite at my side, but a half-step behind, subtly putting me between herself and Spender. Her breathing was shallower than usual, something only a husband would notice. Her face was as inscrutable as ever, but there was an odd harshness in the lines of her cheek and her chin, something overly controlled. The question that had occurred to me fleetingly the previous night, like a snake raising its head, suddenly came to me again, this time at full force. And this time, I could not nervously dismiss the idea as absurd. This time, reluctantly, sadly, I was sure.

It was Spender.

It was Spender to whom Mare had offered herself. It was Spender whom she had taken into herself, taking life from him - this man who had only ever brought death - in a desperate bid to save her own. And she had carried his child willingly, nurturing it in spite of its paternity and in spite of her frailty, carrying it for four months against all odds through sheer power of will. It made me deeply, mortally sad.

"...our chance to rebuild the project," he finished in pitiful glee. I couldn't speak, or move; because if I moved, I would kill him - I was certain of it. I wanted to kill him; I wanted to hurt him; I wanted to bring him down the short distance left to his knees. I wanted all those things; all those things any man wants - any decent man - when another man violates the most precious thing in his world. But more than anything, I wanted it all to be over. I wanted to take her home to Tangier, to shelter her and help her to forget. Neither before nor since have I hated so much and loved so much in a single moment.

"How do you know someone hasn't already recovered it?" Mare was saying, saving me from the need to respond. Her voice was cold. Spender looked at us smugly.

"It's never quite so easy."

I hated leaving her.

I hated knowing that she would be with him in my absence, that she would sit stiffly in that apartment in the furthest chair from him that she could, that she would endure his presence with cold revulsion. It brought out all my protective instincts. I toyed with the idea of taking her to Oregon with me, but that would reveal our unity to him; and we needed his information. He was giving it out piecemeal in a bid to protect himself and his plans.

Mulder and Scully were in Oregon, too, looking for a missing policeman who had been abducted. The colonists were swiftly collecting up their test subjects, and the Bellefleur population was dropping at an alarming rate. Time was running out before the ship could be located; before it moved on with its subjects in tow.

Mare hacked into the FBI's e-mail server and was able to add to our information. There was a location in the woods, near where the policeman had gone missing, in which Scully had experienced a strange collapse. "She speaks of a sense of being lifted and shaken," she said absently, and I could hear her fingers tapping at lightning speed over her keyboard. "She's not certain whether that's actually what happened, though. She's very noncommittal here. I won't tell you what Skinner wrote back - it's personal - but he's pretty worried."

I frowned, thinking it over. "I was on the phone to Spender earlier on. He says the craft is shielded by some kind of energy field."

"I was there," she said, her tone noticeably cooler. Then, in a worried voice, "Do you think Scully might have run into the field?"

"More like tripped over it, by the sounds of things," I mused into the phone.

"It didn't let her in," she said slowly. The keyboard tapping had stopped. "That's bad news. I'd already stolen one of her implant chips from the Pentagon. She's an abductee - I was sure she'd get aboard."

I said grimly, "So was I."

"So how do we breach it?" she demanded urgently. "What could it be looking for in the people it lets in, besides implants?"

It was a good question, and not one I'd considered in exactly those terms. "Something involving electrical impulses," I hazarded. "Something with set fluctuations that an energy field can detect."

"Brain waves?" Mare wondered. She said thoughtfully, "Spender's operation was around the frontal lobe when he took the hybrid genes from Mulder."

I damn near choked. "What did you say?" She started to speak, and I amended, "No, I know what you said - I mean, are you saying it might let Mulder aboard?"

There was a moment of dead silence; and then she said slowly, "Why, yes...yes, I think it might."

"We could end it," I said breathlessly. "*He* could end it."

"He could," she agreed slowly. "You still have a stiletto somewhere, and there are explosives...there are ways." She sounded wary. "But Alexi," she asked, very gently, "are you sure you want to do this?"

She'd cut to the heart of it, as she always did. I hung my head miserably. "No," I said morosely, "but it has to be done. It's gone too far, Mare. Too many people have died. It has to end here."

There was a rustling sound. I could picture her nodding. "That's true," she conceded.

"Mulder has no family, no children - just the work," I said, urgently. "And the work is about to end. Maybe he was born for this - to die so that others can live."

Her voice was gentle. "Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?"

"Mare, please-" I stopped short, my breath catching in my throat.

"I'm not trying to be unkind," she said softly. "Think whatever you need to think to get through - and for what it's worth, I think you might be right. But you loved him. I don't begrudge that - I never have. You don't have to go through this alone."

My face felt very hot - with shame, with pain, with sorrow. "You're very good to me, Mare," I said thickly.

She gave an indulgent sound. "I love you, Alex," she sighed. "Try to get some sleep."

But sleep was a long time coming.

"Why me and why now?"

A lesser man might have asked first where the alien craft came from, or how we knew about it; but not Mulder. Trust him to get right to the heart of the matter in a single stroke. And I would have told him; but Skinner was there, and this was one quest Mulder had to face alone.

But he was waiting for an answer; so I gave him another truth, a lesser one. "I want to damn the soul of that cigarette-smoking son of a bitch." I said it with venom, and Mare shot me a worried glance; but didn't comment.


Mulder, Mare, Skinner and I turned in unison, confronting Scully as a single unit; and for a long moment, she stared at us, transfixed. I hadn't seen her in several years, and for just a second she appeared to me as her sister - the sister I carried with me, along with the rest of my victims. I blinked, and the illusion passed.

Mare broke the silence. "Agent Scully, we haven't met. I'm Marita Krycek." Abruptly, Mulder turned to face me, putting it all together at last; but I ignored him, moving to Mare's side, sending an unobtrusive but firm message. I wanted to get the speculation over with as quickly and quietly as possible.

"Hello," Scully said evenly, but she didn't offer her hand. She went on, discernibly colder, "Hello, Krycek." Dimly, I heard Mulder conducting a muted telephone conversation in the background.

"Good to see you, Scully." She raised her eyebrows at that, but didn't comment; only looking from Mare and I to Skinner, and back again. I wondered how much he had told her in bed - and how much he hadn't. I was pretty sure that the identity of his best friend's husband fell into the latter category. She looked pissed.

Mulder put the phone back in its cradle. "All right, people," he said in a high voice. "The Gunmen will be here in an hour with some data for us, so we have some play time." He shot us a look. "We should all stay close together," he said warily. "There's safety in numbers."

We all nodded, and we passed the next little while in Skinner's office, chatting. Skinner handed around drinks, and he and I talked amicably. Our friendship, if you could call it that, had always been on a provisional basis; but, bound by a common fondness for Mare, we'd become skilled at co-existence. Scully and Marita exchanged small talk for a while. I'm not quite sure what small talk women exchange, but they were similar in temperament, and they seemed to get along all right. Mulder watched Marita and I in turn, his expression wary.

The dark man had said once that anyone could see that Mare and I were committed to one another. Mare told me about it because she'd thought it was a peculiar choice of words. I had to admit that he was right. Watching ourselves in an attempt to perceive us as Mulder and Scully perceived us, I noted with amusement the multitude of little ways we gave ourselves away. We didn't use endearments, but there were other things - the way when Skinner absent-mindedly passed me a drink from my left, Mare automatically reached for it and passed it to my hand on my right, still talking, unaware that she'd done it. Scully's eyebrows shot up in trademark fashion at that. It felt very peculiar; but it also felt good. The number of people who knew us as husband and wife was small. In being perceived that way, I felt the shy pride I'd felt in Russia as a newlywed. It was so ridiculously sweet to feel that way, but I didn't mind - not really. Ridiculously sweet was an improvement on most things I felt that day.

I'm not sure how it happened, but eventually, Scully and I wound up talking. Mare was talking to Skinner, I think, and Mulder was on the phone with the Gunmen; and we were the odd ones out. We talked awkwardly for a few moments about the weather, then fell silent.

"You were there with Luis Cardinale when he shot my sister, weren't you?" she asked presently. I started to protest, but she said, "I'm not going to slug you, Krycek. I just want to know."

I watched her for a long moment; but finally, I nodded. "Yes, I was there."

She deliberated for a few moments; but at last, she asked, "I just- really need to know, Alex. Did she - did she suffer?"

I didn't want to answer, but dimly, I recognised that it was important do so. It was something that cost me only remorse - remorse I already lived with - but that would give so much. After a long moment, I shook my head. "It was dark. She never saw us. She wasn't afraid. She didn't even cry out, and she was unconscious before she hit the ground. She didn't suffer."

Scully nodded. "Thank you." She gave a low sigh, but betrayed no other reaction.

"Try not to think too badly of us," I said softly. "We've been on the same side, all along."

"You killed people," she said, not so much in accusation as a statement of fact.

"So have you."

"Never an innocent," she countered, looking at me.

"I've killed a few so a much greater number could live," I said. "I know that's not your ethic, and maybe it isn't the right one; but it's an ethic nonetheless." I looked across the room at Mare thoughtfully. "We've all lost so that the world could live - a world that will never care," I added bitterly. "Every quest has casualties, and we had no more choice in our quest than you did in yours."

That seemed to touch her for a moment, but then she frowned. "What do you know of loss?" she demanded. "And I don't mean your arm. We're all maimed here, one way or another."

I nodded, acknowledging the truth of this. "Two children," I said softly. Scully flinched, and I knew she was thinking of Emily. "They had Mare in the tests. She was gone for eight months. She was a prisoner of war," I said distantly, thinking of Spender and the child, "and she suffered like one. And she didn't have the mercy of amnesia." Scully glanced over at her with a fleeting look of empathy. "They told me she was dead," I said softly. "That cigarette smoking son of a bitch even gave me ashes and told me they were her." She was looking at me once more, her brow creased with horrified compassion. I looked at her, suddenly really seeing her. I said sharply, "I know what you think of me, Scully, but I love my wife."

"I can see that," she said quietly. She asked curiously, "How long have you been married?"

"Five years in February." She looked genuinely surprised, and I gave a rueful laugh. "I know what you're thinking. How does a guy like me wind up with a woman like her?" I shot her a wry smile.

"Actually, I was thinking that a man who remembers his wedding anniversary can't be all bad."

She laughed at my expression, and then she rose, and left me.


I looked up as Mulder sat down at my side. He was holding a folder emblazoned with the UN logo. It had a broken security seal. He was ashen.

"Mare told you?" I said, nodding to the folder. Mare shot me a glance from across the room, then made a beeline for Skinner and Scully, engaging them in conversation, carefully positioning herself so that they faced away from us. I gave her a nod of thanks.

Mulder looked confused for a second, but then realised I spoke of Marita. "Yes. There's a working vaccine - it goes out in eight months." He said dryly, "Bet you cashed in on that."

How could he know me so well and so badly at the same time? I shrugged indifferently. "Nowhere near as much as we could have. Enough to take care of Mare and the children, that's all."

Mulder stared at me in disbelief. "You have children?"

I nodded. "Four of them." I nearly laughed at his expression, and I watched him wrestle with the math before relenting. "They're adopted."

"You *adopted* children?" He looked at me as though I had suddenly morphed into - well, a little grey alien, I suppose.

I did laugh then. "I'm not the monster you think I am, Mulder."

He shook his head. "No, I never thought that," he said reflectively. "Many things, but not that." He looked at me sharply. "This alien ship - it's a threat, isn't it?"

I nodded. "They're the only ones close enough to start colonisation before we can get the vaccine out." I cautioned, "If they were to find out about Spender-"

"I understand." He toyed with the folder for a moment, then met my gaze. "You know, in Oregon, there was this place where Scully was struck down. Like the energy field you described. She was denied access to the craft. It didn't want her," he realised. "*They* didn't want her."

I half-turned to face him. "But you, Mulder - you had the hybrid genes," I said earnestly. "I think it will let you in."

He stared at me, thunderstruck. "You want me to go aboard and stop it. You want me to kill the colonists." He looked to me for confirmation, and reluctantly, I nodded. I said gravely:

"I think you might be the only one who can."

"They're looking at us like we have two heads."

Mare laughed, turning with me. "Let's give them something to look at, then," she said, leaning up to kiss me tenderly. I shot her a smile, tucking a stray tendril of hair back off her face, but said nothing. I was troubled.

The evening had been Mulder's idea - dinner and drinks before he and Skinner left on a late flight to Oregon. He'd made it sound casual, but I wasn't deceived. Mulder knew the lay of the land. It saddened me to think of it; but it was better that he went prepared. Mulder was going to die with his boots on, facing his quest head-on - and perhaps that's the best way to die. He was dancing with Scully across the floor, his gaze fond; and I thought he was saying goodbye to her in his heart.

"Penny for your thoughts," Mare said softly.

"Not sure they're worth that much." She laughed a little at that, and out the corner of my eye I saw Skinner cut in on Mulder and Scully. Mulder passed us, watching curiously. I met his gaze for a fleeting moment. "What about yours?"

She hesitated, moving fluidly with me; but finally, she spoke in a low voice. "I was wondering why we haven't made love since we got here," she said at last. She said tentatively, "Is it about-"

I put a finger to her lips. "It is," I conceded, "but not in the way you think." At her bewildered look, I said gently, "I want us to be away from all this when we do that - away from Spender." Her breath caught in her throat, her eyes widening, and I ran my palm over her cheek. She leaned into it, her eyes closed in sudden pain. "It *was* Spender, wasn't it?"

Her eyes grave and hurting, she nodded; and I drew her close. "I'm sorry, I'm so damn sorry," I whispered into her hair. "I'm sorry you went through it all, I'm sorry I didn't look for you, I'm sorry I gave up."

She broke then, weeping in silent, wracking sobs. She shook against me, almost imperceptibly. "I closed my eyes," she whispered. "I thought that would make it easier - that I could imagine that it was you - or at least that it wasn't him. But he didn't smell like you or taste like you and I felt so ashamed-" she broke off miserably.

"You have nothing to be ashamed of, Mare. Nothing at all." Her hair muffled my voice. I pulled back, wiping her tear-streaked cheeks with my fingers. "*Nothing.*" I don't know if she believed that - or if she believes it even now - but she nodded, and she let me draw her close, let me press her against me protectively.

We danced in silence for a long time, but at last, I said quietly, "I would have raised it, Mare. I would have loved it because it was yours."

"I know that, Alexi," she said, looking up at me with a sad little smile.

At last, she pulled away, her eyes a little red but otherwise betraying no sign of the recent storm. "I'm going to clean myself up," she said, touching my cheek tenderly. She motioned to Mulder, sitting with the Gunmen, watching us. "I think there's someone you should talk to." I nodded to him; cautiously, he returned it. She said with an odd undertone, "You two have unfinished business."

"You don't mind?" I said piercingly.

She shook her head, smiling faintly. "No."

I kissed her forehead and released her. I watched her leave, and then I went to him. The Gunmen looked up at my approach; but Mulder just stood, and wordlessly led me to a far booth. He sat opposite me, playing with his drink morosely; presently, a waiter brought one for me. It was a Dom Benedictine.

"You remembered," I said, oddly touched. He said nothing. Frowning, I withdrew a stiletto weapon from my pocket and set it down before him, along with a couple of vials of vaccine, vials of nitric acid and glycerine, and some lengths of colour-coded wire. "It was all I could get together on short notice. You should be able to do something with what's there." He nodded, bundling together the items and putting them away, careful to put the acid and glycerine in separate pockets. Still he said nothing.

We drank in silence for a long time; but at last, he set his drink down on the table. His voice was grave. "This is a suicide mission, isn't it?"

"I think so." I watched him, feeling deeply sad.

He nodded, frowning. He toyed with a coaster, turning it over and over in his hands. Finally, he said in a low voice, "We were on the same side all along, weren't we?"

"We were," I agreed, "but you chose a higher path."

"I'm not so sure of that anymore." He sounded bitter.

I shrugged. "It doesn't matter anymore. What you're about to do will cancel every debt left behind. Be sure of that." I didn't know if that was true, but I hoped it was. I watched him for a long moment; said quietly, "I really loved you, Mulder." I didn't know if that even mattered to him anymore, but it mattered to me. And though I love my wife, I suspect it will always matter.

"I really loved you, Alex." His voice was grave, and a little sad.

I leaned forward across the table and firmly kissed his lips, intimately yet chaste; and when I pulled away, there were tears for both of us - not many, but a few. I covered his hand with mine for a long moment, and then I got to my feet and walked away without looking back; leaving my past to return to my future.

Mare was watching.

She was leaning on the bar near the Gunmen, playing with a cocktail umbrella. "Better?" she said softly; and I nodded, taking her hand in mine. How is it that she can know what I need better than I do myself? I leaned in and kissed her, long and lingering.

I said apologetically, "I know how it must have felt to watch that-"

She cut me off. "You have no idea how it felt to watch that." Her voice was calm...almost mild. Could it be that she was smiling? "We've come through a fire together, Alex, and for a long time that man you were when you were with Mulder got lost." I nodded, frowning. "Seeing you with him - it's as though that's all starting to come together again."

I bowed my head. "Maybe that's true," I said; and haltingly, clumsily, I expressed a little of the guilt and remorse that had begun to come into sharp focus. She listened, as she always listened; and she was my comfort.

At last, she kissed my fingertips lightly. "I love the man you were, Alexi," she said thoughtfully, "but I love the man you're growing into even more."

I think I like him better, too.

Spender was devastated.

"We've failed, then. Perhaps you never meant to succeed."

I looked on the old man coldly. In the face of Mulder's explosive death, splattered in accusatory pictures of light and fire across the newspaper, Spender's wretched pathos at the loss of his shot at immortality struck me as horribly offensive. Looking at him, I was struck yet again by his peculiar detachment from the richness of humanity. One way or another, I reflected, all four of Spender's children - Jeffrey, Samantha, Mulder, and Mare's child - all had died at their father's hands. Even the gift of creation - the most divine gift of all - even that could not remain sacred in the face of Spender's particular brand of darkness.

"Anyway...the hour is at hand, I presume," Spender said in a low voice. I looked on him steadily, Mare at my side; and then I went to him.

I took the handles of his wheelchair in my hands. I remembered running from the burning car and the missile silo. I remembered shooting the dark man so that he wouldn't kill my wife. I remembered her tears for her mentor and for her mother.

I pushed him forward. I remembered Skinner, meeting me at Dulles with the news of the miscarriage. I remembered Diana breaking the news of her death. I remembered scattering ashes I'd believed were hers.

I shouted at the nurse when she tried to stop me. I remembered finding her, broken and frail. I remembered Jeffrey, saying grimly that he expected to die. I remembered breaking the news of Diana's death to her children.

Mare stepped in the nurse's path, holding her back with a single venomous stroke. I remembered her tears as we danced the night before. I remembered Scully an hour earlier, as she told us of her pregnancy, terrified of that which should bring joy. The thirst for blood was roaring in my ears - the thirst for vengeance. And though I had not the benefit of my peers, I was certain that this sentence was just.

"This is for a lot of people," I said solemnly, wheeling him down the corridor. "It's for Larissa Covarrubias, and for Mulder, and for Diana Donovan, and for our children," I told him, my voice dull and raw. "But most of all, it's for raping my wife."

"Rape?" he said mockingly as Mare fell back in step with us. "Is that what she said?"

"You had the power of life and death over her," I hissed. "That makes it rape no matter what she said."

He frowned at that, but whatever flicker of conscience he'd had was gone in an instant. As we reached the top of the stairs, he said calmly, "As you do to Mulder and to me, you do to all of mankind, Alex." I suppose that was his idea of dying an honourable death. It made me mad, that he could inflict such horror on so many, and that he still had the nerve to try to die with dignity.

Steeling myself, I gathered my strength, and pushed him away from me, flinging him down the stairs. He crashed to the floor, tangled in his wheelchair, tumbling violently over and over again, his eyes glazed from the first strike of his head. Mare and I watched in cold horror as he came to rest; then, hand in hand, we walked down the stairs and stepped over his body together.

We walked until we reached the light of outdoors. Then, we stopped, and I drew her close, right there on the sidewalk; and we were laughing and crying at the same time, rejoicing in our freedom, mourning what we had lost, regretting what we had become. And then we went home, man and wife for better or worse, and we made love.

It was over. We had survived, and we had been avenged.

And I will never kill again.

"I look small," Mare said critically.

"Small short or small thin?" I queried, linking my hand with hers over her stomach. It was still a little rounded, even now. I liked it, the way I liked her hair long. It made her look softer. Samuel clambered up onto the arm of the lounge and balanced there precariously. "Careful, Sam."

"Both," she mused, stretching her legs, sliding them against mine teasingly. I tickled the underside of her foot with my toes, and she shooed me away, laughing.

"I'm being a superman, Mama," Samuel declared.

"You'll be a splatman in a minute," Mare reproved.

This set him off in a paroxysm of giggles. "Splatman! Splatman!" He clambered down over both of us and ran off outside, yelling, "Splatman!"

"We're just splats on the highway of life," I sighed.

Gibson wandered in, munching an apple absent-mindedly. "What are you watching?" he asked; then, before we could answer, he sighed, "Oh, not *that* again," with a heaven-help-me face.

"Spoilsport," I countered. "Go play with Elizabeth if you don't want to watch."

He shook his head. "She keeps asking to play chess," he complained.

Mare enquired, "What's wrong with that?"

Gibson made a face. "She's learned to shield her thoughts. Sticks up pictures in her head of the sky or brick walls or -" he shuddered "- Leonardo DiCaprio." I laughed uproariously. "I keep losing."

"It will do you good to lose now and then," I said mildly.

He made a face. "Ugh! You've been reading those parenting websites again, haven't you? Dear Abby, my son is an omnipotent telepath, what should I do?"

"Are you going to stay and watch, or not?" I demanded, smirking.

He shrugged. "Yeah, I'll stay." He settled down on the floor in front of us.

I held out the remote control and flicked up the volume. "We're on."

-- "United Nations Under-Secretary General, Marita Krycek and Alex Krycek of the World Health Organisation will read from a prepared statement. They will accept questions afterwards."

Gibson frowned. "I still say that's a rotten hairdo, Marita."

She reached down and ruffled Gibson's hair. "And what are you, Leonardo DiCaprio?" she teased. He shot her a filthy look, but laughed anyway.

-- " year covert operation involving the FBI and the World Health Organisation reached its conclusion in New York. Members of an international pressure group known as The Syndicate were apprehended and charged with a total of 9,327 offences related to biological warfare..."

"You're thin there," he said clinically, turning to look Mare over thoughtfully. "No stomach at all, and a month later you'd sprogged."

Mare's eyes narrowed in mock irritation. "Sprogged?" she echoed. "Has Shane been teaching you British slang again?"

"Experienced the miracle of birth," I corrected loftily.

"Hey, I've watched birth videos. The only miracle is getting something that big out of something that small."

"He's got a point, you know, Alex," Mare grinned.

"Would you like to watch Elena's birth video?" I offered ingeniously. Gibson shot me a look of abject horror, shaking his head urgently. I laughed.

-- "...seized a stockpile of biological agents from their headquarters. The centrepiece of this stockpile is a new bioweapon created by the group, dubbed Dmitri Syndrome, for the first known fatality. A vaccine was also found. We understand that the group intended to release the weapon and then demand a ransom..."

Gibson shifted, looking up at me. "Dmitri wasn't the first fatality. He didn't even die of the oil," he protested. I wished he didn't know quite so much about our work - it was a bit like living with an omnipresent demi-god.

"Well, we had to call it something," I pointed out. "The whole idea of misinformation is to give wrong information to get a desired response."

-- "...voted to take the preventative step of launching a worldwide vaccination program. The first stocks of vaccine have already been distributed to every country in the world and are available now. The success of this program depends entirely on the participation of the public..."

Gibson frowned. "So talking about The Syndicate is giving wrong information to get people to have the medicine."

I shrugged. "Basically, yeah."

"Why not just tell them about the aliens?"

Mare explained, "Lots of people wouldn't believe. They might not take the vaccine."


-- "...concerns that the vaccine has been fast tracked without reference to proper protocols. Can you comment?"

-- "Certainly, we have fast tracked the program. I think that's appropriate, given the nature and severity of the threat. But the FDA and other authorities have considered the seized data at length..."

"I like this bit," I said gleefully.

Mare tilted her head up to look at me. "Egotist."

-- "...weren't you wanted on multiple counts of murder and treason until very recently?"

-- "I can answer that. Those charges were laid in co-operation with the FBI as part of the covert operation. They have now been dropped. Mr Krycek has sacrificed much, not least of which being his good reputation for the greater good. The international community owes him a debt..."

I smirked. That bit got me every time. "You laid it on pretty thick, you have to admit."

She shrugged. "You're my husband. I'm allowed to be biased."

-- " you have any data on genetic effects of the vaccine?"

-- "Yes. The first child was born to a vaccinated woman this week..."

Gibson said curiously, "You don't say very much in this, Alex."

"Mare's the political brain, not me. I'm more of an action man," I added, lifting my arm and flexing a bicep theatrically.

"Or a splatman," said Mare, dissolving in laughter. I smacked her hand playfully with a look of mock reproach.

-- " it true that the child's name is Liberty?"

-- "I can say only that the child is female and that she was born to an American couple..."

"Liberty," Mare said disgustedly. "I thought Walter, at least, had better taste."

"Elena is much more dignified," I agreed.

-- "'re the man and woman of the hour. How does that feel?"

-- "I think that denigrates the innocent victims of this operation. The real heroes are those who gave their lives..."

I pointed the remote and flicked the television off suddenly. Mare shot Gibson a look, her eyebrows raised, speaking to him silently. He nodded, got up and walked away, leaving us alone. Having a telepathic child was handy - sometimes.

Mare's hands closed over mine. She drew it up to her lips and kissed it tenderly. "You know, there's only so long you can beat yourself up about this."

I shook my head morosely. "I killed forty two people, Mare."

"And saved all the rest."

"A few years ago I might have thought that was enough," I said quietly. "I don't now. And neither do you."

She sat up, turned to face me. She looked at me thoughtfully for a long moment; then admitted, "No. But we can only keep trying to be the best people we can be. The best parents," she added, nodding out the window to Gibson and Shane, playing ball in the fading light.

I sighed. "Maybe."

"I think Elizabeth is thawing," she said, deliberately changing the subject. "I was in her room this morning. You know that photo Gladys took of us all at the hospital with Elena? She's got it taped to the wall."

I nodded thoughtfully. "That's good, I guess."

"Baby steps, Alex," she counselled.

In this brave new life of ours, those are words to live by.


I shook my head, said absently, "Juice is fine." Mare was nursing, and I didn't like to drink in front of her when she couldn't. I flicked off the lights and went to her side, taking the glass she offered. "Thanks."

"Come outside," she whispered, leading me. "It's a beautiful night."

"I was hoping to make love to you," I said mildly, following anyway.

She shot me a gorgeous smile over her shoulder. "You can."

Smiling faintly, I followed her, out over the lawns, down to the gazebo. We settled there on the oversized chaise, overlooking the water. The ocean was rough, and the sky was dark. The sound of rolling waves was soothing. Gently, I drew her against me, and she leaned into me with a sigh; turning a little to touch my cheek with her fingertips.

And then her kiss was cherishing me, not an invasion, but a caress. Her taste was silk; it was snow; it was wine. A kiss as though the first, a declaration of passion, of abiding love. I held her, hand entangled possessively through her hair, locks of molten silver between my fingers. "Mare," I breathed against her lips. Her touch was scorching, branding me, claiming me as her own; and I could only draw her up in pursuit, claiming her in return. I cradled her face with my hand, kissing her cheek and her hair and her ear with fascinated tenderness. I left a trail of caresses down her throat, and she gave a shocked moan of wracking need. My fingers traced the curves of her, strong and fine. My need was a white-hot flare, caressing and giving and demanding all at once.

And then suddenly the turbulence subsided, replaced with slow wonder. She met my gaze, and we stayed there a long moment, our faces inches apart, expressions a war of urgency and tenderness. "Love me, Alexi," she said softly; her voice low, ragged with desire.

"I do," I murmured. "Oh, Mare."

She leaned up to me, her mouth forming an exquisite smile in the dim light; and I put my hand on her as she asked, my mouth upon hers. She arched for me as I teased her throat, her breast with my palm. She unbuttoned her dress; and I parted its folds, exposing her to the cool night air. She gave a single cry of aching need, her breath coming in ragged sighs. She pulled my shirt over my head, discarding it; and then I felt her long, slender palms stroking me with gentle relentlessness. I slid questing fingers down to the dank warmth of her, and found her slick and ready, waiting for me to unite with her, waiting to draw me in, to own me as hers forever.

She gave me a gentle kiss and sank back on the chaise, one hand stretched out to me. I took it in my own and leaned down to her, meeting her, my lips on hers. I was swamping her, engulfing her; yet she welcomed me, wanting me, trusting me. She teased my body with her fingertips, and my fingers lifted to her breast, caressing the swell of flesh there; but it was done absently. Our eyes fixed on one another, we beheld one another in love, desire, and finally strength. And even in our nakedness, our gaze remained locked, lovemaking in its own right. I leant into her, truly mystified that she could engender such love in me. I felt bewilderment, and deep gratitude, that such a thing could have been revealed to me; and I kissed her with awe. She slid her arms around my neck, drew me down to her, tasting me as I tasted her.

I held her close, and my body found hers unerringly, waiting patiently until she opened up for me, until her body made space for me within her. And then I was inside her, moving with her in a rhythm as old as time, her body rising to meet me, her arms wound around me, holding me to her. I teased at her hair tenderly, treasuring her, worshipping her.

The heat within her was delicious, the strength of it exquisite. And when she came, she cried out, her passion a prayer of hope. I filled her, filled her with a giving over of myself that could never be erased; body against body, soul against soul.

When it was over, and we came to rest, we lay together, my body cradling hers, my arm around her, crossed protectively over her stomach. We were silent, but the silence was not a parting, but a final joining of pure understanding of one another.

And in the silence, there was love.

"Why do you let me touch you?"

Mare opened her eyes. I was teasing her hand lazily with my fingertips. "Well," she said slowly, a little taken aback, "because you're my husband. Because there's a space in a woman's body for the man who fills the space in her heart," she added, her brow furrowing. She was struggling. "I'm not making a lot of sense."

"You're making perfect sense," I mused. "But hand is covered in blood."

"And washed in tears," she said in a low voice. I wondered what that meant, but I didn't ask. "You're still thinking about the press conference."

"Yeah." For no other reason than an odd feeling that it was vaguely relevant, I wondered aloud, "How did we wind up adopting four children?" At her look, I said, "It's not a rhetorical question - I really want to know."

She looked perplexed, but she indulged me, thinking it over. "I think," she said slowly, "that it happened the same way everything else happened. Because when you see something that has to be done, you do it, no questions asked. When these children came to us in need, you made the hard decisions that needed to be made, because that's just what you do."

"What does that make me?" I demanded. "Some kind of hero?" My voice was bitter.

She shook her head. "It makes you someone capable of great evil - and great good," she added with gentle emphasis. She gave a rueful laugh. "You know, everyone thinks it's their job to save the world, and we were in the odd situation where that was really the case." I laughed a little at that. She went on gravely, "Now that it's not, we've got to have the humility to be the best people we can be, and just let it all unfold." She had a wistful look, as though in memory. "I have to believe that's why we were spared, Alexi - to find a way of being something more, something better than the people who did those things."

I said nothing, but only cradled her, kissing her hair, breathing its scent, because I didn't know whether such a thing was possible. Even now, as I write this, Mare asleep at my side, my precious Elena at her breast - gifts I could never have deserved - I still don't know if it's possible.

But I know we can try.

Deslea R. Judd
Sydney, Australia
May 29 - October 8, 2000

For Daddy
Lawrence James Judd
May 7, 1946 - March 27, 2000