Restitution (1/4) (Chapters 1+2)
Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my name and headers.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Herrenvolk to The Truth.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Angst, romance, mythfic, resfic, Skamperfic, Krycek/Marita.
SUMMARY: Sometimes, to face the future, you have to face the past.
CONTENT WARNING: This work includes references to rape.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. email@example.com
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky Awards 2003 eligible. Recommended at Museans and Bright Shiny Objects.
Marita Covarrubias is a beautiful woman.
That wasn't always a noteworthy statement. For a long time, she had counted her beauty among her natural strengths, along with her talent for numbers and her eye for detail. It was never something she worked at, nor something she particularly prized. It was just there, one more weapon in her arsenal. No more important than any other, and often a good deal less.
That was before the tests. Since then, however, her beauty has become her badge of honour. They took it from her; she took it back with good old-fashioned hard work. She accepts the appreciative gazes of the people around her with pride, where once she had dismissed them as irrelevant. When they look at her, she feels tall and strong. Yes, she thinks, drawing herself up, chin held firm and high. I was gone, but now I'm back. You better believe it.
That's out there in the real world, of course, with people who only knew her when she was strong. People who saw her weak still have the power to make her feel small, curled up tight and scared inside, and she hates herself for it. People like the Smoking Man. People like Mulder, even, who she very nearly walked into in the shopping mall, of all places. She physically recoiled, and drew back into a coffee shop before he could see her, and then after he passed her by, she sank down into a seat, horrified by her own reaction.
That was months ago, and since then, she has trained herself to tolerate the proximity of the people who hurt her. She has to see that cigarette smoking son of a bitch all too often, and the only thing that makes that bearable is that fact that he is weak now, too. She wears staid suits and pulls her hair back until it hurts whenever she has to tolerate his presence. Anything, anything that will make her hard and unapproachable. Anything to give her the appearance of force and power, so that he won't know that it all drains out of her on the strength of hearing him utter her name.
But all that is back in America, thousands of miles behind her.
It's almost far enough.
She feels freer here. She's been aware of it ever since she stepped off the plane at Djerba International the night before. She felt it sweep over her in the hot balmy air, standing on the balcony at her hotel. She feels it wash over her in the running water now. She breathes in. Smells soap and shampoo and the cloying, lingering steam.
She sighs. Revelling in sensation.
She runs her hands down her body. She finds firm, muscular planes where once there were hollows. They're not as fleshy as Alex likes, but they're still good and strong. Her suspicion that Alex will travel these planes himself before the day is through only improves her mood.
She emerges from her shower, exhilarated. She picks a cool white cotton suit and leaves her hair down. She walks with a buoyant step. She is beautiful and strong and free, and far from those who hurt her. Soon she will be reunited with the one man who will understand what she survived, and honour her survival, whatever else may have passed between them.
She feels good. Really good.
She recognises her mistake when she is escorted into the penal colony where Alex is being held. A hellhole of sound. Horribly overcrowded cells. Men banging and calling out obscenities about what she is and what they would like to do to her. Her skin crawls and bile rises in her throat, but grimly, she makes herself ignore them. Walks past them with as much strength and calm she can muster.
The guard pauses. She looks past hordes of men, fluidly passing her gaze over them without meeting any of their gazes. Not allowing herself to be stared down. Dismissing them as irrelevant.
"Your release has been arranged," she says. She likes the way it comes out. Loud. Firm. Controlled. It draws him in a way that the rabble had not, and that pleases her. He pushes his way through the crowd, casting them aside, and they stare at one another.
Obscenities ring in her ears. Both their ears.
Please don't show me off like your whore, she thinks. Anything else. Not that.
He was never like that, but then, a lot has happened. Not least of them him being caged up with these animals for a year. And it would take only one bilingual prisoner to pass on to the others that the one-armed guy had screwed her, and she doesn't think she can stand the humiliation of that. She did those things because she loved him, and maybe she was wrong to do them, but she did them. She wasn't won or conquered. She isn't his prize.
"Marita Covarrubias," he says at last. "Last time I saw you, I left you for dead."
The noise of the crowd changes a little. She feels the shift. They're still looking at her, but some of the voyeurism has been replaced with curiosity. She isn't his chick or his babe or his sidekick, come to do his bidding. She is his adversary, and she has the upper hand.
She feels her excruciating humiliation fall away.
"Alex," she says, "if it was strictly up to me, I'd leave you here to rot, too."
She sees the tangled reactions in his expression. Shock. Anger. Hope. Caution. Those things don't surprise her. She had expected them all. But she sees something else, too, and it puzzles her. It isn't until somewhere along the long, hot drive back to the hotel that understanding comes to her.
Underneath it all, he's proud of her.
They make it until nightfall before they screw. All things considered, Marita thinks they did pretty well.
It wasn't exactly hard to predict. That was always their way of escaping their problems, either individual ones or relationship ones. And this night has plenty of both. The paths that brought them to this moment are not discussed. Once they'd left Forj Sidi Toui, the subject had been completely dropped. But that will have to be thrashed out sooner or later.
Neither of them wants to do it tonight, though. So they fuck instead.
It's animalistic to start with. Floor, couch, coffee table, against the wall. They roll around everywhere. Unable to bear to be parted for just those couple of moments it would take them to get to the bed. She stretches out beneath him, sighing out his name as he kisses her everywhere.
"You have to - gentle -" she manages when he unzips his jeans.
He pauses. Hand still on his waistband. Puzzled.
"It's been - it's been a while. Not since the ship." She looks away a little, and closes her eyes. She doesn't think she can bear his sympathy right now.
She feels his warmth covering her. Feels the slight hitch of his breath before he says matter-of-factly into her hair, "We should take it slow then, yeah?"
The relief is sweet. It crashes over her in waves. "Yeah," she says as his mouth closes over hers. She holds him around his shoulders and forces herself relax when he touches her down there. She's spent so long warding off intrusion that her instinct is to fight it.
But she wants him, too. So much.
She shivers when he enters her. Vibrations of desire and need, harder than she remembered. She remembered the sweet, suffocating warmth of having him deep inside her, but she'd forgotten the shocking tremors he arouses in her. It disturbs her, jolts her from her carefully-crafted illusion of control, and humbles her.
"So strong," he murmurs into her hair when she seizes around him. "So beautiful and strong, Marita."
She wonders if he knows what that means to her. Then he pulls back to look at her, and she sees that he does. Of course he does.
No-one else ever could.
"Alex," she whispers. Wraps her arms around his shoulders. Tugs him down and holds him as tight as she can. They lie there. Perfectly joined. Perfectly still.
"Stronger than you've ever been," he murmurs against her temple. "No-one's ever going to hurt you that way again."
She doesn't cry, but shudders rip through her, violent, grieving. She clings to him, and he holds her, fills her, shields her. Rocks her, just a little. Murmuring her name into her hair until it passes.
Finally, it does.
She kisses him when it falls away. Slow. Tender. A lifetime of understanding between them. He begins to move within her once more. She meets him, stroke for stroke, teasing adoring fingers through his hair until he has his release.
They cling together long after the tremors fade.
"You know I couldn't have gotten you out, don't you?"
Alex is sitting on the lounge when she joins him on the balcony. He is hunched over his drink. He doesn't look at her.
She sits down beside him. "Yeah." She tries for nonchalance, but it feels like a bad imitation.
"Scientists had been killed. The whole place was in lockdown. They'd have shot us."
"I know that, Alex." And she does. But in her nightmares, she remembers him turning his back on her, and when she wakes, her cheeks are wet, and her body aches from wrenching sobs she can't remember.
"Besides. If colonisation had gone ahead that day, you'd have been safer in there than outside. They'd have protected you. You'd have been valuable to them."
This strikes her as a hefty dose of rationalisation - after all, she was already immune. And the very idea of being trapped in there with desperate people who would want her immunity at any cost gives her chills. But she can't begrudge him whatever flimsy illusions he needs in order to live with what was done to them. Not really.
"I never thought of it like that," she says, quite truthfully.
He glances at her, then away again. "I'm sorry, Marita."
"It's all right," she fibs, staring out over the city.
"No, it's not," he mutters into his drink.
She suddenly wishes she'd put something on. She feels naked. More naked.
"They tore us apart, Alex," she says finally.
He swallows hard on his drink.
"It's only fitting that we should bring them down," she goes on. "Together."
He stares at her. "Defy the old man?" She nods. "But then why go back to him at all?"
"He has vaccine. I told him that you should be allowed to have some." She bites the inside of her cheek. Unsure how to broach the rest of it.
"And he agreed to that?"
"When I said it was the only way I could be sure you'd come back, yeah."
He frowns. Thinking on this. "And after that?"
"We give whatever we can to Mulder, take the Smoking Man down, and get the hell out." She focuses deliberately on the skyline.
There is a long pause. He straightens. She feels his eyes on her. "Get out?" he echoes. Unbelieving.
Nervously, she nods.
"There's something you're not telling me."
She picks at threads on the lounge. Not looking at him.
"You've become a liability, Alex," she says finally. "To the resistance, I mean."
He looks offended, and that strikes her as oddly funny. "How?" he demands. Aghast.
"The new-look conspiracy is focusing on the super soldiers," she says. "Spender doesn't know, but Jeffrey's been looking into it."
"Yeah. Not in great shape, but yeah." She shudders at the memory of what they did to Jeffrey. It could have been her, so easily. "Alex, they've made one like you."
Alex pales. "What do you mean, like me?"
"I mean just like you. He - it looks just like you. As far as we know, it can't be killed." She sees him tick over the implications in his mind. The possibility of infiltration. "The only way to nullify the threat is to get out, and make it known that we intend to stay out," she says. "We paid our dues, many times over. And now's the time to walk away." She feels the heat rise up in her face. "Please."
He chews on that. Frowning. "That covers infiltration of the work. But what about the outsiders?" he wonders after a moment. "Mulder and Scully, for instance?"
She looks away again, back at the skyline. Says coldly, "They can assume their own risks."
He stares at her. Again. She feels like saying his face will stay that way if the wind changes, but she suspects it won't be appreciated.
"That's not like you," he says at last.
"The last time I tried to help Mulder, I lost two years of my life for it," she snaps. "Did you know, he found me there? Just before El Rico?" Alex draws back. Pale. "He didn't even try to get me out."
"God," he says, appalled.
"And the time before-" she breaks off. She doesn't need to say it, after all. He was there.
He looks down at his glass. "I know."
"Alex, please," she says. Looks away quickly when her voice breaks. "Please."
That seems to decide him. He draws her close. "All right, Marita," he says. "We'll walk away."
It's easy to say you'll walk away in the heat of the moment. Actually doing it is a little harder, she thinks when he rises off her to shower, and she isn't convinced he is capable of letting go. How can she be, when she isn't completely sure she can do it herself?
She shivers a little, despite the heat.
For all the privacy the balcony affords, she feels exposed. Her flesh tingles with the night air, her thighs are still a little way apart for him, and she feels cold without him to cover her.
A few months ago, she would have risen to escape the feeling, but she is stronger now, so she stays there, thinking it over. Is it that she feels exposed without him? That's ridiculous, for God knows, she was just as exposed with him. If anything, his presence exposes her more. In every possible way.
Maybe it's just the way he strips her back to raw longing and need. Strips away the things she contrives to hold herself together, and leaves her with the most basic desires of her soul. Her...moment, whatever it was, is a case in point. She thinks that a therapist could spend years trying to draw that from her, assuming that she could ever trust one to begin with. Alex got it from her with a few words and a gentle touch. She's not sure whether that's a good thing or not.
Dimly, she is aware of the shower stopping. She rises, sighing, and she meets him on the way in to the bathroom, but he spares her only an absent nod and a touch on the arm as he passes her. Clearly lost in thought. She watches him over her shoulder as he gets into bed, frowning.
Frowning herself, she washes as quickly as she can.
He's waiting for her when she comes out. Still thoughtful, but present to her again. "It wouldn't be so bad," he says when she slips into bed beside him. As though there had been no gap in the conversation at all.
"Yeah," she says. "We could retire to Switzerland or something."
"Do people still retire to Switzerland?" he wonders.
"I think so," she says. "And our money's already there."
"The idea has a certain appeal," he concedes. "I could write a book about a dashing one-armed spy and his beautiful blonde sidekick."
Her arched eyebrow speaks volumes.
"His beautiful blonde absolutely equal life partner," he amends. Coughs.
"Uh-huh." She maintains her poker face with difficulty.
"What about you?" he says hurriedly. "Any lifelong ambitions you'd like to fulfil?"
She lets him off the hook, biting back a grin. "No idea. I like numbers. I could set up a little bookkeeping business." She laughs suddenly. "I don't even know if people hire bookkeepers anymore. Maybe they all just use Quickbooks."
He smiles a little. "I just can't picture us being ordinary, Marita."
She wonders what life would be like for Alex and Marita, the Revised Standard Version. She imagines a Barbie and Ken doll with the perfect house and the perfect pool and the perfect life, and somehow she can't find either of them in that image.
She wonders whether their bond will be as strong. Whether they'll still want each other as desperately when they could have anyone. The very wondering makes her sad.
He says, "We could get married."
She wonders whether he's always wanted to ask her, or whether he's just trying to work out how to make the Barbies fit the picture.
Does it matter?
"I'd like that," she says, and she strokes his cheek with the back of her hand. By natural association of ideas, she says, "What about kids?"
He draws away a little. "Marita," he says in a low voice, "I - the silo. When I was infected. The radiation. I can't-" and he breaks off then, shaking his head. Visibly withdrawing from her.
It hits her hard.
She swallows the tears, but they taste bitter in her throat. "They took so much," she whispers. He looks at her, then away. "It's not fair."
"Marita," he begins, but then he breaks off, sighing.
"How did you survive it, Alex? After the oil, I mean?"
He shrugs a little. "I found you," he says lamely. Without conviction. After a moment, he admits, "I don't know. I just - learned to live with it." Her chest grows tight, because that isn't what she wants to hear.
"But do we heal?" she says desperately.
"I don't think we do. I think we just learn to keep on going anyway."
Despair washes over her. "I don't know if that's enough," she whispers.
"It is," he says. "We're going to make it, Marita."
She isn't convinced, but she nods. Manages a weak smile.
He leans over and switches off the lamp. "Let's get some sleep."
They hold on to each other in the dark.
The following day is business as usual. Marita isn't surprised. There is a limit to the amount of soul-searching that either of them can stomach. There's love first, though, sleepy and slow, and it feels like a new beginning.
They don't talk much on the flight to D.C. It is a comfortable silence, but just the same, she is conscious of a kind of waiting. Waiting for the next stage to begin. These last, loose ends are just the coda to what has gone before.
She wonders what they will do when it ends.
Screw, undoubtedly, at first. Days of it. Maybe even weeks. Partly in celebration, and partly because they won't know what the hell else to do. But sooner or later, the future will have to be dealt with, or else it will never happen.
They probably will go to Switzerland, at least at first. His book and her bookkeeping business are unlikely in the extreme, and for the sake of readers and small businesses the world over, that may be just as well. But they'll go to Switzerland, pick out a house. Probably get married. And then they'll settle down and start to heal.
The thought terrifies her.
She knows how to pretend to be normal. She's rather good at it, in fact. Actually doing it, though...that's a whole different ballgame. She doesn't know if she can adjust her focus from engineering the future to planning a garden. And she isn't certain that he can do it, either.
She wonders who she could ask for advice. Realises that she doesn't know anyone who made it out alive.
"Do you remember Nelson?" she says abruptly.
Alex looks up from his book. Nods. "What about him?"
"He chose his alias for Nelson Mandela - did I ever tell you that?"
He shakes his head. Wondering where she's going with this.
"He was so normal when he was off the clock. Went home to South Africa every Christmas. Took his nephews to watch cricket matches. I always wondered how he managed it. How he avoided it. The - shadow of it all."
"But he didn't," he says. Gently.
She remembers the photos. Half-moons of blood beneath his fingernails. SRSG scrawled in red-
"No," she says. Blinks against the sudden blur of light. "I suppose he didn't."
Alex looks away. Out the window at the clouds. "I've always wished he'd died sooner. Before he could write...what he wrote."
She feels the need to defend him, her old mentor. "It needed to be done. There was no-one else he could give to Mulder. Not without exposing the resistance."
He harumphs through his nose. "You paid a hefty price for it."
"I wouldn't have met you if he hadn't," she points out.
He looks at her. "Am I really such a prize, Marita? Would you really go through it all again, just to be with me?"
She thinks, deep down, that maybe she wouldn't. She has chosen to spare herself before. There is no shortage of love between them, but if she could do it over, and be spared? What would she choose?
She doesn't know. Looking at him, she is glad the choice is not hers to make.
"I don't know. But I don't want to be anywhere else," she says. Oddly, this seems to please him.
They hold hands for the rest of the flight.
They met four years ago. It doesn't feel like it. On good days, it feels like a lifetime ago. On bad days, it feels like yesterday.
She's blocked out a lot of that night. She remembers being slammed against the front door of her apartment. Remembers the man she thinks of as the Puerto Rican. She thinks he was probably American, but she called him that on the strength of his resemblance to Luis Cardinale. She remembers him hissing against her cheek, "You did a bad, bad thing, pretty lady." Remembers being half out of her mind with terror. Sure that they would kill her when they were done.
"I don't - I don't know -"
"You gave Mulder photographs. Photographs he was never meant to see."
"I didn't think it would do any harm-"
"You're not paid to think," the Other Guy snapped, unbuckling his belt. "You give him what the old man says you can give him, you got that?"
She stared at the picture on her wall when they did it to her. Wondered whether it was done on Spender's orders, or whether it was a fringe benefit. Kept telling herself it was just rape, there were worse things that they could do to her, and subsequent experience would prove that, at least, to be absolutely right.
She must have blacked out in shock at some point, because she remembers becoming dimly aware that they'd swapped places. A dull ache between her thighs. Sticky wetness that was too thin and cool to be from either of them. Vibrations and bruising at the base of her spine where they'd slammed her against the door, over and over again. She could hear the dull thud of every thrust. Dazed beyond trauma. Just wanting it to end so she could surrender to the pain.
She remembers footsteps outside her door. The Puerto Rican didn't hear them. His face was a rictus - a parody of passion, brutally twisted by hate. But she did. She heard, and she banged the door with her heel. Gave a single muffled cry before he could get his hand over her mouth.
It was enough.
She felt the door give. Felt sudden, brutal pressure on her spine, exquisitely painful, shoving her forwards. Agony when she collided with the Puerto Rican. He staggered backwards, pulling out of her. She cried out in pain. The door exploded into the apartment. She landed on her knees.
The stranger in the doorway stared at her. She heard a small sound come from the back of his throat. She looked down at herself. Saw her crumpled skirt. The streaks of blood down her legs.
The shock started to break. The horror set in.
She doesn't remember much of the fistfight. She sat there, hugging herself, shivering uncontrollably. She remembers noise, and lights going out when one of them knocked over her favourite lamp. She remembers colour. The Puerto Rican's red shirt mixed with the stranger's black leather. She remembers staring at a stain of red on her carpet and wondering whose blood it was, because it was too far away from the door to be hers.
She remembers that somewhere along the line, the noise stopped, and only she and the stranger were left. She remembers thinking vaguely that he must have killed them, but when she looked around her, there were no bodies. Later, when she could think clearly, she realised that they must have fled.
He dropped down into a crouch in front of her.
Looking back on it, she loves him for giving her that dignity when she was beaten and broken. But back then, all she could do was stare dully at him. At his leather jacket. She didn't look at his face.
After a while, it occurred to her that he was waiting for an answer.
"Marita," she said at last.
"Marita," he repeated. "I'm not going to hurt you. Do you believe me?"
She didn't, not really, but she nodded.
"Do you want to report it?"
She shook her head. "I can't."
He nodded. He didn't ask her why not.
"I want to get you out of this room. I want to clean you up and see whether you need medical help. Will you let me do that, Marita?"
"Are you a doctor?" she wondered vaguely. Fumbling for logic, but it was still there in the periphery of her mind. That comforted her.
"No. I used to be FBI. Violent Crimes Unit."
She met his gaze for the first time. "You're Alex Krycek," she said. "Nelson told me about you."
He nodded. "He told me about you, too."
"He died," she said. Like a little girl. "Did you know? They killed him." She felt her face crumple. "He was my friend."
"Oh, Jesus," he said, and he held her, and while he was holding her, she blacked out.
When she woke, it was daylight.
She was naked and clean, and covered with crisp, cool sheets. Alex was sitting by the window, reading. There was a glass on the table beside him, and a bottle of brandy she recognised as hers. He'd made a good dent in it, by the looks of it.
She took her time studying him, and herself. Gingerly, she ran her fingertips over her face, finding sore places that made her wince. There was a dressing on her forehead. She hadn't even realised she was cut there. She grappled with conflicting feelings about this stranger who had undressed her and cared for her. A nagging sense of intrusion. A gentle brand of relief, too, because how could she have done it alone?
"Why are you here?" she wondered at last.
He looked up from his book. Her book, actually. "I had to run from the Syndicate a year ago. Nelson was my only contact in the resistance after that. I knew he had a successor, but I only knew a first name and a description. I got the rest from Mulder's report."
"Is there anyone who doesn't have access to Mulder's files?" she said bitterly.
"No-one that counts, I don't think," he said. Nodded to her bruised form. "Is that what this was about?"
She looked away. Nodded.
"How do you feel?"
She looked at him again. Tempted to lie. But he looked so grave. Had he looked at her like that when he undressed her? When he washed her? Had he grappled with it, weighing up the invasions already inflicted on her and the need to do what he could for her?
"Awful," she said finally. He didn't flinch away from her bluntness, or offer platitudes or try to make it better. He just nodded. Accepting this. Tentatively, she asked him, "How bad is it?"
"Bruises, contusions, some cuts and scratches," he said. "No broken bones or fractures that I could see, but I'm not a doctor. If anything's broken, the pain will tell you soon enough." He swallowed a little. Looked away for a moment before facing her once more. "Marita, you tore. Pretty badly. I didn't look any closer than I had to, but it's a second degree tear."
She fought an urge to throw up.
"What do I do?"
"Wait," he said. "You won't be able to move much while the soft tissues are healing. It'll hurt too much, even if you wanted to." He said gently, "Marita, I know a bit about the forensics, but I don't know much about what to do for you. You really ought to be examined by a doctor."
She shook her head. Shrank back into the pillows.
Alex sighed. "Are you on the Pill?"
She closed her eyes. "No."
"If I get you pills, will you take them?"
Misery washed over her. She nodded.
He got to his feet. Patted down pockets. Found his wallet and tucked it into his jacket.
She watched him. Curious. Said finally, "Why are you helping me?"
He shrugged. "Sucker for a damsel in distress, I guess. That, and I need some favours to cash in."
The answer pleased her. It reminded her that beneath the bruises, she was still a powerful woman.
"I'll make you work for it," she warned him. Her smile was weak, but it was there.
"I wouldn't expect anything less." He shot her a crooked grin. "Back soon."
Her smile faded as soon as he closed the door. But it was still a smile, and she thought that was as good a start as any.
He stayed for six weeks.
It's tempting, now that she loves him, to embellish the memory. To imagine hints of what was to come. But it wasn't really like that. She was still too battered. Too raw. She trusted him precisely because there was no hint of romance there. If he had any feelings for her beyond companionable benevolence, he wisely kept them to himself.
They exchanged stories during those long days while her body healed, and found them alike. Both were approached by the Smoking Man, who claimed an affiliation with the NSA, on what he called a matter of national security. Both were lured by an irresistible combination of national pride, a dose of conceit, and money. Both learned of the deception too late - that their cigarette smoking friend was indeed with the NSA (and the CIA, and the DOD) but that his intentions were anything but noble. Both learned of the existence of the alien bio-threat and of the Syndicate, and then of the resistance. It was a story Marita had heard many times before.
"What do you want to do?" she asked him one evening. "For the future, I mean."
It was maybe two weeks since their first meeting, if you could call it that, and she was pretty much back to normal. The visible wounds had healed. She was back at work (she told them she was in a car wreck), and by all outward appearances she had put her ordeal behind her. Alex recognised her facade for what it was, she thought, but he didn't speak of it, and that was just as good.
He poured out the dregs of the wine into her glass. "I want to be working on a vaccine. I was selling intelligence off the digital tape earlier this year, trying to trade my way in, but I never really got my foot in the door."
His expression darkened a little, and she had a flash of memory - a resistance rumour that he had been captured and infected with the oil, and somehow survived. She hadn't believed it, but now, she wasn't so sure.
"The vaccine's dirty work," she said after a moment. "A lot of casualties. Innocent casualties, sometimes."
He swallowed a little. "I know. I'll live with it."
"Nelson never tried to get you into Bonita's work?"
He shook his head. "He didn't trust her. She's too close to the Duke."
She grinned. "He's not really a Duke, you know. We did some digging. His father was a Duke, but his mother was one of King George's maids."
Alex snorted laughter through his nose. "He's illegitimate? That's priceless!"
"Isn't it?" she said. Laughing too. She finished off her wine and sat back on the couch, tucking her feet beneath her.
He was watching her. Smiling that gently proud smile she would come to recognise in the years to come. "It's good to see you laugh."
She smiled with him. "It's good to be laughing."
He sat back alongside her. "So. Any bright ideas?"
She frowned. Thought a little, brow furrowed. "Do you know any languages?"
"Russian," he said. "A bit of Arabic. My parents were immigrants."
"From the south, then."
He nodded. "Uzbekistan. Near the Afghani border."
"I know someone," she said after a moment. "He's a retired KGB hitter. He could make the necessary introductions to get you into the Russian operation. Name's Peskow."
"How do you know him?"
"I did a tour of duty with the UN in Chechnya a few years ago. We caught him attempting a hit - he still freelances now and then. I let him go in exchange for some names. He owes me."
"They're not going to take me just on his say-so, though."
She shook her head. "No. You'll have to give them something."
She shrugged. "Not sure. Maybe information off the tape, or from Mulder's files." A new thought occurred to her. "Maybe even Mulder himself. He was infected with some alien virus a year or two ago, wasn't he?"
"The Arctic thing. Yeah, that's a thought."
"It would be really easy," she said. "He's very suggestible. Feed him the right set of clues, and he'd come to you."
Alex shot her a shrewd look. "You sure there's not just a bit of revenge in that? For what they did to you for helping him?"
She faltered. Remembered Mulder ambushing her outside her office earlier that evening, wanting information about some case or other. He scared the hell out of her.
"I - I don't know," she said after a moment. "I don't know how to answer that."
He watched her thoughtfully. "Well, maybe I shouldn't have asked. It's a good idea, though."
She suddenly felt very guilty.
Perhaps he saw it in her face, because he went on hastily, "How soon do you think we can make it happen?"
She shrugged. "A few weeks. Know any thugs? People you don't mind throwing to the wolves?"
He laughed. It was a mirthless laugh, tinged with distaste. Sympathy washed over her. "Just a few."
"Easy, then. Give him a bust as a hook, and then reel him in. The Russians will help with the bait, and Peskow will help with the cleanup."
He looked at her with admiration. "You're good."
She smiled a little. "Yeah." Sighed. "I'm going to miss you when we get you in there, you know, Alex."
"Me too," he grinned. "I never had a roomie before."
"Me neither," she said. "S'nice."
A silence fell then, a heavy one, and she thinks that if it hadn't been so soon, if Mulder hadn't reawakened all her fears that night, she might have made an overture then. She wasn't conscious of wanting him, but she was conscious of something. A kind of expectancy between them.
They didn't speak again that night.
END OF PART 1